Archive | August, 2015

The War on Syria

NOVANEWS

Foreign intervention has only worsened the situation in Syria.

al-Ezz bin Abdul Salam Brigade fighters attend a training session.al-Ezz bin Abdul Salam Brigade fighters attend a training session.

In May 2014, the Syria Centre for Policy Research in Damascus released a report on the economic and social conditions in Syria. Its findings were staggering. More than half the country’s population lives in extreme poverty. Most school-age children no longer attend school, and 45 percent of its public hospitals are out of service.

By the time the report was published, almost 3 percent of the Syrian population had already been wounded or killed in the conflict. The carnage has only increased since.

As the human toll of the Syrian catastrophe spirals ever higher, one detail on which everyone can agree is that the situation is an ongoing tragedy. And the specter of humanitarian crisis has compelled every stripe of policymaker and pundit to call for some form of action — the need to do something.

But far too often the demand to “do something” sidesteps what has already been done — there is a foundational assumption that the ruin and bloodshed of this terrible war have been produced by inaction.

Take as an example Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, heads of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. Their edited collection, The Syria Dilemma, hopes to present an “array of contending perspectives [reflecting] the profound dilemma that Syria confronts us with.”

What perspectives have they set into contention with one another? Most are united by a call for some projection of American power. Familiar interventionist tropes are presented. Responsibility to Protect (R2P) receives frequent mention. The book cites the Bosnia example at least eight times, along with mentions of Rwanda.

This isn’t unique to discussions about Syria. Policy wonks, such as Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, see the example of Bosnia — indeed, of the total breakup of Yugoslavia — as a sound precedent for American policy goals in Syria. In a paper dated June 2015, O’Hanlon places Bosnia alongside Afghanistan and Somalia as a desirable model for the fragmentation he recommends for Syria.

In addition to a “confederate” Syria that could entail all-out partition, O’Hanlon calls for increased intervention in the form of guns and training provided to selected Syrian opposition outfits, protective safe zones governed by US troops, and the demolition of the existing government air force. For O’Hanlon, the problem with US policy in Syria is that it hasn’t gone nearly far enough.

Or, to try another example, there is Robert Kaplan’s recent article inForeign Policy proclaiming that the violence in which the Middle East is currently mired comes as the result of a “demonstrably hands-off approach” to recent events in the Middle East by an Obama administration that has neglected its role of “organizing and stabilizing the region.” News sources like CNN have, as late as August 2014, been asking why the US has not yet intervened in Syria as it has in Iraq.

All these narratives share either explicitly or implicitly a history of the Syrian conflict that simply does not hold up under critical scrutiny. Indeed, the official chronology of events in these pro-intervention narratives — about a peaceful revolution turned reluctantly to arms, and thus in need of a military savior — eclipses the actual, far more complicated one.

The Tropes of Interventionism

Indeed, calls for increased intervention have a long history in Syria. These appeals in the US press have long been tied to calls made within the Syrian opposition. They began early,within the first year, and often rather vociferously. But the signals regarding intervention from what was then the most influential exile opposition outfit, the Syrian National Council (SNC), were in the first year of the uprising muddy.

On the one hand, they claimed to oppose military intervention, but on the other, called on the “international community” to protect the Syrian people.” Still, this SNC line was always clearer than any of their other demands, suggesting that intervention was for many a crucial piece of the vision for what they and its local Syrian allies called the Syrian revolution.

Another claim which reality complicates is the frequent one of how, when, and where the revolt turned to arms. The popular narrative in the United States, promoted by the US State Department, is one in which a people in the face of state repression turned to violence only when they had to. But that is not quite true. Violence and militarization from the opposition on the ground began quite early — during the first month of the uprising.

Joshua Landis, director for the Center of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, for example, published information in April 2011 contradicting claims made in the Western press about nine Syrian soldiers shot and killed in Banyas. News outlets had reported that the soldiers were shot by Syrian Army officials for refusing to shoot on protesters.

Among the pieces of evidence that Landis brandished was testimony from Col. ’Uday Ahmad, who claimed that the soldiers, driving in a moving truck, were shot at from two directions — from a rooftop and from “behind the cement median of the highway.” Video footage corroborated the story.

Normally to bring forward such facts is to invite the suggestion that one is offering apologetics for the government of Bashar al-Assad. In fact, that has been a consistent leitmotif of Western and Arab debate over the conflict. As a result, that debate has gone forward without the necessary information to understand what exactly has been going on in Syria over the past four years.

That undigested information includes even the true extent of US involvement in Syria. When reports first emerged that the United States was sending troops to the Jordan-Syria border, the general response of the US left was a collective shrug. More reports emerged that the US has been using its new Jordan base as a staging ground to train elements of the armed opposition. And from there, US arming of rebels has only increased in recent years.

These reports point not only to general conclusions, but also to specific questions: how large is the US base in Jordan and what exactly goes on there on a day-to-day basis?

Nowadays, fewer guesses are necessary as to the size and scope of this project. On June 12, the Washington Post published a story about “budget cuts” facing the CIA program for Syria. Shoehorned into the story was the disclosure that the initiative “has become one of the agency’s largest covert operations” to the tune of nearly $1 billion dollars a year, with “Syria-related operations [accounting] for about $1 for every $15 in the CIA’s overall budget” and the CIA having “trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years — meaning that the agency is spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program.”

In other words, the United States launched a full-scale war against Syria, and few Americans actually noticed.

Another major assumption driving calls for interventions is a belief that interventionist action and local Syrian revolutionary action are complementary. In order to stage this argument, commentators tend towards assuming rather than demonstrating that a revolution has been underway in Syria since 2011. Perhaps the core of this incoherence lies in the dedication of Hashemi’s and Postel’s book: “To the Syrian People.”

The abstract embrace of this people, in itself belying the concrete conditions of a four-year war, is connected to another leitmotif of Syria discussions: any refusal to replace analysis of the situation within the country and its relationship with broader international politics with a neat, generalized “will” of the people narrative is to deny Syrian “agency.”

Hashemi’s and Postel’s project stands with the Syrian people. But with which Syrian people exactly? Syria is gripped by war, and it is clear that large sectors of the lower classes, particularly those among the country’s ethnic and religious minorities, are still with the government.

The popular narrative of the People versus the Dictator — one piece in Hashemi’s and Postel’s book describes it as a conflict between “a dictatorship” and “a democratic opposition” — elides the reality of varying classes and sects with various social roles and politics.

This narrative is, in other words, a cartoon. More than that, it is a cartoon that overshadows the central contradiction currently at play in the Syrian situation: one between imperialists and various resistance movements, as well as the states supporting them.

This is not to say that works like The Syria Dilemma deny the internal divisions of Syria altogether. The reality of sectarianism is too obvious to ignore, and no responsible discussion of sectarianism in Syria can ignore the sectarian flavor of much of the Syrian opposition — the most powerful factions of which, from Jabhat al-Nusra to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, either pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda formally or, even in the case of portions of the US-backed “moderate” armed opposition, adopt many of its main attitudes and beliefs.

Discussing a US and Saudi-supported commander of the Syria Revolutionaries Front, Matthew Barber calls attention to his insistence on justifying opposition to ISIS on the grounds of anti-Shi’ism.

Barber insists that the problem with this justification is twofold: “first, no one has targeted Shiites with more violence than al-Qaida, and second, one of the defining features of al-Qaida’s immoral character is the intolerance that typifies their ideology.” Barber goes on to state that such logic demonstrates that “even the rebel enemies of ISIS are more influenced than they’d like to admit by the intolerant outlook of al-Qaeda itself.”

The armed opposition groups that hold the most territory are like-minded. Large swaths of central and eastern Syria are ruled by the Islamic State. Highly influential in Idlib and Aleppo are groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and Ahrar al-Sham, now being marketed in mainstream US publications such as the Washington Post as a “moderate” organization worthy of US support. The two organizations work together routinely.

In Idlib particularly, Ahrar al-Sham delegated responsibilities for governance of Druze villages to Jabhat al-Nusra, which proceeded to massacre at least twenty Druze. The BBC has reported that “activists in Idlib have reported that Druze in Idlib have been subjected to religious persecution by al-Nusra with several hundred forced to convert to Sunni Islam.”

These dynamics present only one of the major challenges to anyone making claims of a Syrian revolution. The most politically determinant parties in war are, after all, armed actors. If the armed revolt in Syria is part of a revolutionary movement, why are the most powerful and influential actors among the armed forces bigoted?

Now, the sectarian question has always in one way or another exposed the domination of liberal academics in Middle East Studies through the sheer preponderance of opinions assuming sectarian conflict to be a permanent feature of the region.

Hashemi’s and Postel’s book may ultimately avoid this crude and popular determinism, but only to end up trading one major misbelief for several others. To begin, a piece in the book by Michael Ignatieff declares the Syrian government the sole cause of sectarianism when he calls it Assad’s “poisonous gift to Syria,” presumably because of the high representation rates of Alawis — the minority sect to which the Assad family belongs — throughout the Syrian government.

Ignatieff’s strategy is popular, wherein sectarian tensions in Syria are laid at the doorstep of the historically repressed Alawi minority sect — the target nowadays of open calls for genocide from segments of the armed opposition — and the Syrian government, with both entities treated as one another’s means of enforcement.

Certainly major positions in the Syrian state have long been occupied by Alawis. One reason dates back to the French colonial period, when Alawis — long kept from the levers of power — were encouraged to join the armed forces. Another dates back to the ascendency of the Ba’ath Party in the 1960s, when rifts between Sunni party members opened up positions to Alawi officers. (Many Alawis, who were peasants, had been attracted to the Ba’ath Party for its emphasis on the peasantry.)

But for the claim that sectarianism was injected into Syria by Assad to stick, it must be proven that regular Alawis generally benefitteduniquely from the government’s rule. The evidence for this claim does not seem to exist, and at any rate Ignatieff does not seem in a hurry to provide it.

Likewise, the sectarianism cannot be pinned on Syria-supporter Iran, governed by a Shi’i Muslim government, which continues to negotiate its ties to the Sunni Islamic Jihad of Gaza (albeit, in an increasingly complicated environment) and sends arms and funds to the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

But these realities are often ignored, while Salafi supremacist sectarianism within opposition ranks in Syria is explained away: it exists, in the words of Hashemi’s and Postel’s introduction, at once “due to funding from Islamic charities in the Persian Gulf,” and due to “the absence of significant support from the international community for the opposition’s more democratic elements . . .”

In other words, sectarianism among the opposition exists both because of intervention and because of a lack of intervention. Once again, perhaps then the wisdom of intervention in Syria may be judged by the intervention that has already occurred: not only have “Islamic charities” armed and funded the opposition, but so have entire states, including Saudi Arabia, which exploits sectarian Wahhabi ideology to dubious ends while maintaining rather amenable geopolitical relations with Hashemi’s and Postel’s “international community,” i.e. the United States.

Alternatively, the sectarian elements that dominate the armed opposition in Syria are, according to one writer in The Syria Dilemma, Afra Jalabi, the result of a revolution “hijacked” by outside forces.

