APPROACHING IRAN: THE FLAWS OF IMPERIAL DIPLOMACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

28 Jun

[Prefatory Note: This post consists of six segments devoted to relations of the West to Iran, centering on whether the United States post-Trump will attempt to reduce tensions with Iran or opt for continuity, and greater policy coordination with Israel’s new post-Netanyahu leadership. Naphtali Bennett, Israel’s new Prime Minister, has already made clear that he views Iran no differently than Netanyahu, opposes a return to the 2015 Nuclear Program Agreement (JCPOA) and seems to have authorized at unprovoked attack on the Karaj facility on June 23rd that produces centrifuges needed to obtain enriched uranium.

When the U.S. Government withdrew from the hard bargained Obama Era nuclear agreement in 2018 accompanied by a revamping of sanctions against Iran, tensions once again dangerously escalated. Biden pledged as a candidate for the American presidency to restore JCPOA, but has so far shown only a limited commitment to rejoin the earlier agreement, and seems to be insisting on a new agreement that is more restrictive of Iran’s nuclear program and even its regional political activity. The U.S. Government seems to forget that it was its actions that led to the breakdown of the agreement, and that Iran continued to comply for an entire year before embarking upon a more ambitious program of nuclear enrichment, accumulating three tons above the agreed limits, ten times the amount allowed by the lapsed agreement, yet still short of the level of enrichment need to produce nuclear weapons. Six rounds of negotiations have taken place during recent months in Vienna among the five remaining parties to the 2015 agreement (China, Russia, France, UK, Germany) and Iran, as well as indirect negotiations between Iran and the U.S. with the other governments serving as intermediaries.

Authoritative voices from Vienna tell us that an agreement is ‘within reach,’ whatever that may mean, yet they also say its restoration remains uncertain due to Israeli pressures, the recent election of a hardline Iranian President—Ebrahim Raisi, and the American insistence on a longer timeline for the agreement as well as a reported demand that Iran cease its support for ‘terrorist’ entities in the region and reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium.

The Western media fails to understand the relevance of Iranian grievances with respect to its nuclear program, seems totally insensitive to double standards in its reportage, and so the issue is portrayed to the public in an exceedingly misleading manner. Among Iranian grievances the following are especially important: Iran is portrayed as a supporter of terrorism in the region while there is virtually no mention of the blatant pattern of Israel ‘terrorism’ against Iran, and specifically against its nuclear program that has breached no international norms. In the period 2010-2012 four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated by Israel: Masoud Alimohammedi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad, Mostafa Ahmed Roshan. As recently as November 2020 Iran’s leading nuclear scientist associated with Iran’s program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed by a Mossad operation while driving in a car near Tehran. The U.S. has done its share of state-sponsored terrorism: disabling 1,000 centrifuges by cyber Stuxnet attacks back in 2010 and assassinating a leading military and political figure, Qasem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 while he was on a diplomatic peace mission in Iraq. Israel also seems responsible for periodic attacks on the Natanz nuclears facility, as well.

For further contextualization it is well to recall that it was Trump who ruptured JCPOA when it was working well, which was confirmed by assessments of U.S. intelligence reports. Maybe even more important was the U.S. failure to object to such Israeli violation of Iranian sovereign rights, as well as aggressive acts that violated the basic norms of the UN Charter, as well as to curb its own recourse to overt and covert violations of Iran’s legal rights.

Despite this abusive pattern Iran refrained from challenging the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal, or even coupling its commitment to refrain from acquiring the weapons or even the capability to produce the weaponry with a demand for a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone. This pattern should remind us that Western colonialism is largely dead, yet Western imperialism persists almost undetected by the normative radar by which international behavior should be judged. Antony Blinken’s ‘rules-governed’ international order has some gaping black holes, and Iran continues to be victimized in the process, while Blinken’s silence is totally overlooked.

Finally, two statements indicative of Israel’s rogue behavioral ethos toward Iran. The Defense Minister, and alternate opponent of Netanyahu, Benny Gantz speaking on June 24, 2021 put his view of Iran in direct language: “..a murderous and dangerous enemy, building arms of terror around the State of Israel, seeks to acquire a nuclear weapon to threaten Israel, and the stability of the entire region.” Iran’s ‘arms of terror’ presumably contrast with Israel’s ‘weapons of self-defense,’ such are the distortions of hegemonic political discourse. Allon Ben David writing in Ma’ariv on the same day as Gantz spoke was engagingly candid in masking Israeli embrace of terror as a peacetime tactic: “..the Mossad and IDF will contribute in their quiet way part of the effort to delay Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.” The word ‘quiet’ is code talk for ‘secret,’ and the quiet work consists of killing scientists and planting explosives in Iran’s nuclear facilities, or even sending drones on armed missions carried out in Iranian or Syrian territory.

Two interviews are also included that address Iranian leadership issues. It is almost comical that one hears shouts of indignation about an extremist leader being elected in Iran, whereas discussing Bennett’s extremist support of the unlawful encroachment of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territories or refusal to support the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state is hardly mentioned, or set off against Biden’s endorsement of a two-state solution.]

APPROACHING IRAN: THE FLAWS OF IMPERIAL DIPLOMACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

(1) Responses of Richard Falk to Interview Questions of journalist Niloofar Adibnia (19 April 2021)

What is your analysis of the Vienna meeting?

The so-called ‘indirect talks’ in Vienna likely have several distinct goals. (1) Holding the talks include the purpose of involving the four other P5 (Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and Germany) in the process of restoring American participation in and Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, known as JCPOA, and also, as the ‘5 +1 Agreement’; the U.S. and Iran separately interact with representatives of these five governments, which in turn inform U.S. and Iran, which then in turn provide responses; it is a dialogue with intermediaries; (2) The indirectness of the process allows each side to make an assessment as to whether it is worth the risks of international failure and domestic backlash as a result of disagreements as to the respective expectations of the two sides in a high profile diplomatic effort at restoring JCPOA along the lines of its original character in 2015; (3) The Vienna process also should be helpful in identifying sticking points with respect to the removal of sanctions on Iran, the restraint of Iranian regional diplomacy in the Middle East, and any further adjustments such as reparations for ‘nuclear terrorism’ or agreed ceilings on uranium enrichment, allowing both countries to decide how serious these gaps are.

Will the Vienna Summit Lead to the Revival of the Nuclear Deal?

I think part of the purpose of the Vienna talks is to allow the parties to determine whether the timing is right at present for a renewal of JCPOA. The U.S. is under pressure from Israel, and some Arab states not to participate again within the JCPOA framework unless new burdensome conditions are imposed on Iran. On its side, Iran is likely unwilling to alter its enrichment levels without assurances that ‘nuclear terrorism’ will be treated as a criminal disruption in the future, and appropriate steps taken including reparations. Iran may also insist upon unconditional removal of sanctions in view of its experience during the Trump presidency. In opposition, Biden may insist on flexibility with respect to sanctions relief in the event that Iran enriches uranium beyond agreed levels.

Will the US lift sanctions?

I think the sanctions will be lifted by stages if Iran agrees to return to the 2015 enrichment levels, and perhaps, agrees to transfer any stockpile of enriched uranium beyond these levels in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal in 2018 to an international depository or placed in a depot subject to periodic inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The nuclear agreement is not likely to become again operative unless the U.S. sanctions are completely removed. It is assumed that Iran learned its lesson of relying on the U.S. commitment to lift sanctions when Obama was president, while experiencing their reinstatement in harsher form when Trump became president. Undoubtedly, this sequence partly explains the discrediting of the so-called ‘moderates’ in Iran and their replacement by the ‘hardline’ faction, making diplomatic de-escalation seem somewhat more problematic

Do you think the nuclear deal will be revived?

It seems as though there exists a political will on both sides to proceed cautiously in that direction, with the intention of reviving the 2015 arrangements regulating Iran’s nuclear program. Whether this political will is strong enough on both sides remains to be seen as does whether some of the issues turn out to be non-negotiable, and hence deal breakers. Such include enrichment ceilings, treatment of ‘nuclear terrorism. There is also some uncertainty arising from domestic politics in both countries. Will Biden give priority to satisfying Israeli concerns or to reaching a major diplomatic goal of reviving JCPOA? Will Iran insist on a clear pledge of unconditional irreversible removal of the sanctions?

Is there a determination to keep the nuclear deal alive?

I think there is a widespread desire on both sides to give renewed life and relevance to the nuclear agreement,
But there are competing forces on both sides that are more ambivalent about the agreement or are even opposed to its existence. At this point it is difficult to determine with any confidence whether the pro-agreement forces in both countries are strong enough to withstand pressures from anti-agreement forces. The impact of other issues may turn out to be decisive. Will the Natanz attack harden Iran’s demands or soften the U.S. diplomatic stance? So far the indications are not encouraging, and even less so after the Karaj attack on Iran centrifuge production facility. The American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has called Iran’s lifting of the enrichment ceiling from 20% to 60% as ‘provocative’ without putting forth the slightest gesture of criticism of its Natanz attack, widely presumed to have been carried out by Mossad operatives acting on Israel’s behalf.

Will Iran return to full implementation of its nuclear obligations in the nuclear deal?

I cannot imagine the revival of JCPOA unless Iran agrees to comply, and maintains compliance. The more important question is whether Iranian compliance requirements will be set by reference to the initial standards agreed upon in 2015 or whether there will be new standards reflecting intervening developments and to some extent negotiating demands accepted, and. going into effect when the agreement is again operative.

what is your analysis about sabotage on natanz? can it derail vienna negotiation?can it lead to war?

It would seem that Israel intended the attack on the Natanz underground facility as a provocation that would by inducing a major Iranian retaliation and make progress in the Vienna talks problematic. Some have thought that the attack was only designed to give Israel a seat at the Vienna table. The attack should be internationally condemned as a form of ‘nuclear terrorism’ as well as a serious violation of Iran’s sovereign rights. The relative international silence, including by the IAEA is disappointing, and the Blinken response referred to above is unacceptable.

I do not think this event will lead either to the breakdown of the Vienna indirect talks or to regional war, although both possibilities certainly exist. It may delay reaching an agreement in Vienna, and has already raised regional tensions. My view is that with tensions rising in relation to China and Russia, the U.S. will not irresponsibly escalate the conflict dimensions of its relations with Iran, but there are many surrounding complications that
make such speculation unreliable.

We can only hope that peace-oriented pressures on both sides hold sway, and JCPOA again becomes operative. Many will hail this as a diplomatic breakthrough if this happens, and when sanctions are removed, Iranian societal life will benefit greatly, improving the regional and international atmosphere.

(2) Responses of Richard Falk to Amir Mohadded Ismaeli Questions for Mehr News Agency (April 14, 2021)

Q1: Who’s behind Natanz sabotage?

At this point, we have only the uncontested reports that Israel is responsible, having virtually confessed as much. Apparently Israel used Mossad to carry out the attack on the Natanz underground nuclear enrichment facility on April 10, 2021. The attack came only a day after new more advanced cetrifuges began operating at Natanz. The attack took the form of a major explosion 65 meters below the ground. The explosives used are believed to have been smuggled past security guards by being sealed within a steel table and then detonated from a remote location. The complete destruction of the power distribution supply system used to make the centrifuges work has been confirmed as the main damage. It has been estimated by Israelis that it might take Iran as long as nine months to make the facility operational again.

The United States has officially declared that it had no role in this act of sabotage, but it is hard to believe that Washington did not have advance knowledge, and there is no evidence of any attempt to prevent the attack from being carried out or complaints after the fact. Israel leaders although evasive, seemed to justify the attack as part of the country’s defense against the controversial assumption that despite Tehran assurances, Iran is developing the capacity to produce nuclear warheads that could be attached to missiles or rockets, posing dire threats to Israeli security. Iran continues to deny that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capacity. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, has vowed unspecified ‘revenge’ for the attack on Natanz, but there is no indication that this is meant to signal a reversal of Iran’s policy toward the acquisition of the weaponry.

In the background, is the reality of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal that seems to stay below the radar of proliferation concerns and overlooks Iran’s reasonable apprehension of what this could mean in the future for its own security.

Q2: In your view, what purposes are behind this sabotage?

On the basis of circumstantial evidence, contrary to the posture taken by Israel that the Natanz incident was directed at slowing Iran race to the nuclear weapons threshold, I believe the attack had as its primary purpose, a provocation designed to escalate tensions between Iran and Israel, and encourage the U.S. to stick with the Trump approach to relations with Iran. More immediately, the attack is sure to complicate current efforts in Vienna to create the conditions leading to the resumption of U.S. participation in JCPOA through direct negotiations. As is widely understood, Iran has been demanding that its compliance with JCPOA depends upon an American commitment to terminate the sanctions imposed during the Trump presidency in conjunction with its unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in 2018.

This hypothesis of provocation is reinforced by the highly belligerent statements made by Netanyahu when asked about the Natanz attack. Instead of a denial or even a claim of Israeli worries, he chose to treat the relationship between the two countries as a relation between two enemies poised to destroy one another. He is quoted as claiming that the ‘fanatical regime’ governing Iran without doubt intends to acquire nuclear weapons so as to destroy Israel in pursuit of their ‘genocidal goal of eliminating Israel.” Netanyahu added that Israel would continue ‘to defend itself against Iran’s aggression and terrorism’ as if Iran was the provocateur. Such language offers an official indirect justification for what happened an Natanz, as well uses warlike language of implacable hostility.

I suspect that Israel by such high-profile sabotage and incendiary language is doing its best to tie the hands of the Biden presidency, agitate pro-Israeli sentiments in the U.S. Congress and Western media. The secondary objective is to obstruct the Iranian nuclear program, which is consistent with such past acts of aggression as the disabling of centrifuges through the insertion of the Stuxnet virus back in 2010 as well as through targeted assassination of leading nuclear scientists, including Iran’s leading nuclear specialist, Mohsen Fakhrizadez in November 2020. This pattern of covert violence has long violated Iran’s sovereign rights and has been understandably denounced by Iranian officials as ‘nuclear terrorism.’

What is uncertain at this time is whether Israel will commit further provocations, how Iran will react, and whether the United States will take the bait, and either delay JCPOA negotiations or demand Iranian compliance with new conditions beyond the original agreement before it lifts or even eases the sanctions or resumes its own participation.

Q3: Do you think there is a coordination between the US and Israel for implementing the sabotage?

It is difficult to say. There is some reason to believe that if there was such coordination it would not be necessary for Israel to take the risks arising from such serious provocations. As with the Obama diplomacy that led to the agreement in 2015, there are differences between the U.S. interest in regional stability and the Israeli determination to keep destabilizing Iran so as to realize at some point its undisguised goal of regime change.

At the same time, with the COVID challenge uppermost as a policy priority for Biden, there may be some level of coordination, involving reassurances to Israel that it will not make things easy for Iran with respect to the sanctions or JCPOA. Biden seems eager to avoid diversionary issues in America that would allege that the U.S. is failing to uphold reasonable Israeli security demands.

As of now, resort to the ‘indirect talks’ in Vienna suggest that both sides are proceeding cautiously, keeping their options open. The next month or so will make clearer whether the U.S. will separate its search for normalization with Iran due to pressures arising from its special relationship with Israel or will pursue a diplomatic course in accord with its national interest. It will never be able to satisfy Israel and reach a negotiated agreement with Iran. It must choose, and hopefully opting for peace and diplomacy rather than coercion and hostility.

Q4: Some scholars believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency and JCPOA parties should clarify their stances and condemn this sabotage, as it’s been done while Iran has been trying to revive the agreement in Vienna. What do you think?

I do believe that if an investigation confirms Israeli responsibility for the Natanz attack it should be condemned by the International Atomic Energy Agency and by the parties to JCPOA (that is, the five Permanent Members of the Security Council and Germany). Such a step would be a major step toward depoliticization of regional tensions, and offer some hope that the current crisis atmosphere can be overcome. What is being called ‘the shadow war’ between Israel and Iran is dangerous and every effort should be made to end it. It also should be acknowledged as widely as possible that Israel has the main responsibility for recourse to this surge of war-mongering propaganda and acts of aggression that violate international law and the UN Charter. The UN should stop watching such dangerous and unlawful events in a spirit of silent detachment, and take its own Charter responsibilities seriously.

(3)Zahra Mirzafarjouyan interview questions, May 30, 2021, Mehr News Agency

1- An Israeli leader described Islamic revolution as “earthquake of century”. What have been the effects of the Imam Khomeini-lead revolution in the region that worried Israelis?

Imam Khomeini made clear his opposition to Israel and the Zionist Project of establishing a Jewish state inside the Islamic World, although he was also clear that he regarded Judaism as an authentic religion deserving respect. When I had a meeting with Imam Khomeini in Paris days before he returned to Iran, he said explicitly that so long as Jews were not active in supporting Israel, it would be ‘a tragedy for us if they left Iran after the revolution.’ His outlook was anti-Israeli, but not anti-Semitic.

I am not familiar with this quote although it makes sense. Israel had enjoyed positive relations with Iran during the period of the Shah’s rule. The Islamic Revolution was perceived as an immediate threat to Israel because it sought to reclaim political control for the ancestral peoples, long resident in the region under the auspices of a political movement espousing Islamic principles and opposed to all forms of secular and Western penetration, especially in the form of a settler colonial state. And such a movement had successfully challenged the Pahlavi regime in Iran, which had the most elaborate modernized internal security apparatus in the region. If it could in Iran, it was supposed that such revolutionary movements could and would succeed elsewhere in the region.

Whether ‘earthquake of the century’ is an overstatement can be discussed, and challenged. It competes with the Russian and Chinese Revolutions and the rise of Hitler, World Wars I & II as alternative candidates for such an assertion. Possibly, seen in the context of the Middle East, and from the perspective of Israel, it was seen as an extreme disruptive event, with an anti-Israeli mobilizing potential that would influence the peoples of the region, and at the same time deprived Israel of its most sympathetic support as centered previously in Iran.

2- What features of the Islamic Revolution have worried the western powers?

I suppose the most worrisome aspect of the Islamic Revolution from the perspective of the West was its resolve to eliminate all forms of Western influence—geopolitical, political, economic, and cultural. In this sense, the events in Iran could be interpreted as anti-imperial as well as anti-colonial, that is, not only opposing European colonialism but its sequel taking the form of the project of U.S. influence in strategic partnership with the hostile regimes and Israel.

A second source of concern was the rejection of Western ideas about governance and the place of religion in the life of society. Western ideas of political legitimacy rested on a premise of separating church and state, while the Islamic Revolution favored their organic connection, giving primacy to religious leadership, although accompanied by a political sphere that was legitimated by periodic free elections.

Other issues involved imposing religious traditions contrary to Western cultural ideas. This can be observed, especially, in relation to the dress and appearance of women, and with respect to education, social life, and entertainment.

The West celebrates ‘freedom’ by reference to social practices, including music, consumption of alcohol, pornography, and tolerance of anti-religious ideas. It perceived Iran after the Islamic Revolution as prohibiting what in the West were regarded as achievements of the Enlightenment and modernity.

In the end, the most fundamental opposition to the Islamic Revolution arose from the belief that political Islam would be resistant to Western penetration and hegemonic control after the collapse of European colonialism, and thus threatened crucial Western strategic interests, including access to energy, security of Israel, ideological anti-Marxist solidarity, and neoliberal globalization.

3- How do you see the role of Imam Khomeini in uniting the Muslim world?

I believe that Imam Khomeini had a major impact in demonstrating to the Muslim world
the mobilization of national populations could be effective in challenging corrupt and decadent forms of political leadership. It gave rise to Islamic activism and extremism, which in turn produced Islamophobic reactions in Europe and North America. Iran itself
opposed such Sunni extremism associated with ISIS and the Taliban as in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Imam Khomeini has so far failed in uniting the Muslim world, especially if measured by the outlook of governing elites. Indeed, it seems more reasonable to conclude that his
Influence has led to deeper divisions and a rise in sectarian rivalries, especially in the Middle East. Imam Khomeini was as opposed to the Gulf dynasties, especially Saudi Arabia, than he was about Israel, secularism, and Western influence. In turn, these conservative monarchies, although purporting to adhere to Islamic law and practices,
were severely threatened by populist advocacy of an Islamic orientation of government. It is no secret that Gulf monarchies, along with Israel, opposed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood anywhere in the region, especially Egypt. Islam from below, as in Iran, was
consistently opposed by Sunni elites in the region.

4- Imam Khomeini always hated compromising with arrogant powers and Zionists and believed in resistance. How has the culture of resistance been able to change the balance of power in the region?

Except for Iran itself, I do not see any shift in the balance of power in the region arising from Imam Khomeini’s support for a culture of resistance. It could be argued that the Arab uprising of 2010-11 reflected a certain influence of the Imam and the Iranian experience of revolutionary success inspired people to act collectively in mounting challenges to the status quo. Even if this is so it must be offset by counter-revolutionary moves that followed these uprisings, producing chaos in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and intensifications of the harsh rule of Arab monarchies. It may be correct that Western influence has somewhat declined, and is being now challenged by other extra-regional forces, China and Russia. These changes are affecting the role of global geopolitics in the Islamic world, but I don’t associate these developments with manifestations of a culture of resistance.

Iran’s foreign policy has enjoyed a measure of success in Lebanon, Palestine, and above all, Syria, but it seems premature to speak of a new balance of power in the region. The Palestinian resistance is the most impressive example of a culture of
resistance that is active in the region. Although the Palestinian struggle has been led for 20 years by Hamas, its movement of resistance seems remote from any direct influence by Imam Khomeini, whom I believe would be disappointed that his legacy has not extended beyond Iran.

(5) Responses of Richard Falk to Questions posed by Javad Arab Shirazi(May 9, 2021) (Press TV)
Q#1: Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei on Friday marked the International Quds Day, voicing confidence that the downward movement of the Zionist regime has already started and “it will never stop”. What do you think?
I agree with the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the Israeli apartheid state has suffered a series of defeats in the symbolic domain of politics in the first months of 2021: the preliminary decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the Prosecutor possesses the legal authority to investigate allegations of Israel’s criminality in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem that occurred after 2015; influential reports by the Israeli NGO, B’Tselem and by the leading U.S. NGO, Human Rights Watch conclude that the practices and policies of Israel throughout Israel and occupied Palestine constitute the international crime of apartheid; and significant worldwide increases in global solidarity initiatives in support of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights, including the inalienable right of self-determination enjoyed by every people.

These symbolic advances suggest that Palestine is winning the Legitimacy War fought between Israel and Palestine over the relative legal, moral, and spiritual entitlements in their struggle. The record of the struggles against colonial rule since 1945 suggest that the side that prevails in a Legitimacy War eventually controls the political outcome. In this respect, the statement of Ayatollah Khamenei about a downward Israeli spiral accords with the flow of history.
At the same time Israel will not easily accept defeat. It has tried to deflect attention by accusing individuals and even institutions, such as the UN and ICC, of being ‘antisemitic.’ This is a display of ‘the politics of deflection.’ Such deflection attempts to wound the messenger rather than heed the message. Israel also enjoys the geopolitical backing of the United States and to a lesser extent, the European Union, and has benefitted from ‘the normalization agreements’ reached in 2020 with several Arab governments as encouraged by the Trump presidency during its last months. These factors suggest that it will be a difficult and likely prolonged struggle.
In the meantime, the Palestinian people are being severely subjugated in their own homeland, including ever since the Nakba in 1948 being victimized by ethnic cleansing on a massive scale. It is necessary to appreciate that symbolic successes do not translate immediately into substantive results, and often have the opposite short-term effects because the oppressor senses its vulnerability. Such an experience is currently the fate of the Palestinian people.

Q#2: The Leader said the policies of the oppressive and cruel capitalism “have driven a people out of their homes, their homeland and their ancestral roots and instead, it has installed a terrorist regime and has housed a foreign people therein.” What are your thoughts on this?
My response to the prior question addresses this language on the level of the existential suffering of the Palestinian people within and outside their homeland, including in refugee camps in neighboring countries and through the dispersion of Palestinians in involuntary exile around the world.
I think that the abuses of capitalism are not essential aspects of the basic crimes of displacement and oppression of the Palestinian people so as to enable the Zionist Project to succeed in establishing a Jewish state in the Palestinian homeland. These crimes are virtually acknowledged in Israel’s Basic Law of 2018. Capitalist patterns of exploitation of Palestinian labor and resources are part of this overall picture but incidental to the apartheid and colonial structures that exert comprehensive control over Palestinian activities.

Q#3: “Today, the situation in the world is not like those days. We should keep this reality within sight. Today, the balance of power has swung in favor of the world of Islam. Various political and social incidents in Europe and in the United States have laid bare the weaknesses and the deep structural, managerial and moral conflicts among westerners. The electoral events in the US and the notoriously scandalous failures of the hubristic and arrogant managers in that country, the unsuccessful one-year fight against the pandemic in the US and Europe and the embarrassing incidents that ensued, and also the recent political and social instabilities in the most important European countries are all signs of the downward movement of the western camp”, the Leader said. What do you think?

There is much evidence of Western decline as the quoted language of Ayatollah Khamanei suggests, but the world future remains obscure. Historical tendencies appear to favor the rise of Asia and a more multipolar world order. There are also indications of Western, particularly U.S. decline, as in its handling of the COVID pandemic and prolonged failure to update and improve the quality of its infrastructure, spending excessively on armaments instead of investing
in a sustainable and equitable future.

Yet there are some contradictions that prevent any assured image of the future. At present, there are prospects of a dangerous confrontation between China and the United States, which could confirm Chinese ascendency or lead to regional conflict, and possibly wider tensions in the form of a second cold war. It is also possible that prudence and humane judgment will lead to a geopolitics of accommodation, allowing proper attention being given to managing global challenges of unprecedented magnitude.

It is not clear to me that the Islamic world can escape from the constraining logic of statism, particularly in the Middle East where sectarian strains and regional rivalries appear stronger at present than religious and civilizational bonds.

There is also uncertainty arising from the novelty of global scale challenges amid many inequalities causing both impulses toward cooperation and withdrawals from internationalism in the form of exclusive forms of statism. The modern world system has never been challenged as a totality by anything like climate change in the past, and whether it has the flexibility and resilience to adapt remains to be seen, although the evidence to date is not encouraging. The failures to suspend sanctions during the pandemic in response to humanitarian appeals and the vaccine diplomacy emphasizing profits over people that accompanied the COVID suggest that the political elites have not caught up with history, and are ill-equipped to conceive of national wellbeing beneath the bluer skies of human wellbeing.

There is a need for forward-looking global leadership that is informed by a commitment to the global public good. It may be that this leadership could emerge from below, from a transnational movement animated by a struggle for ecological balance and species identity.
Instead of patriots of the nation or state, patriots of humanity; instead of entrepreneurs for profit, guardians of nature. New values and new identities to sustain a responsible anthropocentrism.

(5)Interview Questions from Javad Arabshirazi, Press TV on domain seizures (June 23, 2021)

Q#1: In what seems to be a coordinated action, a similar message has appeared on the websites of a series of Iranian and regional television networks that claims their domains have been “seized by the United States Government.” The notice, which appeared late Tuesday on the website of English-language television news network Press TV as well as a number of other Iranian and regional news channels, cited US sanctions laws for the seizure and was accompanied by the seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US Department of Commerce. What is your take on this?

A#1: It is important to recall that a similar seizure of Iran-related news sites occurred on October 7, 2020. It was justified at the time as the implementation of U.S. sanctions and directed at preventing alleged dissemination of ‘disinformation.’ It was further claimed that the step was taken in response to threatss to U.S. national security and its ‘democratic process.’ Significantly, the identification of the seized website domains was a result of cooperation between the U.S. Government and the high tech giants Twitter, Google, and Facebook. Such a move was seen in 2020 as an effort to increase pressure on Iran by way of improper interference with its sovereign rights, an intensifying of coercive pressures.

The rationale of this latest phase of domain seizures repeats the earlier pattern of justification, again with accusations that these supposed Iranian news outlets were disguised governmental operations that used their media platforms to subvert democratic procedures in the United States. Again this time the seizures were presented as implementations of the U.S. sanctions procedures. The timing is suspicious, coming a few days after a new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected and just prior to the resumption of a seventh round of talks in Vienna to negotiate indirectly the restoration of U.S. participation in the Iran Nuclear Program deal of 2016 coupled with a phasing out of the sanctions.

These developments raise crucial questions about motivation and goals: does it reflect Israeli influence designed to prevent restoring U.S. participation in and Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, the technical name of the nuclear deal? Or is it a reaction to the outcome of the Iranian presidential election, which resulted in a landslide victory for a candidate presented as hostile to the West, and particularly to Israel and the United States? Perhaps, the best answer is to postulate a combination of factors. It should be noted that an American spokesperson for the government in Washington claims that the election of Ayatollah Raisi is not relevant to the Vienna diplomacy as whoever was president of Iran, it was asserted, the final decision on such issues of vital policy would be made not by an elected official but by the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Q#2: Do you believe that the move shows Washington’s selective view towards freedom of speech and democracy?

