04 December 2017

Celebrity 'charity': A gift for a vicious system

Al Jazeera English

When movie star George Clooney married human rights lawyer and fashion icon Amal Alamuddin in Venice back in 2014, the Entertainment Tonight website declared that "it was charity that came out as the real winner" of the multimillion-dollar nuptial festivities. 
The reason for the alleged win was that proceeds from certain wedding photos were said to be destined for - you guessed it - "charity", that favourite celebrity pastime that so often translates into massive PR points and saviour-hero credit, not to mention tax breaks.
We non-celebrities have been so conditioned to perceive charity as something unconditionally positive - rather than a commodification and exploitation of faux altruism - that we don't seem to notice reality's conspicuous absence from the feel-good world of celeb-philanthropy.
Case in point: reports that rock star Bono's anti-poverty foundation ONE managed in 2008 to channel a mere 1.2 percent of the funds it raised to the people it purported to be assisting have done nothing to interfere with the man's portrayal as some sort of messiah for Africa.
In the case of the Clooneys, who now preside over their very own Clooney Foundation for Justice, celebrity worship and Amal-mania have also precluded sound judgement. Objectively speaking, it would seem that "justice" is not really an option in a world in which human rights lawyer-philanthropists by the name of Amal Clooney wear outfits costing $7,803. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

27 November 2017

Saudi Arabia, like the Nazis, uses 'hunger plan' in Yemen

Middle East Eye

Last month, Saudi Arabia expanded its repertoire of ludicrous antics by bestowing citizenship upon a robot named Sophia - a move presumably meant to augment the veneer of modernity and progress the tyrannical Saudi authorities strive to maintain.
In a recent interview with the Khaleej Times, an Emirati newspaper, Sophia speculated that "it might be possible to make [robots] more ethical than humans" and that there are only two options for the future: "Either creativity will rain on us, inventing machines spiralling into transcendental super intelligence[,] or civilisation collapses."
Granted, many members of the global human population are presently grappling with far more mundane issues - such as how to survive under Saudi-led bombardment and blockade, as happens to be the case in neighbouring Yemen. There, residents might be forgiven for assuming civilisation had already collapsed.
Forget rains of creativity: the Saudis and their partners in crime have instead rained destruction on Yemen, in addition to presiding over an impending famine. Instrumental to the war effort is the United Arab Emirates, a territory that similarly seeks to conceal its brutal essence behind a facade of modern development, flashy buildings and malls with ski slopes. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

22 November 2017

Press Freedoms Shattered As Erdoğan Imposes Control

The Washington Spectator, picked up by Newsweek

In January 2011, then–prime minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan descended upon the southwestern Turkish coastal town of Fethiye to talk the public’s ear off on subjects ranging from the importance of stricter alcohol and tobacco laws to the importance of keeping up with the “modern” world.
I attended the lecture, which was held at an outdoor venue close to the town’s seaside promenade. Security measures included relieving all guests of their pens and other potential dual-use items, resulting in a heap of writing utensils, lighters, and pieces of fruit outside the event’s entrance.
Six years later, as now–President Erdoğan sets his sights on Leadership for Life—who said tyranny wasn’t modern?—the mountain of confiscated pens has acquired greater retroactive significance in light of the Turkish government’s ramped-up war on the press. In the aftermath of the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, the assault on the media—not to mention the rampant detention of academics, human rights workers, pro-Kurdish politicians, and other perceived enemies of the state—has reached spectacular new levels.
Though the blame for the coup has officially been pinned on Fethullah Gülen, the Islamic preacher and former Erdoğan ally who is based in the United States, the government’s general aim seems to be to kill as many birds as possible with one stone. And a seemingly eternal state of emergency is helping make that dream a reality.
The statistics often defy comprehension. In an April essay for The New York Times Magazine, Suzy Hansen offered a rundown of some of the casualties of the post-coup-attempt purge: “Fifteen universities, 1,000 schools, 28 TV channels, 66 newspapers, 19 magazines, 36 radio stations, 26 publishing houses, and five news agencies have been shut down.”
In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Turkey “account[ed] for nearly a third of the global total” of imprisoned journalists. Last September, Reuters observed that among the television channels shuttered for allegedly disseminating “terrorist propaganda” was one “which airs Kurdish-language children’s cartoons.”
A July 2017 Reuters dispatch explained that “Turkish prosecutors are seeking up to 43 years in jail for newspaper staff” at Turkey’s Cumhuriyet paper, who were “accused of targeting Erdoğan through ‘asymmetric war methods.’”
The crime in question involved less-than-loving coverage of the government crackdown and other matters. As The Guardian has noted, Cumhuriyet “also embarrassed the national intelligence service by revealing that it had transported weapons to rebels in Syria under the guise of humanitarian aid in 2014.”
In Erdoğan’s Turkey, apparently, engaging in critical journalism is considered more warlike than, say, helping to fuel an unimaginably bloody conflict in Syria. Furthermore, there’s clearly no better way to combat asymmetric warfare than by throwing a disproportionate number of journalists in jail.
Luckily for the government, there are numerous cooperative Turkish media outlets to compensate for the traitorous ones. Perusing Turkey’s massively popular Posta newspaper this summer, for example, I found plenty of valuable information on subjects like Adriana Lima’s holiday in Bodrum, the number of kilos gained and lost by Turkish celebrities, and the annual incomes of the respective Kardashians. Amid all the bikinis and colorful photographic bombardment, it was easy to miss the tiny box with a two-sentence report on the more than 100,000 Turkish civil servants .sacked since the coup. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR or Newsweek.