This is not entirely accurate, although to draw the relationship between local Syrian forces and outside imperil connivance has at times invited the charge of “conspiracy theory” — another leitmotif tossed at anti-imperialists in the course of debates about Syria.

Here it must be said that while international connivance against Syria — one involving varying degrees of coordination between the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and other parties — has played in important role in the tragedy before us, the ruin of Syria is really a product of these powers’ relationship with reactionary forces in Syria and elsewhere.

To be more specific, Saudi Arabia, which has intervened with sectarian propaganda years in advance of 2011 and also with arms and funds, has certainly accelerated the sectarianism seen now among opposition ranks, but it did not single-handedly create the class base for it. Rather, conspiracy proved successful precisely because imperialist forces had a local social base with which to work, even before troves of sectarian fighters began invading Syria from other countries.

Even the (by far) strongest entry in The Syria Dilemma, an anti-intervention effort from Aslı Ü. Bâli and Aziz Rana, fails to delineate the politics of the rebels in Syria. This particular article does prove an exception in the book, containing real strengths.

It states, against the spirit of the book’s introduction, that “it is intervention, not its absence, that fuels the blood-letting in Syria.” It endorses a negotiated political settlement with elements of the Syrian government as a path to peace.

All of this is to say that one cannot comprehensively understand the imperialist assault on Syria without undertaking a thorough analysis of Syrian society and recognizing who is who. Any serious review of recent events in Syria must attempt to grapple with the class basis of this armed insurgent movement: that is, both with the conditions that led to its creation and its general vision for Syrian society.

Therefore, a historical corrective is in order — one which gives justice to the dynamics of Syrian society, but also places them into the context of global capitalism.

The Major Political Players

Before a specific study of the origins of the armed sectarian insurgents in Syria can be advanced, a general analysis of the currently contending forces in Syrian society outside of the armed insurrection must first be set down.

The 2011 revolt was launched in three major layers: the protests in towns like Dara’a, Idlib, Homs, and Hama; the exile organizations in dialogue with the United States, namely the Syrian National Council (and now the National Syrian Coalition); and the violent agitations against the Syrian state, which eventually evolved into a total insurrection.

The protests began in the southern city of Dara’a, where anger stirred against the local head of security (a relative of Assad’s) following the arrest  of children writing anti-government graffiti. In response to the abuses extending from the state’s harsh security response to protests, the Syrian Communist Party backed calls for investigations into the state’s harsh crackdowns on protestors and called for reforms to reverse “the trend toward economic liberalization,” such as the full nationalization of several industries to prevent further infiltration of “private monopoly capital.”

In the case of both Syrian Communist Parties, historically victims of state repression in Syria, there was a call to oppose imperialist machinations against Syria, to oppose civil war, and for the implementation of economic and political reform.

Also active early on, as something of an alternative to the SNC, was the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), chaired by Hassan Abdel Azim. The NCC, unlike the SNC, maintained a staunch position against militarization of the Syrian opposition  and against foreign intervention.

As a Ya Libnan report from 2012 makes clear, the pro-revolution online voices launched a sustained campaign to paint the NCC, an organization with members who have been among the Syrian leftists jailed in government prisons, as capitulators.

The report noted that the NCC “rejects all forms of foreign military involvement, including arming the FSA” and that “it is common to see activists online charge the NCC and jihadist groups with the same unforgivable crime: collaboration with the mukhbarat, Syria’s hated internal intelligence services.”

A major component of the NCC’s prescience regarding the effects of foreign intervention was not only its theoretical rejection of militarization as a plan easily exploited by outside powers, but also its rejection of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — the initial name for military opposition in Syria — as an entity. The outfit was not, the NCC stated, representative of the country’s best interests.

In 2012, the NCC released a statement on conclusions reached at an opposition conference in Cairo. In addition to blaming the government for fomenting sectarian violence and declaring solidarity with Syrian Kurds, the statement emphasized that the FSA was not subject to checks within the opposition, betraying opposition groups and declaring itself sole representative of the opposition; that it destabilized the country with violence, opening up space for sectarianism; allowed for infiltration of foreign and jihadist groups; opened itself up to splintering and factionalism; and lacked the power to carry out its fight, allowing it to be easily co-opted.

The NCC does not deserve dismissal, as it is, unlike the exile SNC, Syria-based; it must live with the material consequences of whatever political path it decides to pursue. From the beginning, it has forwarded conditions for dialogue with the Syrian government, a prescience that has now been extended into a path for a war-ending solution. Dialogue is no less the route to a solution today.

The NCC and the SNC were defined by a larger split between leftism and liberalism, with the latter speaking exclusively of liberal human rights and a “civil state.” Expressing an anti-capitalist politics, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which developed in 2003 amid intense repression from Syrian security forces and out of a history of Ba’athist denial of Kurdish national claims, tentatively took the side of the Syrian state against the opposition movement.

This early decision is an important example of how exactly the question of intervention, and the related issue of Syrian sovereignty, formed the primary bases for the dawning divisions of the war.

The PYD’s decision was an immediate matter of survival, made in partial response to the SNC’s decision to deny Kurdish requests for autonomy to appease Turkey, the historic enemy of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), of which the PYD is an affiliate.

Here the call for intervention entailed an exclusivist vision, one that illuminates one of the many threats intervention posed: between its implementation and anti-Kurdish racism, one went with the other.

In stark contrast, the PYD has forwarded an inclusive vision — a commune — for Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Chaldeans and others. The space for this revolutionary project was created in opposition to the movement that was labeled revolutionary in Western media, including the Free Syrian Army.

Amid the brutal sectarian strife across Syria and the Middle East, the PYD’s project in Rojava has over the past year understandably appeared as a spark of hope to many leftists in the West. Their admiration is not misplaced.

But it must still be said that the future of Rojava very much rests on how much room the PYD decides to give to the United States as it considers exploiting the party to deepen divides in Syria. If that room is too spacious, the PYD will compromise more than its anti-imperialism.

The position of tentative support for the state was also generally adopted by both ethnic and religious minorities, including Armenians, Alawis, and Christians. As Joshua Landis has commented, Bashar al-Assad “very much has a power base. The core constituency, of course, are Alawite Syrians, about 12 percent of the country, 3 million people, give or take. Christians, another 5 to 6 percent, support him but are not carrying a lot of water. So [are] the Druze and other religious minorities that make up 20 percent of Syria.”

According to the thesis of The Syria Dilemma, the chief blame for these decisions would fall on these minority groups for following the sectarian logic of the Syrian government. Consider another possibility: these people knew things about the armed revolt that others did not.

Any understanding of the ways in which these events — the armed insurgency, the protests, the calls for intervention — and political bodies interacted with each other cannot be separated from the structural elements that produced them. These elements existed within the overlapping realms of politics and religion at once, with class at the core of it all.

The Origins of Revolt

The Ba’ath Party, in its initial years, organized along class lines with a broadly populist program and, more so than is the case now, was staunchly secularist.

Although capitalist classes increased their influence in Syria after Bashar’s financialization of the country’s economy, and before that with Hafez’s liberalization in the early 1990s, the Ba’ath Party established its legacy in the countryside. The Arab Socialist Party, which would merge with the Ba’athists in 1952, was the first organization to politically organize the rural territories of Syria.

This policy did not make the Ba’ath Party socialist in any meaningful sense — it never opposed private property or carried out deep structural reforms, even though it did redistribute wealth and, in the words of a report by Raymond Hinnebusch, “block the bourgeoisie from reasserting control over the bulk of the agrarian surplus which in part was retained by the peasantry.”

The Ba’ath’s empowerment of the peasantry challenged the stakes of some of the largest landowners. Underneath that broad conflict, a struggle ensued within the Ba’ath Party from 1963 to 1970 between Hafez al-Assad and Salah Jadid. The battle between these two men is often described as one between a pragmatist (al-Assad) and an ideologue (Jadid). Indeed, Jadid’s government was likely the most radical in Syrian history, described by historian Sonoko Sunayama as “menacing pro-Western Arab regimes.”

But both men, Assad and Jadid were pragmatic when it came to internal politics. Jadid made calculations according to political necessity. In the 1960s, for instance, Jadid, then head of the Ba’ath Party, cracked down on the left-wing Armed Workers’ Battalions, which had even acted as an unofficial enforcement wing for the government during periods of political turbulence. He had tacitly allowed for the battalions’ formation only a few years prior.

The significance of Assad and Jadid’s disagreements rested in the fact that they appealed to slightly different social bases. Jadid sought to deepen socialist gains within the countryside, while Assad gained tentative support in the cities. In 1970, Assad, then defense minister of the party, launched a coup against Jadid and his loyalists. Jadid would go on to die in Syrian prison in 1993.

In the immediate aftermath of the coup, urban merchants, in an account offered by Hanna Batatu, “sent demonstrators into the streets of the big cities with banners that read: ‘We implored God for Aid—al-Madad. He sent us Hafiz al-Asad!’” The manner in which Assad came to power, and the classes he sought to buttress in order to make it happen, would prove a good predictor for the ways in which classes would ultimately shift and change under his rule.

When examined in aggregate, these conflicts — the ideological and class tensions tied into the inter-Ba’ath rifts — can offer some idea of the Syrian Ba’ath Party’s place in Middle Eastern political history. Formed against the backdrop of Pan-Arabism and popular support for the independence and postcolonial state-building that movement represented, Ba’athism was part of a progressive wave, even as it stomped out political parties more progressive than itself.

In this sense, the Syrian Arab Republic has historically embodied both the innovations and the limitations of the nation-state itself, increasing literacy rates in the countryside through centralization of political power while co-opting and repressing the more radical social movements that made literacy a priority in the first place.

The CIA at one point even backed the Ba’ath Party as part of an anticommunist push. Given that the Ba’ath Party has historically found itself in conflict with both communists and feudal landowners, and the United States supported Ba’athists against communists, it would be safe to assume the any movement the US backs against the Ba’athists would be more akin to feudal landowners, with all of the political and economic baggage that class carries.

In other words, this devolution of Syria is necessarily an objective as well as subjective, economic as well as social, material as well as ideological phenomenon. In turn, the lack of working-class participation in the state as it mediated social change through the management of capital ensured the solidification of bourgeois regimes under the Arab socialist project. Nonetheless, the military incursions of the West have historically decreased, rather than increased, working-class participation in the state.

Class
The social base for the armed insurgency in Syria arose out of a meeting point between revanchist resentment harnessed by the old bourgeoisie in the aftermath of populist land reform; the increased loss of class position for the old bourgeoisie against the creation of a financial elite; and the emergence of a poor, mostly Sunni, rural migrant class from the breakdown of the government’s social pact with the countryside.

According to Volker Perthes, “the roots of Syria’s old bourgeoisie can be traced back to the ‘landowning bureaucratic class’ of the late Ottoman period, those influential families of local notables and Turkish officials that owned estates, and were active in commerce and government and in the religious establishment.”

Later, “the land reform law of the United Arab Republic (uniting Syria and Egypt) struck the first blow against the old bourgeoisie, limiting its property and influence in the countryside. When the Baath took power in a 1963 coup, the new rulers, whose origins were mainly middle-class, pushed the old (socially conservative and religious) bourgeoisie out of government.”

