IMF, Loans, Debt, Empire, Control and Lebanon

John Perkins, the economic hitman, discusses what a debt to the IMF means.  Gives an idea of what the announced deal for Lebanon will mean.

 IMF approves $77 million emergency loan for Lebanon

Chomsky on the IMF

But that’s not the way the international system works. If a bank makes a loan to, for example, General Suharto of Indonesia or some Argentinian neo-Nazi, and they know it’s risky, they use high interest rates to get a return on it. The bank makes plenty of money, and the debt stays about where it was. If then at some point Indonesia, Argentina or whoever it is can’t pay the debt, it’s not the bank’s problem because at that point the International Monetary Fund (IMF) steps in. The IMF was described accurately by its American Executive Director as the ‘Credit Community’s Enforcer’. That’s what the IMF is – now what does the IMF do?

Well, money was actually borrowed by General Suharto – the most corrupt dictator of the modern period by far (as estimated by the British organisation Transparency International). He took loans, he enriched himself, he enriched his other friends, and so on. Indonesia can’t pay off its subsequent debt, so who’s supposed to pay it? Poor people in Indonesia are paying for it – they’re subjected to Structural Adjustment Programmes – so they get strangled in order to pay off the loans that they never borrowed in the first place. Meanwhile, what about the rich banker here? Well, you know, he’s not going to accept any risk – he has to be paid off by Northern taxpayers via the IMF, who make sure that the investors and lenders don’t have any problems.

So the system works by the combination of imposing the debt – which they didn’t borrow in the first place – on the poor people of the South primarily, and to a secondary extent on Northern taxpayers. That’s called Third World debt. Why does this scam even exist? There probably is no Third World debt if we adopted just elementary capitalist principles. It’s a power system. And in fact sometimes it’s even worse.

One of the most highly indebted countries in the world is Nicaragua. Its huge debt comes from two sources. The one is the US war against Nicaragua which practically destroyed the country in the 1980s. And the second is the enormous corruption – unbelievable corruption – of the governments that the US instituted in the 1990s, and have been running the place ever since. So between them there’s a huge foreign and also a huge domestic debt. Is that the fault of the people of Nicaragua? What did they have to do with it? They’re the victims.

Continue reading

Try replacing “Nicaragua” with “Lebanon”

More Chomsky on the IMF

Chomsky: attack on Iran and the Lebanese deadlock

The following is an extract from a Chomsky interview.  I recommend reading the full text which can be found here – http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/3999

Shank: How is the political deadlock in Lebanon impacting the U.S. government’s decision to potentially go to war with Iran? Is there a relationship at all?

Chomsky: There’s a relationship. I presume part of the reason for the U.S.-Israel invasion of Lebanon in July—and it is US-Israeli, the Lebanese are correct in calling it that—part of the reason I suppose was that Hezbollah is considered a deterrent to a potential U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran. It had a deterrent capacity, i.e. rockets. And the goal I presume was to wipe out the deterrent so as to free up the United States and Israel for an eventual attack on Iran. That’s at least part of the reason. The official reason given for the invasion can’t be taken seriously for a moment. That’s the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of a couple others. For decades Israel has been capturing, and kidnapping Lebanese and Palestinian refugees on the high seas, from Cyprus to Lebanon, killing them in Lebanon, bringing them to Israel, holding them as hostages. It’s been going on for decades, has anybody called for an invasion of Israel?

Of course Israel doesn’t want any competition in the region. But there’s no principled basis for the massive attack on Lebanon, which was horrendous. In fact, one of the last acts of the U.S.-Israeli invasion, right after the ceasefire was announced before it was implemented, was to saturate much of the south with cluster bombs. There’s no military purpose for that, the war was over, the ceasefire was coming.

UN de-mining groups that are working there say that the scale is unprecedented. It’s much worse than any other place they’ve worked: Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, anywhere. There are supposed to be about one million bomblets left there. A large percentage of them don’t explode until you pick them up, a child picks them up, or a farmer hits it with a hoe or something. So what it does basically is make the south uninhabitable until the mining teams, for which the United States and Israel don’t contribute, clean it up. This is arable land. It means that farmers can’t go back; it means that it may undermine a potential Hezbollah deterrent. They apparently have pretty much withdrawn from the south, according to the UN.

You can’t mention Hezbollah in the U.S. media without putting in the context of “Iranian-supported Hezbollah.” That’s its name. Its name is Iranian-supported Hezbollah. It gets Iranian support. But you can mention Israel without saying US-supported Israel. So this is more tacit propaganda. The idea that Hezbollah is acting as an agent of Iran is very dubious. It’s not accepted by specialists on Iran or specialists on Hezbollah. But it’s the party line. Or sometimes you can put in Syria, i.e. “Syrian-supported Hezbollah,” but since Syria is of less interest now you have to emphasize Iranian support.

Chavez at UN “The world is waking up against American Empire” and he promotes Chomskys book

Video of a Chavez speech at the UN, calling Bush the Devil and claiming the podium still smells of sulpher from Bushes speech the day before.  Well worth a listen.

for more see here http://fanonite.wordpress.com/2006/09/21/it-smells-of-sulphur-here/

Clash of civilizations? Noam Chomsky

On 5 November 2001, Noam Chomsky gave a lecture on ‘Militarism, Democracy and People’s Right to Information’ at a public forum convened by the National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information. During the question-answer session that followed the lecture, Chomsky was asked whether he thought that ‘the present conflict between the Taliban and the US and its allies can be seen as a “clash of civilizations” of the kind expected by Samuel Huntington.’ His response:

 

REMEMBER the context of Huntington’s thesis, the context in which it was put forth. This was after the end of the Cold War. For fifty years, both the US and the Soviet Union had used the pretext of the Cold War as a justification for any atrocities that they wanted to carry out. So if the Russians wanted to send tanks to East Berlin, that was because of the Cold War. And if the US wanted to invade South Vietnam and wipe out Indo-China, that was because of the Cold War. If you look over the history of this period, the pretext had nothing to do with the reasons. The reasons for the atrocities were based in domestic power interests, but the Cold War gave an excuse. Whatever the atrocity carried out, you could say it’s defence against the other side.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pretext is gone. The policies remain the same, with slight changes in tactics, but you need a new pretext. And in fact there’s been a search for pretexts for quite a long time. Actually, it started twenty years ago. When the Reagan Administration came in, it was already pretty clear that appeal to the pretext of the Russian threat was not going to work for very long. So they came into office saying that the focus of their foreign policy would be to combat the plague of international terrorism.

That was twenty years ago. There’s nothing new about this. We have to defend ourselves from other terrorists. And they proceeded to react to that plague by creating the most extraordinary international terrorist network in the world, which carried out massive terror in Central America and Southern Africa and all over the place. In fact, it was so extreme that its actions were even condemned by the World Court and Security Council. With 1989 coming, you needed some new pretexts. This was very explicit. Remember, one of the tasks of intellectuals, the solemn task, is to prevent people from understanding what’s going on. And in order to fulfil that task, you have to ignore the government documentation, for example, which tells you exactly what’s going on. This is a case in point.

 

 

Just to give you one illustration. Every year the White House presents to Congress a statement of why we need a huge military budget. Every year it used to be the same: the Russians are coming. The Russians are coming, so we need this monstrous military budget. The question that anyone who is interested in international affairs should have been asking himself or herself is, what are they going to say in March 1990? That was the first presentation to Congress after the Russians clearly weren’t coming – they were not around any more. So that was a very important and extremely interesting document. And of course, it is not mentioned anywhere, because it’s much too interesting. That was March 1990, the first Bush Administration giving its presentation to Congress.