21 November 2017

Thanksgiving: The annual genocide whitewash

Al Jazeera English

When I was a schoolchild in the United States a couple of short decades ago, I spent my time acquiring important life skills - ranging from how to fake a wrist fracture in order to obtain a purple cast, to how to craft a teepee replica out of a paper bag.
The latter art was perfected in accordance with the holiday of Thanksgiving, which arrived each November to great fanfare, and which, in addition to teepee replication, required my classmates and I to mass-produce turkey drawings, paper Pilgrim hats, and modified, feathered headdresses.
These materials were then incorporated into our reenactments of the "original" Thanksgiving feast: that mythologised, gastronomic encounter of 1621 between Pilgrims and Native Americans that now serves as a cornerstone of the fairytale version of US history.
On the surface, it may seem that there's not much to criticise about a holiday based on gratitude and eating - especially when it's accompanied by absurd spectacles like the presidential turkey pardon.
But a glance at the historical context of Thanksgiving reveals a thoroughly nauseating affair. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGISH.

17 November 2017

Flashback: When the US armed Iran

Middle East Eye

In defence of his recent decision to decertify the Iranian nuclear deal, US President Donald Trump explained: "We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout."
This was, of course, pretty rich coming from the leader of a nation that has unleashed all manner of violence -including nuclear-against the inhabitants of this planet.
But hey: the September 2017 Iranian missile launch-that-wasn't - news of which Trump himself broke on Twitter - could have been really violent!
On that particular occasion, even the normally subdued Associated Press was propelled to borderline sarcasm: "As president, Trump could easily have checked with the CIA or other intelligence agencies to verify whether Iran had actually test-fired a missile." 
To be sure, Iran has long been demonised in the US - and not just by the Republicans. Recall Hillary Clinton's endearing warning that America could "totally obliterate" the country in return for an attack on Israel. In short, because the Islamic Republic has dared to complicate US-Israeli designs in the Middle East, it has found itself repeatedly portrayed as an apocalyptic threat to life on earth.
In his 2002 State of the Union address in which he unveiled the "axis of evil" concept, then-US President George W Bush warned that "Iran aggressively pursues these weapons [of mass destruction] and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom."
Never mind that America's favourite shah - who ruled Iran until the 1979 revolution - was anything but "elected", or that the 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup against Iranian secular nationalist Mohammad Mossadegh wasn't exactly compatible with indigenous hopes "for freedom". READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

06 November 2017

The Israeli war on reality

The Region

For the duration of its existence, Israel has busied itself with creating “facts on the ground”—for the ultimate purpose of masking its violent usurpation of Palestinian land and supplanting reality with a cheerier narrative of justice, democracy, and other good stuff.
In one crucial preliminary stage of the disappearing act, the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 entailed the eradication of some 500 Palestinian villages—in addition to 10,000 or so Palestinian lives—and the expulsion from Palestine of approximately three-quarters of a million people.
And ethnic cleansing is hardly a thing of the past: now, nearly seven decades later, Palestinians continue to be slaughtered at regular intervals, as their remaining bits of territory compete with the proliferation of Israeli facts on the ground.
Meanwhile, Israel’s perverse interpretation of the “right of return” boils down to a situation in which Palestinians from Palestine can’t go back but any Jew in the world can settle in Israel (granted, Jews with black skin have a fantastically tougher time).
With the advent of the internet era a whole new terrain opened up for conquest and exploitation—and Israel’s valiant propagandists have wasted no time in disseminating what we might call “facts on the net.”
Google “capital of Israel,” for example, and you’re presented with the answer “Jerusalem” along with a mini-photo collage, map, and the invitation to “plan a trip and points of interest.”
This despite the fact that not a single country in the world—Israel notwithstanding—recognizes Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. READ MORE AT THE REGION.

