13 October 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Border System Is Criminal

Review of Empire of Borders: The Expansion of the U.S. Border Around the World, by Todd Miller (Verso, 2019). 

Jacobin

On October 1, the New York Times reported on some of Donald Trump’s visions for the United States-Mexico border, including “a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators” and a wall with “spikes on top that could pierce human flesh”:
After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down.
Trump would quickly take to Twitter to decry the moat-alligator-spikes allegations as “Crazy,” although shooting people was apparently still fine in his book. As the president has often said to justify his wall fantasies: “Just ask Israel” — another border-obsessed entity that delights in deploying lethal force against unarmed civilians.
Given the present international landscape, Todd Miller’s Empire of Borders: The Expansion of the U.S. Border Around the World couldn’t have come at a better time. Fittingly, part two of the book — “The Global Pacification Industry on the Palestine-Mexico Border” — addresses Israeli contributions to manic US border fortification schemes and other lucrative security endeavors. Israel’s access to a captive Palestinian population on which to test various methods of barbarism gives it a unique advantage in sustaining “a US structure of power and domination” in a world where — as Miller quotes late US diplomat George Kennan’s candid forecast — “we have to accept a certain unchallengeable antagonism between ‘him that has’ and ‘him that has not.’”
Crossing Israel’s notorious Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank, Miller observes that it “felt like being strained through the metallic innards of the global classification system . . . Qalandiya was the prime example of the twenty-first-century breed of war, hidden behind the word ‘security.’”
Empire of Borders is hardly just about the “post-9/11 planetary expansion of US border enforcement,” although there is certainly plenty of evidence of the 9/11 Commission Report’s proclamation that “the American homeland is the planet” (how else do you explain things like the presence in Iraq of US Customs and Border Protection officials?). In the course of his exploration, Miller finds that “the harmonized global border system was not necessarily attached to the nation-state, but rather to the global economy; the elite world was not beholden to the flags of individual countries, but rather to the banner of Walmart, Boeing, Google, and the power structure that sustains such corporations.” READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

07 October 2019

Just how 'dictator loving' is Twitter?

Middle East Eye
On 2 October, Egyptian film star and political activist Amr Waked tweeted his opinion that Twitter and its CEO Jack Dorsey "should investigate their management and behavior of dictator loving @TwitterMENA@", a reference to what Twitter defines as "the official Twitter account for the Middle East and North Africa".
Waked continued: "Why are they leaving obvious dictator bots active and suspending anti dictator activists[?]"
This would seem to be a valid question in light of reports of a Twitter crackdown on critics of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's regime, which has pursued a typically "draconian response" to recent demonstrations across the country and once again exhibited its penchant for mass arbitrary arrests.
Waked himself announced back in March that he had been sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison for “insulting state institutions”. Middle East Eye reported that he was additionally "facing fresh charges" for tweeting against the death penalty - clearly a much greater crime than, you know, manically executing people.
But in an age in which social media is lamentably central to - and sometimes a substitute for - life itself, just how “dictator loving” is Twitter? More broadly, has Twitter wilfully politicised itself, or is it merely haphazardly finding its way in a chaotic and often unregulatable digital realm? READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.


24 September 2019

Netflix and Israel: A special relationship

Middle East Eye
Back in 2016, the Israeli embassy in the United States tweeted with regard to Netflix’s global expansion: “For the 5+/- days a year the weather’s not good… @Netflix, now in Israel!”
What fortune, indeed, that Israel managed to erect itself on stolen land with such favourable meteorology. And speaking of luck, Netflix has proven itself a veritable godsend for the Jewish state, for a lot more than five days out of the year. As with various entertainment platforms, Netflix has been willingly subsumed into the Israeli hasbara industry.
The latest pro-Israel production to grace subscribers’ screens is the six-part Netflix series The Spy, starring Sacha Baron Cohen as Israel’s celebrated Mossad agent Eli Cohen, executed in Damascus in 1965. 
Predictably, the series humanises Cohen as a humble, loving and dedicated patriot engaged in noble subterfuge on behalf of innocent Israelis under attack from dastardly Syria. No mention is made of Israel’s preeminent role as attacker-provocateur, while its history of mass slaughter in the service of predatory regional designs is - as usual - disappeared under the mantra of “self-defence”.
But The Spy is only the beginning. Search “Israel” on Netflix and you’re bombarded with all sorts of offerings, from Inside the Mossad to Fauda, a series about “a top Israeli agent [who] comes out of retirement to hunt for a Palestinian fighter he thought he’d killed”. In the trailer, we learn that “Abu Ahmad has the blood of 116 Israelis on his hands” and that “no other terrorist has killed so many: men, women, children, elderly, soldiers”.
Never mind, then, real-life episodes such as that time in 2014 that the Israeli military had the blood of 2,251 Palestinians on its hands, including 299 women and 551 children. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