It was exactly the same as every year. We need a huge military budget. We need massive intervention forces, mostly poised at the Middle East. We have to protect what’s called the ‘defence industrial base’ – that’s a euphemism that means high-tech industry. We have to ensure that the public pays the costs of high-tech industry by funnelling it through the military system under the pretext of defence.

 

 

So it was exactly the same as before. The only difference was the reasons. It turned out that the reasons we needed all this was not because the Russians were coming, but – I’m quoting – because of the ‘technological sophistication of Third World powers.’ That’s why we need the huge military budget. The massive military forces aimed at the Middle East still have to be aimed there, and here comes an interesting phrase. It says, they have to be aimed at the Middle East where ‘the threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.’ In other words, sorry, I’ve been lying to you for fifty years, but now the Kremlin isn’t around any more so I’ve got to tell you the truth: ‘The threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.’

Remember, it couldn’t be laid at Iraq’s door either, because at that time Saddam Hussein was a great friend and ally of the United States. He had already carried out his worst atrocities, like gassing Kurds and everything else, but he remained a fine guy, who hadn’t disobeyed orders yet – the one crime that matters. So nothing could be laid at Iraq’s door, or at the Kremlin’s door.

The real threat, as always, was that the region might take control of its own destiny, including its own resources. And that can’t be tolerated, obviously. So we have to support oppressive states, like Saudi Arabia and others, to make sure that they guarantee that the profits from oil (it’s not so much the oil as the profits from oil) flow to the people who deserve it: rich western energy corporations or the US Treasury Department or Bechtel Construction, and so on. So that’s why we need a huge military budget. Other than that, the story is the same.

What does this have to do with Huntington? Well, he’s a respected intellectual. He can’t say this. He can’t say, look, the method by which the rich run the world is exactly the same as before, and the major confrontation remains what it has always been: small concentrated sectors of wealth and power versus everybody else. You can’t say that. And in fact if you look at those passages on the clash of civilizations, he says that in the future the conflict will not be on economic grounds. So let’s put that out of our minds. You can’t think about rich powers and corporations exploiting people, that can’t be the conflict. It’s got to be something else. So it will be the ‘clash of civilizations’ – the western civilization and Islam and Confucianism.

 

 

Well, you can test that. It’s a strange idea, but you can test it. For example, you can test it by asking how the United States, the leader of the western civilization, has reacted to Islamic fundamentalists. Well, the answer is, it’s been their leading supporter. For instance, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist state in the world at that time was Saudi Arabia. Maybe it has been succeeded by the Taliban, but that’s an offshoot of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism.

Saudi Arabia has been a client of the United States since its origins. And the reason is that it plays the right role. It ensures that the wealth of the region goes to the right people: not people in the slums of Cairo, but people in executive suites in New York. And as long as they do that, Saudi Arabian leaders can treat women as awfully as they want, they can be the most extreme fundamentalists in existence, and they’re just fine. That’s the most extreme fundamentalist state in the world.

What is the biggest Muslim state in the world? Indonesia. And what’s the relation between the United States and Indonesia? Well, actually the United States was hostile to Indonesia until 1965. That’s because Indonesia was part of the nonaligned movement. The United States hated Nehru, despised him in fact, for exactly the same reason. So they despised Indonesia. It was independent. Furthermore, it was a dangerous country because it had one mass-based political party, the PKI, which was a party of the poor, a party of peasants, basically. And it was gaining power through the open democratic system, therefore it had to be stopped.

 

 

The US tried to stop it in 1958 by supporting a rebellion. That failed. They then started supporting the Indonesian Army, and in 1965 the army carried out a coup, led by General Suharto. They carried out a huge massacre of hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people (mostly landless peasants), and wiped out the only mass-based party. This led to unrestrained euphoria in the West. The United States, Britain, Australia – it was such a glorious event that they couldn’t control themselves.

The headlines were, ‘A gleam of light in Asia’, ‘A hope where there once was none’, ‘The Indonesian moderates have carried out a boiling bloodbath’. I mean, they didn’t conceal what happened – ‘Staggering mass slaughter’, ‘The greatest event in history’. The CIA compared it to the massacres of Stalin and Hitler, and that was wonderful. And ever since that time, Indonesia became a favoured ally of the United States.

It continued to have one of the bloodiest records in the late twentieth century (mass murder in East Timor, hideous tortures of dissidents, and so on), but it was fine. It was the biggest Islamic state in the world, but it was just fine. Suharto was ‘our kind of guy’, the way Clinton described him when he visited in the mid-nineties. And he stayed a friend of the United States until he made a mistake. He made a mistake by dragging his feet over IMF orders.

After the Asian crash, the IMF imposed very harsh orders, and Suharto didn’t go along the way he was supposed to. And he also lost control of the society. That’s also a mistake. So at that point the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, gave him a telephone call, and said literally, ‘We think it’s time for a democratic transition.’ Merely by accident, four hours later he abdicated, but Indonesia remained a US favourite.

 

 

These are two of the main Islamic states. What about the extreme Islamic fundamentalist non-state actors, let’s say the Al Qaeda network. Who formed them? They’re the creation of the CIA, British intelligence, Saudi Arabian funding, Egypt and so on. They brought the most extreme radical fundamentalists they could find anywhere, in North Africa or the Middle East, and trained them, armed them, nurtured them to harass the Russians – not to help the Afghans. These guys were carrying out terrorism from the beginning. They assassinated President Saddat twenty years ago. But they were the main groups supported by the US. So, where is the clash of civilizations?

Let’s move a little further. During the 1980s, the United States carried out a major war in Central America. A couple of hundred thousand people were killed, four countries almost destroyed, I mean it was a vast war. Who was the target of that war? Well, one of the main targets was the Catholic Church. The decade of the 1980s began with the assassination of an archbishop. It ended with the assassination of six leading Jesuit intellectuals, including the rector of the main university. They were killed by basically the same people – terrorist forces, organized and armed and trained by the United States.

 

 

During that period, plenty of church people were killed. Hundreds of thousands of peasants and poor people also died, as usual, but one of the main targets was the Catholic Church. Why? Well, the Catholic Church had committed a grievous sin in Latin America. For hundreds of years, it had been the church of the rich. That was fine. But in the 1960s, the Latin American bishops adopted what they called a ‘preferential option for the poor.’ At that point they became like this mass-based political party in Indonesia, which was a party of the poor and the peasants and naturally it had to be wiped out. So the Catholic Church had to be smashed.

Coming back to the beginning, just where is the clash of civilizations? I mean, there is a clash alright. There is a clash with those who are adopting the preferential option for the poor no matter who they are. They can be Catholics, they can be Communists, they can be anything else. They can be white, black, green, anything. Western terror is totally ecumenical. It’s not really racist – they’ll kill anybody who takes the wrong stand on the major issues.

But if you’re an intellectual, you can’t say that. Because it’s too obviously true. And you can’t let people understand what is obviously true. You have to create deep theories, that can be understood only if you have a PhD from Harvard or something. So we have a clash of civilizations, and we’re supposed to worship that. But it makes absolutely no sense.

 

* Based on the transcript of a lecture delivered at the Delhi School of Economics on 5 November 2001, to be published by Oxford University Press. Thanks are due to Ingrid Evjen-Elias and Emma Schwartz for help with the transcription.

http://www.india-seminar.com/2002/509/509%20noam%20chomsky.htm

If a suicide bombers a terrorist, you have to call Israel a terrorist state

Chomsky video – newsworld

“[in the media world] truth is insignificant, its not even a value”

NOAM CHOMSKY in LEBANON – CHOOSING DIALOGUE OVER DESTRUCTION

more youtube of chomsky in Lebanon

http://www.petemccormack.com/essays016.htm 

“…the events of September 11 were a horrendous atrocity, probably the most devastating instant human toll of any crime in history, outside of war.”
—Noam Chomsky, Oct 18, 2001

 

It was halfway through the recent escalation of warfare between Hezbollah and Israel when I stumbled on a right wing website stating that in May of 2006, Noam Chomsky had visited Lebanon and met with Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah.

