Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 5, 2019

Busted for violating Facebook Community Standards a second time.

Filed under: Islamophobia,social media — louisproyect @ 11:29 pm

Around 10am on December 31st, I received a notice from Facebook that I had violated their Community Standards and would lose my posting privileges for 3 days. Their algorithms identified something I wrote as hate speech directed toward Muslims, which is quite strange since I have written maybe 400 articles since 2011 attacking Islamophobia. Then again, based on Facebook’s computerized moderation, Jonathan Swift would have been banned permanently for writing “A Modest Proposal”. I was told that the next time I violate their standards, the sentence would be 7 days and the next violation after that would result in a life sentence. Banned from Facebook for life. What a let-down that would be. Only yesterday, I had a “friend” explain to me in 41 words how Fidel Castro was not a genuine socialist like him. Maybe I can purge my friends list at some point based on whether they have posted a cat video or not. Anybody who hasn’t gets the boot.

So how did I end up writing an Islamophobic comment? As you might have heard, I get friend requests every day from people I have nothing in common with: Christians, men and women with nothing in their timeline except selfies and birthday greetings, people into “spirituality”, etc. Of course, my troubles stemmed from getting a friend request from a leftist in India who somehow had not figured out that I had written hundreds of articles calling Bashar al-Assad a blood-soaked dictator. Thirty seconds of reviewing his timeline had smoke coming out of my ears. Photos of triumphant Baathist soldiers, accusations of the rebels being ISIS, links to Mint Press articles, “false flag” conspiracy crap, and vicious attacks on the Kashmir Muslims. I probably should have just deleted his friend request and moved on but since I have such a short fuse, I posted about 5 or 6 over the top Islamophobic comments written as way of holding up a mirror to this jerk.

Evidently, Facebook’s software is not capable of detecting irony. Instead of being threatened with job loss like George Ciccariello-Maher or James Livingston for their own outrageous posts on social media, I was called on the carpet by an electronic monitor.

This was not the first time this happened. On October 22nd, I lost posting privileges for 24 hours because the electronic monitor had detected that almost a year earlier I had written an article on my blog that featured a picture of Adolf Hitler. A real human being would have figured out that the picture was not put there by a neo-Nazi but someone trying to explain how he came to power and what had to be done to prevent the rise of another Hitler. A real human being might have also figured out that I was trolling an Islamophobe on December 31 but there’s a good chance that the people in Facebook’s Community Standards enforcement division that is probably as big as a large town in the USA probably would have been just as clueless as the software and Mark Zuckerberg himself.

The fact is that no software could ever track down the real hate speech on Facebook, which is incubated in places like 21st Century Wire, Grayzone, Consortium News, Global Research, Off-Guardian, et al. Lately I’ve gotten wind of an Eva Bartlett article that is making the rounds on social media. With RT.com likely being the original source, probably hundreds of thousands of people have been exposed to an article titled “Organ theft, staged attacks: UN panel details White Helmets’ criminal activities, media yawns”. You see the words “UN Panel” and you might assume that this panel was convened by some official body of the UN. Nope. It was a panel organized by the Russian Mission to the UN and Bartlett. Using their clout, the Russians had the whole thing recorded and part of Bartlett’s typical lobbying for the Assad dictatorship. Like Blumenthal, Beeley and other scoundrels, you cannot help but believe that they are making money doing this work.

This junk starts on RT.com or Sputnik and then gets spread across the Internet by conscious and unconscious tools of the Kremlin. There is little doubt that when a lowlife like Max Blumenthal attended the RT bash in Moscow, he made connections there that were far more beneficial to his career than piddling jobs with Alternet. It gave him the leverage he needed to speak for the left on Tucker Carlson’s show.

All this Russiagate crap is besides the point. There is Russian interference in American politics but not through Facebook ads. Instead, it is tailored to the “anti-imperialist” left that has come to dominate American politics. Across the board, you see people like Oliver Stone, Stephen F. Cohen, Max Blumenthal sharing the talking points of Ann Coulter, David Duke, and Lyndon LaRouche’s cult. White helmets, sarin gas, the USA supporting ISIS in Syria, “false flags” in Ukraine, and all the other bowel movements the drainage pipes cannot process. It is Facebook and Twitter that is facilitating this Red-Brown alliance whether they understand it or not.

Like Pandora’s Box, social media cannot be closed. Its ills are part of the political terrain today, just like the positive contributions being made by the left. For every jerk like the guy who sent me a friend request, there are others who understand that the White Helmets are nothing but first responders trying to rescue people from the buildings that Putin and Assad bomb.

In my view, there will come a time when print publications and leaflets will begin to be the primary means of communication on the left for the simple reason that the state can easily crack down on us just like is done in Iran and China. But nothing can get in the way of a leaflet being handed out in a working-class neighborhood calling for a general strike, except maybe a cop’s revolver. That day will come, I’m sure. Be prepared, as they say in the Boy Scouts.


June 19, 2017

Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism and terror: separating fact from fiction

Filed under: Islamophobia,terrorism — louisproyect @ 8:57 pm

John Wight channeling the Henry Jackson Society

In the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks in London, you could hardly tell the difference between what Douglas Murray, the Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society, wrote for Rupert Murdoch’s ultraright tabloid “The Sun” and John Wight’s article in CounterPunch. Murray is the author of the 2005 Neoconservatism: Why We Need It and a brand-new book titled The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam that can best be described as even more nativist than the National Front. As for the Henry Jackson Society, this is a think-tank that became infamous for its all-out support for the invasion of Iraq in 2002. Murray’s article is patented “they hate us because of  our freedom”, a genre that blossomed fulsomely after 9/11:

At Wahhabi schools — known as madrasas — in the UK paid for by the Saudis, students are taught to hate the modern liberal West.

They are taught to despise and look down on us and our freedoms. The same message is taught at Wahhabi mosques across the world. The Saudis pay for the buildings and appoint the clerics.

Today across Europe there are thousands of such institutions of education and religion which exist because they are paid for by the Saudis.

We should have stopped the Saudis being allowed to spread their hatred here a long time ago. But a combination of greed for oil and fear of false charges of “Islamophobia” have stopped any British government to date from confronting this.

Last Wednesday we were reminded of where this disgusting ideology can lead. Perhaps now we can finally face it down. For all our sakes.

Here is John Wight doing an impeccable Douglas Murray impersonation in his June 6th article titled “London Terror Attack: It’s Time to Confront Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia”:

It is time for an honest conversation about Wahhabism, specifically the part this Saudi-sponsored ideology plays in radicalizing young Muslims both across the Arab and Muslim world and in the West, where in the UK people are dealing with the aftermath of yet another terrorist attack in which innocent civilians were butchered and injured, this time in London.

The most concerning development in recent years, however, vis-à-vis Saudi influence in the West, is the extent to which Riyadh has been funding the building of mosques as a way of promoting its ultra-conservative and puritanical interpretation of Islam, one completely incompatible with the 21st century.

In 2015 Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel came out in public and accused the Saudis of funding mosques in which extremism is regularly promoted. In an interview with the German magazine Bild am Sonntag, Mr Gabriel said, “We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over. Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany.”

We can assume that Wight must also endorse Gabriel’s January 19, 2017 call: “Salafist mosques must be banned, communities dissolved, and the preachers should be expelled as soon as possible.” What better way for public security to be guaranteed than to dissolve communities? One can imagine both Murray and Wight leading a throng of torch-bearing Christians determined to send the riffraff back to where they came from.

You might have noticed above that Gabriel refers to Salafist and Wahhabist mosques without bothering to distinguish between the two belief systems. At the risk of sounding like a pedant, it is worth making a distinction. Wahhabism is named after an eighteenth-century preacher and activist, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who lived through nearly the entire 18th century. It was similar in spirit to Hasidism for Jews and Calvinism for Christians, a literalist interpretation of sacred texts that demanded an austere lifestyle. Ironically, despite its medieval character, Wahhabism was seen as a “reform” movement in Islam that opposed the de facto sainthood of its leaders that involved pilgrimages to their tombs, etc. Long before the state of Saudi Arabia was created, the Saudi princes adopted Wahhabism as their official religion and imposed its rules on its subjects after taking power in 1932.

Salafism emerged at around the same time as Wahhabism and derives its name from advocating a return to the traditions of the “devout ancestors” (the salaf). Scholars tend to believe that Wahhabism is a subset of Salafism, just as the Lubavitchers are a sect within Hasidism. For most Salafists, their religion is just a way of living a “holy” life. If Hasidism requires men to wear black suits and side-curls to enter heaven, Salafism has its own strictures such as forbidding tobacco, alcohol, playing cards and listening to music.

In its early years, Wahhabism was just as bloodthirsty as ISIS. In 1801, the Wahhabis sacked the Shia holy city of Karbala in Iraq and acting as infidel-purging takfiri left 4,000 Shia Muslims dead. Of course, the Christians were no slouches themselves. During the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Orthodox Christians were persecuted across Eastern Europe. Polish Catholics killed up to 80,000 of their fellow Christians who did not follow the Pope. So cruel was the crusade against the infidels that the leader of the Orthodox church declared: “God perpetuate the empire of the Turks for ever and ever! For they take their impost, and enter no account of religion, be their subjects Christians or Nazarenes, Jews or Samaritians; whereas these accursed Poles were not content with taxes and tithes from the brethren of Christ…”

In the 20th century, religious wars became far less common. Mostly, they were about defending the “nation”, an act that cost far more lives even if the justifications were based on Enlightenment or even Marxist values. When it came to Saudi Arabia going to war to defend Wahhabist values, you’ll find little evidence of that. The wars had nothing to do with eradicating tobacco and everything to do with keeping the oil wells flowing such as when Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990. With little interest in the  Sunni faith it shared with the Iraqi rulers, some of whom have reappeared as ISIS members, Saudi Arabia supported George Bush’s war to drive Saddam out of Kuwait.

If you do a search on “Wahhabi” and “terror” in Lexis-Nexis, you will get links to 997 articles. All but 9 of them are dated after September 11th, 2001 and of those 9, not a single one refers to Saudi-sponsored terrorism. Three do refer to Russia’s justification for its war on the Chechens but I will cover that matter in a separate post dealing with Oliver Stone’s moronic interview with Vladimir Putin.