21 October 2017

Let's face it: We have an epidemic of sexual harassment

Al Jazeera English

Every so often in the United States, a scandal erupts to temporarily demolish the country's marketed image as a pioneer in gender equality and related rights.
The name of the current scandal is, of course, Harvey Weinstein - the millionaire Hollywood film mogul accused of sexual assault by an ever-expanding number of women, as his decades-long impunity appears to be coming to an end.
Weinstein, however, is merely the tip of the iceberg. In a recent New Yorker piece titled All the Other Harvey Weinsteins, actress Molly Ringwald writes about her own history as a victim of sexual harassment in the film industry, noting, "I never talked about these things publicly because, as a woman, it has always felt like I may as well have been talking about the weather."
But at least meteorological discussions aren't generally met with the shame, recrimination, and victim-blaming that so often attend accusations of sexual assault in a society plagued by the phenomenon.
As for the fate awaiting the perpetrators of such misconduct, Ringwald remarks, "And the men? Well, if they're lucky, they might get elected President." But at least meteorological discussions aren't generally met with the shame, recrimination, and victim-blaming that so often attend accusations of sexual assault in a society plagued by the phenomenon.
Cue the soundtrack of the current US president, who is known for - among other antics - his endearing observations about "grab[bing]" women "by the p****". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

19 October 2017

Who wins from casting Hezbollah as a new terror bogeyman?

Middle East Eye

On 10 October, the United States announced multimillion-dollar rewards for "information leading to the location, arrest, or conviction in any country" of Talal Hamiyah and Fu'ad Shukr, said to be "key leaders" of Lebanon's Hezbollah. The bounty for Hamiyah has been set at "up to $7 million"; for Shukr, it’s merely "up to $5 million".
In the accompanying US State Department press briefing on "US efforts to counter Hezbollah", Ambassador-at-large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Nathan Sales, and National Counterterrorism Center Director, Nicholas Rasmussen, competed to see who could emit the most words without saying anything of substance.
A couple of takeaways: despite pretending to be a political party in Lebanon, Hezbollah is a "terrorist organisation" that is "rotten to its core", with a decades-long "penchant for violence". Created by Iran to "foment instability… across the world", it is currently "determined to give itself a potential homeland option as a critical component of its terrorism playbook" (translation: Hezbollah is plotting attacks on the US). "[O]ur work related to Hezbollah is every bit as much of a priority as our work against al-Qaeda and ISIS."
And of course, no discussion of the Lebanese group would be possible without trotting out this pet factoid: "Prior to September 11th… Hezbollah was responsible for the terrorism-related deaths of more US citizens than any other foreign terrorist organization"- namely via the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut and the "even more deadly attack on our [Beirut] Marine barracks in October of 1983 which killed 241 Americans."
Leaving aside the fact that Hezbollah didn't officially exist in 1983, the enduring hype over the barracks bombing fails to account for the detail that the Marines are by definition a military force - and as such were perceived as occupiers by certain sectors of the Lebanese population. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

12 October 2017

Time to Declare War on the US ‘War on Drugs’ in Latin America

Upside Down World

At a meeting with U.S. law enforcement officials earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed his dismay at perceived inertia on the domestic drug war front: “Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad … It will destroy your life.”
Plenty of folks would no doubt agree with the latter point—including the victims in the following trivia from American historian Howard Zinn: “[B]ack in the 1950s, [the US Central Intelligence Agency] had administered the drug LSD to unsuspecting Americans to test its effects: one American scientist, given such a dose by a CIA agent, leaped from a New York hotel window to his death.”
When President Richard Nixon launched the War on Drugs in 1971, he denounced drug abuse as “America’s public enemy number one,” but various sectors of the American public have long faced a more formidable enemy in the government itself. Consider, for example, the diary entry from Nixon’s former chief of staff noting that the president had “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the Blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
The drug war, it seems, was one way to do it — at least judging from the institutionalized discrepancies in drug-related sentencing and the general enthusiasm for throwing Black people in jail.
Of course, the U.S. War on Drugs has also been great fun for the rest of the world, particularly the countries lucky enough to be located in the United States’ “backyard,” where the drug menace has justified all manner of militarization, arms sales, and support for right-wing governments and movements.
It’s no coincidence that Venezuela, Bolivia, and other contemporary obstacles to the desired hemispheric order are consistently lambasted with narco-charges, while ultra-right-wing characters like former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe are hailed as exemplary political specimens — despite, you know, appearing on a 1991 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency list of “the more important Colombian narco-traffickers contracted by the Colombian narcotic cartels.”
The United States’ own complicity in the international drug trade is a rather well-kept secret, thanks in large part to a useless mainstream media, in which deviation from the establishment line can result in ridicule, ostracization, and — as in the case of former San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb — ruin. In a series of reports in 1996, Webb suggested that there had been a connection between the crack cocaine epidemic that had devastated black communities in South Central Los Angeles in the early 1980s and the fact that CIA-backed Contras had at that time been engaged in drug running to the US. Thoroughly maligned and discredited, Webb went on to kill himself in 2004. READ MORE AT UPSIDE DOWN WORLD.

