American Stupidity – (Building the New York Mosque and the hatred surrounding it)


“Stubbornness and stupidity are twins.”

Sophocles’


What is it about Americans that they have so much going for them, yet they can be so very stupid?

Two stories in the Sunday New York Times jumped out as a sad backdrop to our misguided War On Terror.

The first is about the bigoted anti-Muslim xenophobia in New York over a proposed mosque some blocks from the site of the former World Trade Towers. The emotional volatility is being fueled by the usual Fox News agitators, and Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich stirred up the pot for their demagogic needs.

Even the Jewish Anti-Defamation League took off after the mosque and condemned it. Here’s the Anti Defamation League’s mission statement at the top of their web page:

“The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 ‘to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.’ Now the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency, ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.”

Don’t you just love bullshit PR?

The Times quoted the president of something called Former Muslims United, Nonie Darwish, who said this: “A mosque is not just a place of worship. It’s a place where war is started.”

Ms Darwish is also the founder of Arabs For Israel, and she has spoken before Rev. John Hagee’s group Christians United For Israel in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where Republican office seekers have stirred up the pot over a proposed Muslim religious center there.

Factor this kind of stupidity in with a recent report from The College Board that the United States is Number 12 and dropping out of 36 developed nations on the percentage of citizens with a college education.

Sure, not everybody needs to know about basic human psychology, Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative or William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. What’s scary about this American rush to stupidity, however, is it is usually linked up with the worst sorts of xenophobic fears and racism and our incredibly narcissistic feelings of American exceptionalism.

We are the best! Number One! The champions! We don’t have to worry about education. We got Apache helicopters and Predator Drones, and we got people who know how to use ‘em. Hear that, you ragheads! Hoo-ah!

This strain is then further exacerbated by forces out there in the world that, for their own interests, fuel our US home-grown stupidity. Take the Anti Defamation League’s decision to exacerbate anti-Muslim hatred in the New York case. What possible motive could “the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency” have for doing this?

We hear more and more that elements in the current Israeli militarist right wing think it can somehow bamboozle the United States of America into doing something really stupid like mount an aerial bombardment against Shiite Muslim Iran. Whipping up anti-Muslim hysteria in the United States is perfectly in line with this strain of international stupidity.

The reasonable people of America who still believe in things called Education and open-mindedness, and all those wonderful Enlightenment stirrings are being caught in a religious vice with willfully ignorant nutcases on either side.

Muslims can be stupid too

I believe in fairness, so let’s consider Muslim stupidity, certainly a very fertile area. The New York Times reports that in the industrial city of Faisalabad in the Punjab region of Pakistan, the minority Christian community is now under siege by angry Muslims. Several Christians have been murdered.

“There is a lot of anger among Muslims, and there is a revival of militant Islam,” said a local Catholic bishop. “Local Christians are seen as linked to the West and the United States.” Of course, these Christian Pakistanis may actually hate the US as much as most other Pakistanis do.

Pakistan is stirring these days with hatred of the United States for a host of reasons, the main one being we are actively killing, and encouraging the Pakistani government to kill, Pakistani people in the area just north of the Punjab along the Afghan border. While stupid Americans may see all Pakistanis killed by US death squads and drones as “terrorists,” to Pakistanis they tend to be seen as people just like you and me, albeit angry people.

No doubt stories from the United States of bigotry against Muslims adds to this craziness and hatred of Christians by Muslims. Then, in turn, stupid and demagogic Americans who hear about the stupid angry Muslims in Faisalabad killing Christians will have to intensify their vendettas against Muslim mosques in New York, Tennessee, California and other states.

Stupidity marches on, trampling the saner voices who timidly say maybe the best thing would be to defuse the cycle and welcome Muslim mosques.

Some stupid Americans will certainly point out that these stupid Pakistani Muslims are actually killing Christians, while they are only keeping Muslims from building mosques in which to pray. OK, but the American right wing from Reagan to Sarah Palin has enjoyed for years likening America to a “beacon” for the world, and religious bigotry is not the behavior of a great beacon. It’s the reaction of a stupid people.

Great beacons don’t do stupid things like confuse unfamiliar spiritual beliefs and practices with threats to their homeland. Think for just a minute: If these terrible Muslims are so bent on making war against us they certainly don’t need to build a mosque to do it from. They can do it just as well or better from their living rooms and their basements.

Falling back on Self Reliance

Sometimes we on the left get so disgusted with our own fellow Americans and the stupid delusions they can be so invested in that we forget there is the potential for greatness in America, that there are strains of great brilliance in our history that we might tap to get us out of the cycle of madness we are caught in. We could be a real beacon.

Lately, when the stupidity gets really thick and oppressive I pick up an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It somehow connects me to the Earth and Spirit of an earlier time in America. Here’s some thoughts from the classic essay “Self Reliance.”

