Archive | March 13th, 2018

The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China

NOVANEWS

New Silk Road infrastructure projects could bring back a peaceful and prosperous Eurasia

 

The geopolitical focus of the still young 21st century spans the Indian Ocean from the Persian Gulf all the way to the South China Sea alongside the spectrum from Southwest Asia to Central Asia and China.

That happens to configure the prime playing ground, overland and maritime, of the New Silk Roads, or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The epicenter of global power shifting East is ruffling feathers in some US political circles – with a proliferation of parochial analyses ranging from Chinese “imperial overstretch” to Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream provoking “nightmares.”

The basic argument is that Emperor Xi is aiming for a global power grab by mythologizing the New Silk Roads.

The BRI is certainly about China’s massive foreign exchange reserves; the building know-how; the excess capacity in steel, aluminum and concrete production; public and private financing partnerships; the internationalization of the yuan; and full connectivity of infrastructure and information flows.

Yet the BRI is not a matter of geopolitical control supported by military might; it’s about added geopolitical projection based on trade-and-investment connectivity.

The BRI is such a game-changer that Japan, India and the “Quad” (US, Japan, India, Australia) felt forced to come up with their own “alternative”, much-reduced mini-BRIs – whose collective rationale essentially lies in accusing the BRI of “revisionism” while emphasizing the need to fight against Chinese global domination.

The basis of the Trump administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, introduced in October 2017, was to define China as a hostile existential threat. The National Security Strategy (NSS) and the National Defense Strategy (NDS) amplified the threat to the level of a new doctrine.

The NSS states that “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.” The NSS accuses China and Russia of wanting “to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests.” It also accuses Beijing of “seek[ing] to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region” and of “expand[ing] its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others.”

The NDS states that Beijing “seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.”

That’s the new normal as far as multiple layers of the US industrial-military-surveillance-media complex are concerned. Dissent is simply not permitted.

Time to talk to Kublai Khan

“Revisionist” powers China and Russia are regarded as major double trouble when one delves into the direct link between the BRI and the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU). The EAEU is itself one step ahead of the Russia-China strategic partnership announced in 2012, crucially a year before Xi announced the BRI in Astana and then Jakarta.

At the BRI forum in Beijing in May 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin solidified the notion of a “greater Eurasian partnership”.

The Russian “pivot to Asia” started even before Maidan in Kiev, the referendum in Crimea and subsequent Western sanctions. This was a work in progress along multiple sessions inside the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the BRICS and the G-20.

Kazakhstan is the key link uniting BRI, EAEU and the SCO. Russia and Kazakhstan are part of one of the top overland connectivity corridors between East Asia and Europe – the other going through Iran and Turkey.

Xinjiang to Eastern Europe by rail, via Kazakhstan and Russia, now takes 14 days and soon will drop to 10. That’s a major boost to trade in high value-added merchandise – paving the way for future BRI high-speed rail able to compete head-on with low-cost maritime transport.

As for Moscow’s drive to be part of the BRI/EAEU economic connectivity, that’s only one vector of Russian foreign policy. Another one, as important, is enhanced German-Russian trade/investment relations, a priority also for German industrialists.

China for its part is now the top foreign investor in all five Central Asian “stans.” And it’s crucial to remember that Central Asia is configured not only by the five “stans” but also by Mongolia, Xinjiang and Afghanistan. Thus the SCO drive to solve the Afghan tragedy, with direct participation of major players China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Iran.

The BRI strategy of forging a pan-Eurasian connectivity/logistical grid naturally poses the question of how Beijing will manage such an open-ended project. The BRI is not even in its implementation phase, which officially starts next year.

It’s useful to compare the accusations of “revisionism” with Chinese history. When Marco Polo reached the Yuan court in the late 13thcentury he saw a multicultural empire thriving on trade.

It was the Silk Road trade routes and not the projection of military power that epitomized Pax Mongolica. The 21st century Pax Sinica is its digital version. Is Xi a new emperor or a post-modern version of Kublai Khan?

The Yuan dynasty did not “control” Persia, Russia or India. Persia, a superpower then, linked the Nile, Mesopotamia and the Indus with trade with China. During the Tang Dynasty in the 8th and 9thcenturies China also had projected influence across Central Asia all the way to northeastern Iran.

And that explains why Iran, now, is such a key node of the BRI and why the leadership in Tehran wants the New Silk Roads solidified. A China-Russia-Iran alliance of – Eurasia integration – interests cannot but rattle Washington; after all, the Pentagon defines all those geopolitical actors as “threats.”

Historically, China and Persia were, for centuries, wealthy, settled agricultural civilizations having to deal with occasional swarms of desert warriors – yet most of the time in touch with each other because of the Silk Road. The Sino-Persian entente cordiale is embedded in solid history.

And that brings us to what lies at the heart of non-stop BRI dismissal/demonization.

It’s all about preventing the emergence not only of a “peer competitor,” but worse: a New Silk Road-enabled trade/connectivity condominium – featuring China, Russia, Iran and Turkey – as powerful across the East as the US still remains across the much-troubled “Western Hemisphere.”

That has nothing to do with Chinese neo-imperialism. When in doubt, invoke Kublai Khan.

Posted in ChinaComments Off on The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China

Doubts About “Novichoks”

NOVANEWS
 

Novichoks and the Salisbury poisonings

In the House of Commons on 12 March the Prime Minister stated that:

It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. It is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok. Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so, Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the Government have concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

The Prime Minister said if there is no “credible response” by the end of Tuesday 12 March, the UK would conclude there has been an “unlawful use of force” by Moscow.

Summary of key issues that need to be addressed

1) There are reasons to doubt that these compounds are military grade nerve agents or that a Russian “Novichok” programme ever existed. If they were potentially usable as chemical weapons, people on the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board who were in a position to know the properties of these compounds would have recommended that they be added to the list of Scheduled Chemicals. They have never been added.

2) Synthesis at bench scale of organic chemicals such as the purported “Novichoks” is within the capability of a modern chemistry laboratory. Porton Down itself must have been able to synthesize these compounds in order to develop tests for them.  The detection of such a compound does not establish Russian origin.

Details

(1) Doubts about the history of the “Novichok” Programme

The history of the alleged “Novichok” programme remains unclear. The original source for the story that a new class of organophosphate compounds was developed as chemical weapons under the name Novichok in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s is from Vil Mirzayanov, a defector in the 1990s. Mirzayanov described the chemical structures of these compounds and stated that the toxicity of an agent named Novichuk-5 “under optimal conditions exceeds the effectiveness of VX by five to eight times”. Mirzayanov alleged that Russian testing and production had continued after signing the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993.

However, a review by Dr Robin Black, who was until recently head of the detection laboratory at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Porton Down), emphasizes that there is no independent confirmation of Mirzayanov’s claims about the chemical properties of these compounds:

In recent years, there has been much speculation that a fourth generation of nerve agents, ‘Novichoks’ (newcomer), was developed in Russia, beginning in the 1970s as part of the ‘Foliant’ programme, with the aim of finding agents that would compromise defensive countermeasures. Information on these compounds has been sparse in the public domain, mostly originating from a dissident Russian military chemist, Vil Mirzayanov. No independent confirmation of the structures or the properties of such compounds has been published. (Black, 2016)

The OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) appeared to doubt the existence of “Novichoks”, and did not advise that the compounds described by Mirzayanov, or their precursors, should be designated as Scheduled Chemicals that should be controlled under the Chemical Weapons Convention:-

[The SAB] emphasised that the definition of toxic chemicals in the Convention would cover all potential candidate chemicals that might be utilised as chemical weapons. Regarding new toxic chemicals not listed in the Annex on Chemicals but which may nevertheless pose a risk to the Convention, the SAB makes reference to “Novichoks”. The name “Novichok” is used in a publication of a former Soviet scientist who reported investigating a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons. The SAB states that it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of “Novichoks”. (OPCW, 2013)

The Scientific Advisory Board included Dr Black, and several other heads of national chemical defence laboratories in western countries. These labs would have presumably made their own evaluation of Mirzayanov’s claims and specifically would have done their own experiments to determine if compounds with the structures that he described were of military grade toxicity. Such studies can be done quickly and efficiently in vitro using methods developed for drug discovery (combinatorial chemistry and high-throughput screening). It is reasonable to assume that if these labs had found that these compounds were potentially usable as chemical weapons, the Scientific Advisory Board would have recommended adding them to the list of Scheduled Chemicals as the Chemical Weapons Convention requires.

Until independent confirmation of Mirzayanov’s claims about the toxicity of these compounds is available, and there is an adequate explanation of why the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board did not recommend that the compounds purported to be “Novichoks” and their precursors be designated as scheduled chemicals, it is reasonable to question whether these compounds are military grade nerve agents, or that a Russian “Novichok” programme ever actually existed.

 (2) Who Could Have Synthesized the ‘Novichok’ Compounds?

 The Prime Minister stated that:

There are, therefore, only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on 4 March: either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country; or the Russian Government lost control of their potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

However, Mirzayanov originally claimed that the Novichok agents were easy to synthesize:-

One should be mindful that the chemical components or precursors of A-232 or its binary version novichok-5 are ordinary organophosphates that can be made at commercial chemical companies that manufacture such products as fertilizers and pesticides. (Mirzayanov, 1995).

Soviet scientists had published many papers in the open literature on the chemistry of such compounds for possible use as insecticides. Mirzayanov claimed that “this research program was premised on the ability to hide the production of precursor chemicals under the guise of legitimate commercial chemical production of agricultural chemicals”.

As the structures of these compounds have been described, any organic chemist with a modern lab would be able to synthesize bench scale quantities of such a compound. Indeed, Porton Down must have been able to synthesize these compounds in order to develop tests for them. It is therefore misleading to assert that only Russia could have produced such compounds.

*

Sources

Vil S. Mirzayanov, “Dismantling the Soviet/Russian Chemical Weapons Complex: An Insider’s View,” in Amy E. Smithson, Dr. Vil S. Mirzayanov, Gen Roland Lajoie, and Michael Krepon, Chemical Weapons Disarmament in Russia: Problems and Prospects, Stimson Report No. 17, October 1995, p. 21. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/105521/Report17.pdf.