It caught me by surprise.

Granted, I had been thinking for some time about the necessity of philosophically-minded leaders meeting with terrorists to increase dialogue and discuss grievances as a means to limiting future killing—and no Western leaders or statesmen ever seem to meet with Nasrallah.1

But the thought of Chomsky doing so made me feel a little nauseous.

Having read about it in hardliner David Horowitz’s article Noam Chomsky’s Love Affair With Nazis didn’t help.

Horowitz described Chomsky’s visit with Hezbollah as:

“…the logical continuation of the professor’s longstanding admiration for global terrorists and Jew-haters…In 1993, Chomsky’s host Nasrallah declared: “Death to America was, is, and will stay our slogan.” As [Chomsky’s] pilgrimage to Hezbollah’s mecca confirms, it is Noam Chomsky’s life-dream as well.”

Interestingly, Horowitz’s website advertises “conservative T-shirts” (worn by a cute, perky American-looking brunette) that state, with a colour picture of a nuclear bomb exploding: “Iran wants nukes? Give them to ’em!”2

I don’t think that’s very nice either.

***

As for Hezbollah’s slogan “Death To America,”3 it is indeed unnerving—and recalls my childhood in the early 1970s when my only awareness of these people in some place called the Middle East would be unveiled during Saturday morning cartoons on a short presentation called “In The News” (yes, even in Canada).

My understanding, perhaps like Horowitz’s, was clear: people with oil gather in crowds, chant violently in a language I can’t understand, burn the American Flag and terrify me.

As for my unease with the Chomsky/Hezbollah meeting, it was not unlike what I’ve felt hearing Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney defend the quagmire they’ve created in Iraq to counter terror by destroying the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens (and the occasional terrorist) or the constant starvation and death they’ve unleashed on the endlessly battered people of Afghanistan.

I contemplated my nausea while looking up a Chomsky quote on terror:

“[Terror is] primarily a weapon of the strong—overwhelmingly, in fact. It is held to be a weapon of the weak because the strong also control the doctrinal systems and their terror doesn’t count as terror. Now that’s close to universal. I can’t think of an historical exception—even the worst mass murderers view the world that way.”4

That’s when I figured it out.

My nausea wasn’t just about Chomsky meeting with Hezbollah, whose ugly history of terrorism is well-documented (and called by some ‘legitimate resistance’).

It wasn’t just from reading the ideologically predictable fury and battle-lines drawn over whether Israel’s “response was measured” or which infraction was truly the “inciting incident”5 in a war that goes back, if not to the fog of prehistory, at least to 1978.

It was from two things.

One: the indoctrinated belief that our terrorist actions and our terrorist allies are somehow more humane than our terrorist enemies.

Two: the nauseous fear of losing my own freedom. Having read Chomsky for years, and even interviewed him, I felt his linkage with Hezbollah in some way linked me to terrorists—and we know what can happen to those linked people, even if innocent, even in a democracy.

It’s an old paranoia, and I swear I’m anti-terrorism and pro-Semitic—my girlfriend’s half Jewish, for the love of the church. But fears like this sometimes hit me when I read covert histories or political blogs or see Rumsfeld on TV talking about freedom—or jihadist flag-burners, for that matter.

You probably know the feeling I’m talking about; the subtle one that creeps in and tries to scare you from acting according to your conscience.

For the record, even writing this essay scares me a little—what with all the slander and fatwas out there. I just want conversation with my sisters and brothers.

Ironically, it ended up being Chomsky’s writing that reminded me to be vigilant about the right to not cower just because someone I’ve interviewed and like is constantly being called an anti-American, Nazi-loving, Jew-hating liar.

But here’s his point, and I think it’s important:  

“For a dedicated totalitarian, ruling powers are to be identified with the people, the culture, and the society…criticism of state policy is criticism of the country and its people. For those who have any concern for democracy and freedom, such charges are merely farcical.”

“Similar charges [like labeling American dissidents as America-hating] were familiar in the old Soviet Union: dissidents were condemned for hating Russia…Such criticisms reflect deeply held totalitarian values.”6

***

Even with my nausea dissipating, I still had to figure out if Chomsky was in secret negotiations with Hezbollah to overthrow the Jewish State and, for all I knew, the American Empire.

I went on line.

It turns out Chomsky went to Lebanon with his wife Carol, who’s apparently also in on the plot (the quiet “shadow figure”), and must be either a self-hating Jew or an anti-Semitic Jew—although she keeps this hatred pretty much to herself.

Nice cover, Noam.

Chomsky further decoyed his devious plans by having a busy schedule that he acted out “in public.”7

Supposedly at the end of the Chomsky/Nasrallah dialogue, Nasrallah asked Chomsky what to do about America’s “pernicious” propaganda against Hezbollah.

Maybe Chomsky could have begun by telling Nasrallah to stop Hezbollah committing acts of terror (and maybe he did tell him). That cuts down on bad press right away—to the point you’re no longer talked about at all.

But Chomsky’s response was still relevant.

He told Nasrallah that the first thing to remember about the propaganda is that American public opinion is often deeply opposed to American foreign policy.

Now call me a pragmatist, but anytime a Jew from the U.S. shares a friendly cup of tea with an Islamic terrorist and gets the chance to tell him how and why Americans are damn good people…? That’s a good day for the entire species.

Hopefully Chomsky mentioned to Nasrallah that a solid chunk of us Canadians are opposed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foreign policy in Afghanistan, too.

Like Roméo Dallaire, the last UN Commander abandoned in Rwanda, I thought we should have sent troops to the Congo for humanitarian reasons instead of Afghanistan.

But then again, only four million people have died in the Congo in the last ten years.

***

I’ve gone on line some more.

I’m pretty sure there is no Hezbollah/Chomsky plot.

The give away? It turns out that a couple weeks after the Hezbollah incident, Chomsky gave a talk at West Point Military Academy.

Now that, my friends, is a contradiction.

Would it be outlandish8 to guess that some parts of the military establishment are bitter with being railroaded into this war by a chain of command whose interests were in hindsight insanely myopic and whose predictions for Iraq were ludicrous—while this hated Jewish professor from MIT was pretty much bang on with his predictions?

Either way, I can’t see West Point, Hezbollah and Chomsky together in a plot. I’d say that’s right up there with the theory that JFK actually shot himself.

The more I considered Chomsky’s Hezbollah visit, the less nauseous I felt; the more I could see he’s doing what our leaders need to find the courage to do: engage in transparent (and sometimes politically unpopular) dialogue in order to understand the grievances of those who perceive to have their neck under the heel of an imperial or tyrannical boot.

Don’t get me wrong, I am anything but excited about the thought of an Islamic State rising up under Shari’a law, with its pervasive neglect of human rights, women’s rights, religious tolerance, and its belief that life is made up of good and evil, with barely a tango in between for the poet in all of us.

It seems to me that fanatics across the board in the Middle East have forgotten their countries (or areas) were colonized by Islamic invaders in the first place.

Nasrallah may be a man of God, but he is clearly not a man of peace.

Is there hope?

