ISIS horror forces a culture shift on the left

September 28, 2014 at 9:22 am (AWL, imperialism, internationalism, Iran, iraq, islamism, kurdistan, left, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", SWP, Syria, terror, United States, war)

By Rhodri Evans (in the Workers Liberty paper Solidarity)

A “common sense” which has dominated much left thinking since the late 1980s or early 1990s is now breaking down. That’s a good thing.

The old line was to support whomever battled the USA. By opposing the USA, they were “anti-imperialist”, and therefore at least half-revolutionary.

So many leftists backed the Taliban. They sided with Khomeiny’s Iran. They claimed “we are all Hezbollah”.

But Syria’s dictator, Assad? Some leftists have taken the US support for the Syrian opposition, and the US threats to bomb Syria, as mandating them to side with Assad. Most find that too much to swallow.

And ISIS? Leftists who have backed the Taliban are not now backing ISIS. Not even “critically”.

The outcry about ISIS ceremonially beheading Western captives has, reasonably enough, deterred leftists. So has the threat from ISIS to the Kurds, whose national rights most leftists have learned to support.

And so, probably, has the fact that other forces previously reckoned “anti-imperialist” — Iran and its allies, for example — detest ISIS as much as the US does.

The Taliban converted Kabul’s football stadium into a site for public executions, and chopped hands and feet off the victims before killing them. The Taliban persecuted the Hazara and other non-Sunni and non-Pushtoon peoples of Afghanistan.

Now the media coverage of ISIS has focused thinking. But leftists who now don’t back ISIS must be aware that their criteria have shifted.

The old “common sense” was spelled out, for example, by the SWP in a 2001 pamphlet entitled No to Bush’s War.

It portrayed world politics as shaped by a “drive for global economic and military dominance” by a force interchangeably named “the world system”, “globalisation”, “imperialism”, “the West”, or “the USA”.

All other forces in the world were mere “products” of that drive. They were examples of the rule that “barbarity bred barbarity”, “barbarism can only cause more counter-barbarism”, or they were “terrorists the West has created”.

The pamplet promoted a third and decisive idea, that we should side with the “counter-barbarism” against the “barbarism”.

It was nowhere as explicit as the SWP had been in 1990: “The more US pressure builds up, the more Saddam will play an anti-imperialist role… In all of this Saddam should have the support of socialists… Socialists must hope that Iraq gives the US a bloody nose and that the US is frustrated in its attempt to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait” (SW, 18 August 1990).

But the idea in the 2001 pamphlet was the same. The SWP talked freely about how “horrifying” the 11 September attacks in the USA were. It refused to condemn them.

“The American government denounces the Taliban regime as ‘barbaric’ for its treatment of women”, said the pamphlet. A true denunciation, or untrue? The SWP didn’t say. Its answer was: “It was the Pakistani secret service, the Saudi royal family and American agents… that organised the Taliban’s push for power”.

Bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks? Not his fault. “It was because of the rage he felt when he saw his former ally, the US, bomb Baghdad and back Israel”.

Now Corey Oakley, in the Australian socialist paper Red Flag, which comes from the same political culture as the SWP, criticises “leftists [for whom] ‘imperialism’ simply means the US and its Saudi and Israeli allies.

“Syria, Iran and even Russia, whose strategic interests brought them into conflict with the US, are portrayed as playing a progressive role…

“Events in Iraq… leave such ‘anti-imperialist’ fantasies in ruins. The Saudis are conspiring with the Russians while US diplomats negotiate military tactics with their Iranian counterparts… Israel tries to derail a US alliance with Iran while simultaneously considering whether it needs to intervene in de facto alliance with Iran in Jordan.