As Bassam Haddad adds, the Syrian state under Hafez al-Assad reached out to select businessmen as a way of making inroads with old Sunni elites, a tactic that “bore political fruit in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the regime faced a revolt led by the Muslim Brothers. Asad had enacted a series of policies that harmed the interests of the Brothers’ cadre and constituents in the traditional suq(market) and other small traders and artisans.”

These alliances became doubly important as the Ba’athists implemented more policies that “caused especially profound resentment in the conservative Sunni quarters of Syrian cities” and escalated “tensions between the state and small business owners with Sunni Islamist leanings.”

This tension produced kernels of sectarianism before 2011. Quoting Haddad on changes in societal attitudes before the 1970s:

Big business, notably merchants and religious groups, was most affected [by early Ba’ath policies]. Antirural and anti-Alawi attitudes and jokes proliferated in the private popular culture of the cities, signaling the beginning of a shift in the perception of the nature of the conflict — especially from the perspective of hardliners within and outside the regime — from a class-oriented to a socio-communal conflict.

Accompanying the state-assisted creation of a new bourgeoisie, a budding business elite in Damascus and Aleppo that was dependent on the influx of international capital into nascent markets, was a breakdown of the government’s traditional pact with the countryside.

As the Syrian Center for Policy Research’s important paper “Socioeconomic Roots and Impact of the Syrian Crisis” states, “Within Syria, poverty was more concentrated in the Eastern and Northern regions, and especially in the rural areas.” The text goes on to say that reduction in arable land brought on by drought, which roughly occurred between 2006 and 2010, was a major contributor to this poverty .

Post-2011 sanctions only made matters worse for Syrian workers:

The sanctions led to a shortage in diesel and fuel gas for home use, and to surge the prices of oil derivatives by about 200 percent. Using input/output model to simulate the impact of the oil derivatives prices increase due to sanctions, the report estimated a reduction in the real GDP by 6 percent, a reduction in the private consumptions by 10.7 percent, and an increase the CPI by the same percentage. Prices increase harmed the real expenditure of the households unequally; since the negative impact on the poorest was higher than the richest . . . This increase in prices affected mainly the basic goods which formed a major part of the vulnerable and poor households’ consumptions weakening their food securities and standard of livings.

The countries that have participated in the sanctions against Syria include the US, whose first sanctions were inflicted in 2003, the European Union, Australia, Canada, and most of the Arab League. In other words, Syria has been starved by the very international community that Danny Postel calls on to save it from starvation by military force.

On account of the harsh economic realities faced by Syrians, protests broke out in 2011, primarily among the rural poor and recent migrants from rural areas to cities in the south of the country. But the protests faced a problem that never came close to any resolution: they lacked a vision and, therefore, any revolutionary agent.

Haddad, highly critical of the Syrian government, pointed this difficult reality out when he wrote an idiot’s guide to opposing both Assad and military intervention: “First, I must admit that the tenor of the position elaborated in [my argument] lacks a clear agency (e.g., an institution, party or movement) that might convert [the uprising] to a real and actionable path.”

The consequences of this omission has been that the imperialist forces long setting on Syria — as put by Haddad in the same article, those forces that saw “taking out Syria . . . would weaken Hizballah and isolate Iran, the big prize” — have succeeded in achieving some rather horrifying goals.

Religion

The fact that the influence of the Sunni ‘ulama has increased in Syria since the revolt of the 1980s — and it has — is not as important as the fact that the influence of Salafi and Gulf-backed rhetoric has specifically increased.

Important members of the Syrian clerical class have long held relationships with the state of Saudi Arabia, although the ‘ulama of the early twentieth century depended primarily on Syria-based private capital derived from the merchant class to fund their activities.

When the Ba’ath Party first came to power in 1963, it generated the resentment of both the merchants and the clerical classes. It was simultaneously adverse to the profits of the industrial class, which it frustrated with its nationalizations, and to the merchant-linked Sunni clerical class, which it frustrated with its steadfast secularism.

For instance, in her account of Syria-Saudi relations, Sunayama notes that the Ba’ath Party’s earliest reforms resulted in a “Syrian community in Saudi Arabia who had immigrated in thousands since the 1960s.”

These immigrants “consisted mainly of traditional landowners and entrepreneurs” who “suffered material losses” due to Ba’ath nationalization as well as political repression for their affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. These exile Syrians funded religious opposition movements in Syria through “private donations.”

One consequence of the Ba’athists’ initial refusal to incorporate preachers into its political processes was that any institutionalization of religious activity happened outside the direct control of the state.

The Ba’ath Party felt it necessary to reverse these trends later on, to incorporate a preacher class within its mainstream institutions after the late 1970s and early 1980s, after an armed uprising against the state occurred. The forces that orchestrated this uprising represented the vanguard of the right-wing attitudes, turning class tensions into sociocultural ones, operating within Syria.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood traditionally stood as the most politically organized expression of these attitudes, but it was always but one expression, that is, one aspect of a larger political current. The activities of the Brotherhood have often overlapped with those of other conservative religious currents.

For example, Issam al-Attar, the leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood from 1961 to 1980, took up an expressly Salafi line of thought, which has proved highly influential in the current armed Syrian opposition ranks.

These currents are by no means interchangeable, although they have historically coordinated in Syria in anti-government campaigns.

During the period of turmoil from 1979 to 1982, the group through which ‘ulema and “lay Islamists” united, according to Thomas Pierret’s Religion and State in Syria: The Sunni Ulama from Coup to Revolution, was called the Islamic Front in Syria. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was part of this outfit, which was established in Saudi Arabia.

Eventually the Muslim Brotherhood engaged in violent confrontation with the Syrian state after events spiraled into open warfare, but the organization that headed most military operations was called the Fighting Vanguard, funded by supporters of the fundamentalist Marwan Hadid. Its first attack was carried out in June 1979, when it massacred eighty-three Alawis at Aleppo Artillery School.

These moments demonstrate that violence from the opposition in Syria did not begin in 2011. In fact, Hadid — after whom a rebel brigade that attacked Lebanon with rockets during the current strife was named — embraced selective assassination of state officials as a tactic as far back as the 1970s. This tactic reappeared in 2011. Likewise, leaders such as Adnan Sa’ad al-Din and Said Hawwa called for armed jihad against the government as early as the 1960s.

After the fighting in the early 1980s, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood increased efforts towards diplomatic relations with the state. With the outbreak of protests in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood entered into more direct dialogue with the Western press, as its exiles played a substantial role in the SNC, formed in Turkey, along with liberals with an opportunist attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood.

While the Muslim Brotherhood was slowly modifying its own role in Syrian politics, the influence of the Salafis within both Syria and the larger the Middle East quietly increased.

The growing capitalist economic base of Syria contributed to the creation of an internally displaced  Sunni population that was in some quarters receptive to a Salafi ideology as a reaction to what Haddad describes as Syria’s “socialist-nationalist superstructure.”

This reactionary ideology, which claims itself “true Islam,” achieves stark expression whenever ISIS fighters burn Palestinian flags for the supposedly “un-Islamic” nature of Palestinian nationalism.

This ideology was distributed by, in the words of Pierret, “the spread of Egyptian Salafi journals… Wahhabi proselytizing through Syrian-Saudi trade networks . . .” As Pierret writes: “Now more than after, it has become impossible to seal [Syria] against the vehicles of Salafi conceptions — in particular, migrants returning from the Gulf and mass media such as the Internet and satellite channels.”

And so the available evidence suggests that as the conservative Muslim Brotherhood delved further into traditional politics, more reactionary elements were making gains on the ground, or, in the words of Pierret, “at the grassroots level.”

Some of those gains were militaristic in nature. When armed operations against the Syrian state finally caught the attention of Western media in 2011, they were carried out under a catchall title of “Free Syrian Army.”

The politics of those early brigades remain murky. As far as the FSA was an actual organized force, as the armed wing of the SNC, it failed to proclaim much of a political program beyond its promise to kill Bashar al-Assad in a manner reminiscent of the assassination of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya (along with its calls for foreign assistance, even as it operated within Southern Turkey).

Now it barely exists — and is more of an idea or umbrella heading than an actual organization. Among those groups that have replaced it in influence is the Nusra Front, formed in January 2012, which began as a branch of the FSA.

The bigotries of this social base gained more teeth from outside forces seeking to capitalize on internal divisions within the country. The reason why imperialists are willing to supply these forces is clear. As Amal Saad-Ghorayeb writes in Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion, they “view their local regimes as their immediate enemy,” in contrast to, say, Hezbollah, which “perceives Israel as the much greater threat.”

Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States worked in conjunction to flood the country with guns, widen the specter of war, and halt the development of a country governed by an unreliable regime.

If it is true that Syria became a conduit for international finance and contained for a time a growing capitalist economic base, the question arises of what exactly makes it “unreliable” to imperialist powers . The answer lies, naturally, at both the levels of economics and politics.

In 2011, the encroachment of international finance capital into Syria was not complete. Haddad writes that “the lack of trust between the regime and the business community, based on deep-seated historical antagonisms,” prevented the kind of total union between the two interests that had come together in Middle East states such as Egypt.

This antagonism would allow for the Syrian government to honor at least some of its populist promises in ways that were not true of other Arab states. Among those promises is the cause of Arab resistance to Zionism and imperialism. For this reason Syria funded Hezbollah, a Lebanese guerilla army that proved in 2006 to be Israel’s most formidable military enemy in history.

The whole of these outside countries’ investment in the destruction of Syria can quite plainly be called imperialism. The Syria Dilemma, with all of its invocations of intervention, never approximates an analysis of imperialism.

If intervention is cautioned against, it is only because it will not succeed in stopping the bloodshed or because the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan ended up disastrous. Intervention is opposed on pragmatic or cost-benefit grounds. The right of the United States to determine the affairs of others is never questioned.

What Can Be Done?

Here is the latest news, as of this writing. Israel bombs Syria in repeated attempts to disrupt the organizational capacity of the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, which finds itself engaged in struggle against jihadists of the Syrian opposition.

Reports have emerged that Israel is coordinating with rebels and even operating within and around occupied Golan Heights under a tacit pact with al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra in an anti-Hezbollah push. In fact, the night the United States began bombing Syria, ostensibly to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, Israel downed a Syrian fighter jet using US-supplied Patriot missiles.

Israel’s activities in Syria have reignited tensions around an often neglected aspect of Israeli occupation — its military rule in southeastern Syria. In January 2015, Israel assassinated Hezbollah and Iranian commanders in Syria, rupturing the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement signed between Israel and Syria.

Hezbollah has responded by trying to formulate a military resistance against Israel in southern Syria. Israel, grounded as it is in settler-colonialism, will look to extending its grip in the Golan Heights and possibly even to expanding — perhaps with the protection of the Druze community in Golan from its own rebel proxies as a justification.

In the northern end of the country, Turkey withheld full cooperation with the US during the latter’s bombing of ISIS approaching Syrian Kurdistan in February 2015. The US, in addition to dropping bombs, dropped aid finding its way both into the hands of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the fighting unit of the PYD, as well as ISIS.