A#2: If the seizures turn out to be official acts of the U.S. Government, it would express a serious moral hypocrisy and double standards, and unlawful encroachment on sovereign rights. The U.S. seeks to control the public discourse on matters of international concern, especially if part of the background is conflict and strife as here. There are also in the U.S. ongoing struggles behind the scene between moderate and hardline attitudes toward Iran, which also reflects degrees of direct and indirect Israeli influence. The more aggressive tendencies opposes moves toward normalization, favoring high tensions. Having one-sided presentations of conflictual situations tends to inhibit compromise and normalization of relations among states, producing an atmosphere of might makes right.

Q#3: The US is in possession of the mainstream media and can easily change and distort narratives around the world. What has irked the US government? Why do you think a TV network like Press TV should be seized by the US government?

Control of the political narrative is an important dimension of geopolitics in the digital age. Fake news and manipulation of reality are coercive means if deployed in uncontested political settings. By shutting down Press TV the US is attempting to deprive Iran of its capacity to challenge hostile propaganda, and put forth its own counter-narrative of controversial events, and more generally of peace, justice, and democratic governance. In effect, being able to exercise monopoly control of media platforms is a crucial representation of power, as important in some settings as guns and missiles. Underneath this manipulation of information is an extremely dangerous tendency to substitute one-sides propaganda for truth and dialogue.

Why Biden Must Win: It is not about Democracy, its about Fascism

9 Oct

[Prefatory Note: Responses to an Iranian journalist, Javad Heiran-Nia Interview Questions on U.S. Elections (8 Oct 2020).]

Why Biden Must Win: It is not about Democracy, its about Fascism

  1. What is the most important issue affecting the upcoming US presidential election? (Economy; Foreign Policy; Domestic Policy; etc.)

For the voters in America the most important issues at this time are the (mis)management of the health crisis by Trump and the impact on the recovery of the U.S. economy. At this point there is a surge of criticism directed at the present U.S. leadership with respect to the Coronavirus pandemic: more infections and deaths per capita than almost any country in the world, intentional disregard of guidance by health specialists, dishonest and irresponsible reassurances, and economic relief favoring the rich and influential while understating the economic distress caused others by the loss of jobs, food insecurities, and threats of eviction. There is little interest, at least up to this point, in foreign policy with the single exception of international economic relations and geopolitical tensions with China. Both candidates for the presidency seem to adopt anti-Chinese positions, but Biden seems less militaristic and provocative than Trump. Biden refrains from blaming China for the virus, and seems somewhat less likely to embrace a strategy in East Asia that will lead to a second cold war.

For the peoples of the Middle East and elsewhere, the foreign policy implications of the elections assume greater importance. As with China, Trump seems more inclined than Biden to push the anti-Iran coalition of Israel, UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia toward the brink of war, with the hope that the persistence of ‘maximum pressure’ will cause destabilization in Iran, and if possible, regime change. Biden would not likely change very much in terms of alignment, but might be expected to be more cautious in endorsing aggressive policies, and might even restore the agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program negotiated toward the end of the Obama presidency. At the same time, Biden might be more inclined than Trump to push an anti-Russian approach that could take the form of regional and global confrontations, as well as arms races in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Europe.  

One cost of such foreign policy initiatives is to weaken the attention given to challenges  that can only be solved by multilateral cooperation at a time when it is most needed, especially in relation to climate change, the control of nuclear weaponry, migration flows, and health issues. As noted above, Biden is much more likely to renew American support for ‘liberal internationalism’ than Trump, and can almost certainly be expected to do so unless geopolitically distracted.

There are other hot spots around the world that are capable of generating dangerous foreign policy crises, especially in relation to Korea or India/Pakistan.

2. Which candidate has the best chance of winning? (Trump or Biden)

As of now, it appears that Biden will win the election rather decisively, but in 2016 there existed a comparable clear outlook close to vote, reinforced by public opinion polls. It created a strong impression that Hillary Clinton would win easily over Donald Trump, a view almost universally shared by the media, and reportedly even by the Trump campaign. The American political mood is unstable, and could be influenced by developments in the coming weeks as the date of the election approaches that are supportive of Trump’s campaign for reelection as, for example, violent riots in American cities, a further surge in the financial markets, a crisis in the Middle East or the Korean Peninsula. .

Additionally, there are a series of factors that sow doubt about present expectations of a Biden victory that go beyond which candidate will gain the most votess: first of all, Biden could win the popular vote by a wide margin, and yet lose the election because of the way in which the peculiar American institution of the Electoral College determines the outcome of presidential elections by counting the results on a federal state by state basis rather than nationally. This happened in 2016, Hillary Clinton winning by wide margins in New York and California, but losing close votes in such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan. According to the Electoral College a candidate receives the same number of electoral votes assigned to a state if he wins by one vote or 10 million votes. The value of the vote in states where one party dominates, an individual vote becomes of diluted value, whereas if both parties are more or less of similar popularity, the value of an individual vote is inflated. The question posed is whether the Electoral College vote will again override the popular vote as it did in 2106.

Secondly, it is well known that Republican control of governments in the 50 states making up the U.S. has resulted in a variety of voter suppression schemes that make it harder to vote, and particularly affects African Americans and the very poor, making voting more difficult i cities and the rural South. Trump has also attacked mail-in voting as subject to mass fraud although the evidence in no way supports the accusation. Less votes are seen as helping Trump. Republicans are better organized and more disciplined than Democrats, although the Democrats have devoted great energy this year to getting out the vote.

Thirdly, Trump has intimated that he can only lose the election if it is has been ‘rigged’ by the Democrats. The reality seems to justify a different complaint that targets the Republicans. Much of the rigging that occurred in 2016 was attributable to Russia, and definitely worked in Trump’s favor, being intended to do so. Back then such partisan interference seemed welcomed by the Republican campaign, and likely would be again.  There are concerns that similar interferences might occur again this time around as Russia continues to prefer Trump to Biden, although there seems to be a greater effort in 2020 to insulate the election process from outside interferences, especially in relation to social media.

It is important to grasp a basic ideological feature of recent American elections of the presidency. Ever since the unified response to fascism during World War II the political parties have accepted a ‘bipartisan consensus’ that almost completely excludes certain crucial policy commitments from political controversy. The most important of these is overinvestment in the military, the predatory features of global capitalism, and so-called ‘special relationships’ with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and European alliance partners. This consensus held up throughout the Cold War, was sustained during the banner years of neoliberal globalization in the decade of the 1990s, and reinvigorated after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon after George W. Bush launched the war on terror, and Barack Obama continued it. 

Bernie Sanders challenged this consensus as it impacted upon policy discourse during his two campaigns to obtain the Democratic Party nomination, but his efforts were rejected by the party elite because he threatened the consensus, defied the ‘deep state,’ worried the Washington foreign policy establishment, and frightened the large private sector donors whose funding support depended on respecting the bipartisan consensus. In this sense, the Democrats successfully subordinated in their own party all radical elements that enjoyed movement support, especially among youth. The Republicans sidelined their moderate leadership, giving over control of the party to extremists that formed the base of Trump support. And so while the Democratic Party establishment neutralized the progressive Sanders’ challenge the Republican Party was radicalized from the right giving Trump control over all mechanism.

In part, it is this issue of party identity, and its relation to the governmental structures of power, that may be the most important effect of the November elections. If Biden wins, the bipartisan consensus is reaffirmed, while if Trump somehow prevails, the bipartisan will be further weakened, and even threatened by replacing the consensus with a right-wing policy agenda. If Biden loses, the consensus will be further discredited by its mistaken view that moving toward the political center is what wins election. What evidence exists by polls and other measurements of public opinion suggest that Sanders would have been a stronger candidate than Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020, but for reasons suggested above, adhering to the bipartisan consensus was more important or Democrats than winning elections. 

  •  

9/11 + 9/12: COMPOUNDING TRAGEDY

22 Sep

[Prefatory Note: This post is the second part of my interview with Daniel Falcone that was published by CounterPunch on

September 12, 2021. It explores further the effects of the attacks and ongoing sequences of reactions, which were appropriately attributable to the events of 9/11 and those internal moves of surveillance and detention that were independently favored by the U.S. governmental leadership, but were too controversial to take until they were able to make to claim the cover of the War on Terror. A similar, even more pronounced dualism, is helpful in distinguishing the 9/12 developments that were plausible responses to the mega-terrorist transnational attacks and those escalated responses that reflected a preexisting disposition of the neoconservative foreign policy advisory circle around President George W. Bush to use American military capabilities against governments that were geopolitical outliers with respect to the neoliberal consensus on globalization or were hostile to American alignments in the Middle East and elsewhere.]

                             Part Two

International and Internal Impacts of 9/11, 9/12

Daniel Falcone: How has foreign policy and institutional approaches to global diplomacy changed over the past two decades in your estimation?

Richard Falk: The most notable change in American statecraft during this period is the abandonment of a core emphasis on economic globalization, with a corresponding swing in national security policy to counterterrorism, tactics and technological innovations that minimize visible U.S. warfighting and casualties on distant and dispersed combat zones situated within foreign sovereign states. While this counterterrorist impulse prevailed during the Bussh presidency, it placed heavy reliance on torture to obtain information relating to potential terrorist operations and the identity operatives. In the process, it turned official policy to ‘the dark side’ of counterterrorism, which meant a dismaying repudiation of international humanitarian law with respect to the belligerent conduct, and a total denial of human rights to those accused of a terrorist connection, however remote. It was contemptuous toward those who urged compliance with international law and human rights standards. The detention center at Guantanamo became

a word of international opprobrium, dehumanizing conduct, shaming the nation, and forever tarnishing its liberal credentials.

As well, declaring a war on terror made the entire world into a potential battlefield featuring the targeting of individuals or their places of habitation as suspected of terrorist affiliation. It also foregrounded reliance on unmanned drones for attack and surveillance, the deployment of small special operations detachments with capture or kill missions in 85 countries, whose governments often were not consulted or asked for permission with respect to penetrations of their sovereign space to engage in non-accountable acts of political violence. The execution of Osama Bin Laden, given safe have in Pakistan, by such a mission was the most significant and publicized instance of this form of counterterrorism.

Other changes in warfare unrelated to 9/11 involve the use of features of digital networking to disrupt, steal industrial or state secrets, attack vital electric grids, disrupt nuclear facilities through computer viruses. In other words, cyber age conflict is characteristically carried on in mostly settings other than territorial battlefields.

During the Trump presidency these doctrinal and ideological tendencies were carried further as alliances were deemphasized and bilateral transactional relations and the search for ‘deals’ with adversaries were given high profiles. Multilateralism declined, and a chauvinistic, territorial nationalism was raucously promoted, and affected many countries, explained in part as protection against immigration by the forces of ‘radical Islam,’ but additionally as a reaction against the perceived failures of globalization, with its privileging of capital at the expense of people.

The Biden presidency commencing in January 2021 seemed to revert to the pre-9/11 and pre-globalization Cold War approach to foreign policy, reviving and initiating alliances, championing an emerging geopolitical rivalry with China, and configuring military capabilities toward more traditional forms of warfare, as well as continuing the non-territorial concerns addressed under the label of cyber security. Biden seems to view international relations through an ideological lens that seeks to align ‘democracies’ for a great struggle with ‘autocracies,’ above all with allegedly ‘socialist’ China, but secondarily with once socialist Russia. In this sense, there is a foreign policy transition under way from counterterrorism to geopolitical rivalry, although this shift could be reversed or modified by new mega-terrorist events that recalled the spectacle and trauma of 9/11. The stakes are high—global hegemony more politely described as ‘global leadership.’

What is lacking in the political scene, sadly, is any strong moves toward the demilitarization of foreign policy or related adjustment to the failures arising from the militarization of political challenges. There seems to be no discussion of what we can learn from the methods and results of China’s remarkable achievement of economic development, which overcame the extreme poverty of hundreds of millions of Chinese and spread its influence and achievements to many other countries by a win/win foreign economic policy that did not engage in intervention or state-building with respect to the internal politics of foreign countries. China’s Road and Belt Project that has brought many tangible developmental gains, especially in infrastructure, for countries throughout Africa and Asia, and virtually no military intrusions. The post-colonial West has developed nothing comparable, and is as reliant as ever on its military capabilities to hold its own geopolitically.

Daniel Falcone: What are your thoughts on how certain terminology has evolved in the context of the post 9/11 world? For example, “terrorism,” “extremism,” “state building,” “legitimacy,” and “international community” are all words that change meaning within the discourse, correct?

Richard Falk: Yes, language always reflects changing patterns of hegemonic politics, and this was certainly true in the aftermath of 9/11, more so than in 9/12 contexts. The overall effort was to stigmatize certain behaviors as beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior while legitimating other patterns of action as providing justifications for previously dubious claims to encroach upon the sovereign rights of others or ignore the human rights of adversaries. Not since the death camps of Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union has there been comparable image of abusing prisoners held in captivity. As suggested, Guantanamo is a name that defames America throughout the world. In effect, the discourse of international relations tries to provide geopolitical actors with ethical and legal justifications for their policy agendas and to discredit behavior adverse to their interests. This is especially true when new challenges emerge that make frameworks of permissible response seem insufficient.

Of the words in your question that acquired new relevance after 9/11: ‘terrorism,’ ‘state-building,’ and ‘extremism’ are particularly salient, and seem to describe the U.S. counterterrorist long-range efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, although there were antecedents for each pre-9/11. The words ‘legitimacy’ and ‘international community’ were useful in evading the strict prohibitions of international law as with respect to ‘torture,’ further disguised as ‘enhanced interrogation.’ ‘International community’ was also helpful in suggesting that the political backing of the UN reflected an anti-terrorist consensus that created an almost unconditional mandate for pursuing counterterrorist tactics without questioning their impacts on innocent civilians, in effect, an implied license to kill on suspicion or to intervene to replace governments accused of being connected with 9/11 either by providing safe haven or material support.

The most radical idea accompanying counterterrorist intervention entailed replacing the former regime with a governing process thatth would fit the broader, longer range policy priorities, political ideals, and material interests of the intrusion on sovereign space.

Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on how Bush 43 through Biden have navigated the presidency while implementing select 9/11 narratives as a backdrop?

Richard Falk: Bush rallied the country primarily by demonizing the perpetrators of the 9/11 events, characterizing them as sub-human, to be ‘hunted’ as if wild animals. More than this he lent credence to the idea that non-state political violence was inherently extremist, wherever it occurred and regardless of justification, as posing a terrorist threat to all ‘civilized’ countries. Calling upon governments throughout the world to join with the US in this war on terror, or if unwilling to do so, be treated as siding with terrorism. In effect, Bush unilaterally by geopolitical fiat invalidated a neutral diplomacy as a legitimate policy option in the context of ‘the war on terror.’ Bush also, whether knowingly or not, allowed counterterrorist foreign policy to be converted into a vehicle for executing the pre-9/11 neoconservative agenda of regime change, state-building, and democracy promotion in the Middle East where the terrorist allegations or links to 9/11 were tenuous or non-existent, yet alleged. In Afghanistan the links to 9/11 seemed self-evident and rationalized a limited counterterrorist operation against al-Qaeda. It should have not surprised any close student of American foreign policy to take note of the speed with which the initial counterterrorist justification morphed into a failed twenty year politically, materially, and psychologically failed and expensive war against the Taliban.

Next Obama came to the White House as of 2009 with a pledge of a more restrained foreign policy approach, which meant operationally that Bush’s war on terror would go on but with more outward respect for international law and a less grandiose conception of an extended counterterrorist mission in the Middle East. Obama wanted to limit counterterrorism to al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. Manifesting geopolitical ambivalence, Obama favored a troop surge in Afghanistan, apparently believing that the state-building mission was on the verge of success. Obama also rejected the regime-changing, democracy-promotion neoconservative hijacking of the 9/11 provocation for its preoccupation with restructuring the politics of the Middle East in a manner that was particularly responsive to Israel’s goals, angering Netanyahu especially when extended to Iran. A highlight of the Obama presidency was the diplomacy that produced an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program in 2015, known as Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (or JCPOA) that was designed to give assurances that Iran would not cross the nuclear threshold and the United States would over time reduce the sanctions it had imposed.

Obama went along with stretching international law so as weaken some restraints on the use of force, especially by an increased reliance on attack drones in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen where al-Qaeda operatives were active. Obama supported the 2011 intervention in Libya, although demeaned by Republicans for ‘leading from behind’ when it came to the controversial NATO-led regime changing military operation that left the country at the mercy of prolonged violent ethnic strife. Qaddafi’s Libya although autocratic, had high ratings for social development, and is a further confirmation that intervention rarely achieves its purported goals.  

When Trump’s turn came in 2015, there was a confusing mix of policies. Trump went further than any prior president in shaping American foreign policy in the Middle East to accord with the regional goals of Israel and the Gulf monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia. This led to Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and the adoption of a policy toward Iran of ‘maximum pressure.’ At the same time, Trump set the stage for withdrawal from Afghanistan, denouncing forever wars as a waste of money and lives that were costly as well as tarnishing the US reputation as a fearsome hegemon. Trump’s America first, anti-immigration, pro-military policies were less a security posture directed at would be terrorists than an effort to build a right-wing, autocratic political movement in the United States that was hostile to all forms of internationalism, including multilateral diplomacy. Trump and Trumpism intensified a nativist Islamophobia that blamed ‘radical Islam’ for terrorism and generated a related negative form of identity politics that gave aid and comfort to the white supremacy movement. This was exemplified by Trump’s comments on a neo-fascist march through Charlottesville that was resisted by protesters, contending that there were ‘good people on both sides.’ Despite the home scene, geopolitical concerns about a rising China began displacing counterterrorism at the top of the foreign policy agenda, a dynamic already started during the Obama presidency under the rubric of a ‘pivot to Asia.’

The Biden presidency is still new, and its record mixed. It has moved to correct the criminal failures of Trumpism in dealing with the COVID challenge and climate change but has irresponsibly intensified rivalry with China and has exhibited continuity with much of Trump’s policies toward the Middle East despite reaffirming the moribund two-state approach to peace between Israel and Palestine. Biden deserves credit for pushing ahead with steps to end the war in Afghanistan, despite the unnecessarily humiliating and reckless final act, and maybe finally bringing to an end the debilitating intervention/state-building cycle. One hopes he recollects and builds upon his opposition to Afghanistan troop surge and Libya policy while serving as Vice President in the Obama administration rather than recalls his enthusiasm for embarking upon the Iraq War in 2003/.   

Daniel Falcone: Scholars and writers such as Noam ChomskyLawrence Davidson and Isabel Allende have written about 9/11 – and September 11, 1973 in Chile. Can you talk about this historical analogue? 

Richard Falk: The most illuminating insight drawn from a comparison between 9/11 and the Pinochet coup against the elected Allende government in Chile 28 years earlier encouraged and then supported by Washington, relates to the humanitarian and political costs for the United States of intervention in foreign societies. The whole 9/11 impetus for the U.S. to engage in state-building overseas in the aftermath of regime-changing interventions led to an estimated 929,000 deaths, more than eight trillion dollars of wasted expenditures, counterterrorist operations in 85 countries, and an estimated 38 million displaced persons according to the Cost of War Project of the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs. This background of post-9/11 war-making is a major explanation of the unmistakable imperial U.S. decline abroad and alienating polarization within America. These failed efforts to control adverse political and economic tendencies at their source, often as in Chile were motivated by the pressures mounted by large corporate investors. They involved assaults on the most fundamental of human rights, that of the right of self-determination acknowledged as constitutive of more specific rights by being highlighted as a common Article 1 in both human rights Covenants.

This ‘war’ waged against the exercise of the right of self-determination did not begin with 9/11 but was a feature and legacy of the Cold War, receiving a second life thanks to the response of neoconservative Republican leadership to 9/11 as abetted by a history of complicit bipartisan passivity on the part of the Democratic Party opposition. We should pause in our reckoning and thank Barbara Lee as the sole member of Congress to vote against the ‘Authorization for the Use of Military Force of 2001’ legislation that to this day gives executive leadership a green light to wage war at will without either domestic constitutional oversight or respect for international law and the authority of the UN.

The United States should have learned the blowback consequences of interfering with the internal dynamics of self-determination when it conspired back in 1953 to overthrow the elected government of Mossadegh in Iran, supposedly to bolster the geopolitics of containment of the Soviet Union, but at least as much to satisfy the greed and ambition of ‘big oil.’ The whole political turn toward Islam, eventuating in the mass movement of 1978-79 led from exile by Ayatollah Khomeini, can be traced to the unifying impact on diverse strands of Iranian society due to the restored imposition of the Shah’s regime as a result of externally motivated and sustained intervention. The same lesson was made even plainer for detached observers to learn in the 1970s as a consequence of the Vietnam War where the intervention was overt and massive, and yet in the end led to a humiliating defeat.

Of course, the most relevant geopolitical pedagogy should have been absorbed as a result of the long experience of the West in Afghanistan stretching back to the time of ‘the great game’ of colonial competition to control the country. The recent post-colonial variation on the great game started with the effort to mobilize resistance to a Kabul government in the 1980s that was seen as leaning toward Moscow. With a cavalier disregard of consequences, the U.S. stimulated and supported the Islamic resistance to Afghanistan’s first secular modernizing elected government with training and weapons, including strengthening and emboldening the militia that evolved into al-Qaeda under the leadership of a charismatic religious ideologue, Osama Bin Laden! As hardly needs mention, it was this chain of imprudent moves that provided the proximate causes of 9/11 (together with the imprudent Western encroachments on the course of self-determination in the Middle East, including support for the colonizing project that produced decades of Israel/Palestine struggle with still no end in sight).

Why does this manifestly destructive and self-destructive cycle American foreign policy continue and repeat itself despite consistent failure? How can this cycle be disrupted? The political class in the United States and elsewhere in the NATO West, adheres to a worldview commonly identified as ‘political realism.’ Its central tenet is to link national interests to military superiority, with the tacit corollary that force and its threat is essential to uphold the global financial interests of neoliberal capitalism. Experience of the last 75 year increasingly demonstrates that political realism, while providing efficient geopolitical guidance during the colonial period, is dangerously out of touch with reality in the 21st century. Yet zombie-like obsolescent realism lingers because its worldview remains largely unchallenged by anti-imperial, anti-militarist, anti-capitalist ideas and oppositional politics. A new political realism, responsive to world conditions, would espouse a foreign policy that affirms the right of self-determination, shows respect for sovereign rights and international law, and recognizes the urgency of implementing human solidarity by establishing effective global problem-solving mechanisms, including the strengthening of international institutions, above all the United Nations. It would be equally important internationally, to restore trust in a humane democracy that serves the citizenry as a whole and moves to repudiate current plutocratic distortions of the social order as reflected by gross inequalities in the enjoyment and distribution of the benefits of growth and profits.

It is late in the day but let’s hope that seeds of transformative change have been planted both by the chaotic and discrediting withdrawal from Afghanistan and this anniversary occasion giving us one more opportunity to assess both the causes of and excessive 9/12 reactions to the 9/11 events. A step in the right direction would be the much belated willingness to engage in strategic self-criticism rather than to be distracted by partisan Republican accusations of tactical failures or a mind-numbing invocation of ‘American exceptionalism.’ More concretely, subjecting regime change and state-building to critique rather than focusing all attention on the bungled withdrawal dynamics might have a lasting impact on the political imagination. Such a willingness to learn from failure might actually rid the American political psyche of ‘American Exceptionalism,’ which has functioned as a huge dose of poisonous “kool-aid.” A benevolent 21st internationalism would instead give tangible expression to the imperatives of global solidarity, seeking governmental and civil society collaborators in meeting the tragic manifestations of such global challenges as climate change, pandemics, nuclearism. migration.

American democracy is under bipartisan threat due to its militarized state that orients the media propaganda machine to view internal and global security through a lens that magnifies threats and confines the political and moral imagination. Those who dare leak ‘truths’ are criminalized and faced with the vindictive choice of exile or prison (Snowden, Assange), as were those young Americans who fled to Canada and Sweden rather than fight in an immoral and unlawful war in Vietnam. A democracy that does not treat its heroes well, will not and should not endure.

[Prefatory Note: This post is the second part of my interview with Daniel Falcone that was published by CounterPunch on

September 12, 2021. It explores further the effects of the attacks and ongoing sequences of reactions, which were appropriately attributable to the events of 9/11 and those internal moves of surveillance and detention that were independently favored by the U.S. governmental leadership, but were too controversial to take until they were able to make to claim the cover of the War on Terror. A similar, even more pronounced dualism, is helpful in distinguishing the 9/12 developments that were plausible responses to the mega-terrorist transnational attacks and those escalated responses that reflected a preexisting disposition of the neoconservative foreign policy advisory circle around President George W. Bush to use American military capabilities against governments that were geopolitical outliers with respect to the neoliberal consensus on globalization or were hostile to American alignments in the Middle East and elsewhere.]

                             Part Two

International and Internal Impacts of 9/11, 9/12

Daniel Falcone: How has foreign policy and institutional approaches to global diplomacy changed over the past two decades in your estimation?

Richard Falk: The most notable change in American statecraft during this period is the abandonment of a core emphasis on economic globalization, with a corresponding swing in national security policy to counterterrorism, tactics and technological innovations that minimize visible U.S. warfighting and casualties on distant and dispersed combat zones situated within foreign sovereign states. While this counterterrorist impulse prevailed during the Bussh presidency, it placed heavy reliance on torture to obtain information relating to potential terrorist operations and the identity operatives. In the process, it turned official policy to ‘the dark side’ of counterterrorism, which meant a dismaying repudiation of international humanitarian law with respect to the belligerent conduct, and a total denial of human rights to those accused of a terrorist connection, however remote. It was contemptuous toward those who urged compliance with international law and human rights standards. The detention center at Guantanamo became

a word of international opprobrium, dehumanizing conduct, shaming the nation, and forever tarnishing its liberal credentials.

As well, declaring a war on terror made the entire world into a potential battlefield featuring the targeting of individuals or their places of habitation as suspected of terrorist affiliation. It also foregrounded reliance on unmanned drones for attack and surveillance, the deployment of small special operations detachments with capture or kill missions in 85 countries, whose governments often were not consulted or asked for permission with respect to penetrations of their sovereign space to engage in non-accountable acts of political violence. The execution of Osama Bin Laden, given safe have in Pakistan, by such a mission was the most significant and publicized instance of this form of counterterrorism.

Other changes in warfare unrelated to 9/11 involve the use of features of digital networking to disrupt, steal industrial or state secrets, attack vital electric grids, disrupt nuclear facilities through computer viruses. In other words, cyber age conflict is characteristically carried on in mostly settings other than territorial battlefields.

During the Trump presidency these doctrinal and ideological tendencies were carried further as alliances were deemphasized and bilateral transactional relations and the search for ‘deals’ with adversaries were given high profiles. Multilateralism declined, and a chauvinistic, territorial nationalism was raucously promoted, and affected many countries, explained in part as protection against immigration by the forces of ‘radical Islam,’ but additionally as a reaction against the perceived failures of globalization, with its privileging of capital at the expense of people.

The Biden presidency commencing in January 2021 seemed to revert to the pre-9/11 and pre-globalization Cold War approach to foreign policy, reviving and initiating alliances, championing an emerging geopolitical rivalry with China, and configuring military capabilities toward more traditional forms of warfare, as well as continuing the non-territorial concerns addressed under the label of cyber security. Biden seems to view international relations through an ideological lens that seeks to align ‘democracies’ for a great struggle with ‘autocracies,’ above all with allegedly ‘socialist’ China, but secondarily with once socialist Russia. In this sense, there is a foreign policy transition under way from counterterrorism to geopolitical rivalry, although this shift could be reversed or modified by new mega-terrorist events that recalled the spectacle and trauma of 9/11. The stakes are high—global hegemony more politely described as ‘global leadership.’

What is lacking in the political scene, sadly, is any strong moves toward the demilitarization of foreign policy or related adjustment to the failures arising from the militarization of political challenges. There seems to be no discussion of what we can learn from the methods and results of China’s remarkable achievement of economic development, which overcame the extreme poverty of hundreds of millions of Chinese and spread its influence and achievements to many other countries by a win/win foreign economic policy that did not engage in intervention or state-building with respect to the internal politics of foreign countries. China’s Road and Belt Project that has brought many tangible developmental gains, especially in infrastructure, for countries throughout Africa and Asia, and virtually no military intrusions. The post-colonial West has developed nothing comparable, and is as reliant as ever on its military capabilities to hold its own geopolitically.

Daniel Falcone: What are your thoughts on how certain terminology has evolved in the context of the post 9/11 world? For example, “terrorism,” “extremism,” “state building,” “legitimacy,” and “international community” are all words that change meaning within the discourse, correct?

Richard Falk: Yes, language always reflects changing patterns of hegemonic politics, and this was certainly true in the aftermath of 9/11, more so than in 9/12 contexts. The overall effort was to stigmatize certain behaviors as beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior while legitimating other patterns of action as providing justifications for previously dubious claims to encroach upon the sovereign rights of others or ignore the human rights of adversaries. Not since the death camps of Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union has there been comparable image of abusing prisoners held in captivity. As suggested, Guantanamo is a name that defames America throughout the world. In effect, the discourse of international relations tries to provide geopolitical actors with ethical and legal justifications for their policy agendas and to discredit behavior adverse to their interests. This is especially true when new challenges emerge that make frameworks of permissible response seem insufficient.

