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

A Haiku for a friend who asked if I still write poetry

5 Aug

I promise sonnets
When mood and moon align
And you marry sunlight

The Turkish Coup Attempt: Five Years Later

16 Jul

[A Modified Text of my Responses to Interview Questions of Murat Sofuoglu, a
Turkish Journalist associated with TRT World, “On the July 15th Coup Attempt Five Years Later” (July 8, 2021)]

Five years ago my Turkish wife and I were strolling in the Karakoy neighborhood of Istanbul amid the crowded cafes on a typical summer night. It was our only day in Istanbul during the entire summer, occasioned by a conference at Koç University scheduled for the next day devoted to refugee policy with special attention to problems of massive human displacement caused by the regional conflicts, particularly Syria and Iraq. We stopped for dinner at a Greek restaurant, encountering unexpectedly Turkish friends who asked to join us. As the meal neared its end, the manager came to our table, speaking in almost a whisper he said that the Bosphorus Bridge, subsequently renamed 15th of July Martyr’s Bridge, was occupied by troops and the scene of violence, and that it seemed a coup was underway. It was a bit eerie as the atmosphere in the restaurant was vibrant and utterly without any sense that a national crisis was in the process of erupting. We paid our bill, and walked slowly back to a nearby hotel where we were staying for the night. Soon jets were flying low over this part of the city fast enough to cause the terrifying explosive sound of sonic booms, obviously with the intention of causing panic on the ground. We cautiously looked out of our hotel window to see police cars blocking the street below. For the rest of the night we were glued to the TV coverage of the rapidly unfolding events climaxed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s dramatic appearance at the Istanbul Airport, greeted by a supportive crowd that walked the streets to greet the President and reaffirm their loyalty to the elected legitimate government. This reassurance by the people of Turkey and all of the political parties that made clear their rejection of the coup attempt contrasted with the silence of NATO governments, the longtime allies of the Ankara government. An impression was created among close observers of the political scene that leading Western governments would have greeted a successful coup with open arms. This impression was undoubtedly shared by leadership circles in Turkey, and has had profound effects on Turkish foreign policy, and particularly with the United States. These effects were initially associated with the Obama and Trump presidencies, but have continued in the early months of the Biden presidency.

1. How has the July 15 coup attempt affected Turkey’s foreign policy?

I believe the principal impact of the failed coup five years ago on Turkish foreign policy has been to cast lingering doubts on the loyalty of Turkey’s NATO partners. There was not only a display on the fateful night of July 15th of ‘wait and see’ attitudes in the principal capitals of Western Europe and of Washington as the coup unfolded, but there was no show of support for the legitimate elected government of Turkey from its longtime, and supposedly closest, allies. This Western diplomacy sent a message to Ankara that for the sake of its future security the government would be well advised to proceed rapidly to diversify its relations with other countries, and in particular, seek to deepen friendly relations with important other countries, including Russia and China.

These impressions were reinforced by the refusal by Washington to give serious consideration to the extradition request of the Turkish Government after the coup to enable the criminal prosecution of Fetullah Gulen, the presumed leader of FETO, the presumed forces behind the coup. Furthermore, in the period after the coup the various anti-Turkish international actors that were situated in various countries, including FETO, Kurdish groups aligned with the PKK, hard-core Kemalists living in the West, and Israel mounted an anti-Turkish international campaign alleging that Turkey was an unreliable ally, and was guilty of undermining Western policy with regard to Iran and the Kurdish presence in the Syrian civil strife.

A final factor for some was a clear indications that the coup attempt had been given a green light to proceed by Washington even if it not receive active, material support. There were several independent reports of CIA involvement and collaboration with FETO, and although never definitively confirmed, it naturally contributed to Turkish attitudes of wariness and some distrust with respect to ongoing relations with the United States, which had already been strained by a vigorous anti-Turkish international campaign.

2. Did the coup attempt make negative effects on US-Turkey relations? If so, how?

My response to the prior question supplies part of the answer. Turkey acted in a manner that stressed its political independence, especially on matters of national security and in relation to regional issues. It made no secret of its support for the Palestinian struggle for basic rights including the right of self-determination and its consistent opposition to Israeli longtime policies and practices. As well, Turkey purchased a defensive missile system—S-400—from Russia, which angered Washington, and was treated as a threat to NATO coherence and a breach of an unwritten NATO code of conduct. .

