“Continuing the Orientalism of the Past in the Face of Reality of the Present”

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.

Noah Bassil


Back to the Future: Tunisians and Egyptians and Pan Arabism

February 13, 2011

Much of the “western” media hype over the last month has been focused on the threat of radical Islamism in the Middle East. Almost ad naseum, media commentators have continually returned to the topic of the threat of Islamist parties when reporting on the protests in Tunisia and Algeria and have shown almost total disbelief when they have been confronted with evidence, whether images and reports from the scenes or expert commentary, proving the secular credentials of the uprisings.

What events in Tunisia and Egypt is clearly showing is that this threat holds a significant place in the western imaginary of the Middle East, as much as camels, flying carpets and harems. This despite the reality that it has not been Islamists who have dominated the scenes in Tunis and Cairo.One journalist who has picked up on the weakness of radical Islam in the Middle East is Paul McGeough (http://www.smh.com.au/world/alqaeda-lost-on-the-arab-street-20110204-1aguj.html).  And despite my general agreement  with Paul MacGeough’s overall argument that current Middle East protests show how much ground Islamists have lost amongst the youth in the Middle East, I think that his assertion that youth have chosen Ipods, Starbucks and McDonald’s over Islamic terrorism may technically be correct but still far short of the reality. Sure, young people in Tahrir Square prefer surfing the net to strapping themselves with explosives and bringing down a airliner, or a Big Mac to beheading  unbelievers, but this doesn’t tell us much at all. Rather, what we should be examining is the slogans of the protesters, and in the void that is often called journalism not much of this has been done in the reporting over Tunisia and more recently, Egypt.

So fascinated is the western media with the Islamist angle that they have all but missed the undercurrent of the pan-Arab nationalism which has been at the forefront of the protesters banners and chants. They have missed that what people in the Middle East are protesting for is not for their states to vanish, as wishful conservative and neo-liberal advocates would want, but that they want their states to protect them from the inequality and alienation that the market creates.  Tunisia and Egypt are certainly not Islamist revolutions, but they maybe somewhat red in colour, at least “red”  in the sense of the social democratic principles of the 1960s and of the era of Nasserism.

While the west focuses on the illusion of Islamism, something potentially more dangerous to the post Cold War Pax Americana is emerging from Tunis and Cairo.  This Pax American which has been based on free market fundamentalism and on the ideal that social welfare and distributing wealth should be the responsibility of markets and not of governments is under siege from a number of directions and the Arab uprisings add another volatile front in the struggle against US imperialism in the form of neo-liberalism.

These are very exciting times, not only because of the monumental changes that have resulted from the forced resignations of two of the world’s longest serving dictators, both very close allies of the supposedly pro-democracy “west”, but because the Arab revolutions are symbolic of the mounting global resistance to a system that promotes inequality, alienation, and marginalisation. Freedom is the only promise that neo-liberalism has delivered to most people around the world, that is a freedom to be unemployed, hungry and homeless. For the revolutionaries of Tahrir Square the revolution begins not with overthrowing Mubarak but with unravelling the “economic miracle” (IMF actually awarded Egypt with the title of the best reforming economy in the world) that has left 40% of Egyptians earning less than $2 a day. Time will tell how much reform of the neo-liberal economy Mubarak’s successors will allow but irrespective of what happens in the coming days, weeks and months in Egypt, the winds of change are blowing, and the struggle for social democracy has begun.

Noah Bassil


What colour is Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution?

February 2, 2011

No two revolutions are exactly the same. But all revolutions share some similarities and naturally there have been efforts to link Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution to other recent popular uprisings. A closer look at the colour of the Jasmine Revolution might provide for some surprising revelations.

The most common comparisons of the Jasmine Revolution that I’ve read in the press have been with the Iranian anti-Ahmadinejad protests in 2009 and Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution. Such comparisons risk oversimplifying and mistaking the purpose and cause of the Jasmine Revolution which differs from the others in a number of significant ways. Above all, the differences are based on the levels of politicisation and the demands being made by the protestors. On this basis, it can be argued that Tunisia 2011 has more in common with the 1979 Iranian Revolution that brought down the Shah than with the more recent popular protests in Iran or the Ukraine. Let me explain.

Read the rest of this entry »


Israel’s Moral Decadence

June 1, 2010

Israel’s moral decadence
Yariv Oppenheimer | May 31, 2010
(published in Ma’ariv, Hebrew only)

Even if the fleet to Gaza is irritating and outrageous, a sovereign state cannot treat every act of protest as a terror event that has to end in bloodshed

Tonight Israel marked a new low point in the way it chose to contend with its domestic and external policy dissidents. A state that will not let its citizens protest, demonstrate and demand justice, a state that is busy composing loyalty tests for its citizens and passing laws to limit the freedom of expression, failed again in the real test and stopped a protest fleet of civilian ships at the cost of more than ten lives.