Of the words in your question that acquired new relevance after 9/11: ‘terrorism,’ ‘state-building,’ and ‘extremism’ are particularly salient, and seem to describe the U.S. counterterrorist long-range efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, although there were antecedents for each pre-9/11. The words ‘legitimacy’ and ‘international community’ were useful in evading the strict prohibitions of international law as with respect to ‘torture,’ further disguised as ‘enhanced interrogation.’ ‘International community’ was also helpful in suggesting that the political backing of the UN reflected an anti-terrorist consensus that created an almost unconditional mandate for pursuing counterterrorist tactics without questioning their impacts on innocent civilians, in effect, an implied license to kill on suspicion or to intervene to replace governments accused of being connected with 9/11 either by providing safe haven or material support.

The most radical idea accompanying counterterrorist intervention entailed replacing the former regime with a governing process thatth would fit the broader, longer range policy priorities, political ideals, and material interests of the intrusion on sovereign space.

Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on how Bush 43 through Biden have navigated the presidency while implementing select 9/11 narratives as a backdrop?

Richard Falk: Bush rallied the country primarily by demonizing the perpetrators of the 9/11 events, characterizing them as sub-human, to be ‘hunted’ as if wild animals. More than this he lent credence to the idea that non-state political violence was inherently extremist, wherever it occurred and regardless of justification, as posing a terrorist threat to all ‘civilized’ countries. Calling upon governments throughout the world to join with the US in this war on terror, or if unwilling to do so, be treated as siding with terrorism. In effect, Bush unilaterally by geopolitical fiat invalidated a neutral diplomacy as a legitimate policy option in the context of ‘the war on terror.’ Bush also, whether knowingly or not, allowed counterterrorist foreign policy to be converted into a vehicle for executing the pre-9/11 neoconservative agenda of regime change, state-building, and democracy promotion in the Middle East where the terrorist allegations or links to 9/11 were tenuous or non-existent, yet alleged. In Afghanistan the links to 9/11 seemed self-evident and rationalized a limited counterterrorist operation against al-Qaeda. It should have not surprised any close student of American foreign policy to take note of the speed with which the initial counterterrorist justification morphed into a failed twenty year politically, materially, and psychologically failed and expensive war against the Taliban.

Next Obama came to the White House as of 2009 with a pledge of a more restrained foreign policy approach, which meant operationally that Bush’s war on terror would go on but with more outward respect for international law and a less grandiose conception of an extended counterterrorist mission in the Middle East. Obama wanted to limit counterterrorism to al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. Manifesting geopolitical ambivalence, Obama favored a troop surge in Afghanistan, apparently believing that the state-building mission was on the verge of success. Obama also rejected the regime-changing, democracy-promotion neoconservative hijacking of the 9/11 provocation for its preoccupation with restructuring the politics of the Middle East in a manner that was particularly responsive to Israel’s goals, angering Netanyahu especially when extended to Iran. A highlight of the Obama presidency was the diplomacy that produced an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program in 2015, known as Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (or JCPOA) that was designed to give assurances that Iran would not cross the nuclear threshold and the United States would over time reduce the sanctions it had imposed.

Obama went along with stretching international law so as weaken some restraints on the use of force, especially by an increased reliance on attack drones in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen where al-Qaeda operatives were active. Obama supported the 2011 intervention in Libya, although demeaned by Republicans for ‘leading from behind’ when it came to the controversial NATO-led regime changing military operation that left the country at the mercy of prolonged violent ethnic strife. Qaddafi’s Libya although autocratic, had high ratings for social development, and is a further confirmation that intervention rarely achieves its purported goals.  

When Trump’s turn came in 2015, there was a confusing mix of policies. Trump went further than any prior president in shaping American foreign policy in the Middle East to accord with the regional goals of Israel and the Gulf monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia. This led to Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and the adoption of a policy toward Iran of ‘maximum pressure.’ At the same time, Trump set the stage for withdrawal from Afghanistan, denouncing forever wars as a waste of money and lives that were costly as well as tarnishing the US reputation as a fearsome hegemon. Trump’s America first, anti-immigration, pro-military policies were less a security posture directed at would be terrorists than an effort to build a right-wing, autocratic political movement in the United States that was hostile to all forms of internationalism, including multilateral diplomacy. Trump and Trumpism intensified a nativist Islamophobia that blamed ‘radical Islam’ for terrorism and generated a related negative form of identity politics that gave aid and comfort to the white supremacy movement. This was exemplified by Trump’s comments on a neo-fascist march through Charlottesville that was resisted by protesters, contending that there were ‘good people on both sides.’ Despite the home scene, geopolitical concerns about a rising China began displacing counterterrorism at the top of the foreign policy agenda, a dynamic already started during the Obama presidency under the rubric of a ‘pivot to Asia.’

The Biden presidency is still new, and its record mixed. It has moved to correct the criminal failures of Trumpism in dealing with the COVID challenge and climate change but has irresponsibly intensified rivalry with China and has exhibited continuity with much of Trump’s policies toward the Middle East despite reaffirming the moribund two-state approach to peace between Israel and Palestine. Biden deserves credit for pushing ahead with steps to end the war in Afghanistan, despite the unnecessarily humiliating and reckless final act, and maybe finally bringing to an end the debilitating intervention/state-building cycle. One hopes he recollects and builds upon his opposition to Afghanistan troop surge and Libya policy while serving as Vice President in the Obama administration rather than recalls his enthusiasm for embarking upon the Iraq War in 2003/.   

Daniel Falcone: Scholars and writers such as Noam ChomskyLawrence Davidson and Isabel Allende have written about 9/11 – and September 11, 1973 in Chile. Can you talk about this historical analogue? 

Richard Falk: The most illuminating insight drawn from a comparison between 9/11 and the Pinochet coup against the elected Allende government in Chile 28 years earlier encouraged and then supported by Washington, relates to the humanitarian and political costs for the United States of intervention in foreign societies. The whole 9/11 impetus for the U.S. to engage in state-building overseas in the aftermath of regime-changing interventions led to an estimated 929,000 deaths, more than eight trillion dollars of wasted expenditures, counterterrorist operations in 85 countries, and an estimated 38 million displaced persons according to the Cost of War Project of the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs. This background of post-9/11 war-making is a major explanation of the unmistakable imperial U.S. decline abroad and alienating polarization within America. These failed efforts to control adverse political and economic tendencies at their source, often as in Chile were motivated by the pressures mounted by large corporate investors. They involved assaults on the most fundamental of human rights, that of the right of self-determination acknowledged as constitutive of more specific rights by being highlighted as a common Article 1 in both human rights Covenants.

This ‘war’ waged against the exercise of the right of self-determination did not begin with 9/11 but was a feature and legacy of the Cold War, receiving a second life thanks to the response of neoconservative Republican leadership to 9/11 as abetted by a history of complicit bipartisan passivity on the part of the Democratic Party opposition. We should pause in our reckoning and thank Barbara Lee as the sole member of Congress to vote against the ‘Authorization for the Use of Military Force of 2001’ legislation that to this day gives executive leadership a green light to wage war at will without either domestic constitutional oversight or respect for international law and the authority of the UN.

The United States should have learned the blowback consequences of interfering with the internal dynamics of self-determination when it conspired back in 1953 to overthrow the elected government of Mossadegh in Iran, supposedly to bolster the geopolitics of containment of the Soviet Union, but at least as much to satisfy the greed and ambition of ‘big oil.’ The whole political turn toward Islam, eventuating in the mass movement of 1978-79 led from exile by Ayatollah Khomeini, can be traced to the unifying impact on diverse strands of Iranian society due to the restored imposition of the Shah’s regime as a result of externally motivated and sustained intervention. The same lesson was made even plainer for detached observers to learn in the 1970s as a consequence of the Vietnam War where the intervention was overt and massive, and yet in the end led to a humiliating defeat.

Of course, the most relevant geopolitical pedagogy should have been absorbed as a result of the long experience of the West in Afghanistan stretching back to the time of ‘the great game’ of colonial competition to control the country. The recent post-colonial variation on the great game started with the effort to mobilize resistance to a Kabul government in the 1980s that was seen as leaning toward Moscow. With a cavalier disregard of consequences, the U.S. stimulated and supported the Islamic resistance to Afghanistan’s first secular modernizing elected government with training and weapons, including strengthening and emboldening the militia that evolved into al-Qaeda under the leadership of a charismatic religious ideologue, Osama Bin Laden! As hardly needs mention, it was this chain of imprudent moves that provided the proximate causes of 9/11 (together with the imprudent Western encroachments on the course of self-determination in the Middle East, including support for the colonizing project that produced decades of Israel/Palestine struggle with still no end in sight).

Why does this manifestly destructive and self-destructive cycle American foreign policy continue and repeat itself despite consistent failure? How can this cycle be disrupted? The political class in the United States and elsewhere in the NATO West, adheres to a worldview commonly identified as ‘political realism.’ Its central tenet is to link national interests to military superiority, with the tacit corollary that force and its threat is essential to uphold the global financial interests of neoliberal capitalism. Experience of the last 75 year increasingly demonstrates that political realism, while providing efficient geopolitical guidance during the colonial period, is dangerously out of touch with reality in the 21st century. Yet zombie-like obsolescent realism lingers because its worldview remains largely unchallenged by anti-imperial, anti-militarist, anti-capitalist ideas and oppositional politics. A new political realism, responsive to world conditions, would espouse a foreign policy that affirms the right of self-determination, shows respect for sovereign rights and international law, and recognizes the urgency of implementing human solidarity by establishing effective global problem-solving mechanisms, including the strengthening of international institutions, above all the United Nations. It would be equally important internationally, to restore trust in a humane democracy that serves the citizenry as a whole and moves to repudiate current plutocratic distortions of the social order as reflected by gross inequalities in the enjoyment and distribution of the benefits of growth and profits.

It is late in the day but let’s hope that seeds of transformative change have been planted both by the chaotic and discrediting withdrawal from Afghanistan and this anniversary occasion giving us one more opportunity to assess both the causes of and excessive 9/12 reactions to the 9/11 events. A step in the right direction would be the much belated willingness to engage in strategic self-criticism rather than to be distracted by partisan Republican accusations of tactical failures or a mind-numbing invocation of ‘American exceptionalism.’ More concretely, subjecting regime change and state-building to critique rather than focusing all attention on the bungled withdrawal dynamics might have a lasting impact on the political imagination. Such a willingness to learn from failure might actually rid the American political psyche of ‘American Exceptionalism,’ which has functioned as a huge dose of poisonous “kool-aid.” A benevolent 21st internationalism would instead give tangible expression to the imperatives of global solidarity, seeking governmental and civil society collaborators in meeting the tragic manifestations of such global challenges as climate change, pandemics, nuclearism. migration.

American democracy is under bipartisan threat due to its militarized state that orients the media propaganda machine to view internal and global security through a lens that magnifies international threats and confines the political and moral imagination to the realm of coercive responses. Those who dare leak ‘truths’ are criminalized and then face the vindictive choice of exile or prison (Snowden, Assange), as were those young Americans who fled to Canada and Sweden rather than fight in an immoral and unlawful war in Vietnam. A democracy that does not treat its heroes well, will not and should not endure. Daniel Ellsberg delivered a vital message 50 years ago–the citizens of a democracy deserve to be told the truth, and a government that refuses, deserves resistance not mute obedience–that continues to be unheeded by the enforcers of the political class.


REACTING TO CRIME BY WAGING WAR(S)

20 Sep

[Prefatory Note: the post below is a somewhat edited post-publication version of Part One my responses to questions posed by Daniel Falcone, published in CounterPunch, September 12, 2021, with the title of “9/11: Doctrines of Bush, Obama, Trump & Biden.” Although online the interview was schedule in response to the national attention understandably given to the 20th annual observance of the 9/11 attacks. The focus of my response follows a different line of reasoning. In this sense, my response, as suggested by the title give to Part One, can be read as suggesting that greater transformative effects resulted from 9/12 than the tragic events of 9/11 due to the vengeful recklessness of the U.S. response, partly pushed to excess by a belligerent neoconservative pre-9/11 agenda, which became politically viable only after the provocation of the attacks. It is a reflection of the deficiencies of political pedagogy and journalistic priorities in the United States that despite all that has happened at home and abroad in the course of the last twenty years, virtually no distinct attention is given to 9/12]

9/12: Reacting to Crime by War(s)

Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on September 11, 2001 as a historical event and provide how this day continues to shape the way the United States sees itself in the world?

Richard Falk: The attack itself on 9/11 was a most momentous event from the perspective of international relations, with the salient initial effect of further undermining the dominating historic role of hard power under the control of national governments in explaining historical agency. That role was already eroded as a result of high-profile anti-colonial wars being won by the weaker side militarily, principally as a result of the mobilizing effect of the soft power stimulus of nationalist fervor and perseverance in achieving political self-determination by resisting foreign intervention and domination.

Dramatically, 9/11 revealed the vulnerability of the most powerful country, as measured by military capabilities and global security hegemony, in all of world history, to the violent tactics of non-state combatants with comparatively weak military capabilities in coercive interactions labeled by war planners as ‘asymmetric warfare.’

On the basis of minimal expenditures of lives and resources, al-Qaeda produced a traumatizing and disorienting shock on the United States and the American body politic from which it has yet to recover, generating responses in ways that are fundamentally dysfunctional with respect to achieving tolerable levels of global stability in a historical period when security threats were moving away from traditional geopolitical rivalries so as to respond to climate change, pandemics, and a series of systemic secondary effect. While not fulfilling its goals, the launching of a ‘war on terror’ produced great devastation and human suffering spread far and wide, distant from the American homeland, especially in the Middle East and Asia.

Such an efficient use of terrorist tactics by al-Qaeda, not only as an instrument of destruction, but as a mighty symbolic blow directed at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, embodiments of American economic ascendancy and military hegemony. These material effects were further magnified by the spectacular nature of visual moment unforgettably inscribed on the political consciousness of worldwide TV audiences, above all conveying the universal vulnerability of the strong to the imaginative rage and dedicated sacrifice of the avenging weak who were induced to give the lives to make a point and serve a fanatical cause.

Of course, the ‘success’ of this attack was short-lived, producing an initial wave of global empathy for the innocent victims of such mayhem, heralding widespread support and sympathy to the United States, exhibiting an outburst of internationalist solidarity, including widespread support from governments around the world and at the UN for greatly augmented efforts at criminal enforcement of anti-terrorist policies and norms. Yet this early international reaction sympathetic to the U.S. has been erased in the American memory and international perceptions, as well as long overshadowed internationally by dual damaging effects of the American over-reaction that claimed during the next twenty years many times the number of innocent victims than were lost on 9/11, but also was on the losing end of prolonged, costly interventions and state-building undertakings that went along to show that the American imperial prowess was indeed a paper tiger. This over-reaction has also contributed to counterrevolutionary impacts worldwide that are still reverberating.

The seemingly highly impulsive and reactive responses to 9/11 by the American leadership was to herald the immediate launching of ‘the war on terror,’ which should be understood as a generalized forever war against a generic type of political behavior rather than declaring was on an adversary state. Before 9/11 terrorist tactics even if prolonged and threatening to the stability of the state, were regarded as a severe type of crime or anti-state criminal enterprise, with serious policing and paramilitary implications but not a matter of military engagement on conventional battlefields. Of course, on many prior historic occasions a political movement engaged in terrorist activity as a prelude to a sustained insurrectionary challenge to the prevailing government. This U.S. response by way of war, directed not only at the al-Qaeda perpetrators mainly situated in the mountains of Afghanistan, but potentially against all forms of non-state and foreign political extremism directed at the interests of Western states, made the historical effects of 9/12 far greater internally for America and externally for the world than the grim event of the prior day when the planes flew into the World Trade Center towers, killing 2,997. The ‘forever wars,’by comparison killed as estimated 900,000 (at a cost of $8 trillion) [conservative estimates of ‘The Costs of War Project’ at Brown University].    

It is crucial to remember that 9/11 from the moment of the first explosion was politically much more than a mega-terrorist attack, however spectacular. It quickly provided a pretext for projecting American military power and political influence that the dominant wing of the political class then in control of the White House was awaiting with growing signs of impatience. It was no secret that the chief foreign policy advisors of George W. Bush wanted and needed a political mandate that would allow the U.S. to carry out a preexisting neoconservative agenda of U.S. intervention and aggression, focused on the Middle East that prior to 9/11 lacked sufficient political backing among the citizenry to become operative foreign policy. This earlier neocon foreign policy agenda was set forth in the reports of the Project for a New American Century (1997-2006), prepared and endorsed by leading foreign policy hawks with global hegemony, Israel, and oil uppermost in their thoughts. For those seeking even earlier antecedents “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for the Security of the Realm,” an Israeli policy report of 1996  prepared by influential American neocon foreign policy experts at the behest of Netanyahu is worthy of notice. The haunting reality that the 9/11 attack was masterminded and orchestrated from remote sites in Afghanistan reinforced the globalist ambitions of militarists to the effect that U.S. was significantly threatened by non-state enemies situated in geographically remote places on the planet, that deterrence and retaliation were irrelevant against such foes, and that preemptive styles of warfare were now necessary and fully justified against government that willingly gave safe havens to such violently disposed political extremism. New tactics seem needed and justified if the security of a country, however militarily capable, was in the future to be upheld against remotely situated non-state enemies. This post-9/11 strategic discourse produced a sequence of forever wars, most tellingly in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Syria and Libya, which were quite unrelated to al-Qaeda rationale for expanding prior notion of the right of self-defense, whether understood with reference to international law or geopolitics.

Another legacy of 9/11, although also evident in the outcome of the Vietnam War, is that the side that has the military superiority no longer has reason to believe that it will attain a political victory at an acceptable cost. “You have the watches, we have the time” vividly imparts the largely unreported news that perseverance, commitment, and patience, more than military hardware however sophisticated, shape political outcomes in characteristic conflicts for the control of sovereign political space in the 21st Century. Whether this trend will continue is, of course, uncertain as war planners in governments of geopolitical actors are devoting resources and energies to devising tactics and weapons that will restore hard power potency.

The message of a changed balance of power at least temporarily, despite the startling consistency of the evidence, is one that the political class in the West, especially in the U.S. refuses to heed. The militarization of the foreign policy establishment of Western states over the course of the Cold War, is also reflective of the ‘political realist’ ideological consensus led to a costly and futile process in which security challenges were predominantly seen through a reductionist lens that impoverished the political imagination by ignoring the shifting power balances that have favored the politics of post-colonial nationalism. The previously hidden weaknesses of external intervenors were exposed. These weaknesses included the onset of geopolitical fatigue in these combat zones distant from the homeland coupled with a lack of political success at all commensurate with the effort. The military prowess of the foreign intervenors being more than offset over time by nationalist perseverance, although at great costs for the resisters. The intervenors strain to justify these foreign missions to a domestic public that gradually comes to understand that the security claims used to ‘sell’ the war were all along a phony façade partly erected to hide the benefits to special interests within and outside the governmental bureaucracy, including the defense industry and private contracting firms that complemented the explicit military presence, and were economic winners even if the government was a political loser. Although brainwashed over the years, with the help of a corporatized media, there remained a remnant of accountability to the citizenry if American lives were sacrificed in a lost war that also revealed itself to be quite irrelevant from a security perspective. The victory of the National Liberation Front in Vietnam or of the Taliban this year is not likely to alter the regional status quo to any great extent further demonstrating that the war strategy was not only a failure but superfluous from a traditional security perspective, although consequential geopolitically.

It remains to be seen whether the withdrawal from ongoing forever wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere leads to a belated recognition of what I have in the past called ‘the unlearned lesson of the Vietnam War.’ So far, this is far from clear as the inflated level of the U.S. military budget, with its huge negative domestic opportunity costs, continues to enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support. Also telling is the tendency to meet the rise of China by bellicose posturing that may have already generated a second cold war that neither the country nor the world can afford or risk turning hot. Perhaps, the American political class has temporarily learned the lesson that state-building interventions do not work under current world conditions, but still harbor reckless beliefs that geopolitical ‘wars’ remain viable options, thereby providing continued validation of inflated military spending and consequent policy orientations toward conflict and rivalry rather than conciliation and compromise. China, admittedly bears some responsibility for escalating tensions due to its provocative militarist moves in the South China Seas and economistic provocations. The Biden foreign policy has clearly designated China as a credible geopolitical rival that threatens U.S. geopolitical primacy, and hence must be confronted as well as contained, even resisted by force of arms if necessary.   

We should not overlook the lingering skepticism surrounding the official version of the 9/11 events. The official inquiry resulting in the report of the 9/11 Commission convinced few of the serious doubters as it put to convincing rest none of the reasons for doubt. As long as this, doubt remains embedded in a portion of the citizenry, no matter how castigated they may be as ‘conspiracy theorists’ and routinely maligned by mainstream media, a shadow of illegitimacy will be cast over the U.S. body politic. A truly independent second 9/11 investigation backed by the government is long overdue, but seems highly unlikely to happen. If given unrestricted access to FBI and CIA records and subpoena powers such an authentic processs could clear the air, and a crucial regenerative future for American democracy that might finally overcome the legacies of both 9/11 and 9/12.

The Bipartisan Demise of American Democracy

16 Sep

There are several fissures in the democratic fabric that exhibit the domestic facets of imperial decline. The Republican Party contempt for liberal American values, traditions, constitutionalism, the findings of science and truthfulness, became routine features of the presidency of Donald Trump. This radical style of right-wing politics became more flagrant during the long aftermath of Trump’s defeat in the November elections, going to bizarre lengths of trying to foment a violent insurrectionary event in the U.S. Congress on January 6, 2020 after a series of legal challenges of the election results in state courts on the basis of ‘stolen votes,’ ‘conspiracy theories’ and ‘warped fantasies’ of fraud. Such pervasive posturing by demagogic leader should scare the anti-fascists among us, especially as almost half of Americans voted in favor of such an sustained assault on democracy. Shamefully, most Trumpists have yet to abandon this unprecedented threat to the political identity of the country.  

And yet the alternative mainstream vision of democracy, while a relief, is disappointing, especially as it tries to appeal for support on the issues and in statewide elections. The Democrats offer the citizenry such a demeaning, tedious, and dangerous sense of an alternative political style as to demobilize all but diehard liberals and movement radicals. Is it any wonder that the Democrats are poised to do poorly in the 2020 midterms despite this dark long shadow of Trump hanging over the future of the republic. Trump, part demagogue, part entertainer, at least while President kept us politically attentive, if only to wonder what would be his latest mishap or to learn about fabrication of the day. With the Biden presidency, we switch channels out of boredom, even when his sentiments are decent and compared to what passed for leadership in the preceding four years, seemed mostly sensible. But being ‘sensible’ compared to Trump is hardly an achievement. I attribute this dramatic downturn in the quality of American democracy mainly to the interaction between the elite political structures of the two main political parties, its removal from the needs and desires of the citizenry, and a distorted sense that it is money, not ideas, that wins elections. The effect of this incessant badgering for donations for the sake of political ads is to reduce the electoral process to cash on hand.

On any given day I get upward of a hundred emails soliciting funds to support candidates or legislation that Democrats favor, and are generally deserving of support. But the approach adopted in these electoral pleas are so cheaply demeaning, disingenuous, and even degenerate as to be alienating. Instead of support, I find myself pushing the delete button frustrated and disgusted with the tenor of the appeals. First of all, I don’t like being called by my first name by automated strangers; this faux intimacy is a definite turnoff, especially when it is followed by admonishing tone—donate, or else. It is, as well, a metaphor for a cynical politics of manipulation.

Secondly, our attention is grabbed by idiotic exaggerations such as ‘STUNNING update-Amy Klobuchar just broke McConnell’s heart,’ ‘H.R. 1 Miracle—We’re weeping with joy,’ ‘Richard, humbly asking,’ ‘HUMILIATED Arizona—Donald Trump CRUSHES Mark Kelly,’ ‘desperate plea—Rep. Val Deming is in BIG trouble,’ ‘Rush a donation now to TANK the filibuster and pass H.R. 1,’ ‘Shocking Report—Obama SLAMS McConnell..YES RICHARD,’ and on and on. The uniform bottom line for these urgent inflated appeals has to do with pleas for donations. Typical of the hyped rhetoric: If we don’t hit our $100,000 goal by midnight, we’ll never have the resources we need to fight McConnell’s Filibuster, which is RUINING H.R.1’s chances of becoming law. Can you chip in just $100 now to help us make our next ad payment?”’

It is true that the Democrats are more dependent on grassroots funding than are the Republicans who can rely on super-rich donors and big ticket fundraising extraganzas to finance their campaigns to a much greater extent. Yet this does not validate the cheapening of the political process as the Democrats have done where their hysterical language about the ups and downs of their candidates or legislative projects. Although ‘the system’ is primarily to blame, and needs fundamental reforms, in the meantime politics in America seems destined to be stranded indefinitely at low tide.

We can assign some blame to social media for making it seductively easy to do mass messaging, symptomatic of the wider phenomenon of the overall dumbing down effect of the digital age. Digital successors to the sinister, cynical mavens of Madison Avenue are now using crude algorithms to bend our thoughts, empty our wallets, and deprive many of sovereignty over their own mind. It is rot at the core of American political life that unapologetically equates politics with money. We are made to think that ideas, character, and past performance matter less than fundraising acumen. The corrupting impression is powerfully implanted in the citizen that the side with more bucks deserves to get the win.

Of course, the messaging is about power, and this means that mainstream media and social platforms reflect the wishes of Wall Street and the Pentagon as much for Democrats as for Republicans. Pacifying the citizenry so that markets and militarism can continue their dirty work is an assignment accepted by both political parties, and backed up by the most influential media platforms. As the infrastructure of the country falls to new lows, the bloated military budget remains sacrosanct. Billionaires roam the solar system as if planning their getaway from a failed planet, exploring new terrains as they peer down on an overheated, burning planet unwilling to risk their fortunes for the sake of species survival.

My objections to this ultra-materialist and hyped style of political campaigns can be summarized:

1-elections for Democrats have become primarily about fundraising capabilities, not qualifications, values, ideas, performance;  

2-hypocritical gestures of intimacy in this monetized culture of political appeals are deemed necessary to induce in ordinary citizens the illusions of ‘participation’ and even personal access to the candidates;

3-Beyond the hypocrisy, secondary efforts seek to make recipients feel guilty because they have not contributed, or not responded to rhetorical requests for support or opposition; I find myself daily scolded for not responding or accused because of not donating of supporting the dreadful Republican alternative;

4-There is an impression created that only ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ matter, and thus devotion to one side should unconditional, and more or less unquestioning, although the Democrats are more naïve, preaching ‘bipartisanship’ and ‘national unity,’ which is the last thing the Trump extremists want.

Such a decline of democracy is strongly reinforced by the reactionary unwritten ground rules of mainstream media, which dutifully exposes the citizenry to a spectrum of opinion that stretches from the dead center to the extreme right. The progressive left, whether socialist or ecological, is erased, as if it has nothing to add to the marketplaces of ideas and interpretations. The media dominated by large corporations and billionaires is willing to self-censor to protect the capitalist consensus being eroded or just challenged.

Perhaps it is time to try something different, starting by ending the three-ring circus of private funding of political campaigns. Of course this will not happen until the Achilles Heal of capitalism and militarism are found and struck with decisive force, which would almost certainly be the result of an empowering nonviolent movement, which unlike its Pentagon variant, is genuinely over-the-horizon.

FOUR REMARKABLE WOMEN

13 Sep

profiles of Four Remarkable Women

FOUR REMARKABLE WOMEN

[Prefatory Note: This post is a departure from my usual themes. It reflects anamateurish interest in depicting a fascinating form of feminism that is exemplified by certain exceptional women who I have been privileged to know. It was originally written to be a chapter for my memoir, but when the manuscript became longer than the publisher could accept, I was persuaded that this fixation of mine was too peripheral to my life to be spared editorial surgery. I was compelled to cut 100,000 words, and this way of ‘publishing’ is one way of saying that my life is bigger than the book!]  

Four Remarkable Women

Angels would not condescend
to damn our meagre souls.
That is why they awe
and why they terrify us so

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Duino Elegies, First Elegy

(Translation: Robert Hunter)

A Group Portrait

To attempt to depict a human genotype or sociological template that binds together these supremely individualist women who are so unlike one another is an act of hubris. Yet somehow in my experience, they form a vivid tapestry in my mind that has certain shared shapes, colors, and images. It is this that I wish to recall, fully aware of the hazards, but also as an acknowledgement of my lifelong joyful dependence on feminine inspiration.