When 15 of the 19 hijackers were revealed to be Saudi citizens, the left—especially Michael Moore—jumped to the conclusion that the royal family was behind 9/11. This conspiracy theory was not driven by a class analysis of the Saudi state and its deep tentacles in the imperialist system both economically and militarily but by a kind of amalgam between the Wahhabi beliefs of the men who carried out the attack and their patron Osama bin-Laden.

What complicates this interpretation is the fact that despite their Saudi citizenship, they were from Yemenite tribes whose territory was seized by Saudi Arabia in a 1934 war having more to do with state formation than religion. Like the Mexicans who lived in the southern part of Texas, the people of this region resented the powerful nation that had absorbed it through military conquest. Although most of the story is reported in Akbar Ahmad’s “The Thistle and the Drone” that I wrote about last year in a piece titled “Was Saudi Arabia behind 9/11?”, you can find other references that bear this analysis out such as an article that appeared in the March 3, 2002 Boston Globe. Despite the title (“Why bin Laden plot relied on Saudi hijackers”), the article makes clear that 12 of the 15 Saudis were from the southwest region of Asir that manifested “deep tribal affiliations” and suffered “economic dis-enfranchisement”. Reporter Charles M. Sennott describes life in Saudi Arabia’s hinterlands, which have very little to do with the opulence of those who ruled over it no matter the shared Wahhabi faith:

The path to understanding this culture which bore the hijackers – almost none of whom had any deep links to Islamic militant movements much before Sept. 11 – lies somewhere along this road. On maps it is ”Highway 15,” but to Saudis it is commonly known as ‘”The Road of Death.’” Stretching south from the lowlands around Mecca into Taif and the woodlands of Al Baha province, and then climbing up to the mountains of Asir, it is considered the most dangerous road in a kingdom which officials say has an extraordinarily high rate of fatal car crashes. Highway 15 alone claims hundreds of lives every year, and thus its name.

It has become known as a strip of asphalt where disaffected, middle-class Saudi youth climb into large American-manufactured Buicks and Chevrolets and race at speeds over 120 miles per hour. They say it is a way to vent their rage against the limited economic opportunities in the kingdom as well as the crushing boredom and confining strictures of life under Saudi puritanism.

Interestingly enough, the pilot of the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon was exactly the sort of Saudi youth who was trying to lift himself up out of this morass. Hani Hanjour was 29 years old when he took part in the 9/11 attack but his flying skills originally had nothing to do with jihad. He was a frustrated young Saudi who trained to become a pilot for the Saudi national airline but could not land a job. Sennott reports:

His frustration at failing to get the job he dreamed of derailed him for nearly a year, his friends said. He spent hours online at a family-owned Internet cafe. He read voraciously about piloting, and increasingly turned his attention toward religious texts and cassette tapes of militant Islamic preachers.

Al Watan, a newspaper in the Asir region, was far more probing than the mainstream press in its investigative reports on the local youth who joined the 9/11 plotters. It is to Sennott’s credit to cite Al Watan’s reporting and how bin Laden tapped into the deep-seated resentments of the Asiri tribes that were as ready to make war on Riyadh as they were on Washington, even more so:

US and Saudi officials say they believe bin Laden exploited the Saudis, paying particular attention to their tribal backgrounds, and convincing them that they would be making their tribes proud in the jihad against America. On the videotape, bin Laden pointedly boasts of the names of the tribes, repeating the name Alshehri seven times, and also the Alghamdi and Alhazmi tribes on several occasions.

Bin Laden knew that selecting these families from the southwest would send a message to the monarchy and the ”Naj’dis” – elitist families from the center of the country who savor their connections to royalty and tend to look down upon the southwest’s tribal culture as primitive. US and Saudi officials suggest that bin Laden was letting that elite know he had deep support in the southwest for his jihad against the United States. But more ominously for the palace, the sources add, bin Laden was letting it know he had support for his oft-stated desire to dethrone the House of Saud, because of what he sees as its corruption and its treasonous ties to the United States.

Not only did bin Laden disavow the Saudi rulers politically, he had built a network called al-Qaeda based on the religious and political beliefs of a man that built a movement regarded as their mortal enemy. With all the facile attempts to blame Wahhabism for the 9/11 attacks, there is overwhelming evidence that it was inspired by Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian poet and Islamist theorist who led the Muslim Brotherhood in the 50s and 60s. Qutb was devoted to the idea that Muslims had to launch a jihad against its enemies. When he came to study in the USA in 1948, he was repelled by the churches that he saw as “entertainment centers and sexual playgrounds.” I guess he had the foresight to anticipate Jimmy Swaggart et al.

He returned to Egypt in 1951 where he joined the Brotherhood. In 1954, he and his comrades were rounded up by Nasser just as has happened under General al-Sisi more recently. Qutb spent 10 years in prison. After being released in 1964, he was rearrested in 1965 after the Muslim Brotherhood attempted to assassinate Nasser. He was tortured before being brought to trial and then hanged on August 29, 1966.

Qutb was above all political. He was for Salafist values but that was not enough. If you were a devout Muslim, you had struggle against the corrupt oil sheikhs and nationalist dictators, either Wahhabist like the Saudi royal family or secular like Nasser or al-Assad. In an article on Qutb that appeared in the October 31, 2001 Guardian, Robert Irwin described bin Laden’s attraction to Qutb’s idea of jihad:

In the context of that global programme, the destruction of the twin towers, spectacular atrocity though it was, is merely a by-blow in al-Qaida’s current campaign. Neither the US nor Israel is Bin Laden’s primary target – rather it is Bin Laden’s homeland, Saudi Arabia. The corrupt and repressive royal house, like the Mongol Ilkhanate of the 14th century, is damned as a Jahili scandal. Therefore, al-Qaida’s primary task is to liberate the holy cities of Mecca and Medina from their rule. Though the current policy of the princes of the Arabian peninsula seems to be to sit on their hands and hope that al-Qaida and its allies will pick on someone else first, it is unlikely that they will be so lucky.

As for the spate of ISIS-inspired or sanctioned terrorist attacks in Europe and the USA, there is little connection to al-Qaeda, which has not been known in recent years for the sort of atavistic attacks on civilians that occurred on 9/11. In 2014, al-Qaeda disavowed any ties to ISIS and its franchise in Syria has had numerous armed confrontations with the group, especially in Qalamoun where dozens of ISIS members were arrested or killed in May, 2015.

This leaves us with the question of ISIS’s ideological roots. It combines Qutb’s apocalyptic worldview with Salafist orthodoxy but its wanton terrorist attacks on civilians has little to do with Islamist groups in the Middle East except for Hamas that used to set off bombs in Israel restaurants and buses in an ill-conceived response to Israeli state terror.

To understand ISIS, you simply have to extrapolate its tactics in Iraq during the American occupation when suicide bombers were targeting Shia mosques on a regular basis. These methods were associated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who sought to turn a war against American occupation into a Sunni-Shia war. It was his barbarian beheadings, car bombs and other forms of terror that made it impossible for anti-imperialist fighters to build a united front. It was al-Zarqawi’s ruthless occupation of Sunni cities following the same pattern as ISIS today in Mosul and Raqqa that made it possible for the American military to persuade tribal leaders to join General David Petraeus’s Anbar Awakening.

Like many of the low-lives who have stepped forward to knife people out for an evening stroll or to drive vans into their midst, al-Zarqawi had nothing in common with a figure like Sayyid Qutb. In a profile for Atlantic magazine, Mary Anne Weaver reported on his youthful days in Jordan:

Everyone I spoke with readily acknowledged that as a teenager al-Zarqawi had been a bully and a thug, a bootlegger and a heavy drinker, and even, allegedly, a pimp in Zarqa’s underworld. He was disruptive, constantly involved in brawls. When he was fifteen (according to his police record, about which I had been briefed in Amman), he participated in a robbery of a relative’s home, during which the relative was killed. Two years later, a year shy of graduation, he had dropped out of school. Then, in 1989, at the age of twenty-three, he traveled to Afghanistan.

Although al-Zarqawi left all this behind when he arrived in Afghanistan to join the jihad, there is little evidence that he ever became much of a Wahhabist except to follow the same austere strictures as everyone else. Mostly his ambition was to be a fighter and in this he  succeeded. Based on his military prowess and leadership abilities, he was able to put together one of the more formidable anti-occupation militias called al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, or Monotheism and Jihad. This group undoubtedly spawned ISIS as should be clear from this incident reported by Weaver:

Al-Zarqawi courted chaos so that Iraq would provide him another failed state to operate in after the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He became best known for his videotaped beheadings. One after the other they appeared on jihadist Web sites, always the same. In the background was the trademark black banner of al-Zarqawi’s newest group: al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, or Monotheism and Jihad. In the foreground, a blindfolded hostage, kneeling and pleading for his life, was dressed in an orange jumpsuit resembling those worn by the detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Al-Zarqawi’s first victim was a Pennsylvania engineer named Nicholas Berg. In the video, five hooded men, dressed in black, stand behind Berg. After a recitation, one of the men pulls a long knife from his shirt, steps forward, and slices off Berg’s head.

What accounts for such madness? Is it Wahhabism or is it the brutality that became so universal in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of which did not take the form of beheadings but Russian and American air power that dropped high explosives on lightly armed fighters and civilians with impunity? In Spalding Gray’s “Swimming to Cambodia”, he explains Pol Pot as the logical outcome of dropping more tons of explosives in Indochina than the total dropped by the combined air forces during WWII:

This bombing went on for five years. The Supreme Court never passed any judgment on it and the military speaks with pride today that five years of the bombing of Cambodia killed 16,000 of the so-called enemy. That’s 25% killed, and there’s a military ruling that says you cannot kill more than 10% of the enemy without causing irreversible, psychological damage. So, five years of bombing…and other things that we will probably never know about in our lifetime — including, perhaps, an invisible cloud of evil that circles the Earth and lands at random in places like Iran, Beirut, Germany, Cambodia, America — set the Khmer Rouge out to carry out the worst auto-homeo genocide in modern history.

Social science might look for patterns in these sorts of genocidal spasms that coincide with an all-out war when civilized norms go by the wayside. That might explain the Khmer Rouge as well as setting off a bomb while teenaged girls are leaving an Ariana Grande concert.


Just about 10 years ago, CounterPunch published an article titled “The Wahhabis are Coming, the Wahhabis are Coming!” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2007/10/27/the-wahhabis-are-coming-the-wahhabis-are-coming/) that holds up rather well. It makes a rather good retort to John Wight, who has succumbed to the Islamophobia the author was diagnosing. Here are the more salient points but I urge you to read the entire article.

