Solidarity is not a Crime: Statement from the Minnesota Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria (Minnesota CISPOS)

January 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

As members of an organization committed to peace and justice, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria (CISPOS), it was disheartening for us to see an article in Huffington Post that falsely alleges that we are working “in sync with neocon warhawks to produce and sustain a perpetual state of U.S. war.” Coleen Rowley and Margaret Sarfehjooy’s article “Selling ‘Peace Groups’ on US-Led Wars” does not provide insightful analysis and is constructed on unfounded claims.

The article is fallout from the widespread controversy in the peace movement over how to respond to the brutal war in Syria.

Many anti-war pundits and activists have bought into U.S. propaganda that the U.S. is actively supporting the Syrian rebels to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria. They point to the 1997 Project for a New American Century plan for regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. They believed Hillary Clinton in 2012 when she said the Assad regime must go and that the international community stands with the Syrian people.  In fact…the U.S. has given very little training, small weapons, and funds to very few rebel groups.  Congress recently dropped $300 million for the Syrian rebels from the defense bill, almost completely cutting what the Syrian opposition already saw as paltry support from the U.S.  On the other hand, the CIA has long had a working relationship with Assad, sending him numerous terrorist suspects to torture as part of their rendition program. Assad has provided Israel with a secure border.

Talk with Syrians and you’ll learn that U.S. aid was never enough to counter Assad’s MiGs, attack helicopters, Scud missiles, heavy tanks, chemical weapons. They repeatedly state that the U.S. bombing of ISIS has helped Assad – the bombing has sometimes targeted groups aligned with anti-Assad forces and never hit the regime. Syrians too initially believed Clinton’s promises but have been repeatedly disappointed in the support from the U.S. and the international community.

Syrians will tell you that the people who rose up against Assad in early 2011 were not the traditional opposition leaders that the U.S. had met with. The uprising was indigenous – not foreign terrorists as Assad has claimed.

In the 1980s, peace organizations worked in solidarity with Central Americans who struggled to rid their countries of repressive regimes. We LISTENED to their voices.  Today too many activists have NOT listened to Syrians. They have gotten their information from pro-Assad propaganda sites like Global Research, Consortium News, Mint Press, RT (Russian TV), Press TV (Iranian TV). Like Rowley and Sarfehjooy, many in the peace movement interpret the Syrian conflict as the U.S. trying to overthrow the “anti-imperialist” Assad regime. Most Syrians will tell you that is not true.

Rowley and Sarfehjooy disparagingly refer to local Syrian Americans as “expatriates”, dismissing their authority to speak on Syria. Rowley and Sarfehjooy have attacked our Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria (CISPOS) and Friends for a NonViolent World (FNVW) for hosting events with local Syrian Americans. They claim that FNVW and CISPOS are promoting war by hosting speakers who “demonize” the Syrian government of Bashar Assad and thereby justify U.S. intervention. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Eighteen other Twin Cities church, peace and university groups have hosted the very same local Syrian American speakers as FNVW and CISPOS. These include:

Amnesty International (Minneapolis chapter), Arab American Cultural Institute, Human Rights Program at the University of Minnesota, Al Madinah Cultural Center, French Culture and Language Association, Global Solutions, Northwest Neighbors for Peace, the Carleton community, Minnesota Peace Project, Presbyterian Church of the Apostles, Yale School of Public Health, Arab Film Fest, University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Program, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota,  Middle East Peace Now,  St. Luke Presbyterian Church, Minnesota Independent Scholars Program, Mizna.

Are those organizations also complicit in promoting U.S. military intervention? Of course not.

Rowley and Sarfehjooy’s organization, Women Against Military Madness, and their frequent co-sponsor, the Anti-War Committee, are the only Twin Cities organizations to hold Syria events without local Syrian Americans. Instead, WAMM’s Syria events have featured their own members (who have no Syria expertise), Assad apologist Mother Agnes, and Matar Matar from the pro-Assad Syrian American Forum. They have refused to include any Syria events on their calendar from the above eighteen organizations.