I have written in my memoir [Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim (2021) praising the achievements of several remarkable men who created by act of will, innovative learning communities that flourished while they lasted outside of ivy walls. Here I present four remarkable women who exemplify the opposite kind of human perfection: standing erect and alone, splendid in their sometimes bizarre, yet always valuable, isolation. Each has a distinct posture of somewhat defiant solitude that is waging war against the conformities of sociability and political correctness that provide comfort zones for most of the rest of us. These women are often written off as eccentric or hopelessly opinionated. I am among those who cherish and adore them for their vividness, candor, the special forms of knowing that they impart, and a kind of wisdom that flows from a rare fusion of detachment and engagement. I noticed that whenever I have met someone comparably close to any of the four it immediately melts the ice of a first encounter, establishes rapport, and immediate bonds of trust. It is as if a secret society of admirers exists without ever being consciously formed, somewhat in the manner of the ancient goddess cults, for instance the Oracle at Delphi.

I met none of these four women until I was in my late fifties, and Rosemary only by email, and then not before celebrating my eightieth birthday. It makes me wonder whether when younger I overlooked those women who chose to stand alone before the world, but thinking back I cannot recall anyone that I have overlooked, although Zsa Zsa Gabor and Claudette Colbert who crossed my path often while I was an impressionable teenager were glamorous versions of the upper reaches of feminine charm that I found enchanting, and many other women over the course of life have projected auras at once vivacious, sensuous, sensual, and magnetic that have enlivened my life in ways that the British poet/essayist Robert Graves so memorably described in The White Goddess.

There are several shared qualities that these four women possess. Despite their magnetism, the other three either never married or had life partners or if married, it was a brief foray onto hostile terrain. Three of the four were content to live without children, but not without family, and certainly not without friends. Each relished being the source of provocations, as well as being unabashedly contrarian, exaggerates wrongs and rights in the world, and divides people in her experience into polar categories, usually of intense like and dislike, approval and disapproval. There are no shades of gray in their color spectra. No man I have ever met shares these characteristics, or even comes close. These women are a breed apart, obviously proud of being non-replicable. They fashion a distinctive habitat for themselves that scares off the timid and thin skinned, and delights devotees.

Their life style and personality is more important in defining their sensibilities than their politics or even their life work, but each in their very different ways, work to the point of exhaustion, and have had to cope with serious health issues. Two of the four nurture serious love relationships with animals, possibly partly as a reaction to their antipathy toward patriarchy. Each of the four is capable of filling a room with light and laughter, will be always noticed, and never forgotten.

Beware, as well. Any of the four can take over the lives of others with a flick of their wrist, molding them to their imagining as a potter might clay. It is usually for the sake of healing or fulfilling the potential of others, but the pattern reflects the paradox of super-strong individuals stomping on the relative passivity of others, who may indeed benefit or even yearn for such guidance, welcoming this kind of overbearing push by women with a sparkle.

For myself, I have listened to and learned from each of these women. Each has a gift of clarity, and even certitude, that contrasts with my often overly cerebral ambivalence. Each found a pattern of living that frees birds from their cages, which by itself, is enough to make me feel inspired and captivated, and empathetic, if a project one of them embarks upon goes awry. As with all who hold reason in contempt, while following their passions, their stern judgments on some occasions will seem too extreme or even cruel to those of us composed of milder metals. What redeems even their missteps is their undisguised intolerance toward knaves, fools, and self-important roosters, as well as their unerring antennae for outing those they condemn and celebrating those they affirm, to whom they bestow love.

Each has an ‘impolite’ integrity that makes their assertiveness seem belligerent to some, but I found that if I stood my ground quietly, a mutual respect would slowly take hold, and even adverse opinions would not be allowed to cast a cloud over the sunshine of valued closeness and cherished affirmation. I have been blessed by having the trust and maybe even a touch of non-romantic love from each of these four remarkable women who left deep footprints on whatever paths they chose to walk. Despite the totally different quality of Marilyn Monroe’s more accessible and brand of charisma, Elton John’s wonderfully moving celebratory lyrical tribute, ‘Candle in the Wind’ also describes the intensity of living achieved by these four iconic figures.

Gloria Emerson

Gloria Emerson came first like a bolt of lightning illuminating the gray clouds so often hovering over Princeton. I believe we first me in 1990 after leaving her illustrious journalistic career behind. Of all these four women, Gloria, left the heaviest footprint on public consciousness. She won the National Book Award in 1978 for Winners and Losers. It was a brave contrarian book notable for putting a focus on the suffering and devastation endured by the people of the Vietnam and on the American vets wounded in either mind or body in Vietnam. She recorded their ordeal with a passion and an empathy generally absent in mainstream reporting on the combat realities of an American war. In a passage from the book that is often quoted she summarized this dynamic of killing from a safe distance that existed before drones became the American weapon of choice in the post-9/11 period: “Americans cannot perceive, even the most decent among us, the suffering caused by the air war in Indochina and how huge are the graveyards we have created there.” This is not a message the American mainstream wanted to hear.

Always her focus was on how war caused suffering to people and their habitats, and most of all to those who were weak and vulnerable. She was also one of the first prominent journalists to take on the Israeli dehumanization of the Palestinians, publishing a moving account of her experience of living for a year in Gaza. Her book, Gaza: A Year in the Intifada (1991) looked upon the conflict from a people-oriented perspective, and aroused completely unjustified accusations of its anti-Israeli portrayal, which she shrugged off as being not worthy of response. Perhaps, these ethical/political affinities produced a spontaneous trust between us, not because we put politics first, but because we allowed our emotions and shared values to shape our political assessments. This identification with a variety of struggles from below is what brought us close, although as we came to know one another, it did not spare me from searing criticism whenever I felt short of her expectations.

When I first encountered Gloria, she reminded me of those rich eccentric women who live on Park Avenue and often wear odd looking hats at public events. She was tall, a commanding presence in any social setting, and capable of either warm reassurances or biting criticisms. By the time we met she was done with the mainstream journalism, being a rather negative alumna of the NY Times.  She reacted against the surrender of this esteemed media institution to the worlds of corporate advertising, political correctness, and Washington militarism. Without knowing it, Gloria taught those around her, what is meant by the phrase ‘talking truth to power.’ Her maternal sides, which were genuine, and like her other attributes when expressed, were strong. She seemed to attract various kinds of protégées, maybe the best known of whom was a young Sy Hersh, someone she somewhat mentored and at the same time greatly admired. As if Princeton was the Vatican, and Gloria its Pope, Sy would make periodic pilgrimages. I would put myself, although older, and without notable public achievements, in the same category as someone who Gloria liked and respected, yet benefitted from her stern reprimands and self-assured guidance. 

Gloria committed suicide in 2004, apparently convinced that as her case of Parkinson’s Disease worsened, she would steadily lose the ability to do the one thing, other than befriend those she affirmed, that in those last years, gave meaning to her life, which was to write for publication. She left behind her own handwritten obituary that conveyed her honesty that never spared herself and her satiric feeling about what it meant to be a woman working in the trenches of mainstream journalism. Unsurprisingly, her parents were from a socially prominent background and quite wealthy due to oil investments, but ended up squandering everything. As a young adolescent she escaped from what she recalled as a ‘wretched alcoholic family’ and only got the chance to cover the Vietnam War because the NY Times mistakenly thought the war was over before it, and hence okay to send a woman on an assignment that no longer involved exposure to combat conditions. In reality, I heard from many sources that she was more fearless than her male counterparts who rarely strayed from their Saigon hotels and relied on locally hired assistants for ‘eye witness’ accounts of unfolding events. Gloria developed a strong following among American disaffected soldiers in Vietnam who sought her counsel and friendship when they returned, often traumatized, to the United States. She brought her literary gifts to bear in describing the misery of the maimed and the wounded on both sides of that miserable war that caused so many casualties, including those occurring far from the combat zones that are not included in the statistics of that war’s casualties.

Gloria’s presence in my life was surprisingly profound considering my age and the how late in my life met. Above all, she was quite judgmental toward the women then in my life, mildly disapproving of Elisabeth Gerle and more starkly averse to Mary Morris, while unreservedly affirming of Hilal. I know in retrospect she was unfairly judgmental toward Elisabeth and Mary, perhaps reflecting her growing disenchantment with all things Western, while saving her affection and empathy for those who came from the non-West. Was she still struggling to shake off the sinister influence of her blueblood wayward WASP parentage? Maybe these negative judgments in combination with the awesome arrogance of American war tactics as observed up close in Vietnam had given rise to a pervasive sense of alienation as she grew older.

 Of course, Hilal was not really from the non-West, much less the Global South, but I suppose Gloria responded, as so many did, to her Turkish charm, genuineness, Muslim identity, and progressive sentiments. While in Sweden 1900-91 during my time as Olaf Palme Visiting Professor, I relied on Gloria’s judgment on several occasions. I was unable to return to my Princeton residence to avoid losing a U.S. tax break associated with staying out of the country for at least 330 days during the calender year, and yet wanted to find a new place to live as the tenants at my Prospect Avenue house made me a purchase offer I didn’t want to refuse. I trusted Gloria’s judgment more than that of others, when choosing a new home for myself. I bought the house without ever seeing more than pictures and was sensibly swayed by Gloria’s ardent clarity.

Undoubtedly, Gloria’s biggest influence on my life was to strengthen my resolve to marry a fourth time. After Florence I had decided that I was not well suited to marriage, neither its routines nor its constraints. I had quested after romance and mutual love before I was even a teenager. I was useless by background and temperament as a household partner. This form of inadequacy can be traced back to a middle class childhood where at that time at least in Manhattan most children were expected to stay away from the kitchen. and even in our financially stressed situation, not allowed, much less expected to do house chores. Besides, monogamy didn’t come naturally or early to me, which led my partners to become more possessive than was comfortable for them or me. Since a child I was fascinated by feminine sensuality, including the Giaconda smile, colorful attire, sensual expressiveness, and sexual enticement. I had not met Hilal until the fall of 1994, that is, after Sweden, but I think I owe Gloria posthumous thanks and many hugs for making me brave enough to make a life commitment one last time. I can affirm that this somewhat unnatural commitment has greatly enhanced the quality of my life during the ensuing 27 plus years.

Gloria did more that provide psychological support. She had a practical side. Despite an aura of otherworldliness at times, she had a knack for getting things done. She even found a minister in Princeton willing to marry us, not a foregone conclusion as it meant joining a Jew with a Muslim in holy matrimony. She persuaded her neighbor Sue Ann Morrow, the Protestant deputy chaplain at Princeton, who presided over an ecumenical ceremony of the three Abrahamic religions in the living room of the house that Gloria had chosen for us.

I mention these impacts on my life partly to be suggestive of the degree to which Gloria took benevolent charge over those she cared about, making things happen, even using her modest material resources as needed. She did this impressively by medically facilitating the courageous Palestinian human rights leader in Gaza, Raji Sourani and his wife, facilitating the birth of their children. I want to convey the sense that what made Gloria get happily intoxicated was not scotch, not political engagement or even journalistic scoops, but acts that to most others would seem irresponsibly rash at the time, but later would be properly viewed as private miracles.

One Thanksgiving in the early 1990s we were both alone and decided to celebrate this ambiguous national holiday of thanks together. We hunted around for a restaurant near Princeton that was open, and finally found a rather expensive Scandinavian hotel in a wooded area not far from Princeton. We sat at a quiet table, entranced by the flames of a nearby fireplace, enjoying a typical Thanksgiving meal. Yet what was memorable for me about this meal was the of the rare silent intervals that serenely paused our animated conversation. When that happens in human interactions, it seems a sure sign that a friendship is secure enough to engender trust. I have only discovered in old age that is not primarily words that confirm intimacy but how silences are handled, either as grim expressions of alienation or as telling signs of true closeness and utmost trust.

I never for an instant doubted Gloria’s virtues or the joy and guidance that her friendship brought into my life or the gifts she conferred on so many, and through her work on the world. In the end our distinctly platonic love flourished because we worshipped the same gods. It never occurred to validate this love of ours with even a single romantic kiss. Her book Loving Graham Greene is a sly confessional about how love and loving could be real, especially when left untested by contact.

Deborah Sills

On the surface, Deborah seems the most ‘normal’ of the four. She was married to our UCSB colleague, Giles Gunn, and they were jointly devoted to their daughter, Abby, as were we. They lived on the northern rim of Ventura in a house fronting the ocean and overflowing with the latest books of high culture with many heaped on a huge living room coffee table. I remember scanning the latest arrivals to decide which book I must read next. Deborah taught religious studies with zest at a nearby Lutheran university.

But in the end this façade of normalcy seemed a cover fashioned to obscure somewhat what set Deborah apart. It may have been her infectious laughter or the radiance that lit up the darkest of social occasions. Or possibly, her exuberance for life that never lessened even when severely tested by a long struggle with terminal cancer that she daily enduring throughout the years we knew her. Hilal knew Deborah far better than I. They immediately established the sort of friendship that gives others the impression of being so deeply rooted that it must have been formed their kindergarten years. Among Hilal’s many admirable qualities is her deep rapport with super-strong women, including those with commanding, even domineering, personalities that often intimidate, threaten, arousing envy among lesser beings whether women or men, in part because they absorb most of the social oxygen in the room. Hilal trusts selectively but with absolute and unflinching loyalty, but when she does, she is trusted and beloved in return. This was the case with Deborah.

Deborah’s tragic final years were never short on exhibiting those qualities that made her remarkable. Her strength of being was so compelling than as a seriously ill patient she was able to lure her renowned Houston cancer specialist for a friendship visit to their Santa Barbara home. Despite the pain, the constant treatments, and of course the underlying sadness that comes with the knowledge that there is no cure, she was intent on collaborating with her local attending doctor on a book that was the most demanding of undertakings, a memoir devoted to the experience of dying that gradually takes over the experience of living. We all die, and are dying throughout our life, but mostly we are blessed with sufficient health as to be able to enjoy living without taking much account of our inevitable mortality. What made Deborah inspirational was that despite the severe stress of her deteriorating health and impending death she retained her undiminished zest for life, rescuing the rest of us from the pitfalls of complacency or bestowals of pity.

Few of us would have the courage and energy under such conditions to come to Istanbul alone to teach a literature course at Bosporus University, living by herself in campus housing, and adventurously moving around this impossible city without the benefits of speaking Turkish, companionship or even prior familiarity with the place. Not only did she cope, she loved the experience of this fascinating, picturesque city, and such was her elation that she didn’t even mind being cheated by taxi drivers now and then. I remember our dinners together that summer were always fun, upbeat, and without any hints of what would for most mortals would be such a dismal reality as to keep them pinned down at home.  We were on opposite sides of the Bosporus, which with Istanbul traffic ordeals, made each meeting complicated logistically, yet gratifying.

Deborah’s joie de vivre that was evident in so many ways, including her vibrant devotion to those she affirmed, loved, and inspired. I can still remember Deborah grabbing Abby one night while we were together for several days on ‘a blue voyage,’ our vessel anchored in one of the harbors of enchantment close by the city of Bodrum, and dancing with wild movements of joyful abandon as the boat swayed in the evening breeze. I am sure that Abby will never forget what seemed a peak experience for both mother and daughter. If the moment remains so alive for me, a mere witness of this spectacle of love and delight, what must it be for a daughter so spontaneously celebrated.

Perhaps, because these remarkable women are such strong presences, it is a rather difficult challenge to be their partner. Giles faced this challenge in ways that displayed both his appreciation of Deborah’s transcendent qualities but also the strains that come with such hallowed territory. I have no knowledge of how well Deborah dealt with the routines of marriage and family life, but she always gave me the sense, perhaps wrongly, of someone who for better and worse was profoundly alone, not a disappointed solitude, but that kind of empowering individuality that Nietzsche celebrated. I have the weird phantasy that if Nietzsche had been a feminist, he might have been inspired to choose Deborah as his life model for Zarathustra.

Ceylan Orhun

Ceylan is at once the easiest and most difficult of my chosen four. She remains a work-in-progress living in solitude on a steep hillside outside the village of Mazi, with a magnificent view of the waters of the Aegean that surround the Bodrum peninsula. Her container-built house, an unlawful and ungainly structure constructed without a permit, which is apparently only obtainable in many parts of Turkey through bribe of local petty bureaucrats. Hilal ‘met’ Ceylan on email due to their shared concerns about conserving the water resources of Turkey more than twenty years ago.

Ceylan was from a successful Kemalist family, her father being a military officer who upon retirement, followed the American patterns, entering the business of arms sales. Her brother and sisters enjoyed notable conventional lives in various places, and all were well educated and cultured. Ceylan was close to her parents, and when we knew her, built a kind of hospital room for her mother to allow her to be close and comfortable in the last years of her life.

When we first knew Ceylan in the years following the AKP rise to power, we often met in social gatherings in Istanbul and later in Torba, where she had a fine house close to the water. I kept as silent as possible whenever the conversation touched on Turkish politics as my views, especially in that early period of 2002-09, when I marveled at what the AKP had achieved, did not sit well in Kemalist circles. In contrast, the secular opposition gave angry, worried voice to their phantasy fears that Turkey was becoming a second Iran and that Erdoğan was well on his way to becoming a dictator in the Putinesque mode, while threatening to fracture the Turkish geopolitical comfort zone, which had for decades tied the country’s foreign policy tightly to Washington’s shoestrings. We usually met in the company of Ceylan’s friends in her apartment on the square in Istanbul containing the Gallata Tower. Ceylan’s guest tended to be wellborn and likeminded in their unreflective hostility to the political tide that swept across the country in the first decade of the new century. sweeping across Although they did not say as much, at least in my presence, they would have welcomed a coup by the Turkish armed forces undertaken in the name of safeguarding the endangered principles of Kemal Ataturk. In fact, whether openly or not I had the impression that they would have welcomed a military takeover that restored the private and public sector dominance of the Kemalist elites. Although by this time, twenty years later, the Ataturk legacy has somewhat weakened, yet still the great leader’s picture remains by the far the most present, but still many magnitudes less so than when I first started coming regularly to Turkey in the mid-1990s. In one respect, Kemalism, as expressed through the life and work of Ataturk, functions as not Erdogan, not AKP, in the Turkish political imaginary.

There is no doubt that Ceylan, never reluctant to speak her mind, can be provocative, even hurtful, as she was when telling Zeynep that her knee pain resulted from psychological, not physical, disorders. Or telling Hilal, immediately on meeting after a lapse of a year or so, that she looked older and had put on lots of weight. With me, maybe because I was older by at least twenty years, she never made those somewhat cruel kinds of observations, and took mercy on my knees as they worsened. In her early years at Mazi we stayed comfortably in a guest house a few hundred yards down the hill, but more recently, we were given a more accessible guest room in a cottage next to where she lived.

There are many amazing aspects of Ceylan’s life that put her on a high pedestal. Before her knees betrayed her rhythmic ambitions, she would go to Buenos Aires every year just to learn and practice tango, acquiring a stately house in the Argentine city and devoted friends along the way. We were always impressed, and admittedly a bit envious, that wherever Ceylan went she seemed to acquire real estate, and then later dispose of it at a big profit. We displayed our considerable talent for doing the opposite, buying high, selling love. She even owns a large tract of land in Uruguay that is suitable for olive orchards, and maybe an olive oil business. Ceylan time after time makes it clear that she is much closer to her dogs than to the excitements of real estate deals, and maybe even people, excepting ourselves, of course, which I note with a smile of self-deprecating irony.

As impressive, despite an urban upbringing, Ceylan became an all-consuming horticulturalist, raising exotic plants and trees with native habitats throughout the hemisphere. She has written a book, so far available only in Turkish, explaining how she became such a gourmet gardener. People who have read what she has written, sing praises. With only sporadic help with the work, and a sprawling garden that needs daily care, occupying distances that would take at least ten minutes to cover by a brisk walker, Ceylan rises before dawn to provide water, eliminate weeds, and whatever else it takes to make such a huge garden flourish despite the absence of reliable rainfall. She spends no less than four hours per day so challenged by what the earth has to offer when well loved.

Yet above all what impressed us most is the choice, the sheer madness of it, to live alone in a home that require a SUV to manage an almost impassable dirt road that winds through the steep inclines. We have only crawled along the road during the dry months, and found it so bad as to tempt us to stay away, but if rain and mud are around, as in the Winter months, the road mounts a challenge no ordinary car could survive To be so alone day after day, and even more so, night after night, without being required to live in such a seemingly austere and lonely way, puts Ceylan in a class apart from what Aristotle had in mind when he described humans as ‘social animals.’ This life choice, one no ‘life coach’ would dare recommend, is made more noteworthy, and in a way puzzling, when we take account of how much Ceylan loves to be with people, hospitably provides delicious food and excellent wine, shares generously her plants and flowers. There are mysteries here, but probably not for me to decipher.

As I write the mysteries are being deepened. A wild fire in August of 2021, the second COVID year, chose Mazi as a place to ravage, and Ceylan’s hill, including the love of her life after retreating to deep country—a libertarian garden—was almost destroyed by this vengeful display of nature’s fury. Ceylan admits that this apocalyptic intrusion on her way of life has raised doubts about whether she can restore the atmosphere, turn what is now mostly black and brown back to mostly green. The grit displayed in even returning to such ravaged scene already qualifies as heroic. If she persists, and manages to maintain restorative mission until its completion—undoubtedly ‘building back better’—it will likely shape the rest of her life, and imprint an image of what it takes to be a 21st century pioneer in the minds of awestruck friends who could never endure the rigors of such a life for more than 24 hours, myself included. For Ceylan it is both a retreat and an embace.

I am so grateful for Ceylan’s non-judgmental friendship, which is not so widely bestowed as near as I can tell. She knows we disagree on many trivial things such as politics, but she also seems to know that on the essentials of living and life, truth and beauty, we agree, and we do. On most matters of good and evil here on earth, particularly in Turkey, we seem content generally to avoid, seeming to sense that our different perceptions, backgrounds, temperaments and experiences might bring tensions, angry grimaces, and if pressed, even tears.

Ceylan as with the other three ladies of distinction, possesses strong magnetism. People come to her despite the challenging remoteness of her residence. She almost never leaves her hilltop for social purposes, making exceptions only for her health and that of her dogs, and for the weddings of her nieces and cousins. If I lived so remotely, I cannot imagine having a single visitor per year. Even my children, although expressing ritual regret, and maybe feeling occasional pangs of guilt, would find ample reasons to stay away. I draw such a comparison as my way of bearing witness to both Ceylan’s high voltage social magnetism and my own shortcomings.

Rosemary Tylka

I suppose it is a bit odd to include Rosemary. We have never met in person. I totally reject some of her impassioned opinions. We have only a few close friends in common. She was at first ill-disposed toward me, a story she likes to tell. After all, she is a dedicated expatriate and I a seemingly sterile American, and worse, could come across as an apparently loyal servant of its imperial government.

Such an initial reaction was understandable. Rosemary, who is intensely critical of Israel and Zionism, first heard of me when I was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 to be the replacement for John Dugard, as Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine. Rosemary rightly believed that John, a South African jurist who had gained political maturity during the height of apartheid, had done a fantastic job at the UN, exposing Israeli violations of international law and the crimes against humanity that were the core realities of its prolonged occupation of Palestine that had started after the 1967 War. It was quite reasonable for her to expect the worst from his successor. Isn’t that the way the world works? Or at least the UN? Especially, since it was widely known that Israel had lobbied hard in Geneva for the selection of someone who shared their concerns, and would spin the reality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine in a Tel Aviv direction.

I am not clear what softened Rosemary’s gaze, perhaps some in her circle who had worked with me on past occasions. I think one person who came to my rescue was Vera Gowlands, a progressive international law and human rights professor who lived in Geneva, and developed a commitment to the Palestinian struggle. Whoever it was, it brought Rosemary tumbling into my Internet life as no one before or since has done. Her passions were raw and almost always linked with her elaborate past life of service to important persons for whom she had worked or befriended, ambassadors and ministers, especially from the MENA countries. Rosemary could recall the details of encounters and gala parties from decades ago as if they had occurred the prior evening. It led me to encourage her to write up a life so rich in exotic detail. She could narrate an endless string of social entanglements in exotic settings filled with endearing recollections illustrating the lives of these vivacious personalities with whom she worked and played. As with Gloria, Rosemary found young persons of promise, whether male or female, and did her generous best to goad them into fulfilling their potential. And like Ceylan, found her ‘divine’ cats a source of love and admiration, and lent her energies to animal welfare efforts in Cairo and elsewhere with the same zeal she seems to bestow on glittering social events and dear friends.

While others learn from books, although she reads widely and avidly, Rosemary seemed to learn the lessons of life from her very distinct experiences over the span of many expatriate years. I am not sure about whether she did much by way of graduate education, yet she was learned in the manner of gifted auto-didacts, and seemed conversant with the best works of modern literature. She likes describe herself as ‘a typist,’ in good moods as ‘a glorified typist,’ who was employed throughout her career by various international institutions, and seemed to have such an advanced and engaging social consciousness as to gain the confidence and affection of her bosses. If a typist, then in a new category—‘a typist savant’ willing to entertain guests with her version of belly dancing.

Somewhat surprisingly, Rosemary grew up in Minnesota, and unsurprisingly, was a college homecoming queen. She somehow emerged in full bloom as a woman alive and alone in Europe, holding a series of jobs in global cities of high culture. Along the way she developed a strong hostility to America’s global role, to Israeli policies and practices, and to any form of organized religion and even to private shows of religious devoutness. Somewhere along this path she encountered and paid a kind of romantic homage, eventually professing love for Paul Findley, a brave ten term congressman from downstate Illinois who paid with his Washington career for taking on the Israeli lobby in the 1980s, and never backed down during the several decades that followed his political defeat. Paul, who I met at a Washington conference on the Jewish Lobby became a lonely voice in what still remains after his death a forlorn wilderness of prophetic insight.

As with the other three, and with the same unforgettable verbal verve, Rosemary is passionate about her opinions, pro and con. With a touch of irony, she holds forth online to her Internet likeminded circle from what she self-mockingly calls ‘my speaker’s corner,’ initially at Marrakesh and now from Angers in southern France. Her affection for Morocco turned sour some time ago, and her views of the country are now of the darkest hue. At present, she feels happier in the city of Angers, filling her days with messages to the world and tales of young Syrian refugees that add spice to her life as she adds direction and maternal devotion to theirs.

Rosemary has developed a retinue of those who love her spirit, and probably like me, overlook the opinionated rants. She is a demagogue of the emotional life, yet according to her own self-portrait, ever ready to laugh uncontrollably at both her own occasional missteps and the absurdities of others. She has soft spot for sympathetic provocateurs and stray cats. What more needs saying!! With such life-sustaining energies, love is rarely absent.

Concluding Observation

A Concluding Remark

Profiling such vivid personalities is somewhat daunting and risky. I discovered along the way that by their nature they transcend all efforts at portraiture. To experience such women as friends is the silver lining of a patriarchal civilization. In their presence I felt always the pressure of being challenged, sometime directly, more often tacitly, and in the end with sentiments of gratitude.

Of course, I realize it is a violation of their individuality to categorize four women whose signature identity is to stand alone far from crowds, avoiding even arenas of societal influence, in some instances seeking maximum attainable remoteness. Despite this penchant for solitude each is socially gifted, and beloved for what she is and has achieved, and by way of appreciation, standard canons of judgment are rightly suspended as inapplicable.

I believe these four women have taught me many lessons outside the confines of classroom, library, and bedroom. Admittedly, it is an unusual pedagogy, especially with respect to what might be identified as ‘moral posture,’ standing tall, or as tall as possible, in relation to ‘political correctness’ or to express empathy toward the most vulnerable and downtrodden while spitting in the direction of their tormentors. And not only are pieties dispensed, but hedonistic insights as well. These women have this great capacity to affirm life in ways that express their distinctiveness, and not only to lament wrongdoing.

I can only wonder why I have known no such men, not even close calls, despite many cherished male friends who were confidants, sharing my love of sports, ideas, games, romance, and the ebb and flow of a long life. Unlike these women who draw to themselves others from great distances, the men I have been close to lack that gravitational pull, at least in my case.  Maybe Edward Said or Gerry Spence are partial exceptions, but their lives are so bound up with others close at hand that I would feel an intruder if I dared to show up at their doorstep on a night of loneliness in search of a reassuring hug!

““

The Shared Struggle of Palestinian and Irish Hunger Strikers

7 Sep

[Posted below is my foreword to a very illuminating collaboration relating the comparative experience of Palestinian and Irish hunger strikers. The collection of essays has been expertly edited by Norma Hashim & Yousef Aljamal, who have previously edited valuable collections of statements by Palestinian political prisoners, including youth, an important often overlooked dimension of Palestinian resistance. Some endorsements of the book and the expressive cover posted after my foreword. Highly recommended]

A Shared Struggle: Stories of Palestinian and Irish Hunger Strikers   (X/12/2020)

Desperate circumstances give rise to desperate behavior. If by states, extreme violent behavior tends to be rationalized as ‘self-defense,’ ‘military necessity,’ or ‘counterterrorism,’ and governmental claims of legal authorization tend to be upheld by judicial institutions. If even nonviolent acts of resistance by individuals associated with dissident movements occur, then the established order and its supportive media will routinely describe such acts as ‘terrorism,’ ‘criminality,’ ‘political extremism,’ and ‘fanaticism,’ and the behavior is criminalized, or at best exposed to scorn by sovereign states and their civil society establishment. Statist forms of combat almost always rely on violence to crush an enemy, while the desperation of resistance sometimes takes the form of inflicting hurt upon the self so as to shame an oppressor to relent or eventually even surrender, not due to empathy or a change of heart, but because fearful of alienating public opinion, intensifying resistance, losing international legitimacy, facing sanctions. It is against such an overall background that we should understand the role of the hunger strike in the wider context of resistance against all forms of oppressive, exploitative, and cruel governance. The long struggles in Ireland and Palestine are among the most poignant instances of such political encounters that gripped the moral imagination of many persons of conscience in the years since the middle of the prior century.