To an extent difficult to measure the coup attempt intensified preexisting trends in both Ankara and Washington. It has led to a downward trajectory in relations between the two countries. Ever since the AKP was elected to govern in 2002, its leadership made clear that Turkey was no longer a passive ally within the NATO framework as it had been throughout the Cold War. Already in 2003. the Turkish Parliament turned down the U.S. request to invade Iraq from Turkish territory, and in 2010 Turkey, together with Brazil, made efforts to negotiate an agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program, which although earlier encouraged by the U.S., created tensions with the U.S. when Iran turned out to be receptive to such an initiative with its promise of reduced regional tensions. The coup attempt in 2016 hardened Turkish perceptions that hostile forces were receiving help from governments supposedly friendly with Turkey. In the background was a steady drum-beat of anti-Turkish propaganda on right-wing Western websites such as the Gatestone Institute and Middle East Watch, which are geopolitical propagandists for post-colonial U.S. imperialism, which include unabashed support for Israeli expansionism and denigration of legitimate Palestinian aspirations for an end to apartheid and the attainment of self-determination in their own country.

3. Will the coup attempt’s effects on the Turkish foreign policy have a lasting legacy?

This is hard to predict. It depends, in part, on whether Turkish/Israel relations remain strained, and possible leadership shifts in both countries. If normal diplomatic relations with Israel are restored, a process now mutually pursued, then I would suspect that leading Western governments will not back away from their anti-Turkish policies without offering an explanation. The American president Biden, together with the UK, France, and Germany, seem eager to focus their foreign policy in relation to meeting the multiple challenges posed by China’s rise, and secondarily by Russian territorial ambitions on its borders, and want as few secondary distractions in other regions as possible.

At the same time Turkey is likely for the foreseeable future to continue to hedge its policies, as well as seize its opportunities, by further developing a wide range of positive contacts within the Middle East and beyond, and this seems prudent even if Washington/Tel Aviv back off. Because Turkey is polarized in relation to the governing AKP, which has now held the reins of power since 2002, the originality of the Turkish reality is rarely comprehended as perceptions oscillate between embittered critics of the government and its leadership and its base of ardent supporters.

Links for Signatures for Apartheid Declaration & Petition

9 Jul

Scholars and artists can continue to sign using this form

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdkGoZ25r-Yj8Ur4jCHOcLrw4YvdbrD5URS5-J1emQuPbq1dg/viewform

Activists can endorse by signing this petition

https://www.wesign.it/en/droitshumains/we-call-for-the-dismantling-of-the-apartheid-regime-in-historic-palestine

The Declaration is available here

https://www.aurdip.org/declaration-on-the-suppression-and.html

DECLARATION OF THE CRIME OF APARTHEID: ISRAEL

7 Jul

[PREFATORY NOTE: The Declaration on Apartheid below is an initiative initiated by the wellknown
Tunisian mathematician, Ahmed Abbes, and endorsed by scholars and artists worldwide. If impressed
please distribute widely as there is a campaign underway to reach 1,000 signatures.]

Declaration on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid in Historic Palestine
6 juillet |

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Over 700 scholars, artists and intellectuals from more than 45 countries have signed the following declaration calling for the dismantling of the apartheid regime set up on the territory of historic Palestine and the establishment of a democratic constitutional arrangement that grants all its inhabitants equal rights and duties. The signatories include many distinguished figures, including the Nobel Peace Prize laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire, academics with legal expertise Monique Chemillier-Gendreau and Richard Falk, scholars Étienne Balibar, Hagit Borer, Ivar Ekeland, Suad Joseph, Jacques Rancière, Roshdi Rashed and Gayatri Spivak, health researcher Sir Iain Chalmers, composer Brian Eno, musician Roger Waters, author Ahdaf Soueif, economist and former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN Sir Richard Jolly, South African politician and veteran anti-apartheid leader Ronnie Kasrils and Canadian peace activist and former national leader of the Green Party of Canada Joan Russow.