03 September 2019

The IDF Can’t Wait to Go to War

Jacobin

In recent days, Israel has launched attacks against “Iranian-backed” forces in three countries. The motive for the violent triple-violation of sovereignty was not lost on the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which ran the headline: “A Looming War Lifts Netanyahu’s Spirits” and explained that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked hale and hearty this week … The more security tensions escalated and captured headlines, the more his self-confidence soared.”
Why? Because “the attacks in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, some of them open and official, others less so, and the saber-rattling in the direction of Iran and Hezbollah, were fuel for the fire of his campaign” ahead of the Israeli elections, scheduled for September 17.
On Sunday, Hezbollah retaliated by shooting anti-tank missiles into Israel, while Israel fired “volleys of artillery against three villages in southern Lebanon.” For now, Reuters reports, all is quiet following the cross-border exchange between “Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and the Israeli army” (forever immune in the US media from relevant modifiers like “US-backed” or “insanely US-backed”).
But while an all-out physical war may be on hold, Israel’s propaganda war is in full swing. Over at the official Twitter account of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), videos are being churned out that purport to reveal the sinister activities of Iran & Co., including “surveillance footage of Iranian Quds Force operatives in Syria carrying a killer drone that they intended to use for an attack on Israel.” Though the quality of the footage is so poor that one is just as likely to perceive Ewoks traipsing across an extraterrestrial landscape, the IDF has helpfully labeled the video “Syria” and drawn a circle around the blob that is allegedly the killer drone.
Then there’s the video, complete with dramatic musical score, about the “senior Iranian commanders running Hezbollah’s precision missile project in Lebanon” — and the one suggesting that “terrorists” in Lebanon are on the verge of being able to direct missiles to specific Israeli addresses using something like the Waze navigation app.
Even CNN felt compelled to draw attention to the IDF’s “propaganda offensive” and “barrage of agitprop,” although in a grotesque oversight the article’s author, Sam Kiley, refrained from including Lebanese civilian deaths in his casualty count for Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, “during which the IDF lost nearly 120 troops and scores of civilians and about 270 Hezbollah fighters and 50 Lebanese soldiers and police died.” In reality, some 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon during Israel’s thirty-four-day assault, the overwhelming majority of them civilians.
Among the casualties, for example, were south Lebanese children fired on at close range as they fled their homes in a pickup truck. Veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk provided some details of the grisly aftermath: “Two small girls … were blasted into such small body parts that they were buried together in the same grave after the war was over. Other children lay wounded by the initial shell burst and rocket explosions as the helicopter attacked them again.”
Talk about “precision.”  READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

30 August 2019

THE LONG, DISTURBING VOYAGE OF THE “U.S.S. HONDURAS”: A brief history of imperial servitude…

Current Affairs

Following a close call off the coast of Central America in 1502, Christopher Columbus is reported to have exclaimed: “Gracias a Dios que hemos salido de estas honduras”—“Thank god we’ve gotten out of these depths.” The name Honduras, then, was perhaps inauspicious from the get-go. Now, more than half a millennium after the legendary Italian’s nautical escapades, Honduras’ entrance into full-blown bloodbath mode—characterized by massive homicide rates and ruthless state repression—means that many Hondurans are fleeing the terrifying “depths” for the United States. But the U.S., a faithful heir of the Columbian tradition of decimating overseas populations, happens to be responsible for helping to sink Honduras to such great lows in the first place.