From Paris of the Middle East to a depressing Hollywood film set: How gentrification changed Beirut

Middle East Eye

This month, Turkey’s Pegasus Airlines became the latest international entity to trip over itself in euphoric praise of Beirut - a metropolis that has already elicited much fanfare from everyone from the New York Times to Vogue to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.
Often, the fanfare revolves around Beirut's opportunities for shameless, high-end consumption and/or the pseudo-exotic panorama awaiting the Orientalist traveler in a multi-sectarian city in which hijabs and miniskirts magically coexist. (We also mustn’t forget VICE’s super-cool report on Beiruti "bars offer[ing] coke-fuelled benders down the street from Hezbollah headquarters".)
In featuring the Lebanese capital as its destination of the month, the airlines magazine has opted for another overused trope: that of Beirut as a "city that has risen like a phoenix from the ashes" of the Lebanese civil war (1975-90) to reclaim its former glory as the "Paris of the Middle East".
Regarding postwar reconstruction efforts in the city centre, the magazine gushes: "With the strong attention from tourists and the many international brand-names it has attracted, the city's main shopping district has played an important role in keeping downtown Beirut alive both financially and culturally".
Never mind that "alive" should not be the first word that comes to mind to describe a place that is economically and socially off-limits to the vast majority of a country's inhabitants. It is an aseptic space generally purged of any sign of community or culture beyond its monuments to obscene wealth: fantastically expensive apartment complexes, five-star hotels, luxury boutiques, and so forth.
Additional cultural flavour comes in the form of heavily armed security forces and a fluctuating arrangement of barricades and barbed wire.
In other words, Beirut’s renovated downtown hardly lives up to its marketed role as a forum for postwar reconciliation and reunification of the Lebanese nation - unless by "Lebanese nation" we happen to mean investors from the Gulf and other representatives of the global elite. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.


09 October 2017

Che: 50 years dead and going strong

Al Jazeera English

Fifty years ago, on October 9, 1967, Ernesto "Che" Guevara - Argentine-born doctor and Cuban revolutionary hero - was executed in Bolivia as part of a US-orchestrated plot to rid the world of his pernicious anti-imperialist influence.
Given that Guevara is as popular and symbolic as ever half a century later, it seems that the US government can safely file that project under the category "Oops". 
Of course, the Americans have long denied responsibility for the killing - a claim neatly dismantled by American lawyers Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith in their book "Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away with Murder". 
Cuban-American CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, present at Guevara's demise in the Bolivian hamlet of La Higuera, has helped promote the US line that the fatal decision was all the Bolivians' doing.
Rodriguez has, furthermore, vociferously objected to the romanticisation of a man he says was nothing more than "an assassin" who "enjoyed killing people" - a pretty rich allegation coming from someone who also volunteered to assassinate Fidel Castro and who, Ratner and Smith note, has referred to the Dominican Republic's former blood-drenched dictator Rafael Trujillo as a "so-called tyrant". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

22 September 2017

The 'Palestinian propaganda' invading US schools? Bring it on

Middle East Eye

Some years ago, the former great leader of the United States George W Bush posed the question: “Is our children learning?”
Thanks to an intelligent new study conducted by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), we finally have an answer: Yes, yes they is.
And much of what is being learned, to CAMERA’s great dismay, is insidious Palestinian propaganda.
The details are found in a monograph titled “Indoctrinating Our Youth: How a US Public School Curriculum Skews the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Islam,” authored by CAMERA’s Steven Stotsky. Concerned parents and anyone else worried about the direction in which civilisation is heading can acquire the booklet from Amazon for a mere $9.95 plus shipping.
Since its founding in 1982 to counteract the unfavourable press Israel had received by invading Lebanon and killing 20,000 people, CAMERA has busied itself hounding media outlets and other institutions for perceived violations of the Israeli line - such as the suggestion that Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, is the capital of Israel (which it is, at least according to the entire world).
Stotsky begins by providing some context to the alarming pro-Palestinian indoctrination allegedly underway in the US - particularly in two public high schools in Newton, Massachusetts, which are the subject of the case study.
He laments: “In recent years, the teaching of history in [US] schools has turned toward accounts that give greater recognition to non-Western contributions and beliefs,” a pernicious trend that is “often accompanied by a critical portrayal of the history and policies of the United States” and by extension Israel.
In other words, people might actually be learning something. Challenges to the traditional monopoly of the discourse must thus be combated at all costs. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