Recently thirteen local Syrian Americans sent a letter to WAMM politely requesting that their November event on Syria (WAMM’s fifth event) include a Syrian. They did not receive a response.

U.S. military intervention is NOT the only response to Assad’s brutal police state and his monstrous war crimes. FNVW and CISPOS helped organize an International Solidarity Hunger Strike to pressure the UN to allow unhampered access for humanitarian agencies to deliver food to besieged areas of Syria. Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Medea Benjamin, Kathy Kelley, Bill Fletcher, Jr. and many other activists endorsed the hunger strike.

These two groups (CISPOS and FNVW) have organized fundraising events for medical aid to Syria. FNVW held an Olives & Herbs lunch in solidarity with starving Syrians who have subsisted on only those foods for months. CISPOS members have gone to anti-U.S. intervention demonstrations with signs that say, “No to U.S. Bombing!  Stop Assad’s Bombing!” and “No Drones! No Barrel Bombs!” Their recent forum featured Syrian American Mohja Kahf’s important, well-researched presentation on nonviolent activism in Syria from the beginnings of the revolution to the present.

The source of the problem is familiar to those with knowledge of the history of sectarian disagreements on the left. The strong condemnations from Rowley and Sarfehjooy’s article did not come from a vacuum. For the last three years, the presence of the Stalinist Freedom Road Socialist Organization members on WAMM’s board and the influence of their ideology has resulted in increased intolerance from the WAMM board towards anyone with a differing viewpoint.

Freedom Road is a dogmatic, sectarian Stalinist group that has publicly taken a position in support of the Assad government in Syria. FRSO leader Joe Iosbaker has stated that “the Syrian government ought to be defended”. He traveled to Syria in June as part of a delegation to certify Assad’s fraudulent re-election in the midst of the bloodiest war on the planet. Iosbaker returned to claim that he had witnessed democratic elections where Assad was “given the mandate by the people of Syria”.

While WAMM for decades was a respected democratic, feminist organization, its recent actions have abandoned those roots and generated discord within the Twin Cities peace community.

After four years of the Syrian conflict, it is unacceptable for us to say “it’s too complicated.” We must not be complicit with the war crimes of the Assad regime by our silence. Listen to Syrians. Learn the facts. We can stand in solidarity with their epic struggle for freedom and dignity AND, at the same time, oppose U.S. military intervention.

For more sources, see Alternative Left Perspectives on Syria.

The Road to Iraq

December 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Road to Iraq book coverA slightly shorter version of my review of Pulse editor Idrees Ahmad’s devastating dissection of the neoconservatives and their deeds appeared at the National.

Meticulously researched and fluently written, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad’s “The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War” is the comprehensive guide to the neoconservatives and their works. The book’s larger story is of the enormous influence wielded by unelected lobbyists and officials over the foreign policies of supposed democracies, their task facilitated by the privatisation and outsourcing of more and more governmental functions in the neoliberal era. (Similar questions are provoked by the state-controlled or corporate media in general, as it frames, highlights or ignores information.) The more specific story is of how a small network of like-minded colleagues (Ahmad provides a list of 24 key figures), working against other unelected officials in the State Department, military and intelligence services, first conceived and then enabled America’s 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, a disaster which continues to overshadow regional and global relations today.

The first crop of neoconservatives emerged from a Trotskyist-tinged 1930s New York Jewish intellectual scene; they and their descendants operated across the political-cultural spectrum, in media and academia, think tanks and pressure groups. Hovering first around the Democratic Party, then around the Republicans, they moved steadily rightwards, and sought to form a shadow defence establishment. During the Cold War they were fiercely anti-Soviet. Under George Bush Jr. they shifted from the lobbies into office.

The neoconservative worldview is characterised by militarism, unilateralism, and a firm commitment to Zionism. Even the Israel-friendly British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said of neocon Irving Libby: “It’s a toss-up whether Libby is working for the Israelis or the Americans on any given day.” The neoconservatives aimed for an Israelisation of American policy, conflating Israeli and American enemies, and adopting their doctrine of ‘pre-emptive war’ from Israel’s 1967 war on the Arabs. « Read the rest of this entry »

Peshawar Blues

December 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

I wrote this feature in summer 2012 for the “Pakistan?” special issue of Critical Muslim.