Although I will not suggest that this rhetoric is hegemonic, there can be no doubt that the idea of a ‘Wahhabi Conspiracy’ against the ‘West’ has, since 9/11, become lodged in the colloquial psyche of many in the US and beyond. The collective argument, however, can be reduced to three pieces of ‘evidence’:

1) Usama bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 highjackers were Saudi Arabians;

2) Saudi Arabia funds Wahhabi madrasas (schools), masjids (mosques) and imams (preachers) from South East Asia to Europe and North America, creating an ideologically and operationally coherent ‘network’ in which Al-Qaeda plays a leadership role; and,

3) Wahhabism is not only ‘puritanical,’ it is ‘militantly anti-Western.’ In short, Wahhabism is identified as the theology behind ‘Islamo-fascism.’

Yet, there are a number of glaring omissions in this perspective, beginning with the fact that the Wahhabi clerics of Saudi Arabia–the sole state sponsor of Wahhabism–routinely issue decrees condemning jihad against the European and North American states, while Usama bin Laden has vociferously castigated renowned clerics (including Wahhabis) as ‘slaves of apostate regimes’ like Saudi Arabia.

As well, although Saudi Arabian funds have been used to establish various religious institutions across the globe, not only are they in the minority from state to state, but the most militant madrasas, etc., are not Saudi funded or Wahhabi in intellectual orientation. For example, in Pakistan (noted by the above governmental, media and pseudo-academic sources as a breeding ground for militant Wahhabism), an International Crisis Group study conducted in 2002, found that ninety percent of the madrasas catering to one and half million students, were proponents of South Asian ‘Deobandi’ or ‘Barelvi’ thought, while the remaining ten percent could be shared between ‘Jama’at-i Islami’ (Maududian), ‘Shi’a’ and Wahhabi organizations. The handful of madrasas promoting militancy (including the Taliban Movement) are not Wahhabi, but Deobandi, and their initial funding came from the US during the Afghan-Soviet war (1979-1989), extending to textbooks produced by USAID and Ronald Reagan’s reference to their students as ‘the moral equivalent of the founding fathers [of America].’ Even a recent USAID report (2003) acknowledges that the link between madrasas and violence is ‘rare,’ and the same perspective has been forwarded to the US Congress in at least two Congress Research Services reports updated in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

The most damning indictment of the non-scholarly perspective, however, is the fact that Al-Qaeda’s leadership is well known in scholarly circles to have been largely inspired by the ideology of Sayyid Qutb (d.1966), a late leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, while within the ‘Salafi’ fold, the Brotherhood, Wahhabism, Qutbism, Deobandism and Maududism, differ on issues as fundamental as the defensive or offensive nature of jihad, the legitimacy of ‘suicide bombings’ and civilian targets, the status of women, the legitimacy of electoral politics, nationalism, Pan-Islamism, Shi’ism and Sufism in Muslim society.

July 24, 2016

William Blum channels Donald Trump

Filed under: Islamophobia,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:20 pm

William Blum

Exactly four years and one day ago, I wrote an article titled “Libya, Syria, and left Islamophobia” that called attention to leftist support for Gaddafi and Assad that despite its “anti-imperialist” posturing was more in line with the sort of thing that Christopher Hitchens was writing over a decade ago in support of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

I cited Pepe Escobar as following in Hitchens’s footsteps. For him, there was no point in distinguishing the FSA from al-Qaeda as he writes in his patented and rather plastic journalistic style:

Destination of choice of the $1,500 Kalashnikov in 2012: Syria. Network: al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, also known as AQI. Recipients: infiltrated jihadis operating side-by-side with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Also shuttling between Syria and Iraq is car bombing and suicide bombing, as in two recent bombings in the suburbs of Damascus and the suicide bombing last Friday in Aleppo.

Who would have thought that what the House of Saud wants in Syria – an Islamist regime – is exactly what al-Qaeda wants in Syria?

Nothing has changed since he wrote this crap. You make an amalgam between FSA and al-Qaeda and when ISIS comes along, you add them to the mix. So when Syrian and Russian bombers blow up entire neighborhoods, including their hospitals, you justify it in the name of “fighting terrorism” just as Hitchens did. You come to this position because it is the “axis of resistance” killing people rather than the USA. And when the USA joins in, your response is muted. Has anybody seen the ANSWER coalition organizing protests against American bombing in Iraq or Syria? I haven’t. In fact, when you go to their website you will see an article that warns about the possibility of American intervention against ISIS being a decoy maneuver that is intended to prepare the way for “regime change”. One imagines that if these assholes could be guaranteed that the USA would stick to killing ISIS and any civilian unfortunate enough to be within 5 miles of their fighters, they’d shrug their shoulders and say “go ahead”.

As inured as I have become to this kind of political decrepitude, it did not prepare me for the totally disgusting rant by Bill Blum that appeared on Information Clearing House five days ago. Titled “ISIS Has Nothing To Do With Islam?”, it starts off with a warning that “Warning! What follows is very politically incorrect.”

Since William Blum announced his support for Donald Trump on March 11, 2016, you can guess that his reference to being “politically incorrect” is in line with the oft-repeated mantra of the American Marine Le Pen. Blum has it in for the left because it is “politically correct”:

The left is the worst when it comes to political correctness. Here is the very progressive Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), criticizing the New York Times for labeling the mass-murder truck attack in Nice “terrorist” … “despite admitting that it had no knowledge of the presumed killer’s motives.”

This is a real knee-slapping joke considering the fact that FAIR has been part of the Baathist amen corner for the longest time, with staff member Adam Johnson writing some of the worst offal outside of ZNet, Salon or CounterPunch.

But as bad as Johnson is, he has never written anything like this:

Is Nice the last straw for you? The last victims before you call it by its proper name: radical Islamic terrorism? French Prime Minister Hollande was quick to point out that it was a “terrorist attack”, but not a radical Islamic attack. Oh? When the perpetrator is a Muslim named Mohamed, as in this case, and the victims are celebrating an iconic Western holiday, why the reluctance to use the latter term? President Obama’s preference is “violent extremists”.

The Islamic teachings I refer to are not necessarily explicitly mentioned in the Koran or any other sacred texts, nor have any connection to actual historical events of the 7th through the 21st centuries, but rather are an imbedded part of the atmosphere surrounding a young person growing up in a Muslim culture or environment. This atmosphere, this education, this culture must be severely curtailed. The West must oversee the classes in Islamic schools in France, the UK, the US, et al; and particularly Pakistan if feasible. Even if it means sending in spies to the classes, outfitted with recording devices. The teachers of these classes, if they have had any connection at all to anything smacking of radical Islam, should not be hired; if already hired, should be fired.

Let’s get straight to the point. These are the words of a bigot and someone who has about as much understanding of the roots of terrorism as the crew that beat the drum for George W. Bush in 2003.

Like the 9/11 attack, the spate of ISIS-directed or inspired terrorist attacks in Europe and the USA have derailed a wide section of the left. It is not understood as a departure from “radical” principles but upholding them in the name of secularism, diversity and Western Civilization.

The one thing that might be a saving grace is that Blum is writing this racist garbage on Information Clearing House, a website that is a cut below ZNet, Salon and CounterPunch, journals that (hopefully) will understand that Blum is now beyond the pale.

March 2, 2016

Tulsi Gabbard: a real piece of work

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,Islamophobia,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:39 pm

Tulsi Gabbard: “antiwar” Democrat getting decorated

I had never come across the name Tulsi Gabbard until October 30, 2015 when Mike Whitney, the go-to guy for Baathist talking points, advised CounterPunch readers that “Everything You Needed to Know About Syria in 8 Minutes” could be found in a video interview with the House member from Hawaii for which he furnished a transcript, bless his crooked heart.

It originated in a CNN interview with her conducted by the atrocious Wolf Blitzer of CNN. This exchange is obviously what got our boy’s juices flowing:

Blitzer:  So what you are saying is that the Russian military involvement in the air and on the ground Iranian involvement in Syria right now, the Hezbollah involvement, they are actually doing the US a favor?

Gabbard:   They are working towards defeating our common enemy. When you look at the groups that are on the ground there, the most effective fighting groups who are fighting to overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar Assad, they are predominantly ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra and these other Islamist extremist groups. They make up the vast majority of these so-called “Syrian rebels.” They are the most effective force, who has gained the most territory. So the people they (Russia and their allies) are attacking, and the Russians are dropping bombs on are these al Qaeda people who are our enemies who attacked us on 9-11.

Interesting to see a leftist like Whitney getting so enthusiastic over a politician whose rhetoric barely differs from Blitzer’s, a warhawk who cheered on George W. Bush’s war in Iraq as a necessary step to protect us from another 911 attack. This is also the mindset incorporated in Barack Obama’s far-flung drone war on wedding parties and the like—a necessary preemptive strike to make sure the bad guys don’t attack the Homeland.

The big news this week, of course, is that Gabbard has resigned from the DNC and joined the Bernie Sanders campaign as Ben Norton reported for Salon.com, a reliable source of Baathist propaganda:

Gabbard, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has condemned U.S. policy in Syria. In late 2015, she introduced a bipartisan bill that called for “an immediate end to the illegal, counter-productive war to overthrow” Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

“The war to overthrow Assad is illegal because Congress never authorized it,” she said, calling the U.S. policy of arming and training rebels “counter-productive because it actually helps ISIS and other Islamic extremists achieve their goal of overthrowing the Syrian government of Assad and taking control of all of Syria — which will simply increase human suffering in the region, exacerbate the refugee crisis, and pose a greater threat to the world.”

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has continuously called for a more aggressive U.S. policy in Syria. She pushed for the Obama administration to bomb Syria in 2013, and has persistently called for a no-fly zone, which critics warn could lead to a new international war.

Before Norton got on the Salon payroll, he probably would have been a bit more critical of Gabbard’s spiel, especially in light of a blog article he wrote on December 10, 2014 that called attention to how “The ‘Anti-Imperialist’ Nations of Iran, Syria, and Libya Participated in the CIA Torture Program”. Referring to a map that depicted countries that tortured on behalf of the CIA, Norton commented:

Take a look at the map of the nations involved and you’ll see that, in spite of the insistence of the fervent authoritarian, RT- and Press TV-watching pseudo-“leftist” (or, in actual leftist parlance, “tankie”) to the contrary, the supposedly “anti-imperialist” nations of Iran, Syria, and Libya indeed participated in the CIA torture program.