“The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscles. … His note-books impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue.”

It’s amazing that Emerson understood this without ever having lived with air conditioning or a garbage disposal unit or used a cell phone or tried to keep up with his e-mail and Facebook. Or never conceived of a lethal drone.

“I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.”

“I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways.”

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

And where does one learn such principles? By engaging one’s proto-American, Emersonian, self-reliant mind with Nature and a good liberal Education — not by capitulating to “badges” or listening to the ravings of “dead institutions.

Ref: Counterpunch

JOHN GRANT is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper. His work can be found, along with that of colleagues Dave Lindorff, Linn Washington and Charles Young, at www.thiscantbehappening.net

ANALYS: Hypocrisy and the end of empires


Culture of hypocrisy which existed during the Bush era continues to thrive in the US today [EPA]

Every so often, a convergence occurs between a few ostensibly unrelated events in the endless swirl of news stories, polemics and propaganda, spin and advertising that make up the media sphere today.

Like the noonday sun, they pierce a hole through the fog of information that normally obscures the core dynamics behind the larger political-economic system’s smooth functioning.

But unlike the sun shining through the storm clouds, this opening is not immediately obvious, and can easily be missed if one does not know where and how to look. In fact, it is more like a three-dimensional worm hole through political space, viewable if one folds specific coordinates over each other in just the right way.

In this case, the coordinates correspond to three levels of political discourse – military, media and cultural – whose harmonious interaction is crucial to the larger functioning of the system.

The brief moment of clarity reminds us of the crucial role played by one of the most subtle yet damning of human vices – hypocrisy – in sustaining the problems confronting the US, and most other global powers for that matter.

Hypocrisy laid bare
Has the US healthcare debate created an increasingly toxic political culture? [AFP]

Hypocrisy has always been an important denomination of political currency, but today it has seemingly become the coin of the realm.

One could easily ascribe it to the reascending of right-wing politics in the US and Europe, which is almost always accompanied by a politics of hypocrisy, since as a rule such politics involves the use of populist rhetoric to concentrate a country’s wealth and resources in the hands of ever fewer people.

In the US, the vitriolic Republican-corporate attacks on healthcareand other much needed reforms in the name of protecting the rights of individual citizens, reflect an increasingly toxic political culture and the power of the right to manipulate deep-seated fears and prejudice for its own ends.

However, the continuities in US foreign policy between the Obama and Bush administrations reflect a more systemic hypocrisy whose negative consequences have global implications.

The US – like great powers before it – has long declared its intention to support freedom, democracy and progress while pursuing policies that encourage, or even demand, their opposite.

Not surprisingly, it has also turned a blind eye to its allies’ or clients’ hypocrisies: Israel declaring its desire for peace while intensifying occupation, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, promising to fight corruption while rigging elections and placing family members in crucial positions.

Then you have this or that Arab leader pledging democratic reform while continuing to arrest and abuse citizens – until the disconnect between words and deeds threatens core American interests.

With enemies, such as Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) or Iran today, hypocrisy is assumed, even when evidence suggests that at crucial moments they might actually be telling the truth.

But who’s looking?

Whether friend or foe, it is the people who suffer from a geopolitics grounded in hypocrisy.

The hardships of the present economic downturn in the USonly hint at the pain caused to the peoples of the developing world, who bear the brunt of the full power of the economic and political interests lying beneath the hypocrisy of the global powers and their leaders alike.

And these consequences are often not just painful, but deadly.

Two generations ago in Southeast Asia the death toll reached into the millions, today in Iraq and Afghanistan the toll is in the hundreds of thousands of dead and injured. But the suffering rarely makes headlines, unless it can produce images that are too powerful to ignore.

The Abu Ghraib scandalproduced one such moment, although its quick dissipation (perhaps owing to an innate sense among many Americans that the hypocrisy they revealed was ultimately not merely that of the Bush administration, but the country as a whole) ensured that the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress paid no price for the activities they revealed.

The most recent opening in the haze of media and political hypocrisy began with the near simultaneous revelations of civilian deaths at the hands of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The now ubiquitous Wikileaks video footageof soldiers firing on Reuter’s photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, his colleague Saeed Chmagh, and several other civilians in Baghdad in July 2007 was equalled in graphic power by the accusations that in February 2010, US special forces personnel had not only killed two pregnant women along with a teenage girl and two local officials in Khataba, Afghanistan, but carved the bullets out of the bodies to remove evidence of their responsibility for the deaths.

The hypocrisy of the official responses has been glaringly on display.

When asked whether the Wikileaks video would hurt America’s image, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said it would not, precisely because what the video really showed was the fog of war.

“These people were operating in split-second situations …. And, you know, we’ve investigated it very thoroughly …. It should not have any lasting consequences.”

