The ‘Palestine Papers’ being published this week by al-Jazeera confirm in every detail what many Palestinians have suspected for a long time: their leaders have been collaborating in the most shameful fashion with Israel and the United States. Their grovelling is described in grim detail. The process, though few accepted it at the time, began with the much-trumpeted Oslo Accords, described by Edward Said in the LRB at the time as a ‘Palestinian Versailles’. Even he would have been taken aback by the sheer scale of what the PLO leadership agreed to surrender: virtually everything except their own salaries. Their weaknesses, inadequacies and cravenness are now in the public domain.
Now we know that the capitulation was total, but still the Israeli overlords of the PLO refused to sign a deal and their friends in the press blamed the Palestinians for being too difficult. They wanted Palestine to be crushed before they would agree to underwrite a few moth-eaten protectorates that they would supervise indefinitely. They wanted Hamas destroyed. The PLO agreed. The recent assault on Gaza was carried out with the approval of Abbas and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, not to mention Washington and its EU. The PLO sold out in a literal sense. They were bought with money and treated like servants. There is TV footage of Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton at Camp David playfully tugging at Arafat’s headgear to stop him leaving. All three are laughing. Many PLO supporters in Palestine must be weeping as they watch al-Jazeera and take in the scale of the betrayal and the utter cynicism of their leaders. Now we know why the Israel/US/EU nexus was so keen to disregard the outcome of the Palestinian elections and try to destroy Hamas militarily.
Mumtaz Hussain Qadri smiled as he surrendered to his colleagues after shooting Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, dead. Many in Pakistan seemed to support his actions; others wondered how he’d managed to get a job as a state bodyguard in the carefully screened Elite Force. Geo TV, the country’s most popular channel, reported, and the report has since been confirmed, that ‘Qadri had been kicked out of Special Branch after being declared a security risk,’ that he ‘had requested that he not be fired on but arrested alive if he managed to kill Taseer’ and that ‘many in Elite Force knew of his plans to kill Salman Taseer.’
Qadri is on his way to becoming a national hero. On his first appearance in court, he was showered with flowers by admiring Islamabad lawyers who have offered to defend him free of charge. On his way back to prison, the police allowed him to address his supporters and wave to the TV cameras. The funeral of his victim was sparsely attended: a couple of thousand mourners at most. A frightened President Zardari and numerous other politicians didn’t show up. A group of mullahs had declared that anyone attending the funeral would be regarded as guilty of blasphemy. No mullah (that includes those on the state payroll) was prepared to lead the funeral prayers. The federal minister for the interior, Rehman Malik, a creature of Zardari’s, has declared that anyone trying to tamper with or amend the blasphemy laws will be dealt with severely. In the New York Times version he said he would shoot any blasphemer himself.
Taseer’s spirited defence of Asiya Bibi, a 45-year-old Punjabi Christian peasant, falsely charged with blasphemy after an argument with two women who accused her of polluting their water by drinking out of the same receptacle, provoked an angry response from religious groups. Many in his own party felt that Taseer’s initiative was mistimed, but in Pakistan the time is never right for such campaigns. Bibi had already spent 18 months in jail. Her plight had been highlighted by the media, women had taken to the streets to defend her and Taseer and another senior politician from the Pakistan Peoples Party, Sherry Rehman, had demanded amendments to the blasphemy laws. Thirty-eight other women have been imprisoned under the same law in recent years and soon after a friendly meeting between Yousaf Gillani, the prime minister, and the leader of the supposedly moderate Jamaat-e-Islami, a member of the latter offered a reward of ten thousand dollars to whoever manages to kill Bibi.
In response to the curious choices in Foreign Policy magazine’s ’Top 100 Global Thinkers’ list last year, we decided to publish our own. In 2010, Foreign Policy‘s selections were even more abysmal: among others it included Robert Gates, Ben Bernanke, Hillary Clinton, David Cameron, Thomas Friedman, Ahmed Rashid, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bjorn Lomborg, Richard Clarke, Madeleine Albright, Salam Fayyad…and John Bolton! Would anyone outside FP’s editorial board confuse them for a thinker? Once again, it appears FP chose based on the alignment of an individual’s work with the global military and economic agenda of the US government. We therefore asked our writers and editors to nominate once again their own top 10 global thinkers. The following list was the result. (Also see our Top 10 Media Figures of 2010)
A towering intellect, a moral giant, a master of prose, and an outstanding historian, Tony Judt did what only the greatest of thinkers do: he constantly evolved. More significantly, he never succumbed to orthodoxies, he was always on the edge. In his later years, he also outgrew his middle-of-the-road liberalism to adopt principled, at times radical, positions on war and capitalism. He also jettisoned his youthful Zionism to emerge as the proponent of a single binational state in Palestine. In 2006 he was the only mainstream figure to come to the defence of Mearsheimer & Walt for their groundbreaking London Review essay. He later excoriated Israel as the ‘country that wouldn’t grow up.’ He was also the author of Postwar, an elegant and expansive history of Europe since 1945. We mourn his loss.