He is singing a different tune now, sounding much more like the execrable Patrick L. Smith at Salon who is about as bad as Mike Whitney. When I see such a transformation, I am glad that I was a programmer rather than a professional left journalist who must be mindful of his publisher’s agenda or else be out of a job.

As I have said on numerous occasions, support for Assad from people like Gabbard and Whitney is fueled by the same kind of “al-Qaeda is gonna get your mama” hysteria that was pervasive during the war on Iraq, particularly from Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman and Michael Ignatieff except in this instance it is the Kremlin rather than the White House that symbolizes Enlightenment values, diversity, tolerance and decency. Did the massive casualties in Iraq ever cause Christopher Hitchens a sleepless night? No more so, one would assume, than barrel bombing and sarin gas discomfit the likes of Tulsi Gabbard and Mike Whitney.

Alternet’s Zaid Jilani summed up her worldview succinctly: “To Gabbard, the fact that Syria and Iraq have been through years of brutal civil war, wrecked economies and massive displacement is irrelevant; the only reason they have an extremism problem is because of Islamic theology.”

And here is Gabbard having a grand old time with arch-Islamophobe Bill Maher. Just go to 5:00 and hear her nodding her head in agreement with Maher about Islam being the problem:

To show that she is open to engagement with people clearly not in line with the Sanders campaign, here she is hobnobbing with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, where she lashes out at the White House for even talking to American Muslims.

Although my view of Salon.com is obviously disdainful, I give credit to one of their reporters for recognizing where Gabbard is coming from. Written just one day after Whitney’s valentine to Gabbard, Sarah Burris titled her article “Bill Maher’s nasty new Islamophobia recruit: ‘Real Time’ turns ugly on ‘barbaric’ Muslim beliefs”. She writes:

Bill Maher hates religion, but he really hates Islam. On Friday evening’s “Real Time,” the host spoke to Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii about their shared quest against Muslims.

Gabbard told Maher she believes it is “crazy” that Secretary of State John Kerry says that extremism comes from poverty — and that President Obama won’t say “Islamic extremism” instead using the words “violent extremism.” She thinks it’s important to “identify our enemy so that we can defeat them.” Secretary Kerry’s comments are particularly absurd to her because she thinks that giving someone a house to live in and a skateboard isn’t going to solve the problems of violence abroad.

I don’t know about houses and skateboards but you can bet your ass that not using drones on wedding parties would help. Speaking of drones, Gabbard supports them. This is something that deeply troubled the Maui Time, a newspaper that regarded her statement okaying their use overseas as reflecting her solidly “pro-military” views. You can bet that Gabbard’s support for drone warfare did not disqualify her in Bernie Sander’s eyes since he too believes they are necessary to protect the Homeland.

In doing some searches for “Gabbard” on CounterPunch, where I suspected there would be other effusive takes on her “antiwar” stance, I found that David Lindorff was cheered over her enlistment in the Sanders campaign since “She had the courage to introduce a bill in a Congress filled with war-besotted ‘chicken-hawks’ to require the US to end its illegal intervention aimed at ‘regime change’ in Syria.”. For his part, Binoy Kampmark was delighted that she introduced legislation that would terminate an “illegal war” to overthrow the Assad regime. As I continued my search, I found an article by Stephen Zunes, a name I usually don’t associate with the Baathist left. The name “Gabbard” came up in the article, however, in a rather different context. Zunes reported:

On July 29, the U.S. House of Representatives, with more than 100 co-sponsors from both parties, passed a resolution by unanimous consent insisting that the Israeli attacks were exclusively “focused on terrorist targets” and that Israel “goes to extraordinary lengths to target only terrorist actors.” Co-sponsors included such prominent Democrats as Alan Grayson (FL), Jared Polis (CO), Eric Swalwell (CA), Richard Neal (MA), Joseph Kennedy (MA), Tulsi Gabbard (HI), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Brad Sherman (CA), Elliot Engel (NY), and Debbie Wasserman-Schulz (FL).

Now that’s some cast of characters Gabbard is lining up with: Alan Grayson, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Elliot Engel—three of the more hard-core Israel lobby old reliables you can find in what Alexander Cockburn once called Washington Babylon. Were Whitney, Lindorff or Kampark aware of this? Probably not. When you are in the cherry-picking business, things tend to slip past you.

And to show you how steeped in Likudnik filth Gabbard is, just go to the Christians United for Israel website linked in this picture and take a look at the featured speakers. Guess what. Gabbard is one of them.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 1.05.11 PM

Let me conclude with a passage from Ziad Jilani’s Alternet article on Gabbard, which is the best I have seen. In addition to nailing her Islamophobic beliefs, he investigates her ties to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, an outfit that is widely regarded—accurately—as fascist. While of American Samoan descent, Gabbard is a convert to Hinduism and likely has absorbed its fundamentalist wing’s hatred of Muslims.

Laments about Congress’ polarization are common, and it’s rare that large numbers of Republicans and Democrats can agree, especially on progressive legislation. But in November 2013, a group of 26 House Democrats and 25 House Republicans introduced HR 417, which called on India to improve the human rights situation of its religious minorities, especially citing the case of Gujarat.

The text of the bill is fairly unoffensive; it does not single out Hindus as perpetrators of religious violence, but rather calls for all groups in India to be treated fairly and given full human rights. However, Gabbard made it her personal mission to crusade against the bill.

The following December, Congressmember Tom Lantos’ Human Rights Commission held a hearing on religious freedom in India. Rather than review the litany of abuses that have occurred in the country, Gabbard mused she did “not believe that the timing of this hearing is a coincidence….I am concerned that the goal of this hearing is to influence the outcome of India’s national elections.” She went on to state that even holding a hearing on the issue was “an attempt to foment fear and loathing purely for political purposes.”

In other words, her concern was that Modi’s electoral chances would be hurt by an honest look at religious persecution in India.

HR 417 was never voted on, and Modi won his election.

Why did Gabbard work so hard to shield BJP abuses from congressional review? The answer lies in her base of supporters. The BJP draws on support from the large Indian expatriate community through an organization called the Overseas Friends of BJP. In August of last year, the group convened a large number of Indian American BJP supporters in Atlanta as part of an eight-city tour designed to prepare for Modi’s first visit to the United States the following month.

Gabbard attended the meeting, posing with a sash adorned with the BJP’s party logo. Here she is with BJP activist Vijay Jolly.

Ironically, she spent much of her Atlanta speech condemning religious persecution—of Hindus and Iraqi Christians, not Muslims in India.

“There was a resolution supported by a few congressmen, it was basically anti-Modi, as well as anti-India resolution. And at that time, the congresswoman got up and said, ‘That, no this is wrong. We are interfering in the internal affairs of India. And that’s why this resolution should not be passed.’ So you can see that’s what she’s been doing for us,” said one BJP speaker introducing Gabbard at the event. “It is necessary that we support [a] person like Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Whatever the donations you make, it is not enough, because she needs to win this 2014 election, that’s important for us.”

That’s Tulsi Gabbard for you, a real piece of work.

July 2, 2015

In reply to an Islamophobe

Filed under: Islamophobia — louisproyect @ 7:25 pm

A.J. Caschetta

Today I found myself embroiled in an ongoing confrontation between a pro-Palestinian professor named Jonathan Judaken at Rhodes College in Tennessee and an Islamophobe named A.J. Caschetta who teaches English at the Rochester Institute of Technology. It all started with an article that Caschetta wrote on Daniel Pipes “Middle East Forum” on behalf of JihadWatch, a blog associated with David Horowitz’s Freedom Center. So right off the bat you can figure out that Caschetta is bad news.

Titled “Are Muslims the New Jews?”,Caschetta’s article denounced a Judaken lecture at the University of Rochester as being soft on Islam. He described Judaken’s lecture as exaggerating the Islamic contribution to Western civilization and crediting Islam with having “preserved, elaborated on and indeed expanded upon Western thought” in Judaken’s words. He also took exception to Judaken’s claim that Jews were ”treated much better” in the Muslim world after expulsion from Christendom. Now this is a topic that I have devoted a fair amount of research to, culminating in an article titled “Jews in the Maghreb”. The whole question of how Jews got treated in the Muslim world is highly politicized with people like David Horowitz and A.J. Caschetta likening it to Nazi Germany and others moored to the planet Earth agreeing with famed Jewish historian Shelomo Dov Goitein that Jewish life “flourished” there.

As might be expected, Caschetta refers his readers to passages in the Quran that supposedly demonize Jews. Frankly, as someone who attended Hebrew school and had drummed into his head for 3 years that the Jews were the “chosen people”, something that gave them the right to occupy Palestine and ethnically cleanse the people who had been living there for millennia, this sort of scripture-quoting struck me as a sick joke.

After Judaken read Caschetta’s article, he wrote a commentary in Inside Higher Education titled “The New McCarthyism” that quite rightly places Caschetta’s article in the context of a well-funded and vicious organized attempt to silence critics of Israel:

I had a sense something had happened in the blogosphere when I began to receive anti-Islamic hate mail in my inbox, and requests for the lecture from as far away as Sydney, Australia. This happened because Campus Watch flies its flag under the auspices of the Middle East Forum, a well-financed initiative under the leadership of Daniel Pipes that monitors Middle East studies in the academy.

Campus Watch is part of a network of networks, including StandWithUs, AMCHAInitiative, the David Horowitz Freedom Center and most recently Canary Mission, linked to groups like Jihad Watch. Jihad Watch and these other fora send daily blasts to all those who sign up to receive them on their websites and use email and social media to share their message. Within this self-referential set of bubbles, each consumes the propaganda of their fellow warriors in what they describe as a war for hearts and minds. College campuses are thus key strategic territory in the battle since this is where young minds are shaped.

On June 16th I crossposted Judaken’s article on Marxmail, a mailing list that has a definite political orientation and one that is obviously sympathetic to intellectuals like Judaken, Steven Salaita et al. For some reason totally unfathomable to me, this character A.J. Caschetta emailed Les Schaffer requesting that we post his latest article on this matter that appears in todays Inside Higher Education. So this complies with his request and allows me to put in my own two cents.

Caschetta’s article is titled “The Hollow Cry of ‘McCarthyism’” and is filled with dodgy obfuscations such as the claim that his Middle East Forum article had nothing to do with Israel since the word Israel does not occur once. Maybe that’s because it didn’t have to. If you spend a thousand words arguing that Muslims have hated Jews from the time of Mohammad, isn’t it obvious that this is just another attempt to persuade people that Israel had an excuse for bombing UN schools in Gaza? If we didn’t kill women and children there, the next thing you know they would be swarming into Israel like locusts in order to carry out a genocide against the Jews because of words written in the Quran.