A few converted terrorists include a virtual symbol of modern freedom, Nelson Mandela, former Israeli Prime Ministers Monachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, Gerry Adams went from the IRA to an Irish MP and Uri Avnery became an Israeli peace activist.9

A list of on-again, off-again terrorists (and vice-versa) according to American policy, is less stable. It includes Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein,10 Muammar Gadafi, and so many Middle Eastern question marks, dependant on myriad factors, mostly economic.

As for Chomsky, he went to Lebanon to get a different view of the country than “President George Bush has from Texas.”

Who doesn’t need that?—if only to further appreciate the endless privilege and miracle of this temporary life.

“Lebanon has many facets,” Chomsky was quoted as saying on arrival. “I am here today for the first time to learn what I can during my short visit.”11

If Chomsky’s appearance in Lebanon suggests to the people there that we’re connected across the clashing swords of power politics and religion, I’m all for it.

As for the hardliners who believe that the Islamo-fascists are only after one thing: the destruction of the west (which is in some areas undoubtedly true and for the love of God calls for dialogue), it’s time to admit that these hardliners in the west who refuse to converse, negotiate, listen, or be creative, also believe in destruction.

Chomsky once said:

“At this stage of history, either one of two things is possible. Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests, guided by values of solidarity, and sympathy, and concern for others, or, alternatively, there will be no destiny for anyone to control.”12

We need dialogue. If some don’t like Chomsky talking to Nasrallah, why don’t they try to get some of their own dialogue going? Unfortunately, we can’t even seem to talk on a blog without vitriol.

This attitude of aggression over dialogue is epidemic.

Daniel Ben Simon wrote in Ha’aretz on August 26th:

“I am trying to recall when I last saw Israeli leaders talking with Arab leaders about peace, and finding it hard to remember. In recent years, our compulsive tendency to talk to ourselves about an agreement with the Arabs has been strengthening, as though the real conflict in the Middle East were between the right and the left…It is torturous to think that had similar diplomatic energy been invested vis-à-vis Palestinian leaders, Lebanese leaders and Syrian leaders, perhaps everything would look different. Perhaps we would even be living in peace with them.”13

***

There is no escaping the human condition. The inhumane violence of which certain leaders (and their followers) at certain times are capable—be they from Hezbollah, Israel, Iraq, Iran, Russia, China, America or anywhere else—may well be unstoppable.

There is no immediate answer to these people—or their organizations, whether based on greed, ethnicity or tribal religion. They seem emotionally incapable of seeing themselves in another.

But if they take our joy, our awe, our ability to be intimate with life, across false borders, they have taken everything.

At the same time, it is naive—and possibly suicidal—to not grasp that most of the world’s population is still ethno- or sociocentric, the west included. The challenges are overwhelming.

If something other than increased brutality is possible, I think strong, creative dialogue will be that mysterious lover who somehow leads us towards a more embracing worldcentric diversity.

In the meantime, growing pains.

After Chomsky’s meeting with Nasrallah, he said to the TV cameras outside the building:

“I think Nasrallah has a reasoned argument and persuasive argument that [the arms] should be in the hands of Hezbollah as a deterrent to potential aggression—and there are plenty of background reasons for that. So…I think his position…is that until there is a general political settlement in the region, the threat of aggression and violence is reduced or eliminated there has to be a deterrent, and the Lebanese army can’t be a deterrent.”14

Hilal Khashan, a Hezbollah expert at the American University of Beirut, in a phone interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, said, on the other hand:

“Hezbollah is a doomsday movement. You need to understand the Shi’ite faith to understand their ideology. They believe in the eventuality of a conflict between good and evil. For them, the return of the Madhi (a revered ninth-century imam) and the final victory against the forces of evil is inevitable. When Nasrallah talks about ‘winning’ and ‘losing,’ he looks at the greater picture.”

So what are we to do, dear friends? Follow the ideas of, say, former Israeli Prime Minister and current opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who with good reason decries Hezbollah as terrorists, while in the same month (this July) celebrated a two day commemoration of the Isareli terrorist group Irgun blowing up the King David Hotel in 1946 to get rid of the British mandate?

Ninety-two people were murdered on that horrific day of terrorism: seventeen Jews, twenty-eight Brits and forty-one Arabs.

The leader of the group was Menachem Begin, who, as mentioned earlier, would become Prime Minister of Israel. In 2005 he was polled as the statesman Israelis most missed.

Chomsky offered this at a talk given at MIT.15

“There is an official definition [for terrorism]. You can find it in the US code or in US army manuals…[T]error is the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to attain political or religious ideological goals through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear. That’s terrorism. That’s a fair enough definition. I think it is reasonable to accept that. The problem is that it can’t be accepted because if you accept that, all the wrong consequences follow.”

Former Prime Minister Netanyahu defended celebrating the Irgun organized explosion by saying:

“It’s very important to make the distinction between terror groups and freedom fighters, and between terror action and legitimate military action. Imagine that Hamas or Hezbollah would call the military headquarters in Tel Aviv and say, ‘We have placed a bomb and we are asking you to evacuate the area.'”16

***

By the time of the 2006 ceasefire in Lebanon and Israel, according to Amnesty International and the Lebanese government, an estimated 1,183 Lebanese had died, about a third of them children. Over four thousand people were wounded and some 970,000 were displaced from a population of under four million.

One hundred and fifty-seven Israelis had died, including 39 civilians. Over 860 Israelis were wounded.17

With this conflict, the media cameras lit up, the blogs and the pundits salivated, and the three peace-loving religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—began their celebratory preparations for the end of the world and the prophesied bloodbath when, at best, one of the three will be returned to glory.

In the span of the conflict—July 12th to August 14th—over 500,000 children in the developing world died of malnutrition related diseases. That’s about 16,500 children dying unheard, every day—girls, boys, babies.18

Who could ever explain why that isn’t headline news?

To quote Chomsky’s view on another Holocaust:

“By entering into the arena of argument and counterargument [with Holocaust deniers], of technical feasibility and tactics, of footnotes and citations, by accepting the presumption of legitimacy of debate on certain issues, one has already lost one’s humanity.”19

This is pure hypothesis, but our amazing species seems to be shackled inside an ideological system that deludes us into believing our own opinion yelled loudly enough somehow makes up for the fact that we know almost nothing about who we are, why we’re here and where we’re going.

In other words, in terms of what we don’t know, we’re all in a virtual dead heat with a row of turnips.

Or is that just the human condition?

Chomsky once said: “There might have been a period in history when it was sensible to ask, what’s the best form of slavery? The least awful form of slavery? Then you could discuss different forms of slavery and which ones would be best. But there is something wrong with the question because it assumes that some system of coercion and control is necessary. And it isn’t.”20

Those of us so fiercely attached to our own verbal animosity could well ask if we’re even capable of not being so right all the time.

***

To conclude out of hand that all rebel groups and rogue states that are killing and dying have no legitimate grievances to justify dialogue is to label them as evil. For if they don’t have legitimate grievances, what force other than evil could be pushing them to plan and create terror?

This analysis also goes for all nation states involved in terrorism—if not, no one would ever talk again.

I’m not denying evil, but to conclude evil is to keep ourselves trapped in the twisted bandwidth of Nazi consciousness. This happens all the time; between nations, on line, in traffic, in our thoughts—and it leads to war and genocide.

It’s a truism that some people can never rise above the yelling of their own ideology—including me sometimes from my chaise longue in Canada.

It’s a truism that some people like and seek war.

If only we were compelled to listen with passion, self-reflected humour and hope.

If only we were compelled to force leaders to learn to tango together and eat vegetarian food—and after dinner recite in funny accents poetry that extends beyond the tribe to all humanity.

Clearly we need more sleepovers.

