Werner Herzog and Cormac McCarthy Talk Science and Art

Physicist Lawrence M. Krauss suggests that science and art ask the same fundamental question: Who are we, and what is our place in the universe? He is joined in the conversation  by Werner Herzog and Cormac McCarthy. (Don’t miss Herzog reading a passage from McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses at 38:00).

(via the indispensable Open Culture)

A Slaughter of Alawi Innocents

For the first time there is proof of a large-scale massacre of Alawis – the heterodox Shia offshoot sect to which Bashaar al-Assad belongs – by Islamist extremists among Syrian opposition forces. In its context, this disaster is hardly surprising. It follows a string of sectarian massacres of Sunni civilians (in Houla, Tremseh, Bayda and Banyas, and elsewhere), the sectarian ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from areas of Homs province, and an assault on Sunni sacred sites such as the Khaled ibn al-Waleed mosque in Homs, the Umawi mosque in Aleppo, and the Omari mosque in Dera’a. It follows two and a half years of rape, torture and murder carried out on an enormous scale by a ‘Syrian’ army commanded by Alawi officers and backed by sectarian Shia militias from Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, and by Alawi irregular militias. Assad and his backers have deliberately instrumentalised sectarian hatred more effectively than the Americans did in Iraq, and they must bear the lion’s share of responsibility for the dissolution of Syria’s social mosaic. Next, the counter-revolutionary forces in the West (chief among them the United States) must be blamed for obstructing the flow of arms to the Free Syrian Army, a policy which has inevitably strengthened the most extreme and sectarian jihadist groups (some of whom, such as the foreign-commanded Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, are actively fighting the Free Army). Human Rights Watch’s important report on the massacre of Alawi villagers is summed up in the video below. Sadly, HRW fails to adequately distinguish between Syrian and foreign, and moderate and extremist anti-Assad militias. The excellent EAWorldview critiques the report here. Its conclusion:

The HRW report illustrates the dangers of conflating the various factions of the insurgency under the heading “armed opposition groups”.

Coincidentally, that conflation is a tactic of the regime who seeks to portray the insurgency as extremist-led, largely foreign fighters rather than an extension of the indigenous protest movement that took up arms after Assad’s forces used violence to quash it from March 2011.

By this conflation, HRW (a fine organisation which has done great work in uncovering the truth of the Syrian conflict) veers dangerously close to the orientalist/racist stereotyping of the Syrian people’s struggle now dominant in both the rightist and liberal/leftist Western media.

It goes without saying that the crimes committed against Alawi civilians in northern Lattakia province are grotesque and idiotic, and constitute another strategic blow against the revolution and the survival of the Syrian state.

Khaled Khalifa: Silence is Disgraceful Too

The following is an interview with the renowned Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa, which was released on the 2nd Sept 2013. Pulse editor Robin Yassin-Kassab was honoured to be asked to write the introduction to the English translation of Khaled Khalifa‘s third novel, In Praise of Hatred. Some of that introduction is available here.

Continue reading “Khaled Khalifa: Silence is Disgraceful Too”

Gilbert Achcar on the Syrian Revolution

In this interview published at Socialist Resistance, the clear-sighted leftist Gilbert Achcar explains the importance of standing in solidarity with Syria’s popular revolution and the need to resist the propaganda of Western, Russian, and Gulf counter-revolutionary forces. Achcar is interviewed by Terry Conway.

TC: Could you assess the present state of the Arab uprising in general before we focus more specifically on Syria?

GA: What is happening now is a confirmation of what could be said from the start; the fact that what began in December 2010 in Tunisia, was not a ‘Spring’ as the media called it, a brief period of political change during which one despot or another is overthrown, opening the way for a nice parliamentary democracy, and that’s it. The uprisings were portrayed as a ‘Facebook revolution’, another one of these ‘colour revolutions’.  I, for one, insisted from the beginning that this was a misrepresentation of reality. What started unfolding in 2011 was a long-term revolutionary process, which would develop over many, many years if not decades, especially if we take into account its geographic extension.