You have to wonder, I should add, how an RIT professor can bond with the likes of David Horowitz who is given to statements such as “We already have a lot of infiltration of Islamic jihadist doctrines into our K-12 school systems.” I can easily imagine Pipes, Horowitz and Pam Geller lining up at Sheldon Adelson’s trough to get their pay-off, but doesn’t Caschetta feel a bit soiled when he does? Aah, maybe I am giving him too much credit.

Finally, a word about Caschetta’s dismissal of Judaken’s worries that he and other pro-Palestinian professors can encounter the same sort of witch hunt that took place during the Red Scare. Since he is part of Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz’s Islamophobic brigades, this is tantamount to Walter Winchell scoffing at the idea that Communists had anything to worry about in 1953.

For my newer readers, I would recommend a look at the dossier I collected on victims of this well-organized,  well-funded and utterly reactionary crusade a while back. The first couple of pages should suffice:

NY Times October 2, 1983

ON Aug. 17, five faculty members at the State University of New York at Stony Brook met to review the evidence against Prof. Ernest Dube.

It was skimpy evidence, those five executive committee members agreed – certainly nothing they ever dreamed would attract the attention of the Governor.

In a two-page letter, a visiting professor from Israel had charged Professor Dube with using the classroom for ”the kind of sloganeering that is practiced by the anti-Semite,” including teaching that Zionism is racist.

The Israeli professor, Selwyn K. Troen, had never been to Professor Dube’s class nor made an attempt to talk with Professor Dube. He based his letter on conversations with a single student and a copy of the course syllabus and shortly afterward flew back to Israel.

”Frankly, I thought what Professor Troen said was bull,” said Joel Rosenthal, a Stony Brook history professor and head of the committee. That same day, after reviewing the evidence available, the committee decided that Professor Dube was within the bounds of academic freedom abnd had not acted improperly.

* * * *

NY Times, October 19, 2000
Columbia Debates a Professor’s ‘Gesture’

When Edward W. Said, a celebrated literary scholar, Columbia University professor and outspoken Palestinian advocate, hurled a rock toward an Israeli guardhouse from the Lebanese border in July, a photographer caught the action. The photo, which captured Mr. Said with his arm reached far behind him, ready to throw, appeared in newspapers and magazines in the Middle East and the United States.

Mr. Said’s rock-throwing occurred during a visit to Lebanon with his family last summer. He has given several explanations for it. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he said it was merely a competition with his son to see who could throw farther.

But his explanations did not satisfy critics like Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Mr. Foxman wrote to Columbia’s president, George Rupp, calling Mr. Said’s behavior ”a crude, disgraceful and dangerous act of incitement” and saying that it warranted ”clear repudiation and censure from the Columbia University community.”

* * * *

Jewish Ledger, June 26, 2002
CCSU, Tunxis institutes for teachers lack balance, Jewish leaders say
by Adam N. Schupack

Two professional development institutes to educate Connecticut public school teachers about the Middle East and Islamic world have drawn criticism from members of the Jewish community and a Connecticut congressman for their lack of balance.

At least three professors teaching at the programs at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) in New Britain and Tunxis Community College in Farmington are anti-Israel activists, according to Jewish leaders.

“We feel that it is important that middle and high school teachers receive a balanced presentation of the issues, and we’re not convinced these faculty will be able to accomplish that,” said Cathrine Fischer Schwartz, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.

* * * *

NY Times, November 21, 2002
Poet Who Spoke Against Israel Is Reinvited to Talk at Harvard

Citing concerns about freedom of speech, Harvard University’s English department has renewed an invitation to the Irish poet Tom Paulin to give a lecture, just a week after he was disinvited for expressing strongly anti-Israeli views.

The new invitation, approved in a vote on Tuesday night, drew sharply differing responses from faculty members and students at Harvard, which has been troubled by heated debates and demonstrations about Israel in the past year. Some expressed relief, saying the university had crossed the line by disinviting a poet because of his political views. Others were outraged and said the decision would lead to renewed protests.

* * * *

New York Sun, January 27, 2004
Hamas in Florida Classroom
by Daniel Pipes and Asaf Romirowsky

A visiting Palestinian professor at Florida Atlantic University, Mustafa Abu Sway, is “known as an activist” in Hamas, a group on the American government’s terrorism list, we reported in October of 2003. We also disclosed that his salary is being paid by the American taxpayer, via the Fulbright exchange program.

Our little scoop met with yawns or with disbelief. Mr. Abu Sway himself, in an interview with the Palm Beach Post, denounced our article as a “witch hunt.” Florida Atlantic University ignored the disclosure: “We have no reason to take any action,” the university’s president told the Post, a paper that published four skeptical responses, including an editorial insisting that “there is no known evidence” against Mr. Abu Sway.

Actually, being named as “a known activist” in Hamas by the Israeli government — who knows terrorism better ? — qualifies in itself as “evidence,” but since October we have learned that Mr. Abu Sway also, according to Israeli sources.

* * * *

Berkeley Daily Planet Tuesday May 25, 2004
UC Lecturer’s ‘Intifada’ Comment Brings Death Threats

A recent speech delivered by a UC Berkeley lecturer during an impromptu anti-war protest in San Francisco has set off a firestorm of criticism around the country, including death threats and calls for his removal from the university.

The speech, given by Hatem Bazian of UC’s Near Eastern Studies Department, at one point noted the intifada in Palestine and uprising in Iraq and then asked the crowd why the U.S. has not had its own political intifada to protest the lies U.S. government has used to lead this country to war.

Critics took offense with his use of the word “intifada” and are claiming Bazian could be calling for an armed uprising like the ones in Iraq and Palestine. In Arabic, Intifada comes from a root word which means “shaking off,” but the word has come to be associated with the armed Palestinian struggle against Israel.

* * * *

NY Sun, October 22, 2004
Rep. Weiner Asks Columbia to Fire Anti-Israel Prof
By JACOB GERSHMAN, Staff Reporter of the Sun

A congressman from New York City is calling for the dismissal of a Columbia University professor he accuses of “displays of anti-Semitism.”

Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat of Brooklyn and Queens, has written a letter to Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, urging him to “fire” Joseph Massad, an assistant professor of Arab politics and one of the harshest critics of Israel on campus.

* * * *

NY Sun, November 22, 2004
Professor Fearful of Attack
By JACOB GERSHMAN, Staff Reporter of the Sun

After receiving an e-mail from a Columbia University graduate student accusing him of anti-Semitism, the chairman of Columbia’s Department of Middle East and Asian languages and cultures told university officials he felt physically threatened by the student and urged them to alert school security.

Columbia’s provost, Alan Brinkley, told the professor, Hamid Dabashi, he was overreacting, and declined to notify security about the letter from the student, according to an e-mail obtained by The New York Sun.

Mr. Dabashi, whose department at Columbia has come under public scrutiny for its promotion of anti-Israel sentiment and its alleged harassment of Jewish students, was responding to an e-mail he received in late September from Victor Luria, a Ph.D. student who works in a Columbia genetics lab.

* * * *

NY Times, February 28, 2005
Some Limits on Speech in Classrooms

WHILE Columbia University struggles to find the line between academic freedom and unacceptable classroom behavior, the city’s Department of Education has found a facile but provocative solution: banish the guy.

Earlier this month, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein barred Rashid Khalidi, director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute, from again lecturing to city teachers enrolled in a professional development course because of “a number of things he’s said in the past,” said Michael Best, the department’s general counsel. Asked if the department had verified those purported remarks, Mr. Best did not answer directly: “He’s denied saying certain things; he has not denied saying others.”

Set against the backdrop of a simmering campus dispute over Jewish students’ charges of intimidation by pro-Palestinian teachers, the Khalidi affair has inevitably been linked to the larger controversy. “In this feeding frenzy for finding culprits, he sort of got lumped in with others, and it’s been unfair to him,” said Ari L. Goldman, dean of students at Columbia’s journalism school.

* * * *

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
No 3, 1 September 2005, 27 Av 5765
Faculty Efforts to Combat Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israeli Bias at the University of California, Santa Cruz
By Leila Beckwith, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, and Ilan Benjamin

The University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC), founded in 1965, is one of the ten campuses of the University of California, a public institution. The attractive campus is situated on two thousand acres of hills and redwood forests overlooking Monterey Bay. Fifteen thousand students attend, of whom about 20 percent are Jewish, the highest proportion of Jewish students among all the UC campuses.1

Nevertheless, UCSC is home to a great deal of virulent anti-Israeli rhetoric, which creates an intimidating environment for many Jews on campus. Although such hostility can be found at many other universities, what is unique at UCSC is that the animus is not directed by the usual sources, such as well-funded Muslim student groups2 or faculty in a Middle East studies program.3 In fact, the UCSC Muslim Student Alliance is not very active; nor are other pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli student groups such as the Committee for Justice in Palestine. And while there is a Jewish studies program, there is none for Middle East studies, and no known Arab/Muslim funding of university faculty or activities. Instead, at UCSC the anti-Israeli sentiment is primarily generated by a leftist faculty scattered throughout the university’s academic units.

May 5, 2015

Baathist secularism? In response to Gary Leupp

Filed under: Islamophobia,Syria — louisproyect @ 1:44 pm

Gary Leupp

Dr. Gary Leupp,

Ordinarily I don’t pay attention to Baathist propagandists but your CounterPunch article today was so over the top and so screaming out for a rebuttal that I decided to take a few minutes to respond. I can only say that as a tenured professor at Tufts University, you show a blatant disregard for serious and thoughtful analysis based on the facts–probably a function of a hangover from your youthful Maoist past.

Your article relies heavily on the word of one Brad Hoff, an ex-Marine who is the editor of something called LevantReport.org that tells its readers that the “Arab Spring” was a myth and that it was really a secret plot by Washington to foster al-Qaeda type groups in the Middle East. Well, well.

Hoff’s article is an unabashed defense of the “good old days” in Syria when he was able to see “mostly unveiled women wearing European fashions and sporting bright makeup — many of them wearing blue jeans and tight fitting clothes that would be commonplace in American shopping malls on a summer day.” He also was impressed with the “number of restaurant bars and alcohol kiosks clustered around the many city squares” and his ability to “get two varieties of Syrian-made beer, or a few international selections like Heineken or Amstel, with relative ease.” Frankly, this sounds like the sort of item one would read in the Sunday NY Times Travel section but let’s leave it at that.