An exemplary scholar, Chalmers Johnson metamorphosed from a hardline Cold Warrior into one of the most formidable critics of US militarism, mapping America’s expanding imperium of bases and spotlighting the fraying edges of its republic. His 2000 book Blowback was as prophetic as his subsequent books The Sorrows of Empire and Nemesis were prescient. His longtime JPRI associate Steve Clemons has described him as the ‘acknowledged godfather of the conceptualization of the “developmental state“’ and as ‘an apostate and heretic in the field of political economy’ in the neoliberal hive at the University of Chicago. Johnson was also a literary critic, a skill he deftly used in his later writings to show how the imperial imagination was reflected in the language of metropolitan literature. His departure has greatly impoverished the intellectual world.
Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research in Washington, D.C. and co-writer with Tariq Ali of the Oliver Stone documentary “South of the Border”, has published an illuminating piece in the Comment is Free section of the Guardian. Variously touching on U.S. foreign policy in general, the WikiLeaks cables on Haiti (apparently it is necessary for the U.S. State Department to know how many drinks the Haitian president can handle), and the ignominious role played by MINUSTAH — the U.N. force in Haiti — Weisbrot writes:
People who do not understand US foreign policy think that control over Haiti does not matter to Washington, because it is so poor and has no strategic minerals or resources. But that is not how Washington operates, as the WikiLeaks cables repeatedly illustrate. For the state department and its allies, it is all a ruthless chess game, and every pawn matters. Left governments will be removed or prevented from taking power where it is possible to do so; and the poorest countries – like Honduras last year – present the most opportune targets. A democratically elected government in Haiti, due to its history and the consciousness of the population, will inevitably be a left government – and one that will not line up with Washington’s foreign policy priorities for the region. Thus, democracy is not allowed.
Last year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize escalated the war in Afghanistan a few weeks after receiving the prize. The award surprised even Obama. This year the Chinese government were foolish to make a martyr of the president of Chinese PEN and neo-con Liu Xiaobo. He should never have been arrested, but the Norwegian politicians who comprise the committee, led by Thorbjørn Jagland, a former Labour prime minister, wanted to teach China a lesson. And so they ignored their hero’s views. Or perhaps they didn’t, given that their own views are not dissimilar. The committee thought about giving Bush and Blair a joint peace prize for invading Iraq but a public outcry forced a retreat.
For the record, Liu Xiaobo has stated publicly that in his view:
(a) China’s tragedy is that it wasn’t colonised for at least 300 years by a Western power or Japan. This would apparently have civilised it for ever;
(b) The Korean and Vietnam wars fought by the US were wars against totalitarianism and enhanced Washington’s ‘moral credibility’;
(c) Bush was right to go to war in Iraq and Senator Kerry’s criticisms were ‘slander-mongering’;
(d) Afghanistan? No surprises here: Full support for Nato’s war.
He has a right to these opinions, but should they get a peace prize?
Arundhati Roy is both loathed and feared by the Indian elite. Loathed because she speaks her mind. Feared because her voice reaches the world outside India and damages the myths perpetrated by New Delhi regardless of which party holds power. She often annoys the official Indian Left because she writes and speaks of events for which they are either responsible or of which they dare not speak. Roy will not allow her life to be subjugated by lies. She never affects a courage or contempt she does not feel. Her campaigns against injustice are undertaken with no view to either fame or profit. Hence the respect awarded her by the poor, ordinary citizens, who know the truth but are not allowed a voice in the public sphere. The authorities can’t buy her silence. One of the few voices in India who has spoken loudly against the continuing Indian atrocities in Kashmir, she is now being threatened. If she doesn’t shut up they’ll charge her with sedition, aping their colonial masters of yesteryear. Her response to those who would charge and imprison her is a model of clarity, conviction and refusal to compromise.
Editor’s note: Also see Democracy Now’s interview with Arundhati Roy. This post first appeared on the London Review Blog.
After all the hope and hype, Obama’s foreign policy mirrors the ugliness of the Bush years.
The election to the presidency of a mixed-race Democrat, vowing to heal America’s wounds at home and restore its reputation abroad, was greeted with a wave of ideological euphoria not seen since the days of Kennedy. The shameful interlude of Republican swagger and criminality was over. George Bush and Dick Cheney had broken the continuity of a multilateral American leadership that had served the country well throughout the Cold War and after. Barack Obama would now restore it.
Rarely has self-interested mythology – or well-meaning gullibility – been more quickly exposed. There was no fundamental break in foreign policy between the Bush and Obama regimes. The strategic goals and imperatives of the US imperium remain the same, as do its principal theatres and means of operation.
Obama’s line towards Israel would be manifest even before he took office. On December 27, 2008, the Israeli Defence Forces launched an all-out air and ground assault on the population of Gaza. Bombing, burning, killing continued without interruption for 22 days, during which time the president-elect uttered not a syllable of reproof. By pre-arrangement, Tel Aviv called off its blitz a few hours before his inauguration on January 20, 2009, not to spoil the party.