The abusive relationship between the United States and Honduras was solidified in the 1980s, when the Central American nation was endearingly designated the “U.S.S. Honduras” on account of its role as a base for U.S.-backed Contra mercenaries attacking neighboring Nicaragua—a campaign that Noam Chomsky has referred to as “a large-scale terrorist war against Nicaragua, combined with economic warfare that was even more lethal.” Some 50,000 Nicaraguans perished.

The aim of the Contra war was, of course, to punish the Sandinistas for daring to suggest that life without U.S.-directed capitalism might be possible, especially in the United States’ self-declared backyard—and to serve as a warning to other countries not to stray from the path of righteousness. In 1986, Ronald Reagan broadcast his hallucination that Nicaragua—a mere “two hours’ flying time from our own borders”—had become a campsite for “Soviets, East Germans, Bulgarians, North Koreans, Cubans and terrorists from the P.L.O. and the Red Brigades,” while also enjoying the affections of Muammar Qaddafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

In contrast to Nicaragua, Honduras was a model territory. As Stephen Kinzer notedin the New York Times in 1988: “Behind the guise of formal democracy [in Honduras], military leaders make all important decisions, and they respond to direction from the United States Embassy [in Tegucigalpa]…one of the largest State Department outposts in the world…American diplomats exercise more control over domestic politics in Honduras than in any other country in the hemisphere.”

Inevitably, some Hondurans still got out of line, but they were handled by Battalion 316, the “CIA-trained military unit that terrorized Honduras for much of the 1980s”—as the Baltimore Sun recalls. Battalion 316 was responsible for the kidnapping, torture, and murder of hundreds of people suspected of undesirable political orientation.

With the end of the Cold War, the U.S.S. Honduras got a bit of downtime, though the country remained a key outpost in the now-reigning global superpower’s international military network, playing host to U.S. personnel and armaments. The Stars and Stripes magazine boasts that Joint Task Force-Bravo, stationed at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, has since its establishment in 1983 remained the “face of America’s military presence in Central America.” Other contemporary North American presences in Honduras have included a flourishing sweatshop industry, an appropriate symbol of post-Cold War neoliberal conquest—not to mention the smorgasbord of gringo businesses and investors fully committed to exploiting hydro-electric dams, mining, palm oil, and other opportunities in everyone’s favorite banana republic.

Enter Manuel Zelaya, who assumed the presidency of Honduras in 2006 and proceeded to steer the Honduran ship a hair to the left, both raising the minimum wage for urban and rural areas and engaging in other behavior seen as heretical by the Honduran ruling class—like pursuing agrarian reform on behalf of peasant farmers, or, for example, actually bothering to ask impoverished communities how they felt about being forced to live smack in the middle of toxic corporate mining operations. READ MORE AT CURRENT AFFAIRS.

26 August 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The US Created MS-13

Jacobin

Review of A Year Inside MS-13: See, Hear, and Shut Up, by Juan José Martínez d’Aubuisson (OR Books, 2019).

Last year, Donald Trump’s administration issued a press release titled “What You Need To Know About The Violent Animals Of MS-13,” the El Salvador–based transnational gang. The dispatch deployed the term “animals” an additional nine times in its explanation of how Mara Salvatrucha “follows the motto of ‘kill, rape, control’ by committing shocking acts of violence in an attempt to instill fear and gain control.”
Considering this motto could also apply to the past many decades of US military intervention worldwide, it seems there might be More Important Things You Need To Know about transnational violence — like the United States’s role in the rise of MS-13 itself. During the Salvadoran civil war in the 1980s, the United States backed brutal right-wing forces that were responsible for tens of thousands of killings and countless atrocities. Many Salvadorans fled the country, with a substantial percentage ending up in Los Angeles, where gangs formed as a means of self-defense for marginalized communities. Then in 1992, at the end of the war, the United States undertook massive deportations of Salvadoran gang members (clearly the best step to ensure a shattered country’s chances of recovery).
For a glimpse at how things have panned out since then, a good place to start is Salvadoran sociocultural anthropologist Juan José Martínez d’Aubuisson’s A Year Inside MS-13: See, Hear, and Shut Up, newly translated from Spanish by Natascha Uhlmann. Martínez d’Aubuisson, who spent 2010 in the company of the Guanacos Criminales Salvatrucha — the MS-13 clica that presides over “the last neighborhood on the hill” in Mejicanos, a suburb of San Salvador — describes his book as a “snapshot in time [and] a collection of field notes . . . that served as the basis for my academic work.” And while there’s certainly no shortage of violence in its pages, the work is mercifully free of the “violent animal” approach, offering instead a snapshot of humans who are — like everyone else — products of their contexts. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