OPCW: Report of the Scientific Advisory Board on developments in science and technology for the Third Review Conference 27 March 2013

https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/CSP/RC-3/en/rc3wp01_e_.pdf

Robin Black. (2016) Development, Historical Use and Properties of Chemical Warfare Agents. Royal Society of Chemistry

http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/chapter/bk9781849739696-00001/978-1-84973-969-6

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Extreme Weather Events: There Is No Planet B

NOVANEWS
 

The current warming of Earth (Figure 1), manifest in the rise in extreme weather events (Figures 2 and 3), including collapse of polar ice sheets, melting of the Arctic Sea ice, penetration of snow storms into mid-latitudes, permafrost thaw and methane release, hurricanes and wildfires (Figure 4), manifests a shift in state of the atmosphere-ocean system, constituting an existential threat to humanity and much of nature.

As extreme temperatures, the rate of sea ice melting, the collapse of Greenland glaciers, the thawing of Siberian and Canadian permafrost and increased evaporation in the Arcticdrive cold snow storms into Europe and North America, and as hurricanes, cyclones, heat waves and wild fires (Figure 4) affect tropical and semitropical parts of the globe, itis becoming clear Earth is entering a shift in state of the atmosphere-ocean system associated with destructive climate tipping points including hurricanes such as in the Caribbean, SE USA and the SW Pacific (Figure 5). With hundreds of Gigaton carbon stored in Arctic permafrost, its thawing and methane release by analogy with geological methane-release and mass extinction events is becoming more likely (Figure 6).

Figure 1. The rise of mean temperatures over the last 1800 years, since the onset of the industrial age and future IPCC projections (after W. Steffen).

Figure 2The frequency of extreme weather events between 1980 and 2015 (Munich Re- insurance)

Figure 3. Global warming vulnerable tipping points

Figure 4. Climate change sets the world on fire. Southern Europe and  British Columbia have been devastated by wildfires this summer.

Figure 5. The 2017 hurricane season in the Caribbean and Southeast USA

Figure 6 (A). A crater on the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia. (source)(B) Vulnerable carbon sinks. ( a ) Land: Permafrost – 600 GtC;  High-latitude peatlands – 400 GtC; tropical peatlands – 100 GtC; vegetation subject to fire and/or deforestation – 650 GtC; ( b ) Oceans: Methane hydrates – 10,000 GtC; Solubility pump – 2700 GtC; Biological pump – 3300 GtC

It is reported that climate change will lead to the death of some 500,000 people a year due to food supplies by 20501 and hundreds of thousands of people due to extreme weather events.2

Developments in the atmosphere/ocean system reported by major climate research organizations (including NASA, NOAA, NSIDC, Hadley-Met, Tyndall, Potsdam, the World’s academies of science), and in Australia the CSIRO and BOM, include:

  • A rise of atmospheric CO2 level to 408.35 ppm (February, 2018) at a rate of about 2 ppm/year and in previous years 3 ppm/year [4], rates unprecedented in the geological record since 56 million years ago [5], tracking across the stability threshold of the Antarctic ice sheet estimated variously at 450±50 ppm CO2 [6].
  • The rise in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere and oceans is leading to an increase in extreme weather events relative to 1950-1960 (Figure 2) [7], including tropical storms, such as those in the Caribbean islands and SE USA (Figure 5), Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Philippines, with lives lost and damages estimated in the $billions [8].
  • In Australia the frequency of extreme weather events has been rising, where since 2001, the number of extreme heat records has outnumbered extreme cool records by almost 3 to 1 for daytime maximum temperatures, and almost 5 to 1 and more for night-time minimum temperatures [9].
  • Impacts on a similar scale are taking place in the ocean, where the CO2 rise is causing an increase in acidity from pH 8.2 to 8.1, predicted to decrease further to7.8 by 2100, affecting coral reefs and the marine food chain [10].
  • Ice sheets melt rates and sea level rise have been increasing [11] and the rate of sea level rise has been accelerating, from ~1.7 mm/year over the last century to ~3.2 mm/year between 1993 and 2010 [12] and to 3.9 mm/year [13] (Figure 7A), threatening low-lying islands, delta and lower river valleys, where billions of people live, compounded by changes to river flow regimes (Figure 7B).

The current rates of greenhouse gas level rise and temperature rise exceed those observed in the geological record (Figures 8 and 9).

Global warming, amplified by feedbacks from polar ice melt, methane release from permafrost, and extensive fires, may become irreversible, including a possible collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation [14] (Figure 10).

According to Professor James Hansen, NASA’s former chief climate scientist “Burning all fossil fuels would create a different planet than the one that humanity knows. “ [15] According to Professor Joachim Schellnhuber, Germany’s chief climate scientist “We’re simply talking about the very life support system of this planet” [16].

While the Paris Accord remains non-binding, governments world-wide are presiding over a large-scale demise of the planetary ecosystems, which threatens to leave large parts of the Earth uninhabitable [15, 16].

Tackling the root causes of an unfolding climate tragedy requires a wide range of methods, the main ones being (1) sharp reduction in carbon emissions, and (2) effort at draw-down of atmospheric CO2, using methods such as sea weed plantations, soil biochar, soil re-silicification (applying basaltic rock dust), air-streaming through basalt and serpentine, sodium hydroxide pipe systems and so on.

There is no Planet B.

Figure 7(A) Sea level rise

Figure 7(B). Sea level rise

Figure 8The fastest temperature rise rate in over the last 65 million years

Figure 9. Current warming compared to geological temperature rise rates

Figure 10. The likelihood of intermittent freeze events (stadial)

*

Dr Andrew Glikson, Earth and Paleo-climate science, Australia National University (ANU) School of Anthropology and Archaeology, ANU Planetary Science Institute, ANU Climate Change Institute, Honorary Associate Professor, Geothermal Energy Centre of Excellence, University of Queensland.

Notes

[1] http://climate.nasa.gov/news/2432/2016-hadhottestmarch-on-record/

[2] http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/climatetrendscontinuetobreakrecords

[3] http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/global.html

[4] http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/

[5] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.13342/abstract

[6] https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0804/0804.1126.pdf

[7] http://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/science/climate_assessment_2012.html

[8] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/pressrelease/2013/11/18/damagesextremeweathermountclimatewarms; http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/timeseries

[9] http://www.csiro.au/en/Research/OandA/Areas/Assessing-ourclimate/StateoftheClimate/2014-SoCReport ;https://theconversation.com/surewinterfeltchillybutaustraliaissettingnewheatrecordsat12-timestherateofcold-ones35607

[10] http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managingthereef/threatstothereef/climatechange/howclimatechangecan-affectthereef/ocean-acidification

[11] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL061052/abstract

[12] https://www.environment.gov.au/climatechange/climatescience/climatechangefuture/sealevel

[13] http://climate.nasa.gov/vitalsigns/sealevel/

[14] http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v5/n5/full/nclimate2554.html

[15] http://www.atmoschemphys.net/16/3761/2016/acp-163761-2016.html

[16] http://www.reuters.com/article/usclimatescienceidUSTRE58R3UI20090928

[17] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-0518/whatareourleadersreallythinking-aboutclimatechange/

All images in this article are from the author unless otherwise stated.

Posted in HealthComments Off on Extreme Weather Events: There Is No Planet B

Yemen’s Humanitarian Catastrophe: The Lesson the Trump Administration Has Failed to Learn About Yemen-+**

NOVANEWS
 

Both the Trump and Obama administrations have advanced two fictions over the last three years to obscure U.S. complicity in Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe. From former Secretary of State John Kerryto his successor, Rex Tillerson, U.S. officials have insisted “this is not our war” and emphasize that a political settlement is the only way to end it. However, U.S. actions – consisting of continuous, unchecked U.S. political and military support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which are leading bombing missions that indiscriminately target Yemeni civilians already struggling under Houthi rebel rule – hardly support this position.

Three years of stalemate on the battlefield, mounting civilian casualties, and a blockade on humanitarian assistance for starving Yemeni civilians has finally brought this contradictory policy out into the open. Perhaps most importantly, this unquestioned executive overreach finally seems to be losing its potency in Congress – which never authorized this contradictory and counterproductive policy in Yemen, but has also yet to stand up against it.

With the introduction of a bipartisan War Powers Resolution (S.J.Res.54) to force the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) have  moved to re-assert Congress’ role in war-making decisions – a bold action in today’s world where congressional silence on executive war-making has become the norm. By forcing a debate and vote to stop U.S. armed forces from participating in Yemen’s civil war, Congress is not only upholding its constitutional role as the sole body that can declare war, but also forcing the Trump administration to change its calculus by putting its words into tangible action to end the conflict. The Sanders-Lee war powers resolution on Yemen is not only about Congress’ Article I powers, but should also be seen as leverage for the administration to push for peace and reinvigorate the stalled peace negotiations.

Rather than promote the kind of de-escalation that could eventually yield peace talks, the United States continues to literally fuel the coalition’s war effort. The U.S. Air Force refuels coalition planes in mid-air in between bombing runs over Yemen, while U.S. Central Command furnishes missions with targeting intelligence and assistance. All of this support enables the high tempo of airstrikes that target civilian sites at least a third of the time. These attacks on civilians and civilian objects are a key driver of Yemen’s horrific humanitarian crisis, and remain the leading cause of civilian casualties in the country. U.S. support doesn’t stop there however. The efforts of U.S. diplomats at the UN Security Council to shield Saudi Arabia and its allies from accountability for its myriad violations of the laws of war, coupled with U.S. military support, allow the Saudi-led coalition to continue its intervention in Yemen indefinitely.

With such unconditional U.S. backing, the coalition has no incentive to reduce civilian casualties, end the bombing campaign, ease the humanitarian crisis, or push the increasingly isolated President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to engage in serious negotiations to end the war. Absent essential U.S. military support, Saudi Arabia and the UAE would have to consider all three, or risk further sinking themselves in an endless quagmire that risks spilling more blood and treasure for a conflict that has no military solution.

By ending U.S. refueling and targeting assistance, S.J.Res. 54 should serve as a wake-up call to the Saudi-led coalition that it can no longer expect unchecked U.S. support for a military stalemate and it must diplomatically engage its adversaries. Ending U.S. military support, which is essential for the continuation of the coalition’s air campaign, should remove the incentives for the coalition to pursue a military-only strategy in Yemen. With the campaign costing Saudi Arabia an estimated $66 million a day – money that’s supposed to undergird domestic reforms, not trap the country in a Vietnam of its own-making – the end of U.S. material support could significantly change the coalition’s cost-benefit analysis.

In its unconditional backing of the Saudi-led coalition, the Trump administration has promoted an “escalate to de-escalate strategy” in Yemen and resisted having a frank conversation with its allies on steps to end the intervention. Thus far, the United States has only been willing to exert temporary pressure on Saudi Arabia to loosen its blockade, which is less a step toward peace than one to alleviate international outrage and create political space for the coalition to continue its military campaign.

