Syria and the ‘Zio-American plot’

by Brian Whitaker

Denying the authenticity of the Syrian uprising is a central plank of the Assad regime’s propaganda message – that the whole thing, as the official news agency put it recently, is a “Zio-American” plot.

To anyone who has been following events in Syria closely since last March, the regime’s conspiracy claims are not only ridiculous but terribly insulting to the thousands of protesters who have risked (and often lost) their lives in the struggle against dictatorship. Even so, there’s a small chorus of westerners who seem to be echoing the Assad line.

“Arguably, the most important component in this struggle,” Aisling Byrne wrote in an article last week, “has been the deliberate construction of a largely false narrative that pits unarmed democracy demonstrators being killed in their hundreds and thousands as they protest peacefully against an oppressive, violent regime, a ‘killing machine’ led by the ‘monster’ Assad.”

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Book excerpt–Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil?

The following excerpt is from Derrick O’Keefe’s Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil?, recently released by Verso as part of its Counterblasts series. The book has been described as a “forensic critique of the influential liberal [and] his opposition to fundamental human rights, the extension of democracy and the pursuit of economic equality”.

The excerpt deals with Ignatieff’s initial cheerleading for the war on terror.

Click here to read a new interview with O’Keefe at the New Left Project.

It would be wrong to treat Ignatieff’s judgment on Iraq merely as “a mistake.” In fact, it flowed inexorably from his near-total identification with U.S. military power. In Empire Lite (2003), Ignatieff takes up an old family business — propagandizing for imperialism. Lamentably, the good old days of his great grandfathers Nicholas Ignatieff and George Monro Grant were long gone, but the great-grandson still came out swinging: “Imperialism used to be the white man’s burden. This gave it a bad reputation. But imperialism doesn’t stop being necessary just because it becomes politically incorrect.”

Empire Lite is heavy on these sorts of pithy, in-your-face, politically incorrect phrases. No effete, overly intellectual constructions from this teller of hard truths. Ignatieff sought to rouse the complacent American liberal conscience to its historical duty.

America’s entire war on terror is an exercise in imperialism. This may come as a shock to Americans, who don’t like to think of their country as an empire. But what else can you call America’s legions of soldiers, spooks and Special Forces straddling the globe? These garrisons are by no means temporary. Terror can’t be controlled unless order is built in the anarchic zones where terrorists find shelter.

There were plenty of new battles to be fought — weak-kneed fools be damned. And the new rationales for military intervention that Ignatieff and others had been road-testing in the 1990s were more sought-after commodities than ever before. Newly ensconced at Harvard, Ignatieff was well positioned to be in the frontline of the battle of ideas over the war on terror.

In the early days after 9/11, Ignatieff was quick to stake out a hawkish position, writing in the Guardian that the terror attacks on the United States were an act of “apocalyptic nihilism,” outside the realm of politics. Those who believed that “the terrorists’ hatreds must be understood, and that what they hate must be changed so that they will hate no more” were dismissed as naïve and foolhardy. “Since the politics of reason cannot defeat apocalyptic nihilism, we must fight,” he thundered.

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Out Of It

This review appeared in the Guardian.

The Mujaheds, if somewhat more privileged than their neighbours, are a typically itinerant Palestinian family who have learnt to attach sentimental value “only to the small things, the ones that could be thrown into suitcases and scurried away with.” Originally from Jaffa, now returned from Tunis, Beirut and Scandinavia, the novel’s opening finds them living in Gaza in the early years of the second intifada.

One of the many strengths of Selma Dabbagh’s writing is its unerringly precise sense of place. Gaza, imagined from inside with the mental aid of satellite images, is “like dried-out coral, ridged, chambered and sandy.” It contrasts with Israel, “the other side, that side, the place they came from, that had been theirs,” which, studded by solar panels, swimming pools and irrigated fields, looks from above like “an elaborate blanket of modernist design.”

Life in the Mujahed apartment, between the noise of nearby families and the louder noise of warplanes and helicopters, may be like “camping under a flyover”, but it’s better than living in tents as the neighbours – refugees from house demolitions – are forced to do.

The details of dispossession and siege are relentlessly accumulated: the rotting flowers and fruit blocked off from the market by the ‘closure’, the targetted killings, incursions and arbitrary arrests, as well as the increasingly violent internal competition between the religious parties and the corrupt Palestinian Authority whose luminaries are “yearning for cheap suits and desks with name plaques.”