From that perspective, what we have had so far is just the opening phase of the process. In some countries they have managed to go beyond the initial stage of overthrowing existing governments; this was the case in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – the three countries where the regimes were overthrown by the uprising. And you can see that these countries are still in a state of turmoil, instability, which is usual in revolutionary periods.

Those eager to believe that the Arab uprising has ended or was stillborn focused on the initial victory of Islamic forces in elections in Tunisia and Egypt. Against such doomsayers, I stressed the fact that this was actually unavoidable since elections held shortly after the overthrow of the despotic regime could only reflect the balance of organised forces that existed in these countries. I argued that the Islamic fundamentalists’ period in power would not last long, if we consider the real roots of the revolutionary process.

This long-term revolutionary process is rooted in the social reality of the region, characterised by many decades of stalled development – a higher rate of unemployment, especially youth unemployment, than in any other region in the world over several decades.  These were the real basic causes of the explosion, and as long as these causes are not addressed, the process will continue. Any new government which has no solutions to these root problems will fail. It was predictable that the Muslim Brotherhood would fail: in my book The People Want, which was of course written before Morsi’s overthrow in Egypt, I argued that the Muslim Brotherhood would fail inevitably. I wrote the same about Ennahda in Tunisia, which is now faced with a very strong protest movement that puts the future of the government in question.

So there is an ongoing process throughout the region, which, like any revolutionary process in history, has ups and downs, periods of advances and periods of setbacks – and sometimes ambiguous periods. The most ambiguous event in the whole process until now has been the recent experience in Egypt where we saw this huge mass mobilisation against Morsi on 30 June, which was a very advanced experience in democracy by a mass movement asking for the recall of an elected president who had betrayed the promises he made to the people. But at the same time, and here lies the ambiguity of course, you had the military coup and widespread illusions that the army could play a progressive role, including amongst dominant sections of the broad left as well as amongst liberals.

Continue reading “Gilbert Achcar on the Syrian Revolution”

The Eerie NGO Phenomenon in Kashmir

“Conflicts have always allowed very suitable ecosystems for Non Governmental Organisations or NGOs to flourish in. Embroiled with armed insurgency for about two decades now, Kashmir has attracted a plethora of organizations. But going by the numbers, the region seems to have become a heaven for NGO activity.”

By Parvaiz Bukhari

(This article was first published by The Honour Magazine, April 2010, (pg. 16-20).)

Kashmir as an Integral Part of India.  Cartoon by Mir Suhail Qadiri
Kashmir as an Integral Part of India. Cartoon by Mir Suhail Qadiri

Conflicts have always allowed very suitable ecosystems for Non Governmental Organisations or NGOs to flourish in. Embroiled with armed insurgency for about two decades now, Kashmir has attracted a plethora of organizations. But going by the numbers, the region seems to have become a heaven for NGO activity.

There is no central register for the NGOs operating here, no guidelines or any overt accountability. Various estimates put the figure of existing NGOs up to 16,000. Apart from the office of the Registrar of Societies, NGOs are registered for various non-profit activities as trusts and voluntary groups in the district courts. Besides, many NGOs from across the country operating in Kashmir are not registered here.

All you need is five persons and a draft of bylaws along with a declaration of supposed objectives that is then registered in any district court where no count is maintained.

Just what is this huge mass of NGOs doing and who are the people who run them? What is the real intent and incentive for this NGO boom in a region that is still considered business ‘unfriendly’? Where is the funding coming from? A superficial enquiry reveals a dizzying range of unclear activity bordering on subterfuge.

Government employees, close relatives of bureaucrats, politicians, well-off families and people who have been a part of counter insurgency think tanks, run a number of NGOs in the Valley. Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Developmental Studies (KFPDS) run by a former militant commander, Firdous Sayeed Baba alias Babar Badr, has been on the scene for many years now. Babar and four other former militant commanders were the first to enter into dialogue with New Delhi in 1995. He is also known to be very close to the former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief A S Dullat, who for many years earlier and during NDA regime served as New Delhi’s point man on Kashmir affairs. Continue reading “The Eerie NGO Phenomenon in Kashmir”

Hope of Healing — by Alice Walker

Sundus Saleh Shaker
Sundus Saleh Shaker

When the US invaded Iraq in 2003 Sundus Shaker Saleh, an Iraqi single mother of three, lost her home and her property, and was forced to flee to Jordan.