Those jailed activists who have recourse to a hunger strike, either singly or in collaboration, are keenly aware that they are choosing an option of last resort, which exhibits a willingness to sacrifice their body and even their life itself for goals deemed more important. These goals usually involve either safeguarding dignity and honor of a subjugated people or mobilizing support for a collective struggle on behalf of freedom, rights, and equality. A hunger strike is an ultimate form of non-violence, comparable only to politically motivated acts of self-immolation, physically harmful only to the self, yet possessing in certain circumstances unlimited symbolic potential to change behavior and give rise to massive displays of discontent by a population believed to be successfully suppressed. Such desperate tactics have been integral to the struggles for basic rights and resistance to oppressive conditions in both Palestine and Ireland.

An unacknowledged, yet vital, truth of recent history is that symbolic politics have often eventually controlled the outcomes of prolonged struggles against oppressive state actors that wield dominant control over combat zones and uncontested superiority in relation to weapons and military capabilities. And yet despite these hard power advantages thought decisive in such conflict, the struggle from below persists, often at great cost, yet in the end surprises the world, and sometimes itself, by prevailing. It may be helpful to remember that it was the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in Saigon during the 1960s that was considered ‘a scream of the culture’ in defiant reaction to the American led military intervention, which many credited with reversing the course of the conflict. It led Vietnamese scholars to interpret these extreme acts of solitary individuals, endowed with the highest civilizational credentials of moral authority, as shifting the balance of forces in Vietnam in ways that then and there doomed the seemingly irresistible American military resolve to control the political future of Vietnam. These acts of self-immolation didn’t end the war, but to those with insight into Vietnamese culture it did signal an outcome contrary to what the war planners in Washington confidently expected. Tragically before Washington brought itself to acknowledge defeat, the Vietnam war persisted for a decade, ravaging the land and bringing great suffering to the people of Vietnam. Self-immolation, setting oneself on fire as an irreversible instance of self-sacrifice, carries the analogous logic of a hunger strike to a final conclusion. Depending on the actor and context, self-immolation can be interpreted either as an expression of hopeless despair or as a desperate appeal for a just peace.

It was the self-immolation of a simple fruit and vegetable vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010 that called attention to the plight of the Tunisian people, igniting a nationwide uprising that drove a corrupt dictator, Ben Ali, from power. Bouazizi, without political motivation or spiritual authority of the Buddhist monks, sparked populist mobilizations that swept across the Arab world in 2011. Somehow Bouazizi’s entire personal self-immolation was the spark that set the region ablaze. Such a reaction could not have been predicted and was not planned, yet afterwards it was interpreted as somehow activating dormant revolutionary responses to intolerable underlying conditions.

Without doubt, the supreme example of triumphant symbolic politics in modern times was the extraordinary resistance and liberation movement led by Gandhi that merged his individual hunger strikes unto death with spectacular nonviolent forms of collective action (for instance, ‘the salt march’ of 1930), accomplishing what seemed impossible at the time, bringing the British Empire to its knees, and by so doing, restoring independent statehood and sovereignty to colonized India.

Both the oppressed and the oppressors learn from past successes and failures of symbolic politics. The oppressed view such behavior as an ultimate and ennobling approach to resistance and liberation. Oppressors learn that wars are often not decided by who wins on the battlefield or jail house but by the side that gains a decisive advantage symbolically in what I have previously called ‘legitimacy wars.’ With this acquired knowledge of their vulnerability to such tactics, oppressors fight back, defame and use violence to destroy by any means the will of the oppressed, and their global support network, to resist, especially if the stakes involve giving up the high moral and legal ground. The Israeli leadership learned, especially, from the collapse of South African apartheid not to take symbolic politics lightly. Israel has been particularly unscrupulous in its responses to symbolic challenges to its abusive apartheid regime of control. Israel, with U.S. support, has mounted a worldwide defamatory pushback against criticism at the UN or from human rights defenders around the world, shamelessly playing ‘the anti-Semitic card’ in its effort to destroy nonviolent solidarity efforts such as the pro-Palestinian BDS Campaign modeled on an initiative that had mobilized worldwide opposition to South African apartheid. Notably, in the South African case, the BDS tactic was questioned for effectiveness and appropriateness, but its organizers and most militant supporters were never defamed, much less criminalized. This recognition of the potency of symbolic politics by Israel has obstructed the Palestinian liberation struggles despite what would seem to be the advantageous realities of the post-colonial setting.

Israel’s version of an apartheid regime evolved as a necessary side effect of establishing an exclusivist Jewish state in an overwhelmingly non-Jewish society. This Zionist project required that the Palestinian people become experience the agonies of colonialist dispossession and displacement in their own homeland. Israel learned from South Africa techniques of racist hierarchy and repression, but they were also aware of the vulnerabilities of oppressors to sustained forms of non-violence that validated the persevering resistance of those oppressed. Israel is determined not to repeat the collapse of South African apartheid, which explains not only repression of resistors but sustained efforts to achieve the demoralization of supporters that comprise the global solidarity movement, especially those in the West where Israel’s geopolitical backup is situated.

A similar reality existed in Northern Ireland where the memories of colonies lost to weaker adversaries slowly taught the UK lessons of accommodation and compromise, which led the leaders in London to shift abruptly their focus from counterterrorism to diplomacy, with the dramatic climax of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Israel is not the UK, and the Irish are not the Palestinians. Israel shows no willingness to grant the Palestinian people their most basic rights, even withholding COVID vaccines, yet even Israel does not want to be humiliated in ways that can arouse international public opinion to move from the rhetoric of censure toward the imposition of sanctions. The Israeli Prison Service doesn’t want Palestinian hunger strikers to die in captivity, not because of their empathy, but to avoid bad publicity. To prevent such outcomes, Israeli prison authorities will often attempt forced feeding, but if that fails, as it usually does, then they will bend the rules, make some concessions, including even arrange a release when it is feared that a hunger striker is at the brink of death. Palestinian prospects are more dependent than ever on waging and winning victories in the domain of symbolic politics, and Israel, with the help of the United States, will go to any length to hide tactical defeats of this sort in this longest of legitimacy wars.

It is against such a background that these writings were collected, with Palestinian and Irish contributions interspersed throughout the volume to underscore the essential similarity of these two epic anti-colonial struggles. What gives A Shared Struggle its authority and persuasive power is the authenticity derived from words of those brave men and women who chose to undertake hunger strikes in situations of desperation and experienced not only their own spirit-enhancing ordeal but the pain of loss of nearby martyred fallen comrades, grieving families, and their common effort to engage the wider struggles for rights and freedom being carried on outside the prison walls. Despite the vast differences in their respective struggles against oppression, the similarities of response created the deepest of bonds, especially of the Irish toward the Palestinians whose oppressive reality was more severe, and has proved more enduring. The inspirational example of the Irish hunger strikers who did not abandon their quest for elemental justice at the doorstep of death was not lost on the Palestinians. At the end of their protest in 1981 the Irish prisoners obtained formal recognition of their political movement. They also were finally granted recognition by the British that Irish resisters deserved to be treated as ‘political prisoners,’ and not common criminals, came after the Good Friday Agreement when they were released from prison, a political amnesty in all but name. The struggle for Irish independence has not let up, continuing in all of Ireland as an unresolved quest.

 Ever since visiting Belfast two years ago I have been struck by how the Irish revolutionaries, despite these vast differences in circumstances and goals, regard their struggle as being reproduced in its essential character by the Palestinian struggle, and have a robust solidarity movement that regards Palestinian freedom as one of the incomplete aspects of their own struggle. The wall murals in the Catholic neighborhoods of Belfast exhibited these affinities, recognizing that oppression is not confined within the sovereign space of nations, but is a transnational reality with a boundaryless community of dedicated individuals. Solidarity and opposition express an unarticulated and largely unacknowledged global humanism. While the Palestinian challenge may be more epic in quality and intensity, the Irish struggle was also waged as a matter of life and death, and even more fundamentally, as an insistence that humiliation, indignity, and servitude were unendurable conditions that produced and justified martyrdom.

Among the great differences in these two national narratives that form the background of these separate renderings of the hunger strikes concerns the impacts of the international context, and especially the role of the United States. With regard to Ireland, American public and even elite opinion was strongly supportive of Catholic resistance in Northern Ireland, and the U.S. mediational role was exercised with an impressive spirit of neutrality. With respect to Israel, the U.S. pretends to play a similar role as intermediary or ‘honest broker,’ yet with zero credibility. It should surprise no objective observer that these diplomatic maneuvers associated with a faux peace process produced only frustration and disappointment for the Palestinians, in part, due to Washington’s unabashed and unconditional material and diplomatic partisanship, including siding with Israel even when it flagrantly violates international law or repudiates the UN consensus on the contours of a just peace. Such futile diplomacy allowed Israel to continue building its unlawful settlements for year after year, compromising Palestinian territorial prospects and resulting in not a single adverse consequence for Israel.

The media treatment of the two struggles reinforced this disparity. The Irish hunger strikes were given generally sympathetic prominence in mainstream media outlets, with Bobby Sands’ name and martyrdom known and respected throughout the world. In contrast, outside of Palestinian circles only those most engaged activists in solidarity efforts are even aware that lengthy and life threatening Palestinian hunger strikes have repeatedly occurred in Israeli prisons during the last several decades.

This denial of international coverage to such nonviolent resistance acts helps reinforce Israeli oppression and uphold the Israeli anti-terrorist narrative, and should be viewed as a kind of transnational complicity. Naked power and geopolitical ‘correctness,’ rather than elemental morality is allowed to dominate the discourse. In the background is the bankruptcy of liberal Zionism. For many years, leading liberal journalists, such as Tom Friedman of the New York Times, were counseling the Palestinians that if they gave up violence, and appealed to Israeli conscience by having recourse to nonviolent forms of resistance, their political grievances would be addressed in a responsible manner. Palestinians responsively launched the first intifada in 1987, and soon realized that those meddlesome liberal establishment well- wishers in the West were quickly muted as soon as Israel responded violently, seeking to crush this most impressive nonviolent and spontaneous mobilization of those Palestinians fed up with living under the rigors of prolonged occupation.

Silence about Palestinian hunger strikes reduces the global impact of these expressions of desperation, which makes this publication of additional significance. It exposes readers to a series of separate stories of heroism under intolerable conditions of Irish and Palestinian imprisonment. This collection also offers a corrective to the virtual media blackout in the West that denies coverage to Palestinian resistance including even, as with hunger strikes, when resistance turns away from violence, and expresses a desperate last resort. Again, the contrasting international media binge coverage of the Irish hunger strikes definitely contributed to the liberating Irish diplomatic breakthrough that might otherwise not have occurred, or at least not as soon as it did.

We notice in these stories collected here, that the Irish contributions situate their recourse to hunger strikes protesting prison conditions more explicitly in the wider struggle of the IRA, while Palestinians stories tell more graphically of the agonies of prolonged imprisonment in Israeli prisons. Our attention is drawn to the denial of minimal international standards of treatment, including failures of medical treatment, bad food quality, denial of family visits, inadequate exercise, and sadistic prison responses ranging from force-feeding to tempting hungry strikers by placing tantalizing foods in prison cells. Yet both Irish and Palestinian styles of witnessing emanate from the same source–how to respond to the desperation felt by intolerable abuse in conditions of imprisonment, and yet carry on the wider struggle for freedom and rights that landed them in prison.

In reading these harrowing statements of broken families and broken hearts, we should not be deceived into thinking that we are reading only about events in the past. There are currently about 4,500 Palestinian prisoners, including 350 imprisoned under ‘administrative detention’ provisions copied from the British Mandate colonialist administration of Palestine, under which Palestinian activists and suspects can be jailed indefinitely without any specific charges or even a show of some evidence of wrongdoing.  Many of the individual hunger strikes take this dire step of a hunger strike without an end date to protest against the acute and arbitrary injustices associated with administrative detention, which appears to be a technique used by Israel to demoralize the Palestine people to an extent that makes their resistance seem useless.

Maher Al-Akhras was close to death in an Israeli prison when freed on November 26, 2020, having mounted a hunger strike for an incredible period of 103 days as a specific protest against being held under administrative detention, that is, without any charges of criminality. Hardly anyone outside of Palestine and the Israeli Prison Service knows about his ordeal. Al-Akhras words when teetering on the brink of death encapsulate the common core of these unforgettable shared stories: my hunger strike “is in defense of Palestinian prisoners and of my people who are suffering from the occupation and my victory in the strike is a victory for the prisoners and my Palestinian people.” In other words, although such an extreme act of self-sacrifice, while being intensely individual, is above all an expression of solidarity with others locked within the prison walls but at the same time often the only form of resistance available to an imprisoned political militant. Such a commitment has its concrete demands relating to prison conditions, but it should also be understood as a metaphor encouraging a greater commitment by all of us, wherever situated, to the struggle that needs to be sustained until victory by those on the outside who are daily subjugated to the policies and practices of the oppressor state.

These stories are here to be read, but the publication of such a collection is also a global solidarity initiative supportive of the Palestinian struggle. The suffering and rightlessness of the Palestinian people has gone on far too long. We now know that the UN and traditional diplomacy have failed to achieve a just solution. Given these circumstances, it becomes clear that only the people of the world possess the will and potentially the capabilities, to bring justice to Palestine. It Is an opportunity and responsibility posing a challenge to all of us. We need to find what ways are available to support those brave and dedicated Palestinians who have paid for so long the price of resisting Israeli oppression.

Palestinian and Irish hunger strikers who contributed their stories to this memorable volume deserve the last word here. Mohammed Al-Qeeq says this: “It is not just about my freedom, but rather the freedom of every soul who curses the injustice as I do.” From Mohamad Alian these words: “In our minds the prison became our cemetery.” And from Pat Sheehan this assessment of the hunger strikes: “It was, and remains, one of the most defining and momentous periods in Irish history.” Finally, Hassan Safadi: “The look on the faces of the Zionist officers who wanted me dead, will never leave me, but I stared right back at them.”

Richard Falk

Yalikavak, Turkey

February 24, 2021

Endorsements for

A Shared Struggle

“Colonialism and occupation are the denial of peoples’ right to self-determination and freedom. The Irish and Palestinian people have had long experience of this. In the struggle for liberty international solidarity between oppressed and dispossessed peoples is hugely important. In this joint Palestinian/Irish republican initiative we witness the parallels between heroic struggles for freedom and the commonality of resistance against seemingly overwhelming military might particularly by those imprisoned in the cause of freedom for their homeland.”

Gerry Adams, Ex-political prisoner, former President Sinn Féin

“Because justice is indivisible, the Irish and Palestinian quest for freedom followed the same trajectory of pain and resistance and was met with the same, ever predictable response of colonial oppression and state violence. The prisoners, in both cases, serve as a microcosm of entire collective experiences. Political prisoners are the victims and the freedom fighters, the agitators, the intellectuals, and the leaders of their communities. Their stories stand at the heart of the shared narrative of both nations. This book is a beautiful tribute to the heroic men and women of Palestine and Ireland. It is an essential read for those wishing to understand why servitude is never an option, and why the struggle for freedom is worth all the painful sacrifices.”

Ramzy Baroud, Author of These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons

“Hunger strikes are the last desperate weapon for political prisoners denied justice. For many years, there has been solidarity between the Palestinians, South Africans fighting apartheid and the struggle for Irish unity. That mutual support is active now and needed more than ever, as the oppression of the Palestinians becomes ever more brutal. This is an important book, and I’m sure it will be widely read.”

Ken Loach, Award-winning film director

“One of the painful but inevitable repercussions of being colonised is the existence of political prisoners. Incarcerated for daring to fight for freedom and justice, the pain is multiplied when their suffering is completely ignored by the international community. The heroism of Palestinian and Irish political prisoners is no different from that of Nelson Mandela and other fighters against the apartheid regime of South Africa. But while the latter group is adulated and admired by all, Palestinian political prisoners are still considered terrorists by most Western governments, forcing them to resort to hunger strikes to obtain justice and freedom from the yoke of oppression. Norma Hashim and Yousef M. Aljamal’s book is not only unique but also extremely valuable because it helps us to understand their suffering by describing the first-hand experiences of Irish and Palestinian hunger strikers.”

Prof Nazari Ismail, Chairman of BDS Malaysia

“This is a significant book as the richness of the diverse prisoners and cases from Ireland and Palestine help the readers to understand their contribution to the national movement in both countries.”

Ibrahim Natil, Academic and human rights activist

A Shared Struggle is an important contribution to the literature of people from Palestine and Ireland telling their own stories, in their own words. We are reminded in these pages of the immense brutality being visited on the Palestinian people on a daily basis, both physically and psychologically, and how resistance to the occupation takes places in many forms. The Israeli apartheid state is, as some have argued, worse than apartheid South Africa and I hope this book will inspire more people to get involved in international solidarity and join the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).”

Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit TD

My refusal to take food was not a suicide attempt as it was portrayed by the Israeli occupation media, but rather it was a legitimate defence tool in which I used my body to impose my demands and highlight my case as a political prisoner who has been stripped off his dignity and freedom. Despite my prior knowledge of the risk of going on a hunger strike and that I might lose my life the same as some Irish hunger strikers did, I decided to go on with my hunger strike because every martyr who falls on this path is a light to those who seek freedom. I encourage you to read this book to learn more about the experiences of Palestinian and Irish hunger strikers. One line on the wall of my cell read “Read until your sight goes away so that your vision strengthens.” This book is an important read.”

Mahmoud Al-SarsakPalestinian footballer and former hunger striker in Israeli jails

“This collection of first person accounts from Irish and Palestinian hunger strikers is compelling – a mix of powerful stories, poems, and photographs. Together these primary documents provide an essential political history that draws on a long tradition of protest with urgent moral force and challenges the criminalisation of those incarcerated for their fierce resistance to colonial violence. Shared struggles, indeed!”

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, author of Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty

“With its harrowing accounts of the bravery and strength of Palestinian and Irish republican hunger strikers, this book will inspire people to support the freedom struggles of oppressed people all over the world and will shine a light on the brutal Israeli apartheid regime. When people are prepared to sacrifice their own lives for a cause they will never be defeated.”

Senator Frances Black, Dublin, Ireland 

You can order your copy from here

[Posted below is my foreword to a very illuminating collaboration relating the comparative experience of Palestinian and Irish hunger strikers. The collection of essays has been expertly edited by Norma Hashim & Yousef Aljamal, who have previously edited valuable collections of statements by Palestinian political prisoners, including youth, an important often overlooked dimension of Palestinian resistance. Some endorsements of the book and the expressive cover posted after my foreword.]

A Shared Struggle: Stories of Palestinian and Irish Hunger Strikers   (X/12/2020)

Desperate circumstances give rise to desperate behavior. If by states, extreme violent behavior tends to be rationalized as ‘self-defense,’ ‘military necessity,’ or ‘counterterrorism,’ and governmental claims of legal authorization tend to be upheld by judicial institutions. If even nonviolent acts of resistance by individuals associated with dissident movements occur, then the established order and its supportive media will routinely describe such acts as ‘terrorism,’ ‘criminality,’ ‘political extremism,’ and ‘fanaticism,’ and the behavior is criminalized, or at best exposed to scorn by sovereign states and their civil society establishment. Statist forms of combat almost always rely on violence to crush an enemy, while the desperation of resistance sometimes takes the form of inflicting hurt upon the self so as to shame an oppressor to relent or eventually even surrender, not due to empathy or a change of heart, but because fearful of alienating public opinion, intensifying resistance, losing international legitimacy, facing sanctions. It is against such an overall background that we should understand the role of the hunger strike in the wider context of resistance against all forms of oppressive, exploitative, and cruel governance. The long struggles in Ireland and Palestine are among the most poignant instances of such political encounters that gripped the moral imagination of many persons of conscience in the years since the middle of the prior century.

Those jailed activists who have recourse to a hunger strike, either singly or in collaboration, are keenly aware that they are choosing an option of last resort, which exhibits a willingness to sacrifice their body and even their life itself for goals deemed more important. These goals usually involve either safeguarding dignity and honor of a subjugated people or mobilizing support for a collective struggle on behalf of freedom, rights, and equality. A hunger strike is an ultimate form of non-violence, comparable only to politically motivated acts of self-immolation, physically harmful only to the self, yet possessing in certain circumstances unlimited symbolic potential to change behavior and give rise to massive displays of discontent by a population believed to be successfully suppressed. Such desperate tactics have been integral to the struggles for basic rights and resistance to oppressive conditions in both Palestine and Ireland.

An unacknowledged, yet vital, truth of recent history is that symbolic politics have often eventually controlled the outcomes of prolonged struggles against oppressive state actors that wield dominant control over combat zones and uncontested superiority in relation to weapons and military capabilities. And yet despite these hard power advantages thought decisive in such conflict, the struggle from below persists, often at great cost, yet in the end surprises the world, and sometimes itself, by prevailing. It may be helpful to remember that it was the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in Saigon during the 1960s that was considered ‘a scream of the culture’ in defiant reaction to the American led military intervention, which many credited with reversing the course of the conflict. It led Vietnamese scholars to interpret these extreme acts of solitary individuals, endowed with the highest civilizational credentials of moral authority, as shifting the balance of forces in Vietnam in ways that then and there doomed the seemingly irresistible American military resolve to control the political future of Vietnam. These acts of self-immolation didn’t end the war, but to those with insight into Vietnamese culture it did signal an outcome contrary to what the war planners in Washington confidently expected. Tragically before Washington brought itself to acknowledge defeat, the Vietnam war persisted for a decade, ravaging the land and bringing great suffering to the people of Vietnam. Self-immolation, setting oneself on fire as an irreversible instance of self-sacrifice, carries the analogous logic of a hunger strike to a final conclusion. Depending on the actor and context, self-immolation can be interpreted either as an expression of hopeless despair or as a desperate appeal for a just peace.

It was the self-immolation of a simple fruit and vegetable vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010 that called attention to the plight of the Tunisian people, igniting a nationwide uprising that drove a corrupt dictator, Ben Ali, from power. Bouazizi, without political motivation or spiritual authority of the Buddhist monks, sparked populist mobilizations that swept across the Arab world in 2011. Somehow Bouazizi’s entire personal self-immolation was the spark that set the region ablaze. Such a reaction could not have been predicted and was not planned, yet afterwards it was interpreted as somehow activating dormant revolutionary responses to intolerable underlying conditions.

Without doubt, the supreme example of triumphant symbolic politics in modern times was the extraordinary resistance and liberation movement led by Gandhi that merged his individual hunger strikes unto death with spectacular nonviolent forms of collective action (for instance, ‘the salt march’ of 1930), accomplishing what seemed impossible at the time, bringing the British Empire to its knees, and by so doing, restoring independent statehood and sovereignty to colonized India.

Both the oppressed and the oppressors learn from past successes and failures of symbolic politics. The oppressed view such behavior as an ultimate and ennobling approach to resistance and liberation. Oppressors learn that wars are often not decided by who wins on the battlefield or jail house but by the side that gains a decisive advantage symbolically in what I have previously called ‘legitimacy wars.’ With this acquired knowledge of their vulnerability to such tactics, oppressors fight back, defame and use violence to destroy by any means the will of the oppressed, and their global support network, to resist, especially if the stakes involve giving up the high moral and legal ground. The Israeli leadership learned, especially, from the collapse of South African apartheid not to take symbolic politics lightly. Israel has been particularly unscrupulous in its responses to symbolic challenges to its abusive apartheid regime of control. Israel, with U.S. support, has mounted a worldwide defamatory pushback against criticism at the UN or from human rights defenders around the world, shamelessly playing ‘the anti-Semitic card’ in its effort to destroy nonviolent solidarity efforts such as the pro-Palestinian BDS Campaign modeled on an initiative that had mobilized worldwide opposition to South African apartheid. Notably, in the South African case, the BDS tactic was questioned for effectiveness and appropriateness, but its organizers and most militant supporters were never defamed, much less criminalized. This recognition of the potency of symbolic politics by Israel has obstructed the Palestinian liberation struggles despite what would seem to be the advantageous realities of the post-colonial setting.

Israel’s version of an apartheid regime evolved as a necessary side effect of establishing an exclusivist Jewish state in an overwhelmingly non-Jewish society. This Zionist project required that the Palestinian people become experience the agonies of colonialist dispossession and displacement in their own homeland. Israel learned from South Africa techniques of racist hierarchy and repression, but they were also aware of the vulnerabilities of oppressors to sustained forms of non-violence that validated the persevering resistance of those oppressed. Israel is determined not to repeat the collapse of South African apartheid, which explains not only repression of resistors but sustained efforts to achieve the demoralization of supporters that comprise the global solidarity movement, especially those in the West where Israel’s geopolitical backup is situated.

A similar reality existed in Northern Ireland where the memories of colonies lost to weaker adversaries slowly taught the UK lessons of accommodation and compromise, which led the leaders in London to shift abruptly their focus from counterterrorism to diplomacy, with the dramatic climax of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Israel is not the UK, and the Irish are not the Palestinians. Israel shows no willingness to grant the Palestinian people their most basic rights, even withholding COVID vaccines, yet even Israel does not want to be humiliated in ways that can arouse international public opinion to move from the rhetoric of censure toward the imposition of sanctions. The Israeli Prison Service doesn’t want Palestinian hunger strikers to die in captivity, not because of their empathy, but to avoid bad publicity. To prevent such outcomes, Israeli prison authorities will often attempt forced feeding, but if that fails, as it usually does, then they will bend the rules, make some concessions, including even arrange a release when it is feared that a hunger striker is at the brink of death. Palestinian prospects are more dependent than ever on waging and winning victories in the domain of symbolic politics, and Israel, with the help of the United States, will go to any length to hide tactical defeats of this sort in this longest of legitimacy wars.

It is against such a background that these writings were collected, with Palestinian and Irish contributions interspersed throughout the volume to underscore the essential similarity of these two epic anti-colonial struggles. What gives A Shared Struggle its authority and persuasive power is the authenticity derived from words of those brave men and women who chose to undertake hunger strikes in situations of desperation and experienced not only their own spirit-enhancing ordeal but the pain of loss of nearby martyred fallen comrades, grieving families, and their common effort to engage the wider struggles for rights and freedom being carried on outside the prison walls. Despite the vast differences in their respective struggles against oppression, the similarities of response created the deepest of bonds, especially of the Irish toward the Palestinians whose oppressive reality was more severe, and has proved more enduring. The inspirational example of the Irish hunger strikers who did not abandon their quest for elemental justice at the doorstep of death was not lost on the Palestinians. At the end of their protest in 1981 the Irish prisoners obtained formal recognition of their political movement. They also were finally granted recognition by the British that Irish resisters deserved to be treated as ‘political prisoners,’ and not common criminals, came after the Good Friday Agreement when they were released from prison, a political amnesty in all but name. The struggle for Irish independence has not let up, continuing in all of Ireland as an unresolved quest.

 Ever since visiting Belfast two years ago I have been struck by how the Irish revolutionaries, despite these vast differences in circumstances and goals, regard their struggle as being reproduced in its essential character by the Palestinian struggle, and have a robust solidarity movement that regards Palestinian freedom as one of the incomplete aspects of their own struggle. The wall murals in the Catholic neighborhoods of Belfast exhibited these affinities, recognizing that oppression is not confined within the sovereign space of nations, but is a transnational reality with a boundaryless community of dedicated individuals. Solidarity and opposition express an unarticulated and largely unacknowledged global humanism. While the Palestinian challenge may be more epic in quality and intensity, the Irish struggle was also waged as a matter of life and death, and even more fundamentally, as an insistence that humiliation, indignity, and servitude were unendurable conditions that produced and justified martyrdom.

Among the great differences in these two national narratives that form the background of these separate renderings of the hunger strikes concerns the impacts of the international context, and especially the role of the United States. With regard to Ireland, American public and even elite opinion was strongly supportive of Catholic resistance in Northern Ireland, and the U.S. mediational role was exercised with an impressive spirit of neutrality. With respect to Israel, the U.S. pretends to play a similar role as intermediary or ‘honest broker,’ yet with zero credibility. It should surprise no objective observer that these diplomatic maneuvers associated with a faux peace process produced only frustration and disappointment for the Palestinians, in part, due to Washington’s unabashed and unconditional material and diplomatic partisanship, including siding with Israel even when it flagrantly violates international law or repudiates the UN consensus on the contours of a just peace. Such futile diplomacy allowed Israel to continue building its unlawful settlements for year after year, compromising Palestinian territorial prospects and resulting in not a single adverse consequence for Israel.

