Warlord as Nobel Laureate

from Mother Jones magazine

by William Blum

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” — Voltaire

Question: How many countries do you have to be at war with to be disqualified from receiving the Nobel Peace Prize?

Answer: Five. Barack Obama has waged war against only Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. He’s holding off on Iran until he actually gets the prize.

Somalian civil society and court system are so devastated from decades of war that one wouldn’t expect its citizens to have the means to raise serious legal challenges to Washington’s apparent belief that it can drop bombs on that sad land whenever it appears to serve the empire’s needs. But a group of Pakistanis, calling themselves “Lawyers Front for Defense of the Constitution”, and remembering just enough of their country’s more civilized past, has filed suit before the nation’s High Court to make the federal government stop American drone attacks on countless innocent civilians. The group declared that a Pakistan Army spokesman claimed to have the capability to shoot down the drones, but the government had made a policy decision not to. (1)

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Pakistan creates its own enemy

Funeral for the eight civilians killed in the Pakistani military's failed attempt to assassinate militant leader Mangal Bagh Afridi (EPA)

The is a version of my Le Monde Diplomatique article updated for the Arabic, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, and Portuguese editions. It is also on Counterpunch, December 4-6, 2009 (It also appears in the February 2010 issue of the Japanese monthly Sekai)

On the day I arrived in Peshawar mid-September, the evening stillness was broken by nine loud explosions, each preceded by the sucking sound of a projectile as it arced into Hayatabad, the suburban sprawl west of the city. Their target was a Frontier Constabulary post guarding the fence that separates the city from the tribal region of Khyber.

When I lived here seven years ago, Hayatabad hosted many Afghan refugees; those with fewer resources lived in the slums of Kacha Garhi, along the Jamrud Road to the Khyber Pass. Many established businesses here and dominated commerce and transportation in parts of the city. Some would temporarily migrate to Afghanistan in summer where it was cooler. But Peshawar was a sanctuary, as Afghanistan was perpetually at war. Now the remaining Afghans are leaving because Afghanistan feels safer. There are checkpoints all over the city, many kidnappings, and during my visit, there were at least three suicide bombings and four rocket attacks, many of them targeting Hayatabad.

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Robert Greenwald on Afghanistan

AfghanRobert Greenwald of Brave New Films speaks about Afghanistan on Bob McChesney’s excellent Media Matters.

Robert Greenwald and McChesney discuss Afghanistan

Robert Greenwald is a producer, director and political activist. Greenwald is the founder and president of Brave New Films. Under Greenwald’s direction, Brave New Films has produced a series of short political videos, including the Fox Attacks and Real McCain campaigns. Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Foundation is currently producing Rethink Afghanistan, a groundbreaking documentary being released online in real-time; the film features experts from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S. discussing the United States’ flawed strategy in Afghanista

I Refuse to Buy a Poppy

Steve Bell

Yesterday five British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman. Just as they keep promising that they’ve reached ‘decisive turning points’ in their battle with the Afghan resistance, British military officials immediately vowed that the ‘rogue’ policeman would be caught. Today the Taliban reports that the policeman is safe with them, and that he’s been greeted with flowers.

Our glorious patriotic press responds. Amusingly, the Daily Mail headline wrings its hands and squawks, “What kind of war IS this?” Because some people aren’t playing by the rules, you see. Instead of sitting quietly in their villages waiting for the drone attack, or perhaps sending their kids out to accept sweets and modernity from a rosy-cheeked English lad, some barbarians are actually shooting back at the invaders. How very unBritish. (To be fair to the Mail – which has never been fair to anyone – it does seem to be taking an anti-war stance today). Other sections of the media worry about the ‘loyalty’ of Afghan troops, as if love for foreign occupiers is a realistic standard of loyalty. Still others, even more clever, psychoanalyse the policeman, wondering if an argument with his commander pushed him to a moment of madness. But it really isn’t that complicated, as anybody who disabuses themselves of imperialist delusion can see. Very simply, people don’t like foreigners striding around their streets and fields with guns and assumptions of superiority. Afghans will kill British troops as surely as Britons would kill Afghan troops if they occupied this country.

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How Eurocentric Is Your Day?

M. Shahid Alam

Muslim AstronomersAt the outset of the classes I teach, I always address the question of bias in the social sciences. In one course – on the history of the global economy – this is the central theme. It critiques Eurocentric biases in several leading Western accounts of the rise of the global economy.

This fall, I began my first lecture on Eurocentrism by asking my students, How Eurocentric is your day? I explained what I wanted to hear from them. Can they get through a typical day without running into ideas, institutions, values, technologies and products that originated outside the West – in China, India, the Islamicate or Africa?