Once you get past the babes and booze nostalgia, you offer up the Leupp history of the Middle East that is basically a sort of mish-mosh of Bill Maher and vulgar Marxism with repeated denunciations of Washington’s opposition to “secularist” governments in Iraq and Syria. It can all be reduced to your “what if” question: “What if a series of U.S. administrations (influenced to say the least by Israel and its powerful Lobby) hadn’t come to view Baathism as a greater enemy than Islamic fanaticism?”

What you don’t seem to grasp is that both Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad were not quite the secularists you make them out to be. In 1993 Iraq embarked on something called “The Return to Faith Campaign” that promoted Islamic fundamentalism–this was long before George W. Bush’s invasion. As wikipedia reports, “The selling and consumption of alcohol was curtailed by the state” and “Prostitution was deemed illegal and punishable by death.” The Fedayeen Saddam, Iraq’s morality police, were infamous for beheading prostitutes.

So much for the babes and booze in the good old days.

Syria was about the same. Statistically speaking, Hafez al-Assad and his homicidal ophthalmologist son built more mosques than cultural centers, cinemas, and theaters. This is not to speak of the homicidal son releasing the men from prison who would go on to form the backbone of the jihadist militias that are terrorizing Christians and anybody else with a fondness for babes and booze.

I hope that this helps clarify your understanding.

February 5, 2015

Thistle and the Drone

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,indigenous,Islam,Islamophobia,war — louisproyect @ 5:02 pm

This review appeared originally in Critical Muslim #10 under the title “Tribal Islam”, which is useful as a way of explaining what is largely missing from the analysis of the Taliban, Boko Haram, and other Islamist armed groups, namely their tribal origins. Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam” is required reading for anybody trying to understand the deeper roots of such groups, particularly those who trying to develop a Marxist analysis. Akbar Ahmed is a mainstream social scientist but his research is first-rate.

We live in a period of such mounting Islamophobia that it became possible for Rush Limbaugh, one of the most venomous rightwingers in the U.S., to make common cause with Global Research, a website that describes itself as a “major news source on the New World Order and Washington’s ‘war on terrorism’”. Not long after the Sarin gas attack on the people of East Ghouta, Global Research became a hub of pro-Baathist propaganda blaming “jihadists” for a “false flag” operation. Limbaugh, who claims that there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim”, touted a Global Research “false flag” article on his radio show demonstrating that when it comes to Islamophobia the left and right can easily join hands.

Therefore the arrival of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam” is most auspicious. It puts a human face on the most vilified segment of the world’s population, the “extremist” with his sharia courts, his “backwardness”, his violence, and his resistance to modernization. The central goal of Ahmed’s study is to subject the accepted wisdom of the punditry on both the left and right, which often descends into Limbaugh-style stereotyping, to a critique based on his long experience as an administrator in Waziristan, a hotbed of Islamic tribal “extremism”, and as a trained anthropologist. Reading “The Thistle and the Drone” can only be described as opening a window and letting fresh air and sunlight into a dank and fetid sickroom.

The drone in the title needs no explanation except for Ahmed’s pointed reference to Obama wisecracking at a press conference. If the Jonas Brothers, a pop music sensation, got too close to his daughters at a White House visit, he had two words for them: “predator drone”.

The thistle required more explanation. We learn that this is a reference to a passage in Tolstoy’s neglected novel “Hadji Murad” that takes the side of a Muslim tribal leader against the Czarist military campaign to stamp out resistance to Great Russian domination. Considering Putin’s genocidal war on the Chechens and his support for Bashar al-Assad’s onslaught against his own countrymen, not much has changed since the 19th century. The narrator in Tolstoy’s novel attempted to pluck a thistle for its beauty but was ultimately thwarted by its prickly stalk, a perfect metaphor for the experience of trying to subdue proud and independent peoples living in inhospitable desert or mountainous regions.

Although some anthropologists consider the word “tribal” retrograde and/or imprecise, one would never confuse Ahmed with the colonial-minded social scientist that used it as a way of denigrating “backward” peoples. For Ahmed, the qualities of tribal peoples are to be admired even if some of their behavior is negative. Most of all, they are paragons of true democracy resting on the “consent of the governed”. Their love of freedom inevitably leads them to conflict with state-based powers anxious to assimilate everybody living within their borders to a model of obedience to approved social norms.

While tribal peoples everywhere come into conflict with those trying to impose their will on them, it is only with Islamic tribal peoples that global geopolitics gets drawn into the equation. “The Thistle in the Drone” consists of case studies in which the goal is to disaggregate Islam from tribal norms. For example, despite the fact that the Quran has strict rules against suicide and the murder of noncombatants, tribal peoples fighting under the banner of Islam have often resorted to such measures, especially on the key date of September 11, 2001. In an eye-opening examination of those events, Ahmed proves that a Yemeni tribe acting on the imperative to extract revenge was much more relevant than Wahabi beliefs. While most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi, their origins were in a Yemeni tribe that traced its bloodlines back to the prophet Mohammad. And more to the point, they were determined to wreak vengeance against the superpower that had been complicit in the murderous attack on their tribesmen in Yemen, an element of the 9/11 attacks that has finally been given the attention it deserves.

In chapter three, titled “Bin Laden’s Dilemma: Balancing Tribal and Islamic Identity”, we learn that the al-Qaeda leader admitted to an interviewer that the 9/11 attacks were not sanctioned by the Quran but based on a need to “get even”: ”We treat others like they treat us. Those who kill our women and our innocent, we kill their women and innocent, until they stop from doing so.” As someone who has studied Native American tribes for some two decades, this has a very familiar ring. The Comanches, the Sioux, and the Apache lived by this credo. While they were always loyal to their own clans and treated outsiders with hospitality if they came in good faith, woe betide the aggressor who took the life of a fellow tribesman.

Ahmed elaborates on the connection between American Indians and Muslim tribal peoples in chapter six titled “How to Win the War on Terror”, citing Benjamin Franklin who saw the tribes of the Northeast as paragons of democracy and freedom:

The Indian Men, when young, are Hunters and Warriors; when old, Counselors; for all their Government is by Counsel, or Advice, of the sages; there is no Force, there are no Prisons, no Officers to compel Obedience, or inflict punishment. Hence they generally study Oratory; the best speaker having the most Influence. The Indian Women till the Ground, dress the Food, nurse and bring up the Children, and preserve and hand down to posterity the Memory of Public Transactions. These Employments of Men and Women are accounted natural and honorable. Having few Artificial Wants, they have abundance of Leisure for Improvement by Conversation. Our laborious manner of Life, compared with theirs, they esteem slavish and base; and the Learning, on which we value ourselves, they regard as frivolous and useless.

Unfortunately, this is where I have to part company with Akbar Ahmed’s analysis since he gives far too much credit to the founders of the American republic whose treatment of the tribal peoples might ostensibly serve as a guide to Pakistan’s relations with the Pakhtun in Waziristan. Despite the respect that Franklin held for native peoples, the behavior of the American industrialists and plantation owners that followed him were governed by the need to safeguard private property. The American Indian was simply not allowed to live as hunters in the Great Plains as they had in the past since cattle generated far more profit than the free roaming Bison.

Even on the basis of words, there were problems indicated early on. Ahmed cites Thomas Jefferson favorably as arguing against “an augmentation of military force proportioned to our extension of frontier.” However, this is the same Thomas Jefferson who proposed removal of the Cherokee Indians from the Southeast to west of the Mississippi, a policy finally carried by Andrew Jackson in the “trail of tears”. To show that he meant business, Jefferson told Secretary of War General Henry Dearborn “if we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe, we will never lay it down until that tribe is exterminated, or driven beyond the Mississippi.”

To a large extent, Ahmed’s hope that the White House can be persuaded of the counter-productiveness of drone attacks rests on a view of American history much more in accord with its rulers’ self-portrait than Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States”. Ahmed details his meetings with both the Bush administration and Obama’s on how to deal with terrorism, an invitation that would only be extended to someone who tends toward an “inside the beltway” perspective. No matter the limitations of such an outlook, the world would certainly be better off if the Obama administration adopted his proposals on a wholesale basis. For that matter, it would also be far better off if Obama’s campaign promises going back to 2008 had been adopted, promises that convinced some that the Islamophobia of years past would be abandoned. Those hopes now seem vain, especially with the White House’s indifference to the overthrow of the Morsi government in Egypt and Bashar al-Assad’s ongoing murderous attacks on Syrian neighborhoods in the name of defeating “extremists”.

“The Thistle and the Drone” is not only a stunning analysis that will allow you to see the “war on terror” in a new way; it will also have lasting value as a reference book that can be drawn upon for its scholarly citations and baseline for considering “trouble spots” like Somalia, Mali, and Libya. As someone who has more than a glancing familiarity with these nations, Ahmed’s book went a long way to clearing away the lingering fog.

My interest in Somalia and Mali was heightened by the need to provide some historical background on two films (I am a long-time critic whose reviews appear on Rotten Tomatoes website). The first was “Captain Phillips”, a narrative film based on Somali pirates seizing a cargo ship. My research persuaded me that the stiffest resistance to the pirates came from the Islamic Sharia Courts that saw such crimes as “haram”, or against Islam. It was this Islamic coalition that America and its Ethiopian and Kenyan allies were determined to crush as part of the war on terror. The second film was “Behind the Blue Veil”, a documentary on the Tuareg who have been in a struggle with the Malian state. They are regarded as a jihadist threat rather than a proud people asserting tribal claims for sovereignty and demanding social and economic justice.

Despite Ahmed’s admiration for tribal values, he is no romantic when it comes to Somalia’s clans that he blames for most of the country’s recent troubles. Under Siad Barre’s “socialist” dictatorship, all expressions of tribal identity were suppressed. As was the case with Libya’s Gaddafi, the centralizing state was for all practical purposes the instrument of clan rule in and of itself. Siad Barre ruled on behalf of the Darod Marehand subclan and Gaddafi on behalf of the Gadafa, a Western tribe that tried to bring the Benghazi-based Cyrenaica tribe under its thumb.

