In a speech on Friday explaining the US administration’s support for a military strike against the Assad regime, Secretary of State John Kerry cited a United Nations investigation led by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which suggested that chemical weapons were used against innocent Syrian civilians in late August. The documents from the investigation, Kerry continued, will be made available to the American people in order for the administration to be transparent about its stance.
There are at least three issues with such a stance – imperial exceptionalism, limited transparency, and moral duplicity – each of which deserve untangling.
First, there is the fundamentally imperial logic of Kerry's speech, which presumes that, if Assad was the perpetrator of the chemical weapons attack, then an American strike against Syria is justifiable. According to a statement issued by Russia’s foreign ministry, a unilateral strike without the backing of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), of which Russia is a permanent member, would be a violation of international law. Regardless of its illegality (which is rendered as such by a body created in favor of post-war American ascendency), a strike against Syria is only possible from a position of imperial exceptionalism, wherein the US decides when and how it will intervene in foreign affairs insofar as such an intervention serves its geopolitical and economic interests.
As a result, the US administration can support a military strike in Syria, despite a majority vote of the British parliament against such a strike (a blow to David Cameron's conservative position, as the majority vote was consolidated by members of his own party), the lack of support from the United Nations, Jordan’s unwillingness to be used as a launching pad for attacks, and opposition from the Center for Constitutional Rights. This is not to mention the controversial nature of the strike within certain conservative and liberal factions of the "American people," which Obama rhetorically imbued with a decision-making ability in his own speech by turning to Congress for a vote on the strike.
The US has much at stake in orchestrating a strike on Syria, as doing so would establish American military presence, or at least demonstrate military power, in yet another volatile Middle Eastern context. This is especially strategic considering that Syria shares a border with Israel and that Assad has strong ties with Iran and Hezbollah, as well as the fact that Syria represents one of the few remaining anti-imperialist and non-US brokered political economies in the Middle East. Moreover, it is becoming clear that Israel, the US’s important ally in the region, is actively pushing for military action through the American Israel Political Affairs committee; on Sunday, the New York Times reported that a US administration official called the powerful lobby “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” a comment reminiscent of the lobby’s influential support for military intervention in Iraq back in 2003.
That intervention is a haunting reminder of how imperial exceptionalism transpires: the US invaded an oil-rich, geopolitically strategic country under false pretext and despite the lack of international backing, only to tear the country apart – with estimates of civilian deaths in the millions – and to attempt rebuilding it, unsuccessfully, in the image of current American neoliberal standards. Iraq is but one representative case of a recent history of American military intervention gone wrong.
Second, there is Kerry's – and later Obama's – rhetoric that stresses the participation of the American people in the administration's foreign affairs. In his speech, Kerry continued to claim that the perpetrator of the chemical weapons attack is the Assad regime. The UN investigation he cited, however, does not and will not confirm the identity of the perpetrator. Kerry then admitted that some of the classified documents confirming Assad as the perpetrator would not be shared with the American people for security purposes.
As such, the White House is focusing its rhetoric of transparency in relation to a narrow field of knowledge, which limits where transparency takes place in order to shift focus from less relevant information (evidence that chemical weapons were used) to information that sanctions a strike on Syria (evidence confirming who perpetrated the attack). What we are seeing is a strengthening of such rhetoric, but without actual transparency. This is partly as a response to accusations that Obama’s administration is reiterating Bush-era politics, particularly as such politics concerned the Iraq War.
Those who previously consolidated the Bush administration have come out to criticize its current iteration in Obama’s stance on Syria. Notable among them is Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson, who was part of the intelligence team that gave Colin Powell the evidence to be certain that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, later claimed that the entire WMD investigation was a "hoax," and that those on the intelligence committee were able to manipulate facts in order to offer false certainty to Powell, thereby justifying the invasion of Iraq.
In a recent interview on Current TV, which was reported in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Wilkerson likened Obama's response to that of Bush in 2003, and claimed that there is insufficient proof that Assad used chemical weapons, and that the perpetrator might have been a Syrian rebel group or Israel. In the case of Israel, he posited that Netanyahu’s administration might have undertaken a "false flag" operation in which it carried out the chemical weapons attack under a false identity in order to blame the Syrian regime and instigate an American military response favorable to Israel.
Third, moral reasoning, as it supports imperial wars in the public sphere among batches of conscionable Americans, has been and continues to be a thinly veiled cover for the US's geopolitical and economic interests. If the absolute immorality of any chemical weapons attack was in fact guiding US foreign policy, then it would be instructive to see how the US responded to the previous usage of chemical weapons in the Middle East.