10 August 2019

How the US Created Violent Chaos in Honduras

Jacobin: Excerpt from EXILE

In the predawn hours of June 28, 2009, heavily armed Honduran soldiers descended upon the Tegucigalpa residence of the nation’s president, Manuel (Mel) Zelaya, and carted him off to Costa Rica in his pajamas, never again to be restored to his lawful post.
Ever so slightly left-leaning, Zelaya had stepped on the toes of the entrenched Honduran oligarchy, whose members had long ago pledged allegiance to the predatory capitalism endorsed by their benefactors in the United States. Not only had Zelaya raised the monthly urban and rural minimum wages to a whopping $290 and $213, respectively, he had also shown himself to be more willing than his predecessors to listen to the complaints of impoverished communities affected by mining and other toxic operations by international corporations. All of this naturally indicated that the communist apocalypse was nigh.
The last straw came in the form of a nonbinding public opinion survey, scheduled for June 28, in which citizens would be asked whether they supported the inclusion of an extra ballot box at upcoming elections in order to then vote on whether to convene a constituent assembly to update the national constitution. As the Honduran right-wing and concerned gringos spun it, this was concrete proof that Zelaya was scheming to abolish the constitutional article that limited presidents to a single term and to thereby install himself as eternal dictator. Of no consequence, apparently, was that any constitutional tweaking would only take place after Zelaya had already left power. Eventually, the article in question was abolished anyway, albeit under a sufficiently ultra-rightist administration so as not to merit a peep from the guardians of democracy.
In the months following Zelaya’s pajama-clad expatriation, the United States busied itself hemming and hawing over how to categorize his ouster without resorting to the obvious descriptor — “military coup” — that would then trigger massive cutoffs in aid to the post-Zelaya allies. After initially declaring that the United States was “withholding any formal legal determination” regarding the Coup-Type Thing in Honduras, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set about “strategiz[ing] on a plan to restore order in [the country] and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot and give the Honduran people a chance to choose their own future.”
This, at least, is what she herself told us in her 2014 memoir Hard Choices, in a passage mysteriously excised from the paperback edition the following year. New elections were indeed swiftly held, and mootness rendered — although it’s anyone’s guess as to how elections staged after an illegal coup could qualify as legitimate, particularly when the Honduran people had already chosen Zelaya to serve out his four-year term. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

06 August 2019

Oppose American and British foreign policy? Then you might be a 'violent extremist'

The New Arab

Do you see the US, UK, and Israel as greater threats to world peace than North Korea and Iran? If so, chances are you might be suffering from sympathy for violent extremism. 

This, at least, is one of the hypotheses set out by a new study titled "Violent extremist tactics and the ideology of the sectarian far left". Funded by the UK Commission for Countering Extremism, the study is authored by Daniel Allington, Siobhan McAndrew and David Hirsh, all lecturers at British universities. 

The authors use the term "revolutionary workerism" to describe "the belief system disseminated by the sectarian far left"—distinguishable by such concepts as "Capitalism is essentially bad and must be destroyed", "Industry should produce for need and not for profit", and "The wealthy make life worse for the rest of us".

The study compares individual support for the above concepts with support for phenomena like "Violence as part of political protests", "Committing terrorist acts", and "Street violence against anti-democratic groups". Surveyed individuals were also asked to select up to three countries—from a group that includes the US, UK, Israel, North Korea, China, Russia and Iran—that "represent the greatest threat to world peace". (We already know the wrong answer to that one.)