Since that period, evidence has mounted of Turkey allowing ISIS fighters to flow into Syria while it cracks down on cross-border exchanges of men and supplies between Kurdish fighters and their non-Kurdish leftist comrades. This policy is in line with Erdogan’s expressed fears of what he calls the Kurdish “terrorists” of the YPG as it makes gains on ISIS in the border town of Tal Abyad.

Turkey’s policy of supporting armed revanchists in the Syrian war is long-standing: last year, documents revealed that Turkey assisted al-Qaeda organizations in their takeover of the predominantly Armenian town of Kessab.

This direct intervention, from the bombs to the aid, should be understood as a strategy for war that is, in effect, against Syrian society as a whole, though it is in aim a war against the Syrian Arab Republic.

These intentions continue to be made clear, even as the US bombs enemies of the Syrian state, for the US’s plan for bombing those enemies involves the training of more “anti-Assad” rebels in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Not to mention, the US continues to make noise about the possibility of a no-fly zone in Northern Syria, which would require a defeat of Syrian air defense systems.

The implementation of such a plan would require compromise between the US and Turkey on the Kurdish question. Both parties will push to sever Kurdish leadership in Syria from the leftist Kurdish PKK in Turkey. If the PYD’s radicalism is sufficiently hollowed out, it is not at all outside the realm of possibility that NATO-aligned powers use the Kurdish movement to establish a military and economic base in Northern Syria, as they did in Iraq.

Alternatively, if the Syrian Army is destroyed, Rojava will be easily overrun by armed Salafi movements — a scenario the US could use to try to justify a military protectorate in Syria. Every such imperial contingency plan should be opposed.

With these developments in mind, it becomes clear that the war in Syria exists on two levels that interact with each other. There is a civil war based on divides between Syrians professing differing ideas for the future of the country. Then there is the imperial war on Syria designed to bring local social struggle to a screeching halt, and without the war on Syria, the civil war would never have got going.

The class basis for the armed insurgency has existed for a while now; the critical difference since 2011 has been the investments of empire.

To call these events “revolutionary,” rather than a set of depressing steps backward, is to insult the intelligence and integrity of anyone who prefers that word mean something. And it prevents an understanding of what should be done — the question of what to do is actually a question of what not to do, or what to cease doing. For local struggle of any kind to be restoredthe US and its allies must stop what they have been doing proxy-style — arming reserve forces in the region — since at least 2011.

If the supplies to anti-government fighters can be cut off in Syria, negotiations for a political solution will be more meaningful. Leftists could actually find themselves in a position to agitate for the reforms demanded in 2011: more representation in government, deep political reform and civil rights, a negotiated settlement with the Syrian state for Kurdish political autonomy that maintains the current movement’s secularism and socialist economic program, and a renewed development pact between the state and the countryside that will, hopefully, serve to cut off support for reactionary movements.

In the United States, our main focus must be struggling against the intervention of our own government, drawing links between its actions in Syria and its broader agenda elsewhere.

Of course, such a solution cannot begin to recompense the heart-shattering extent of pain and loss Syria has experienced. The fact that such a solution is so devastatingly belated only adds to its urgency.

Towards these ends, the Western left shall be stuck with the tedious task of untangling the logic of amnesiac little books and Beltway policy papers discussing the carve-up of distant nations as if it were a trivial matter.

And the task does not end there. The Syria dilemma provides a lesson to the Western left. In a society run on marketing, the Left’s own words, such as “revolution,” can easily be gutted of all content, so all that remains is a rush, a haze, a feeling. Images of triumphant demonstrators may mingle seamlessly with images of corpses, the spectacle flitting past like a ticker tape, billed in its totality as the news from Over There.

If those dubbing this spectacle a “revolution” happen to be capitalists, think twice — consider that these events might look much differently after the smoke clears. Think three times if the alleged culprit is a nominal enemy of the United States.

The obligation goes well beyond opposing intervention in name; it requires extreme skepticism at all times of official narratives to be able to unearth intervention as it actually and already exists. In other words, act as an actual anti-imperialist.

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Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy

NOVANEWS

by RANDY BLAZAK

Before you think this article is “just one liberal’s opinion,” let me briefly say I have dedicated my life to studying racism. I earned my PhD from Emory University in 1995 after spending several years doing ethnographic field studies of white supremacist groups. I have published books and articles in peer-reviewed journals on the subject and have appeared on more TV shows than I can remember discussing how hate works. In my 20 years at Portland State University, I interviewed scores of committed racists, from teenage skinheads to racist murderers and founders of Nazi prison gangs. So when I say that presidential candidate Donald Trump is a racist hate-monger it’s not just a political pejorative. He has a constitutional right to hold and express racist views, but using those views to manipulate the intellectually vulnerable and mobilize active bigots requires a coherent response. As an expert on hate, I am more than comfortable stating that either Trump is a virulent racist or that he is willing to perform racism and use racism of others to advance his political position.

Trump represents a frightening trend of convenient racism rooted in a belief that America was great before ethnic and racial minorities, women, and sexual minorities wanted equal rights. (What Trump calls “political correctness.”) These people will say that “racism is wrong, but…” or “I’m not a racist, but…” and then something deeply racist follows. They’ll say that “all lives matter,” in the face of the movement to acknowledge the devaluing of black lives. They’ll say they are not homophobes, just for “religious freedom” (an argument the KKK still makes). They’ll say they’re not Islamaphobes, just against terrorism (ignoring the carnage done by domestic, often Christian, terrorists). And they’ll say that they are not bigots, just opposed to illegal immigration (of brown people). It’s a kinder, gentler form of bigotry, but it’s still bigotry. And Donald Trump is the new Father Coughlin and he wants to be free of the political correctness that would stand in the way of his bigotry. (At least he’s abandoned the GOP’s “go after the gays” mantra from the last election.)

Trump has been visiting states with troubled racial histories to sell his rallying cry that “illegal immigrants are killers and rapists.” First Arizona and then, on Friday, Alabama. He started his rally with some classic hate speech, telling the assembled 30,000 supporters and curious (I would have gone to see the Trump clown show) about the alleged rape and torture of a 66-year-old victim in California who was supposedly attacked by an “illegal immigrant.” The crowd went wild. “We have to do it. We have to do something,” he then said. The crowd roared, and some chanted, White power!

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures and declares "You're fired!" at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, June 17, 2015.  REUTERS/Dominick Reuter      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX1GZCO

Donald Trump gestures and declares “You’re fired!” at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, June 17, 2015. Courtesy REUTERS

Two things to know about Trump’s rhetoric

Anyone knowledgeable about the horrific statistics on rape know that women are overwhelmingly victimized by somebody they know, including family members and dates. Only about 18% of rapes are committed by a stranger (and a tiny fraction of those by undocumented immigrants). So if Trump actually cared about women, it would make more sense to devote his rape obsession to step-fathers instead of Mexican immigrants.  Of course, this is a man who has been challenged on the issue of marital rape of one of his ex-wives. Rape is an emotional issue. It was used to lynch innocent blacks in the South and Trump is using it the same way to go after people who are often the hardest workers in the country.

Secondly, in my research I have attended numerous Klan rallies, skinhead gatherings, and meetings of the Aryan Nations, and the rhetoric is almost exactly the same as Trump’s. I was at a Klan Rally in Covington, Georgia in 1991 in which a Klan leader told the small crowd the story of a white woman who had been raped and beaten by an “illegal Mexican.” As with Trump’s story, whether it was true or not didn’t matter. It served to whip the racists into a frenzy. And like Trump’s crowd they were out to “do something” about it. I’ve heard Trump’s rhetoric many times before. “Let’s go back in time to when America was great.” Usually the speaker had a swastika tattoo.

So it wasn’t surprising last week when a news story emerged of two brothers in Boston who brutally beat a homeless Latino man (and urinated on him), claiming they were inspired by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported, one said, in the police report. When told of the crime, instead of condemning it, Trump said, “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.” Later, after much outcry, he backpedaled, posting that he opposed violence on his Twitter account. We still don’t know if he opposes urinating on immigrants. We also don’t know if there have been similar Trump-inspired hate crimes, but it is very likely there will be.

The most reasonable Republican candidate might be Ohio governor John Kasich (who was just endorsed by Deez Nuts!).  At the first GOP/Fox News debate earlier this month, Kasich (maybe buttering up the Donald), admitted that Trump was “hitting a nerve with voters.” But it’s not all Americans. It’s a small subsection of white people who fear the reality that America is getting less white (and more brown). They see the privilege of their white authority undermined every time they walk into a Home Depot and see signs in English and (gasp!) in Spanish. These are the people who say, “I’m not a racist, but…”

America is a nation of immigrants, coming from all directions. Most white Americans have ancestors that only go back to no further than the 1880s, making them “less American” the descendants of African slaves. When my great grandfather, Michael Blazak, came here from Prague in the 1890s, he faced plenty of anti-Catholic hostility. His son converted to Protestantism and married the daughter of a Klansman and the cycle of immigrant hating continued. “They’re taking our country away! Let’s make America great again and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!”

Trump lies to win support

Obviously, Trump is a clown who will say anything that feeds his narcissism. When he said he was going to get Mexico to pay for a wall between our two countries, I could just hear President Peña Nieto laughing and saying, “Señor Trump, chupamela.” Trumpies (I’m coining that term) often say they love Trump because he tells it like it is. If by that they mean that billionaires buy politicians in return for political favors (as Trump admitted in the Fox debate), they are correct. But if they mean all the rest of the crazy stuff that comes out of his mouth, in reality Trump tells it like it isn’t, but it’s what “I’m not racist” racists wish it was. Politifact works overtime trying the present the actual facts to Trump’s lies, but the Trumpies prefer the lie. Something far too common on the right. (“Obama is a Muslim!” “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction!” “The Jews control the banks!”)

Where Trump’s lies are greatest are his bizarre tirades on immigration. Despite his fear mongering, the number of undocumented immigrants has been on the decline since 2009.  And despite his endless mantra about “rapists and murderers,” actual data (a word the “King of Capitalism” should know) shows that crime rates in cities decline as their population of undocumented immigrants increase. Think about it. If you are living in America without papers, you aren’t even going to jaywalk. Why do anything that would risk deportation?

My wife was an illegal immigrant. Thanks to immigration reform under President Bill Clinton, and a lot of difficult hoops to jump through, she earned a permanent resident card and is hoping to become a citizen in time to vote in this election. Our daughter, Cozy, would surely be called an “anchor baby” by Trump (and Jeb Bush). Bush recently asked for a better term to use instead of “anchor baby.” I would suggest the word, “baby.” But dehumanizing immigrants (even infants) wins the “I’m not racist, but…” voters. Trump has said on his first day of his presidency he would immediately “get rid of all these people” (I assume my wife and child are included in that group). Besides the fact it’s not possible (Trump’s “looking into” changing the 14th Amendment of the Constitution), it would devastate the American economy. Who does he thinks picks the strawberries that go into his daiquiris? His latest wife is not only a lingerie model but an immigrant! Maybe he should ask her. (The new First Lady?)

It’s ironic that Trump laid this line out in Sweet Home Alabama. Alabama Republicans passed a law in 2011 (HB 56, the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act) to crack down on “illegals.” Residents soon saw produce rotting in fields, disappearing from grocery shelves and restaurants closing. The federal government weighed in (with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center) on the Constitutionality of the law and it is now a fond memory of the intersection between racist politics and reality.