What did the US do when Human Rights Watch reported that Israel used chemical weapons, namely white phosphorous, against Palestinians in Gaza as recently as 2009? Not only was there no strike on Israeli military infrastructure, but the US administration was cautious about issuing a condemnation of the strike to begin with, claiming that Operation Cast Lead was part of Israel's righteous self-defense strategy. Israel, in the meantime, maintained that terrorists were to blame for the death of innocent civilians (some due to white phosphorous). This is to bracket the usage of chemical weapons by the US in its 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq, in the form of depleted-uranium ammunition.
What we have as a result is a strategically duplicitous imperial power that disregards equal moral standards in order to satisfy its own interests, at the expense of Arab civilians who continue to suffer death and destruction. What Americans must do is challenge the presumed imperial exceptionalism of their administration, ask for greater governmental transparency, and demand equal moral standards when it comes to foreign affairs.
The events unfolding around the political arrest of an apolitical businessman tells the story of a politically troubled country. The author of Guban, Abdi Latif Ega, cleverly weaves the social, environmental, cultural and political provisions of Somalia to voice the journey of a largely misunderstood country that came to be viewed as predestined to failure because of its culture. The author impressively debunks this preconception by offering an urgently needed alternate narrative, not only to grasp the circumstances through which Somalia came to be “a failing state” but also to construe the histories of many African countries.
The author represents a rare voice that goes contrary to a great number of African authors who take a cathartic mode of writing through which they try to appeal to Western mainstream audiences confirming the prejudices about the savagery, inhumanity, poverty, famine, diseases and violence of African societies. He, however, does not go to the extreme opposite of that cathartic mode to talk about “the positive” through cultural enchantment. The author provides a compelling story of Somalia that humanizes and historicizes its political struggle. Guban is not a novel to be read for entertainment although it generously fulfills that requisite; rather, it is a story to be read for reflection and political learning.
Pulling the Thread:
On a regular afternoon, Hoagsaday hears invasive knocks on the door of his house. He hurries angrily to open the door only to find himself surrounded by soldiers pushing him into a military truck. The news reaches the corners of Somalia like forest fire through neighbors and relatives who gather to witness the fiasco. Hoagsaday is driven to a heavily guarded building, leaving behind a hysterically crying wife and children.
In Covarrubia’s seventeenth century dictionary Tesoro de La Lengua Castellana O Española, moro (from the Latin Maurus) is defined as “one from the province of Mauritania.” The term is meant to be used pejoratively as in the proverb, “A Moro muerto, gran lanzada” (p.1150). The Real Academia Española offers more than eleven definitions, including the natural border of North Africa and Spain; one who professes the religion of Islam; a Muslim who lived in Spain from the eighth to the fifteenth century; a black mare with a star on the forehead and shoes on one or two limbs; Muslims of Mindanoa and Malaysia; etc. In the Oxford English Dictionary, moor is defined as “originally a native or inhabitant of ancient Mauretania” and “later usually a member of a Muslim people of mixed Berber and Arab descent inhabiting north-western Africa (now mainly present-day Mauritania), who in the eighth century conquered Spain.”
In An Early Modern Dialogue with Islam: Antonio de Sosa’s Topography of Algiers (1612), Sosa devotes an entire chapter—“The Inhabitants and Neighbors of Algiers”—to defining the “Moor” as a category of people among other inhabitants in Algiers, including Jews, Turks and Christians. The rest of the text, however, does not always use the term in the same way; rather, its usage reveals and reproduces the conflation of race, ethnicity and religion in the early modern period.
Ibrahim El-Husseiny wrote the play “Comedy of Sorrows” only a few months after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in February of 2011. As such, it was one of the very first creative pieces produced in response to the Egyptian revolution. Following a run of 60 performances in Egypt, a translation by Rebekah Maggor toured the States in Spring of 2012 as a staged reading, with performances at CUNY Graduate Center, the Radcliffe Institute, and Vanderbilt University, amongst other venues. Two years into the revolution, Hani Omar Khalil sat down with El-Husseiny in Cairo to discuss both his own evolution as a political playwright as well as the role of theatrical narrative in the shaping of national discourse. Questions and answers were given in Arabic, with translational assistance provided by Omar S. Khalil.