A decade later, Saleh is the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against six key members of the Bush administration. They’re arguing that, since the war was not conducted in self-defense, and did not have the appropriate authorization by the United Nations, it constituted a “crime of aggression” under international law.

On August 20th the United States Department of Justice requested that George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz be granted procedural immunity in the case alleging that they planned and waged the Iraq War in violation of international law. 

We can’t accept this. We demand that these war criminals come forward and hold themselves accountable for the tragic consequences that the war had for Saleh’s family and countless other Iraqi civilians

Continue reading “Hope of Healing — by Alice Walker”

The Thistle and the Drone

Excerpts from my review of Akbar Ahmed’s remarkable new book.

In the post-9/11 paranoia, many rogues have endeavoured to portray their local adversaries as part of a global terrorist threat. Russia did it with the Chechens; China with Uighurs; Israel with Palestinians – they all claimed to be fighting a “war on terror” against the same Islamist menace that threatened America. Others have followed the template. “Painting their peripheries as associated with Al Qaeda,” writes Akbar Ahmed in his remarkable new book The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, “many countries have sought to join the terror network because of the extensive benefits that it brings. They use the rhetoric of the war on terror to both justify their oppressive policies and to ingratiate themselves with the United States and the international system”.

This failure to distinguish regional struggles from global militancy allowed many states to harness US power to settle local disputes. The conflict between a centralising, hierarchical state and a recalcitrant, egalitarian periphery is not unique to Pakistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In the multi-ethnic Orient, geography rarely corresponds with identity. Many tribal societies have been left excluded on the margins. In turn they have resisted modernisation, seeing it as the centre’s tool for expanding its authority. Some of these conflicts, as in Chechnya, have simmered for centuries. But in most places, modus vivendi were evolved guaranteeing the autonomy of tribes while upholding state sovereignty.

Continue reading “The Thistle and the Drone”

The London Review of Books on Syria

An improvised weapon in Aleppo
An improvised weapon in Aleppo

Robin Yassin-Kassab

I wrote to the editor of the London Review of Books concerning their Syria (and Libya) coverage. There’s been no reply, so I’m posting the letter here.

Dear….

…….(introduction)…..

Watching the representation of the tragedy in the media has been almost as depressing as watching Syria burn. As someone with strong leftist and anti-imperialist leanings, it’s been particularly galling to find that ‘leftist’ commentary on Syria has often been the worst of all. Large sections of the left have wholeheartedly embraced the very discourse that they resisted during the War on Terror years – that of ‘terrorists’ and al-Qa’ida conspiracies explaining all. Leftist journalists have paid little or no attention to the regime’s blatant and deliberate instrumentalisation of sectarian hatreds, but have focussed on, and exaggerated, the backlash. Robert Fisk has gone so far as to embed himself with the regime army, and to (grotesquely) interview survivors of the Darayya massacre in the presence of the perpetrators of the massacre. Many leftists have convinced themselves, against all the evidence, that the American-led empire has been conspiring against the Syrian regime since the start of the revolution, that this is a re-run of Iraq. Tariq Ali even appeared on Russia Today (near the start) to explain that America was trying to take over Syria but Russia was protecting the country. Russia – the imperialist power which is arming and funding the regime as it commits genocide.

I subscribe to the London Review of Books because it’s by far the best written, most incisive, most reflective, and bravest British publication. Publishing Walt and Mearsheimer was a great move. On the middle east, Adam Shatz is always excellent, well-informed, interested in teasing out a complex truth. Much of the coverage of the revolutions has been eurocentric and orientalist, however. I agreed with novelist Hisham Matar when he called ‘shame’ on Hugh Roberts’s very long Libyan piece which at no point attempted to see things from a Libyan perspective. Rather, it cast the Libyans as passive agents, pawns in the hands of the devilishly clever white man. And on Syria, commentary has been statist-leftist, as if this were an amusing chess game between regional and super powers rather than a struggle for freedom and a genocide, with only one side receiving sustained imperialist aid. I wrote in brief about Patrick Cockburn’s orientalism here.

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