There is a famous quote from David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel:

“If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?”21

We need original thinkers like Noam Chomsky (and creative contrarians) to speak and unite and listen across borders, across religions, across this barrage of divisive propaganda that promotes hatred and killing but will never rewrite humanity’s miraculous, unstoppable connection by DNA, blood, history, trauma, love, joy, laughter, understanding, compassion—and possibly soul.

Can this happen with presidents and rebel leaders and even most intellectuals? I doubt it; there’s too much addiction to violence, political survival, funding, praise, elitism, and ingrained identification with ethnicity and religion.

But given a little grace and effort, I do not have to follow that. I wish for the people on both sides who seek creative dialogue to know that I am with them in solidarity.

If Noam Chomsky’s visit to Lebanon even minutely improves the way a handful of Lebanese view Americans—Americans who, to a large degree because of a foreign policy decided by the powerful few (and fewer and fewer), are notoriously disliked worldwide—I applaud it, salute it, and I ask for more.

I believe all these people, insane and beautiful and otherwise, across borders and religions and foreign policies, are somehow my sisters and brothers. If Chomsky going to Lebanon or anywhere else helps to make that more apparent to me or them, I back him all the way.

In his own words:

“There is great hope for a better future, and to create it should be a primary commitment for people in the US, the west generally, and the rest of the world. And there are very hopeful signs, which I constantly stress.

As for the ‘American model,’ it depends what you mean. The people of the United States have many wonderful achievements to their credit: protection of freedom of speech, for example, is unique in the world, to my knowledge, and many other rights have been won. These have not been gifts from above, but the result of dedicated popular struggle.

If that is the model you have in mind, I hope it will be more successful, in the US and elsewhere.”22

Keep talking, keep trying. It’s a long road for Israel. It’s a long road for Palestine. It’s a long road for all of us.

We’ll get there.

 

 

 

Footnotes:

(1) Hezbollah is simultaneously politically represented in Lebanon and considered a terrorist organization by four countries: the US, Canada, Israel and the Netherlands.

The UK and the EU “make a distinction between the organization’s terrorist activities and its social activities and only label the security organization a terrorist organization” (Wikipedia, Hezbollah).

Anti-Semitic remarks from Nasrallah are many and putrid (as they would be the other way around); confirmed and uncomfirmed. Translation of his comments are screamed/debated about, everywhere, perhaps understandably.

Wikipedia is a decent start. Interviews and Q&As are perhaps the most revealing (unless they are all packs of lies).

From the Washington Post, February 22, 2000: “I am against any reconciliation with Israel. I do not even recognize the presence of a state that is called ‘Israel.’ I consider its presence both unjust and unlawful. That is why if Lebanon concludes a peace agreement with Israel and brings that accord to the Parliament our deputies will reject it; Hezbollah refuses any conciliation with Israel in principle.”

With Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker (the Syrian Bet), July 18, 2003:

“…at the end of the road no one can go to war on behalf of the Palestinians, even if that one is not in agreement with what the Palestinians agreed on.”

I’m not certain where this comes from, but I think it’s (AP), December 31, 1999:

“In a scathing speech to a rally of more than 1,000 supporters, Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said peace deals between Arabs and Israel would not bring stability to the Middle East or legitimacy to the Jewish state.

“There is no solution to the conflict in this region except with the disappearance of Israel,” he told the crowd. “Peace settlements will not change reality, which is that Israel is the enemy and that it will never be a neighbor or a nation.

“Peace will not wipe out the memory of the massacres it has committed…And on this last day of the century, I promise Israel that it will see more suicide attacks, for we will write our history with blood,” Nasrallah declared.”

The whole process is foul, full of hatred, with citizens in Israel and Lebanon, (and Palestinians), and elsewhere always paying the most brutal price.

(2) Horowitz has probably never read Deborah Campbell’s recent essay Iran’s Quiet Revolution, in Walrus, September 2006

“Iran is a land of contradictions, and it’s hard to imagine any country in the world where a Westerner would enjoy a more gracious welcome…

…In my six-month journey from the mountains of Kurdistan in the northwest to the bazaars of Kerman in the east to the oil regions on the border with Iraq, it is impossible to catalogue how many meals and accommodations were offered by strangers of a half-hour’s acquaintance.

And as often as I attempted to interview them, they turned the tables: What do they know of us in the West? Do they think we are all terrorists?

What could I tell them in return?”

Or even Abbas Milani from the conservative (some say neo-con) Hoover Institute:

“Over the last 50 years, the lure of modernity, fueled by the power of petrodollars, has led to the creation of a rapidly burgeoning, increasingly “wired,” surprisingly cosmopolitan Iranian middle class. This middle class has much more in common with its Western counterparts than with its Muslim brethren…They constitute a veritable Trojan horse within the Islamic republic, supporting liberal values, democratic tolerance, and civic responsibility.”

(3) With Chomsky and in a 2003 interview with CNN senior Correspondent Sheila MacVicar, Nasrallah qualified his “Death To America” statement:

MacVicar: You talked about how during the days when American forces were in Beirut, people in the southern suburbs screamed “Death to America.” You went on to say, now,   “With U.S. forces back in the region, “Death to America” was, is and shall remain our slogan, and not merely a slogan but a policy.” How does Hezbollah intend to implement that policy?

Nasrallah: In that same speech, I said, we don’t mean death to American people but death to the U.S. project in the region. We don’t want to kill. We did not launch attacks on U.S. grounds. We don’t want to kill Americans.

(4) From a forum at which Chomsky spoke, MIT, Oct 18, 2001.

(5) In a February, 2006 interview with former terrorism expert for Ronald Reagan, Edward Peck, options for bargaining were laid out by Nasrallah, suggesting their imminence:

“The only possible strategy is for [us] to have Israeli prisoners, soldiers—the soldiers as prisoners—and then you negotiate with the Israelis in order to have your prisoners released. Here, this is the only choice. Here, you don’t have multiple choices in order for you to choose one of them. You have no multiple choices. You have two options, either to have these prisoners or detainees remain in Israeli prisons or to capture Israeli soldiers.”

(6) Chomsky interviewed by Hawzheen O Kareem, Komal Newspaper, Jan 2, 2004.

(7) See Assaf Kfoury: Noam Chomsky in Beirut, Z Net, July 12, 2006.

In sum, Chomsky gave two lectures at the American University of Beirut to “overflow crowds” and another at a movie theatre in Masrah al Madina; he visited an Israeli prison and torture compound in Southern Lebanon; he spent a morning at the Sabra-Shatila refugee camp outside of Beirut; he met with MP Walid Jumblat; he met with lawyer Chibli Mallat; he met with leaders of the Communist Party; he was part of a seminar on “Palestine 1948” at the Lebanese American University and he gave “dozens of interviews” for TV, radio and print, both Lebanese and international.

It was in this hectic schedule that Chomsky had “lengthy meetings with Hezbollah leaders.”

(8) An interview with Lt. Gen Paul Van Riper (US Marine Corps-Ret.) for Rumsfeld’s War, PBS, Frontline

Van Riper: I see inside the United States Army the germs of a second intellectual renaissance that’s approaching these problems [with countering terrorism]. And they’re not caught up in the sloganeering that most of the Joint [Staff] community’s caught up in. They really are studying; they’re having conferences. The conferences aren’t love fests, where they put out some idea and try to get people to sign up to it. It’s a real debate, real argument, trying to synthesize some new knowledge out of it.

Interviewer: Is there anything in the current Defense Department that would lead you to believe those ideas will flourish?