Alabama tried a Donald Trump-style immigration law. It failed in a big way.

Trump, of course, caters to the convenient racists. At the Alabama rally he was joined on stage by Jeff Sessions, one of the most extreme anti-immigration politicians in the country who has been linked to white supremacist groups. Trump is now using this avowed racist as a “consultant” on his immigration policy. It should be pointed out that when Trumpies blather about “illegal immigrants,” they are not concerned about undocumented Russians, Ukrainians, Irish, Canadians or even Chinese. It’s all about brown people. Trump telling the story of an undocumented Irishman committing a heinous crime wouldn’t get the same roar of approval as a similar story about an “illegal Mexican.”

And now that Trump is trying to woo Conservative Christians, he’s added Islamophobia into his stump speeches, including making up stories about Christian refugees from Syria not being allowed into the U.S., when Muslim refugees are. It’s another lie, but the “I’m not racist” Trumpies send the lie around in chain emails and Facebook stories. (It even got posted by a Trumpie on my page.) Can you imagine what Jesus would say about Donald?

I sincerely doubt Trump really wants to be president of the country and submit himself to the art of the compromise that is politics in the real world. He just wants to win to feed his massive ego. But who knows how many hate crimes he will inspire in the process. It should be noted that Trump is widely popular on the racist Stormfront discussion board. Stormfront is the primary place white supremacists and Neo-Nazis meet and registered members have been linked to almost 100 murders.

White supremacists lining up behind Trump

I know this blog is supposed to be about being a feminist father and the challenges of raising my daughter in a patriarchal world and not about politics. But there is no better example of the failed model of racist, sexist masculinity than Donald J. Trump. He is an artifact of the past and he wants to drag the country back to it. The man’s rhetoric directly affects the security of my family. The thought of someone hating my wife and child (or attacking them) because they want to “make America great again,” is frightening. When was Trump’s America great? In 2008, when the Great Recession started? In 1954, before the passage of Brown vs. the Board of Education? In 1860, before the start of the Civil War? America is better than Donald Trump, but I fight against him for the safety of my family.

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Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency

NOVANEWS

by EMMA SCULLY

On Monday, August 3, Puerto Rico’s Public Finance Corporation defaulted on a $58 million USD bond payment, the island’s first debt nonpayment in its 117 years as a U.S. territory. Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla has called the $72 billion USD debt “not payable.”

A report by former IMF economist Anne Krueger sponsored by the Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico offered a neoliberal analysis of the situation. To Krueger, Puerto Rico’s problems stem from the commonwealth’s too high minimum wage and overly generous welfare benefits.[1] A somewhat less reticent report sponsored by a group of hedge fund managers, who control a significant chunk of Puerto Rican debt, recommended outright austerity measures such as making sharp cuts to education and health care.[2]

However, these neoliberal prescriptions are far from offering a viable solution to Puerto Rico’s current troubles, which actually grow out of more complex, long-term causes, especially the island’s lack of autonomy in constructing its own economic policies. Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States continues to be one of colonial-style dependency, serving to assure the overwhelming influence of powerful U.S. economic interests. The twentieth-century colonial policies, which allowed corporations to extract wealth from the island through foreign ownership of land and other productive property, have helped pave the way for a new chapter in the history of colonialism, characterized by exploitative debt obligations which largely benefit Wall Street.

A Colonial History: the Role of U.S. Capital

Puerto Rico became a North American colonial experiment when the Spanish-American War ended the island’s eight days of independence in July 1898. Since then, Puerto Rico has been steadily transformed into a reserve for U.S. capital. The process got a boost in 1899 when Hurricane San Ciriaco destroyed the island’s farmlands at a time when coffee was the principle export. U.S. banks swooped in and began to loan money to impacted coffee farmers, but, in lieu of any usury laws, extortionate interest rates led to mass defaults and farm foreclosures.[3] As the coffee sector fell into steep decline, sugar, a capital-intensive crop, became the dominant export by 1901, transforming Puerto Rico into a one-crop economy selling almost exclusively to the United States. By 1930, 41 out of 146 sugar mills produced 97 percent of the output, and 11 of the 41 were owned by four U.S. corporations which held over half of Puerto Rico’s arable land. Between 1927 and 1928, these four companies produced over 51 percent of the island’s sugar, with the United States dominating the industry and, in turn, the majority of the island’s wealth.[4]

Modern U.S. capital has taken several steps to ensure its domination of the territory’s wealth. The infamous Jones Act of 1920 still requires that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried on U.S. ships. Since the mainland is the island’s primary import and export partner, the Jones Act ensures that the domestic U.S. shipping industry remains protected from foreign competition and obtains enormous profits through this trade partnership.[5] Moreover, Puerto Rico’s notorious tax policies, including the Revenue Act of 1921, have turned the island into a corporate haven. In 1976, the creation of IRS Section 936 tax code enhanced the tax breaks that U.S. corporations enjoyed.[6] To promote investment, the law allowed U.S. companies to operate in Puerto Rico without paying corporate taxes at all, attracting especially pharmaceutical companies.

Initially, the 1976 provision was successful in making the commonwealth a hub for U.S. investment and pharmaceutical manufacturing.[7] However, in 2006 the tax break expired, setting off a recession that has helped fuel the current debt crisis. Companies deserted the island in droves, causing employment to fall 10 percentage points between 2006 and 2010, and an emigrating labor force drained the island’s tax base.[8]

As the Center for the New Economy points out, in Puerto Rico today “both production and consumption are dominated by the foreign sector,” and, therefore, “most of the income derived from the manufacturing and sale of exports accrues to and is repatriated by absentee owners, with little impact on the local economy.”[9] In addition, Jacobin Magazine notes that, “a substantial amount of wealth created in the island is extracted and not reinvested,” and about one-third of the island’s GNP is “repatriated back to the U.S.”[10] Meanwhile, Puerto Rico has turned to regressive imposts to gather revenue, with its sales tax two percentage points higher than that in Tennessee, the state with the next highest rate. This is a particularly harsh impost on the poor, given that the island’s GNP is less than half that of Mississippi, the mainland’s poorest state.[11]

A Neo-Colonial Present: the Role of U.S. Vultures

Due to the tax breaks on U.S. subsidiaries in contrast to the island’s high domestic corporate tax rates, Puerto Rico never had the opportunity to develop its internal private sector. As a result, when Section 936 expired, the government became the island’s largest employer but found itself in desperate need of investment to fund its projects.[12]

The solution came in 2012 in the form of two laws passed under the conservative administration of Governor Luis Fortuño, which continue to be implemented during the present administration of the more moderate Governor García Padilla. The laws provide new tax incentives to wealthy investors. [13] One, the Export Services Act, offers hedge funds a low 4 percent tax rate, and the other, the Individual Investors Act, provides investors 100 percent tax exemptions on all dividends, interest, and capital gains on the condition that the investor lived on the island for half a year.[14]

The two new tax breaks immediately drew in hordes of wealthy investors, enticed by the chance to buy up triple-tax exempt bonds from the public sector. Government bonds initially drew in mutual funds, which rely more on the economy’s performance, but for the past year they have been traded in secondary markets at lower levels, attracting hedge and vulture funds with no authentic interest in the island’s economic development.[15] Vulture funds, the speculative, more extreme subcategory of hedge funds, are particularly drawn to countries that are predicted to be facing economic crises and possible default. These investors buy high-risk distressed bonds for pennies on the dollar, only to later demand full repayment of the debt, walking away with billions in winnings. One such predator is DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach, who profited off of the housing crisis in 2008 by buying distressed municipal bonds as the U.S. economy fell into recession. Gundlach, comparing the crisis on the mainland to the one in Puerto Rico, encouraged investors to begin buying the territory’s bonds in May when they fell to about 78 cents on the dollar, according to Bloomberg Business.[16]

CNN Money reports that hedge funds currently hold about $15 billion USD of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion USD debt, while the Puerto Rico-based Centro del Periodismo Investigativo (Center for Investigative Journalism; CPI) estimates that hedge and vulture funds together may hold up to 50 percent of the debt. One can be certain that these investors will keep close watch over any payment plan or debt restructuring in order to guarantee themselves a substantial profit.[17] Indeed, hedge and vulture funds have already begun lobbying against any measure that would enhance the Puerto Rican government’s autonomy to seek a measured plan for handling its growing debt.

Unable to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy due to the island’s territorial status, García Padilla enacted a debt-restructuring law called the Puerto Rico Public Corporations Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act. The law resembled bankruptcy, as it sought some level of protection from bondholders; it claimed to be a “solution to ensure that vital public services such as the delivery of electricity, gas and clean water are not interrupted in the short-term” and proposed negotiations between the public corporations and their creditors.[18] However, a group of investors, who at the time held about $2 billion USD of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s debt, sued the commonwealth in federal court, claiming that the law would interfere with their contractual rights. In February, the court struck the recovery act down as unconstitutional.[19]

A similar situation began almost a decade ago in the case of vulture funds in Argentina, when the South American nation defaulted twice on its massive debt. When President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration defaulted again in 2012, a group of vulture funds led by billionaire investor Paul Singer sued the Argentinian government in New York’s South District Court, refusing to accept the debt restructuring. One of the principle hedge funds involved in the lawsuit, Aurelius Capital, also currently holds a portion of Puerto Rico’s debt, according to a report by CPI.[20] The court ruled in favor of the vultures, and the Argentinian economy remains deeply troubled as the government is forced to make 100 percent repayments for bonds that were bought at a fraction of the price.[21] While the U.S. government argued in favor of Argentina, the Obama Administration refrained from taking any concrete action in attempting to relieve the crisis, even though, as The Guardian noted, Obama could have adjourned Singer’s lawsuit simply by telling the district court that it “interferes with the president’s sole authority to conduct foreign policy.”[22]

Perhaps Obama’s inaction was in part due to the immense lobbying power of hedge fund managers like Singer, one of the most influential contributors to Republican candidates.[23] There are similar lobbyists on the Democratic side, such as Robert Raben, former Assistant Attorney General under President Clinton and the executive director of a group called the American Task Force Argentina (AFTA), which represents the vulture funds suing Argentina. Raben’s influential lobbying firm has received over $2 million USD from AFTA, and the latter “has spent nearly $4 million lobbying the White House, Treasury Department and U.S. Congress.”[24] These relationships reveal an unsettling truth: The forces of big capital often override a U.S. policymaker’s principles of sovereign rights and fair diplomacy. A similar relationship between policy and capital has driven the crisis in Puerto Rico. As the CPI report notes, the “hedge and vulture fund representatives visit the offices of legislators at the Capitol constantly.”[25]

Conclusion

Puerto Rico’s confrontation with vulture funds may not reach the same impasse as in Argentina. Indeed, Washington might even have some incentive to protect the territory from what Governor García Padilla has called a “death spiral,” as a complete collapse of the economy would render this colonial experiment a failure in the eyes of the Hemisphere. However, even if the commonwealth were granted Chapter 9 rights, Puerto Rico would remain bound by the chains of dependency. The crisis in Puerto Rico is a result of dubious policy decisions by the Puerto Rican government and Washington. United States’ colonial policies imposed on the island throughout the past century have turned Puerto Rico into a haven for cheap manufacturing. No amount of micromanagement of the ailing economy, by the IMF or by independent hedge fund managers, can cure Puerto Rico’s colonial crisis. Until Puerto Rico enjoys the right to shape its own economic policies, it will continue to suffer the predations of largely unregulated, U.S. capital. And the vultures will continue to circle.