Declaration on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid in Historic Palestine
Whereas :

1- Israel has subjected the Palestinian people for 73 years to an ongoing catastrophe, known as the Nakba, a process that included massive displacement, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity ;

2- Israel has established an apartheid regime on the entire territory of historic Palestine and directed toward the whole of the deliberately fragmented Palestinian people ; Israel itself no longer seeks to hide its apartheid character, claiming Jewish supremacy and exclusive Jewish rights of self-determination in all of historic Palestine through the adoption in 2018 by the Knesset of a new Basic Law ;

3-The apartheid character of Israel has been confirmed and exhaustively documented by widely respected human rights organizations, Adalah, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and in the UN ESCWA academic study that stresses the importance of defining Israeli apartheid as extending to people rather than limited to space, [“Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” UN ESCWA, 2017] ;

4- Israel periodically unleashes massive violence with devastating impacts on Palestinian civilian society, particularly against the population of Gaza, which endures widespread devastation, collective trauma, and many deaths and casualties, aggravated by being kept under an inhuman and unlawful blockade for over 14 years, and throughout the humanitarian emergency brought about by the COVID pandemic ;

5- Western powers have facilitated and even subsidized for more than seven decades this Israeli system of colonization, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid, and continue to do so diplomatically, economically, and even militarily.

Considering :

i- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates in its first article that ’all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ And taking account that the inalienable right of self-determination is common Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Political Rights, and as such, a legal and ethical entitlement of all peoples.

ii- The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid which stipulates in Article I that ’apartheid is a crime against humanity and that inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination, as defined in article II of the Convention, are crimes violating the principles of international law, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and constituting a serious threat to international peace and security.’ The States Parties to this Convention undertake in accordance with Article IV :
_ “(a) To adopt any legislative or other measures necessary to suppress as well as to prevent any encouragement of the crime of apartheid and similar segregationist policies or their manifestations and to punish persons guilty of that crime ;
_ “(b) To adopt legislative, judicial and administrative measures to prosecute, bring to trial and punish in accordance with their jurisdiction persons responsible for, or accused of, the acts defined in article II of the present Convention, whether or not such persons reside in the territory of the State in which the acts are committed or are nationals of that State or of some other State or are stateless persons.”

The endorsers of this document :

A- Declare their categorical rejection of the apartheid regime set up on the territory of historic Palestine and imposed on the Palestinian people as a whole, including refugees and exiles wherever they might be in the world.

B- Call for the immediate dismantling of this apartheid regime and the establishment of a democratic constitutional arrangement that grants and implements on all the inhabitants of this land equal rights and duties, regardless of their racial, ethnic, and religious identities, or gender preferences, and which respects and enforces international law and human conventions, and in particular gives priority to the long deferred right of return of Palestinian refugees expelled from their towns and villages during the creation of the State of Israel, and subsequently.

C- Urge their governments to cease immediately their complicity with Israel’s apartheid regime, to join in the effort to call for the dismantling of apartheid structures and their replacement by an egalitarian democratic governance that treats everyone subject to its authority in accordance with their rights and with full respect for their humanity, and to make this transition in a manner sensitive to the right of self-determination enjoyed by both peoples presently inhabiting historic Palestine.

D- Call for the establishment of a National Commission of Peace, Reconciliation, and Accountability to accompany the transition from apartheid Israel to a governing process sensitive to human rights and democratic principles and practices. In the interim, until such a process is underway, issue a call for the International Criminal Court to launch a formal investigation of Israeli political leaders and security personnel guilty of perpetuating the crime of apartheid.

* Academics, artists and intellectuals can endorse this declaration by completing this form.

* Endorsed by 723 academics, artists and intellectuals on July 8, 2021 (click here for the full list), including