The fleet that left Turkey a few days ago managed to anger even me. Hundreds of pro-Hamas activists challenged Israel blatantly and outrageously. Not a word of censure of the Hamas government, not a word about Gilad Shalit and not a word about the desire for peace. Nonetheless, a sovereign state cannot treat every show of protest, however outrageous and irritating it is, as a terror event that has to end in bloodshed. Instead of using the fleet to generate an internal Israeli discussion about the effectiveness of the policy of the siege of Gaza and its moral and political implications for Israel, all of the government spokesmen chose to focus on the handful of activists on the ships and grace them with the title of existential threats to Israel’s security. From here to unnecessary bloodshed the path was short.

It is not the soldiers’ fault, nor the commanders’ nor the heads of the IDF’s. Israeli society as a whole is responsible for the grim results of the IDF takeover of the protest ships. The radicalization of Israeli society is yielding its fruit. The message to the soldiers and police is crystallizing. When Arabs are involved in an activity, the hand on the trigger is light. Determination boards the ship while sensitivity stays in the water.

But have no fear, the domestic Israeli propaganda machine began to work and in just a few hours every Israeli will be recounting how Hamas helicopters took over a Jewish ship and shot illegal immigrants in all directions. With the use of our repression mechanisms and the encouragement of the IDF spokesman we will again dissociate from reality and the world and manufacture our own unique script in which we are the victims and the whole world is against us as usual. Will the outcome of tonight’s confrontation end with an official commission of inquiry? No chance.

Israel justifies its brutal and violent image

The price for the unfortunate results of the fleet will be paid primarily by the families of those who were killed at sea last night. Next in line to pay the price will be the residents of Israel who want peace and the end of the conflict with all their hearts, and who wish to stop the cycle of bloodshed and live in a saner country. We, the silent majority, watch with despair as Israel with its own actions justifies the brutal and violent image it acquired in the last years and gives our biggest enemies in Hamas and Iran a reason to rejoice.

If the miserable naval clash had any winners, they are in Tehran, in the bunkers of Beirut and in the Hamas headquarters in Gaza. The Hamas government succeeded with the Israeli government’s active support to receive international recognition, to gain the support of the Arab world and to be seen as a hero standing up to Israel.

The enemies of peace and the extremists on both sides can again find reasons to attack each other and deepen the hatred and hostility between Jews and Arabs in Israel and outside of it. Again the moderates on both sides are silenced and the voice of reason is drowned out by the voices of incitement and hatred. Without a loud voice of protest by a patriotic Israeli public calling on its leaders to change course, we will all find ourselves in a morally and politically decadent country, slowly sinking into the depths.

Appreciation to Sol Salbe from ME News Service who provided the link (http://www.peacenow.org.il/site/en/peace.asp?pi=195&fld=694&docid=4675) to access this piece.


US imperial war machine meets US visa policy with appalling outcome

September 21, 2009

I’m going to ask our library to order a copy of this DVD:

Iraqi Women Speak Out
ProductionYear: 2006
Runtime: 16:30
Producers: Brian Drolet

In March 2006, Code Pink invited eight Iraqi women to the U.S. to speak about their experiences under U.S. invasion and occupation. Two of the women had their entire families killed by U.S. troops. They were denied visas on the grounds they did not have sufficient family to guarantee they would return to Iraq.

See http://deepdishtv.org/ProgramDetail/Default.aspx?id=3262 for more details about the documentary.

–L.L. Wynn


Joharah Baker on a national climate that fosters racist expression

June 18, 2009

Below is an excerpt from commentary by Joharah Baker on the recent scandal over Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch’s calling a Palestinian-Israeli policeman a “real dirty Arab.”  The full article can be read at Miftah.

We ‘dirty Arabs’ have had enough

by Joharah Baker
MIFTAH
17 June 2009

What unwritten law is out there that allows Israelis to sling racist insults at Palestinians with impunity? After all my years in this country and the absurdities that come along with it, this is one absurdity I still find hard to digest.

Obviously, my outrage has been most recently rekindled by Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who during a tour of the old central bus station in Tel Aviv called a Palestinian-Israeli policeman a “real dirty Arab.” Once the words were out, the minister was forced to apologize, saying his remarks did not reflect his worldview. A spokesman for the ministry also issued a statement saying that, “in a moment of jest, and using common slang, the minister said what he said, not intending to hurt anyone.”

If this were an isolated incident or if it were not an Israeli right-wing minister who said it, we might, just might, be inclined to believe this sorry excuse for an explanation. But in Israel’s history with the Palestinians, this can hardly be considered slip-of-the-tongue. Instead, such slurs are embedded in a historically-rooted relationship between Israeli Jews and their perceived Palestinian-Arab subordinates, a relationship that is so lopsided it allows room for those who wish to be verbally abusive against Palestinians to thrive….


Raffe Gold on Yisrael Beitanu laws

June 11, 2009

Raffe Gold has just alerted me to a blog posting he wrote about new legislation under consideration in Israel.  He says, “These bills are racist, violate basic freedoms and attempt to subjugate the democratic nature of the State of Israel. I am talking about two bills in particular: the loyalty oath and the Al-Nakba criminalization bill.”  Read his post at http://socialmusing.wordpress.com/2009/06/11/yisrael-beitanu-laws/

–L.L. Wynn