Notes.

[1] http://www.gdbpr.com/documents/puertoricoawayforward.pdf

[2] http://www.centennial-group.com/downloads/For%20Puerto%20Rico%20There%20is%20a%20Better%20Way.pdf

[3] http://waragainstallpuertoricans.com/historical-overview/

[4] James L. Dietz. Economic History of Puerto Rico: Institutional Change and Capitalist Development. 103-109

[5] http://www.coha.org/capital-over-people-puerto-rican-debt-crisis-explained/#_edn24; http://gdbpr.com/economy/documents/2011-Jul-PREcoFactSheet2011-Eng.pdf; http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/09/us-usa-puertorico-shipping-idUSKCN0PJ2TF20150709

[6] http://www.gao.gov/assets/220/218131.pdf

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/06/opinion/free-puerto-rico-americas-colony.html

[8] http://www.businessinsider.com/how-puerto-rico-got-in-over-its-head-2015-8

[9] http://grupocne.org/2009/09/18/the-bankrupt-economy/

[10] https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/puerto-rico-debt-crisis-imf/

[11] http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/07/puerto-rico-big-challenges-for-small-businesses.html; http://blogs.reuters.com/muniland/2012/03/08/puerto-rico-is-americas-greece/

[12] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/06/opinion/free-puerto-rico-americas-colony.html

[13] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/06/opinion/free-puerto-rico-americas-colony.html

[14] http://puertoricotaxincentives.com/act-20-export-services-act/; http://puertoricotaxincentives.com/act-22-individual-investors-act/

[15] http://www.thenation.com/article/how-hedge-and-vulture-funds-have-exploited-puerto-ricos-debt-crisis/

[16] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-04/gundlach-sees-puerto-rico-like-mortgages-in-2008-crisis

[17] http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/01/investing/puerto-rico-bond-holders/; http://periodismoinvestigativo.com/2015/04/vulture-funds-have-puerto-rico-cornered/

[18] http://www.gdb-pur.com/documents/FactsAboutDebtEnforcementAndRecoveryAct.pdf

[19] http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/judge-strikes-down-puerto-ricos-debt-restructuring-law/

[20] http://periodismoinvestigativo.com/2015/07/out-in-the-open-hedge-funds-in-puerto-rico/

[21] http://www.cepr.net/blogs/the-americas-blog/argentina-vs-the-vultures-what-you-need-to-know

[22] http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2014/aug/07/argentina-debt-crisis-barack-obama-paul-singer-vulture-funds

[23] Ibid.

[24] http://www.cepr.net/blogs/the-americas-blog/paid-to-trash-argentina-raben-does-just-that-without-disclosing-financial-interests

[25] http://periodismoinvestigativo.com/2015/07/out-in-the-open-hedge-funds-in-puerto-rico/

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Lebanon – What if it Fell?

 

NOVANEWS

by ANDRE VLTCHEK

Beirut is burning; it is hurt, angry and uncertain about its own future.

Ambulances are howling. Hundreds are injured. Rubber bullets are flying and so is live ammunition.

A Revolution? A rebellion?

Who are those men, stripped from their waist up, muscular, throwing stones at the security forces in the center of Beirut? Are they genuine revolutionaries? Are they there in order to reclaim so badly discredited “Arab Spring”?

Or did they come here in a show of force, because the West is paying them? If the Lebanese state collapses, ISIL could move in, and occupy at least a substantial part of Lebanon. That would suit the West’s interests, and those of Turkey, as well as the Gulf States.

Or Israel could take advantage of the vacuum, and invade Lebanon, once again. Or both ISIL and Israel.

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine said jokingly: “I met a kid in Beirut. He told me that he is going to get a job at some European NGO. His duty would be to help to destabilize Lebanon”.

She named the country funding the NGO, but I’d rather not mention it here, in order not to add more oil to fire. We had a good laugh then, but it does not appear too funny, anymore.

Yesterday she told me: “Security forces fired at him.”

He was there. He was not bragging. It was not a joke.

Nothing appears to be a joke in Lebanon, anymore!

Or could there be two “types” of protesters at the same place and at the same time? Those who are fighting for a better Lebanon, and those who are paid to fight for sectarianism and for the foreign interests (which in this country is almost the same thing)?

***

Just one day before the street battles erupted, I drove from Beirut, crossing the mountains and then progressing north, through Bekaa Valley.

Night descended on the ancient city of Baalbek. Mayada El-Hennawy, the great Syrian pan-Arab classical musician, began singing, her pronounced voice amplified, then carried towards the mountains that form the border between two sisters: Lebanon and Syria,

What a sight! What madness! Behind Mayada’s back, sits the enormous structure of the Temple of Bacchus, above her, helicopter drones. Tanks and hundreds of soldiers were stationed all over Baalbek, protecting the site and the venue. Just a few kilometers away, Hezbollah is engaged in its epic battle with ISIL.

But thousands of people arrived, in striking defiance, refusing to succumb to fear. They drove here from Beirut and other cities of a battered, now almost dysfunctional Lebanon.

They came to celebrate life and the Arabic culture; they came to listen to their beloved songs and to pay tribute to this celebrated Syrian diva. Some, clearly, came to pay tribute to Syria itself – to Syria and to life.

As Mayada El-Hennawy began singing, people roared.

***

24 hours after the concert, a crowd clashed with the Lebanese security forces in the center of Beirut, near the government palace.

Dozens were injured and on 24 August, it was reported that one person died in the hospital.

The “You stink” movement first organized the protests. Thousands of people hit the streets in response to an ongoing garbage crisis, which, according to many, has made the already difficult life in Beirut almost unbearable.

“You Stink”! For 18 years, the government was unable (or unwilling) to build a permanent garbage-recycling site. For 18 years, poor villagers near the “provisory” garbage dumping grounds were suffering, getting poisoned, dying from unusually high level of cancer and from respiratory diseases. Then, finally, they said “Halas! Enough.” They blocked the site. And after they did, the garbage began accumulating on the streets of Beirut. Instead of finding a permanent solution, the government dispersed white toxic rat poison over the piles of rotting trash. People in the capital began getting sick.

But it is not only the garbage that is making life in the capital, and in fact all over the country, almost intolerable.

One thing has to be understood: Lebanon is not Iraq, Libya or Syria. All these countries had strong leadership, and they had robust socialist and social programs (despised by the West): from the medical care to education, public housing and pensions.

In total contrast, Lebanon’s government is dysfunctional, corrupt and divided. The country has been surviving over a year without a President, despite the Cabinet meeting more than 20 times in an attempt to elect one.

Garbage was just a tip of the iceberg. The infrastructure of Lebanon is collapsing: there are water shortages and constant electricity blackouts. There is hardly any public transportation to speak of, almost no green public areas. There are land grabs all over the country. Health and education are at disastrous levels. It is an extremely brutal place for many.

Lebanon is perhaps one of the most capitalist countries on earth. There is almost nothing public, nothing socialist left here, anymore. And the savage capitalism (always prescribed by the Western “partners” for its client states) in Lebanon, as everywhere in the world, simply does not work.

The country hardly produces anything. There are more Lebanese people living abroad than in Lebanon itself, and it is remittances that are keeping the state somehow afloat. There is also substantial income pouring in from the shady businesses in West Africa, in Iraq, but also income from the banking industry (mainly servicing the Middle East and the Gulf States) and from the narcotics grown in Bekaa Valley.

There is plenty of cash in individual’s pockets and in their bank accounts, but almost no money for basic public services. Lamborghinis and Ferraris are racing at night along Cornish, and the Zaitunay Bay Marina puts its counterpart in Abu Dhabi to shame. But most of the city is polluted, crumbling, and desperate.

In between those contrasting facades, desperate Syrian refugees are begging.

Nothing seems to be enough. Money comes in, and mysterious, big chunks of it simply evaporate.

Now the country is totally broke. Government sources claim that the Lebanon’s public debt currently stands at about 143 percent of gross domestic product.

Lebanon is divided along sectarian lines: 18 religious groups. The main ones are Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and a small Druze minority. Because of sectarianism, there is hardly any national unity, or a “national project”.

Several protesters I spoke to claim that they are fed up with sectarianism and divisions. They want one, strong, united Lebanon. Or that’s what they say.

Ahmed, one of the demonstrators, a middle age professional from Beirut, explained:

“I don’t want Lebanon of Christians and Muslims. I want one Lebanon, one country, united!”

But there seems to be no ideology truly uniting these protesters. There are only grievances that they have in common.

Demands appear to be legitimate.

But in Lebanon, one cannot be certain of what lies below the surface. There are rumors that each religious group is now sending its fighters to the barricades.

For years and decades, competing political interests are pulling this tiny country in different directions.

“I spotted a guy who was protesting and who was obviously a British”, a diplomat based in Beirut who did not want to be identified, told me. “He was not a reporter, he was actually one of the protesters! And he spoke no Arabic. There are many bizarre characters at the protests.”

Who is who and who is with whom, is often extremely difficult to define.

Allegiances of the Christians are mostly with the West. Sunni Muslims are closely allied with the Gulf States, and indirectly, with the West. Shia Muslims, including Hezbollah, are leaning towards Iran.

Almost everyone here agrees that Hezbollah is the only sound social force in the country. It is also aiming at uniting Lebanon, by reaching out to non-Shia groups.

Presently, Hezbollah is locked in an epic fight against the ISIL, a brutal terrorist army that was originally supported and trained by the West, Turkey, generally by NATO. Hezbollah is opposed to terrible acts of destruction that are being spread by the West and by Israel all over the region. For that reason Hezbollah’s name is firmly engraved in the selective US terrorist list.

Lebanon is squeezed from all sides. Civil war in Syria fueled by the West has already forced at least 2 million Syrian people to cross the border and to seek asylum in this tiny country. The ISIL is continuously trying to grab the territory in the Northern part of Lebanon. While Hezbollah is doing most of the fighting against ISIL, the Lebanese army and security forces are trained in the West. Saudi Arabia recently paid for the French supply of arms to Lebanon. Israel is constantly threatening to invade. To add to the list of distresses, there has been renewed fighting in the Palestinian refugee camps in the South of Lebanon, with several dead and many injured.

“What we want is to get rid of sectarianism”, explained Ahmed, standing in front of the concrete wall erected to prevent protesters from marching on the government building. “No more Christians and Muslims; Just Lebanese! And if we win, then there will be definitely much more socialism here, more social reforms, better health, education, infrastructure.”

But can this group really win against a tremendous capitalist and religious inertia?

“It is still so difficult to imagine how we could win”, admits Ahmed. “We need at least one million people to change this country.”

But the number of angry and determined people is constantly growing.

“We’ve had enough. Enough!” Shouts a man who is carrying a plastic bag filled with garbage as a symbol.