The media treatment of the two struggles reinforced this disparity. The Irish hunger strikes were given generally sympathetic prominence in mainstream media outlets, with Bobby Sands’ name and martyrdom known and respected throughout the world. In contrast, outside of Palestinian circles only those most engaged activists in solidarity efforts are even aware that lengthy and life threatening Palestinian hunger strikes have repeatedly occurred in Israeli prisons during the last several decades.

This denial of international coverage to such nonviolent resistance acts helps reinforce Israeli oppression and uphold the Israeli anti-terrorist narrative, and should be viewed as a kind of transnational complicity. Naked power and geopolitical ‘correctness,’ rather than elemental morality is allowed to dominate the discourse. In the background is the bankruptcy of liberal Zionism. For many years, leading liberal journalists, such as Tom Friedman of the New York Times, were counseling the Palestinians that if they gave up violence, and appealed to Israeli conscience by having recourse to nonviolent forms of resistance, their political grievances would be addressed in a responsible manner. Palestinians responsively launched the first intifada in 1987, and soon realized that those meddlesome liberal establishment well- wishers in the West were quickly muted as soon as Israel responded violently, seeking to crush this most impressive nonviolent and spontaneous mobilization of those Palestinians fed up with living under the rigors of prolonged occupation.

Silence about Palestinian hunger strikes reduces the global impact of these expressions of desperation, which makes this publication of additional significance. It exposes readers to a series of separate stories of heroism under intolerable conditions of Irish and Palestinian imprisonment. This collection also offers a corrective to the virtual media blackout in the West that denies coverage to Palestinian resistance including even, as with hunger strikes, when resistance turns away from violence, and expresses a desperate last resort. Again, the contrasting international media binge coverage of the Irish hunger strikes definitely contributed to the liberating Irish diplomatic breakthrough that might otherwise not have occurred, or at least not as soon as it did.

We notice in these stories collected here, that the Irish contributions situate their recourse to hunger strikes protesting prison conditions more explicitly in the wider struggle of the IRA, while Palestinians stories tell more graphically of the agonies of prolonged imprisonment in Israeli prisons. Our attention is drawn to the denial of minimal international standards of treatment, including failures of medical treatment, bad food quality, denial of family visits, inadequate exercise, and sadistic prison responses ranging from force-feeding to tempting hungry strikers by placing tantalizing foods in prison cells. Yet both Irish and Palestinian styles of witnessing emanate from the same source–how to respond to the desperation felt by intolerable abuse in conditions of imprisonment, and yet carry on the wider struggle for freedom and rights that landed them in prison.

In reading these harrowing statements of broken families and broken hearts, we should not be deceived into thinking that we are reading only about events in the past. There are currently about 4,500 Palestinian prisoners, including 350 imprisoned under ‘administrative detention’ provisions copied from the British Mandate colonialist administration of Palestine, under which Palestinian activists and suspects can be jailed indefinitely without any specific charges or even a show of some evidence of wrongdoing.  Many of the individual hunger strikes take this dire step of a hunger strike without an end date to protest against the acute and arbitrary injustices associated with administrative detention, which appears to be a technique used by Israel to demoralize the Palestine people to an extent that makes their resistance seem useless.

Maher Al-Akhras was close to death in an Israeli prison when freed on November 26, 2020, having mounted a hunger strike for an incredible period of 103 days as a specific protest against being held under administrative detention, that is, without any charges of criminality. Hardly anyone outside of Palestine and the Israeli Prison Service knows about his ordeal. Al-Akhras words when teetering on the brink of death encapsulate the common core of these unforgettable shared stories: my hunger strike “is in defense of Palestinian prisoners and of my people who are suffering from the occupation and my victory in the strike is a victory for the prisoners and my Palestinian people.” In other words, although such an extreme act of self-sacrifice, while being intensely individual, is above all an expression of solidarity with others locked within the prison walls but at the same time often the only form of resistance available to an imprisoned political militant. Such a commitment has its concrete demands relating to prison conditions, but it should also be understood as a metaphor encouraging a greater commitment by all of us, wherever situated, to the struggle that needs to be sustained until victory by those on the outside who are daily subjugated to the policies and practices of the oppressor state.

These stories are here to be read, but the publication of such a collection is also a global solidarity initiative supportive of the Palestinian struggle. The suffering and rightlessness of the Palestinian people has gone on far too long. We now know that the UN and traditional diplomacy have failed to achieve a just solution. Given these circumstances, it becomes clear that only the people of the world possess the will and potentially the capabilities, to bring justice to Palestine. It Is an opportunity and responsibility posing a challenge to all of us. We need to find what ways are available to support those brave and dedicated Palestinians who have paid for so long the price of resisting Israeli oppression.

Palestinian and Irish hunger strikers who contributed their stories to this memorable volume deserve the last word here. Mohammed Al-Qeeq says this: “It is not just about my freedom, but rather the freedom of every soul who curses the injustice as I do.” From Mohamad Alian these words: “In our minds the prison became our cemetery.” And from Pat Sheehan this assessment of the hunger strikes: “It was, and remains, one of the most defining and momentous periods in Irish history.” Finally, Hassan Safadi: “The look on the faces of the Zionist officers who wanted me dead, will never leave me, but I stared right back at them.”

Richard Falk

Yalikavak, Turkey

February 24, 2021

**********

Endorsements for

A Shared Struggle

“Colonialism and occupation are the denial of peoples’ right to self-determination and freedom. The Irish and Palestinian people have had long experience of this. In the struggle for liberty international solidarity between oppressed and dispossessed peoples is hugely important. In this joint Palestinian/Irish republican initiative we witness the parallels between heroic struggles for freedom and the commonality of resistance against seemingly overwhelming military might particularly by those imprisoned in the cause of freedom for their homeland.”

Gerry Adams, Ex-political prisoner, former President Sinn Féin

“Because justice is indivisible, the Irish and Palestinian quest for freedom followed the same trajectory of pain and resistance and was met with the same, ever predictable response of colonial oppression and state violence. The prisoners, in both cases, serve as a microcosm of entire collective experiences. Political prisoners are the victims and the freedom fighters, the agitators, the intellectuals, and the leaders of their communities. Their stories stand at the heart of the shared narrative of both nations. This book is a beautiful tribute to the heroic men and women of Palestine and Ireland. It is an essential read for those wishing to understand why servitude is never an option, and why the struggle for freedom is worth all the painful sacrifices.”

Ramzy Baroud, Author of These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons

“Hunger strikes are the last desperate weapon for political prisoners denied justice. For many years, there has been solidarity between the Palestinians, South Africans fighting apartheid and the struggle for Irish unity. That mutual support is active now and needed more than ever, as the oppression of the Palestinians becomes ever more brutal. This is an important book, and I’m sure it will be widely read.”

Ken Loach, Award-winning film director

“One of the painful but inevitable repercussions of being colonised is the existence of political prisoners. Incarcerated for daring to fight for freedom and justice, the pain is multiplied when their suffering is completely ignored by the international community. The heroism of Palestinian and Irish political prisoners is no different from that of Nelson Mandela and other fighters against the apartheid regime of South Africa. But while the latter group is adulated and admired by all, Palestinian political prisoners are still considered terrorists by most Western governments, forcing them to resort to hunger strikes to obtain justice and freedom from the yoke of oppression. Norma Hashim and Yousef M. Aljamal’s book is not only unique but also extremely valuable because it helps us to understand their suffering by describing the first-hand experiences of Irish and Palestinian hunger strikers.”

Prof Nazari Ismail, Chairman of BDS Malaysia

“This is a significant book as the richness of the diverse prisoners and cases from Ireland and Palestine help the readers to understand their contribution to the national movement in both countries.”

Ibrahim Natil, Academic and human rights activist

A Shared Struggle is an important contribution to the literature of people from Palestine and Ireland telling their own stories, in their own words. We are reminded in these pages of the immense brutality being visited on the Palestinian people on a daily basis, both physically and psychologically, and how resistance to the occupation takes places in many forms. The Israeli apartheid state is, as some have argued, worse than apartheid South Africa and I hope this book will inspire more people to get involved in international solidarity and join the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).”

Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit TD

My refusal to take food was not a suicide attempt as it was portrayed by the Israeli occupation media, but rather it was a legitimate defence tool in which I used my body to impose my demands and highlight my case as a political prisoner who has been stripped off his dignity and freedom. Despite my prior knowledge of the risk of going on a hunger strike and that I might lose my life the same as some Irish hunger strikers did, I decided to go on with my hunger strike because every martyr who falls on this path is a light to those who seek freedom. I encourage you to read this book to learn more about the experiences of Palestinian and Irish hunger strikers. One line on the wall of my cell read “Read until your sight goes away so that your vision strengthens.” This book is an important read.”

Mahmoud Al-SarsakPalestinian footballer and former hunger striker in Israeli jails

“This collection of first person accounts from Irish and Palestinian hunger strikers is compelling – a mix of powerful stories, poems, and photographs. Together these primary documents provide an essential political history that draws on a long tradition of protest with urgent moral force and challenges the criminalisation of those incarcerated for their fierce resistance to colonial violence. Shared struggles, indeed!”

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, author of Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty

“With its harrowing accounts of the bravery and strength of Palestinian and Irish republican hunger strikers, this book will inspire people to support the freedom struggles of oppressed people all over the world and will shine a light on the brutal Israeli apartheid regime. When people are prepared to sacrifice their own lives for a cause they will never be defeated.”

Senator Frances Black, Dublin, Ireland 

Strikers   (X/12/2020)

Desperate circumstances give rise to desperate behavior. If by states, extreme violent behavior tends to be rationalized as ‘self-defense,’ ‘military necessity,’ or ‘counterterrorism,’ and governmental claims of legal authorization tend to be upheld by judicial institutions. If even nonviolent acts of resistance by individuals associated with dissident movements occur, then the established order and its supportive media will routinely describe such acts as ‘terrorism,’ ‘criminality,’ ‘political extremism,’ and ‘fanaticism,’ and the behavior is criminalized, or at best exposed to scorn by sovereign states and their civil society establishment. Statist forms of combat almost always rely on violence to crush an enemy, while the desperation of resistance sometimes takes the form of inflicting hurt upon the self so as to shame an oppressor to relent or eventually even surrender, not due to empathy or a change of heart, but because fearful of alienating public opinion, intensifying resistance, losing international legitimacy, facing sanctions. It is against such an overall background that we should understand the role of the hunger strike in the wider context of resistance against all forms of oppressive, exploitative, and cruel governance. The long struggles in Ireland and Palestine are among the most poignant instances of such political encounters that gripped the moral imagination of many persons of conscience in the years since the middle of the prior century.

Those jailed activists who have recourse to a hunger strike, either singly or in collaboration, are keenly aware that they are choosing an option of last resort, which exhibits a willingness to sacrifice their body and even their life itself for goals deemed more important. These goals usually involve either safeguarding dignity and honor of a subjugated people or mobilizing support for a collective struggle on behalf of freedom, rights, and equality. A hunger strike is an ultimate form of non-violence, comparable only to politically motivated acts of self-immolation, physically harmful only to the self, yet possessing in certain circumstances unlimited symbolic potential to change behavior and give rise to massive displays of discontent by a population believed to be successfully suppressed. Such desperate tactics have been integral to the struggles for basic rights and resistance to oppressive conditions in both Palestine and Ireland.

An unacknowledged, yet vital, truth of recent history is that symbolic politics have often eventually controlled the outcomes of prolonged struggles against oppressive state actors that wield dominant control over combat zones and uncontested superiority in relation to weapons and military capabilities. And yet despite these hard power advantages thought decisive in such conflict, the struggle from below persists, often at great cost, yet in the end surprises the world, and sometimes itself, by prevailing. It may be helpful to remember that it was the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in Saigon during the 1960s that was considered ‘a scream of the culture’ in defiant reaction to the American led military intervention, which many credited with reversing the course of the conflict. It led Vietnamese scholars to interpret these extreme acts of solitary individuals, endowed with the highest civilizational credentials of moral authority, as shifting the balance of forces in Vietnam in ways that then and there doomed the seemingly irresistible American military resolve to control the political future of Vietnam. These acts of self-immolation didn’t end the war, but to those with insight into Vietnamese culture it did signal an outcome contrary to what the war planners in Washington confidently expected. Tragically before Washington brought itself to acknowledge defeat, the Vietnam war persisted for a decade, ravaging the land and bringing great suffering to the people of Vietnam. Self-immolation, setting oneself on fire as an irreversible instance of self-sacrifice, carries the analogous logic of a hunger strike to a final conclusion. Depending on the actor and context, self-immolation can be interpreted either as an expression of hopeless despair or as a desperate appeal for a just peace.

It was the self-immolation of a simple fruit and vegetable vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010 that called attention to the plight of the Tunisian people, igniting a nationwide uprising that drove a corrupt dictator, Ben Ali, from power. Bouazizi, without political motivation or spiritual authority of the Buddhist monks, sparked populist mobilizations that swept across the Arab world in 2011. Somehow Bouazizi’s entire personal self-immolation was the spark that set the region ablaze. Such a reaction could not have been predicted and was not planned, yet afterwards it was interpreted as somehow activating dormant revolutionary responses to intolerable underlying conditions.

Without doubt, the supreme example of triumphant symbolic politics in modern times was the extraordinary resistance and liberation movement led by Gandhi that merged his individual hunger strikes unto death with spectacular nonviolent forms of collective action (for instance, ‘the salt march’ of 1930), accomplishing what seemed impossible at the time, bringing the British Empire to its knees, and by so doing, restoring independent statehood and sovereignty to colonized India.

Both the oppressed and the oppressors learn from past successes and failures of symbolic politics. The oppressed view such behavior as an ultimate and ennobling approach to resistance and liberation. Oppressors learn that wars are often not decided by who wins on the battlefield or jail house but by the side that gains a decisive advantage symbolically in what I have previously called ‘legitimacy wars.’ With this acquired knowledge of their vulnerability to such tactics, oppressors fight back, defame and use violence to destroy by any means the will of the oppressed, and their global support network, to resist, especially if the stakes involve giving up the high moral and legal ground. The Israeli leadership learned, especially, from the collapse of South African apartheid not to take symbolic politics lightly. Israel has been particularly unscrupulous in its responses to symbolic challenges to its abusive apartheid regime of control. Israel, with U.S. support, has mounted a worldwide defamatory pushback against criticism at the UN or from human rights defenders around the world, shamelessly playing ‘the anti-Semitic card’ in its effort to destroy nonviolent solidarity efforts such as the pro-Palestinian BDS Campaign modeled on an initiative that had mobilized worldwide opposition to South African apartheid. Notably, in the South African case, the BDS tactic was questioned for effectiveness and appropriateness, but its organizers and most militant supporters were never defamed, much less criminalized. This recognition of the potency of symbolic politics by Israel has obstructed the Palestinian liberation struggles despite what would seem to be the advantageous realities of the post-colonial setting.

Israel’s version of an apartheid regime evolved as a necessary side effect of establishing an exclusivist Jewish state in an overwhelmingly non-Jewish society. This Zionist project required that the Palestinian people become experience the agonies of colonialist dispossession and displacement in their own homeland. Israel learned from South Africa techniques of racist hierarchy and repression, but they were also aware of the vulnerabilities of oppressors to sustained forms of non-violence that validated the persevering resistance of those oppressed. Israel is determined not to repeat the collapse of South African apartheid, which explains not only repression of resistors but sustained efforts to achieve the demoralization of supporters that comprise the global solidarity movement, especially those in the West where Israel’s geopolitical backup is situated.

A similar reality existed in Northern Ireland where the memories of colonies lost to weaker adversaries slowly taught the UK lessons of accommodation and compromise, which led the leaders in London to shift abruptly their focus from counterterrorism to diplomacy, with the dramatic climax of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Israel is not the UK, and the Irish are not the Palestinians. Israel shows no willingness to grant the Palestinian people their most basic rights, even withholding COVID vaccines, yet even Israel does not want to be humiliated in ways that can arouse international public opinion to move from the rhetoric of censure toward the imposition of sanctions. The Israeli Prison Service doesn’t want Palestinian hunger strikers to die in captivity, not because of their empathy, but to avoid bad publicity. To prevent such outcomes, Israeli prison authorities will often attempt forced feeding, but if that fails, as it usually does, then they will bend the rules, make some concessions, including even arrange a release when it is feared that a hunger striker is at the brink of death. Palestinian prospects are more dependent than ever on waging and winning victories in the domain of symbolic politics, and Israel, with the help of the United States, will go to any length to hide tactical defeats of this sort in this longest of legitimacy wars.

It is against such a background that these writings were collected, with Palestinian and Irish contributions interspersed throughout the volume to underscore the essential similarity of these two epic anti-colonial struggles. What gives A Shared Struggle its authority and persuasive power is the authenticity derived from words of those brave men and women who chose to undertake hunger strikes in situations of desperation and experienced not only their own spirit-enhancing ordeal but the pain of loss of nearby martyred fallen comrades, grieving families, and their common effort to engage the wider struggles for rights and freedom being carried on outside the prison walls. Despite the vast differences in their respective struggles against oppression, the similarities of response created the deepest of bonds, especially of the Irish toward the Palestinians whose oppressive reality was more severe, and has proved more enduring. The inspirational example of the Irish hunger strikers who did not abandon their quest for elemental justice at the doorstep of death was not lost on the Palestinians. At the end of their protest in 1981 the Irish prisoners obtained formal recognition of their political movement. They also were finally granted recognition by the British that Irish resisters deserved to be treated as ‘political prisoners,’ and not common criminals, came after the Good Friday Agreement when they were released from prison, a political amnesty in all but name. The struggle for Irish independence has not let up, continuing in all of Ireland as an unresolved quest.

 Ever since visiting Belfast two years ago I have been struck by how the Irish revolutionaries, despite these vast differences in circumstances and goals, regard their struggle as being reproduced in its essential character by the Palestinian struggle, and have a robust solidarity movement that regards Palestinian freedom as one of the incomplete aspects of their own struggle. The wall murals in the Catholic neighborhoods of Belfast exhibited these affinities, recognizing that oppression is not confined within the sovereign space of nations, but is a transnational reality with a boundaryless community of dedicated individuals. Solidarity and opposition express an unarticulated and largely unacknowledged global humanism. While the Palestinian challenge may be more epic in quality and intensity, the Irish struggle was also waged as a matter of life and death, and even more fundamentally, as an insistence that humiliation, indignity, and servitude were unendurable conditions that produced and justified martyrdom.

Among the great differences in these two national narratives that form the background of these separate renderings of the hunger strikes concerns the impacts of the international context, and especially the role of the United States. With regard to Ireland, American public and even elite opinion was strongly supportive of Catholic resistance in Northern Ireland, and the U.S. mediational role was exercised with an impressive spirit of neutrality. With respect to Israel, the U.S. pretends to play a similar role as intermediary or ‘honest broker,’ yet with zero credibility. It should surprise no objective observer that these diplomatic maneuvers associated with a faux peace process produced only frustration and disappointment for the Palestinians, in part, due to Washington’s unabashed and unconditional material and diplomatic partisanship, including siding with Israel even when it flagrantly violates international law or repudiates the UN consensus on the contours of a just peace. Such futile diplomacy allowed Israel to continue building its unlawful settlements for year after year, compromising Palestinian territorial prospects and resulting in not a single adverse consequence for Israel.

The media treatment of the two struggles reinforced this disparity. The Irish hunger strikes were given generally sympathetic prominence in mainstream media outlets, with Bobby Sands’ name and martyrdom known and respected throughout the world. In contrast, outside of Palestinian circles only those most engaged activists in solidarity efforts are even aware that lengthy and life threatening Palestinian hunger strikes have repeatedly occurred in Israeli prisons during the last several decades.

This denial of international coverage to such nonviolent resistance acts helps reinforce Israeli oppression and uphold the Israeli anti-terrorist narrative, and should be viewed as a kind of transnational complicity. Naked power and geopolitical ‘correctness,’ rather than elemental morality is allowed to dominate the discourse. In the background is the bankruptcy of liberal Zionism. For many years, leading liberal journalists, such as Tom Friedman of the New York Times, were counseling the Palestinians that if they gave up violence, and appealed to Israeli conscience by having recourse to nonviolent forms of resistance, their political grievances would be addressed in a responsible manner. Palestinians responsively launched the first intifada in 1987, and soon realized that those meddlesome liberal establishment well- wishers in the West were quickly muted as soon as Israel responded violently, seeking to crush this most impressive nonviolent and spontaneous mobilization of those Palestinians fed up with living under the rigors of prolonged occupation.

Silence about Palestinian hunger strikes reduces the global impact of these expressions of desperation, which makes this publication of additional significance. It exposes readers to a series of separate stories of heroism under intolerable conditions of Irish and Palestinian imprisonment. This collection also offers a corrective to the virtual media blackout in the West that denies coverage to Palestinian resistance including even, as with hunger strikes, when resistance turns away from violence, and expresses a desperate last resort. Again, the contrasting international media binge coverage of the Irish hunger strikes definitely contributed to the liberating Irish diplomatic breakthrough that might otherwise not have occurred, or at least not as soon as it did.

We notice in these stories collected here, that the Irish contributions situate their recourse to hunger strikes protesting prison conditions more explicitly in the wider struggle of the IRA, while Palestinians stories tell more graphically of the agonies of prolonged imprisonment in Israeli prisons. Our attention is drawn to the denial of minimal international standards of treatment, including failures of medical treatment, bad food quality, denial of family visits, inadequate exercise, and sadistic prison responses ranging from force-feeding to tempting hungry strikers by placing tantalizing foods in prison cells. Yet both Irish and Palestinian styles of witnessing emanate from the same source–how to respond to the desperation felt by intolerable abuse in conditions of imprisonment, and yet carry on the wider struggle for freedom and rights that landed them in prison.

In reading these harrowing statements of broken families and broken hearts, we should not be deceived into thinking that we are reading only about events in the past. There are currently about 4,500 Palestinian prisoners, including 350 imprisoned under ‘administrative detention’ provisions copied from the British Mandate colonialist administration of Palestine, under which Palestinian activists and suspects can be jailed indefinitely without any specific charges or even a show of some evidence of wrongdoing.  Many of the individual hunger strikes take this dire step of a hunger strike without an end date to protest against the acute and arbitrary injustices associated with administrative detention, which appears to be a technique used by Israel to demoralize the Palestine people to an extent that makes their resistance seem useless.

Maher Al-Akhras was close to death in an Israeli prison when freed on November 26, 2020, having mounted a hunger strike for an incredible period of 103 days as a specific protest against being held under administrative detention, that is, without any charges of criminality. Hardly anyone outside of Palestine and the Israeli Prison Service knows about his ordeal. Al-Akhras words when teetering on the brink of death encapsulate the common core of these unforgettable shared stories: my hunger strike “is in defense of Palestinian prisoners and of my people who are suffering from the occupation and my victory in the strike is a victory for the prisoners and my Palestinian people.” In other words, although such an extreme act of self-sacrifice, while being intensely individual, is above all an expression of solidarity with others locked within the prison walls but at the same time often the only form of resistance available to an imprisoned political militant. Such a commitment has its concrete demands relating to prison conditions, but it should also be understood as a metaphor encouraging a greater commitment by all of us, wherever situated, to the struggle that needs to be sustained until victory by those on the outside who are daily subjugated to the policies and practices of the oppressor state.

These stories are here to be read, but the publication of such a collection is also a global solidarity initiative supportive of the Palestinian struggle. The suffering and rightlessness of the Palestinian people has gone on far too long. We now know that the UN and traditional diplomacy have failed to achieve a just solution. Given these circumstances, it becomes clear that only the people of the world possess the will and potentially the capabilities, to bring justice to Palestine. It Is an opportunity and responsibility posing a challenge to all of us. We need to find what ways are available to support those brave and dedicated Palestinians who have paid for so long the price of resisting Israeli oppression.

Palestinian and Irish hunger strikers who contributed their stories to this memorable volume deserve the last word here. Mohammed Al-Qeeq says this: “It is not just about my freedom, but rather the freedom of every soul who curses the injustice as I do.” From Mohamad Alian these words: “In our minds the prison became our cemetery.” And from Pat Sheehan this assessment of the hunger strikes: “It was, and remains, one of the most defining and momentous periods in Irish history.” Finally, Hassan Safadi: “The look on the faces of the Zionist officers who wanted me dead, will never leave me, but I stared right back at them.”

Richard Falk

Yalikavak, Turkey

February 24, 2021

Endorsements for

A Shared Struggle

“Colonialism and occupation are the denial of peoples’ right to self-determination and freedom. The Irish and Palestinian people have had long experience of this. In the struggle for liberty international solidarity between oppressed and dispossessed peoples is hugely important. In this joint Palestinian/Irish republican initiative we witness the parallels between heroic struggles for freedom and the commonality of resistance against seemingly overwhelming military might particularly by those imprisoned in the cause of freedom for their homeland.”

Gerry Adams, Ex-political prisoner, former President Sinn Féin

“Because justice is indivisible, the Irish and Palestinian quest for freedom followed the same trajectory of pain and resistance and was met with the same, ever predictable response of colonial oppression and state violence. The prisoners, in both cases, serve as a microcosm of entire collective experiences. Political prisoners are the victims and the freedom fighters, the agitators, the intellectuals, and the leaders of their communities. Their stories stand at the heart of the shared narrative of both nations. This book is a beautiful tribute to the heroic men and women of Palestine and Ireland. It is an essential read for those wishing to understand why servitude is never an option, and why the struggle for freedom is worth all the painful sacrifices.”

Ramzy Baroud, Author of These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons

“Hunger strikes are the last desperate weapon for political prisoners denied justice. For many years, there has been solidarity between the Palestinians, South Africans fighting apartheid and the struggle for Irish unity. That mutual support is active now and needed more than ever, as the oppression of the Palestinians becomes ever more brutal. This is an important book, and I’m sure it will be widely read.”

Ken Loach, Award-winning film director

“One of the painful but inevitable repercussions of being colonised is the existence of political prisoners. Incarcerated for daring to fight for freedom and justice, the pain is multiplied when their suffering is completely ignored by the international community. The heroism of Palestinian and Irish political prisoners is no different from that of Nelson Mandela and other fighters against the apartheid regime of South Africa. But while the latter group is adulated and admired by all, Palestinian political prisoners are still considered terrorists by most Western governments, forcing them to resort to hunger strikes to obtain justice and freedom from the yoke of oppression. Norma Hashim and Yousef M. Aljamal’s book is not only unique but also extremely valuable because it helps us to understand their suffering by describing the first-hand experiences of Irish and Palestinian hunger strikers.”

Prof Nazari Ismail, Chairman of BDS Malaysia

“This is a significant book as the richness of the diverse prisoners and cases from Ireland and Palestine help the readers to understand their contribution to the national movement in both countries.”

Ibrahim Natil, Academic and human rights activist

A Shared Struggle is an important contribution to the literature of people from Palestine and Ireland telling their own stories, in their own words. We are reminded in these pages of the immense brutality being visited on the Palestinian people on a daily basis, both physically and psychologically, and how resistance to the occupation takes places in many forms. The Israeli apartheid state is, as some have argued, worse than apartheid South Africa and I hope this book will inspire more people to get involved in international solidarity and join the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).”

Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit TD

My refusal to take food was not a suicide attempt as it was portrayed by the Israeli occupation media, but rather it was a legitimate defence tool in which I used my body to impose my demands and highlight my case as a political prisoner who has been stripped off his dignity and freedom. Despite my prior knowledge of the risk of going on a hunger strike and that I might lose my life the same as some Irish hunger strikers did, I decided to go on with my hunger strike because every martyr who falls on this path is a light to those who seek freedom. I encourage you to read this book to learn more about the experiences of Palestinian and Irish hunger strikers. One line on the wall of my cell read “Read until your sight goes away so that your vision strengthens.” This book is an important read.”

Mahmoud Al-SarsakPalestinian footballer and former hunger striker in Israeli jails

“This collection of first person accounts from Irish and Palestinian hunger strikers is compelling – a mix of powerful stories, poems, and photographs. Together these primary documents provide an essential political history that draws on a long tradition of protest with urgent moral force and challenges the criminalisation of those incarcerated for their fierce resistance to colonial violence. Shared struggles, indeed!”

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, author of Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty

“With its harrowing accounts of the bravery and strength of Palestinian and Irish republican hunger strikers, this book will inspire people to support the freedom struggles of oppressed people all over the world and will shine a light on the brutal Israeli apartheid regime. When people are prepared to sacrifice their own lives for a cause they will never be defeated.”

Senator Frances Black, Dublin, Ireland 

TO OBTAIN A COPY GO TO: <htpp://thelarkstore,ie/collection/books/product/a-shared-struggle>

Crime and Punishment in Afghanistan

29 Aug

Atrocity in Kabul, Geopolitical Crime in Washington

Exploding a suicide bomb on Afghan civilians fleeing for their lives at the Kabul International Airport on August 26, 2021 was a terrorist crime of the greatest magnitude and a gross expression of political sociopathology by the perpetrators, Islamic State-Khorosan or ISIS-k. Those responsible for such deliberative mayhem should be held accountable in accordance with law to the extent feasible.

