After a recent talk about the struggle for social justice and the threats to the ecosystem, a student lingered, waiting to talk to me alone, as if he had something to confess.
“I feel so overwhelmed,” he finally said, wondering aloud if political organizing could really make a difference. The young man said he often felt depressed, not about the circumstances of his own life but about the possibilities for change. Finally, he looked at me and asked, “Once you see what’s happening — I mean really see it — how are you supposed to act like everything is going to be OK?”
I hear such concerns often, from young and older people alike. Perhaps the questions are rationalizations for political inaction for some people, attempts to persuade themselves that there’s no reason to join left/progressive movements. But most of the people I meet who struggle with this question are activists, engaged in all kinds of worthy projects. They aren’t looking for a reason to drop out but are trying to face honestly the state of the world. They want to stay engaged but recognize the depth of multiple crises — economic, political, cultural, and ecological.
Some organizers respond to such concerns with upbeat assurances that if we just get more people on board and work a little bit harder, the problems will be solved — if not tomorrow, certainly within some reasonable period of time. I used to say things like that, but now I think it’s more honest, and potentially effective, to acknowledge how massive the obstacles that need to be overcome really are. We must not only recognize that the world’s resources distributed in a profoundly unjust way and the systems in which we live are fundamentally unsustainable ecologically, but also understand there’s no guarantee that this state of affairs can be reversed or even substantially slowed down. There are, in fact, lots of reasons to suspect that many of our fundamental problems have no solutions, at least no solutions in any framework we currently understand.
Forgive an outsider and staunch atheist like myself who, on reading the recent French press comments relating to Ilhem Moussaid the hijab-wearing NPA candidate in Avignon, gets the impression that something is rotten in French political culture. Let’s take the debate at face-value. A young Muslim woman joins the NPA [New Anti-Capitalist Party]. She obviously agrees with its program that defends abortion, contraception, etc, i.e. a woman’s right to choose. She is then told that despite this she does not have the right to choose what she wears on her head. It’s astonishing. There is no Koranic injunction involved. The book says: “Draw their (women’s) veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty”, which can be interpreted in several ways but is disregarded most blatantly by hijab-wearing Egyptian women I see in Cairo and Karachi wearing tight jeans and T-shirts that contradicted the spirit of the Koranic message.
Patriarchal traditions, cultural habits and identity are what is at stake here and they vary from generation to generation. Pushing people back into a ghetto never helps.
A European country that scapegoats a Semitic people, persecutes defenders of human rights by stripping them of employment, and denies freedom of speech to Jews: surely a description of Germany during the Third Reich?
Yes, but unfortunately also a description of Germany at the outset of the 21st century.
In the wake of German Chancellor Merkel’s craven speech to the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) two years ago, I wrote: “a penance is being paid for Germany’s past crimes… by the Palestinians to whose plight Merkel is so indifferent…. By scapegoating the victims of its former victims, Germany is compounding its past crimes.” (Scapegoat upon Scapegoat, Electronic Intifada, 20 March 2008).
Just one year later I described the case of Hermann Dierkes, forced to resign his position as representative of Die Linke (The Left Party) on Duisburg city council after tentatively advocating a boycott of Israeli goods. I commented: “It appears that freedom of speech, supposedly one of the proudest acquisitions of post-Fascist Germany, is readily suppressed when exercised to advocate positive action against the racist, politicidal institutions and actions of the Zionist state.” (A public stoning in Germany, Electronic Intifada, March 2009).
Neither does Teodoro Obiang need money to earn a place among the world’s most powerful. He is already a welcome member of this cabal, which often treats him with affection. Welcoming him in Washington back in 2006, erstwhile secretary of state Condoleeza Rice said, ‘You are a good friend, and we welcome you’.
He has been welcomed to Beijing six times by Hu Jintao, who said to him, ‘bilateral relations between our two countries have developed through goodwill’.
This is not what you expect: an accomplished and self-reflective work of history enclosed within a layer of war reportage – in comic book form. But Joe Sacco’s “Footnotes in Gaza” is just that, an unusually effective treatment of Palestinian history which may appeal to people who would never read a ‘normal book’ on the subject. The writing, however, is at least as good as you’d expect from a high quality prose work. Here, for instance, is page nine: “History can do without its footnotes. Footnotes are inessential at best; at worst they trip up the greater narrative. From time to time, as bolder, more streamlined editions appear, history shakes off some footnotes altogether. And you can see why… History has its hands full. It can’t help producing pages by the hour, by the minute. History chokes on fresh episodes and swallows whatever old ones it can.”
