31 October 2016

Forget Halloween: there's plenty of real-life horror in the Middle East

Middle East Eye

In the Iranian city of Isfahan the other day, I chatted with a carpet vendor who had in his possession two carpets woven by Afghan refugees in Iran.
At first glance, they appeared to be just like any other colourfully patterned carpets, but upon closer inspection one’s eye began to pick out warplanes, guns and tanks among the more typical shapes.
The seller remarked to me matter-of-factly in reference to the Afghan weavers’ products: “That is the world they know” - one in which the terror of war has infused every aspect of existence.
To be sure, it’s a world away from those in the West who, in accordance with the annual cycle of profit-driven holidays, are today celebrating Halloween.
Nothing against horror films or haunted houses, of course, but we might as well exploit the occasion to reflect on the circumstances of people for whom horror and fright constitute a permanent condition rather than an occasional source of controlled entertainment. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

27 October 2016

Media Roll Out Welcome Mat for ‘Humanitarian’ War in Syria


As she marches toward the US presidency, Hillary Clinton has stepped up her promotion of the idea that a no-fly zone in Syria could “save lives” and “hasten the end of the conflict” that has devastated that country since 2011.
It has now been revealed, of course, that Clinton hasn’t always expressed the same optimism about the no-fly zone in private. The Intercept (10/10/16) reported on Clinton’s recently leaked remarks in a closed-door speech to Goldman Sachs in 2013:
To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk—you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.
Other relevant characters, such as US Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Joseph Dunford (Daily Caller9/26/16), have warned that a no-fly zone in Syria would simply intensify the conflict—which presumably isn’t the best way to hasten its end.
Luckily for those who prefer to rally around illogic, however, plenty of media have already rolled out the welcome mat for peddlers of the “humanitarian” vision of increased Western military interference in Syria.
The New York Times’ self-appointed savior of women, Nicholas Kristof (10/6/16), invoked the plight of a young Syrian girl in Aleppo to conclude that Obama’s alleged “paralysis” on Syria “has been linked to the loss of perhaps half a million lives” in the country, as well as to “the rise of extremist groups like the Islamic State,” among other unpleasant outcomes. We have no “excuse,” we’re told, for “failing to respond to mass atrocities.” READ MORE AT FAIR.

25 October 2016

Dear Hillary: You Can’t Be a Pro-War Feminist

TeleSUR English

In her recent debate with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton once again marketed herself as a champion of women’s rights and a crusader against sexual assault.

The performance earned Clinton big points from people who have apparently not found it necessary to reflect on the fundamental irreconcilability of feminism and giddy warmongering.
But the fact remains: Clinton’s performance on the international battlefield over the years makes a mockery of any pretense of support for the rights of women not to be violated, either sexually or otherwise.
Take, for example, Clinton’s firm endorsement of the war on Iraq — or what might be more appropriately termed the total destruction of that country. In one chapter of the new collection False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, edited by Liza Featherstone, CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin describes confronting then-Senator Clinton in the run-up to the 2003 invasion:
“Having just returned from Iraq, I relayed [to Clinton] that the weapons inspectors in Baghdad told us there was no danger of weapons of mass destruction and that the Iraqi women we met were terrified about the pending war and desperate to stop it. ‘I admire your willingness to speak out on behalf of the women and children of Iraq,’ Clinton replied, ‘but there is a very easy way to prevent anyone from being put into harm’s way and that is for Saddam Hussein to disarm.’”
It’s a bit difficult to disarm, of course, when one is not in possession of the arms in question. And unfortunately for Clinton’s current campaign against sexual violence, the “harm” that continues to plague the nation of Iraq courtesy of the U.S. and its friends has included plenty of instances of rape by invading soldiers—as tends to happen in such situations. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

19 October 2016

Hillary Clinton: She May Be a Woman, but She’s Far From a Feminist

The Wire

Since the launch of her presidential campaign, breathless supporters would have us believe a Hillary Clinton victory would be the feminist movement’s equivalent of a moon landing.
Celebrities, media figures and self-identifying feminists have leapt onto the spaceship-bandwagon along with plenty of lesser-known volunteers such as Ariel Chesler, author of a recent dispatch on the popular US website The Daily Beast, titled “Father, Husband – and Proud, Pro-Hillary Feminist.”
After describing his experience being moved to tears by a female-empowering Star Wars scene, Chesler notes that “a similar rush of emotion occurred… when I began introducing my daughters to Hillary Clinton, showing them clips of her rallies and speeches.”
According to Chesler’s analysis, Clinton and certain “superheroines” of film and television “offer us everything we’ve been waiting for” in order to dismantle the “misogyny we carry within us.” He goes on to applaud Clinton’s statement that the US needs “more love and kindness.”
But as emotionally persuasive as some might find Chesler’s tribute and others like it, this sort of Hillary-phoria conveniently ignores the fact that her policies have not and will not empower or benefit the majority of women at home or abroad. Excised from the scene is her legacy of sustaining traditions of racism and classism – two institutions that are structurally tied up with the very patriarchal system she’s portrayed as defying – not to mention, you know, her predilection for bombing other countries, which arguably isn’t the best way to transmit love and kindness.
For those interested in an unwhitewashed version of Clinton’s track record, a good place to start is False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, edited by Liza Featherstone. I myself have a short segment in the compilation, in which I primarily discuss Clinton’s integral role as US secretary of state in ensuring the success of the 2009 right-wing coup d’état in Honduras. As American economist Mark Weisbrot has pointed out, the aftermath of the coup has been characterised by skyrocketing femicides, among other disasters.
So much for feminism.  READ MORE AT THE WIRE.

