Obama’s drone war claims another victim

by Clive Stafford Smith

Tariq Aziz sits in the centre of the second row in this picture from the 28 October 2011 Jirga with tribal elders and lawyers from Reprieve.

LAST Friday, I took part in an unusual meeting in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

The meeting had been organized so that Pashtun tribal elders who lived along the Pakistani-Afghan frontier could meet with Westerners for the first time to offer their perspectives on the shadowy drone war being waged by the Central Intelligence Agency in their region. Twenty men came to air their views; some brought their young sons along to experience this rare interaction with Americans. In all, 60 villagers made the journey.

The meeting was organized as a traditional jirga. In Pashtun culture, a jirga acts as both a parliament and a courtroom: it is the time-honored way in which Pashtuns have tried to establish rules and settle differences amicably with those who they feel have wronged them.

On the night before the meeting, we had a dinner, to break the ice. During the meal, I met a boy named Tariq Aziz. He was 16. As we ate, the stern, bearded faces all around me slowly melted into smiles. Tariq smiled much sooner; he was too young to boast much facial hair, and too young to have learned to hate.

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Blue Nights: a conversation with Joan Didion

Christopher Lydon of the excellent Radio Open Source speaks to Joan Didion, one of the greatest non-fiction writers and prose stylists of the past half century, about her latest book Blue Nights. The book is a follow-up to her acclaimed The Year of Magical Thinking; both are meditations on death inspired by the death of her husband, the author John Gregory Dunne, closely followed by the death of her adopted daughter Quintana.

Joan Didion is reading from her second smashing meditation on death, Blue Nights. And I’m her interlocutor and foil again onstage in Cambridge. With a woman of the considered written word, not the spontaneous spoken word, it’s a tricky job. And it didn’t solve for me the puzzle of Didion’s power. But how could I not share it, or you not respond?

Joan Didion’s a writers’ writer gone suddenly, in her seventies, rock star and phenomenon, meeting a hungry market for introspections on death both sudden, as in the case of her husband John Gregory Dunne and Didion’s 2005 best-seller, The Year of Magical Thinking; or slow and almost unfathomable death, which came to Didion’s adopted daughter Quintana Roo, at 39, and prompted Blue Nights. Six hundred readers bought books and tickets to hear Didion and pack the First Church in Harvard Square last night.

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Is ESPN’s Documentary about Bahrain Iranian Propaganda too?

We are interested in seeing how the PR agents of Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifa family will try to spin this documentary produced by the U.S. sports channel, ESPN, as Iranian propaganda.

If you haven’t already seen Al Jazeera’s report on the brutally repressed and resilient democracy movement in Bahrain, you can watch it here.

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists

New revolutionaries or digital vigilantes? Revenge of the nerds or redefining “cool”? Judge for yourself when this documentary is released in 2012.

Official website: “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists” is a documentary that takes us inside the world of Anonymous, the radical “hacktivist” collective that has redefined civil disobedience for the digital age. The film explores the historical roots of early hacktivist groups like Cult of the Dead Cow and Electronic Disturbance Theater and then follows Anonymous from 4chan to a full-blown movement with a global reach, one of the most transformative of our time.

IAEA report shows Iran HAS NOT made decision to go nuclear

The hype about the latest IAEA report about Iran’s nuclear program was much more frightening than the actual content. Yesterday, Joseph Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshares Fund, an organization devoted to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, informed a seemingly stunned Tony Birtley that most of what’s been revealed “is not new”.

Tony Birtley: What does it say that’s significant to you about the work that Iran is doing now?

Joseph Cirincione:
What’s significant actually is that there isn’t that much currently going on, almost all this work is pre-2003. It’s all old data. It all came from that laptop you referred to, the laptop of death, that was disclosed in 2004. There’s suspicions of some work and there’s evidence of some work still going on, particularly computer modelling, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of a crash program to build a warhead. That’s what’s so significant. It’s very clear from this report that Iran has not, HAS NOT, made a decision to go to a nuclear weapon, that a nuclear weapon is not imminent or inevitable and thus there’s still time to use diplomacy to convince Iran not to go ahead and build a nuclear weapon.