‘Dead bastards’
In military footage released by Wikileaks, Iraqi fatalities were called “dead bastards” [AFP]

Hypocrisy is often accompanied by arrogance.

Gates assumes that scenes of US soldiers blithely calling the victims “dead bastards,” laughing, looking for an excuse to finish off an unarmed victim, and blaming other victims for “bringing their kids into a battle” will “not have any lasting consequences”.

Consequences for whom, one might ask.

Perhaps Gates understands that most Iraqis and Afghans have long ago stopped believing US rhetoric about supporting democracy and protecting civilian lives.

Whether consciously or not, it seems Gates was considering public opinion in the US, not in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Indeed, if we look behind his, and the soldiers’, words we are reminded that it is extremely difficult to shoot people who do not present an immediate and clear threat unless you have first been desensitised by intense ideological preparation that dehumanises the occupied people.

As in Vietnam, this dehumanisation means that Iraqis and Afghan civilian deaths are easily accepted as mere collateral damage, since Americans have no connection to or sympathy for the peoples they have been occupying for most of the last decade.

The latest polls show that “voters are very responsive where Democrats talk boldly about our foreign policy of taking it to the terrorists”.

And so even as four more civilians were killed by US forces firing on a crowded bus a day after Gates’ remarks, Americans show no signs of changing the “secondary status” that Iraq and Afghanistan presently hold in their political discourse.

That would demand recognition of the hypocrisy that enabled their relegation to such a low status in the first place, even at the cost of upward of a trillion dollars and the loss of thousands of American soldiers.

Worse, it would demand a reevaluation of the larger premises upon which the unending ‘war on terror’ is being fought and confronting the fact that in so many areas, Obama is entrenching rather than reversing the policies of his predecessor.

Of course, Afghans are far less tolerant of the disconnect between US rhetoric and reality.

The latest deaths caused a new round of bitter protests against the US occupation while Afghan military leaders increasingly treat US promises to protect and respect civilians as meaningless and, like Karzai, even threaten to join the Taliban.

Tariq Ramadan’s return

Gates’ remarks and the more unscripted real-time comments of the soldiers he was defending exist in a media sphere that has failed miserably to educate the American public about the motivations behind and present-day realities of the Iraq and Afghan invasions and occupations.

Underlying this dynamic is a shared arrogance and hypocrisy by leading American commentators, especially those often portrayed as politically liberal or moderate, that was crucial to laying the groundwork for public acceptance of the rationale for going to war and continuing the occupations despite the numerous and manifest contradictions between them and the realities on the ground.

The process by which this dynamic proceeds was revealed last week in the coverage of the return of Swiss Muslim theologian Tariq Ramadan to the US for a speaking tour, six years after he was banned from entering the country by the Bush administration.

Debating with Packer
Tariq Ramadan has been lauded by Haaretz for repudiating anti-Semitism [EPA]

Specifically, Ramadan’s first event in the US was a forum on “secular Islam and democracy” held in New York, where he debated New Yorker writer George Packer.

Packer chose not to engage Ramadan, who has spent over a decade working to forge a consensus among European Muslims on the need for non-violence and to produce identities that can be both fully Muslim and Western, on the issues related to the forum’s title.

Rather, while declaring that he was “not asking you to repudiate your grandfather [Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood],” he demanded that Ramadan account for and renounce anti-Semitic remarks made by al-Banna well over half a century ago.

At a time when the contemporary Muslim Brotherhood is engaged in an unprecedented generational shift in ideology and attitudes, Packer honed in his criticism of Ramadan for refusing to acknowledge that “his grandfather and the Muslim Brotherhood in its origins were characterised by anti-Semitic or totalitarian views”.

Although he has held prestigious appointments at Oxford as well as Notre Dame and the University of Geneva, Packer argues that Ramadan “is not a philosopher, or an original thinker”.

He provides no  criteria for this judgement, but that is likely because he assumes that most readers will accept at face value that leading thinkers from the Muslim world are rarely original or philosophic – a code word for reasonable and rational, presumably like Americans and Europeans.

For his part, Packer would seem to fit neither characterisation; the term, never mind ideology of “totalitarianism” he accused al-Banna of harbouring was not even in use when the Brotherhood was founded or first rose to prominence.

‘Rotten foundations’

Packer concludes that however well-meaning his bridge-building, Ramadan’s hope of reconciling Islamic and Western culture is built on “rotten foundations,” namely the history and ideology of the Brotherhood.

How does he know this? Clearly not by reading Ramadan’s numerous books, which are clearly opposed to most of the basic tenets of the Brotherhood during his grandfather’s day.

Instead, in good Orientalist fashion, Packer refers to second-hand accusations against Ramadan made by journalist Paul Berman, who is about to publish a book accusing Ramadan of being a propagandist for Islamist extremism.