The pictures – aerial shots, action shots, urban still lifes, crafted but realist character studies – work as hard as the words. Sacco depicts fear, humiliation and anger very well indeed, and often achieves far more with one picture than he could in an entire newspaper column. The cranes at work on a Jerusalem skyline are worth a paragraph or two of background. So is the fact that almost every Palestinian male has a cigarette in his mouth. And when dealing with historical process – the changing shape of the camps, for example – the pictures are more than useful.
William A. Cook provides an overview of the state of affairs of the zionist affairs of state, in a piece entitled The Unstated Script of the Wiesel Open Letter to President Obama. It is a good summary but by no means definitive: one could add theft of Palestinian tax credits, water, fertile top soil, religious sites, harvesting of human organs, daily humiliations, and much much more …
Let’s draw up the bill of particulars that is hidden from the world, the subtext, the unsaid prayer no one in this American government wants revealed and certainly no one in Israel wants displayed publicly.
What is the true nature of this state of Israel that … is now seeking to enlist the governments of the world against its perceived “existential” enemy, Iran?
* It is a state without mercy, a state without morals, a state premised on racism, a state built on deception and lies;
* a state defiant of international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Geneva Conventions that apply to occupying powers;
* a state, unlike North Korea or Iran, the other identified Axis of Evil states, that has invaded neighboring states and occupies them;
From assassinations that go to the heart of government and power grabs by narco-despots we turn — for what it’s worth — to the minutiae of modern American life. Namely, schools.
As both Republicans and Democrats barrel down the warpath to privatize the nation’s sprawling but remarkably inequitable public education system, the Obama Administration is preparing to dole out billions of dollars to states who embrace experimentation in their schools. Meanwhile, post-secondary education is becoming increasingly inaccessible as was underscored by student upheaval in California when the state proposed drastic tuition increases. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act is being appraised for its successes or lack thereof and the burgeoning home schooling movement as well as the big tent that is the charter school movement outlines that what is really at stake is our very conception of American democracy.
To make some sense of recent developments I exchanged emails with Dr. Mike Rose. A professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and a former teacher, he is the author of a number of books with the most recent being Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us. Slim but poignant, I highly recommend it.
Well over a 1500 people gathered at Bil’in last Friday for a very ceremonial demonstration. Many politicians were present, most notably Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and Remy Pagany, the mayor of Geneva. Drummers from both the Palestinian Scouts and the Israeli Anarchists came together, joined by the Israeli Clown Army group. All in all, very festive. The festivities were over after the marchers reached the fence and a truly spontaneous, collective act of elation and rage ensued:
The Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009 was not merely a military assault on a primarily civilian population, impoverished and the victim of occupation and besiegement these past 42 years. It was also part of an ongoing assault on international humanitarian law by a highly coordinated team of Israeli lawyers, military officers, PR people and politicians, led by (no less) a philosopher of ethics. It is an effort coordinated as well with other governments whose political and military leaders are looking for ways to pursue “asymmetrical warfare” against peoples resisting domination and the plundering of their resources and labor without the encumbrances of human rights and current international law. It is a campaign that is making progress and had better be taken seriously by us all.
Since Ariel Sharon was indicted by a Belgian court in 2001 over his involvement in the Sabra and Chatila massacres and Israel faced accusations of war crimes in the wake of its 2002 invasion of the cities of the West Bank, with its high toll in civilian casualties (some 500 people killed, 1,500 wounded, more than 4,000 arrested), hundreds of homes demolished and the urban infrastructure utterly destroyed, Israel has adopted a bold and aggressive strategy: alter international law so that non-state actors caught in a conflict with states and deemed by the states as “non-legitimate actors” (“terrorists,” “insurgents” and “non-state actors,” as well as the civilian population that supports them) can no longer claim protection from invading armies. The urgency of this campaign has been underscored by a series of notable setbacks Israel subsequently incurred at the hands of the UN. In 2004, at the request of the General Assembly, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Israel’s construction of wall inside Palestinian territory is “contrary to international law” and must be dismantled—a ruling adopted almost unanimously by the General Assembly, with only Israel, the US, Australia and a few Pacific atolls dissenting. In 2006 the UN Commission of Inquiry concluded that “a significant pattern of excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by the IDF against Lebanese civilians and civilian objects, failing to distinguish civilians from combatants and civilian objects from military targets.” together with the harsh criticism of the UN’s Goldstone report on Gaza accusing the Israeli government and military again of targeting Palestinian civilians and causing disproportionate destruction, has made this campaign even more urgent.