20 September 2017

Struggle Session

Jacobin

Suzy Hansen’s Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World begins in 2014 in Soma, western Turkey. That May, a coalmine fire killed 301 workers. The Turkish government handled the situation in typically exemplary fashion; one aide to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan kicked a distraught protester and was subsequently “diagnosed with soft tissue trauma” in that leg, as the Guardian reported.
Hansen, an Istanbul-based regular at the New York Times Magazine, arrived in Soma expecting to write about the catastrophe’s more technical details. Instead, she ended up taking a crash course in American-Turkish relations courtesy of the miners and residents.
Her interlocutors believed that no one could understand such disasters without considering phenomena ranging from the United States’ Cold War machinations, which included its support for labor unions that neither empowered or protected workers, to IMF (read: US) policies Erdoğan embraced, which destroyed traditional livelihoods and drove folks into the mines.
Hansen writes that, of all the things she discovered during her time in Soma, “the resilience of my own innocence was the most terrifying.” This innocence had sustained a superficial and compartmentalized worldview that either failed to acknowledge the United States’ destructive international behavior or excused it on the basis of presumed good intentions. “Americans,” Hansen writes, “are surprised by the direct relationship between their country and foreign ones because we don’t acknowledge that America is an empire.”
While Hansen’s own recognition of this fact may have been a long time coming, her blunt deployment of the e-word offers a welcome respite from most mainstream commentators. Other New York Times writers, it seems, don’t have time to address the United States’ international adventures because they are too busy bleating for war or arguing that McDonald’s will bring about world peace. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.


14 September 2017

Letter from Iran: Under the shadow of the Assassins' castle, part III

The Region

I returned to Si-o-se pol a few days later in the company of a young man called Hamid, an employee at a carpet shop next to the Imam Mosque at Naghsh-e Jahan whom I had met after circumventing the entrance fee to said mosque by slipping in with a tour group. I had told Hamid about my morning jogs on Chahar Bagh and he had pledged to take me to a “normal” place to run: the parks along the riverbank.
I first made the acquaintance of Hamid’s colleague Hussein when I exited the magnificence of the mosque and was busy congratulating myself on having saved six dollars. Hussein approached, asked where I was from and why I didn’t have a guide, and gave me a high five when I told him about the six dollars. Some small talk ensued, with Hussein complaining that the Iranian government was “suffocating” its people; he then backtracked to assert that there was in fact room to breathe despite the rules and that the mullahs had at least charitably refrained from blocking the VPNs that were necessary to access Facebook.
Having presumably guessed from my stunt at the mosque that I was not the ideal carpet customer, Hussein nevertheless invited me to the shop where he worked with Hamid and several other young men. As it was lunchtime, we sat on the floor and shared a vat of rice made with saffron and pomegranate plus a smaller vat of yogurt on the side. Over successive servings of tea afterward, the boys showed me some of their more unique wares including two carpets woven by Afghan refugees in Iran who had incorporated patterns involving warplanes, guns, and tanks. Hamid, a former volleyball player with pronounced upper body muscles and curly hair, lamented what he termed “Iranian racism” toward Afghans, and poured me another cup of tea despite my protests that I was already orbiting.
All of the young men present were involved in the phenomenon known as couchsurfing, by which they and their couches or spare rooms hosted foreign visitors to the land—one of whom, a European, had reportedly written the definitive account of couchsurfing in Iran. As Hussein described it, the couchsurfing business was another earthly luxury that—while certainly not condoned by the mullahs—was not actively thwarted. He speculated that my exemption thus far from the permanent guide rule was also a government ploy to give me “just enough freedom.”
Hamid, who professed to have learned English from couchsurfers, announced that he was taking me to the “hipster café” at the other end of Naghsh-e Jahan. Passing in front of the Imam Mosque, we paused so that Hamid could show me photographs on his cell phone of the winemaking process currently underway at his house. He estimated that the final product would be ready for consumption in 35 days, which meant I would miss out.
Hamid had abandoned his volleyball career because of sanctions, he said, which had caused funding for sports teams to plummet. Indeed, the S-word could be invoked to explain a variety of predicaments on the contemporary Iranian scene, from the decidedly trivial—when I was unable to change my plane ticket online the Turkish Airlines office staff in Esfahan shrugged: “Sanctions”—to the more life-threatening. In a November 2013 New York Times post, Beheshteh Farshneshani listed some of the repercussions of sanctions over the past year and a half alone: “[F]amilies living in poverty rose from 22 to more than 40 percent… and the price of food regularly consumed by Iranians—for example, milk, tea, fruits and vegetables—skyrocketed. Moreover, the health of millions of Iranians has been compromised due to the shortage of western medical drugs and supplies.”
That same year, the Guardian reported that the waivers built into the sanctions regime “to ensure that essential medicines get through… are not functioning, as they conflict with blanket restrictions on banking, as well as bans on ‘dual-use’ chemicals which might have a military application.” As for past examples of dual-use items, these might have included the chemical weapons utilized in the 1980s by Saddam Hussein in his war on Iran—with the complicity of none other than the United States. Predictably, such history has not interfered with America’s self-appointed role as arbiter of international justice and decider of what weapons countries can and can’t have. Israel, for one, is permitted a vast nuclear arsenal in rather blatant contravention of the very nonproliferation treaty that is trotted out to justify punishment of the Iranians—who, according to the United States’ own National Intelligence Estimate, halted their nuclear weapons program in 2003. Obviously, the Israelis are also permitted to perennially bitch and moan about Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions, and to periodically threaten attacks.
In The Iran Wars, the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon writes of the “financial war on Iran,” a nation that had “emerged as a laboratory for concocting innovative ways to inflict economic damage.” Some of the products of innovation, apparently, were the “collapse of the Iranian currency” in 2012 and a situation in which “factories and plants [were] firing employees by the hundreds of thousands.” Now, for all the rightwing hullaballoo over Barack Obama’s globally imperiling mullah-appeasement scheme—read: the nuclear deal and allegedly attendant sanctions relief—the sanctions regime has hardly been disappeared. When I asked Hamid about the deal, he threw up his hands and said he couldn’t keep track of which sanctions had been lifted, which had remained, and which had been newly imposed. On the bright side, he said, his volleyball training had meant that, when the time had come for his military service, he’d been able to serve as a sports instructor rather than a combatant. READ MORE AT THE REGION.

09 September 2017

Letter from Iran: Red Shi'ism at the underground bookfair, Part II

The Region

Every Friday morning in Esfahan, a used book fair is held in an underground parking lot on Taleghani Avenue, named for an ayatollah described by Abrahamian as “the most popular cleric in Tehran” during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Had he not perished shortly thereafter, he “might have provided a liberal counterweight to Khomeini.”
Prior to his revolutionary activity in the 1970s, Taleghani was a supporter of the secular nationalist Mohammad Mossadegh, victim of that infamous coup jointly perpetrated by the Americans and British in 1953 to make the world safe for imperial control over the oil business. Nowadays, imperial representatives up in arms over the contemporary orientation of the Iranian state would do well to contemplate Abrahamian’s observation that this very coup—in destroying Mossadegh’s National Front and the communist Tudeh Party (literally the Party of the Masses) via arrests, executions, and the like—“paved the way for the eventual emergence of a religious movement.” Abrahamian explains: “In other words, the coup helped replace nationalism, socialism, and liberalism with Islamic ‘fundamentalism.’… One can argue that the real roots of the 1979 revolution go back to 1953.”
The post-coup years, however, hardly made a run-of-the-mill “fundamentalist” out of Taleghani, who, Abrahamian writes in Iran Between Two Revolutions, produced an important work arguing that “socialism and religion were compatible because God had created the world for mankind and had no intention of dividing humanity in to exploiting and exploited classes.” Far more appealing, no doubt, than Gods who tell George Bush to invade Iraq.
I ended up at the used book fair on Taleghani Avenue as an indirect result of my decision to attempt a morning jog on Chahar Bagh. The jog required some preparations, as I was unsure what to do with my hair and my requests for a solution were met with blank stares from employees of all sportswear shops at which I inquired. One employee tactfully suggested that it might be “strange” for someone to run on Chahar Bagh, but his colleague shot him down. I would later discover that there were plenty of joggers in Esfahan but that they wisely confined their movements to the banks of the Zayandeh Rood, the currently waterless river. In the meantime, I concluded that the most sensible course of action was to purchase a cheap black headscarf for running purposes, and proceeded to a headscarf vendor one block over from my hotel.
As no English was spoken I was assisted in my selection by the vendor’s friend, a man in his early thirties named Hadi who asked what I did for a living. I said I wrote opinion pieces. He nodded vaguely and sought further clarification: “The opinions of your country?”
Hadi told me that he himself had a bookshop between Imam Hussein Square and Naghsh-e Jahan but that he wouldn’t be at the shop the following day because he had to attend to his tables at the used book fair on Taleghani, just past Imam Hussein Square off Chahar Bagh. He drew me a map and said he would bring a box of English books.
I arrived at 9 a.m. after an uneventful morning jog to the appointed underground parking lot to find people streaming out of the entrance with garbage bags full of books. I descended into the space and stood gaping at the crowd until Hadi appeared beside me and conducted me to his domain along the far wall, where customers were combing through stacks of everything from religious texts to Kafka to astrology to stock-purchasing guides. According to Hadi, uncensored books were in high demand, and he showed me a few censored manuscripts along with their older, unabridged counterparts for purposes of size comparison. I asked him what would happen if this component of his operation were discovered; he shrugged and said he didn’t think it would be that huge a deal. Of course, censorship was hardly a singular pastime of the Islamic Republic; the phenomenon was endemic under the West’s favorite shah, who had also presided over an apparatus of torture as well as rampant political imprisonment including such stunts as the criminalization of Dr. Ghulam Hussein Sa’edi, a psychologist who, Abrahamian writes, “had become the country’s leading playwright and had been arrested in 1975 for publishing depressing literature.” READ MORE AT THE REGION.