The implosion of clan-based warlordism led Islamists to seize power in Somalia in a manner reminiscent of the Taliban in Afghanistan. After the Sharia Court government was toppled by the West and its African allies, the struggle took an even sharper Islamist turn under the auspices of Al Shabab (“the youth”), a group that was responsible for the terrorist attack on a Kenya shopping mall in September 2013.

Since Washington regards Al Shabab as an al-Qaeda affiliate, it has deployed drone attacks at them, often victimizing innocent herdsmen. Like Afghanistan, Somalia seems destined to be part of a senseless “war on terrorism” when the only real solution to its problems—a Sharia based government willing and able to resolve contradictions between its rival clans—had been eliminated.

Mali threatens to become another example of unceasing warfare against a jihadist threat with the Tuareg serving as victims of an American crusade incapable of making critical distinctions between genuine enemies and those unfortunate enough to be wrongly perceived as such. No other people are less deserving of this treatment than the Tuareg, who, like the Kurds, were victims of circumstances far too frequent in Sub-Saharan Africa. French and English colonialism left behind states that did not map to the traditional tribal structures. Furthermore, if you belonged to a tribe that straddled multiple state entities, you were powerless to defend your interests as a people. Regarded by the state of Mali as bothersome nomads, the Tuareg were forced to rely on themselves and their heterodox Islamic beliefs in which the men wore the veils and the women bright and colorful garments.

The French were determined to assimilate the Tuaregs as farmers, something that was as inimical to their values as it was to the Sioux and the Comanches. When Mali gained independence, the drive to assimilate kept apace. The military rulers banned the Tuareg language just as the Kemalists would ban the Kurdish language. In all of these postcolonial states, there was a tragic and unnecessary urge to follow in the footsteps of the colonizer. If you were Islamic in your beliefs and lived according to thousand-year-old tribal norms, your suffering was magnified when you were unfortunate enough to live within the borders of a “modernizing” non-Islamic state like the USSR. Stalinist oppression of its Caucasian Islamic citizens went to genocidal extremes.

The government of Mali was determined to bring the nomads under control, from poisoning their wells to killing their herds. After many years of suffering and neglect, the Tuaregs rose up against their oppressor. In early 2012 the Tuaregs took control of a vast region of northern Mali the size of France. Viewing the Malian state as a firm defender of “law and order”, the U.S. attempted to aid its troops with C-130 transports of arms and supplies. There are two main Tuareg rebel forces in the area, one carrying the banner of tribalism and the other al-Qaeda’s Black Flag. There are worrisome signs that Washington lacks the capability to distinguish between the two. It has called upon the Algerian government to provide military aid to Mali in the name of fighting al-Qaeda but it is likely that the bullets will be fired at Tuaregs whatever banner they carry. The Algerians have been merciless against the Berbers, the Tuareg’s northern cousins, so one must regard any alliance between Mali and Algeria as inimical to the rights of Islamic tribesmen once again.

Let me conclude with some thoughts on Libya, which should not be construed as a criticism of Ahmed’s research. Since I lack his expertise and those of the research team that worked under his direction, I only offer this in the same way that I would pose a question to a speaker at a conference who has just delivered a powerful and informative lecture.

“The Thistle and the Drone” treats Libya almost as an example of a clan-divided society after the fashion of Somalia. But I have been under the impression that such tribalism has always been exaggerated. In an interview I conducted with a young Libyan who took part in the rebellion, I was assured that there are no real tribes in Libya now. He claims that he has no idea what tribe he belongs to and that population flows from one city to another has largely eroded tribal society, mostly through unforced assimilation.

However, there are still centripetal tendencies in Libya that threaten the country’s future. Are they tribal? Can a modernizing state based on the will of all its citizens be created in a timely enough fashion to preempt a Somalia type evolution? A lot rests on such an outcome and one can only hope that scholars like Akbar Ahmed can help provide the insights necessary to help move the struggle forward.

January 16, 2015

Voltaire versus Mohammad

Filed under: Charlie Hebdo,Islamophobia — louisproyect @ 9:27 pm

One of the things heard frequently in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack was Voltaire’s “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, a precept that seems consistent with the Enlightenment even if the words were written by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her 1906 “Friends of Voltaire”.

Not long after Voltaire’s name began to be bandied about, some people began to point out that this exemplar of Western Civilization might not be as enlightened as he was cracked up to be, especially when it came to the Jews. Blogger Scott Long was one of them:

Charlie Hebdo, the New Yorker now claims, “followed in the tradition of Voltaire.” Voltaire stands as the god of satire; any godless Frenchman with a bon mot is measured against him. Everyone remembers his diatribes against the power of the Catholic Church: Écrasez l’Infâme! But what’s often conveniently omitted amid the adulation of his wit is how Voltaire loathed a powerless religion, the outsiders of his own era, the “medieval,” “barbaric” immigrant minority that afflicted Europe: the Jews.

Voltaire’s anti-Semitism was comprehensive. In its contempt for the putatively “primitive,” it anticipates much that is said about Muslims in Europe and the US today. “The Jews never were natural philosophers, nor geometricians, nor astronomers,” Voltaire declared. That would do head Islamophobe Richard Dawkins proud:

The Jews, Voltaire wrote, are “only an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched.” When some American right-wing yahoo calls Muslims “goatfuckers,” you might think he’s reciting old Appalachian invective. In fact, he’s repeating Voltaire’s jokes about the Jews. “You assert that your mothers had no commerce with he-goats, nor your fathers with she-goats,” Voltaire demanded of them. “But pray, gentlemen, why are you the only people upon earth whose laws have forbidden such commerce? Would any legislator ever have thought of promulgating this extraordinary law if the offence had not been common?”

In doing some further research on Voltaire, starting with the indispensible Wikipedia, I learned that he more than anticipates much that is being said about Muslims today. Nearly three centuries ago he said the same sort of thing that you can hear on Fox News on the right and Bill Maher on the “left”.

In 1736 Voltaire wrote a play titled “Mahomet” that oozes Islamophobia. After reading it online, I feel as if I have been locked in a room for three hours and forced to listen to Bill O’Reilly out of my right ear and Richard Dawkins out of my left.

It is a strange play with Oedipal overtones. The four main characters are Mohammad (spelled Mahomet), his mortal enemy Zopir, the sheikh of Mecca, and a young man and woman named Seid and Palmira, who are Mohammad’s slaves. Unbeknownst to each other, Seid and Palmira are brother and sister and the long lost children of Zopir. Since they have the hots for each other, the shadow of incest hangs over them.

Mohammad covets Mecca, a city-state that he plans to conquer. He also covets Palmira, who he wants to conquer in bed. To kill two birds with one stone, he riles up Seid with a bunch of radical Islamic rhetoric in order to motivate him to go on a suicide mission to kill Zopir. With Zopir out of the way, Mecca like Palmira will below-hanging fruit ripe for the taking. Of course, none of this happened in history but why let that stand in the way?

You only get one act of the play reproduced on Google Books but it does contain the letters Voltaire wrote to Frederick the Great and Pope Benedict XIV, two shining lights of the Enlightenment. Frederick the Great was totally into the whole Enlightenment thing even though he made an exception for the Poles as Wikipedia reports: He passionately hated everything associated with Poland, while justifying his hatred with ideas of Enlightenment. He described Poles as “slovenly Polish trash”. As far as I know, he did not employ a court artist to put his ideas about the Poles into a pictorial form.

Pope Benedict XIV appeared to be a pretty enlightened soul as well, devoted to science and the arts. To his credit, he issued a Papal bull against the enslavement of indigenous peoples in the Americas but somehow left Africans out of the equation. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

Voltaire advised Frederick the Great: “Why may we not go back to the histories of those ancient ruffians, the illustrious founders of superstition and fanaticism, who first carried the sword to the altar to sacrifice all those who refused to embrace their doctrines?”

In his letter to the Pope Voltaire seems to have forgotten what Diderot, his Enlightenment co-thinker, once said or at least was attributed to have said: “The world will never truly be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” Nothing about entrails in this 1747 letter to his Holiness:

Most blessed Father—

Your holiness will pardon the liberty taken by one of the lowest of the faithful, though a zealous admirer of virtue, of submitting to the head of the true religion this performance, written in opposition to the founder of a false and barbarous sect. To whom could I with more propriety inscribe a satire on the cruelty and errors of a false prophet, than to the vicar and representative of a God of truth and mercy? Your holiness will therefore give me leave to lay at your feet both the piece and the author of it, and humbly to request your protection of the one, and your benediction upon the other; in hopes of which, with the profoundest reverence, I kiss your sacred feet.

Despite this business about feet kissing, some scholars view “Mahomet” as really targeting the Church. In other words, he like Charlie Hebdo was an equal-opportunity offender even if you sort of had to squint to see the message.

Probably inspired by the 2005 publication of the Jyllands-Posten Mohammad cartoons, some freethinking souls decided to mount a production of “Mahomet” in Saint-Genis-Pouilly, France. The socialist mayor resisted local Muslim objections and allowed the show to go on as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported:

The production quickly stirred up passions that echoed the cartoon uproar. “This play … constitutes an insult to the entire Muslim community,” said a letter to the mayor of Saint-Genis-Pouilly, signed by Said Akhrouf, a French-born cafe owner of Moroccan descent and three other Islamic activists representing Muslim associations. They demanded the performance be cancelled.

Instead, Mayor Hubert Bertrand called in police reinforcements to protect the theater. On the night of the December reading, a small riot broke out involving several dozen people and youths who set fire to a car and garbage cans. It was “the most excitement we’ve ever had down here,” says the socialist mayor.

Yes, just what the French need, some excitement to accompany the excitement going on in Iraq at the time.

I imagine that local residents of the sort that would be demanding French Muslims to disavow the terrorist attack and to get with the program might have stood on their feet and given the play a standing ovation. Where else could you find a character like Mahomet who was just as violent and totalitarian on stage as he was in the Danish cartoon that showed him with a bomb in his turban? Voltaire put these words in his mouth in Act V with a clear intention to turn him into demon:

Beneath a nobler yoke I mean to bend
The prostrate world, and change their feeble laws,
Abolish their false worship, pull down
Their powerless go., and on my purer faith
Found universal empire: say not Zopir,
That whom betrays his country, no:
I mean but to destroy its weak supports,
And banishing idolatry, unite it
Beneath one king, one prophet, and one God:
! shall subdue it but to make it glorious.