Yet the lesson of the administration’s rhetorical pressure on the coalition about the blockade is an important one: It has changed the Saudi-led coalition’s behavior, albeit temporarily, pushing it to announce temporary openings of Yemen’s most vital port and to hastily publish a Booz Allen Hamilton-drafted humanitarian plan. While woefully inadequate for addressing the crisis, this movement demonstrates the coalition members’ sensitivity to international criticism, particularly from the U.S. If provisional rhetorical criticism gets provisional tangible improvement, imagine what a congressional threat to end all U.S. military support, which would place the war’s full burden on the coalition’s shoulders, could achieve.

Through this legislation, Congress is applying the lesson the Trump administration has failed to learn so far: U.S. military support is an important lever for pushing for peace. Yet such leverage won’t mean anything if the administration fails to utilize it to end an unwinnable military intervention. Thankfully, the Senate bill’s bipartisan sponsors are willing to force the issue with the administration by threatening to end unconditional, unauthorized U.S. military assistance to the coalition. The administration should use this threat to stop U.S. support to communicate to Riyadh that its international isolation will only increase absent genuine de-escalation and renewed peace talks. Instead of lobbying against the resolution, the White House should embrace S.J.Res.54 as a tool to influence an ally, which this administration is reluctant to publicly rebuke.

Posted in USA, Saudi Arabia, YemenComments Off on Yemen’s Humanitarian Catastrophe: The Lesson the Trump Administration Has Failed to Learn About Yemen-+**

Hollywood’s “The Post”. “We Live in a Dirty and Dangerous World”

 NOVANEWS

A Review of Steven Spielberg’s “The Post”

“We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.” Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, Langley Virginia, 1988.[1]

Steven Spielberg’s tribute to Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and modern American journalism is a major Hollywood endeavor marshaling the industry’s premier talent. As of this writing The Post has been nominated for dozens of awards throughout the film community.[2] The movie itself, however, comprises a sort of tortured historical confirmation on exactly how the news media would like to view themselves and their industry. It does so by mixing verifiable truths alongside careful omissions to reinforce a deeper set of myths concerning notions of American press freedom and the Vietnam War era.

On a more immediate level, The Post was produced in under six months, and was at least partly motivated by the political allegiances of its creators, who seek to analogize the Richard Nixonadministration’s pursuit of a court injunction against the US press’ publication of the Pentagon Papers to President Donald Trump’s bellicose attitude toward a corporate news media that has arguably become an increasingly partisan political force following Trump’s defeat of his Democratic Party rival.

Spielberg renders Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) as a somewhat awkward and isolated widow and among the first female publishers in the predominantly male-dominated business of newspaper publishing. Left unmentioned is the fact that Graham was the daughter of Eugene Meyer, one of the country’s most powerful bankers, who bought the Washington Post in 1933 while serving as head of the Federal Reserve.

The Post‘s narrative revolves around the paper’s publication of the aforementioned Rand Foundation’s exhaustive study of US military involvement in Southeast Asia commissioned by the Lyndon Johnson Administration. In 1971 the document was leaked to the New York Times and later the Washington Post by CIA operative and Rand staffer Daniel Ellsberg. The New York Times was initially enjoined by the Nixon Justice Department to cease further publication of the report, which leads to the internal conflict within The Post on whether to challenge an already hostile administration through subsequent publication of document excerpts.

The film’s expert cinematic design reaches its crescendo with Post managing editor Ben Bagdikian’s (Bob Odenkirk) little-known efforts to secure a copy of the study from Ellsberg–an account related in Bagdikian’s notable 1997 autobiography, Double Vision. Thereafter Graham and Post chief editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) embark on a tightrope walk over whether to publish portions of the study in the midst of the administration’s prior restraint order, a fledgling public offering of Post stock, and strong counsel against publication by the paper’s corporate board and attorneys.

In many ways The Post disingenuously serves as clever historical propaganda for the younger generations, informing its audience that Washington’s foreign policy was safely under the guidance of civilian leaders eventually brought to heel by a vigilant press. For example, in a scene where Katharine Graham confronts former Secretary of Defense and longtime friend Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), who commissioned the Rand study and is embarrassed at its disclosure, McNamara begs Graham for her forgiveness in light of the document’s misleading conclusion that previous administrations blindly forged ahead in Southeast Asia while recognizing how such engagement was “hopeless.”[3]

Looming over the internal company struggle and Katharine Graham’s indecision on publication is Phillip Graham–the Post‘s original publisher whose name and presence are eerily invoked throughout, yet left entirely unexamined, as if Phil’s death at a mere 48 years of age was due to a terminal illness or traffic accident. In fact, if Hollywood was truly concerned with calling attention to unjust wars and renegade administrations, as is suggested in The Post‘s strident narrative, Phil Graham’s turbulent life and tragic, untimely demise might be among the most fruitful to excavate.

In an apparent effort to keep this colorful Cold Warrior’s ghost at bay, the filmmakers conveniently pigeonhole over two decades of important history, offering in its place a historical apparition wherein the country’s most influential media executives were hoodwinked into supporting the Southeast Asian nightmare. In so doing they exonerate the news media for their widescale support of the US occupation of Vietnam while preventing any potential consideration of the Grahams’ well-documented ties to the US intelligence community that contributed to such journalistic misconduct.

With the aid of Katharine and Phil’s close personal friend, intelligence veteran and Operation Mockingbird maestro Frank Wisner, Phil arranged for Washington Post journalists to function as CIA media assets abroad. The relationship between the Graham family, the Post, and the Agency included regular dinner parties hosted at the Grahams’ DC residence. Spielberg heroine’s vehemently denied the associations, “[b]ut Phil Graham’s tie to the CIA–so cavalierly dismissed by his widow–is more plausible, given the times in which he operated,” notes Katharine Graham biographer Carol Felsenthal.

“Kay was there, during the friendship with Frank Wisner, and that with CIA chief Allen Dulles; newsmen and CIA types mixed effortlessly at those Sunday suppers at her house. Her calling the alleged connection a ‘fantasy’ and dismissing the possibility out of hand is dishonest.”[4]

Phil Graham was also an early supporter and personal friend of John Kennedy, who during his administration tapped him to lead the newly-formed Communications Satellite Corporation. By this time, however, and especially following Frank Wisner’s suicide in 1961, Phil Graham was otherwise becoming an outsider. For years Phil had struggled with manic depression and alcoholism.

Washington Post publisher Philip Graham (Source: dailymaverick.co.za)

These conditions combined with his relationship to US intelligence figures and adoration of his friend John Kennedy made him a potential loose cannon for both the CIA and Kennedy administration. This was more and more concerning in early 1963, when Phil’s apparent mental illness reached an acute stage.

Though an insider in Wisner’s Operation Mockingbird, Phil’s imbalance caused Kennedy to exclude him from what author Deborah Davis describes as “the two most significant intelligence operations of his presidency, those called MONGOOSE and Special Operations CI [counterinsurgency].” The former involved cultivating an indigenous Cuban insurgency to overthrow Fidel Castro while the latter “was assigned the task of designing a war, so to speak, in reaction to the failure of MONGOOSE.” These joint presidential-CIA projects included CIA director John McCone, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, and former CBS Vice President Edward R. Murrow, who was included in the administration’s nod to “mediapolitics”–engaging the media industry to gear public opinion in favor of the impending Vietnam war.[5]

With the knowledge of Murrow’s involvement in this regard Phil Graham’s alienation further fueled a cynicism toward his own profession. He started discussing the CIA’s “manipulation of journalists. He said it disturbed him. He said it to the CIA,” Davis observes. His fellow journalists practiced the unspoken code of “keep[ing] Phil’s insanity ‘out of the papers’ as he had kept stories ‘out of the papers’ for his friends; but now the word was that Phil Graham could not be trusted, and his friends began to see very little of him.”[6]

In early 1963 Phil strategized on how to seize control of the newspaper from Katharine while his mental state deteriorated further, repeatedly revising his will to give his mistress Robin Webb “a controlling interest in his estate. All through the winter and spring of 1963, Katharine was both devastated and humiliated by the entire course of events,” yet at the same time “determined to prevent the Post from falling into Phil’s control and ownership, even if it meant she had to have Phil declared insane.”[7]

In early 1963 Phil Graham flew out to Phoenix Arizona for a multi-month bender. While there he was informed of an important convention of newspaper publishers and editors to which he was not invited. Phil crashed the event and proceeded to condemn the newsmen as frauds who all-too-often pulled in their sails instead of truly confronting the day’s most important issues and events. “Phil interrupted a banquet speech by Benjamin McKelway, editor of the Washington Star and a member of the [Associated Press] board of directors,” Felsenthal explains,

and seized the lectern to tell his peers that they were fat, stupid cowards who wouldn’t know the truth if they sat on it. And, he said, “he wouldn’t wipe his ass with their papers.” The thunderstruck audience stared in disbelief, but Phil was just warming up. He singled out various publishers and began to revile them. Newsmen who had stayed behind in New York and Washington were soon abuzz with vivid descriptions of Phil’s “around the bend” but “brilliant” performance. “He went through everybody,” recalls Arnaud de Borchgrave, “including Otis Chandler of the Los Angeles Times, berated every one of them for their lack of balls. Nobody knew how to stop him.” He was “devastating and brilliant and accurate, [and] did beautiful caricatures of each of the big shots present.”

Phil continued to inform those assembled on “who in Washington was sleeping with whom, and that he might as well start at the top with John Kennedy, who was sleeping, in the White House, with Mary Meyer.”[8]

A journalist in the crowd telephoned President Kennedy, who after conversing with Katharine ordered a military jet to Phoenix with Phil’s personal psychiatrist in tow to forcibly retrieve Graham, straightjacket and all. Following his return to DC Phil asked for Katharine’s forgiveness; she agreed to take him back provided he seek treatment. On June 20, 1963, for a second time within one year, he was admitted to the Chestnut Lodge psychiatric facility. He received daily visits from Katharine until August 3, when his condition improved enough for the staff to grant him a day’s stay with Katharine at the Grahams’ Glen Welby country estate.

As new information comes to light the sequence of events leading to Phil’s violent death contradict each other. Deborah Davis and Carol Felsenthal convincingly argue in each of their Katharine Graham biographies that Phil’s death was a suicide attributable to his mental illness. Recent research by clinical psychologist and author Peter Janney sheds new light on the episode. As early as 1992 Davis explained in an interview “that she ‘got a call from a woman who claimed that she knew for a fact that it [Phil’s death] was murder.’”

