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.
Juan Cole, the respected scholar and university professor, performs an extremely valuable and courageous service in opposing US war policy in the Middle East. He dares to do what few of his peers are willing to do: present his views (most frequently on his weblog, “Informed Comment”) on current Middle East issues which necessarily touch the taboo topic of Israel and contradict the position of the Israel lobby. As a Middle East specialist, Cole is capable of writing very informative pieces on that region, which go into far greater depth than I have the expertise to do. It is certainly not in his view of the Middle East per se where I find flaws in his interpretation, but in his assessment of the United States policy, especially the role of the neoconservatives and the broader Israel Lobby, an area in which I have done considerable research (e.g. my book, “The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel”), and where my Ph.D. background in US diplomatic history would be of some relevance.
Although mentioning the role of some American Jews in regard to shaping American Middle East policy, Cole still tends to downplay it. The flawed elements in his thinking on this crucial area are especially encapsulated in his recent article, “The Decline of the Israeli Right and the Increasing Desperation of the ‘Anti-Semitism’ Charge.” An erroneous assessment of the problem militates against the achievement of a just resolution. Professor Cole’s views on the U.S. Middle East policy, if taken at face value, illustrate these problems. Cole is obviously a sincere opponent of US/Israel wars in the Middle East and of the American-supported Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, but since he is operating from within the constraints of present discourse — which assumes Jewish powerlessness and universalistic Jewish beneficence — his analysis, despite his expertise and honesty on the Middle East developments, has significant flaws.
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: