March 22, 2011
It’s interesting to see how conservative commentators like Gerard Henderson (http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/bush-and-his-allies-deserve-respect-after-earlier-push-for-arab-democracies-20110321-1c3pw.html) turn the popular Arab struggle for dignity and social justice into vindication for the US invasion of Iraq. There’s little point picking apart Henderson’s argument here, as his logic is as faulty as that of Bush et al in 2003. But let me remind Henderson and others who continue to put forward such points of view, that the stated war aim prior to the invasion of Iraq by Bush, Blair and Howard was to destroy Iraq’s supposed arsenal of WMDs not regime-change. The promotion of democracy was a post-hoc (and ad-hoc) justification when it became crystal clear to everyone including the US and UK governments that Saddam’s WMD arsenal posed very little threat to either regional or world security. For, Henderson to claim that “…it was the administration of George W. Bush which first raised, in a serious manner, the issue of democracy in the Middle East” is a huge insult to the countless Middle East voices that have struggled for democratic rights for decades prior to the platitudes towards democracy mouthed by Republican hawks like Bush.
It is equally interesting to see how someone like Henderson can continue to maintain the narrow Orientalist lens that events over the last few months should have dispelled. Henderson continues to claim that the main fault lines that exist in the Middle East are between Sunni and Shia, moderate Muslim and extremist, Jew and Arab, etc,. Henderson nowhere mentions workers, women, youth, professionals, or socialists and liberals in his one-dimensional and by now woefully inadequate representation of the people of the Middle East. In doing so, Henderson not only misunderstands the Middle East (which any second year ME studies student would appreciate) but be fails to grasp the meaning of the popular struggle that has sent shock waves through the last bastion of Cold War authoritarianism.
Not only is Henderson unable to perceive the complexity and secularity of the Middle East he is unable to see the contradiction in his argument. While I think Pilger’s position vis-à-vis the condition of the Middle East can be one-dimensional, Henderson’s criticism of Pilger’s position is hugely problematic. On the one hand, Henderson says that Pilger’s assessment of the “western” interference Middle East politics is a leftist conspiracy but then quotes Condoleezza Rice’s own self-reflections of the US support for Middle East dictators which she acknowledges has been to the detriment of democratic movements. Henderson’s article has other glaring errors. His assessment of democracy in Iraq is simplistic to say the least. The notion that somehow Israel is on the sidelines is a throw-away comment from this conservative commentator that serves no purpose other than to deflect attention from the central part that Israel plays in Middle East politics. But then, this was the point of the article after all. The ultimate game for Henderson and other conservatives is to make the facile point again and again that somehow Israel is not a part of the greater Middle East. News for you Gerard, Israel is as much a part of the Middle East as Iran and Turkey, and it’s only when the Israeli government and their supporters, and more Arabs come to this realisation that genuine progress towards peace will be possible.
January 31, 2011
International focus over the last few weeks, quite rightly, has been on the momentuous events that led to the downfall of Ben-Ali in Tunisia and more recently the massive upsurge in popular protests in Egypt, principally centred on Cairo. However, while Egypt and Tunisia (to a lesser extent Yemen) have been in the news and discussed by international leaders and in international forums, other states in the region have also experienced major political crises. One such state is Sudan which had been the focus of media attention as the southern part of the country went to the polls to decide on whether there would be unity between north and south or separation. The result surprised no-one with almost 99% of southern Sudanese voting for seccession.
In more recent days, though, the Sudan has been experiencing the same level of popular discontent with the ruling party that we have witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt. Read the rest of this entry »
September 24, 2009
The Save Darfur Coalition continues to view the war in Darfur from a narrow Arab v African perspective and as a result fails to really grasp the complexities of the situation. Animated by ideology, Christian zeal or a sense of humanitarianism, most of the people associated with the Save Darfur Coalition have simply placed the crisis within the optic of the anti-Arabism and Islamophobia that gripped the US after 9/11. What they have failed to grasp most of all is that the victims of the Darfur crisis are 1. Muslims themselves; 2. have seen themselves as Arabized and a part of the wider Arab world for some centuries and following from this point; 3. see themselves as Sudanese. Since America is permeated by the politics of race and by racism, the American Save the Darfur Coalition cannot understand a conflict between putative Arabs and Africans without the war being about being Arab or African.
So, if the war is not about being Arab or African, what is it about? This is a complex question and a question partially answered by studies such as Flint and De Waal (2007), Daly (2007) and Mamdani (2009). While these studies allude to the problem of the Sudan’s failed politics and failing state, none of them go far enough in laying the balance of the blame for events in Darfur on the incapacity of the Sudanese state and the problems that accrue from a state that is ineffective and from a government that is unable to act except in the interests of a narrow ruling elite. Sudan’s economic crisis began with independence and became even worse after the global recession of the 1970s. By the 1980s, Sudan was a major defaulter of loan repayments and was only propped up by the US and the IMF because of its strategic importance in fighting communism in Africa. With the end of the cold war and the rise of an anti-US Islamist government in the 1990s, Sudan’s economic crisis worsened and Sudan was, and remains, the only country expelled from the IMF for non-compliance. In the 1990s, the Sudan was a basket-case and the state fell into complete ruin. The result of this was that the people of Darfur received very little from the Sudanese government and in 2003 rebelled in the hope of securing access to some state resources and funds. The rebellion turned into a civil war and the civil war turned into a humanitarian crisis.
So, from this brief outline it is clear that the best way to deal with the crisis in the Sudan is to assist in rebuilding the capacity of the Sudanese state, especially in Darfur where access to medical care, education and employment are urgently required. This would require the assistance of international financial institutions and the members of the G8/G20. What then does the Save Darfur Coalition recommend for ending the crisis in Darfur?
“Save Darfur Coalition Asks G-20 Not to Forgive Sudan’s Debt”
Who would benefit from such a move? The people of Darfur or International creditors and the IMF? We all want the crisis in Darfur to come to an end and for people to be able to return to their homes and to be able to start to rebuild their lives. The most effective way to achieve this is by investing in a strong and stable Sudanese state that can provide its population with employment, education, health care and security. The Save Darfur Coalition and other organisations of similar ilk have missed the point all together on Darfur, and cannot come to terms with the reality that the best way of resolving the crisis is by rebuilding Sudan and not by punishing the Sudanese which only end up punishing the people of Darfur because after all Darfur is a part of the Sudan. Until Save Darfur see this basic fact they will never really understand what the crisis in Darfur is truly about or how to resolve it.
July 22, 2009
Whilst the following news story (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/21/henry-louis-gates-jr-arrest-harvard) is not directly related to the Middle East I have decided to post it anyway because of a recent debate about racism and as it provides a convenient excuse to revisit the topic on this site. What this short news story suggests is that even though institutional and legally enforced racism is less pervasive today than in previous eras where the slave trade and European colonialism produced racist doctrines premised on the superiority of the white race, there is still a resilience to racial stereotyping and more subtle forms of racism in the US, at least. I would argue that subtle and insidious forms of racism remain pervasive in the modern world more widely than just in the US . The harsh reality is that racism is as pervasive internationally as it was a century or so ago when W.E.B. Du Bois suggested that the issue of race relations would be a defining motif of the twentieth century. The events of the twentieth century have shown us how prescient Du Bois was and how relevant his comments remain as we enter into a new millennium. Today, racial differences (ethnic and religious differences as well) continue to shape the world we live in.
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February 4, 2009
While the call for a boycott of Israeli academics in Australia is not a new one the following statement is an indication of the renewed vigour for such action in the wake of the Gaza attack. Ali Abunimah explains, in a recent article, that the time is ripe to pressure Israel to end the brutality of its occupation. In this Mission Statement Australia joins other countries in an “unprecedented expression of support for boycott, divestment and sanctions from major trade unions in Italy, Canada and New Zealand”.
Mission statement: Australian Academic Boycott of Israel
We are an Australian campaign focused specifically on a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions.
We do so because we support the call made by Palestinian civil society to join the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. This was delineated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI http://www.pacbi.org/campaign_statement.htm) in the following statement:
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