According to Felsenthal, after “‘a happy morning together’” on August 3, Phil declared that he was going bird hunting. He proceeded to a bathroom on the first floor and allegedly committed suicide with a small caliber shotgun wound to his right temple. Given his alienation and erratic behavior Phil Graham’s friends and associates readily concluded that Phil had outsmarted his caregivers and carefully planned his suicide all along.[9]

Katharine Graham’s 1998 account of Phil’s death excludes any discussion of hunting. The couple were having an early afternoon nap when “‘[a]fter a short while Phil got up, saying he wanted to lie down in a separate bedroom he sometimes used. Only a few minutes later, there was the ear-splitting noise of a gun going off indoors. I bolted out of the room and ran around in a frenzy looking for him. When I opened the door to a downstairs bathroom, I found him.’”

William Wadsworth Smith was the longtime caretaker of the Graham’s Glen Welby estate in 1963. According to a second-hand account of Smith’s granddaughter Barbara L. Smith, on the afternoon in question Katharine requested the caretaker’s aid in moving Phil’s body to Glen Welby’s first floor. “Mrs. Graham had called on Barbara’s grandfather ‘to go upstairs and bring this man [Phil Graham] downstairs. She called to him and he went up and put him in … he took him in his arms and brought him down’ after he had allegedly shot himself.’”[10]

Phil Graham’s alleged suicide and obscure place in American journalism history remains a mystery carefully avoided in The Post. His death came just fourteen weeks before John Kennedy’s assassination and one year prior to the Lyndon Johnson administration’s Tonkin Gulf false flag inaugurating the Vietnam War. If he lived would Phil Graham have raised uneasy questions concerning Kennedy’s death? Would he have uncritically accepted the Warren Report’s “lone gunman” conspiracy theory of JFK’s assassination proffered by his old friend Allen Dulles? In light of the above, was there a possibility that Phil’s self destructiveness was exacerbated by the infamous CIA Technical Services Staff, whose tactics for “committing suicides” and administering aggressive cancers came to light in the 1975 Church Committee Congressional hearings? Hollywood seldom ponders such historical “What ifs?” that may provide for much more interesting narratives, yet at the same time prompt moviegoers to reexamine the lies they’ve been told in the classroom and the continuing miseducation of corporate media.[11]

Though erratic and suffering, Phil at once demonstrated his brute honesty and unpredictability before the intelligence community and news industry where he once figured prominently. Following his death Katharine took over the Post without hesitation, and for the next seven years her editorial staff almost unquestioningly supported the United States’ “hopeless” brutalization of Southeast Asia. “Washington Post Company president Katharine Graham counted among her best friends some of the key architects of the Vietnam War, including Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (who later joined the board of directors of the Washington Post Company,” observe authors Martin A. Lee and Norman Solomon. “President Lyndon Johnson appreciated all the gung-ho editorials about the war that Post editor Russell Wiggins was writing. As an apt reward a presidential appointment made Wiggins the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations [in] the last few months of 1968–‘a plum from Johnson to a loyalist’.”[12]

Through careful cinematic artifice and historical license The Post‘s broader takeaway echoes the dishonest and shallow ethos still reverberating through so many journalism school curricula–that the Fourth Estate prevailed over a belligerent administration’s attempts at censorship while it held the US government accountable for waging an illegal and immoral war. Moreover, particularly given the present historical moment, the film misses an important opportunity to transcend its hostility toward the US incumbent and rather inform the geopolitical tension and broader threat to human survival evident in the US-NATO’s aggressive encirclement of the Russian Federation.[13]

Unsurprisingly, the political science catechism offered in Spielberg’s opus is mundane, parochial, and fundamentally misleading: the Pentagon Papers, so gallantly published by the Times and Post, reveal a continuity in Indochina foreign policy extending back to the Harry S. Truman administration. In this way, and alongside the inscrutable treatment of Phil Graham’s confusing legacy, the film seeks to strengthen the myth of an American free press while its narrative further buries any trace of the road President Kennedy actually paved toward world peace in the months before his assassination.

Indeed, Kennedy’s palpable move toward détente was evident in the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty forged with Moscow in the summer of 1963. As author James Douglas argues, Kennedy’s important plea for world peace in his June 10, 1963 speech at American University marked a potential turning point in the Cold War that current US statesmen would be well-served in heeding.

The suffering that the Russian people [in World War II] had already experienced was Kennedy’s backdrop for addressing the evil of nuclear war, as it would affect simultaneously the U.S, the U.S.S.R., and the rest of the world: “All we have built, all we have worked for would be destroyed in the first 24 hours. In short,” he said, “both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race.” …

John Kennedy, portrayed by unsympathetic writers as a man with few feelings, had broken through the feelings of our Cold War enemy, not only the ruler Nikita Khrushchev but an entire people decimated in World War II. What *about* the Russians? Kennedy’s answer was that when we felt the enemy’s pain, peace was not only possible. It was necessary. It was as necessary as the life of one’s own family, seen truly for the first time. The vision that John F. Kennedy had been given was radically simple: Our side and their side were the same side.

“For in the final analysis,” Kennedy said, summing up his vision of interdependence, “our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”[14]

*

This article was originally published on the blog of James F. Tracy

Notes

[1] Speech given in 1988 at CIA headquarters, Langley Virginia, to senior CIA staffers. Stephen L. Vaughn, Encyclopedia of American Journalism, New York: Routledge, 2008, 201. Cited in Peter Janney, Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision For World Peace, New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2013, 269.

[2] The Post: Awards. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6294822/awards

[3] The suggestion that the country’s decision-making power is almost entirely exercised by its civilian leaders is contradicted by the November 22, 1963 veto of President Kennedy’s efforts at détente with Russia and drawdown of US military commitment in Vietnam indicate otherwise, examined in more detail below. See James W. Douglas, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, New York: Touchstone, 2008; L. Fletcher Prouty, JFK: The CIA, Vietnam and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, New York: Birch Lane, 1992.

[4] Carol Felsenthal, Power, Privilege and The Post: The Katherine Graham Story, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993, 372.

[5] Deborah Davis, Katherine the Great: Katherine Graham and the Washington Post, Bethesda MD: National Press, 1987 (1979), 160.

[6] Davis, 161.

[7] Janney, 252.

[8] Felsenthal, 215-216. As Peter Janney compellingly argues in Mary’s Mosaic, in early 1963 Kennedy’s mistress figured centrally in transforming the president’s stance on US relations with the Soviet Union. Mary Meyer’s sister Tony was the sister-in-law of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Sarah Paulson). The Post fails to elaborate on these relationships.

[9] Felsenthal, 216, 217, 218.

[10] Quoted in Janney, 266, 267.

[11] “By the early 1960s, the Technical Services Staff within the CIA, headed by the infamous Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, had a huge arsenal of drugs and other substances that could be clandestinely administered to unwitting victims to create such states as suicidal-depression, brain tumors, cancer, or death from natural causes, leaving no trace of any foreing toxins in the body.” Janney, 267. Though beyond the scope of this essay, it is notable that Phil and Katherine Graham’s son, William Graham, a successful lawyer and philanthropist, committed suicide with “a self-inflicted gunshot wound” just two days before The Post‘s premier, on December 20, 2017. “William Graham, Son of Washington Post Publisher, Dies in Apparent Suicide,” FoxNews/Reuters, December 26, 2017, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/12/27/william-graham-son-washington-post-publisher-dies-in-apparent-suicide.html

[12] Martin A. Lee and Normon Solomon, Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media, New York: Lyle Stuart, 1992, 107.

[13] Vladimir Putin, Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, March 1, 2018, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/56957

[14] Douglas, JFK and the Unspeakable, 43; JFK Commencement Adddress at American University, January 10, 1963, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, https://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/BWC7I4C9QUmLG9J6I8oy8w.aspx

Posted in USAComments Off on Hollywood’s “The Post”. “We Live in a Dirty and Dangerous World”

Islam and the West: What Went Wrong and Why

NOVANEWS
This is a response to Bernard Lewis’s “Islam and the West” and “What Went Wrong?”
 

“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born, now is the time of monsters” (Antonio Gramsci)

Introduction: Between “apparent” and “real” History

Alvin Toffler, one of the world’s leading futurists, is often quoted, and with good reason, as saying that the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

In the same vein, in an interview given in 2014, Noam Chomsky was invited to comment on his book “Masters of Mankind[2]—a collection of essays and lectures written between 1969 and 2013. Pointing out that the world has changed a great deal during that period, his interviewer asked him whether his understanding of the world had changed over time, and if so, what have been the most catalytic events in altering his perspective about politics. Chomsky—who was voted the world’s top public intellectual in 2005—offered the following answer

“My understanding of the world has changed over time and I’ve learned a lot more about the past, and ongoing events regularly add new critical materials. I can’t really identify single events or people. It’s cumulative, a constant process of rethinking in the light of new information and more consideration of what I didn’t properly understand. However, hierarchical and arbitrary power remains at the core of politics in our world and the source of all evils”.

Such an answer underlines the relevance in the truthful, cold and hard words once famously uttered by Winston Churchill “Truth is the first casualty of war (and) history is written by the victors”. Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code[3], didn’t think otherwise when he wrote

“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books—books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe”.

And as Napoleon once said,

“What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”

This is also what Malek Bennabi[4]—arguably one of the greatest Muslim thinkers of the 20th century—alluded to when he stated

“The real history of the modern world has yet to be written, because only its apparent history has been reported (and) it takes a certain sense of esotericism to actually penetrate the secrets and arcane of history (…) and to leave to the generation that comes sound and reliable information about the heredity of its own world”.[5]

Surely, one of the illustrations of this state of affairs is the history of Islam—a religion, a civilization today, more than ever before, finger-pointed by some as the source of many evils. For them, Islam has mutated into “Islamofascism”, a “new sworn foe” that a “coalition of the willing” from the “civilized world” is determined to confront by all available means in a looming “World War IV”.[6]

But what is, in fact, the truth of this matter through the ages? And what are the significance and the impact of the momentous events of 9/11 on that history? And, most importantly, what can one reasonably forecast with regard to the future of Islam and the Islamic world, particularly in view of what appears to be the twilight of the empire age and the dawn of a digital era, in the midst of a global moral vacuum and spiritual influx?