Van Riper: I see nothing from the highest levels of the Pentagon that would lead to this. What I see is a support of the Joint Forces command by edict being told to be innovative. You cannot demand innovation. You can’t simply say to an organization, as Mr. Rumsfeld apparently did to the Army: “Be more innovative. You’re not innovative enough. Service Chief, you’re out of here.” That’s not the way to do it.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh has met with Nasrallah a few times. Here’s what he said talking with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! (August 2006):

“[I]ntelligence people around the world and some of the intelligence people in the Middle East—when the Iraqi war began to start—they encouraged me to see [Nasrallah], on grounds that this guy has a better feel for what’s going on in Iraq, as a Shia—he’s very close to the Shia leadership, to [Grand Ayatollah] Sistani, also to the Iranians…”

(9) Uri Avnery, a devoted peace activist, and outspoken protester against Israel occupation, was also a member of the Israeli terrorist group known as Irgun in the fight against the British. Avnery left the group for their anti-Arab policies, and in 1945 explained his reasons in a booklet entitled: “Terrorism, the infantile disease of the Hebrew revolution.”

Nelson Mandela was designated for decades a terrorist as head of the African National Congress, which was fighting against South African apartheid rule.

Mandela has said: “…terrorism is a relative term… Those people who did not agree with your activities will label you a terrorist. But when you succeed, the same people are prepared to accept you and have dealings with you as a head of state.”

Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein (the IRA), was in December of 1982 banned from entering Britain under their Prevention of Terrorism Act. Six months later he was elected with a majority as a Member of Parliament for West Belfast.

The following quotes were cited in a paper by Joel Beinin:”Is Terrorism a Useful Term in Understanding the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict?” Radical History Review, Issue 85, Winter 2003.

The first is from Menachem Begin’s memoirs of the struggle against the British in Palestine: Menachem Begin, The Revolt (New York: Dell, 1977), 100-101.

“Our enemies called us terrorists…And yet we were not terrorists…It all depends on who uses the term. It frequently happens that it is used by both sides in their mutual exchange of compliments.”

The second is Yitzhak Shamir, quoted in Nicholas Bethell’s The Palestine Triangle: The Struggle between the British, the Jews, and the Arabs, 1935-48 (London: Deutsch, 1979), 277-78.

“There are those who say that to kill Martin [a British sergeant] is terrorism, but to attack an army camp is guerrilla warfare and to bomb civilians is professional warfare.

But I think it is the same from the moral point of view. Is it better to drop an atomic bomb on a city than to kill a handful of persons? I don’t think so. But nobody says that President Truman was a terrorist [for dropping the atomic bomb].

So it was more efficient and more moral to go for selected targets. In any case, it was the only way we could operate, because we were so small. For us it was not a question of the professional honour of a soldier, it was the question of an idea, an aim that had to be achieved. We were aiming at a political goal.

There are many examples of what we did to be found in the Bible—Gideon and Samson, for instance. This had an influence on our thinking. And we also learned from the history of other peoples who fought for their freedom—the Russian and Irish revolutionaries, Garibaldi and Tito.”

In a Q&A with the Washington Post on Feb 20, 2000, Nasrallah said:

“In truth, the most conspicuous examples of terrorism are the actions undertaken by Israel in occupying Palestine and other Arab territories, its aggression against peaceful civilians and civilian installations, its destruction of villages and water sources, and the tremendous damage which it aggressively inflicts. All of this is done under the full protection of the American administration and with its help in the form of funds, weapons and political support. Truly, this is the terrorism. We are involved in legitimate resistance which is fully justified. This is what all people do when their land is occupied.”

(10) From Chomsky, in an interview with Harry Kreisler in 2002:

“If George Bush tells us, like he did last week, and Tony Blair tells us, in this case, that “We can’t let Saddam Hussein survive because he’s the most evil man in history, he even used chemical weapons against his own people,” I agree that far.

But it gives hypocrisy a bad name to stop there. You have to add, ‘Yes, he used chemical weapons against his own people [and Iranians], with the support of Daddy Bush, who continued to support him right past that, knowing what he was doing; who helped him develop weapons of mass destruction. Welcomed him as a friend and ally, gave him lavish aid, after all these crimes.’

Unless you add that, it’s just, like I say, giving hypocrisy a bad name. Well, nobody says that. You can read the commentary and the learned opinion and leading figures, and they just stop, “He used chemical weapons against his own people.”

If you don’t believe Chomsky about American support for Hussein during his worst atrocities, you can read Pulitzer-Prize winning author Samantha Power’s section on Iraq in her book “A Problem From Hell.”

Powers is no big fan of Chomsky, for the record (pg 173):

“After the September 1988 [chemical weapons] attack, Senator Clairborne Pell introduced a sanctions package on Capital Hill that would have cut off agricultural and manufacturing credits to Saddam Hussein as punishment for his killing unarmed civilians…”

“Pell argued that not even a U.S. ally could get away with gassing his own people. But the Bush administration, instead of suspending the CCC program or any of the other perks extended to the Iraqi regime, in 1989, a year after Hussein’s savage gassing attacks and deportations had been documented, doubled its commitment to Iraq, hiking annual CCC credits above 1$ billion.”

A few other Middle Eastern examples of American-and-their-allies’ “non-terrorist” actions include backing the Shah’s regime, which returned to power by overthrowing the democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran, in a 1953 coup d’etat planned by American and British intelligence; the jihadist mujahideen in Afghanistan (organized, trained and funded by the CIA with the Pakistan ISI—”the most violent, crazed elements they could find” ) who would become the largest web of terrorists ever assembled and core elements of both the Taliban and Al-Qaida; to add to the sad record, 14 of the 19 Twin Tower terrorists are thought to be from Saudi Arabia…

(11) See http://www.yalibnan.com, Noam Chomsky visits Lebanon, May 9, 2006

(12) Cited in Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, pg 221.

(13) A propos to these comments, journalist Seymour Hersh in an interview with Democracy Now!, August 20, 2006:

“…[the Bush administration] is an administration that still refuses to deal with people it doesn’t like. [We] have a president that won’t talk to the Iranians, although they’ve wanted to, and there’s been a lot of stories written about that. And they won’t talk to the Syrians…

I’ve interviewed the President of Syria, Bashar al-Asad, a couple of times…He’s written letters to George Bush, saying, “Let’s get together. Let’s talk. We have a lot in common. We can help you. We and Iran basically both have more—we can do more for you in Iraq than any other country. Why aren’t you using us? We don’t need a Somalia on our borders. We’re not interested in chaos there.”

And this White House doesn’t believe it. And the letters weren’t answered, he told me. His ambassador here in Washington, Imad Mustafa, is absolutely isolated. All this talk that the White House has made, Condoleezza Rice, about having openings to Iran, to Syria, are just, you know—they’re not worth much. There’s been some low-level talk. Nobody has made any efforts.

Syria has, as I’ve written in the New Yorker years ago, was one of the biggest helpers we had after al-Qaeda struck us, because Syria is—the old man Asad, the father of the current president, hated Jihadism. He did not like the Muslim Brotherhood. They were his opponents. And he kept the best books going on the Muslim Brotherhood, which is very closely connected to al-Qaeda. In fact, we learned more about al-Qaeda from Syria after 9/11 than from any other country. Asad, the president…agreed to give us access to thousands of files. And I wrote a story, I think in ’02 or ’03 for the New Yorker, in which I quoted a senior intelligence official of Syria saying, “We’re willing to even talk about our support for Hezbollah with you. We want to see you win the war on terror.”

So it’s been an amazingly horrific performance by this White House…”(14) See http://www.yalibnan.com Ali Hussein, Chomsky Needs To Learn A Lot More About Lebanon, May 13, 2006.