Part II of NYTimes eXaminer interview with Belén Fernández

The following is a the second half of an interview conducted by the new NYTimes eXaminer with PULSE co-editor Belén Fernández about her book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work. Read the first half here.

Q: Did you come away with a lower opinion of Friedman or of the people and institutions that continually give him platforms to spew his idiotic, loathsome views?  I find it so telling that, when Friedman did his “suck on this” performance on Charlie Rose, Rose just nods and leans in for the next question instead of calling Friedman out for saying one of the most offensive things ever said on television.  Or to put it another way:  Do you think the New York Times would allow one of their columnists to consistently dehumanize entire groups of people – to the point of openly calling for civilian deaths in Gaza, Afghanistan and Iraq – if those people weren’t Arab/Muslim?

Unfortunately, Orientalist dehumanization is institutionalized in US media discourse, the result being that there is no overwhelming public concern when over a million Iraq lives are lost thanks to America’s bellicose projects or when 1400 Palestinians perish in a matter of 22 days at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces.

It is utterly appalling that neither Charlie Rose nor anyone else in the US establishment media took issue with Friedman’s obscene proclamation, and that he was never required by his employer to apologize for it in the interest of maintaining a pretense of objectivity. One can imagine the uproar that would have ensued—and over which Friedman himself would have presided—had, for example, Yasser Arafat instructed Israelis to suck on things, or had Osama bin Laden justified 9/11 with similar terminology. Friedman, on the other hand, is permitted to continue blissfully peddling his contemptuous analyses of the Arab/Muslim world, such as his 2007 assessment—with regard to the US military—that Iraqis “don’t deserve such good people… if they continue to hate each other more than they love their own kids.”

Of course, it is safe to assume that most Iraqis exhibit normal human affection for their offspring, including for those millions of offspring that have been killed, maimed, displaced or otherwise made to suffer as a result of a US military-inflicted sucking, and that the half a million Iraqi children previously killed by US-championed sanctions were probably also loved by their parents.

Even if Charlie Rose et al. fail to comprehend that sucking orders do not qualify as proper journalistic etiquette, they should at least be able to comprehend that Friedman’s argument for why the sucking should occur is in complete defiance of logic. According to Friedman, Iraqis must be made to suck so that the US can effectively combat the “terrorism bubble” that has developed in “that part of the world” and that poses a “fundamental threat to our open society,” something Americans discovered on 9/11. However, this very same Friedman also explains that the real threat to “open, Western, liberal societies today” consists not of “the deterrables, like Saddam, but the undeterrables – the boys who did 9/11.” The resulting argument—made by someone who himself criticizes the Bush administration for implying a link between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein—is that war against deterrables whose weapons are not the problem will solve the problem of undeterrables who are the weapons and who by definition cannot be deterred anyway.

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The fire next time is now: Environmental historian Angus Wright’s call for a planetary patriotism

by Robert Jensen

Angus Wright has a way of saying things we may not want to hear in a way that’s hard to ignore.

An example: During a meeting of environmentalists about shaping the public conversation on our most pressing ecological crises, folks were wrestling with how to present an honest analysis in accessible language — how to talk about the bad news and the need for radical responses, without turning people off. During the discussion about the effects of climate change, Wright offered a simple suggestion for a slogan: “No more water, the fire next time.”

Those words from a black spiritual, made famous by James Baldwin’s borrowing for his 1963 book “The Fire Next Time,” are usually invoked metaphorically. Wright was suggesting that we might want to consider the phrase literally. After a summer of drought and forest fires in Texas where I live, Wright’s comment reminded me that climate disruption isn’t part of some science-fiction future, but is unfolding around us in ways that are both complex and hard to predict, but devastating simple: We’re in deep trouble, ecologically and culturally, as we try to face up to unprecedented planetary problems in a society in denial.