Berman’s last foray into the subject of Islam was Terror and Liberalism, which was celebrated in the mainstream media for, among other things, arguing that Sayyid Qutb was the ideological godfather of al-Qaeda – which scholars had been discussing for years before his “discovery” – and that political Islamist movements are ultimately “irrational” and therefore cannot be reasoned with.

Most scholarly reviews by those who actually know the region and its languages were largely critical of Berman’s arguments.

US view of Muslims

Ramadan could have responded to Packer’s constant pressure for him to denounce his grandfather by demanding that Packer renounce his support for the US invasion of Iraq, or his inaccurate and journalistically irresponsible dismissal of those who opposed the war – which included Ramadan – as fringe, knee-jerk and “doctrinaire” leftists who lacked any “understanding” of the region.

Perhaps he was being polite, or was too jet-lagged to respond in kind to attacks that had nothing to do with his own thinking (indeed, Ramadan has condemned anti-Semitism so many times that he was praised for doing so by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz).

Ultimately, however, it is not Ramadan’s refusal to engage Packer at a lower level of discourse that is important; it is the assumption by Packer, no doubt borne out by long experience, that his arguments as to the rotten foundation and ultimately irrational basis of Ramadan’s thinking will be accepted in the media sphere, since they accord so well with the general view of Muslim intellectual capabilities and motives.

Tiger Woods
Woods’ fall mirrors the corruptive hypocrisy in the US today [AFP]

While Packer and Ramadan debated in New York City, Tiger Woods was preparing for his return to competitive golf at the Master’s tournament that would begin later in the week.

Of all the sins Woods has been accused of, perhaps the most ubiquitous was his hypocrisy – creating a persona based on steely calm, control, integrity, and determination while in reality his private life was based on deceit and violating the trust of his family and fans.

This is no doubt a valid criticism, but by the time the first round began on Thursday most people were far more interested in what Tiger would do on the golf course than what he had done off the links.

Of course, no one could say this openly. And so Billy Payne, the chair of the Masters tournament, dutifully criticised Woods, stating that he “disappointed all of us” with his numerous marital infidelities.

Of course, neither he nor any of the journalists present thought it worth mentioning that Augusta National remains one of the few golf clubs that refuses to admit women as players. Apparently no one considered it the least bit hypocritical for a club that does not consider women worthy of membership to criticise a member and champion who treats women as unworthy of consideration beyond their sex.

With so much money riding on Woods’ return to the spotlight, his main endorser, Nike, also decided it had to make a bold statement criticising Woods, while at the same time reaffirming both his iconic status and the possibility of redemption.

So it aired a commercial that saw Woods staring blankly into the camera while his late father, Earl, asked him from the grave about what he was thinking and what he had learnt.

That a company such as Nike, whose alleged record of systematic mistreatment of workers and use of child labour has been heavily criticised around the world, determined that the ghost of Woods’ father could help cleanse him, and the company, of their sins, is one of the more egregious examples of corporate hypocrisy in some time.

Hypocrisy’s victory

But the reality is they are probably right. Everyone is clearly anxious to get back to the way it was, and by the time Woods walked toward the 18th green on Sunday he was smiling and shaking hands with his course partner for the day, K.J. Choi, while receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

No doubt most of those in attendance and watching on television will be happy to see Woods resume his golfing prowess. After all, no public figure better symbolised the power, purpose and determination of the US in the 2000s.

His fall from grace in many ways mirrored America’s – the gleaming steel surface and sunny gaze turned out to be, if not quite rotten, then in need of major repair.

The blow-back of Woods’ behaviour is being played out in front of the world. So is that of US policy. With enough reflection and determination, one can hope that Woods will rise above the hypocrisy that apparently has defined much of his professional and personal life.

But it is much harder for countries to do this, as it demands not one, but millions of people, from political leaders and commentators to ordinary citizens, to reflect deeply and honestly on what brought them to their present situation.

Perhaps if the fog remains lifted for long enough, one may be able to grasp the beginnings of the process of moving away from political and media cultures based on hypocrisy, greed and power and toward cultures that actually support peace, freedom and dignity.

Ref; Al jazeera

Mark LeVine is currently visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. His books include Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

FOCUS: OPINION What Goldstone says about the US

Opponents of the Goldstone report might well be hoping that after its lopsided condemnation in the US House of Representatives and successful relegation back to the UN’s Human Rights Commission, the report will become little more than an historical footnote in a decades-long conflict.

This might in fact occur, given the imbalance of power between the contending sides. But historians can do a great deal with footnotes.

When the glare of history is finally shone upon the whole affair, it might well turn out that the reasons for such vehement opposition from US politicians, and only tepid (at best) support for it among other major powers, have far more to do with their own geostrategic interests than with protecting Israel.