“If your political approach boils down to putting a tick wherever the US and Israel put a cross, you will quickly find yourself tied in knots. The driving force behind the misery… is not an all-powerful US empire, but a complex system of conflict and shifting alliances between the ruling classes of states big and small…

“The British, Russian, French and US imperialists are no longer the only independent powers in the region. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – though all intertwined in alliances with other countries big and small – are powerful capitalist states in their own right, playing the imperialist game, not mere clients of bigger powers…” (1 July 2014).

The shift signifies an opening for discussion, rather than a reaching of new conclusions.

On ISIS, a frequent leftist “line” now is to deplore ISIS; say that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq contributed to the dislocation from which ISIS surged (true); express no confidence or trust in US bombing as a way to push back ISIS (correct); and slide into a “conclusion” that the main imperative is to campaign against US bombing.

The slide gives an illusion of having got back to familiar “auto-anti-imperialist” ground. But the illusion is thin.

The old argument was that if you oppose the US strongly enough, then you oppose the root of all evil, and hence you also effectively combat the bad features of the anti-imperialist force. But no-one can really believe that the US created ISIS, or that there were no local reactionary impulses with their own local dynamic and autonomy behind the rise of ISIS.

Our statement of basic ideas, in this paper, says: “Working-class solidarity in international politics: equal rights for all nations, against imperialists and predators big and small”. We have a new opening to get discussion on that approach.

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Hoagy revisited by the Chris Ingham Quartet

September 27, 2014 at 2:54 pm (film, jazz, Jim D, music, song, United States)

Here’s a slightly amended and  extended version of a review I’ve written for Just Jazz magazine. I have no commercial interest on this CD:

Hoagy, by the Chris Ingham Quartet

Downhome Records DOH0001

Riverboat Shuffle; Washboard Blues; Old Music Master; Memphis In June; My Resistance Is Low; Lazy Bones; Hong Kong Blues; Dear Bix; How Little We Know; Old Man Harlem; Baltimore Oriole; Old Buttermilk Sky; Skylark; Huggin’ And Chalkin’; Georgia On My Mind; Stardust

Chris Ingham (piano, vocals), Paul Higgs (trumpet), Rev. Andrew Brown (bass), Russell Morgan (drums)

Recorded at Toucan Tango Studios, UK, 13 December, 2013

Hoagland Howard ‘Hoagy’ Carmichael always considered himself to be, first and foremost, a “jazz guy” (his son’s description) and over the years his tunes have brought forth monumental performances from jazz musicians as disparate as Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane, both of whom recorded unforgettable versions of Hoagy’s masterpiece Stardust (Louis with his big band in 1931 and ‘Trane on his Standards album of 1958).

But it was Bix Beiderbecke, of course, who was Hoagy’s first and most enduring musical inspiration, and for whom he wrote his first composition, Riverboat Shuffle. So it’s only right and proper that this delightful album opens with that seminal number, and that trumpeter Paul Higgs paraphrases Bix’s 1927 solo, before launching into his own cool-school interpretation. It is also appropriate that one of the two non-Hoagy compositions on the album should be Dave Frishberg’s heartbreaking Dear Bix.

Leader Chris Ingham, as well as being a fine pianist (considerably better than Hoagy himself, if truth is told), also handles the vocals and stays pretty close to Carmichael’s 1940s Decca recordings. As Mr Ingham writes in his brief but erudite sleeve-notes, “We’ve resisted the temptation to reinvent the wheel here. Get too clever with stuff that’s already clever, you could end up with something stupid.”

Much of Hoagy’s material is, indeed, “clever” – and “whimsical” and “wry” and all those other words that might lead you to write him off as a lightweight. But listen to Stardust (or should it be Star Dust?) and Skylark and you will hear (as the late Richard Sudhalter noted) the melodic shapes, harmonies and sheer beauty of a Bix cornet solo. And when it comes to Washboard Blues, listen to the lyric: Hoagy didn’t write it (he only wrote the tune in this case), but he must have approved of it, and he sang it on several recordings. The lyric (clearly intended to be the thoughts of an impoverished black woman) concludes as follows:

I’m going to that river, going down to that river some day.
Hurry, day. Hurry.
I’s going down to that river, going down to that river some day.
And throw myself, self away.
I’m going to that river, going down to that river some day.
Hurry, day. Hurry, day. Hurry, day. Hurry…

If you’re already familiar with ‘Hoagland’ – small-town Americana, home-spun wisdom and a bittersweet yearning for something better that you somehow know will never come – then this CD will meet all your expectations. If Carmichael’s world is as yet unfamiliar to you, then this is as good a place to start as any.