Yet for President Biden to rely on virtually the same vengeful trope employed by George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks represents a dehumanizing demoralizing descent into the domain of primitive vengeance. These are Biden’ words predictably highlighted by the media, uttered with contempt: “Know this: we will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” And Biden made sure there would be no misunderstanding by adding the imperial reassurance of being law unto oneself: “We will respond with force and precision, at the place we choose and at the moment of our choosing.” Not a word about the relevance of law and justice, much less the kind of phrasing the U.S. Government would expect, and demand, if the target of such violence occurred within Russia or China—‘within the parameters of international law.’ At least, Biden didn’t follow Bush down the dark corridor of declaring a second ‘war on terror,’ limiting his pledge to the presumed attackers, in the spirit of what seems like an international variant of ‘vigilante justice,’ the first phase of which was a drone attack against ISIS-k personnel allegedly connected with the airport atrocity. 

A parallel theme in Biden’s post-attack remarks glamorized the mission of the departing American military, which had the effect of covering up the inexplicably abrupt collapse of a prolonged state-building undertaking by the United States. True, the American soldiers who were killed or wounded were tragic victims of terrorism on the last days of service in Afghanistan, but to call professional soldiers carrying out chaotic evacuation orders ‘heroes’ is to divert attention from those who devised such a disastrous mission, which refers to the whole 20 years of expensive, bloody, destructive futility that leave the country in a shambles with bleak future prospects. Not a word of lamentation or acknowledgement of this colossal failure, which involved no meaningful course correction after the high-profile commitment was made two decades. From the counterterror operation that ended with the killing or dispersing of the al-Qaeda operative the American presence was enlarged without debate or authorization to one of regime change followed by state-building and ‘democracy promotion,’ but disguised as ‘reconstruction’ of the state post-Taliban defeat.

Yet Afghanistan is far from the first state-building collapse that the U.S. has sponsored for years before negotiating a humiliating exit that was sugar-coated to blur the strategic disaster, which also hid the responsibility of no less than four presidential administration of putting young Americans in harm’s way for no justifiable purpose. Worse than the specific failure in Afghanistan is the systemic inability to acknowledge and at least make a long overdue effort to learn finally that military superiority is not enough to overcome determined national resistance. Having experienced costly failures in Vietnam, Libya, Iraq, elsewhere and yet refusing to grasp the non-viability of Western military intervention and imposed state-building blueprints in the post-colonial world is not only a major explanation of American imperial decline. It is also a guaranteed recipe for the continued adherence to a dangerously obsolete and nihilistic version of geopolitics, which lacks the agency of the colonial era to transform in a stable and self-serving manner what it conquers. Such post-colonial undertakings more destructively than ever carry out the work of demolition, leaving behind a lengthy trail of death and destruction when the intervenors finally decide to go home, pulling out its personnel, equipment, and some of its collaborating natives who made themselves politically vulnerable to the ‘rough justice’ of the nationalist movements they are seen to have betrayed. Of course, among those that are desperate to leave, are those many Afghans fearful of the future of their impoverished country for diverse reasons, including famine and deep poverty, economic refugees that deserve as much empathy as those who for opportunistic or ideological reasons sided with the American project. 

The Domestic Roots of Geopolitical Obsession  

H.L.Mencken, the American humorist of a century ago, perceptively observely that “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” It is a signature failure of democracy in the United States that the most respected media platforms continue to be dominated by the stale views of retired generals and admirals, high-level intelligence officials, and Beltway think tank servants of the political class in America, while the dissident voices of genuine critics are kept from the citizenry, consigned to the wilderness of obscure internet venues. Yes, there is a public level of civic illiteracy subsumed beneath the self-blinding cult of ‘American exceptionalism’ that seems incurably so addicted to national innocence and accompanying virtues as to be unable to interpret and act in accord with obvious precepts of national interest. Our leaders tell us constantly ‘we are better than this’ or Americans can do anything if united and determined while inculcating our worst tendencies. 

President Biden presents himself as “a student of history” who declared that he knew of “no conflict..where when a war was ending, one side was able to guarantee that everyone that wanted to be extracted from that country could get out.” Instead of ‘ending’ Biden should have said ‘lost,’ and referred to those Afghan allies trapped within as having made a losing gamble, and hence were desperate to be ‘extracted,’ a mechanistic formulation that crept its way into the president’s text. Had Biden chosen the more accurate word, ‘rescued,’ it might have signaled the start of the long journey on a rightful path of remorse, responsibility, and accountability. Unlike the intervening imperial forces, those among the Afghan people that were coopted, corrupted, or induced to collaborate, not only put their life in jeopardy but often endanger the wellbeing of their entire families.

The real story of why this state-building failure was hidden from view for so long, and why it was undertaken in the first place, has yet to be revealed to or understood by the American public. The United States, having been on a war footing ever since 1940 has effectively militarized the international dimensions of the American global state, impoverished the political and moral imagination of the political class shaping foreign policy, and put the American ship of state on a collision course with history, as well as sacrificing such vital national goals as domestic wellbeing and ecological sustainability. The outcome in Afghanistan more than other similar foreign policy failures, has exposed the underbelly of militarized capitalism—special interests, private sector paramilitary operations of for-profit organizations promote war-making for mercenaries, arms sales, well-funded NGOs engaged in a variety of humanitarian tasks helpful to ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the resident population. Such a web of activities and goals underpin and sustain these ‘benevolent’ interventions enabling the delusional security paradigm based on ‘political realism’ to postpone as long as possible the whiplash of ‘political reality.’ Whoever cries ‘fire’ is sidelined as ‘leftist’ or ‘socialist,’ effectively silenced, while the two political parties squabble bitterly over who is to be blamed for ‘the last act,’ conservatives complaining about the lack of ‘strategic patience’ while mainstream liberals talk about the misfortune of a well-intentioned undertaking gone awry that had been made for the benefit of others and to promote more humane and stable national, regional, and global conditions.

Controlling the Discourse

Yet the post-conflict discourse of the political class is once again being shaped by those that insist on ‘looking forward,’ and certainly not lamenting what has collapsed, and why. This means above all refusing to analyze why trillions invested in training and equipping Afghan military and police forces, and creating a national governance structure, which could not and would not prevent the virtually bloodless takeover in a few weeks by the ragtag, poorly equipped Taliban. We should remember that when the Soviet were forced to withdraw by the American funded and CIA organized mujhadeen resistance, it took three years of fighting to dislodge the ‘puppet government’ they left behind in 1989. In contrast, as soon as the Americans signaled their acceptance of defeat, negotiating a nonviolent departure in February 2020 during the last year of Trump’s presidency in Doha, the Taliban “began gaining ground. It was a campaign of persistence, with the Taliban betting that the US would lose patience and leave, and they were right.” [NYTimes, Aug 27, 2021] 

There was also many establishment expressions of dismay that the U.S. Government had relied on the Taliban to provide for airport security during the evacuation process, and skeptical dismissal of their pledges to govern differently the second time around, including a more inclusive approach to  the multi-ethnic makeup of country with respect to governance, along with their promise of better treatment of women and improved relations with the outside world. The United States has expediently trusted the Taliban at the airport and received positive reports from the American military commanders on the scene, but its political leaders and influential media platforms continue to express hostile and skeptical views of the Taliban expressions of their reformed political identity, refusing to let the Taliban escape from the terrorist box that has confined them over the past 20+ years. As with Hamas, it seems preferable from the Western viewpoint of its broader political agenda to refuse to accept, much less encourage, or even explore the genuineness of such a professed commitment of Taliban to a changed identity. The result as with Hamas is to create such pressure on the politically victorious group that indeed they are faced with the choice of surrender or terrorist forms of resistance. 

If indeed Afghanistan is abruptly denied foreign economic assistance formerly supplied by the intervening coalition, then it will erase the US/NATO failure, and few tears will be shed in Washington as it notes the humanitarian catastrophe that ensues in the country. In this sense, Vietnam was fortunate in that it had China as an adversary, which meant that their nationalist victory could be somewhat acknowledged and subsequent economic development permitted. If the Biden presidency was not preoccupied by its covering over the humiliating record of geopolitical failure in Afghanistan and had some real empathy for the Afghan people it would give every benefit of doubt and encouragement to the Taliban at this stage, including massive economic relief, hoping for the best, and at least trying to make it happen.

Concluding Laments

There are deeper questions raised by the latest phase of the Afghan nightmare that haunt the future of the United States:

–Why can’t the American political class learn from China that the 21st century path to prosperity, security, and reputation is primarily based on adhering to these policies?–efficient state/society relations, especially with regard to private savings and public investments, respect for the sovereignty, autonomy, and self-determination of other states, and fulfilling geopolitical ambitions beyond national borders by win/win infrastructure contributions to the development of other countries;

–When will the political class in America have the elusive blend of self-confidence and humility to understand why the United States has become the enemy and preferred target of acutely discontented people and their political movements around the world, and make appropriate adjustments, including giving up its worldwide network of military bases and naval commands? Security in the future depends on cooperative networks of global solidarity and not on innovations in military technology that turn the world into a single battlefield in a global forever war. 

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT IN AFGHANISTAN

Atrocity in Kabul, Geopolitical Crime in Washington

Exploding a suicide bomb on Afghan civilians fleeing for their lives at the Kabul International Airport on August 26, 2021 was a terrorist crime of the greatest magnitude and a gross expression of political sociopathology by the perpetrators, Islamic State-Khorosan or ISIS-k. Those responsible for such deliberative mayhem should be held accountable in accordance with law to the extent feasible.

Yet for President Biden to rely on virtually the same vengeful trope employed by George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks represents a dehumanizing demoralizing descent into the domain of primitive vengeance. These are Biden’ words predictably highlighted by the media, uttered with contempt: “Know this: we will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” And Biden made sure there would be no misunderstanding by adding the imperial reassurance of being law unto oneself: “We will respond with force and precision, at the place we choose and at the moment of our choosing.” Not a word about the relevance of law and justice, much less the kind of phrasing the U.S. Government would expect, and demand, if the target of such violence occurred within Russia or China—‘within the parameters of international law.’ At least, Biden didn’t follow Bush down the dark corridor of declaring a second ‘war on terror,’ limiting his pledge to the presumed attackers, in the spirit of what seems like an international variant of ‘vigilante justice,’ the first phase of which was a drone attack against ISIS-k personnel allegedly connected with the airport atrocity. 

A parallel theme in Biden’s post-attack remarks glamorized the mission of the departing American military, which had the effect of covering up the inexplicably abrupt collapse of a prolonged state-building undertaking by the United States. True, the American soldiers who were killed or wounded were tragic victims of terrorism on the last days of service in Afghanistan, but to call professional soldiers carrying out chaotic evacuation orders ‘heroes’ is to divert attention from those who devised such a disastrous mission, which refers to the whole 20 years of expensive, bloody, destructive futility that leave the country in a shambles with bleak future prospects. Not a word of lamentation or acknowledgement of this colossal failure, which involved no meaningful course correction after the high-profile commitment was made two decades. From the counterterror operation that ended with the killing or dispersing of the al-Qaeda operative the American presence was enlarged without debate or authorization to one of regime change followed by state-building and ‘democracy promotion,’ but disguised as ‘reconstruction’ of the state post-Taliban defeat.

Yet Afghanistan is far from the first state-building collapse that the U.S. has sponsored for years before negotiating a humiliating exit that was sugar-coated to blur the strategic disaster, which also hid the responsibility of no less than four presidential administration of putting young Americans in harm’s way for no justifiable purpose. Worse than the specific failure in Afghanistan is the systemic inability to acknowledge and at least make a long overdue effort to learn finally that military superiority is not enough to overcome determined national resistance. Having experienced costly failures in Vietnam, Libya, Iraq, elsewhere and yet refusing to grasp the non-viability of Western military intervention and imposed state-building blueprints in the post-colonial world is not only a major explanation of American imperial decline. It is also a guaranteed recipe for the continued adherence to a dangerously obsolete and nihilistic version of geopolitics, which lacks the agency of the colonial era to transform in a stable and self-serving manner what it conquers. Such post-colonial undertakings more destructively than ever carry out the work of demolition, leaving behind a lengthy trail of death and destruction when the intervenors finally decide to go home, pulling out its personnel, equipment, and some of its collaborating natives who made themselves politically vulnerable to the ‘rough justice’ of the nationalist movements they are seen to have betrayed. Of course, among those that are desperate to leave, are those many Afghans fearful of the future of their impoverished country for diverse reasons, including famine and deep poverty, economic refugees that deserve as much empathy as those who for opportunistic or ideological reasons sided with the American project. 

The Domestic Roots of Geopolitical Obsession  

H.L.Mencken, the American humorist of a century ago, perceptively observely that “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” It is a signature failure of democracy in the United States that the most respected media platforms continue to be dominated by the stale views of retired generals and admirals, high-level intelligence officials, and Beltway think tank servants of the political class in America, while the dissident voices of genuine critics are kept from the citizenry, consigned to the wilderness of obscure internet venues. Yes, there is a public level of civic illiteracy subsumed beneath the self-blinding cult of ‘American exceptionalism’ that seems incurably so addicted to national innocence and accompanying virtues as to be unable to interpret and act in accord with obvious precepts of national interest. Our leaders tell us constantly ‘we are better than this’ or Americans can do anything if united and determined while inculcating our worst tendencies. 

President Biden presents himself as “a student of history” who declared that he knew of “no conflict..where when a war was ending, one side was able to guarantee that everyone that wanted to be extracted from that country could get out.” Instead of ‘ending’ Biden should have said ‘lost,’ and referred to those Afghan allies trapped within as having made a losing gamble, and hence were desperate to be ‘extracted,’ a mechanistic formulation that crept its way into the president’s text. Had Biden chosen the more accurate word, ‘rescued,’ it might have signaled the start of the long journey on a rightful path of remorse, responsibility, and accountability. Unlike the intervening imperial forces, those among the Afghan people that were coopted, corrupted, or induced to collaborate, not only put their life in jeopardy but often endanger the wellbeing of their entire families.

The real story of why this state-building failure was hidden from view for so long, and why it was undertaken in the first place, has yet to be revealed to or understood by the American public. The United States, having been on a war footing ever since 1940 has effectively militarized the international dimensions of the American global state, impoverished the political and moral imagination of the political class shaping foreign policy, and put the American ship of state on a collision course with history, as well as sacrificing such vital national goals as domestic wellbeing and ecological sustainability. The outcome in Afghanistan more than other similar foreign policy failures, has exposed the underbelly of militarized capitalism—special interests, private sector paramilitary operations of for-profit organizations promote war-making for mercenaries, arms sales, well-funded NGOs engaged in a variety of humanitarian tasks helpful to ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the resident population. Such a web of activities and goals underpin and sustain these ‘benevolent’ interventions enabling the delusional security paradigm based on ‘political realism’ to postpone as long as possible the whiplash of ‘political reality.’ Whoever cries ‘fire’ is sidelined as ‘leftist’ or ‘socialist,’ effectively silenced, while the two political parties squabble bitterly over who is to be blamed for ‘the last act,’ conservatives complaining about the lack of ‘strategic patience’ while mainstream liberals talk about the misfortune of a well-intentioned undertaking gone awry that had been made for the benefit of others and to promote more humane and stable national, regional, and global conditions.

Controlling the Discourse

Yet the post-conflict discourse of the political class is once again being shaped by those that insist on ‘looking forward,’ and certainly not lamenting what has collapsed, and why. This means above all refusing to analyze why trillions invested in training and equipping Afghan military and police forces, and creating a national governance structure, which could not and would not prevent the virtually bloodless takeover in a few weeks by the ragtag, poorly equipped Taliban. We should remember that when the Soviet were forced to withdraw by the American funded and CIA organized mujhadeen resistance, it took three years of fighting to dislodge the ‘puppet government’ they left behind in 1989. In contrast, as soon as the Americans signaled their acceptance of defeat, negotiating a nonviolent departure in February 2020 during the last year of Trump’s presidency in Doha, the Taliban “began gaining ground. It was a campaign of persistence, with the Taliban betting that the US would lose patience and leave, and they were right.” [NYTimes, Aug 27, 2021] 

There was also many establishment expressions of dismay that the U.S. Government had relied on the Taliban to provide for airport security during the evacuation process, and skeptical dismissal of their pledges to govern differently the second time around, including a more inclusive approach to  the multi-ethnic makeup of country with respect to governance, along with their promise of better treatment of women and improved relations with the outside world. The United States has expediently trusted the Taliban at the airport and received positive reports from the American military commanders on the scene, but its political leaders and influential media platforms continue to express hostile and skeptical views of the Taliban expressions of their reformed political identity, refusing to let the Taliban escape from the terrorist box that has confined them over the past 20+ years. As with Hamas, it seems preferable from the Western viewpoint of its broader political agenda to refuse to accept, much less encourage, or even explore the genuineness of such a professed commitment of Taliban to a changed identity. The result as with Hamas is to create such pressure on the politically victorious group that indeed they are faced with the choice of surrender or terrorist forms of resistance. 

If indeed Afghanistan is abruptly denied foreign economic assistance formerly supplied by the intervening coalition, then it will erase the US/NATO failure, and few tears will be shed in Washington as it notes the humanitarian catastrophe that ensues in the country. In this sense, Vietnam was fortunate in that it had China as an adversary, which meant that their nationalist victory could be somewhat acknowledged and subsequent economic development permitted. If the Biden presidency was not preoccupied by its covering over the humiliating record of geopolitical failure in Afghanistan and had some real empathy for the Afghan people it would give every benefit of doubt and encouragement to the Taliban at this stage, including massive economic relief, hoping for the best, and at least trying to make it happen.

Concluding Laments

There are deeper questions raised by the latest phase of the Afghan nightmare that haunt the future of the United States:

–Why can’t the American political class learn from China that the 21st century path to prosperity, security, and reputation is primarily based on adhering to these policies?–efficient state/society relations, especially with regard to private savings and public investments, respect for the sovereignty, autonomy, and self-determination of other states, and fulfilling geopolitical ambitions beyond national borders by win/win infrastructure contributions to the development of other countries;

–When will the political class in America have the elusive blend of self-confidence and humility to understand why the United States has become the enemy and preferred target of acutely discontented people and their political movements around the world, and make appropriate adjustments, including giving up its worldwide network of military bases and naval commands? Security in the future depends on cooperative networks of global solidarity and not on innovations in military technology that turn the world into a single battlefield in a global forever war. 

Demystifying Geopolitical Crime and Afghan Debacle

26 Aug

Further Thoughts on Demystifying the Afghan Tragedy and the US-led NATO Geopolitical Crime

The CNN and other liberal media focus on deciphering the humanitarian chaos surrounding the airport at Kabul encourages a mindless preoccupation with the tactical considerations relating to the withdrawal from Afghanistan, diverting attention from its core significance whether by design or selective perception. It seems affirmatively preoccupied with the political necessity for Biden to complete the withdrawal of American citizens, especially members of the armed forces and government officials without the loss of a single American life. Perhaps, this priority is accepted as natural given the continuing privileging of ultra-nationalist values. It has the unspoken implication that the loss of Afghan lives, no matter how great and at what scale, are regrettable especially if the victims were associated with the American presence, but is nevertheless treated as not nearly as vital in the same sense as the loss of a single American life.

Such an implicit hierarchy of human worth has many unsavory implications, including the stark fact of Washington’s refusal to take any responsibility for having endangered Afghan lives by compromising their loyalty to their own country. This issue is never even addressed by the Biden presidency or the media beyond facilitating evacuation of those Afghans compromised by their relations with the American occupation of their country, which has failed to accept any responsibility for the permanent settlement of Afghans presumed to be refugees. If Afghans are killed during or immediately after the bungled withdrawal process it is likely to be presented as one more facet of a humanitarian crisis, the magnitude of which will be explained away as at worst a further display of imperial ineptitude in the manner the withdrawal was carried out evoking memories of Vietnam over forty years ago, or more likely, presented as a confirmation of the alleged continuing barbarity of the Taliban.

It is with this foregrounding of the scenes at the Kabul Airport that I turn to three aspects of these events that has been insufficiently commented upon:
(1) A state-building regime-changing intervention by the West in a non-Western country should be understood in the 21st century as a species of ‘geopolitical crime’ under post-colonial conditions. One element of this crime is the recruitment of a large number oof ‘natives’ as facilitators and collaborators, who live well as long as the intervention lasts, but are alienated from the resistance movements going on in their own country, and are merged in the minds of national anti-interventionists as integral to the imperial project and, hence, widely regarded as corrupt sellouts and treasonous enemies of self-determination of their nation, who must escape their own country to avoid retribution.

As a result this cohort of Afghans who worked with and for the Americans, including their families, become fearful for their lives and wellbeing when such an imposed state-building project ends in abject failure. This leaves such individuals and their families with no good choices. They can remain in Afghanistan and face the pentup fury or vengeful impulse of the victors or they can head for the exits. Imperial propaganda to the effect that Afghan anti-interventionists are bloodthirsty, may be true although likely exaggerated, but functions to shift blame and responsibility away from Washington, and prevents learning the lesson that this kind of geopolitical crime when it fails, destroys the lives of those in the society that were earlier proclaimed the greatest beneficiaries of such a regime-change and state-building undertaking. The irresponsibility of the intervenors is underscored by their refusal to accept the burden of providing a permanent safe haven for Afghans who chose the losing and wrong side in a just war of national resistance. Among the justifications for using such pejorative language is the evident lack of deep support for this coercive American state-building project as evidenced by the failure to mount any sort of defense against the poorly armed Taliban after the US signaled its intention to withdraw from the internal Afghan war. Such a moment of illuminating truth recalls Washington surprise that the supposedly secure and formidable Shah’s modernizing regime in Iran fell without much of a fight to an unarmed popular resistance movement in 1978-79.

(2) Drawing an Afghan analogy to the fall of Saigon in 1975 is suggestive of the absence of self-criticism in America’s political class, producing repetition, and gratuitous suffering for those aligned with the occupation and a gross state-building failure. As well those innocent segments of the Afghan population that opposed the popular movement for ideological or human rights reasons are left to suffer the consequences of the political outcome without being offered a safe exit or safe haven.

But there are important differences between what happened in Saigon and what is happening these days in Kabul that are taken into account in a perceptive article by Paul Street, “Eight Key Points on America’s Defeat in Afghanistan,” CounterPunch, Aug. 24, 2021. Street’s main observation is that the failures of anticipation were far more inexcusable in Kabul than in Saigon because the victorious National Liberation Front was in mainstream of national resistance movements, while the Taliban did have a bloody past with an unrepudiated jihadist code of behavior that was especially threatening for women and girls. This alone should have at least alerted those in the Pentagon and elsewhere in Washinton to the necessity of devising withdrawal and resettlement plans that took better account of the wellbeing of Afghans, and not worry only about those Afghans who had staffed the NATO state-building undertaking for the past twenty years. There was no reason to rely on Taliban pledges of amnesty and protection of human rights, given their past but there was also every reason to encourage its leader to live up to thes pledges of a more benign approach given that the Taliban had achieved a second chance to implement a kinder version of Islamic governance.

This is especially true given the earlier American-led effort to give the Soviets in Byzezinski’s muscular geopolitics as providing Washington an opportunity to give Moscow its own ‘Vietnam War’ in the Afghanistan of the 1980s. Such an objective led the U.S. Government to arm, support, and subsidize jihadist resistance, including forces under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden that formed the nucleus of Al Qaeda that was to attack the United States twenty years later. Many informed commentators believe that without the American counter-intervention to defeat the Soviet mission in Afghanistan the Taliban would never have been able to take over control over the whole country in 1996, and maybe never. The largely unacknowledged boomerang or blowback effects of instrumentalizing Islamic extremism for Cold War geopolitics has played out in Afghanistan in particularly tragic ways for the people of the country. It remains to be seen whether Afghanistan’s neighbors are able and willing, especially Pakistan, to make massive contributions to undo some of the massive damage done by the anguishing decades of combat, corruption, and occupation, which includes manipulating the international drug trade for nefarious political purposes. Even so, the primary responsibility for mitigating the collateral humanitarian damage for this severe geopolitical crime belongs to the United States and its NATO partners, G-7 allies.

(3) I had the opportunity to listen on August 23rd to retired General David Petraeus answer some questions put to him by a fawning and craven moderator during an on the record event sponsored by the Atlantic Council. I was shocked to hear this eminent, articulate, and highly intelligent former military commander lament what he called the lack of ‘strategic patience’ by the United States as constituting his primary worry about the course of events generated by what he regarded as an abrupt, ill-considered, and imprudent withdrawal by American forces. Twenty years, the longest war in American history, was evidently not enough. Petraeus went on to argue that the drawdown of American forces to between 2,500 and 3,000 was a sustainable presence, making it highly affordable and a good security investment, which could also be counted on keeping the Kabul government afloat a bit longer. Its main strategic benefit would be allow Americans to have military bases that would be regionally useful in relation to anticipated renewed counterterrorism operations and, above all, to engage China competitively in the region.

What I found startling at the height of the panic observed the world over on TV, was the unabashed agreement of Petraeus and the fawning moderator, that the US would again need to be intervening and state-building in the future, and must not be led by its Afghan failure to interpret the experience as a signal to the political class to repudiate imperial post-colonial militarized geopolitics in Asia and elsewhere. No mention was made of China’s rise with its minimal dependence on military capabilities, which was characterized mainly by win/win economistic internationalism and a hands off approach to military intervention in foreign societies.

I was struck by the utter unwillingness of Petraeus to confront either the realities of imperial decline or its reliance on obsolete geopolitics in a global setting that was making it clear that the future security for the West, and even human survival, depended on leading states making strong commitments to on behalf of imperative global public goods, which would entail an abandonment of global militarism as anachronistic and unaffordable.

The tone of the discussion was one of how to do better ‘going forward’ rather than to waste energy by crying over the ‘spilt milk’ of past mistakes including investing trillion to construct a ghost state that could hardly extend its writ beyond the city limits of Kabul. What depressed me most about the Petraeus performance, and a related Atlantic Council discussion the next day of the humanitarian crisis generated by the chaotic withdrawal was the steadfast refusal of the political class to engage in strategic self-criticism as distinct from bemoaning existing tactical errors of judgment prompted by domestic partisan politics. As evidenced by the choice of homogenous participants in these staged events channeled to elites in the United States is that the definitive voices of national policy are retired generals and diplomats as cheered on by journalist from the Wall Street Journal, CNN, NY Times, and Washington Post, pillars of the political class ruling the electorate in 2021. It was a depressing display of how the political class in the United States continues to seem incapable of thinking strategically outside of a militarist box, a sure sign of imperial morbidity.

What the prolonged intervention leaves behind is an impoverished country of nearly 40 million, with virtually no capacity to sustain itself without massive outside economic assistance. Given this reality after twenty years of occupation and supposed guardianship the most fundamental failure of the American post-9/11 operation was its utter inability to improve living standards and help Afghanistan gain some measure of self-sufficiency and self-governing capability. The feeling at this stage is that the American-led Western agenda in the country was nothing more than a convenient platform for an extended counterterrorism operation with scant concern for the people of the country. This overlooks the many heroic efforts of Western NGOs to improve the life experience of the Afghan people, especially that of women, but without the protective capabilities of an Afghan government with authentic indigenous roots this has again become a mission impossible. The bottom line as of the end of August 2021 is that the Afghan refugees and the Afghan nation need and deserve massive international assistance led by the United States, and if this is not forthcoming tragedy will be added to tragedy.  

EVERYTHING WENT WRONG IN AFGHANISTAN

23 Aug

[Prefatory Note: Modified responses on Aug. 23rd to questions posed by Zahra Mirzafarjouyan, Mehr New Agency, Aug. 17, 2021.]