A brief history of a long struggle

What a large proportion of Muslims believe is a prophesied “Global war against Islam” is found in a popular hadith (a saying of Prophet Muhammad) dating back to over fourteen hundred years, according to which

“the Messenger of Allah said: The nations are about to flock against you [the Muslims] from every horizon, just as hungry people flock to a kettle. We said: O Messenger of Allah, will we be few on that day? He said: No, you will be many in number, but you will be scum, like the scum of a flash-flood, without any weight, since fear will be removed from the hearts of your enemies, and weakness (Wahn in Arabic) will be placed in your hearts. We said: O Messenger of Allah, what does the word wahn mean? He said: Love of this world and fear of death”.

Whether or not authentic, this hadith all but rings true with both the present chaotic situation prevailing in the entire Muslim world, and with the ongoing ominous antagonism between the West and Islam. As a result, the much-feared “clash of civilizations” seems closer at hand than ever. Indeed, as exemplified by the testimony of Graham E. Fuller

“Islam seems to lie behind a broad range of international disorders: suicide attacks, car bombings, military occupations, resistance struggles, riots, fatwas, jihads, guerrilla warfare, threatening videos, and 9/11 itself (…) Islam seems to offer an instant and uncomplicated analytical touchstone, enabling us to make sense of today’s convulsive world”.[7]

Precisely, in order to make sense of this awful “apparent reality” and put it into an appropriate historical and geopolitical perspective, it certainly helps to recall some of the forgotten or misremembered history that prepared for it, from its remote origins to its different contemporary manifestations dramatically brought into focus by 9/11.

To this end, any retrospective overview of the relations between the West and Islam would likely be incomplete if it did not refer to Arnold J. Toynbee’s monumental study of history, which has been acknowledged as one of the greatest achievements of modern scholarship.[8] It is worth noting that Toynbee published an interesting book[9] on the interactions between the West and Oriental civilizations, and that he worked for the British Foreign Office (within the Political Intelligence Department) during World War I.

Thus, addressing the issue of Islam’s place in History and its relations with the West, he wrote in 1948

“In the past, Islam and our Western society have acted and reacted upon one another several times in succession, in different situations and alternating roles. The first encounter between them occurred when the Western society was at its infancy and when Islam was the distinctive religion of the Arabs in their heroic age (…) Thereafter, when the Western civilization has surmounted the premature extinction and had entered upon a vigorous growth, while the would-be Islamic state was declining towards its fall, the tables were turned”.

The British historian further noted that in that life-and-death struggle, Islam, like Christendom before it, had triumphantly survived.

Yet this was not the last act in the play, for “the attempt made by the medieval West to exterminate Islam failed as signally as the Arab empire-builders’ attempt to capture the cradle of a nascent Western civilization has failed before; once more, a counter-attack was provoked by the unsuccessful offensive. This time, Islam was represented by the Ottoman descendants of the converted Central Asian nomads.” After the final failure of the Crusades, Western Christendom stood on the defensive against this Ottoman attack during the late medieval and early modern ages of Western history. The Westerners managed to bring the Ottoman offensive to a halt in the wake of the battle of Vienna that lasted from 1683 until 1699 when a peace treaty between the Sublime Porte and the Holy League was signed at Karlowitz. Thereafter, having encircled the Islamic world and cast their net about it, they proceeded to attack their old adversary in its native lair.

The concentric attack of the modern West upon the Islamic world, according to Toynbee, has inaugurated the present encounter between the two civilizations, which he saw as “part of a still larger and more ambitious movement, in which the Western civilization is aiming at nothing less than the incorporation of all mankind in a single great society, and the control of everything in the earth, air and sea which mankind can turn to account by means of modern Western technique”. Thus, the contemporary encounter between Islam and the West “is not only more active and intimate than any phase of their contact in the past, it is also distinctive in being an incident in the attempt by the Western man to ‘westernize’ the world—an enterprise which will possibly rank as the most momentous, and almost certainly as the most interesting feature in history, even for a generation that has lived through two world wars.”

Toynbee drew the conclusion that Islam is once more facing the West its back to the wall; but this time the odds are more heavily against it than they were “even at the most critical moments of the Crusades, for the modern West is superior to it not only in arms, but also in technique of economic life, on which military science ultimately depends, and above all in spiritual culture—the inward force which alone creates and sustains the outward manifestations of what is called civilization”.[10]

From Deus to Prometheus

Image result for bernard lewis

Has this perception evolved over time in the West? And who, better that Bernard Lewis (image on the left), a leading Orientalist and Professor Emeritus at Princeton, could address that story? In the academic world, he is considered as the most distinguished living expert on the Middle East, and he is indeed amongst the very few historians who have ended up as historical actors in their own right. In his memoir[11], he recounts his wartime service in London and Cairo as an intelligence officer for MI6, and how after World War II he was granted the privilege to be the first Western scholar to enter the Ottoman archives. He further explains how he coined the phrase “clash of civilizations” in the 1950’s—which is historically untrue since this notion was first recorded in a book[12] written by Basil Mathews in 1926—and how September 11 catapulted him onto the world stage as a prominent mentor for a whole generation of American Neoconservatives. He can therefore hardly be viewed as a steadfast sympathizer of Islam.

And so, in another book precisely titled “Islam and the West”[13] published in 1993, Lewis recalls that in the great medieval French epic of the wars between Christians and Saracens (i.e. Arabs), the Chanson de Roland, the Christian poet endeavors to give his readers or, rather, listeners some idea of the Saracen religion. According to this vision, the Saracens worshiped a trinity consisting of three persons: Muhammad, the founder of their religion, and two others, both of them devils, Apollin and Tervagant”. He adds that “to us this seems comic, and we are amused by medieval man unable to conceive of religion or indeed of anything else except in his own image. Since Christendom worshiped its founder in association with two other entities, the Saracens also had to worship their founder, and he too had to be one of a trinity, with two demons co-opted to make up the number”. Lewis then rightfully draws a parallel saying that just as medieval Christian man could conceive of religion only in terms of a trinity, so his modern descendant can conceive of politics only in terms of a theology, or, as we say nowadays, ideology, of left-wing and right-wing forces and factions.

Bernard Lewis also pointed out to the recurring unwillingness on the part of many Westerners to recognize the nature of Islam, or even the fact that Islam, as an independent, different, and autonomous religion persists and recurs from medieval to modern times. One can see it, he explains, in the nomenclature adopted to designate the Muslims since “it was a long time before Christendom was even willing to give them a name with a religious meaning”. Indeed, for many centuries, both Eastern and Western Christendom called the followers of the Prophet “Saracens”, a world of uncertain etymology but “clearly of ethnic and not religious connotation (…) in the Iberian Peninsula, where the Muslims whom they met came from Morocco, they called them the Moors; in most of Europe, Muslims were called Turks, or, farther east, Tatars, another ethnic name loosely applied to the Islamized steppe peoples who for a while dominated Russia”. And until recently, Lewis further clarifies “even when Europe began to recognize that Islam was a religious and not an ethnic community, it expressed this realization in a sequence of false analogies, beginning with the names given to the religion of its followers, Muhammedanism and Muhammedans”.

The deeper history, as asserted by James Carroll[14], shows that this supposedly inherent conflict between Islam and the West “has its origins more in the ‘West’ than in the House of Islam. The image of Muslims as prone to violence by virtue of their religion was mainly constructed across centuries by Europeans seeking to bolster their own purposes”.

If truth be told, how else might we justify, for instance, the astonishing statement made by William Ewart Gladstone, four-time Prime Minister of Great Britain[15], in the House of Commons in the 19th century? Holding up a Qur’an, he cried out

“As long as a copy of this accursed book survives there can be no justice in the world”.[16]

And how else might we interpret the following opinions later expressed by Basil Mathews and Bernard Lewis, both of them agents of MI6 and true believers in the “Clash of Civilizations”—well before Samuel Huntington’s essay and later book which generated a global debate?[17]

Mathews writes in his book[18] that the

Qur’an “is a fixed system of theocracy, conceived in a tribal desert chaos. In the modern world it defies every tendency of modern, democratic, responsible, secular government. This is why Turkey has thrown over the Koran as a rule of the state. And if it does not rule the state, it rules nothing; for the religious attitude and social regulations of Islam are two sides of the one coin. They cannot be separated and remain Islam. Mohammedan Islam is the negation of progress erected into a divinely ordained system. We are tied by Islam to a reverence for Mohammed himself. Our minds, however, are appalled at the murders, the unnatural marriages, the cruelty, the brigandage and the sensuality. As a seventh century Arab the Prophet was wonderful; as a twentieth century hero and leader—not to say saint—he is impossible”.[19]

Lewis’s opinion on Islam is no different. Thus, in an attempt to explain “why so many Muslims deeply resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified” he says in a supercilious Atlantic Monthly article[20] of September 1990,

“It should by now be clear that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations—the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. It is crucially important that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but also equally irrational reaction against that rival”.

Aladdin, the travel ban and the hate factory

It is a fact that Americans are among the most educated people in the world. Yet, it is also a fact that they are among the least educated about the world in general and the Arab and Muslim world in particular. They themselves admit the truthfulness of this flaw and many among them would wish to see it corrected.

This “knowledge gap” about the region was the subject of a wide-ranging poll of the American public entitled “The Arab Image in the US”, conducted by Arab News/YouGov between 17-21 March 2017.

Respondents answered 24 close-ended questions mainly pertaining to news-related behaviors, knowledge and interest in visiting the Arab and Muslim world, the rise of Islamophobia, opinions on Arabs who have migrated to the United States, and the perceived role of media portraying the real image of this part of the world.

Among other results of this survey, 81% of respondents couldn’t identify the Arab region on a map; over three-quarters said they would not consider travelling there because it is too dangerous; 65% admitted to knowing little about the region, with 30% having no interest in understanding it further. But, the most staggering finding was that more than a fifth of those surveyed said the “Sultanate of Agrabah”—the fictional city from Disney’s motion “Aladdin”—is a real part of the Arab world. An even higher proportion (38%) said they would be happy with a “Travel ban” on citizens of Agrabah should they be proven a threat. A previous poll conducted by Public Policy Polling during the 2016 American presidential campaign found that 30% of Republican voters supported “bombing Agrabah”, though, thankfully, 57% of them said they were not sure!

David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP)—a polling expert who has studied attitudes in the region and US-Arab relations for a long time—agrees that it is a negative and grim picture and believes it is due to a combination of factors. For some people in the US “it is a general sense of isolationism” and “a trend where people are like this with all foreign countries and not only the Arabs,” he said. Others are “prejudiced” but most importantly, “there is a kind of tendency to associate the whole region with terrorism, refugees and civil war. The region does not have a positive image and a lot of it is based on ignorance and narrow-mindedness.”