Few minutes later I am told by a group of demonstrators: “There are plenty of foreign interests here… French, the United States, Saudi… We need real independence.”

***

All the demonstrators that I talk to are fed up, but very few of them can see a way out of the crisis. In Lebanon, there is no ideology, and no serious talk about socialism. Latin America has not been mentioned even once.

The original group of the protesters is horrified. Many of them went to protest with their little children on their backs and with their grandparents in tow. They thought they are going to engage in discussion with the government. Instead they were welcomed by water cannons, rubber bullets and teargas.

Clashes, and terrible injuries followed. Then a wall was erected, outside the Grand Serail, just to be dismantled next day. Barbed wire is still all over the center of the city. The pavement is dotted with rocks, shop windows broken, cars burned. Tires are scorching, blocking main arteries of the city.

Security forces are omnipresent, on foot, on board their Humvees and on top of the tanks. And so are the medics and paramedics, ready for further escalations.

“Is this a continuation of the Arab Spring?” I asked.

“Yes”, I was told.

Who is behind this uprising?

Everyone at the protest site claims that the rebellion is absolutely spontaneous, that there is no foreign influence.

“Revolution!” protesters are shouting, repeatedly.

“This is not like those color revolutions,” I am told. A protester is referring to the West-backed movements paid to perform the “regime-changes” all over the world. “Here, we are on our own. We want a united, free and better Lebanon!”

There is no doubt that many protesters who are now fighting in the center of the capital are “genuine” and outraged citizens. But others are clearly not. The situation used to be the same in almost all other “Arab Spring countries”: initial desire for reforms and for social policies. Then the infiltration from several political (mainly pro-Western and pro-Saudi) groups followed soon. Time after time, genuine agendas were kidnapped.

Are all rebellions in the Arab world doomed from the start? Are they all going to end in the US and EU orchestrated coups, in bloody massacres and finally, in horrific collapses of the nations? Is the Libyan scenario really inevitable?

One of the leading professors at the American University in Beirut, told me recently: “This university is where most of the leaders from the Gulf States get educated. And those who are not, are actually dreaming that they would be.”

Then one of the “international experts” based in the region, reminds me: “I am sure you already know that the workshops that were held for activists to ‘spark’ The Arab Spring were held in Lebanon”.

I know. And it says a lot. For many years and decades, Beirut was attracting those who wanted to taste “Western the world” without leaving the Middle East. This is where the indoctrination was disseminated, and where so many shady deals between the West and the local rulers and movers were sealed.

Few thousands of protesters in the center of Beirut are closely watched. It goes without saying that each and every move they make is being analyzed, and that the West is going to try to turn the events to its advantage.

This does not mean that one should not try to improve the world, or to fight for a much better country. But it means that those few authentic protesters will be always outnumbered, and they will always have to face the leaders of the savage Lebanese capitalist establishment, backed by the West, and the Gulf States. They will also have to face those other “protesters” who already managed to infiltrate this small rebellion, and who are handled by the various political interests, local and foreign.

If what is happening has origins abroad, then why is there suddenly such a rush to bring Lebanon down? Is it because increasingly successful Russian diplomatic initiatives to stop all conflicts in the Middle East? Or is there a plan to almost fully encircle Syria? Could Hezbollah be now on the hit list of the West?

Rumors are plentiful, while information scarce. One thing is certain: if Lebanon collapses, the entire region will once again become a colony.

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concert in Baalbek

 

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Listening to Iraq

NOVANEWS


by SARAH LAZARE

Iraq is not dead, not a wasteland, not a mere stage for invasion, occupation, or geopolitical battle.

Iraq is a place, with people living there, some of whom are engaged in courageous and sustained progressive organizing. Amid the rise of ISIS–and alongside western and regional intervention–feminist, environmental, and worker organizers are fighting for a more hopeful future. They deserve international understanding and backing, not pity and erasure.

This thesis, argued forcefully in Ali Issa’s new book Against All Odds: Voices of Popular Struggle in Iraq, should be obvious. But in fact it is revolutionary, at least for people like me, who came up in the U.S. anti-war movement in 2003 and continue to be inundated with media and political images of Iraq as solely a target of death and destruction–and its people hapless victims.

The thesis presented by Issa, who is an organizer with the War Resisters’ League, is revolutionary because dignity, humanization, and self-determination are the antidotes to militarism and occupation, and the uplifting of Iraqi voices and stories of resistance shines a light towards a better world.

Focusing on post-2003 grassroots organizing, Issa traces the country’s riveting, yet often overlooked, protest movements through stories and interviews with the people doing the work.

People like Yanar Mohammed of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), who in the midst of her own country’s “forgotten” Arab Spring took the time to write a letter of solidarity to Occupy Wall Street in November 2011 when she declared that “it is time to break into the castles and palaces of the one percent, and claim what is rightfully yours, to start a new era based on global peace, equal division of wealth, and humanity.”

Iraq at the time was witnessing the rebirth of mass mobilizations that had been brutally repressed since 2003. Organizations including the Popular Movement to Save Iraq and the Student and Youth Organization of a Free Iraq staged sit-ins at US military bases and protests spread to Mosul, Ramadi, and Baghdad despite severe government violence. Demands included calls for basic social services; an end to the U.S. occupation and the sectarian system of government it imposed; the release of political prisoners; and economic sovereignty and workers’ rights.

When the U.S. made its much-vaunted “exit” from Iraq in 2011, however incomplete, over a dozen grassroots organizations staged “Friday of Occupation’s Defeat” protests calling for “the departure of every last soldier” and a “new front to resist the second face of the occupation represented by its sectarian government and divisive constitution.”

This call for a new front would be prescient.

Another wave of protests started in 2012, lasting into 2013 despite brutal government repression. Demonstrators demanded the release of political prisoners, particularly women, and an end to arbitrary executions. “From the first days, slogans were demanding unity and a rejection of sectarianism and division,” said Falah Alwan, president of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, in a January 2013 interview.

Hashmeya Muhsin al-Saadawi is the president of Iraq’s Electrical Utility Workers Union in Iraq and the first female vice president of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers in Basra. In May 2012 she described complex struggles to combat the “seeds of sectarianism” planted by the U.S. occupation while also defending workers’ rights to organize (despite severe anti-union laws carried over from the era of Saddam Hussein) and defend vital services like social security and electricity.

Issa traces the threads of civil society struggles, including the efforts of people like Baghdad-based Nadia al-Baghdadi, working to save the Tigris and Marshes from a plan by the Turkish government to build the Ilisu Dam. This effort was part of a larger push to hold Iraq’s first soil forum in September 2013 under the banner “Another Iraq is Possible with Peace, Human Rights, and Social Justice.”

Perhaps the most riveting testimony of the book is by Jannat Alghezzi, OWFI’s media director, who first got in touch with the liberatory feminist organization when she sought shelter from her family’s threats of honor killing. Now she organizes at the intersections of gender and economic justice, opening safe houses for families fleeing ISIS.

“Our movement is small, and our influence–I cannot say that it is large. But at the same time, the impact we do make is like a ray of light,” she said in September 2014. “My daughter, or perhaps my granddaughter, might gain from what I am doing today. Despite everything, we are optimistic.”

The concept that these struggles matter is a political challenge, not only to power holders in the U.S., Iraq, and beyond, but also to components of the anti-war left in the west. Many of us seeking to be in solidarity with Iraqis have not connected with their specific social movements on the ground or found ways to be relevant to their day-to-day lives. Many of us emphasize the role of the U.S. as war architect and political puppeteer without also highlighting Iraqi struggles for agency, or even the roles of other regional countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia that are vying for power.

Issa does not shy away from challenging the left, including trusted writers like Patrick Cockburn, who wrote articles in 2006 and 2013 about the “end of Iraq.” The effect of this proclamation, says Issa, “is that people actually living in Iraq–their communities, dreams, and victories, big and small–are again and again made invisible.

Issa Asks: “How can we understand politics, economics, culture, or society anywhere without the main protagonists, people?”

This book offers a gift by pointing readers towards these protagonists. Look them up. They have names, websites, and political demands and analyses.

Right now, in the midst of a sweltering summer heat wave, protests are sweeping Iraq as people from Basra to Baghdad demand basic goods like water and electricity, as well as an end to government corruption. Groups like OWFI are working to provide safe places from ISIS, while at the same time fending off repression from the Iraqi government. Hidden from the media spotlight, and often with little support, the struggle continues.

Let’s learn. And listen.

 

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Boko Haram Can’t Read Qur’an

NOVANEWS

ABUJA – Blasting Boko Haram militants, a Nigerian senior military official has claimed that insurgents don’t know how to read the holy Qur’an and don’t practice the religion that they claim committing atrocities in its name.

“Most of the Boko Haram terrorists captured by Nigerian Military cannot read the Holy Qur’an, some of them cannot even recite the first chapter- Suratuh Al-Fathiha, yet they claimed they want to establish an ‘Islamic State’,” acting director Army Public Relations (Ag DAPR), Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman, wrote on Facebook.

Considering the acts of extremist group’s acts as “ironically shameful”, the senior military official revealed that “when the Nigerian Military captured their bases and training camps, they never found Qur’an, Hadith or other Islamic literature.”

 

“What they found were ammunitions, chams, condoms and all sort of drugs including sex enhancing drugs in their enclaves at Sambisa Forest, Borno, North Eastern Nigeria,” officer Usman said.

Usman’s Facebook post was shared hundreds of times by his followers who asserted that the terrorist group tarnishes the image of Islam.

“Of course, we all know vividly that they are not Muslims because the Muslims that I know can never be that heartless to the point of beheading their fellow human being all in d name of western education,” one user wrote, Naij.com reported.

“God will bring them to His rout of fire and they will be doomed soon.”

Another user wrote: “Very interesting… We must get to the root of the matter as well as their sponsors, financiers.”

On his part, Stephen Andow, former Military officer, said that the insurgents were never Muslims from the onset.

“From the beginning it was obvious that they were not Muslims. I see them as what would unify Nigeria and help us to set aside religious, tribal differences and other forms nepotism,” he said.

“We must face it. This problem affects the whole of Nigeria and not just the North. We must all arise with one voice to condemn these evil men.”

Boko Haram, a Hausa term meaning “Western education is sinful”, is loosely modelled on Afghanistan’s Taliban.

For the last five years, Nigeria has battled a fierce Boko Haram insurgency that has ravaged the country’s volatile northeastern region and claimed thousands of lives.

But 2014 has been the bloodiest year of the insurgency yet, with increasingly frequent attacks, higher death tolls and a deluge of displaced persons.

The militant group has been kidnapping females for years and has hundreds in their custody.

Earlier this year, Boko Haram militants killed around 2,000 people and burned down homes in the northeast Nigerian town of Baga, according to Amnesty International.

Last month, President Muhammadu Buhari accused the US of aiding the Boko Haram militant group by denying his country weapons under a sustaining arms ban.

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As Al Jazeera Journalists Are Jailed for 3 Years in Egypt

NOVANEWS

Will U.S. Stop “Cozying Up” to Regime?