Distinguished by their ability to imagine the unimaginable and assign meaning to meaningless, human beings have always been meaning-seekers, and therefore myth-makers. Mythology could be about the incomprehensible part of the physical world or even about what we call the spiritual realm, but the epistemes of myths fuse together the spiritual and the mundane. The content of myths may occur within the bounds of time and space in some distant past, however, their retelling is a perpetual recurrence in collective memory. It is an eternal event that occurs in continuum. Myth is not merely an occurrence in chronological history, but also an ahistorical truth: “A myth was an event which in some sense, had happened once, but which happened all the time.”1
The history of Kashmir is rich with mythology. Wherever there are significant geographical points, such as lakes (Wullar, Manasbal, Dal, Tarsar Marsar), or mountains (Harmukh, Mahadev, Takht-e Sulaiman, Koh-e Maran), there are corresponding myths. In fact, the creation myths abound about the emergence of the valley of Kashmir itself. All these myths have gone into the making of the collective psyche of the Kashmiris.The narration and construction of these myths in Kashmir are diverse. The myths in Kashmir can be classified in three categories: First, there are myths which sound like myths found in other areas around the world. Such myths include the shraz which is a typically Kashmiri mythological bird. In the myth, the bird is in love with the moon and attempts to hug it. In its pursuit of the moon, the bird goes atop a height and, guessing the moon to be closer, jumps off the height to grab the moon. It falls down to death and from its ashes rises another shraz. The myth reads like an indigenous version of the mythical Greek phoenix.
From The Sunday Observer of October 22, 1944
"Freedom must be an Ideal with a Social Content"
The following message was sent by Mr. M.N. Roy to the Bengal Provincial Conference of the Radical Democratic Party held on October 14/15, 1944 at Jaynagar under the presidentship of A.N. Chattopadyay M.L.A. (Central)
More than half a century has passed since the place of the movement for freedom of India began. Bengal was the birth place of the movement. During this period, the world has undergone many changes ... the latest of them being the global war, which is now bearing its end. The conclusion of the mighty clash of arms however will bring the more fundamental issues underlying the gigantic conflict to the forefront. The war will still have to be waged on the political and social fronts, which cut across national frontiers.
The final stages of India's struggle for freedom will be fought in that context of a transnational period in the history of the world. In that period, old ideas and ideals will no longer hold good. They are already in the melting pot. Should India even then cling to antiquated ideas and cherish discredited ideals, she might still languish in the stagnant backwaters of history, when the more fortunate and enterprising peoples have turned their back on the past to bury its dead to march towards a future of real freedom.
A Harlem state of mind. Music. Rhythm. Black beauty. Soul. Culture. Defiance. Harlem intrigues and inspires. Harlem has also innovated and has been invaded. By police. By white real estate. By capitalism. While Harlem innovates, the world culturally appropriates without seeing the sacrifice—both of blood and of spirit—that has produced such beauty, such depth, such life.
The recent cultural theft from Harlem has been the recent viral videos of gyrating bodies performing what they consider to be the "Harlem Shake." However, the original "Harlem Shake," and its later meaning to the residents of Harlem, does not correspond with the current trend that includes the appropriation of cultural capital from the residents of Harlem. For many Harlem residents, the "Harlem Shake" is an art form that deserves respect. Like many musical, literary and artistic traditions of Harlem that have been acquired by white, American society and corporate America, the "Harlem Shake" viral craze is just another example of the spectacle that will eventually fade and the art form that is the "Harlem Shake" will continue to be lived, performed and experienced by those who reside in Harlem. The "Harlem Shake," or what has become its viral spectacle, is indeed a site of protest and defiance to the powers that be—that discriminate, that dominate, that oppress. It is its rhythm, its perfection, its life that makes the "Harlem Shake" an art form.
January 10th, 2013 marked one of the worst episode of Shia genocide in Pakistan when two bomb blasts targeting the Hazara Shia community, killed almost 200 people in a busy marketplace in Quetta. The Hazara Shias, who have been systematically and ruthlessly killed for almost a decade, refused to bury their dead and sat alongside with their bodies on the streets for three days and nights, through torrential rain and cold weather. This was a heart-wrenching protest, which drew an overwhelming nationwide response of sympathy from not just from Shia communities, but from Pakistanis of all religious affiliations. Protestors sought to highlight the injustices faced by the Shia community and the lack of state response, which can be judged from the fact that none of the perpetrators have ever been arrested or prosecuted in the last decade. One reason for the apparent inaction against the Sunni extremists seems to be a general confusion and a lack of consensus among the mainstream Sunnis themselves, regarding ways in which to respond to such incendiary vitriol spewed by such militant groups.
In the light of the imploding violence against the Shias and the atrocities taking place in the name of religion, it seems worthwhile to delve deeper into history to analyze the dynamics of Sunni militancy. Prevalent analysis on Pakistan continues to insist that the hatred Sunni militant groups bear towards Shia Muslims is fundamentally theological. In reality it has little to do with theology and everything to do with the politics of the times. Much is consequently being said about the need to accept and overcome religious 'differences' among both sects in Pakistan presently, but the exact nature or scale of these differences is hardly ever a point of reference in any meaningful discussion. In this sense, the very premise of such arguments seems intrinsically flawed, as it portrays the Shia as the 'other' with many commentators inadvertently aggregating them with non-Muslims as a 'minority.'