Ahmed Abbes, mathematician, Director of research in Paris, France
Sinan Antoon, New York University, United States
John Avery, Writer, Denmark
Bertrand Badie, Sciences Po Paris, France
Étienne Balibar, Anniversary Chair of Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University London, United Kingdom
Anthony Barnett, Writer, United Kingdom
Edmond Baudoin, Auteur de bandes dessinées, France
George Bisharat, UC Hastings College of the Law/Professor, musician, United States
Nicolas Boeglin, Professor of Public International Law, University of Costa Rica, Costa Rica
Hagit Borer, Professor, Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom
Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend, Council of Elders of the ICCA Consortium, Switzerland
Daniel Boyarin, Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture, UC Berkeley, United States
Anouar Brahem, Musician, Composer, Tunisia
Rony Brauman, Physician, writer, former president of Médecins Sans Frontières, France
Iain Chalmers, Editor, James Lind Library, United Kingdom
Hafidha Chekir, Emeritus Professor of Public Law, Al Manar University, Tunis ; Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights, Tunisia
Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, Professeure émérite de droit public et de sciences politiques, Université Paris-Diderot, France
David Comedi, National University of Tucumán and National Research Council, Argentina
Laurent Cugny, Professeur, Sorbonne Université, France
Eric David, Emeritus Professor of International Law at the Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
Chandler Davis, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of Toronto, Canada
Sonia Dayan-Herzbrun, Professeure émérite à l’Université de Paris, France
Herman De Ley, Emeritus Professor, Ghent University, Belgium
Ivar Ekeland, Professor emeritus of mathematics and former President, University of Paris-Dauphine, France
Brian Eno, Artist/Composer, United Kingdom
Adolfo Esquivel, Premio Nobel de la Paz 1980 (Nobel Peace Prize 1980), Argentina
Richard Falk, Professor of International Law, Emeritus, Princeton University, United States
Emmanuel Farjoun, Emeritus Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Jan Fermon, Avocat. Secrétaire général Association Internationale des Juristes Démocrates, Belgium
Domenico Gallo, Chamber President in Supreme Court of Cassazione, Italy
Irene Gendzier, Prof Emeritus in the Dept Political Science, Boston University, United States
Catherine Goldstein, Director of Research, Paris, France
Neve Gordon, Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom
Penny Green, Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom
Sondra Hale, Professor Emerita, University of California, Los Angeles, United States
Michael Harris, Professor of Mathematics, Columbia University, United States
Judith Herrin, King’s College London, United Kingdom
Christiane Hessel-Chabry, Présidente d’honneur de l’association EJE (Gaza), France
Shir Hever, Political Economist, Germany
Nicholas Humphrey, Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics, United Kingdom
Abdeen Jabara, Attorney, past president, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, United States
Richard Jolly, Emeritus Fellow, IDS, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
Suad Joseph, Distinguished Research Professor, University of California, Davis, United States
Mary Kaldor, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom
Ronnie Kasrils, Former government minister, South Africa
Assaf Kfoury, Computer Science Department, Boston University, United States
Rima Khalaf, Former Executive Secretary of UN ESCWA, Jordan
Daniel Kupferstein, Film director, France
Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond, Emeritus professor, University of Nice, France
David Lloyd, University of California Riverside, United States
Brinton Lykes, Professor & Co-Director, Boston College Center for Human Rights & International Justice, United States
Moshé Machover, Mathematician, KCL, United Kingdom
Kate Macintosh, Architect, United Kingdom
Mairead Maguire, Nobel peace laureate, Ireland
Dick Marty, Dr. Jur. Dr. H.c., former Chair of the Committee of Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Switzerland
Georg Meggle, Philosopher, Prof. em. at University of Leipzig, Germany
Jan Oberg, DrHc, peace and future researcher, Transnational Foundation, Sweden
Joseph Oesterlé, Emeritus professor, Sorbonne University, France
Adi Ophir, Professor Emeritus, Tel Aviv University ; Visiting Professor, The Cogut Institute for the Humanities and the center for Middle East Studies, Brown Universities, United States
Karine Parrot, Professeure de droit à l’Université de Cergy-Pontoise, France
Ghislain Poissonnier, Magistrate, France
Susan Power, Head of Legal Research and Advocacy, Al-Haq, Palestine
Prabir Purkayastha, Editor, Newsclick.in, India
Jacques Rancière, Professeur émérite, Université Paris 8, France
Roshdi Rashed, CNRS/Université de Paris, France
Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Biology and Neurobiology at the Open University and Gresham College, London, United Kingdom
Hilary Rose, Professor Emerita Sociology University of Bradfor, United Kingdom
Jonathan Rosenhead, Emeritus Professor of Operational Research at the London School of Economics, United Kingdom
Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University, United States
Alice Rothchild, MD, retired, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School, United States
Joan Russow, Researcher, Global Compliance Research Project, Canada
Richard Seaford, Emeritus Professor, University of Exeter, United Kingdom
Leila Shahid, Former Ambassador of Palestine, Palestine
Eyal Sivan, Filmmaker – Essayist, France
John Smith, Filmmaker, Emeritus Professor of Fine Art, University of East London, United Kingdom
Nirit Sommerfeld, Singer, actress, writer, Germany
Ahdaf Soueif, Writer, Egypt
Gayatri Spivak, Columbia University, United States
Jonathan Steele, Author and journalist, United Kingdom
Annick Suzor-Weiner, Professor emeritus, Université Paris-Saclay, France
Salim Tamari, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Birzeit University, Palestine
Virginia Tilley, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, United States
Salim Vally, Professor, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Roger Waters, Musician, United Kingdom
Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law, King’s College London, United Kingdom
John Womack jr, Harvard University, United States
* Institutional affiliations are given only for identification purposes

* The full list of signatories is available here.