Wright is one of our most astute observers of these troubles. His willingness to face these issues, and his ability to grasp the interplay of complex systems, is no surprise to readers of his book The Death of Ramon Gonzalez: The Modern Agricultural Dilemma, first published in 1990 and revised for a 2005 edition. Looking at one region in Mexico, Wright explains how political and economic power, combined with the arrogance of experts who believe they have all the answers, have radically changed people, communities, and land — mostly for the worse.

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Syrian Eid al-Adha 2011

Not a great Eid in Syria. The traditional open air Eid prayers turned into anti-regime demonstrations and, as usual, the regime’s insecurity forces fired at the demonstrators. At least twenty three people were murdered today, including an infant. Many of the dead were in the central city of Homs, which has been a veritable war zone for weeks, the site of clashes between loyalist and defected soldiers as well as tank bombardments and sniper fire from the regime. In the last four days, since the regime supposedly agreed to release prisoners and withdraw its forces from civilian areas according to the Arab League plan, at least 80 people have been reported killed in the city.

There is one piece of very important good news, however. Burhan Ghalyoun, leader of the Syrian National Council, delivered an Eid address to the Syrian people which was carried by al-Jazeera. Ghalyoun, who does not wish to become a future president, was truly presidential. He appealed to those Syrians still hesitant or afraid to support the revolution, assuring them that the future Syria will be a state of citizenship and equal rights, and that minorities will be protected. Bringing larger sections of the Alawi and Christian minorities on board is the only way for the revolution to move forward, so Ghalyoun’s speech is most welcome, and long overdue. The English translation which follows after the break was posted at al-Jazeera’s live blog, but I found it at the excellent Walls.

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NYTimes eXaminer interviews Belén Fernández

The following is a the first half of an interview conducted by the new NYTimes eXaminer with PULSE co-editor Belén Fernández about her book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work.

Billed as “an antidote to the ‘paper of record'”, the NYTimes eXaminer‘s Advisory Council is composed of such distinguished figures as Richard Falk, Phyllis Bennis, and Edward Herman.

See Phil Weiss’ comment on the interview at Mondoweiss.

Q: Why Tom Friedman? And can you talk a little about how the book is organized? 

A: My decision to write the book was not the product of any sort of long-standing obsession with Thomas Friedman, whose journalistic exploits I remained mercifully immune to for most of my existence up until 2009.

Then, about midway through that year, the idea came to me suddenly when I noticed the $125 “Russian breakfast” option on the room-service menu at my five-star Havana hotel.

Kidding. In 2009 I watched with simultaneous fascination and horror as Friedman flitted on pedagogical missions from Lebanon to Iraq to Afghanistan to Palestine to Africa, where he discovered the root cause of oppression in Zimbabwe by going on safari in Botswana.

Later that same year, Friedman’s decades-long lecture to the Arab/Muslim world on how to behave reached new levels of absurdity with his pronouncement according to which:

A corrosive mind-set has taken hold since 9/11. It says that Arabs and Muslims are only objects, never responsible for anything in their world, and we are the only subjects, responsible for everything that happens in their world. We infantilize them.

Arab and Muslims are not just objects. They are subjects. They aspire to, are able to and must be challenged to take responsibility for their world.

Arab/Muslim subjectivity was of course called into question not only by the fact that Friedman in this very same article instructed the Islamic world to engage in a civil war equal in ferocity to the US civil war, but also by the fact that—approximately 10 days prior to criticizing the infantilizing of Arabs and Muslims—he had remarked to an amused Fareed Zakaria of CNN that Afghanistan was like a “special needs baby” adopted by the US. (Friedman had refrained in this case from throwing in his regular complaint that the US was “baby-sitting a civil war” in Iraq—a complaint he apparently felt was not irreconcilable with his own declaration of the need for an Iraqi civil war.)

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