Back story

The report, written by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, has caused uproar in Israel and the US for its alleged bias against Israel and avoidance of serious criticism of Hamas. The condemnation, House Resolution 867, passed by a 344-36 vote.

Before the vote on the resolution, Goldstone sent a letter to members of Congress refuting most of the allegations contained in it. But his rebuttal did not lead to substantive changes in the report’s accusations and apparently had no effect on the vote.

Given the way in which opposition to the report unfolded it would be easy to conclude that this is merely another case of the vaunted Israel lobby shutting down any debate over Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories.

Yet while Israel’s supporters no doubt took the lead in pushing the resolution, there is a back story to this drama that has likely played an equally, if not more important, role in the firestorm it has generated.

Why would the House go so far out of its way to stamp out even the consideration of war crimes accusations against Israel? And why would Barack Obama, the US president, have pressured Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, not to push the report in the UN when he had to know that such actions would cost Abbas most of his little remaining credibility among Palestinians?

Accessory to war crimes

There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, if Israel is guilty of committing systematic war crimes across Gaza and the West Bank, then the US, which supported, funded and armed Israel during the war, is an accessory to those crimes.

Goldstone explains in no uncertain terms that Gaza was not an aberration in terms of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Rather, it marked not only a continuation of Israel’s behaviour during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, but “highlights a common thread of the interaction between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians which emerged clearly also in many cases discussed in other parts of the report”.

It referenced “continuous and systematic abuse, outrages on personal dignity, humiliating and degrading treatment contrary to fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights law”.

“The Mission concludes that the treatment of these civilians constitutes the infliction of a collective penalty on those persons and amounts to measures of intimidation and terror. Such acts are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and constitute a war crime,” the report says.

Put simply, if there is blood on Israel’s hands, than it is has dripped all over America’s shirt.

Israel could not and would not have engaged in the level of wholesale destruction of Gaza painstakingly catalogued in the report without the support of the outgoing Bush administration, and acquiescence of the incoming Obama administration.

Israeli narrative challenged

Not only that, but on the same day the report was released the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s military leadership is preparing the country for yet another invasion of Gaza in the near future.

Goldstone’s report accuses Israel of using collective punishment in Gaza [EPA]
It is not clear how much of Gaza is left to be destroyed, but the report’s detailed discussion of Israel’s attacks on innumerable homes, mosques, schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities show what lengths Israel will go to to punish Gazans, and Palestinians more broadly.

There is also the larger context of the peace negotiations. If Israel can be guilty of humanitarian crimes at this level, then it puts the entire Israeli narrative about the occupation – that it is ultimately about preserving the country’s security – into question.

In fact, the report declares precisely this, in paragraph 1674, when it argues that the Gaza invasion “cannot be understood and assessed in isolation from developments prior and subsequent to it. The operation fits into a continuum of policies aimed at pursuing Israel’s political objectives with regard to Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a whole”.

Almost everyone outside the US, including in Israel, understands that the occupation has always been about settlement, not security, since Israel could have militarily occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 indefinitely without establishing a single settlement, and could withdraw from all its settlements tomorrow and maintain a military occupation until it felt secure enough to turn the territory over to Palestinians.

As famed general Moshe Dayan once put it, the settlements in the Occupied Territories are essential “not because they can ensure security better than the army, but because without them we cannot keep the army in those territories. Without them the IDF would be a foreign army ruling a foreign population”.

But the US remains heavily invested in maintaining this security narrative; both because it is the core of the strategic alliance between the two countries with all the military, strategic and financial implications that come with it, and because, as with the Gaza invasion, the settlement enterprise could never have proceeded without US support, or at least acquiescence.

This dynamic continues to operate today, as the same day House Resolution 867 was passed, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, explained that the US preferred to return to peace talks even without a settlement freeze, despite the fact that not stopping settlement construction during negotiations has been deemed by former senior Israeli negotiators such as Moshe Ben Ami and Yossi Beilin as among the single biggest factors dooming the Oslo peace process.

The Obama administration refuses even to push the parameters painstakingly set by his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, before leaving office, to which both Israelis and Palestinians were very close to agreeing.

Alarming precedent

One has to wonder whether the US Middle East policy-making establishment, which is dominated by defence and security interests, is even interested in bringing about a speedy resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Beyond what the Goldstone report says about America’s role in Israel’s actions, the report holds a mirror up to US actions in its ‘war on terror’. In so doing it paints for US policy-makers and politicians a more frightening picture of a future in which all countries are held accountable for their actions.

Here it becomes clear that, as it has been for four decades, Israel is both the spear and the shield for the projection – and protection – of US power in the Middle East. It engages in activities the US cannot do openly, and it acts as the first line of defence when US interests might be attacked diplomatically.