08 September 2017

September 11, version 16.0

Middle East Eye

On September 11, 2001, I was in Austin, Texas, preparing to travel to Italy to spend the academic year at the University of Rome.
As my departure was not until the end of the month, I got to witness the saturation of every available physical and rhetorical space with American flags and patriotic propaganda - as well as other more creative national coping mechanisms.
Certain Texan acquaintances of mine, for example, phoned in a massive delivery order to Kentucky Fried Chicken and spent the night of 11 September consuming it in front of the television set, with the explanation that “comfort food” was required in such times of tragedy.
President George W Bush, for his part, ran around issuing eloquent threats to the terrorists such as that the US was gonna “smoke ’em out of their holes”.
I myself had not been enormously surprised by the attacks; decades of screwing over other countries will, after all, often produce blowback. I had, however, always been prone to a curious form of extreme anxiety - in fifth grade, I diagnosed myself with epilepsy for no reason and descended into total panic for a period of several weeks - and thus, in the aftermath of 9/11, found material to inspire all manner of new and exciting manic behaviour.
I hallucinated anthrax-dispersing crop dusters; I hid in bathrooms and under desks. I crouched on sidewalks when planes flew overhead. From my apartment in Rome, I watched the launch of the war on Afghanistan on Italian TV and was convinced the world was ending - which it was, of course, for a lot of Afghans and others, but not for me.
I eventually got over the anthrax fixation and, when I subsequently returned to America in time for the run-up to the war on Iraq, I didn’t even find it necessary to stockpile duct tape in accordance with US government anti-terror instructions. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

05 September 2017

Letter from Iran: To Lebanon and back, Part I

The Region

A sixteenth-century Persian proverb has it that Esfahan is “half the world.” When I visited the city five or so centuries later, in October of 2016, I was assisted in my appreciation of its charms by a handy volume I came across in a bookshop where I had taken refuge after one of various near-death experiences crossing the street. In Esfahan: A Tiny Earthly Paradise, Iranian civil engineer-turned-tour operator and intermittent poet Mahmoud Reza Shayesteh makes the case that any expedition to the half-world necessarily entails a “quest for the second half of this world inside one’s self through a spiritual elevation… perhaps enabling one to embrace a world of perfection.”
Over the centuries, Esfahan has hosted its fair share of guests, some more spiritually inclined than others. Passing from Sassanid to Arab rule, Esfahan became the capital of the Seljuk empire in the eleventh century before being invaded by the Mongols and then Tamerlane, who reportedly presided over the massacre of more than 70,000 Esfahanis on a single day in 1387. As the story goes, towers of decapitated heads were constructed around the city walls, and blood flowed in the Zayandeh Rood—the now-usually-dry river that divides Esfahan on an east-west axis.
The city fared better under the Safavid dynasty and was again appointed imperial command center in 1591 by Shah Abbas I, who relocated the capital from Qazvin for various reasons including, Shayesteh writes, that “the climate of Qazvin did not suit him.” Esfahan was revamped into a gem of architecture, art, and culture—in other words, perhaps, “half the world.”
The day of my arrival to Esfahan, I was operating in my own sort of half-world—a result of having achieved one of the top three hangovers on record thanks to a friend’s birthday festivities in Dubai. The pain was rendered more acute when the Emirati immigration official who stamped me out at the Dubai airport launched into a rendition of the Santana song “Maria Maria,” inspired by my first name. He asked why I was traveling to Iran alone; I said everyone else was busy. He volunteered companionship on the next trip.
The plane ride was characterized by the scent of McDonald’s French fries courtesy of a woman in my row with a collection of takeaway bags. Earlier in the year, CNN Money had in a bout of shrewd sociocultural analysis determined that, while the rest of the world was wondering how the removal of certain sanctions on Iran would affect oil prices, the burning question for Iranians was: “Will Tehran get McDonald’s fries now?” (Answer: no.) READ MORE AT THE REGION.