“..People sometimes ask...why the Pope does not introduce this or that reform? The true answer is that a revolutionist is not the kind of man who becomes a Pope and that a man who becomes a Pope has no wish to be a revolutionist.”
What will the legacy of B.R. Ambedkar mean to India and the world one hundred years from now? It is not uncommon or insignificant that extraordinary genius remains under-appreciated in its time, waiting in the wings as the lens of human consciousness develops the capacity to penetrate into its beckoning depths. Far ahead of its time, even in this day and age, Ambedkar’s The Annihilation of Caste is one such exceptional tract of extraordinary human insight. Though currently undervalued, its universal frame suggests that it must eventually take its place as a guiding beacon of the Indian nation.
Like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, the legacy of M.K. Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar form an essential binary. One person paves the way for immidiate change, taking into consideration current sensibilities, while the other constructs the dreams of tomorrow--shattering every rotten, but dearly held sentiment that stands in the way. Today, we understand Gandhi and Ambedkar as polarities, in time perhaps we will see that they are two essential parts of the same puzzle of India.
One hundred years from now, with the distance of time, we might realize that Gandhi was but India's pope. His complicit charisma threaded together an unlikely nation. Ambedkar is our revolutionist. He set the terms for our freedom and through his drafting of the Indian Constitution, he won a victory that Gandhi never could. Unlike Gandhi, he did not see the nation that would exist in the next year, the next decade or the next five decades. He imagined the contours of a nation that persisted beyond this century and into the next. He constructed the strong foundations necessary for such longevity. His commitment to fundamental human equality and social justice sealed the nation together in an unbreakable bond. Through his words, his deeds, and his greatest legacy to the people of the Indian nation: the Indian Constitution, he has left us the foundations for the construction of an eternal nation. He has set his legacy in the strongest of stone. How our current generation decides to engage with his legacy, will determine the fate of our own legacy, as well as the fate of our nation.
On February 22 2013, The Annihilation of Caste Reading Group had its inaugural session with Mr. Paul Divakar, National Secretary, Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan, National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights. We read the seminal Indian text, our reading group’s namesake, The Annihilation of Caste by B.R. Ambedkar. We requested Mr. Divakar, a leading Indian activist and humanitarian and inspiration to people across the globe, to Skype in with us from New Delhi. He guided us through the tract at the level of textual interpretation, socio-cultural practice and current-day realities.
Written in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Mahmood Mamdani’s 2005 book Good Muslim, BadMuslim historicizes the violence of terrorism. It extricates terrorism from the narrow morality that arises from the convergence of ethics and national interest, and instead locates terrorism “first and foremost as unfinished business of the Cold War.”1 “Good” and “bad” Muslims, terms borrowed from former U.S. President George W. Bush,2 are descriptions not of religious adherence, but of utility to U.S. foreign policy. As yesterday’s allies become today’s antagonists, the labels change to morally denigrate American foes.
Reintroducing history to the violence, the book begins by tracing the broad contours of the relationship between nation-state modernity and violence. Mamdani rejects violence as a pre-modern phenomenon, asserting instead that there is an inextricable relationship between violence and modernity.3 This is the book’s central theoretical framework: violence is political, not cultural.
V.S.ACHUTHANANDAN by Prof. Prabhat Patnaik
(scroll down for the video)
It is difficult these days, after the end of the classical period of Communism, to find a Communist leader who enjoys such mass popularity as V.S.Achuthanandan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He may not be well-known outside his state, Kerala, but within the state, which has a population of over 33 million, he is by far the most popular political leader. In fact it is difficult to think of any living Communist leader, other than Fidel Castro of course, who enjoys such massive popularity, cutting across party lines.
Born into an Ezhava family in the Alapuzha district of Kerala in 1923, Achuthanandan, who lost his mother at the age of four and his father at the age of eleven, had to give up his studies and work as a tailor’s apprentice. Later he joined a coir factory as a worker and participated in trade union activities, through which he came to Communism and became a member of the Party in 1940, shortly after its formation in Kerala in 1939. When the undivided Communist Party split in 1964, Achuthanandan who had spent almost a decade of his life in jail or underground, became one of the founding members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He spent twelve years as the Secretary of the Kerala State CPI(M) and almost a decade as the Leader of the Opposition in Kerala State Legislative Assembly, before leading the Left Democratic Front, of which the CPI(M) was the principal constituent, to a massive victory in the 2006 elections, to become the Chief Minister of the state for the next five years. The LDF narrowly lost the 2011 elections, which was itself a creditable feat in view of Kerala’s history of always rejecting incumbent governments, and Achuthanadan became once more the Leader of the Opposition, a post he holds to date.