The shocking findings of this poll would’ve probably gone unnoticed had they not been the reflection of the true measure of the lack of knowledge, if not ignorance, driving both the American longstanding and often unwise policies of the successive administrations and people’s perceptions toward this tormented region. It is a feature that is all the more incomprehensible today as this region has become the main, if not the sole graveyard for thousands of young American and other Western soldiers sent into the fray to foreign lands under the guise of a foolish “war on terror” turned into a “war for terror”.

Prior to these and other numerous similar surveys and studies, American Professor of Mass Communications and award-winning film authority, Jack G. Shaheen, had dissected this topic. He did so in a ground-breaking book[21]published in January 2001, and later in a film[22] produced by Media Education Foundation, both with the same title “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People”.

In this meticulously researched study of one thousand films—dating from cinema’s earliest days in 1896 to contemporary Hollywood blockbusters featuring machine-gun wielding and bomb-blowing “evil” Arabs—Shaheen documented the tendency to portray Arabs and Muslims as “Public Enemy number 1”, who are “brutal, heartless, uncivilized Others bent on terrorizing civilized Westerners”. He found that out of those 1000 movies that have Arab and Muslim characters, 12 were positive depictions, 52 were neutral portrayals, and 936 were negative.

He was thus able to spotlight anti-Muslim and Arab stereotypes and to probe the intersections of popular culture and foreign policy. To this effect, he recounted how, historically, the strategic stereotyping of populations has been used to garner popular support for governmental policies, citing the career of Leni Riefenstahl and speeches by Lenin and Goebbels to illustrate film’s long history as a propaganda vehicle.

Shaheen explained that what he tried to do was

“to make visible what too many of us seem not to see: a dangerously consistent pattern of hateful Arab stereotypes, stereotypes that rob an entire people of their humanity (…) All aspects of our culture project the Arab as villain. That is a given. There is no deviation. We have taken a few structured images and repeated them over and over again (…) We inherited the Arab image primarily from Europeans. In the early days, maybe 150 years, 200 years ago, the British and the French who travelled to the Middle East, and those who didn’t travel to the Middle East, conjured up these images of the Arab as the Oriental other[23]. These fabricated images have then been taken by Americans”.

The Arab image in the U.S. began to deteriorate further immediately after World War II according to Shaheen. Three major events have impacted the change: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in which the United States has unequivocally supported Israel; the Arab oil embargo in the 1970’s, which angered Americans when gas prices went through the ceiling; and the Iranian Revolution, which increased Arab-American tensions when Iranian students took American diplomats hostage for more than a year. These three pivotal events “brought the Middle East into the living rooms of Americans and together helped shape the way movies stereotyped Arabs and the Arab world”.

Image result for Rules of Engagement

Of all the Department of Defense films, Shaheen pointed out, the one that will stand the test of time as being the most racist is “Rules of Engagement”, which was written by former Secretary of the Navy James Webb. And “if you go and you see the new film called ‘The Kingdom’, Arab children again are portrayed as terrorists. So what’s happening now is the trend has taken us to a point where we look at all those people, namely Arabs and Muslims, as the enemy other, even children”.

Commenting on the film in an interview given to Democracy Now!, Jack Shaheen said that

“the humanity is not there. And if we cannot see the Arab humanity, what’s left? If we feel nothing, if we feel that Arabs are not like us or not like anyone else, then let’s kill them all. Then they deserve to die, right? Islamophobia now is a part of our psyche. Words such as ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ are perceived as threatening words. And if the words are threatening, what about the images that we see in the cinema and on our television screens?”

He concluded by affirming that

“Politics and Hollywood’s images are linked. They reinforce one another: policy enforces mythical images; mythical images help enforce policy”.

Indeed, as Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America has said

“Washington and Hollywood spring from the same DNA”.

The priests of war and the “Islamic” terrorism

In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell said that the political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. This essay, as well as his other famous classic “1984”, published in 1949, are so profound as to be as much relevant today as they were in the aftermath of WWII.

Thus, in January 2017, the dystopian novel “1984” sold out on Amazon in the U.S. after it rose up to the top of the site’s bestsellers list. This ascent to the top began when Donald Trump’s adviser, Kellyanne Conway, coined the phrase “alternative facts”, after she was asked to explain the reason of Press Secretary Sean Spicer making a statement which was filled with inaccuracies. Journalists soon started to label Conway’s comment as “Orwellian”. One of them even concluded that “truth” is being redefined as whatever the U.S. government, NATO and their Western interests say is true, and disagreement with the West’s “group thinks”, no matter how fact-based the dissent is, becomes “fake news”.

So is the case concerning the story of “Islamic terrorism[24], which led to an unprecedented level of Islamophobia in the Western world nowadays. Long before the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the American media has broadcast fears of “terrorism” with the clear message that Arabs and Muslims are, if not terrorists, at least extremists prone to violence and terrorism. And as the record shows, according to American political writer Michael Collins Piper[25]—unsurprisingly labelled as a conspiracy theorist by Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, Bnai B’rith, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the Middle East Media Research Institute—when the media outlets turn to “experts” for information about terrorism, more often than not they rely on sources with close ties to Israel and its American lobby.

Piper recalled that in 1989, Pantheon Books published a little-noticed volume[26] that provides a stark and revealing look at the development and growth of the “terrorism industry”. In this book, co-authors Professor Edward Herman and Gerry O’Sullivan of the University of Pennsylvania, provided a comprehensive overview of the way that powerful private special interest (both domestic and foreign) have worked together with government agencies in the United States and internationally to influence the way that the world looks upon the phenomenon of modern-day terrorism.

The public, therefore, learns of terrorist activity from the government and from overwhelmingly right-wing “experts” who confirm and reinforce state policy discourse, and the mass media, thus missing a balanced perspective, usually serves as gullible conduits for promoting stereotypes and biased information, if not outright propaganda. One has to recall what historian Harry Elmer Barnes once wrote about the methods used by

“the enemies of truth to suppress those historians who dare to lift the veil on reasons for world events (…) I charge that the articulate publicists of our country, by their semi-hysterical words in print and speech in which they champion extremes of diplomatic and military policy, are driving us rapidly into a war of unlimited and unattainable objectives which will bring on a gigantic catastrophe of ruin and revolution at home and abroad (…) By articulate publicists I mean those speakers and writers ranging from editors, novelists, magazine writers, columnists, dramatists, radio writers, lecturers, college professors, and educators, to senators and other elected officials, cabinet members, political leaders and presidents. When what they write and talk about becomes a united theme of agreement, action follows as certainly as butter follows the churning of sour cream”[27].

Numerous reports and investigations have indeed shed a light on the Islamophobia network of so-called experts, academics, media outlets, and donors who manufacture, produce, distribute, and mainstream fear, bigotry, hate and lies against Muslims and Islam in the United States such as: “Sharia is a threat to America”; “mosques are Trojan horses”; “radical Islam has infiltrated America, the government and mainstream Muslim organizations”; “there is no such thing as moderate Islam”; “practicing Muslims cannot be loyal Americans”, and so on and so forth. Two such reports[28] were released in 2011 and 2015, which revealed that close to 200 million dollars have been spent to support anti-Muslim activities.

One of the beneficiaries of these funds is Robert Spencer’s website “Jihad watch”, which received more than $500,000 in donations between 2001 and 2009. The ideas propagated by Spencer—long known for endeavoring to cast Islam as a diabolical threat that must be eradicated[29]—have inescapably resonated in America and elsewhere. A case in point is the story of Anders Breivik, the far-right terrorist who, on 22 July 2011, committed the worst mass killing his native peaceful Scandinavian country, Norway, has seen since WWII. In his 1,500-page manifesto entitled “2083 – A European Declaration of Independence”[30], Breivik referred to Spencer and his website 162 times. In the own words of the Washington Post

“the monster who admitted slaughtering at least 76 innocent victims in Norway was animated by the same blend of paranoia, xenophobia and alienation that fuels anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. Yes, it could happen here”.[31]

Moreover, this powerful Islamophobia industry seems to have succeeded in gaining the upper hand over those trying to speak out to counter its politics of fear. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian recounts this epic struggle in an article[32], which she concluded by stating that “Ideologues are seeking to marginalize Muslims by making their speech and their activism relating to their religion come at a very high price. They believe that Muslims are malevolent, duplicitous, and dangerous, and these Islamophobes will bend the truth to fit their claims. In the process, they are denying Islam the same functional rights that Christianity enjoys and silencing the very people best poised to reconcile Islam with modern American life. Which may be the very point”.

The “war against terrorism” has thus become part and parcel of the neoconservative long-range view and political agenda, in which Professor Bernard Lewis played a prominent role thanks also to the media which has consistently promoted his lectures and books.

Explaining Bernard Lewis’s scholar and political role in an excellent article[33] written in December 2002, Lamis Andoni says that Lewis’s work, especially his inflammatory book “What Went Wrong: Western impact and Middle Eastern Responses”––released in January 2002 shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks but written shortly before—has been an essential source of what was practically a manifesto for advocates of U.S. military intervention towards “establishing democracy in the Middle East”. This appreciation was indeed confirmed by Paul Wolfowitz in March 2002. Speaking via video phone at a special ceremony held in Tel Aviv to honour the leading Orientalist, he said “Bernard Lewis brilliantly placed the relationships and the issues of the Middle East into their larger context with truly objective, original and always independent thought. Bernard has taught [us] how to understand the complex and important history of the Middle East and use it to guide us where we will go next to build a better world for generations”. It was also confirmed on 5 April 2003, by the New York Times which described the book as having been a major influence on Bush administration thinking.

By declaring that the peoples of the Middle East—meaning Arabs and Muslims—have failed to catch up with modernity and have fallen into “a downward spiral of hatred and rage”, Lewis has not only exonerated American imperial policies and provided a moral and historical justification for Washington’s “war on terror”, but has also emerged as chief ideologue for the re-colonization of the Arab world. Andoni drew the latter reflection from the conclusion of the book in which Lewis says

“If the peoples of the Middle East continue on their present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region, and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, culminating sooner or later in yet another alien domination”.