* Academics, artists and intellectuals can endorse this declaration by completing this form.

* Version française ; versión en español ; versione italiana ; النسخة العربية

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DANS CETTE RUBRIQUE
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Qui était Edward Said ? Une interprétation biographique, un souvenir existentiel
Communication Palestine contre Israel : étape relative à l’admissibilité franchie
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Who Was Edward Said? Biographically Interpreted and Existentially Recollected

3 Jul

[Prefatory Note: This post is an edited text of Remarks on 30 June 2021 at the opening on the Book Launch of Timothy Brennan’s PLACES OF MIND: A LIFE OF EDWARD SAID (2021), an event under the auspices of the Cambridge Centre of Palestinian Studies, moderated by its director, Dr. Makram Khoury-Machool. Also participating in the discussion of Professor Brennan’s book Prof. As’ad Abu Khali and Dr. Kamal Khalef Al-Tawll.]

Who Was Edward Said? Biographically Interpreted and Existentially Recollected

I am honored to take part in this event celebrating the publication of Timothy Brennan’s extraordinary biography of Edward Said. This gathering also provides an occasion for considering once more Edward’s powerful legacy as a creative and progressive icon, someone with a global reach, possessed of as passionate and challenging an ethical, cultural, and political conscience as I have ever had the good fortune to experience. I understand from Makram that my role tonight is to set the stage for the featured performer, somewhat similar to the warmup given to the audience at a rock concert by an obscure local pop group before the acclaimed international star makes his or her dramatic appearance. As I mentioned to Makram, I have two qualifications to be a speaker tonight: I once played tennis with Edward on Cambridge’s exquisite grass courts several decades ago, and more to the point, we were both often embattled due to supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people for a just and sustainable peace.

Edward more than anyone else on the American scene exemplified what we understand to be a ‘public intellectual’ in the late 20th and early 21st century, that is after this presence had been epitomized by the life of Jean-Paul Sartre. Such a role presupposes a degree of democratic governance within sovereign space that tolerates, even if only barely and reluctantly, ideas and critiques that challenge the most fundamental behavioral tropes of the state, captured in spirit by the slogan ‘talking truth to power,’ which is somewhat less activist than Mario Savio’s slogan that embodied the spirit of the 1960s: ‘put your body up against the machine.’

One of the many achievements of Brennan’s book is to grapple with the complexity and contradictory character of Said, who as a friend and colleague was at once engaging, paradoxical, theatrical, seductive, critical, provocative, who could be on occasion defensive and even enraged. Such qualities were distinctively expressed by this most gifted individual possessed of a dazzling intelligence, a sparkling sense of humor, and of course, stunning erudition. Edward was continually reenergized by his curiosity about all aspect of life and about the world. More than the few notable academics of my acquaintance with whom he might be compared, in my reckoning Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and on the right, Samuel Huntington, Said alone was both a hero to constituencies of outsiders and a welcome guest among most insiders, and with his paradoxical style on display he was often a commanding presence in both atmospheres. Perhaps, the secret of his personal magnetism and intellectual preeminence was that he was simultaneously a profound thinker and a consummate performer, a combination rarely found to inhabit the same person.