(15) Speech given at MIT, Oct, 18 2001

(16) See http://www.timesonline.co.uk British Anger at Terror Celebration, July 20, 2006.

(17) Amnesty International August, 2006, Lebanon: Destruction of Civilian Infrastructure

(18) See The State Of Food Insecurity In The World, 2005:

“Hunger and malnutrition are the underlying cause of more than half of all child deaths, killing nearly 6 million children each year…Relatively few of these children die of starvation. The vast majority are killed by neonatal disorders and a handful of treatable infectious diseases, including diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria and measles.”

(19) American Power and the New Mandarins, 1969.

(20) Language and Politics, pg 745 (the cognitive revolution, II, with David Barsamian)

(21) From Nahum Goldmann’s the Jewish Paradox.

(22) Noam Chomsky interviewed by Hawzheen O. Kareem, Jan 2, 2004.

Racist Western attitudes towards Arabs

The following post has a video on hollywoods vilification of arabs, a section by Chomsky on racist attitudes towards Arabs, an essay on the recent headlines about the Muhammad cartoons ending on a section about US foreign policy and “the arab mind” 

Video “Planet of the Arabs”

A trailer-esque montage spectacle of Hollywood’s relentless vilification and dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims.
Inspired by the book “Reel Bad Arabs” by Dr. Jack Shaheen

Official selection of the Sundance Film Festival 2005

Out of 1000 films that have Arab & Muslim characters (from the year 1896 to 2000)
12 were postive depictions, 52 were even handed and the rest of the 90O and so were negative.

09/04/06 Video Runtime 9 Minutes

Excerpted from Chronicles of Dissent, 1992

CHOMSKY: Yes. It’s part of European culture to have racist attitudes toward the Third World, including us[USA], we’re part of Europe in that respect. Naturally the Jewish community shared the attitudes of the rest of Europe, not surprising. There certainly are such things inside Israel. My feeling is they could be overcome in time under a situation of peace. I think they’re real, but I don’t think they’re lethal, through slow integration they could probably be overcome. The one that probably can’t be overcome is the anti-Arab racism, because that requires subjugation of a defeated and conquered people and that leads to racism. If you’re sitting with your boot on somebody’s neck, you’re going to hate him, because that’s the only way that you can justify what you’re doing, so subjugation automatically yields racism, and you can’t overcome that. Furthermore, anti-Arab racism is rampant in the United States and much of the West, there’s no question about that. The only kind of racism that can be openly expressed with outrage is anti-Arab racism. You don’t put caricatures of blacks in the newspapers any more; you do put caricatures of Arabs.

QUESTION: But isn’t it curious that they’re using the old Jewish stereotypes, the money coming out the pockets, the beards, the hooked nose?

CHOMSKY: I’ve often noticed that the cartoons and caricatures are very similar to the ones you’d find in the Nazi press about the Jews, very similar.  

Manufacturing Discontent: The Case of the Danish Cartoons

by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad

The publication of offensive cartoons of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Jyllands-Posten, a major Danish newspaper last year precipitated a bitter confrontation between Europe and the Islamic world that reached its climax early this year. Events may have overtaken the cartoon war but the fallout from the controversy is going to shape European politics vis-à-vis its immigrant population for years to come. The deluge of articles and opinions in the media for the most part failed to provide context or insight into the issues involved. The common narrative placed “Western secularism” against “Muslim intolerance”; warnings of a “clash of civilizations” were legion. Many took refuge in absolutes and defence of the cherished Western value of “freedom of expression” was deemed paramount. However, if we are to learn anything from this experience and understand the reactions on both sides it is important that myths are dispensed with, and agency and intent are identified.

The story that made the rounds in the European media was that of an intrepid cultural editor of a mainstream Danish newspaper concerned with the stifling political-correctness in Europe who decided to “test the limits of freedom of expression” and challenge the rising self-censorship by publishing caricatures of the most revered figure in Islam. Unaccustomed to such high-minded ideals, the Muslim world reacted in characteristic way – with violence – but only after their sentiments had been sufficiently enflamed by itinerant Imams and rogue regimes months after the publication of the offending cartoons. Newspapers in several European countries published the cartoons simultaneously as a gesture of solidarity and the Islamic world responded with a commercial boycott of all Danish products.

As we shall presently see, there are many problems with this narrative, beginning with the publication itself.

Jyllands-Posten is Denmark’s largest selling newspaper with a notoriously anti-Immigrant editorial line. In 2001 it assisted Anders Rasmussen’s Prime Ministerial bid on an anti-immigration platform by publishing fake stories of asylum fraud by Palestinian refugees days before the election. A 2004 report by European Network Against Racism singled out JP for its excessive and skewed coverage of immigrant issues. Flemming Rose, the cultural editor who commissioned the cartoons, himself is a close associate of notorious Islamophobe and arch-Zionist Daniel Pipes, founder of the McCarthyite Campus-Watch and advocate of WWII style internment of American Muslims and complete ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians. Rose was already testing the waters in 2004, when he published a laudatory article on Pipes with a sample of his extremist views in the format of an interview. In one section Pipes declared he was “amazed that Europe is not more alarmed about the challenge that Islam poses” and questioned the wisdom of leaning back and waiting “for things to happen”. He need not have waited long; things did happen and it was his interlocutor who furnished the trigger. But is this sufficient explanation for the ferocity of the response?

An editorial in the Washington Post touched on the aspect of the story which had been duly ignored in the myriad commentaries on the subject. The paper called the publication of the cartoons a “calculated insult” by a “right-wing newspaper in a country where bigotry toward the minority Muslim population is a major, if frequently unacknowledged, problem”. In The Guardian Jonathan Steele quotes Jytte Klausen, a Danish political scientist as saying: “religious tolerance and respect for human rights have been sorely lacking in Denmark”. Klausen and others cite frequent statements by Brian Mikkelsen, the minister of cultural affairs, regarding cultural “restoration” and the evils of “multiculturalism”, as symptomatic of this intolerance.   In an article in Index on Censorship, George Blecher quotes the independent Danish daily Information as saying that the publication of the cartoons was inspired by Mikkelsen’s speech at a Conservative Party meeting where he called for “a new offensive in the Culture Wars” and deplored Muslim immigrants for their “medieval standards and undemocratic ways of thinking.” The paper went on to say:

Among [Mikkelsen’s] points and examples was that “freedom of expression” was threatened, because a comedian “doesn’t dare piss on the Koran”, and illustrators don’t dare put their names on illustrations that show Mohammed’s face.

Rasmussen’s government relies for support in Parliament on the far-right Dansk Folkeparti with an anti-immigrant agenda and immigrants from Islamic countries are its primary targets. Even Kofi Annan has criticized the government for being “unsure of how to treat its significant Muslim population”. Racially motivated crimes doubled in the country between 2004 and 2005 according to the Danish Institute for Human Rights. Steele writes:

If there is a tolerance spectrum, with resistance to diversity at one end, acceptance of it in the middle and celebration of it at the other end…Denmark is still at the spectrum’s prejudiced end, a traditionally mono-ethnic country that has not yet accepted the new cultures in its midst. Public discourse is stuck where it was in Britain a generation ago, with angry talk about “guests” who ought to conform to the “host country” or go home.

It is a matter of no small significance that Rasmussen remains one of Bush’s very few allies in Europe and has sent troops both to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Danish queen’s exhortation to the citizens to show their “opposition to Islam” did not do much to ease the tension.

The publication of the cartoons within such an environment takes on an altogether different meaning, but does that justify the violent response? More importantly, why did it take four months to materialize?