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Much to Forgive: The Story of Bibi Sadia

by Kathy Kelly and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers

Bibi and her granddaughter.

Kabul – Bibi Sadia and her husband Baba share a humble home with their son, his wife and their two little children. An Afghan human rights advocate suggested that we listen to Bibi’s stories and learn more about how a Pashto family has tried to survive successive tragedies in Kabul.

Holding her three year old granddaughter in her arms, Bibi adjusted her hijab and launched into a narrative that began during the Soviet occupation.  The mujahideen had asked Baba to bring them medicines two or three times a week for those injured in the war. For each batch of medicines that Baba delivered, the mujahideen paid him a small sum of money. When the Russian occupiers discovered what he was doing, they beat him severely.  After that, the mujahideen accused him of spying for the Russians and they also beat him badly.

The vicious beatings gave him perforated ear drums requiring six operations and left him permanently hard of hearing.

They also left him mentally unsound, so that Bibi became the sole breadwinner for the family.  “During the time of the Taliban,” Bibi tells us with a soft smile, “I used to make bread, wash clothes and reap other people’s wheat to earn a living,” The mujahideen, having ousted Russia’s favored government and its army, were now in power and frowned on women working.  “I used to work by the moonlight, sewing clothes from animal hide”.

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Drawing the Line: Palestinian BDS Picket Line Realigns the Entire Zionist Establishment

Israel Needs You!When oppression is successful, the oppressor gains control over his victim’s borders, erases them, and redraws them according to his whims. The victim’s narrative no longer exists, and as such, just telling their own story is an act of liberation. When Palestinians chose Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a form of telling their story (not just a form of action), they changed a continual paradigm of abuse which made their story insignificant, and were finally able to cut the cycle of abuse and silence. No longer do Palestinians need to react to Israel’s Hasbara line. They have reclaimed their narrative, and now the state of Israel is forced to react in accordance to it.

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Re-Membering Toba Tek Singh: Looking for Manto

Between works censored for “obscenity” and those pirated and then censored for nationalism, which censorship is more obscene?

by Huma Dar

Sa'adat Hasan Manto
Sa’adat Hasan Manto

In today’s edition of, Jan 1, 2012, the renowned feminist poet, Fahmida Riaz has an article, “Understanding Manto,” about Urdu literature’s enfant terrible, Sa’adat Hasan Manto.  This year will mark Manto’s birth centenary.  Thank you, Fahmida Apa, for writing this moving tribute!  Sad indeed is the day when Pakistan cannot or does not publish Manto’s work, uncensored, unedited.  Despite justified indignation, knowing our “guardians of morality and piety,” it aches my heart to confess, I am not surprised.

Ironically, the “Indian pirated edition”—even if we overlook the immense ethical difficulties with the issue of piracy, and the direly-needed resources that were (and are) thus withheld from Manto and his family—is still no guarantee of accessing the “original, uncensored text.”  Christine Everaert in her book, Tracing the Boundaries between Hindi and Urdu: Lost and Added in Translation (Brill, 2009) painstakingly records many elisions, omissions, and additions in just a few of Manto’s stories as they’re carried from their original Urdu to the [pirated] Hindi versions.  Some of these transformations are, of course, to ease the transmission of the literary register in Urdu to Hindi; others to simply make things more palatable for Indian nationalism.  (Please especially see the Chapter II of this book for many examples…)

Ten Good Things About a (Not So) Bad Year

by Medea Benjamin

I had the privilege of starting out last year witnessing, firsthand, the unfolding of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. I saw people who had been muzzled their entire lives, especially women, suddenly discovering their collective voice. Singing, chanting, demanding, creating. And that became the hallmark of entire year–people the world over becoming empowered and emboldened simply by watching each other. Courage, we learned in 2011, is contagious!

1. The Arab Spring protests were so astounding that even Time magazine recognized “The Protester” as Person of the Year. Sparked by Tunisian vendor Mohamed Bouazizi‘sself-immolation to cry out against police corruption in December 2010, the protests swept across the Middle East and North Africa—including Egypt,Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, and Jordan. So far, uprisings have toppled Tunesian President Ben Ali, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Libyan leader  Muammar Gaddafi–with more shake-ups sure to come. And women have been on the front lines of these protests, highlighted recently by the incredibly brave, unprecedented demo of 10,000 Egyptian women protesting military abuse.

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