All of the above has been aptly summed up in James Carroll’s aforementioned article which he concluded by stating that this inherited European habit of politicized paranoia is masterfully continued by freaked-out leaders of post 9/11 America. They too, he adds, like prelates, crusaders, conquistadores, and colonizers have turned fear of Islam into a source of power, and this history teaches that such self-serving projection can indeed result in the creation of an enemy ready and willing to make the nightmare real…

It is against that essential backdrop that we will set the events of 9/11 and their impact on the contemporary relations between the West and Islam, in a forthcoming analysis.

*

This article was originally published on The Saker.

Notes

1. Algerian researcher in international relations, author of the book “L’Orient et l’Occident à l’heure d’un nouveau Sykes-Picot” (“The Orient and the Occident in time of a new Sykes-Picot”), Editions Alem El Afkar, Algiers, 2014: downloadable free of charge, by clicking on the following links:http://algerienetwork.com/blog/lorient-et-loccident-a-lheure-dun-nouveau-sykes-picot-par-amir-nour/(French)
http://algerienetwork.com/blog/العالم-العربي-على-موعد-مع-سايكس-بيكو-ج/ (Arabic)

2. Noam Chomsky, “Masters of Mankind: Essays and lectures, 1969-2013”, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2014.

3. Dan Brown, “The Da Vinci Code”, Doubleday, 2003.

4. Malek Bennabi (1905-1973) was an Algerian writer and philosopher who devoted most of his life to observe and analyze History to understand the general laws behind the rise and fall of civilizations. He is mostly known for having coined the concept of “colonizability” (the inner aptitude to be colonized) and even the notion of “mondialisme” (Globalism).

5. Translated from Arabic. In Malek Bennabi,  وجهة العالم الإسلامي (Vocation of Islam, Part 2), Dar Al-Fikr, Damascus, Syria, 2012.

6. Norman Podhoretz, “World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, Doubleday, New York, 2007.

7. Graham E. Fuller, “A World Without Islam”, Foreign Policy, January 2008.

8. Arnold J. Toynbee was an English historian whose 12-volume study entitled “A Study of History” put forward a philosophy of History based on an analysis of the cyclical development and decline of civilizations that provoked much discussion. In his study, began in 1922 and completed in 1961, he examined the rise and fall of 26 civilizations in the course of human history, and concluded that they rose by responding successfully to challenges under the leadership of creative minorities composed of elite leaders. Civilizations declined when their leaders stopped responding creatively, and then sank owing to the sins of nationalism, militarism, and the tyranny of a despotic minority. Unlike Spengler in his “The Decline of the West”, Toynbee did not regard the death of civilizations as inevitable, for they may or may not continue to respond to successive challenges. And unlike Karl Marx, he saw History as shaped by spiritual, not economic forces (Source: Encyclopædia Britannicaonline, 2008).

9. Arnold J. Toynbee, “The Western Question in Greece and Turkey: A Study in the Contact of Civilizations”, Constable and Company Ltd., 1922.

10. Arnold J. Toynbee, “Islam, the West, and the Future”, in “Civilization on Trial”, Oxford University Press, 1948.

11. Bernard Lewis (with Buntzie Ellis Churchill), “Notes On A Century: Reflections of A Middle East Historian”, Penguin Books, New York, 2012.

12. Basil Mathews, “Young Islam On Treck: A Study in the Clash of Civilizations”, Friendship Press, New York, 1926. After service in the British Ministry of Information during WWI, he became the Literature Secretary of the Conference of British Missionary Societies and editor of Outward Bound. In 1924, he was called from London to Geneva, Switzerland, to be the Literature Secretary of the Boys’ Work Division of the World’s Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Associations.

13. Bernard Lewis, “Islam and the West”, Oxford University Press, 1993.

14. James Carroll, “The War Against Islam”, in The Boston Globe, June 7, 2005.

15. 1868-74, 1880-85, 1886, 1892-94.

16. Quoted in Paul G. Lauren, ed, “The China Hands’ Legacy: Ethics and Diplomacy”, Westview Press, 1987, page 136: A variant of this quote is found in Rafiq Zakaria, “Muhammad and the Quran”, Penguin Books, 1991, page 59: “So long as there is this book, there will be no peace in the world”.

17. Samuel Phillips Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

18. “Young Islam On Treck: A Study in the Clash of Civilizations”, op cit., page 199.

19. This appreciation is totally at odds with such writings as astrophysicist Michael H. Heart’s book “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History” (Hart Pub. Co, 1978), in which Prophet Muhammad is listed first. Asked why he made this choice, the author answered “My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels” (To read more on that subject see: http://www.iupui.edu/~msaiupui/thetop100.html?id=61 ). Or Karen Armstrong’s “Muhammad: A prophet For Our Time”, Harpers Collins, 2006, in which this renowned author demonstrates that Muhammad’s life—A pivot point in history—has genuine relevance to the global crises we face today.

20. In Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage”, The Atlantic, September 1990 issue.

21. Olive Branch Press, 2001

22. Showed for the first time in 2007. Watch on: https://www.democracynow.org/2007/10/19/reel_bad_arabs_how_hollywood_vilifies

23. In his landmark book “Orientalism”, first published in 1978, Edward Said observed: “Taking the late eighteenth century as a very roughly defined starting point Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient—dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient… My contention is that without examining Orientalism as a discourse one cannot possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage—and even produce—the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period. Moreover, so authoritative a position did Orientalism have that I believe no one writing, thinking, or acting on the Orient could do so without taking account of the limitations on thought and action imposed by Orientalism. In brief, because of Orientalism the Orient was not (and is not) a free subject of thought or action… European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self”.

24. See my analysis titled “The Western Roots of ‘Middle Eastern terrorismhttp://thesaker.is/the-western-roots-of-middle-eastern-terrorism/#post-28423-footnote-ref-17

25. See his book “The High Priests of War”, American Free Press, Washington, D.C., 2004. For a free download: http://users.skynet.be/boekanier/High_Priests_of_War.pdf

26. “Terrorism Industry: The Experts and Institutes That Shape Our View of Terror”.

27. Harry Elmer Barnes (editor), “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: A Critical Examination of the Foreign Policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Its Aftermath”, Caldwell, Idaho, Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1953.

28. See Center for American Progress report “Fear Inc.: the Roots of Islamophobia Network in America”, 2011; and CAIR’s report “Legislating Fear: Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States”, 2015.

29. Robert Spencer is the author of such hateful books as “Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam Is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs” “Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t” and “The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion”.

30. To read the manifesto : https://publicintelligence.net/anders-behring-breiviks-complete-manifesto-2083-a-european-declaration-of-independence/

31. Eugene Robinson, “Anders Behring Breivik and the influence industry hate”, The Washington Post, July 25, 2011 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/anders-behring-breivik-and-the-influence-industry-of-rage/2011/07/25/gIQASd2WZI_story.html?utm_term=.8c0880c06bf3

32. Read “The Making of Islamophobia Inc.”, Foreign Policy, March 16, 2017:https://www.google.dz/amp/foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/16/the-making-of-islamophobia-inc/amp/

33. Lamis Andoni, “Bernard Lewis: In the Service of Empire”, The Electronic Intifada, 16 December, 2016.

Posted in Middle East, EuropeComments Off on Islam and the West: What Went Wrong and Why

From War to Peace, Charlie Chaplin: “In the Name of Democracy – Let Us All Unite. Let us Fight for a New World”

NOVANEWS

Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” (1940)

The Great Dictator is a comedy film directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin. First released in October 1940, it was Chaplin’s first true talking picture, and more importantly was the only major film of its period to bitterly satirize Nazism and Adolf Hitler.

In the film Chaplin plays two characters who look strikingly similar- a Jewish barber and a dictator who looks like Adolf Hitler. Near the end of the film, after a series of far-flung mishaps, the dictator gets replaced by his look-alike, the barber, and is taken to the capital where he is asked to give a speech.

Listen to the Discourse. Very much related to our own realities and aspirations. A World without War and Propaganda 

Excerpts. Scroll Down for the Transcript

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed….

More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost…  ….

The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. …

Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance.

Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Transcript of Charlie Chaplin’s speech

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women, and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. …..

Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!

In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Posted in EuropeComments Off on From War to Peace, Charlie Chaplin: “In the Name of Democracy – Let Us All Unite. Let us Fight for a New World”

In the Western World Insanity Reigns

NOVANEWS

As I wrote earlier today, “the entire Western world is insane.”  More evidence has been jumping out at me all day.  For example:

President Trump has nominated a personGina Haspel, to be CIA Director who is deeply implicated in CIA torture and destruction of the evidence.  The Republicans want to confirm her as “an excellent choice.”  One assumes the feminists also favor confirmation as she is female.  That she is a woman, a torturer and destroyed incriminating evidence qualifies her to be CIA Director. Compare her treatment to General Michael Flynn’s. Trump abandoned Flynn as National Security Advisor on a nothing charge and puts in charge of the CIA a person who the ACLU calls the “central figure in one of the most illegal and shameful chapters in modern American history” and a “war criminal.”

Washington continues to murder citizens in Trump’s “shithole countries” around the clock and is apparently preparing to do the same thing to Russians and Iranians, and where is Amnesty International?  Margaret Huang has Amnesty International on a campaign to hold Trump responsible for not supporting women’s rights.  

With the Trump regime headed to war and more war, where is the Democratic opposition?  Hillary Clinton is in India explaining that Democrats “do not do well with white men, and we don’t do well with married, white women.”   Hillary is expressing the Identity Politics line that the problem is white people.  If the problem is white people, that includes not only the “Trump deplorables,” but also the populations of Australia, Canada, UK, Europe, and Russia.  If whiteness is the problem, how is it that Americans are “exceptional and indispensable”?  How can leadership of the West emerge from a political party allied with Identity Politics?

With the Trump regime opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, tuning over to mining corporations US National Monuments, and condoning extermination of endangered wildlife, where is the Sierra Club?

If you look at the current issue of Sierra (March/April), the Sierra Club is fighting against the lack of racial and sexual preference diversity in outdoor recreation with “Out in the Woods-Nature Doesn’t Care If You’re LGBTQ+.”   Venture Out Project is a nonprofit organization that rescues “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and nonbinary and differently gendered people” from self-pity by taking them “on wilderness adventures” in a safe outdoor environment where they don’t have to be afraid of heterosexual males. 

Of course, nature most certainly does care if you are LGBTQ+.  Nature is set up for procreation, not for same-sex sexual pleasure.  Who has ever heard of a lesbian lion pride or a LGBTQ+ wolf pack?

Is this silliness or insanity.  I think it is insanity.  Perversion is normalized and heterosexual males are demonized and delegitimized.  The self-confidence and motivation of the warrior class is destroyed while Washington issues threats to superior military powers. 