By a melancholy coincidence, just as this album arrived, the news came through that sultry Lauren Bacall had died. A visit to Youtube’s clips from the 1944 film To Have And Have Not found Bacall singing How Little We Know (yes, it really was her voice, not Andy Williams’), accompanied by Hoagy at the piano. And watching that old classic confirmed the perceptive truth of Mr Ingham’s sleeve-note observation: “Hoagy was always the hippest guy in the room. Coolly apart from the central action, but all-seeing, all-understanding and always on hand to offer pithy philosophies to the hapless protagonists. And when he played his mysterious, dreamy, amusing songs, people stopped for a moment and listened, felt something and changed a little.”

That about sums up Hoagy and his world: to experience just some of it for yourself, buy this CD and be transported to Hoagland.

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What Arab partners will get in return for strikes against Islamic State

September 25, 2014 at 8:59 pm (fascism, Iran, iraq, islamism, Middle East, posted by JD, reblogged, Syria, terror, United States)

From Informed Comment:

By Lars Berger

The decision by President Obama to launch missile and air strikes against Islamic State (IS) and the al-Qaeda affiliate “Khorasan” in Syria draws the United States ever closer to yet another prolonged military confrontation in the region.

But there’s a difference this time: the participation of a coalition of Arab states, variously offering diplomatic, intelligence and military support. So far, the partner states have been named as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Jordan.

From Washington’s perspective, the importance of Arab participation is obvious: a synchronised display of high-level multinational cooperation is clearly meant to head off the usual criticism of the often unilateral nature of US foreign policies.

This is of particular importance for President Obama, who has invested considerable capital over the years in distancing himself from the Bush administration’s war in Iraq.

As he put it in his brief statement announcing the strikes: “The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.”

The White House clearly hopes that the participation of Arab partners will undermine that radical Islamist narrative of “the West versus Islam”, and instead reframe the conflict as another chapter in the decades-old struggle between the vast moderate Muslim majority and a tiny minority of radicals.

But aside from these explicit American goals, Obama’s new Arab partners have interests of their own.

Regional rivals: Saudi and Qatar

Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia can hope to shift attention away from the criticism for their attitude to Islamist extremism. Over the years, they have been charged not only with supporting radical Islamists in Syria, but also with allowing their religious elites to propagate a version of Islam that is open to easy manipulation at the hands of radical jihadist recruiters.

Both countries will also hope that weakening the radical Islamists of IS will help moderate elements of the Syrian opposition regain the initiative against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Some among the elites of Riyadh and Doha might even be hoping Washington will realise the threat of IS will never be extinguished while Bashar al-Assad’s regime remains in place – and that Obama will see the job is finished.

Finally, Saudi Arabia in particular clearly has to be concerned with preventing the success of an organisation which aims to establish the perfect “Islamic state”.

IS’s claim to ultimate leadership of the world’s Muslim community as put forward by its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is a direct challenge to the Saudi claim for global religious leadership based on King Abdullah’s role as “custodian of the two holy places” in Mecca and Medina.

Saudi authorities are fully aware that al-Baghdadi’s radical Islamist fringe project has attracted followers from Saudi Arabia, with recent estimates putting the number at up to one thousand.

As Nawaf Obaid and Saud al-Sarhan have pointed out, Saudi Arabia is the ultimate target for any “serious” radical Islamist organisation, whether IS now or al-Qaeda in years past.