On the Kuwait Airways flight from London to Islamabad, the unusually boorish flight crew handed us disembarkation cards that the government of Pakistan requires all international arrivals to fill. Besides our passport numbers, addresses and reason for visiting, the form asked if we had been to Africa or Latin America in the past week. The purpose of this question was unclear except perhaps as a means to boost national self-esteem by implying that Pakistan is healthier than those two continents. With the only pen in my row, I helped five other passengers fill their forms.

At Islamabad’s decrepit Benazir Bhutto International Airport, I was pleasantly surprised to find the immigration staff making no undue effort to inconvenience new arrivals. Former president Pervez Musharraf’s successful effort at gender-balancing has markedly improved the behaviour of male airport staff. After sailing through immigration and customs, I became conscious of the disembarkation card still in my hand. Not inclined to take chances, I asked an officer where to deposit it. He hadn’t a clue, nor did anyone else. Finally, a customs official took the card from my hand and threw it into a waste basket. I wasn’t asked for it again.

What is still known internationally as the Islamabad Airport is actually based in the city of Rawalpindi. As the historic Grand Trunk Road passes through its crowded precincts, its name changes twice—to Peshawar Road and The Mall. We drove North-West on the Peshawar Road, past the General Head Quarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army which in 1895 had served as the launching pad for the Malakand Field Force, the British colonial army’s counter-insurgency campaign against the recalcitrant frontier. The sanguine details of this campaign were preserved in vivid detail by a young Winston Churchill who was also serving as a correspondent for The Times. More recently, on 10 October 2009, the GHQ was the site of a bloody raid by a group of 10 militants who breached its defences and triggered a hostage crisis which ended with 9 soldiers, 2 civilians, and 9 assailants dead.

« Read the rest of this entry »

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting

October 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

So said Milan Kundera. And because Assad’s western apologists are determined to overpower, let us preserve the endangered memories and remind people once again what the conflict in Syria is all about.

VETO is a short film sheds light on the current Syrian Revolution and the circumstances behind the transformation from peaceful movement to an armed revolution. VETO takes you through the last two years of this unbearable suffering with over 100,000 Syrian victims and more than 5 million displaced people, and a clueless world about how to stop this horrendous crime! VETO was made in 2012 and was nominated for the Documentary of The Year Award in Germany 2013 and was highlighted by several international media outlets.

Joseph Stiglitz: Creating a Learning Society

September 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Betrayal & Ambivalence: Syrian Activists Wrestle with ISIS, Intervention & the Fate of Their Country

September 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

When Dissent magazine recently invited me to write an article on ISIS and intervention, I thought to pick the brains of various Syrian activists, writers and intellectuals. The correspondence that ensued became the article, which appeared on the Dissent blog yesterday. Here’s my introduction:

Conspicuously absent from the debate about ISIS and U.S. intervention—both in the mainstream and in the leftosphere—are Syrian voices. ISIS and U.S. officialdom occupy center stage, leaving the perspectives of Syrian civil society activists and writers out of the equation. While hardly surprising, this omission is troubling.

In an attempt to remedy this imbalance, I asked several Syrians—longtime activists and intellectuals from a range of backgrounds, including Kurdish, Palestinian, and Assyrian Christian—what they think about the ISIS crisis and Western intervention.

Read the full article here.

Almost 200 Hollywood Celebrities Sign on to Israel’s Genocide of the Palestinian People

August 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 16.36.04

Today, [Creative Community for Peace] say, there is not a single musical act, from Justin Timberlake to the Rolling Stones to Alicia Keys, that they have not approached and coached in advance of their performance in Israel. ~Times of Israel

It’s no surprise that the genocidal Times of Israel is so eager to push anti-BDS initiatives. It’s also no surprise that one of Israel’s most well connected, elite whitewashing team, Creative Community for Peace [CCfP], is doing exactly what it vowed to do- whitewash genocide. However one might wonder about some of the names on the below statement that CCfP has published:Crceative Community For Peace Genocide

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