In going after Israel, the report, however unintended, is going after the US, which has committed many of the same crimes (of which Israel is accused) in its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and perhaps through its drone attacks, in Pakistan and other countries. This is the report’s true danger, and why – from the US perspective – its accusations against Israel cannot stand.

Specifically, the idea of treating a Western-allied state, Israel, and a resistance movement, Hamas, as equally capable of committing war crimes and being held accountable for them, sets an alarming precedent for the US as its engagement in Iraq stretches on indefinitely and deepens in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Why not hold the US (or Pakistan, China, Russia, or India for that matter) to the same standards as we hold the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or opposition movements in Kashmir, Chechnya or Tibet? None of these powers would allow this to happen.

Universal jurisdiction

Moreover, the report condemns the “Dahiya doctrine,” which involved the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations.

Although claiming to work hard to protect civilians in the countries it is occupying, one of the primary complaints against the US by citizens of Afghanistan or Iraq is the frequent killing of civilians and destruction of infrastructure, particularly if it could be deemed to be “supporting infrastructure” for “terrorists”.

And when such abuses are committed, paragraph 121 of the report reminds the world that “international human rights law and humanitarian law require states to investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute allegations of serious violations by military personnel”.

This is an indirect stab at the US judicial system, which has so far failed to hold anyone but a few low-level soldiers accountable for the numerous abuses committed by the US in Iraq and the ‘war on terror’ more broadly.

Perhaps the most dangerous suggestion in this regard is the report’s call for applying “universal jurisdiction” to the conflict.

As paragraph 127 states: “In the context of increasing unwillingness on the part of Israel to open criminal investigations that comply with international standards, the mission supports the reliance on universal jurisdiction as an avenue for states to investigate violations of the grave breach [of the] provisions of the Geneva Conventions.”

There is no power that wants its officials or military and security personnel subject to prosecution by other countries.

Uncritical victimology

In this regard, it is not coincidental that the same day resolution 867 was passed an Italian court convicted 23 former CIA agents of participating in the illegal rendition of an Italian imam, who claims he was subsequently tortured in captivity.

Have US policy interests in the Middle East impacted their rejection of the report? [AFP]
In June, the Italian newspaper il Giornale published an interview with Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA’s Milan station chief, in which he admitted, “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job. We’re at war against terrorism”.

This is a crucial statement, for it reveals that the US establishment believes that in a ‘war on terror’, there are no legal limits to what it can do. And if Israel is condemned for the same attitude, this would vitiate America’s ability to take whatever actions it desires, however illegal, to pursue its interests.

Obama might not take such actions, but his successors might. And if another major terrorist attack were to occur on US soil, there is little doubt that the gloves would once again come off, whether Obama wanted to keep them on or not.

In such a situation, the psychology of uncritical victimology that characterised post-9/11 America will be crucial to enabling such policies to be (re)put in place.

As the report quotes an Israeli professor (paragraph 1703): “Israeli society’s problem is that because of the conflict, Israeli society feels itself to be a victim and to a large extent that’s justified and it’s very difficult for Israeli society to move and to feel that it can also see the other side and to understand that the other side is also a victim.” This problem is equally difficult for Americans to overcome.

Report’s historical imprint

Among the final coincidences accompanying the passage of resolution 867 was its release the day after Clinton held a high-profile meeting in Morocco to champion the country’s recent official promotion of democracy.

But in her celebration of the Moroccan example she neglected to mention that press freedoms, the core of any democratic system, are suffering increasing restrictions in the country. Freedom of speech or challenging the country’s political-economic elite remains heavily circumscribed, especially when it comes from the country’s principal Islamically motivated opposition movement.

Of course, Clinton cannot push too hard for democracy in the Muslim world; democratically-elected governments would not tolerate many of the US’ core policies in the region, from uncritical support for Israel to its own military and economic alliances and activities.

The day after her Morocco meeting, Clinton was in Egypt, meeting once again with the Egypt’s autocratic leader, Hosni Mubarak, with not a word about democracy.

Against such policy interests, it might well be that the Goldstone report will be relegated to history without being acted upon.

What few of its opponents understand is just how big an imprint this most exhaustive study of the Israeli occupation will leave.

It might not help Palestinians and Israelis achieve peace today, but future historians will likely look upon it as a crucial document in exposing the realities of the American dominated Middle Eastern system for the world to see.

Ref:Aljazeera

Mark LeVine is currently Visiting Professor at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. His most recent books include Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books, 2009) and Reapproaching Borders: New Perspectives on the Study of Israel-Palestine (Rowman Littlefield, 2008).

 

Also read. ‘Might not right for Israel’

Nobel peace prize citation for Barack Obama – WHAT A DISGRAAAAAAACE!!!