At least one Frenchman saw through this Islamophobic bullshit. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte and this is what he thought, according to a biographer:

Mahomet was the subject of deep criticism. “Voltaire,” said the Emperor, “in the character and conduct of his hero, has departed both from nature and history. He has degraded Mahomet, by making him descend to the lowest intrigues. He has represented a great man, who changed the face of the world, acting like a scoundrel, worthy of the gallows. He has no less absurdly travestied the character of Omar, which he has drawn like that of a cut-throat in a melodrama.”

Too bad we don’t have any bourgeois politicians today with Napoleon’s guts.

January 13, 2015

Charlie Hebdo ‘not racist’? If you say so

Filed under: Islamophobia — louisproyect @ 2:11 pm


Charlie Hebdo ‘not racist’? If you say so. posted by Richard Seymour

I’m going to publish a number of English language translations of French articles on the background to Charlie Hebdo controversies for those who wish to follow it.  The first few are from the publication Les Mots Sont Importants.  Thanks immensely to Daphne Lawless for the translations.

Charlie Hebdo”, not racist? If you say so…

Thursday 5 December 2013

by Olivier Cyran

translated by Daphne Lawless

He worked there from 1992 to 2001, before walking out, angered by “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of a certain Philippe Val [former CH editor – trans.] Since then, Olivier Cyran has been an observer from a distance, outside the walls, of the evolution of Charlie Hebdo and its growing obsession with Islam. He went over this long-term drift on the occasion of an opinion piece in Le Monde, signed by Charb [Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the cartoonists murdered in January 2015 – trans.] and Fabrice Nicolino.

Postscript 11 January 2015: to all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.


Dear Charb and Fabrice Nicolino,

“We hope that those who claim, and will claim tomorrow, that Charlie is racist, will at least have the courage to say it out loud and under their real name. We’ll know how to respond.” Reading this rant at the end of your opinion piece in Le Monde[1], as if to say “come say it to our face if you’re a real man”, I felt something rising within me, like a craving to go back to fighting in the school playground. Yet it wasn’t me being called out. Which upright citizens you hope to convince, moreover, is a mystery. For a good long while, many people have been saying “out loud” and “under their real name” what they think about your magazine and the effluent flowing out of it, without any one of you being bothered to answer them or to shake their little fists.

And so Le Monde has charitably opened their laundry service to you, for an express steam-cleaning of your rumpled honour. To hear you talk, it was urgent: you couldn’t even go out in Paris without a taxi driver treating you like racists and leaving you helpless on the footpath. I understand your annoyance, but why did you have to go give yourself another black eye in a different publication than your own? Don’t Charlie Hebdo, its website and its publishing house give you space to express yourself to your heart’s content? You invoke “Charlie’s” glorious heritage of the 60s and 70s, when it was political censorship and not haunting disrepute that gave your magazine something to worry about. But I doubt that, at the time, writers like Cavanna or Choron would have asked for help from the posh press to make themselves respectable.

If it also occurred to me, in the past, to scribble out some furious lines in reaction to some of your exploits, I never dwelled on the subject. Doubtless I would not have had the patience or the stoutness of heart to follow, week after week, the distressing transformation which took over your team after the events of September 11, 2001. I was no longer part of Charlie Hebdo when the suicide planes made their impact on your editorial line, but the Islamophobic neurosis which bit by bit took over your pages from that day on affected me personally, as it ruined the memory of the good moments I spent on the magazine during the 1990s. The devastating laughter of “Charlie” which I had loved to hear now sounded in my ears like the laugh of a happy idiot getting his cock out at the checkout counter, or of a pig rolling in its own shit. And yet, I never called your magazine racist. But since today you are proclaiming, high and loud, your stainless and irreproachable anti-racism, maybe it’s now the right moment to seriously consider the question.

Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslimworld”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.

Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror”  than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists[2]. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”[3]. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamoleftists”.

read full article at Lenin’s Tomb

January 10, 2015

Representing Mohammad

Filed under: Islamophobia — louisproyect @ 5:31 pm

Mohammad in a painting from the Topkapi museum in Istanbul

Among the many articles on Charlie Hebdo defending Western Civilization and the Enlightenment, especially the Voltairean precept (that he never actually stated) “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, it was inevitable to find some that debunked the notion that Islam banned pictorial representation of Mohammad.

For example Newsweek published an article titled “The Koran Does Not Forbid Images of the Prophet” that states:

Over the past seven centuries, a variety of historical and poetic texts largely produced in Turkish and Persian spheres—both Sunni and Shiite—include beautiful depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. These many images were not only meant to praise and commemorate the Prophet; they also served as occasions and centerpieces for Muslim devotional practice, much like celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday (Mawlid) and visitations to his tomb in Medina.

Author Christiane Gruber has the credentials to back up her claims, as the accompanying note indicates. She is “associate professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Michigan. Her primary field of research is Islamic book arts, paintings of the Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic ascension texts and images, about which she has written two books and edited a volume of articles.”

Now there are those with more of an axe to grind who invoke the same arguments. Nick Gillespie, the execrable editor of the Koch brothers funded Reason magazine, alludes to the same history but makes sure to line up on the right side of the clash of civilizations question while he is at it:

Especially as the radical elements of Islam become violent and desperate in their attempts to engender Ummah, it’s important to stress that their interpretations are one among many and anything but universal. At least since the 9/11 attacks, an ongoing query in America and the West more broadly has been, “Where are the moderate Muslims?” They’re out there, for sure, and we’d all be better off creating a dialogue in which the anti-modernity Islamists are recognized as a common enemy.

Actually, for many of us the real question post-9/11 has been “Where are the moderate Westerners?” As is so often the case when individual terrorism is put under a magnifying glass, state terrorism goes by the wayside. By definition, state terrorism is pardoned since it is seen as a purely defensive measure. Without our Cruise missiles or drones, the jihadists would be an even greater danger. Like LBJ telling the American people in 1967 that we invaded Vietnam to stop the spread of Communism, we were “forced” to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq to protect the homeland. This was exactly the scenario that Orwell described in “1984”, making war to preserve the peace.

It was exactly in such a charged geopolitical environment that the question of representing Mohammad became one of war and peace, and life and death. The real struggle was not over artistic freedom but how to protect the right of artists to serve as ideological combatants in the “war on terror”.

On September 30, 2005 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (The Jutland Post, the country’s largest circulation newspaper) published cartoons of Mohammad that were really at the root of the Charlie Hebdo killings. Unlike the respectful images alluded to in Gruber’s article, these were designed to draw blood. The most infamous of them depicted Mohammad with a bomb in his turban:

Protests across the Muslim world led to 200 deaths. For much of the Islamophobic right and their liberal allies such as Bill Maher, the cartoons were seen as courageous truth-telling exercises akin to Honoré Daumier or Thomas Nast. But for most Muslims, it would be hard to distinguish them from the overall propaganda machine operating on behalf of George W. Bush’s new crusade, especially if you looked hard at the Danish role in making it possible.

At the time Anders Fogh Rasmussen was Denmark’s Prime Minister. Rasmussen was one of the first European heads of state to go nativist, well in advance of Le Pen, Farage et al. To enact tough anti-immigration laws that were hostile to asylum seekers, he relied on the support of the Danish People’s Party, a white nationalist outfit with affinities to the French National Front, Golden Dawn and the rest of the neofascist parties that are determined to cleanse Europe of its darker-skinned Muslim immigrants, legal or illegal.

Rasmussen was also a strong supporter of Bush’s war in Iraq. In defending his decision to send Danish troops to Iraq, he stated: “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. This is not something we think. We know it.”

It was against a backdrop of nativist opposition to mostly Muslim peoples at home and imperialist aggression against their brothers and sisters abroad that the Jyllands-Posten cartoons must be seen.

Editor Flemming Rose was the mastermind of this project. He felt that self-censorship existed in Denmark and wanted to challenge it by publishing “daring” cartoons. On February 19, 2006 he wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post titled “Why I Published Those Cartoons” that makes him sound virtually Islamophilic:

We have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.

How nice. Making Muslims feel part of his society. Under Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the number of immigrants being accepted for political asylum declined by 84 percent. That sounds pretty exclusionary to me.

Eventually Rose toured the USA in order to interview people on his wavelength, including Francis Fukuyama, Bill Kristol, Richard Perle, and Bernard Lewis. Birds of a feather, I guess. He also found time to sit down with Nick Gillespie’s Reason Magazine in 2007. Interviewed by Michael Moynihan, a creature as oleaginous as Gillespie, Rose charged the left with being soft on Islam, a charge being raised once again in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings:

Moynihan: Were you surprised by the reaction of those who argued not for unfettered free speech, but “responsible speech?”

Rose: Well, no. I think many people betrayed their own ideals. The history of the left, for instance, is a history of confronting authority—be it religious or political authority—and always challenging religious symbols and figures. In this case, they failed miserably. I think the left is in a deep crisis in Europe because of their lack of willingness to confront the racist ideology of Islamism. They somehow view the Koran as a new version of Das Kapital and are willing to ignore everything else, as long of they continue to see the Muslims of Europe as a new proletariat.

If you were paying close attention to the charges being leveled against the antiwar movement in 2007, this will ring a bell. Nick Cohen, Oliver Kamm, David Aaronovitch, and Johann Hari were all accusing the British SWP, which at the time was spearheading the Stop the War Coalition, of trying to fuse with radical Islamists.

In fact the entire world was polarized around the “clash of civilizations” in this period, so much so that nearly every jihadist would have been reacting to it even if frequently being unable to articulate it.

In 2005, the year prior to the Danish cartoons being published, the French police arrested Chérif Kouachi for trying to join the guerrillas fighting American occupation alongside his comrade Thamer Bouchnak, a Tunisian-Frenchman. The two were reportedly united by their hatred for the war in Iraq. The photos of torture from Abu Ghraib prison angered them particularly.

I would say it was those photos that are the real images that led to the Charlie Hebdo killings. If American imperialism had not decided to invade a nation, divide it along sectarian lines, kill hundreds of thousands of its citizens, torture its captives, mock its religious figures, and then once the war ended continued to make war against Sunni tribesmen all around the world through drones, maybe things wouldn’t have reached the state they did.

In any case, the only true path to peace is one in which Arabs and Muslim peoples are not dominated and exploited by imperialism and their own elites. Yes, I know. That is a Quixotic prospect but anything that falls short of that goal will only cost more innocent lives, even those as wretched as the smug, puerile and racially insensitive cartoonists who think that lampooning Mohammad has anything in common with Daumier or Jonathan Swift.



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