As a matter of fact, the response to the publication of the cartoons was immediate and peaceful. Appeals from Danish Muslim groups to the Culture Minister Mikkelsen were rebuffed and a request of ambassadors from eleven Muslim countries to take their concerns to the Prime Minister directly was rejected. At this point Danish Muslim organizations lodged a complaint against Jyllands-Posten to the police on the grounds that it had committed an offence under section 140 and 266b of the Danish Criminal Code. Having exhausted all the legal avenues, leaders of the Danish Muslim community finally turned to the Muslim world for support. The Arab League duly issued a condemnation and criticized the Danish government for its inaction. In Denmark the Regional Public Prosecutor of Viborg decided to discontinue investigation into whether the paper had violated the Danish Criminal Code. Several Muslim countries withdrew their ambassadors from Denmark in protest and consumers in the middle-east started a boycott of Danish products. The Organization of the Islamic Conference issued a resolution condemning the publication and lodged a complaint with the UN. Danes were ordered out by militants in the Occupied Palestinian territories, and protests erupted in various Muslim countries. At this point, several newspapers in Europe decided to publish the cartoons simultaneously as “a gesture of solidarity” and the response, which had been hitherto measured, finally turned violent.

The sensational images of flags being torched, mobs burning down embassies and offices of the EU being occupied by gunmen clearly make for more exciting television. But the more significant story of the four months of silent protest was lost in the Drama. A few dozen extremists with offensive placards in London made headlines but the nearly 15 million Muslims of Europe who weathered the storm with dignity were deemed unworthy of coverage. Behaviour of the former was used to characterize the sentiments of the latter. The fact that 97 percent of the youth surveyed by the UN in Muslim countries deplored the violence, wasn’t considered newsworthy. Condoleezza Rice placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Washington’s official enemies: Syria and Iran (even though the campaign started in Saudi Arabia, an official ally). In The Nation, Gary Younge writes: “Muslims were in effect being vilified twice–once through the original cartoons and then again for having the gall to protest them.” Many in the Muslim world with their own political axes to grind made most of the opportunity and enflamed sentiments further, but that is irrelevant. It is a truism that we are all responsible for the predictable consequences of our actions. Given the racist and inflammatory nature of the cartoons it was reasonable to expect a response. It was also reasonable to expect that not all responses were going to be restrained. It is impossible that the JP editors did not take this into consideration. If someone has hijacked the legitimate grievances of more than a billion Muslims and is trying to make political capital out of it, the responsibility still lies with those who have provided this opportunity. Had the paper not published the cartoons, there would be no sentiments for the extremists to whip up.

Could it be that this was precisely the response the publication of the cartoons was meant to generate?

With the news of the first violent protests, Flemming Rose was quick to declare it the long predicted “clash of civilizations” and questioned the compatibility of “religion of Islam with a modern secular society”. Similar sentiments were voiced by his confederate Daniel Pipes invited on CNN to comment on the controversy. Neither one’s neocon connections, nor their links to each other were mentioned. The continuous coverage of the protests was clearly having an impact – a March 9 Washington Post poll revealed that nearly 46 per cent of Americans had a negative view of Islam, a number ten points higher than in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Given the timing and the provenance of the controversy, James Petras and Robin Eastman-Abaya have speculated that this may very well have been an effort to prepare public opinion for the upcoming attack on Iran. This would not be the first time that cartoons are used to provoke a violent response from a minority in order to discredit and demonize a whole racial, ethnic or religious group. The Southern white racists did it, the Nazis did it and so did the FBI. [1]

So, was this about freedom of speech? As the British press revealed, the same publication had already turned down caricatures of Jesus on the grounds that readers will not “enjoy” them and they will “provoke an outcry”. In many European countries holocaust denial is a crime and the British historian David Irving is serving time for a speech made in the ’80s. Mein Kampf cannot be bought or sold in Germany. So freedom of speech is clearly not absolute. But assuming it was absolute; it would merely reflect the existing imbalance in society so long as it was not tempered by associated responsibilities. Otherwise, it gives the dominant sector in any society a license to offend. Younge writes:

The right to offend must come with at least one consequent right and one subsequent responsibility. People must have the right to be offended, and those bold enough to knowingly cause offence should be bold enough to weather the consequences, so long as the aggrieved respond within the law.

It is hard to see anything positive coming out of this episode except the principled and dignified stance of the British and American Left. In clear contrast to the French Left during the headscarf debate the Left in US/UK took a commendable position by refusing to let abstract principles distract from reality. They recognized the gratuitously offensive nature of the cartoons and the political motivation behind their publication. They also acknowledged that the “right to freedom of speech equates to neither an obligation to offend nor a duty to be insensitive.” The commitment to freedom of speech, and the commitment to fight racism need not be mutually exclusive. Freedom of speech could certainly find better uses than in attacks on the most vulnerable parts of our society.   The decision to print the cartoons was political; it had nothing to do with principles. At the end of the day, the incident failed to put a wedge between Muslims and the US/UK Left as everyone had expected it would.  The whole debate is best summed up by the political cartoonist Martin Rowson who regularly receives hundreds of angry and obscene e-mails when he draws President Bush with blood on his hands, but for him it is an acceptable price since “the purpose of satire is to attack people more powerful than you are.” Flemming Rose, and the Southern white supremacist would clearly disagree.

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad teaches Sociology at the University of Strathclyde and is researcher for Spinwatch.


[1]  The Nation’s Ward”, a cartoon by Grant Hamilton, portrayed an American Indian as a savage snake constricting a pioneer family while being fed by Uncle Sam even as the pioneers’ home burned; the Nazis used caricatures of Jews as dirty, unattractive and shabbily dressed men busy undermining the Reich to whip up anti-Semitic sentiments in the population (Philip Rupprecht, the most popular of these, ran in Der Stürmer); The FBI’s COINTELPRO Program used a fake colouring book to discredit the Black Panther Party and advocated “the use of cartoons, photographs, and anonymous letters” to ridicule the New Left: “Ridicule is one of the most potent weapons which we can use against it.” For a history of the relation between   caricatures of African Americans and racism see: http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/caricature/   

The “Arab Mind” 

“Both U.S. and Israeli elites have always believed that the Arabs need to be kept subordinate. However, once the U.S. solidified its alliance with Israel after June 1967, it began to look at Israelis ­ and Israelis projected themselves ­ as experts on the “Arab mind.” Accordingly, the alliance with Israel has abetted the most truculent U.S. policies, Israelis believing that “Arabs only understand the language of force” and every few years this or that Arab country needs to be smashed up. The spectrum of U.S. policy differences might be narrow, but in terms of impact on the real lives of real people in the Arab world these differences are probably meaningful, the Israeli influence making things worse.” Norman Finkelstein

The above Finkelstein quote makes reference to a book called “the arab mind” the Guardian has an article on this titled “its best use is as a doorstop”

The book says, the Arabs who are lazy, sex-obsessed, and apt to turn violent over the slightest little thing.Writing about Arabs, rather than black people, in these terms apparently makes all the difference between a racist smear and an admirable work of scholarship.Hersh was discussing the chain of command that led US troops to torture Iraqi prisoners. Referring specifically to the sexual nature of some of this abuse, he wrote: “The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.“One book that was frequently cited was The Arab Mind … the book includes a 25-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression.”

Hersh continued: “The Patai book, an academic told me, was ‘the bible of the neocons on Arab behaviour’. In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged – ‘one, that Arabs only understand force, and two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation’.”

Last week, my own further enquiries about the book revealed something even more alarming. Not only is it the bible of neocon headbangers, but it is also the bible on Arab behaviour for the US military.

More on the author of “the Arab Mind” Raphael Patai

WIKIPEDIA