Nobel peace prize citation for Barack Obama

Barack Obama presides over a UN security council meeting on nuclear weapons.

Barack Obama at a UN security council meeting on nuclear weapons: the Nobel peace prize committee singled out his work on disarmament for praise. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

“The Norwegian Nobel committee has decided that the Nobel peace prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The committee endorses Obama’s appeal that ‘Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges’.”

Psychologist Accused of War Crimes Opposes Investigations

As a conflict has arisen as to whether the nation should seek accountability for torture and other human rights abuses during the so-called “War on Terror,” the public and media have largely ignored the spectacle of those, like Richard Cheney and John Yoo, who are likely targets of human rights abuse investigations. Potential investigations are denounced as political attacks that will gravely damage the country’s security. The media have largely ignored the self-serving nature of these denunciations.

The latest human rights abuse target to join the anti-accountability chorus is former Guantanamo intelligence psychologist Col. Larry James (retired), about whom questions have been raised regarding unethical or even illegal participation in war crimes. In a press release from Wright State University, where he is now Dean of the School of Professional Psychology, James –– has come out against Attorney General Holder’s limited criminal investigation of CIA torture:

“To reopen cases that were adjudicated as legal may be harmful to the mission and morale of the intelligence community,” said Col. (Ret.) Larry James, now the Dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University. “That said, I agree with President Obama’s statement several months ago to ‘turn the page’ and move on with regard to the interrogation of detainees of the Global War on Terrorism.”

James said the outcome of appointing the special prosecutor could have negative repercussions on the intelligence-gathering function.

“Being an interrogator is a stressful, challenging and dangerous job,” he said. “If there is new evidence that suggests crimes have been committed, then it would make sense to move forward with an investigation. However, since at the time of the interrogations they were deemed legal and acceptable by that sitting administration, I do not believe the investigation is warranted or necessary. I advise the president to be supportive of our current mission and be very careful as he moves forward in this sensitive area.”

James has previously made clear his belief that intelligence professionals should close their eyes to possible abuses outside of their immediate sphere of action. Thus, when asked by an Associated Press reporter to comment on reports of a secret Camp 7 at Guantanamo, James replied:

“I learned a long, long time ago, if I’m going to be successful in the intel community, I’m meticulously _ in a very, very dedicated way _ going to stay in my lane…. So if I don’t have a specific need to know about something, I don’t want to know about it. I don’t ask about it.”

Like so many others arguing against torture investigations, James may have reason to desire a shut down of torture inquiries. Last month, the Canadian Centre for International Justice and the Center for Constitutional Rights appealed to the Canadian government for a criminal investigation of James for potential involvement in war crimes:

“Allegations of abuse during Dr. James’ January to May 2003 deployment include beatings, religious and sexual humiliation, rape threats and painful body positions. Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is one of the prisoners who has alleged brutal treatment in the spring of 2003 when he was only 16 years old.

“Based on this information, the CCIJ and CCR called on the Canadian government to investigate whether action should be taken against Dr. James or other attendees of the APA Convention who may have been involved in abuse of detainees.”

The two human rights organizations outlined the evidence justifying a criminal investigation in a background document they presented to the Canadian government. At that time, James was in Toronto for the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association [APA], where he became President of the APA Division of Military Psychology Among the serious concerns regarding James’s behavior warranting investigation are that he consulted to interrogators at Guantanamo while isolation was part of the standard operating procedure to make new detainees dependent on their interrogators.

James, however, has repeatedly claimed credit for ending all abuses at Guantanamo, and later, at Abu Ghraib. Thus, his sanitized memoir detailing these claims is entitled Fixing Hell. Similarly, James told a task force convened by the American Psychological Association in 2005 that he and other psychologists ended abuses at detention facilities:

“I am very proud of the fact, it was psychologists who fixed the problems and not caused it. This is a factual statement! the fact of the matter is that since Jan 2003, where ever we have had psychologists no abuses have been reported.” [Emphasis in original.]

James has an idiosyncratic definition of “abuse.” He claims at times never to have witnessed abuses at Guantanamo, where he was deployed as a member of the Chief Psychologist of the Joint Intelligence Group and BSCT #1 [Behavioral Science Consultation Team] in 2003 and 2007:

“When I walk through the camps, I can’t tell you that I have stumbled across a lot of things that are wrong. During my time here, I am proud to say that I have not seen a guard or interrogator abuse anyone in any shape or form,” said James. “These young men and women go out of their way well beyond the call of duty to make sure that detainees are treated safely and humanely at all times.”

James’s account, of course, differs from that of every independent source that has examined Guantanamo and found persistent abuses continuing up to the present. [Even in his own account of his deployment at Guantanamo in his self-justifying “memoir,” James reports witnessing several instances of abuse – abuses which, however, he apparently failed to report to his commanders.]