The question befuddled my students. I proceeded to pepper them with questions about the things they do during a typical day, from the time they wake up.

Unbeknownst, my students discover that they wake up in ‘pajamas,’ trousers of Indian origin with an Urdu-Persian name. Out of bed, they shower with soap and shampoo, whose origins go back to the Middle East and India. Their tooth brush with bristles was invented in China in the fifteenth century. At some point after waking up, my students use toilet paper and tissue, also Chinese inventions of great antiquity.

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Gilad Schalit in Captivity – Israel’s Most Valuable Asset of Occupation

shalitThe youth in Israel are raised to willingly and even proudly enlist in the army. I personally remember being promised by my high school teachers that if something happened to me, Israel wouldn’t forsake its “sons and daughters”. It’s been a while since I was in school, but nothing has changed:

[IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi] also told the troops that Israeli soldiers “must always remember that if anything happens to them, we will make sure they are returned to their families.”

I often ask myself how this can be said, when raising crops of gun-wielding robots is the main focus of the Israeli educational system. When you encourage me to enlist, do you not encourage me to die? When you encourage my parents to turn me over to the state’s care,  for the sole purpose of enlisting, do you not encourage them to make the ultimate Abraham’s sacrifice? How do people get so crazy as to willingly sacrifice themselves for a “greater good” that they are constantly told is unattainable, because the other side is no partner?

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Somalia: When is a pirate not a pirate?

Pirates or Coast Guard?
Pirates or Coast Guard?

From our friend Agustín Velloso Santisteban in Madrid.

Oh, the pirates! What a nice word. It brings us sweet memories from our childhood. Unscrupulous, merciless, astute characters, and today armed with automatic guns. We are longing to see before the High Court in Madrid, Spain, the two Somali pirates captured by our brave Atalanta operatives in the Indian Ocean on 4 October.[1]

We have had enough of the corrupt CEOs who sail towards offshore banks. We do not want to hear anymore about the prime ministers who attack and invade faraway countries. What we really want is to see real pirates. While those corsair and freebooter businessmen and politicians are well-known and still at large, you can confidently expect that the two detainees will spend a long time behind Spanish bars. Everyone knows that they are poor, black, Muslim and dared to attack a Spanish fishing boat.

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Islam in the Writing Process

enjoin the good
photo by Rehan Jamil

If all goes well I will be at Notre Dame University in the US later this month for a conference on the role of Islam in contemporary European literature. I wrote the piece below for the conference.

Salman Rushdie once commented that ‘Islam’, in contrast to ‘the West’, is not a narrative civilisation. This, in my opinion, is obvious nonsense. Beyond the fact that human beings are narrative animals, whatever civilisation they live in, and that Islamic civilisation cannot be isolated from, for instance, Christian, Hindu or Arab civilisations, the Muslim world has a history of influential narratives which is second to none. These include Sufi tales, chivalric adventures, fantastical travelogues, romances and spiritual biographies written in several major languages.

Although the Arabic novel is generally considered to have developed in the early twentieth century from the experience of industrial urbanisation and the penetration of European genres and philosophies, Ibn Tufail’s 12th Century “Hayy ibn Yaqzan”, an inspiration for Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”, can reasonably stake a claim to being the world’s first novel. The Arabian Nights (via Don Quixote) is surely another source of the European novel tradition. And Islam the religion – as opposed to the even more nebulous ‘civilisation’ – is a text-based faith. The Qur’an is the religion’s only official miracle; the first word revealed to the Prophet was ‘iqra’ – ‘read’. Those who attempt to draw a distinction between literalist scripture and free and playful literature should pay attention to verse 26 of the Qur’an’s second chapter which, immediately after the first description of heaven and hell, proclaims: “Behold, God does not disdain to propound a parable of a gnat, or of something even less than that.” In other words, the Qur’an is a text unashamed to use metaphor, symbol and a whole range of literary devices in order to point to ineffable realities.
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Chomsky: Palestine and the region in the Obama era

Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky speak in London on the Israel-Palestine question. I think Tariq’s suggestions are eminently sensible, whereas once again Chomsky’s analysis leaves me underwhelmed. I don’t think he has anything of value to contribute to this debate any more. Worse, he is telling Palestinians that UNGAR 194 is no longer useful and that they should forgo the right of return. Curiously, he still continues to insist that Israel is merely a pawn in the belligerent US designs against Iran. I also found it disingenuous that while he has remained consistent in his opposition to BDS, his argument hasn’t. While in the past he would insist that everything Israel does was at the behest of the US, hence its the imperial patron that needs to be boycotted, now he says public opinion is not ready for it.

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