The upshot: while the authors found "no evidence that sectarian groups on the British far left currently have the capacity or the inclination for direct organisational involvement in terror activities of any sort", they have nonetheless determined that there is a "positive relationship between sympathy for violent extremism and both revolutionary workerism and an 'anti-imperialist' geopolitical outlook". READ MORE AT THE NEW ARAB.

29 July 2019

Trump's worldwide war on abortion

Al Jazeera English

"Population control", as defined by the Collins English Dictionary, is "a policy of attempting to limit the growth in numbers of a population, esp[ecially] in poor or densely populated parts of the world, by programmes of contraception or sterilisation".
The current "pro-life" regime of United States President Donald Trump, of course, is no fan of such programmes. But it is all about controlling human populations and behaviour worldwide in accordance with unhinged religio-imperialist visions - many of them especially damaging to the poor. 
In 2017, for example, the Trump administratiodramatically discontinuedfinancial support for that diabolically radical outfit known as the United Nations Population Fund, which is allegedly attempting to overthrow civilisation by promoting abortion and other evils.
That same year hosted the unveiling of the "Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance" policy, which cuts US government funding to foreign NGOs considered to be involved in abortion work. 
A vastly more punishing version of the so-called "global gag rule" that has been regularly implemented by Republican presidents since 1984, the policy now also applies to organisations that work across a range of health issues. In short, this means that an NGO dealing with HIV/Aids, cancer, malaria, tuberculosis, gender-based violence, and so on cannot receive US funds for these activities if it also chooses to inform patients about the existence of abortion as a possible method of family planning.
So much for "protecting life" - not that such a noble concept would ever really be expected of a government that specialises in slaughtering people around the world. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

19 July 2019

Please Don’t Embarrass Our Apartheid State

Jacobin

This month, Israel’s new education minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz came out as a fan of “gay conversion therapy,” a technique that “tries to change someone’s sexual orientation through psychological and spiritual means and even electroshocks.”
In an Israeli television interview, Peretz stressed his faith in the abominable practice, and even suggested that he had personally done his part to push potential converts in that direction.
Peretz, a former helicopter pilot in the Israeli air force and head of a yeshiva in the Gaza Strip prior to the so-called Israeli disengagement of 2005, served as the army’s chief rabbi from 2010 to 2016 and has twelve children. This year, he became leader of the Jewish Home party as well as the Union of Right-Wing Parties (if ever there was a more endearing union!). In the run-up to Israel’s general election this April, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu enthusiastically nurtured the bond between Jewish Home and other even more whack-job circles, seeking to boost his own chances of forming a majority government.
In the aftermath of the gay conversion therapy spectacle, however, Netanyahu has felt the need to reprimand Peretz for “unacceptable” comments that don’t reflect the government’s position. Of course, it is still entirely acceptable for Israel to shoot Palestinian children in the head and bomb hospitals. Indeed, while the torrent of criticism presently directed at Peretz is certainly well-deserved, the credentials of many of his critics are — as with Netanyahu — less than impeccable.
The Times of Israel catalogues some key soundbites from the uproar, such as Labor leader Amir Peretz’s contention that the education minister’s remarks were “neither humane nor Jewish” — a sentiment that is, on its own terms, entirely accurate, yet tragically silly within the context of Israeli brutality and Amir Peretz’s own history.
This particular Peretz served as Israeli defense minister during the 2006 war on Lebanon that killed some 1,200 people, the vast majority of them civilians, in thirty-four days. Following Israel’s attack on the south Lebanese village of Qana — which even the New York Times described as an event “the survivors will remember . . .  as the day their children died” — Amir Peretz appeared before the Knesset to express his “regret [at] the outcome”: “We will not hesitate to investigate this incident [that] claimed so many lives, in order to learn how to prevent loss of life in the future. We are not doing this to make a good impression on anyone. We are doing it for ourselves, for our own moral conscience.”
Clearly, the Israeli moral conscience hadn’t evolved much since Israel’s military attack on the very same village in 1996, which obliterated 106 refugees sheltering at a United Nations compound — half of them children. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.