EVERYTHING WENT WRONG IN AFGHANISTAN

1-Why could the Taliban capture Kabul and gain power so rapidly without considerable resistance from people and the army?
The U.S. led NATO Afghan intervention and occupation was flawed in mission from its outset in 2001, and indeed in the period before the attack and large-scale, ambitious regime-changing, state-building occupation. In the post-colonial world, the military superiority of Western intervening powers has proved unable to shape the political outcomes of a prolonged struggle for the control of non-Western sovereign spaces, especially if the society is beset by unresolved tribal and ethnic conflicts, as well as by warlordism and drug cartels. In Afghanistan, as elsewhere, this line of observation proved to be once again validated, despite trillions of dollars spent in devastating parts of the country and supposedly building armed forces and police capabilities and institutional competence sufficient to bring order and stability to post-Taliban Afghanistan.
The fundamental explanation of the rapid collapse of the Kabul government is that it had no legs of its own to stand upon, which became evident as soon as the U.S. made clear its intention to withdraw its occupying army. Afghan collaboration with the intervenors was largely left to secularists, opportunists, corrupt politicians and private sector entrepreneurs, and ambitious careerists, as well as the alignment of some ethnic groups, and the support of secularized social elites in the larger cities. The Taliban despite its abysmal human rights record during its five-year period in power at the end of the last century (1996-2001) never lost its credibility as a defender of the Afghani homeland, and retained the loyalty of many nationalist elements in this overwhelmingly religious country.
To explain the unexpectantly quick and dramatic collapse of the Kabul government so elaborately constructed by the Western intervenors over a twenty-year period of occupation defied expectations on all sides. Taliban reassurances of peace and reconciliation undoubtedly weakened whatever will to resist survived the impending American military withdrawal, and gave Afghan collaborators with the Americans a stark choice between cutting their ties to imposed, defeated government or abandoning the sinking ship of state by leaving the country. These 2021 Taliban reassurances touched many of the concerns prompting the West to act in 2001, included proclaiming the end of the war for control of the country, amnesty for those who worked in and on behalf of the Kabul government, promises of the protection of the rights of women, tolerance of diversity, and pledges not to allow its territory to be used in the future as it was in the past as a base for projecting terrorism beyond its borders. The Biden diplomacy never seemed influenced by these reassurances, especially their reliability, as it had unconditionally announced its intention to withdraw and end at least one ‘forever war’ for the sake of ‘national interests.’
Yet the basic explanation of the unexpectedly quick collapse of anti-Taliban resistance also exhibited a series of political misjudgments of the United States despite 20 years of experience in the country. It obviously did not appreciate that its investment in the Afghan army, police force, and state-building failed to create even the semblance of a countervailing force to the technologically war-fighting techniques of the Taliban. Had Washington realized this vulnerability to the chaotic collapse that ensued, it would have handled its own withdrawal differently, getting Americans and their Afghan collaborators out while it still could exert effective control the main cities. If ever, a politics of spectacle made a sensible decision by Washington to withdraw from Afghanistan greeted favorably around the world, including the United States, into a public relations disaster, it was on media display for the past two weeks on TV screens worldwide.
2-How do you assess the US policy in Afghanistan during the past 20 years? To what extent the US policy is responsible for the current instability in the country?
To some extent, my response to the prior question covers these issues. The viability of intervening in a non-Western state in the post-colonial era should have been discredited long ago, and certainly after the decade of maximum effort in Vietnam with its Kabul-like ending. The success of the anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa should have demonstrated to the West that military intervention on the basis of acceptable costs in lives and resources was no longer a policy option, however great the temptation, however strong the insider pressures of special mercenary interests, and however deep the geopolitical memories of ‘the good old days’ when the West could intervene at will confident of a high rate of success (with the ironic exception of Afghanistan that proved unconquerable even in colonial times!). The result of such post-colonial missions, mainly led by the U.S., is their eventual failure preceded by years of devastation, widespread human suffering, what might be called ‘combat capitalism’ (with an appreciative nod to Naomi Klein). ‘Intervention fatigue’ over time grows among the American public and leadership, generally expressed by a growing political consensus that the undertaking, whatever its ideological or imperial rationalization, is not worth the effort. The undertaking is fundamentally illegitimate from the perspective of law and morality. It is increasingly perceived as too costly materially and reputationally, and as essentially irrelevant as a security threat. The senseless ordeal of prolonged killing and dying are viewed as evidence that America has lost its way, lacking credible justifications and stumbling toward a humiliating defeat. Because American lives and taxpayer dollars were increasing seen as wasted, the resulting political fallout is disguised by the leadership with a lame rationale that convinces almost no one except a compliant Western media, yet prepared the way for the next geopolitical fiasco of a similar kind. Such rationales are rejected in the short run, including by returning American soldiers who felt cheated, understanding that their patriotic sacrifices were in vain even misguided, and that the whole imperial venture had been built on delusions and lies. And yet memories are far shorter and weaker than the interests at stake.
These patterns of failed interventions are likely to be repeated in the future, oblivious to this record of failure. The fact that such perverse behavior persists reveals the absence of the moral and political imagination needed to comprehend and act upon the changed international circumstances of the 21st century. This absence includes a stubborn refusal to learn from China about how an ambitious state should go about expanding and heightening its prosperity along with its regional and world influence in a post-colonial era. In part, this failure stems from systemic sources. It is associated with the bureaucratic and entrenched interests in the United States that benefit from a high defense budget and a militarized approach to security that became ingrained in the American internal balance of forces during the long Cold War. From its outset in the late 1940s this approach to security and geopolitical response depends on exaggerating, and even inventing, international threats as well as denying the tectonic global shift in the balance of forces from geopolitical intervenors. National forces of resistance motivated by an ethos of self-determination as the most basic of human rights and by a historical knowledge that intervenors can be defeated if nationalist energies remain united.
3-How do you see the future of Afghanistan? What US approach should be taken toward the country in future?

It is very difficult at this time so soon after the Taliban victory to anticipate the future of Afghanistan. It will depend, first of all, on the behavior of the Taliban as the governing force, and how this is portrayed in and manipulated by foreign countries, especially in the West. The US in particular will likely maintain a very critical attitude toward Taliban governance partly to continue the myth that its intervention was justified was based on good intentions and the attempt to make life better for the Afghan people. The Taliban will also react, especially on the basis of its perceptions of whether the US has genuinely respected the outcome of the struggle, becoming respectful of Afghan sovereignty, and does not lend support to counterrevolutionary movements or impose sanctions. After all, Afghanistan was victimized by two decades of American-led NATO intervention, and will naturally give a high priority to defending the security of the country and its governing process.

There is bound to be hostile propaganda from a growing, aggrieved, and frightened Afghan refugee community, which might be manipulated by American militarist and reactionary forces to restore political will in the United States, reviving its reputation as a self-confident custodian of global security and promoter of human rights and liberal constitutionalism. It is instructive to look back at the behavior of the United States in the decade after its withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975 under somewhat similar circumstances when it tried, among other evasions of defeat, to sell the hysterical idea that the alternative to fighting against Communism in Vietnam was for the American people to fight its enemies on the city streets of the United States. The American people have been exposed for decades to a disastrous bipartisan combination of fear at home and aggression abroad, which is being translated into a posture of imperial decline, exemplified by leadership that is either extremist in embracing denialism or depressing in its effort to face up to the overwhelming challenges of misjudging changing global realities for decades.

The best approach for the United States at this point in Afghanistan, although unlikely, is to encourage Taliban moderation by exhibiting in deeds and words its acceptance of the outcome in Afghanistan. This could be expressed by a rapid grant of diplomatic recognition to the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in all international arenas, followed by the provision of significant levels of humanitarian assistance. It is also important that the departures from Afghanistan should be handled in a non-provocative manner, stressing humanitarian responsibilities, and appreciating that many of those departing from Afghanistan partook of corruption and opportunism during the American presence, collaborating with a foreign intervention by a political actor with geopolitical motives and a Western secular orientation.

In the wider context of international relations, I would hope that the failures of the US approach to Iran ever since at least 1979 would finally lead the political class in Washington to switch its strategic engagement with the non-West from confrontation to accommodation. It is never too late for this to happen. I wish I could conclude these responses by expressing the belief that this altered course of behavior will actually happen in the near future. I am not presently hopeful.

Demonizing Durban: Obscuring Racism

18 Aug

Demonizing Durban

[Prefatory Note: The post below describes the campaign carried on over the last 20 years by pro-Israeli propaganda, both government and NGO, to defame the UN dedicated anti-racist efforts as a new species of antisemitism. It is a perverse effort that shields Israel’s racist policies and practices toward the Palestinian people behind a perverse contention that criticism of these policies should be viewed as antisemitism. The piece was originally published in Transcend Media Service, and appears here in its original form. For the link to the original <https://transcend.org/tms/2021/08/demonizing-durban/&gt; ]

EDITORIAL, 16 Aug 2021 

#706 | Richard Falk – TRANSCEND Media Service

Context

16 Aug 2021 – An insidious campaign has been underway to demonize the UN sponsorship of an anti-racist initiative to hold a one-day conference at the UN on September 22, 2021 that is a continuation of what has come to be known as the ‘Durban Process.’ This identifies the ongoing effort over the last twenty years to implement the Durban Declaration and the accompanying Program of Action that was adopted at the “World Conference Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance DURBAN” held in Durban, South Africa 20 years ago.

The Durban Conference was controversial even before the delegates convened, anticipated as a forum at which Israel, colonialism, the legacy of slavery, and victimization of vulnerable ethnicities would be depicted and condemned. It was formally under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council, whose High Commissioner, Mary Robinson was put under pressure from the West to cancel the event. She refused, and instead of being praised for her independence, this highly principled former President of Ireland was denied support by Washington for reappointment to a second term as High Commissioner. Israel and the United States withdrew from the conference and boycotted smaller follow up events in 2009 and 2011, which explains why the forthcoming gathering is identified as Durban IV.

At the 2001 conference, which was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which occurred just days after the close of Durban, there were many speeches delivered by representatives of various governments, including several that criticized Israel for racist policies and practices perpetrated against the Palestinian peoples, including the allegation that Zionism was a form of racism, which had previously been asserted in GA Resolution (see GA Res. 3379 passed by a vote of 72-35 with 32 abstentions, A/RES/3379, 10 Nov 1975; revoked in 1991 without explanation in GA Res. 46/96)). In addition to the inter-governmental Durban Conference there was a parallel NGO Forum devoted to the same agenda in which inflammatory speeches and declarations were made. Yet the overriding inspirational theme was provided by the successful struggle against apartheid in South Africa as both legitimating the event and the current need to address the long unfinished anti-racist agenda.

The Outcome at Durban

The main formal outcomes of the Durban Conference were two significant, comprehensive texts known as the Durban Declaration and the Durban Program of Action. The Durban Process subsequent to 2001 has been more or less exclusively concerned with the implementation of these two formal UN documents, which are wide spectrum depictions of a whole range of grievances arising from the mistreatment of various categories of vulnerable people by war of the enforcement of human rights law and through a variety of means including through education and the activism of civil society, NGOs, and even the private sector. There exists absolutely no basis for complaining that Israel has been singled out for criticism or that provisions of the conference documents can be fairly read as antisemitic or even anti-Israeli, yet as will be shown below, such a campaign has been relentlessly waged to discredit all that Durban stands almost exclusively because of its supposed extreme bias against Israel.

A fair reading of both documents would conclude that Israel actually been spared justifiable criticism, most probably as a result of pressures brought to bear on both the UN and media before and during the conference. If we look at the texts we come away with an impression that Israeli sensitivities were understood and respected. Apartheid and genocide were condemned in general terms, but without any negative reference to Israel, and in fact an inclusion that did single out Israel in a manner that it should have welcomed. In para. 58 of the Declaration we find the following assertion: “..we recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten.” And para. 61 takes note with “deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities.” It seems outright perverse to discredit the Durban Declaration as a screed against Jews.

In the course of the Declaration’s 122 paragraphs the Israel/Palestine situation is only mentioned in Para. 63, and then in a neutral manner that seems to overlook the deliberate victimization of the Palestinian people. It reads as follows: “We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion.” What can possibly be offensive to even the most ardent Israeli supporter about such a provision, which is buried deep in a 30 page declaration in language that points no accusing fingers at Israel.

Israel’s Anti-Durban Campaign

And yet the reality of Durban, the violence of the language used to denounce these documents and the Durban Process seems extreme, and to emanate from sources known to follow closely the official line disseminated by Tel Aviv. British Colonel Richard Kemp writing on the notoriously right-wing website of the Gladstone Institute is rarely outdone in his backing of Israel’s use of force against defenseless Gaza. Kemp brands the Durban Process “as the UN’s infamous 20-year old showpiece vendetta against Israel” and pronounces his judgement that “Durban IV will re-energize this shameful process.” [“Fighting the Blight of Durban,” July 29, 2021] Kemp is comfortable invoking the hyperbolic language of UN Watch that absurdly labels Durban as “..the worst international manifestation of antisemitism in the post-war period.”

UN Watch separately expressed its venomous view of the Durban Process a month earlier in a news release under the grossly misleading headline, “Durban IV: Key Facts,” May 24, 2021, summarized by the phrase a “perversion of principles of anti-racism.” This characterization of Durban is made more concrete by asserting that it makes “…baseless claims against the Jewish people,” is used “to promote racism, intolerance, antisemitism and Holocaust denial…and to erode Israel’s right to exist.” This libelously false language of UN Watch should be compared with the texts of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, the implementation of which is the overriding goal of the Durban Process, to gain some insight into the dark motivations of these Israeli oriented critics.

2021- Israel and Apartheid

True enough as of 2021 there would be no way to avoid supposing that ‘the plight of the Palestinian people’ was a direct result of Israeli apartheid, which is not only condemned by the Durban process, but is firmly established as a crime against humanity in both the 1974 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and Article 7 of the Rome Statute governing the operations of the International Criminal Court. It is no longer reasonable to dismiss allegations of Israeli apartheid as extremist, much less as manifestations of antisemitism. Yet because Israel, with U.S. support, still controls the mainstream discourse in the West, the media stares at such stark findings in stony silence despite the prolonged suffering of the Palestinian people—a convincing reminder that where geopolitics and morality/legality clash, geopolitics prevails.

Redeeming the Durban Process 

There are two sets of observations that make these attacks on a laudable UN effort by way of Durban to highlight the many facets of racism and racial discrimination shameful and shameless. The Durban Process has become the core of a worldwide human rights campaign to increase public awareness and raise concerns within the UN as to the many varieties of racist criminality, as well as to underscore the responsibility of governments and the potential contributions of civil society activism.

It is notable that Israel and its behavior are not given nearly the attention in the Durban Declaration and Program of Action that such other issues as the abuse of indigenous peoples, Roma, migrants, and refugees. Indeed, in light of more recent developments that confirmed earlier concerns about Palestinian victimization the Durban Process, if anything, can be faulted for backgrounding Israel’s racism and falling into to the hasbara trap of imposing symmetrical responsibility on the oppressor and the victim, blaming both sides, precisely to foil the growing tendency of Israel’s organized support to play the antisemitic card as a growing tactic to deflect public attention away from a growing consensus that Israel operates as an apartheid state.

Perhaps, in the atmosphere of 2001 it was politically provocative to accuse Israel of racism and apartheid, although as I have tried to show, these allegations directed at Israel in the open debate at Durban were never followed up in the formal outcome of the Durban Conference. And as has made clear by its proponents, the Durban Process is primarily concerned with implementing the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. By 2021, what was provocative twenty years ago has become multiply confirmed by trustworthy and reliable detailed assessments, and indirectly endorsed by the Israeli Basic Law enacted by the Knesset in 2018. The highlights of this dynamic have taken place over the course of the last five years: –the release in March 2017 of an independent academic study sponsored by  UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia(ESCWA) that concluded that Israel’s policies and practices constituted overwhelming confirmation of allegations of apartheid [“The Practices of Israel toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid”;—the report of the Israeli human rights NGO, B’Tselem, “A regime of Jewish Supremacy from The Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid,” 12 Jan 2021—the Human Rights Report, “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, 27 April 2021.

It is no longer plausible to contend that associating Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people as antisemitic. As a Jew myself, I regard Israeli justifications for its behavior toward Palestine as the embodiment of antisemitic behavior, bringing discredit to the Jewish people.

__________________________________________

Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB, author, co-author or editor of 60 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to two three-year terms as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and associated with the local campus of the University of California, and for several years chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is On Nuclear Weapons, Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament (2019). 

TOWARD GLOBAL SOLIDARITY: A POLITICS OF IMPOSSIBILITY

14 Aug

[Prefatory Note: The post below is my stimulus essay for a Forum sponsored by Great Transition Initiative, a project of the Tellus Institute, dedicated to the exploration of humane and ecologically resonant adjustments to the challenges and threats posed by the onset of the Anthropocentric Age. The text of the full Forum can be found by clicking this link– https://greattransition.org/gti-forum/can-human-solidarity-globalize It contains many wise and illuminating responses to my reflections, including by leading thinkers of our time. The Forum closes with my effort to respond to the responses, but due to space limitations, in a very truncated manner. Also, the Forum format conveys some information about the underlying philosophy that guides this ambitious undertaking.]

Global Solidarity: Toward a Politics of Impossibility 

A Captive Imagination

As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly subsides, it is not clear what lessons will be drawn by political leaders and publics around the world. Entrenched power, wealth, and conventional wisdom have demonstrated the overwhelming resilience of the global order even while the virus continues to ravage many national societies. Despite some notable exceptions revealing extremes of solidarity or discrimination, efficient competence or irresponsible partisanship, this reversion to the status quo occurred at all levels of social organization from the village to the world, especially the sovereign state.

For the most part, rich and powerful governments used their leverage to corner the vaccine market, allowing a draconian market-driven logic to drive distribution that privileged intellectual property rights and technical knowhow, leading to grotesque disparities in vaccine access between the peoples of the North and those of the South. It has become a truism to observe that no country will be safe from the virus, or its variants, until the entire world is vaccinated. Never had the self-interest of the species so vividly and concretely coincided with an ethos of global solidarity. And yet such an ethos did not materialize. We must search for explanations and correctives.

A people-first approach to the global health emergency would have transcended statist and profit-making domains at all phases of COVID prevention and treatment, and situated them within a global commons framework. Such an approach might have dramatically heightened prospects for the social transformation at the heart of the Great Transition and would at least have restored some confidence that the human species, at least in an emergency, is capable of meeting the challenges of the Anthropocene. As the pandemic instead revealed the resounding strength of statist structures and private sector interests, it seems necessary to acknowledge this tragic interlude as but one more lost opportunity for the human species to awaken from its prolonged slumber before it is too late. 

To some extent, the failure has been masked by the newfound generosity of some countries as the sense of a world health emergency receded and virus supplies exceeded national demands in some countries. In a spirit of philanthropy rather than solidarity, shipments of the virus to countries in need were made, recipients often selected on the basis of pragmatic diplomatic advantage. Perhaps charity towards those less fortunate can be considered a weak form of solidarity, even if filtered by political leaders motivated by selfish national interests.

More than ever, we must face the question: can the peoples of Earth, doomed to share a ravaged planet, learn to live together in ways that encourage our species to flourish in an emergent future? The concept of a Great Transition invites us to reimagine such a future by exploring what might be possible, which requires an initial willingness of the imagination to let go of the trappings of the present without engaging in wishful thinking. Such a balancing act is not as straightforward as it sounds. What was science fiction a generation ago is increasingly entering the realm of the possible, and even the feasible in the near future. It is an opportune time to explore the seedlings of possibility sprouting around us, inscribing a more hopeful mapping of the human future in the prevailing collective consciousness.

On What is Possible

Some men see things as they are and say ‘why?’ I dream of things that never were

and ask ‘why not?’” —  George Bernard Shaw

We must start by rejecting conventional foreclosures of the imagination. We cannot accept that politics is “the art of the possible” if the “possible” remains circumscribed by the play of current forces of stasis, confining the idea of change to policy shifts at the margin or—at the most ambitious—elite-driven national revolutions. The structures of state and market remain essentially untouched and continue to run the show. As long as these constraints are not removed, the Great Transition will be stymied. The first challenge is to find effective ways to subvert and transform these primordial structures. Meeting this challenge starts with liberating the mind from ingrained conventions that solidify the ideological biases of modernity.

If we carefully consider our own lives, we are likely to appreciate how many epochal public happenings had been previously deemed “impossible,” or only seemed possible after the fact. A potent illustration of the tyranny of a status quo bias is Winston Churchill’s derisive attitude toward Gandhi during the early stages of the rise of Indian nationalism. Dismissive of any threat to Indian colonial rule, Churchill described Gandhi as a “malignant subversive fanatic” and “a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceregal palace.” The great British war leader displayed his attachment to a Western understanding of power that had little insight into historical circumstances vulnerable to anti-colonial nationalism.  

Similar patterns of the seemingly impossible happening are evident in contemporary history, such as the peaceful ending of the Cold War followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union; the American defeat in the Vietnam War despite overwhelming military superiority; China’s half-century rise from mass impoverishment and backwardness to prime geopolitical challenger, including threatening Western mastery of innovative technology such as AI, G5 connectivity, robotics, and genetic engineering; and the abandonment of apartheid by South Africa in the face of nonviolent resistance from within and anti-apartheid solidarity from without. 

What these examples demonstrate is that our understanding of the scope of the possible has been artificially circumscribed in ways that protect the interests of various elites in the maintenance of the status quo, making it seem reckless and futile to mount structural challenges however justified they may be morally or bio-politically. Such foreclosures of imagined futures have been key to the protection of institutions like slavery, discrimination, and warfare but often remain limited in scope to specific locales or policy areas. The uniqueness of the Anthropocene is to restrict the possible to unsustainable and dysfunctional structures and modes of behavior, while bringing to a head the question of finding more viable ways of organizing life on the planet and living together in a manner that protects future generations. 

Such foreclosures of the imagination inflict damage both by shortening our temporal vision and by constraining our understanding of useful knowledge. Despite what science and rationality tell us about the future, our leaders—and, indeed, most of us—give scant practical attention to what is needed to preserve and improve the life prospects for future generations. Given the scope and depth of the challenges, responsible anthropocentrism in the twenty-first century should incorporate a sense of urgency to temporal axes of concern. We now need a “politics of the impossible,” a necessary utopianism that stands as an avowal of the attainability of the Great Transition. We must begin by interrogating the semantics of the possible as a cultural, political, economic, and ideological construct binding humanity to a system that is increasingly bio-politically self-destructive for the species and its natural habitat.

Closely connected to this foreclosure of our temporal vision has been a scientifically conditioned epistemology asserting the limits of useful knowledge. Within the most influential epistemic communities, an Enlightenment ideology prevails that sets boundaries limiting productive intellectual inquiry. The positive legacies of the Enlightenment in grounding knowledge on scientifically verified evidence rather than cultural superstitions and religiously guided prejudice and dogma are real and important, but there have been costs as well. Notably, a bias against subjectivity discourages normative inquiry and advocacy, which is dismissed as “non-scientific.” The noted Confucian scholar Tu Wei-Ming has powerfully criticized the impact of what he calls “instrumental rationalism” on the capacity of Western civilization to embrace the value of empathy, which he views as integral to human dignity and humane governance. 

We need a moral epistemology to achieve responsible anthropocentrism, exploring right and wrong, and distinguishing between desirable and diminished futures, not as matters of opinion, but as the underpinnings of “normative knowledge.” Universities, split into specialized disciplines and privileging work within the Enlightenment paradigm, are largely oblivious to the need for a holistic understanding of the complexities and solidarities with which we must grapple in order for humanity to extricate itself from present structures that divide and fragment the human experience, strangling possibilities.

It may be helpful to distinguish “the feasible,” “the necessary,” and “the desirable” to further illuminate “the pursuit of the impossible.” In short, “the feasible” from the perspective of the status quo seems incapable, under the best of circumstances, of achieving “the necessary” and “the desirable.” We will need to pursue “the desirable” to mobilize the capabilities needed to engage effectively in realizing “the necessary.”  

If existing conditions continue, the bio-political destiny of the human species seems destined for dark times. In the past, before the Nuclear Age, we could ignore the future and address the material, security, and spiritual needs of bounded communities, and success or failure had no ramifications for larger systems. Now we must find ways to attend to the whole, or the parts will perish and likely destroy one another in the process. St. Francis found some fitting words for such an emancipatory path: “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Traditional Worldviews

When seeking alternative worldviews not defined by states, empires, or markets, many have turned toward the pre-modern realities and cosmologies of native peoples. Recovering that pre-modern worldview might be instructive in certain respects, but it is not responsive to the practical contours of contemporary liberation. Retreat to the pre-modern past is not an option, except as a result of a planetary calamity.

Instead of the realities of localism and tribal community, our way forward needs to engage globalism and human community, and to affirm that such strivings fall within the realm of possibility. We must reimagine a sense of our place in the cosmos so that it becomes our standpoint: a patriotism for humanity in which the whole becomes greater than the part, and the part is no longer the dominant organizing principle of life on the planet. Understanding the interplay of parts and wholes is a helpful place to begin this transformative journey. Parts are not only enclaves of space on world maps, but the separate identities of race, gender, class, belief, and habitat. An ethos of human solidarity would not eliminate differences but would complement them with a sense of commonality while sustaining their separate and distinctive identities. Such an ethos would generate new modes of being for addressing the challenges of transition.

For this to happen, a sense of global solidarity must take over the commanding heights of the imagination rather than continue to inhabit echo chambers hidden in underground hiding places far from the domains of policy formation.

Global Solidarity Must Increase as the Great Transition Unfolds

Without global solidarity, the structural features of the status quo will remain too deeply entrenched to allow a more cooperative, peaceful, just, and ecologically mindful world to emerge. Such a benevolent future is blocked by the prevailing consciousness in government and corporate board rooms, a paralyzing blend of ignorance, denial, incrementalism, and most of all, an unconscious respect for and deference to fragmenting boundaries that make global solidarity seem “impossible” to achieve. Assuming the paralysis has been overcome by an enhanced conception of the possible, then what?

Global solidarity would benefit humanity functionally, ethically, ecologically, and spiritually. Its functional role is most immediately obvious from a problem-solving perspective. Whether we consider vaccine diplomacy, climate change, or nuclear weapons, it becomes clear that only on the basis of human solidarity will we treat vaccines in the midst of epidemics or pandemics as part of the global commons rather than as a source of national diplomacy, international property rights, and pharmaceutical profits. With climate change, whether we will manage a displacement of national and financial interests on the basis of general global wellbeing depends on achieving an unprecedented level of global solidarity. Similarly, with nuclear weapons, will we find the courage to live without such weaponry within a security framing that represents the well-being of people rather than the shortsighted hegemony of a few governments and their self-regarding societal elites?

Higher measures of global solidarity would enhance the quality and nature of global governance. Even if the defining unit of solidarity remained the sovereign state rather than the human being, a sense of global citizenship could underpin a much more robust United Nations whose membership sought shared goals proclaimed by its Charter rather than the competition that has been its dominant experience, especially on issues of peace and security. The world economy would become much less tied to militarized forms of security, freeing resources for peace building processes. From a broadening sense of global identity we could also expect a much more effective approach to biodiversity, preserving, for example, the rainforests and polar regions as indispensable aspects of our common heritage. And as heightened empathy would accompany global solidarity, there would be a greater tendency to take human suffering seriously, including poverty, displacement, and the victimization that follows from natural disasters and political strife.

Perhaps the greatest benefits of global solidarity would be felt ethically and spiritually. We can presume that the collective self of a world exhibiting high levels of global solidarity would shift loyalties and identities. The enmities of difference (race, nation, religion, gender, class) would lose their primacy, replaced by a different calibration of “otherness”—perhaps with the cosmos regarded as the great other of the earth. It seems reasonable to anticipate the emergence of a less metaphysical religious consciousness inspired by the greater harmonies on earth and a growing experience of cosmic awe as knowledge of this larger realm spreads and is reinforced by mind-broadening experience such as space tourism. 

Do We Have the Time? 

An ethos of global solidarity led an idealistic group of jurists in 1976 to draft the Declaration of the Rights of People to be implemented by a Permanent Peoples Tribunal, and many inquiries have been carried out since to hold states and their leaders symbolically accountable for violations of international law. People throughout the world have organized many civic initiatives organized by in defense of nature and of peace. 

Recently, Bolivia and Ecuador enacted a text devoted to the Rights of Mother Nature. New Zealand passed a law recognizing that animals are sentient beings with a legal entitlement to decent treatment. A movement is underway to regard “wild rivers” as subjects of rights, prohibiting the construction of hydro-electric dams. Civil society groups in Europe and South America have formed the International Rights of Nature Tribunal to protect various natural habitats from predatory human behavior. 

Within the wider orbit of UN activities, many quiet undertakings involving health, children, food, cultural heritage, and environment proceed in an atmosphere of global solidarity interrupted by only occasional intrusions from the more conflictual arenas of the Security Council and General Assembly. There are no vetoes, and partisanship is kept at a minimum.

Gestating within the cultural bosom of world civilizations and world religions have been subversive ideas of global solidarity. Philosophic and religious affirmations of unity in ideas of “cosmopolitanism” have garnered increasing numbers of adherents. Growing attachments to nature proclaimed in many forms gives rise to loyalties that find no place on world maps or national boundaries. Fears of future catastrophe by way of nuclear war and ecosystem collapse expand awareness that present arrangements are not sustainable, thereby making many persons receptive to creating other more inclusive forms of organizing life on the planet.

Transition is not off in the distance or only in dreamscapes or science fiction imaginaries; it is happening around us if we only learn to open our eyes and hearts to the possibilities now emerging. 

Concluding Remark

We cannot know the future, but we can know that the great enhancement of global solidarity would underpin the future we need and desire. Although this enhancement may currently seem “impossible,” we know that the impossible can happen when the historical moment is conducive. This century of interdependent risks and hopes has germinated the possibility of human solidarity globalizing. We know what is to be done, the value of struggling on behalf of our beliefs, and the urgency of the quest. This is the time to dedicate our hopes and indeed our lives to making the Great Transition happen, which is coincident with learning to live in accord with the ethical and ecological precepts of responsible anthropocentrism