Such was his charm and the imaginative excellence of his academic contributions that Edward was almost even forgiven in Western elite circles for vigorously challenging the Zionist Project and denouncing Israel’s policies and practices. Brennan points out that Said after he declared himself an activist on behalf of Palestinian liberation was on multiple occasions offered jobs at Harvard and elsewhere that would have made his life easier, yet although tempted, he never abandoned the edgy Manhattan atmosphere that he explored as an adolescent, possibly because he wanted to guard against succumbing to the alluring comforts and urbane satisfactions of the more serene academic life style that the Harvard/Cambridge scene offered. In his pre-activist days, he had partaken of such serenity while a graduate student and earlier as an undergraduate at Princeton where he became a participant in the elitest eating club social life. Perhaps, nothing is more vividly revealing of Edward’s love/hate relationship to the establishment in the U.S. than his disgust with the way Middle East Studies were done at Princeton, undoubtedly prefiguring his most famous and influential rebuff to the disguised style of ‘othering’ Arabs and others by way of his book and work on Orientalism. Despite this, Edward took a bemused delight that his two beloved children followed in his footsteps and received their first university degrees at Princeton. Even after their graduation Edward annually came and taught my seminar in international relations once a year, a high point for the students, and for me a lesson in humility tinged with admiration and affection.

As Timothy Brennan is such a warrior of ideas, himself working in the Said tradition of comparative cultural studies, I am not so foolish as to venture comments in this venue on Said’s seminal work in literary and cultural studies, including music. My relations with Edward were during the last 25 years of his life, but it was for me an enriching friendship that centered on several personal connections and of course our shared commitment to and understanding of the Palestinian struggle, and the multiple obstacles that beset it.

I met Edward through his greatest political friend, somewhat of a guru for Edward of Thirdworldism, Eqbal Ahmad. Like Edward, Eqbal was a larger-than-life character who left an indelible impression on many he encountered, partly a result of his stage brilliance as a charismatic speaker before large audiences and partly as a legendary professor at Hampshire College. Eqbal brought to Edward a vivid form of Third World authenticity as well as exceptional warmth and loyalty as a stalwart friend. Beyond this they proudly shared a theatrical and romantic sense of life as performance, excelling in its execution, which characteristically exhibited disciplined passion backed by humane and humanistic worldviews, illuminating humor, and a deep knowledge of their subject-matter.

Yet both men were involuntary refugees of the spirit who never lost altogether their existential sadness, having been deprived of their homelands of childhood by alien forces. Despite their quite different success stories in America they long forgot these deep feelings of political and autobiographical nostalgia. Both men achieved much in their lives, yet died before fulfilling their respective redemptive dreams. Eqbal’s consuming wish of his latter years was to establish a quality university in Pakistan while Edward’s was to experience directly a liberated Palestine.

It was one of the great joys of my life to have been their friend and comrade over many years, somewhat sharing their strivings for societal, political, and personal fulfillment where justice and love flourish and coexist. And always learning from their example of devotion and steadfastness so meaningly fused with their dedication to justice and their appreciation of the precious quality of lives well lived.

Brennan’s book made me feel, despite my great differences of religion, temperament, background, and talent from Edward, that my life was yet in illuminating respects a pale replica of Edward’s illustrious life story, especially with respect to the choices we made in relation to Palestine, choices that crossed several red lines of political propriety.

I hope it is not overly self-indulgent for me to explicate nervously this comparison in the course of bringing these remarks to a close. We both were products of privileged socio-economic backgrounds, both shaped to a significant degree by the vivacities of NYC’s cultural milieu, specifically that of Manhattan, both educated in preparatory schools. We both attended Ivy League universities, and later earned doctorates at Harvard, and we both remained throughout long professional careers within the faculty confines of the Ivy League. We were multiply linked to Princeton University, and happened to write our most enduring books while visiting The Stanford Center for Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences, and finally, and perhaps most relevantly, we both endured defamation and threats because of our outspoken engagement with pro-Palestinian activism.

There were also some manifest differences, none starker than Edward as an ambivalent upper class Christian and me as a nominal middle class Jew, yet surprisingly not very relevant. Of course, Edward’s birth and experience of consciousness in Jerusalem and his Palestinian identity created for him a more natural vector for his political activism.

Brennan brilliantly shows how Said’s oppositional sensibility pervaded all that he did, including eventually including even his relationship to the Palestinian political establishment in Ramallah. My somewhat similar oppositional sensibility remains somewhat more mysterious, but like Edward involves the frustrations and satisfactions of a resolve to swim against the current.

And finally, I think as the years go by Edward Said’s life becomes more and more fused with his texts to form a seamless whole, and no one has done more to bring this confluence to our sense of Edward and his work than Timothy Brennan, whose presentation I now look forward to experiencing in this oral form different from the valuable experience of reading his book.