I am waiting for the day when an army of feminists and LGBTQ+ defeat the Russian military.

Posted in EuropeComments Off on In the Western World Insanity Reigns

From Switzerland to Singapore: The World’s Top Tax Havens

The UK-based Tax Justice Network’s new Financial Secrecy Index estimates that the ultra-wealthy are hiding up to $32 trillion in tax havens around the world, and while Switzerland gets the top spot on the new list, the U.S. is a not-so-distant second.

Not even major global scandals such as the Panama and Paradise papers have been able to slow the rise of the bigger and better tax havens, as global industry growth has billion-dollar asset owners looking for the ultimate haven to stow away gains.

These are the top 10 tax havens in 2018, according to FSI:

#1 Switzerland

Switzerland, a global leader in asset management cornering 28 percent of the market share, is holding an estimated $6.5 trillion, more than half of which comes from abroad.

The attraction is a low tax base coupled with a top-notch banking system.

Switzerland is the ‘grandfather’ of global tax havens, and the world leader in cross-border asset management.

As FSI notes:

“…the Swiss will exchange information with rich countries if they have to, but will continue offering citizens of poorer countries the opportunity to evade their taxpaying responsibilities.”

And it’s more secretive than the No 2 tax haven…

#2 The Unites States of America

The U.S. is on a tear on the competition for the top tax haven spot, rising for the third time in five years, and now capturing the number two slot. In 2015, the U.S. was in third place, and in 2013, it was in sixth.

Between 2015 and 2018, U.S. market share of global offshore financial services rose 14 percent, from 19.6 percent to 22.3 percent.

Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming are the most aggressive tax havens, often described as ‘captured states’.

When it comes specifically to offshore financial services, then, the U.S. now has the largest market share, rivalled only by the City of London, according to FSI, which notes that foreign country elites use the U.S. “as a bolt-hole for looted wealth”.

The baggage is piling up. Take the Delaware tax haven, for instance. It’s housing a company in “good standing” that is used for trafficking children for sex but can’t be shut down because it doesn’t have a physical presence in the state, according to Quartz.

#3 Cayman Islands

Third place go to this overseas territory of the United Kingdom, holding $1.4 trillion in assets managed through 200 banks. With more than 95,000 companies registered, this country is the world leader in terms of hosting investment funds.

It’s a lot more “upmarket” today than it used to be in its heyday as a hotspot for drug smuggling and money-laundering. Now it deals with some of the world’s biggest banks, corporations and hedge funds.

On the FSI secrecy index, it ranks a 71, right between Switzerland and the U.S.

#4 Hong Kong

While one of the newer tax haven’s—it’s already hit fourth place and is managing some $2.1 trillion in assets (as of the close of 2015), along with $470 billion in private banking assets. It helps that it’s home to the third-largest stock exchange in Asia.

And when it comes to ultra-high-net-worth individuals, Hong Kong leads the pack, with 15.3 per 100,000 households.

The attraction is that companies incorporated in Hong Kong pay tax only on profits sourced in Hong Kong and the tax rate is currently at 16.5 percent. So in all likelihood, they’re paying zero taxes.

In terms of secrecy, it ranks 71 alongside Cayman.

#5 Singapore

This country is the favorite offshore center servicing Southeast Asia (as opposed to Hong Kong, which caters to China and North Asia).

As of the end of 2015, Singapore was estimated to be holding $1.8 trillion in assets under management, 80 percent of which originated outside of the country.

It has a secrecy ranking of 67.

#6 Luxembourg

This is a tiny state in the European Union that packs a massive tax haven punch. Despite its size, it is said to control 12 percent of the global market share for offshore financial services. The FSI estimates that its 143 banks are managing assets of around $800 billion.

Luxembourg has a secrecy ranking of 58.

#7 Germany

Major tax loopholes and lax enforcement have bumped Germany to number seven on the FSI’s list, despite being one of the world’s biggest economies and not intentionally focusing on global financial services. It corners about 5 percentof market share in the sector, and ranks 59 in terms of secrecy.

#8 Taiwan

This is the first year Taiwan has made the Top 10 list, bumping off Lebanon, which now sits in 8th place.

Beijing’s “One China” policy is largely responsible for Taiwan’s ascendancy on the tax haven scene because it managed to fly under everyone’s radar, not participating in International Monetary Fund (IMF) statistics thanks to Chinese pressure.

And no one’s entirely sure how much offshore money is flowing through here.

#9 United Arab Emirate of Dubai

Dubai, servicing massive regional oil wealth, gets the highest secrecy rating of them all, at 84. Its offshore facilities are exceedingly complex and offers a low-tax environment and lax enforcement.

It’s also recently been the target of an EU tax haven blacklist.

#10 Guernsey

This small tax haven jurisdiction in the English Channel has risen seven places on the list since 2015, and accounts  for 0.5 percent of the global trade in offshore financial services. Essentially, this is nothing more than a ‘captured state’ with a high secrecy rating of 72.

Posted in EuropeComments Off on From Switzerland to Singapore: The World’s Top Tax Havens

Ahed Tamimi and the Pathology of the Nazi Mind

NOVANEWS
Ahed Tamimi and the Pathology of the Israeli Mind
 

The trial of Ahed Tamimi—the sixteen year old Palestinian girl who slapped a fully-armed Israeli soldier who was standing in her front yard looking for Palestinian demonstrators to shoot—is supposed to reconvene in a few days. Israeli military courts have a 100% conviction rate, even of children. Ahed is one of several Palestinian youth who have become symbolic throughout the world for the 70-year old Palestinian struggle to regain and retain their own land and their basic rights as human beings. She has already been in prison for three months for attempting to protect her home and family from Israeli soldier-intruders. Her mother Nariman, who went to visit Ahed the day after she was taken to prison, was arrested upon her arrival and has also spent the last three months in jail.

I traveled to Ahed’s village of Nabi Saleh a week ago, to learn more about problems confronting the village as Israelis appropriate their fields and water supplies for an ever-growing illegal (according to the United Nations) Israeli settlement nearby, and in hopes of meeting Ahed’s father Bassem and her cousin Janna Jihad Ayyad. Upon arrival no one was home so I took a seat on the front porch. Soon various people were coming and going, and one of them told me Bassem was away, but that Janna was around. We phoned her and she showed up a few minutes later.

Janna is a precocious eleven year-old who speaks English fluently and has been filming and reporting on the abuses of her people by the Israelis since she was seven. The deaths of two men in her village—her cousin, Mustafa Tamimi, and another uncle, Rushdie Tamimi—served as a trigger for her to begin documenting what was happening in Nabi Saleh. Mustafa was killed by an Israeli gas canister and Rushdie was fatally shot in his groin.

She has risked her own safety many times to document Israeli behavior in Palestine, which over the last 70 years includes driving a million Palestinians off of their land and from their homes, and appropriating for themselves the vast majority of what prior to 1947-48 had been the Palestinian homeland. To some degree she has an advantage over adult reporters, because as she puts it,

“The soldiers catch the big journalists and take their cameras….The camera is stronger than the gun. I can send my message to many people, and they can send it to others.”

At this point she has a Facebook page with 280,000 followers and her own Youtube channel, well worth visiting. Children in Palestine are forced to grow up early and fast. Janna’s uncle Bilal explained,

“We must teach our children not to accept humiliation and not be cowards. We are under occupation. We cannot teach our children silence; they must fight for their freedom.”

On the day I visited our conversation took a different direction. After briefly talking about life under occupation and how much she missed her best friend Ahed, I showed her a book I had brought with me, Wildflowers of the Mediterranean. She was quickly transformed from a serious journalist reporting on the disaster that has befallen her people into an animated, enthusiastic student of the natural world. She dashed around Ahed’s yard, bringing in the many spring blooms, searching in the book for the ones she did not recognize, and pointing out the ones she already knew.

At one point she stood in the very spot in the entryway to the Tamimi household (see image on the right) where Ahed had confronted the Israeli soldiers three months before. Where Ahed had found young Israeli men armed with machine guns bent of perpetuating violence against Palestinians on Palestinian land, Janna was for that moment immersed in the beauty of the good earth. The contrast could not have been more stark. Foreigners arriving with guns and bombs are resisted. Arriving with peaceful intentions one is met with a cup of tea.

I spent two hours with Janna, wandering the hills above the village, identifying flowers and enjoying the impressive limestone geology. The ground everywhere is littered with tear gas canisters, spent concussion grenades and smoke bombs. The Israelis have been harassing the people of Nabi Saleh for 70 years, plenty of time for the spent ammunition to form windrows among the fields of flowers.

The cruelty exhibited by the Israelis in their hungering to imprison the young Ahed Tamimi, whose only wish was to protect her people and her home from intruders and whose only weapon was a mere slap—the inherent cruelty of those hungering to put her in a prison cell for years, or even forever, with some government officials calling for rape and further darker abuse—this display of pathological cruelty by an entire society has people throughout the world wondering what curse has befallen the people of Israel.

One possible answer is that they are obsessed with the hallucination that they are somehow a ‘chosen people,’ that they are somehow better than the rest of humanity, even that they are the preferred favorites of some mythological god. As prime minister Menachem Begin exulted after the Zionist slaughter of Palestinians at the village of Deir Yassin prior to the 1948 war, “God, God, Thou has chosen us for conquest.” According to the Israel Democracy Institute, approximately two thirds of Israeli Jews believe that Jews are the “chosen people”.

This sense of superiority over others is in fact a common human trait, mixed though it always is with a countervailing feeling of inferiority and fear. Albert Einstein in the wisdom of his old age addressed this pathology when he observed,

“A human being experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.”

The obvious deeper truth made clear in our time through scientific inquiry is that all humans have the same long, deep and difficult history. All humans evolved together in Africa for 200,000 years before any left that continent. All human beings share 99.9% the exact same genetic code and 99.9% the same long, traumatic evolutionary journey.

The human family faces pressing ecological challenges at this particular locus along the course of our Big History, shared by all people, such as, for example, overshoot of the human population and diminution of the richness, beauty and diversity life on earth. None of our challenges are mitigated or even addressed by the mythologies spun by the human mind over the course of our our short-term, 3000-year Little History. Those working for a viable future for all of people and for the biosphere as a whole look forward to the Zionists and the Jews and all Israelis maturing out of their mythological hallucination of separateness and rejoining the family of humanity and the community of life on the journey towards a viable future.

Posted in Palestine AffairsComments Off on Ahed Tamimi and the Pathology of the Nazi Mind


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