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TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We head to Cairo, Egypt, where Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were sentenced over the weekend to three years in jail for, quote, “spreading false news” that harmed Egypt following the 2013 military coup. That’s what they were convicted of. Fahmy’s wife, Marwa Omara, broke down in tears as the sentence was announced on Saturday.

MARWA OMARA: It was extremely unjust and was extremely unfair. And what happened with Mohamed shows how much this case is political. And it’s so unfair what’s happening to him. … We got married, and I didn’t even enjoy our marriage with him.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were taken back into custody. The third journalist, Peter Greste, spoke out against the ruling from Australia, where he was deported to.

PETER GRESTE: The fact is that we did nothing wrong, that there was no evidence of wrongdoing, that these guys are innocent men, and innocent men are in prison. That’s what this is about. Never mind the sentences. One day in prison would be unjust.

AMY GOODMAN: Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who represents Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, has called on President el-Sisi to pardon the men. The three were initially arrested as part of a crackdown on Al Jazeera following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, sentenced last June to between seven and 10 years in prison, a ruling condemned around the world. Peter Greste was released in February, deported home to Australia. Shortly afterwards, following more than 400 days behind bars, Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were also freed on bail. The case has been widely condemned. Fahmy and Mohamed were led away to begin their sentences after Saturday’s verdict. Greste was tried in absentia.

To find out more, we go to Egypt, to Cairo, by Democracy Now! video stream to be joined by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

Sharif, can you talk about the response right now in Egypt and the significance of these sentences?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, it’s a really stunning verdict. Many people were expecting that the journalists would be—receive some kind of sentence that would be time served or a suspended sentence, especially given that Egyptian officials had repeatedly signaled that they viewed the trial as a nuisance, that it brought unwanted scrutiny of the Egyptian government. Sisi himself has said several times in the past that he would have deported the journalists rather than try them, and he wished the case had never—the prosecution had never been brought.

And nevertheless, in a really heartbreaking and shocking scene, we saw the three journalists yesterday sentenced to three years in prison. They were hauled away to jail. The judge said in his verdict that they were not journalists because they lacked the necessary credentials. He said they were using unlicensed equipment and broadcasting false news that harmed Egypt’s national security. This last accusation is especially shocking, given that during the trial the judge appointed a technical committee to look at the footage, and the head of that committee testified that none of the video evidence, the footage, had been fabricated. And nevertheless the judge included that in his ruling.

So, you know, this is the latest twist in this long ordeal that had began in December 2013 for these journalists, and we’ll have to wait and see what will happen next. As you mentioned, Canada has put an official request for deportation for Mohamed Fahmy. They’ve also called for a presidential pardon from Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The president can—President Sisi can pardon them at any point. He does not have to wait until the end of the judicial proceedings. He’s pardoned people in the past. And that’s what—that would be the best-case scenario in this respect. Another one would be the deportation of Mohamed Fahmy, but that would leave Baher Mohamed behind bars. Baher Mohamed got an extra six months in prison and a 5,000-pound fine for possessing a single spent bullet casing.

And so, this was just the latest verdict in, you know, part of a broader crackdown that we’ve seen in Egypt against the press. The Committee to Protect Journalists recently did a survey, found that 18 or now over 20 journalists are behind bars. That’s the highest number since the CPJ has been keeping records in 1990 for Egypt.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif—

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: There’s—

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, I wanted to play the comment of Amal Clooney, Mohamed Fahmy’s attorney, denouncing the verdict.

AMAL CLOONEY: I think today sends a very dangerous message in Egypt. It sends the message that journalists can be locked up for simply doing their job, for telling the truth and reporting the news. And it sends a dangerous message that there are judges in Egypt who will allow their courts to become instruments of political repression and propaganda.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Amal Clooney, Mohamed Fahmy’s lawyer. We’re also joined by Ken Roth. Is there anything the United States can do, considering how many billions of dollars it gives to Egypt?

KENNETH ROTH: Yes, the U.S. should stop cozying up to General—now President—Sisi. He is presiding over the worst crackdown in modern Egypt history, much worse than anything that happened under Mubarak. As your colleague noted, there are 22 journalists in prison right now. There are 40,000 political prisoners. The U.S., nonetheless, is just opening the spigots for military aid. It’s selling equipment. It’s sending the message that we’ll live with this dictator because he’s pro-American, pro-Western. That is a disastrous message for the Egyptian people.

AMY GOODMAN: Should the U.S. cut off aid?

KENNETH ROTH: Absolutely. It should never have resumed the aid. It resumed the aid because, ostensibly, Egypt is on a transition to democracy. But I think John Kerry is the only person in the world who sees that transition.

AMY GOODMAN: Ken Roth, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of Human Rights Watch. And, Sharif, thanks for joining us from Cairo, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent in Egypt.

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Hezbollah, Syrian Army March on Rat’s Positions in Madaya in Zabadani

NOVANEWS
Hezbollah, Syrian Army March on Rebel Positions in Madaya in Zabadani
Hezbollah, Syrian Army March on Rat’s Positions in Madaya in Zabadani
Military sources said that the Syrian Army and the Lebanese Hezbollah Resistance Movement have seized full control over various neighbourhoods and districts of Madaya town, in the Southern direction of Zabadani.

The sources said that two days after liberating operation of Madaya, the Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters started their mop-up operation inside the town.

The sources added that the Syrian army’s 63rd Brigade, Hezbollah, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), and the National Defense Forces (NDF) stormed the positions of al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham in Southwest Madaya, and retook control over vast areas near Al-Kazbari Mosque.

According to a military source in Damascus, the Syrian Armed Forces and Lebanese Resistance retake full control over the Al-Kazbari Mosque’s surrounding building blocks, while the Syrian war planes unleashed a fury of powerful air strikes inside the Zio-Wahhabi rat-controlled areas of Madaya.

The Syrian army and Hezbollah are advancing in the Northern, Western and Southern directions of Madaya town.

However, the Syrian Air Force did not stop there: on Sunday, the latter conducted over 80 airstrikes in Madaya and Al-Zabadani, destroying a number of Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham’s military sites and killing a multitude of Saudi Zio-Wahhabi  militants there.

Eight members of Saudi Zio-Wahhabi Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham turned themselves-in to the Syrian security forces on Sunday after the short-lived ceasefire allowed for the opposing parties in Zabadani to correspond with one another, despite the two-month-long siege that pinned them both against one another in a fierce battle for control of the city.

Currently, the Syrian army and Hezbollah control 85 percent of Zabadani and nearly 25 percent of Madaya; if captured, the resistance forces would eradicate one of the biggest threats on the border of Lebanon, FNA reported.

Syrian Army Kills Nusra Terrorists in Daraa

The Syrian army also targeted positions of the Wahhabi terrorists of al-Nusra Front in the Northeastern countryside of Daraa, leaving a large group of them dead and injured, a security source said Monday.

The source added that the Syrian troops also destroyed a number of Saudi Zio-Wahhabi terrorists’ vehicles in the military operation in al-Karak al-Sharqi. Some of the vehicles were equipped with heavy machineguns.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army targeted militants’ positions to the North of Atman town in the Northern countryside of Daraa, killing a group of them.

The army also destroyed terrorists’ positions in al-Bajabja quarter in Daraa al-Balad neighborhood in the city of Daraa.

A bulldozer belonging to al-Nusra terrorists was also destroyed to the South of the old Customs building in Daraa al-Balad, FNA reported.

 

Posted in SyriaComments Off on Hezbollah, Syrian Army March on Rat’s Positions in Madaya in Zabadani

Yemeni Army: “Al Saud Must Wait for Our New Missile Systems”

NOVANEWS
Yemeni Army: “Al Saud Must Wait for Our New Missile Systems”
Yemeni Army: “Al Saud Must Wait for Our New Missile Systems”
The official spokesman for the Yemeni armed forces Colonel Sharaf Luqman said, “We have new surprises for Saudi Zio-Wahhabi aggressors, Al-Alam News Network reports.

Colonel Sharaf Luqman in an exclusive interview by Al-Alam TV on Sunday said, “Saudi Arabia’s invasion to Yemen surprised us totally. We did not expect that our neighbor betray us and attack to our country. The attack that took place in our country was widespread and it targeted Yemen’s infrastructures.”

The official spokesman for the Yemeni armed forces Colonel Sharaf Luqman said, “The initiative taken by the Yemeni army now, and Saudi aggressors have taken action in response.”

Mansour Hadi and Riyadh’s Plot to Disable Yemeni Missile Systems

The official spokesman for the Yemeni armed forces said, “In order to disable the missile systems in Yemen, the fugitive CIA puppet Mansour Hadi reached an agreement with Saudi Zio-Wahhabi regime and its mercenaries. He stated this infidelity to Yemen and Yemeni people in 2011.”

 

Saudis Zio-Wahhabi Surprised with the Unveiling of Yemen’s New Military Systems

Colonel Sharaf Luqman emphasized, “At the present time, we are deep in Saudi Arabia’s soil and they cannot defeat us. They claimed that our capabilities were destroyed, but suddenly we targeted them with Scud Missiles.”

He added, “We have unveiled the new military system called ‘Tushka’ that they did not know anything about it. After that, a new system to deal with armored vehicles were unveiled and it was our current system. With our current systems, we targeted, destroyed and burned their American Abrams Tanks, ‘the myth of invincible’.” Coming soon, we have new surprises for Saudi Arabia’s army.

Colonel Luqman said, “Saudis are are targeting our children and urban infrastructures, but we do not deal with them in the same way. Our response remains within the framework of moral and religious values of our traditions. These reactions are on the agenda in the coming days, we will prove this to everyone.”

 

Posted in Saudi Arabia, YemenComments Off on Yemeni Army: “Al Saud Must Wait for Our New Missile Systems”

Nazi regime ‘Humiliated’ by Iran Nuclear Deal

NOVANEWS
Nazi regime ‘Humiliated’ by Iran Nuclear Deal
The American people are less prone to believe accusations against Iran made by Nazi propaganda which has been “humiliated” by the nuclear accord reached between Tehran and the P5+1, a former CIA and NSA contractor says.

“The American public is becoming less inclined to believe the one-sided position, pro-Zionist position that’s been thrust upon the public for so long,” Steven D. Kelley told Press TV on Saturday.

He also said that recent remarks by Zionist Barack Obama that “we’re all pro-Israel,” are aimed at appeasing the Nazi regime over the Iran deal.

On Friday, Obama said he is committed to maintaining Nazi military edge in the region, during a webcast hosted by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Obama has taken a “diplomatic position to certainly placate the Israelis as well as the Christian Zionists here in the United States that have been making so much noise and opposition,” Kelley noted.

“But I think that there is still a very good possibility that the majority of this country will go along with this,” he opined.

Iran and the P5+1 group of countries – the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany – announced the conclusion of nuclear negotiations in the Austrian capital, Vienna, on July 14.

Zionist state and its supporters in the US have launched a massive campaign to defeat the historic agreement in Congress.

“We do have to be concerned, this is a dangerous time, we have to worry about a possible preemptive strike coming from Israel who is certainly feeling very humiliated over this deal” and some other issues, Kelly observed.

 

Posted in ZIO-NAZI, IranComments Off on Nazi regime ‘Humiliated’ by Iran Nuclear Deal

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