In his memoir James claims to have had special responsibility for juveniles detained at Guantanamo. Yet, during his deployment there, young Mohammed Jawad [evidently between 12 and 16 when incarcerated there] was subjected to the mandatory four weeks isolation upon his arrival in February 2003. Later that year Jawad was subjected to further isolation and other abuse on the recommendation of a BSCT psychologist; James declined to condemn this abuse to a Newsweek reporter, implying that there were extenuating circumstances. Later, in May 2004, Jawad was also subjected to extended sleep deprivation in the so-called “frequent flyer program” in which, in the words of his military JAG attorney:

“Mohammad Jawad’s arms and legs were … shackled in preparation for the first of 112 moves up and down the hall of L Block, every 3 hours for the next 14 days.”

Also while James was deployed at Guantanamo, adolescent Omar Khadr reported being used as a human mop “because he had urinated on himself during a bout of shackled isolation.” The claim was investigated by the military, which has refused to release any information regarding the investigation. Records released by the Canadian government show that Khadr, like Jawad, was subjected to the “frequent flyer” sleep deprivation program in 2004. Despite his professed concern for the decent treatment of juvenile detainees, other than his Newsweek comment, James nowhere describes his relationship to the Jawad or Khadr cases or comments on the documented abuse these young boys suffered at Guantanamo during and after his deployment.

Does James believe that no investigation of his actions at Guantanamo is warranted as his actions there “were deemed legal and acceptable by that sitting administration”? In other words, was he just following orders?

Due to the secrecy surrounding Guantanamo, we do not know James’s actual conduct at Guantanamo. With his call to stop investigations of detainee abuses, James seems to desire that we never know. If he is innocent of participation in abuses, only an investigation will clear his name. If, however, he did participate in abuses, no defense that “at the time of the interrogations they were deemed legal and acceptable by that sitting administration” should be allowed to obscure the truth, and no claims of damage to the morale of the intelligence community should be allowed to impede an investigation and appropriate criminal and/or professional penalties.

Only the full truth can allow the abused detainees, the nation, and the profession of psychology, to “turn the page and move on.” In the absence of the truth we will be forever looking over our shoulders, wondering just who did what and what did happen during this sorry chapter in our nation’s recent history.

Ref: Counterpunch

Stephen Soldz is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He edits the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. He is a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the organizations working to change American Psychological Association policy on participation in abusive interrogations. He is also a Steering Committee member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility [PsySR]. He can be reached at: ssoldz@bgsp.edu

US air power triples deaths of Afghan civilians +audio


Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and Nato air strikes have nearly tripled over the past year, with the onslaught continuing in 2008 and fuelling a public backlash, a leading human rights group says today.

The report by Human Rights Watch says that despite changes in the rules of engagement which had reduced the rate of civilian casualties since a spike in July last year, air strikes killed at least 321 civilians in 2007, compared with at least 116 in 2006. In the first seven months of this year at least 540 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting related to the armed conflict, with at least 119 killed by US or Nato air strikes, such as this July’s attack on a wedding party which killed 47, says Human Rights Watch.

‘Everyday life is ever more difficult’

“There has been a massive and unprecedented surge in the use of air power in Afghanistan in 2008,” the report says. It found that few civilians casualties were the result of planned air strikes on suspected Taliban targets. Instead, most were from air strikes during rapid response missions mostly carried out in support of “troops in contact” – ground troops under insurgent attack. Such strikes included situations where American special forces – normally small in number and lightly armed – came under insurgent attack.

“In response to increased insurgent activity, twice as many tons of bombs were dropped in 2007 than in 2006,” the report says. “In 2008, the pace has increased: in the months of June and July alone the US dropped approximately as much as it did in all of 2006. Without improvements in planning, intelligence, targeting, and identifying civilian populations, the massive use of air power in Afghanistan will continue to lead to unacceptably high civilian casualties.”

“Mistakes by the US and Nato have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. The report criticises the response given by US officials when civilian deaths occur. Before conducting investigations, US officials often immediately deny responsibility for civilian deaths or place all blame on the Taliban, the report says.

US investigations have been “unilateral, ponderous, and lacking in transparency, undercutting rather than improving relations with local populations and the Afghan government”.

Last night the US military announced it would reopen its investigation of an air strike last month in which the Afghan government says 90 civilians, mainly women and children, were killed. An initial US inquiry found that up to 35 suspected insurgents and seven civilians died in the attack on Azizabad in Herat province, but General David McKiernan, the senior US officer in Afghanistan, announced a review in the light of “new information”. Afghan and western officials say that videos of the bombing’s aftermath shows dozens of dead civilians.

Ref: Guardian

Listen to the audio file “Afghan deaths: ‘Everyday life for civilians has become ever more difficult‘”