14 October 2016


The Washington Spectator

Back in 1996, shortly after the end of the war in Bosnia, New York Times foreign affairs “sage” Thomas Friedman posed this question in his column: “What does Bosnia need today if it is going to be stabilized?”
The answer, according to Friedman’s calculations: “Bosnia needs big tanks, big roads, and Big Macs.”
To be sure, the vision of tank-based corporate conquest is of a piece with the variety of neoliberal plunder that Friedman has devoted much of his career to championing. And while the Bosnians took their sweet time getting into the Big Mac game—it was not until 2011 that the country’s first McDonald’s opened in Sarajevo—the location of this particular McDonald’s on none other than Marshal Tito Street is certainly the stuff of Friedman’s wet dreams. Another spike in the coffin of Communism.
Following Ronald McDonald’s triumph over the iconic Yugoslav leader, then, did stability immediately begin to emanate along with the French fry grease?
As anyone not blinkered by neoliberal, capitalist doctrine might expect, the corporate globalization process in Bosnia has entailed a fair amount of human misery. And although the apologists for global capitalism will continue their efforts to silence naysayers with lofty illogic, the fact remains that it simply is not good for the average human being when the needs of foreign investors are made paramount and basic existence is rendered financially prohibitive.
On a flight to Sarajevo earlier this year, I was seated next to two Turkish businessmen who interrupted their high-decibel discussion of investment opportunities in Bosnia exactly once: when a glance out the window prior to landing evoked a comparison of a certain Turkish landscape to the verdant hills below.
Incidentally, “available natural resources and beauties” is listed on the website of the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FIPA) as one of the answers to the question “Why Bosnia and Herzegovina?” Among the nation’s numerous other offerings and perks are “strategic location,” “abundance of industrial zone [sic] . . . and available production facilities,” “favorable legal environment,” “low tax rates,” and “regional and bilateral Free Trade Agreements.” READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.

10 October 2016

'At least in Syria we are still seen as human beings': The real refugee crisis

Middle East Eye

As France proceeds with preparations to dismantle the Calais refugee camp, which currently houses more than 10,000 people, the Guardianreports that “incidents of self-harm and depression among children in the… camp are increasing as the mental health of unaccompanied minors deteriorates in advance of the site’s demolition”.
According to aid worker testimony cited in the article, a “psychological collapse” is being witnessed among many child refugees. Some unaccompanied minors had reportedly “talked about killing themselves, such was their despair over the camp’s future”.
It’s hardly surprising that, in situations in which humans feel completely and utterly helpless to control their environments, harming or even eliminating oneself is one way of exerting a semblance of control.
Such approaches also endow psychological pain with visible manifestations more readily perceptible to the outside world.
Of course, it doesn’t help when the outside world reacts with a psychological condition of its own - total insanity - in dealing with refugees. Forget empathy; there is no time for petty humanity when refugee hordes are threatening the sacrosanct boundaries of Fortress Europe and other entities, propelling local panties into a hysterical and xenophobic bunch. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

Christopher Columbus: The myth that keeps on giving

Al Jazeera English

On October 12, 1492, a geographically misguided voyager by the name of Christopher Columbus happened upon the so-called New World. 
Five centuries later, famed Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano would refer to the day as the one on which "America discovered capitalism" as Columbus, "financed by the kings of Spain and the bankers of Genoa, brought this novelty to the Caribbean islands".
In his journal, Columbus enthusiastically "prophesied that ‘all Christendom will do business here'". Galeano remarks: "In that [prediction] at least he was right".
And a violent business it was, as meticulously demonstrated in the now-deceased Galeano's masterpiece Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.
Open the book to any page and you’ll find passages like this:
"The massacres of Indians that began with Columbus never stopped … The Yaqui Indians of the Mexican state of Sonora were drowned in blood so that their lands, fertile and rich in minerals, could be sold without any unpleasantness to various US capitalists."
Indeed, the European pastime of physical and economic decimation of the territory and its peoples was deftly inherited by the United States, which has also managed to develop such subtler forms of imperial devastation as drug wars and free trade agreements. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

05 October 2016

Headless Franco Versus Kim Jong Un in Spain

TeleSUR English

On Oct. 14, a temporary exhibition will be inaugurated at Barcelona’s Born Center for Culture and Memory, itself the centerpiece of a neighborhood prominently associated with Catalan nationalism. The exhibition is titled “Franco, Victory, Republic. Impunity and Urban Space.”
Among its features are two statues from the era of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, who ascended to power via the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 and reigned until his death in 1975. One of the statues is of a horse-mounted Franco who happens to be lacking a head, having been inexplicably decapitated while in storage in 2013. The head was never found.
The statues will be displayed in the wide pedestrian area in front of the cultural center, apparently as a means of encouraging discussion about impunity and other legacies of the dictatorship as well as the uses of political artwork in public space.Among its features are two statues from the era of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, who ascended to power via the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 and reigned until his death in 1975. One of the statues is of a horse-mounted Franco who happens to be lacking a head, having been inexplicably decapitated while in storage in 2013. The head was never found.
And there are plenty of things to discuss indeed. On top of the estimated half a million civil war dead, more than 100,000 persons were disappeared during the war and ensuing dictatorship, many of them executed by Francoist death squads and deposited in mass graves that have yet to be excavated.
The state’s top-notch foot-dragging on the exhumation front has to do with a variety of factors, among them the reality that Francoism itself is far from dead and buried. There are lingering ties to the dictatorship among certain members of the political class, and select sectors of the population continue to view Franco in a positive light. Acting right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party (PP) has railed against the idea that “even a single euro” of public funds be used to promote historical memory and “recuperate the past.” 
The refusal to engage in a reckoning with history has also been aided considerably by a post-Franco amnesty law pardoning crimes of the previous era—hence, perhaps, the utility of discussions about impunity. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.