29 August 2017

America’s secret Caribbean colony

Al Jazeera English

This year, the inhabitants of debt-ridden Puerto Rico marked a dubious anniversary: one entire century of United States citizenship.
The island was charitably commandeered by the US in 1898 following the Spanish-American War, but the conferral of citizenship didn't take place until 1917 when, The Economist has noted, the move "conveniently allowed 20,000 [Puerto Ricans] to be drafted into service in the first world war the following year".
In addition to the luxury of being eligible to fight and die in every US war since, Puerto Ricans have enjoyed numerous other perks as Americans do. 
In the 1940s and 50s, for example, there was a pretty cool law prescribing 10 years of jail time for anyone who said, sang, or whistled anything that could be construed as being against the US government.
Add to that a lengthy campaign of forced sterilisation of Puerto Rican women, the conversion of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques into a US military base and navy bombing range, and the suffocation of the local economy for the benefit of US corporate financial interests, and you wonder how Puerto Rico could possibly be better off independent. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

17 August 2017

DEA Scrambles to Increase Budget Tapping Funds from War on Terror

The Washington Spectator

In February 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that, with the help of some European partners, it had partially busted a “massive” drug trafficking and money-laundering operation being conducted by “Lebanese Hezbollah’s External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC).”
Observers familiar with repeated U.S. attempts to stigmatize Hezbollah with the narco-terrorist label should be forgiven for their skepticism over the renewed charges. Never mind that Hezbollah has never mentioned an External Security Organization; Western experts know best. And clearly, anyone with a “BAC” must be super-serious about drugs.
According to the DEA, members of the Hezbollah BAC had “established business relationships with South American drug cartels, such as [Colombia’s] La Oficina de Envigado, responsible for supplying large quantities of cocaine to the European and United States drug markets.” Proceeds from drugs and money laundering were then allegedly used to buy weapons for the Syrian war effort.
This was not the first time the United States had claimed to catch the Party of God red-handed with illicit substances—although this particular plot was somewhat inferior to previous ones in terms of entertainment value. For years we’ve been treated to breathless reports, often courtesy of concerned neoconservative and Zionist think tanks and individuals, about Hezbollah’s Iran-backed narcotic incursions into our very own hemisphere.
We’ve seen Hezbollah waging “cocaine jihad,” instructing Mexican drug lords in the arts of bomb-making and narco-tunnel construction along the U.S. border, collaborating with Brazilian prison gangs, establishing sleeper cells and training camps willy-nilly, and participating in transatlantic drug runs with great ease—according to one prominent U.S. expert—thanks to Venezuela’s alleged “geographic proximity to West Africa.” In 2010, Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) alerted the Department of Homeland Security to the idea that droves of incarcerated gang members in the United States were suddenly sporting tattoos in Farsi. Another enduring favorite among the fearmonger set is the fact that it is possible to travel by air from Caracas to Tehran, which can only mean bad things.
The Hezbollah-in-our-backyard hype serves a number of convenient functions. It renders the organization a direct threat to the homeland, justifying both continued U.S. militarization of Latin America and ongoing antagonism toward Iran on a global level. Particularly during the final years of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, U.S. propaganda conflating various national nemeses into a single Islamo-socialist narco-jihadi-terror menace lurking just across the southern border sought to discredit a whole lot of folks in one fell swoop.
As’ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese-American political science professor at the University of California, Stanislaus, remarked in a recent email to me on the barrage of narco-allegations leveled against Hezbollah: “They actually remind me of the Cold War days when I first came to the United States and I would read fantastic claims by Zionist groups trying to connect any and every Palestinian group to various communist plots worldwide.” Perhaps some Zionist or Saudi propagandists would also like to link Hezbollah to global warming, he suggested. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.