Al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula (which consists not just of Yemeni Islamists, but also Saudi Islamists), driven out by Saudi counterterrorism measures over the last decade, is now beginning to mutter words of approval and support toward IS, and Riyadh will be deeply concerned about the spectre of being engulfed in an arc of Islamist instability to its south and north. Read the rest of this entry »

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Racism and rebellion in Ferguson

August 23, 2014 at 10:58 pm (cops, posted by JD, Racism, United States)

From the US Socialist Worker (no longer connected to the UK organisation/publication of the same name):

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A shrine for Mike Brown on the street where he was killed in Ferguson (Eric Ruder | SW)

Above: shrine for Mike Brown on the street where he was killed 

Trish Kahle looks back at Ferguson’s social and economic history in an article written after her trip to the city to report on the demonstrations against a police murder [1].

“IT IS hard to deny just how predictable they are when they finally happen.” That was the conclusion of Merlin Chowkwanyun, a scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a Washington Post op-ed article [2] comparing the eruption of protest and unrest in Ferguson, Mo. with so many similar upheavals in other cities since the 1960s.

The whole world knows of Ferguson after the murder of Mike Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, by a white police officer who initially confronted him over walking in the middle of the street.

The crime was heinous, but police killings of unarmed Black men are all too common in the U.S.–they take place once every 28 hours, according to a report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement [3]. But what’s unique about Ferguson is the continuing mobilization to demand justice for Mike Brown, centered among the African American residents of the St. Louis suburb.

No one would have guessed that Ferguson would be the site of perhaps the most sustained rebellion against police violence in at least two decades. But at the same time, one statistic after another has emerged in the past week and a half to show exactly how predictable that uprising was.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

THE CITY of Ferguson, just north of St. Louis, has a population that was, as of the 2010 Census, 67.4 percent Black and 29.3 percent white. Yet whites account for five of Ferguson’s six city council members [4], and six of seven school board members (the seventh member is a Latino). Out of 53 officers in the Ferguson police department, there are three African American.

The white Mayor James Knowles has a delusional attitude toward race in his city. “We’ve never seen this kind of…frustration, this kind of tension between the races,” he claimed. “I know we’ve always gotten along.”

How can a shrinking minority of whites continue to dominate the political power structure in Ferguson? One answer: In the 2013 municipal election, just 11.7 percent of Ferguson’s voting-eligible residents cast a ballot [5]. The percentage was far lower for African Americans–some 17 percent of eligible white voters participated, compared to 6 percent of eligible Black voters. As a result, according to a Washington Post analysis [6], whites were actually a larger part of the electorate than Blacks, despite being a much smaller minority in the population.

Liberal media outlets attributed this disparity to the timing of elections, which take place in mid-April. This is certainly a factor, but there are more important reasons. The people I talked to in Ferguson feel they have little political stake in participating in municipal elections. For one thing, because of the governing structures in the St. Louis area, change would have to happen at the countywide level to be meaningful, which would require an electoral movement crossing over the boundaries of many small municipalities.

And there is a deeper disillusionment among African Americans, says Leslie Broadnax, a native of Ferguson [7] who challenged the incumbent St. Louis County prosecutor in the last election and lost. “I think there is a huge distrust in the system,” said Broadnax. “Many Blacks think: Well it’s not going to matter anyway, so my one vote doesn’t count.”

Here is another statistic that helps capture the economic devastation which, as it does everywhere, hits African Americans disproportionately hard: According to a Reuters report [8], “Traffic fines are the St. Louis suburb’s second-largest source of revenue and just about the only one that is growing appreciably. Municipal court fines, most of which arise from motor vehicle violations, accounted for 21 percent of general fund revenue and at $2.63 million last year, were the equivalent of more than 81 percent of police salaries before overtime.”

Add to that information the fact that Blacks accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops initiated by Ferguson cops, and it makes you wonder if Officer Darren Wilson had a financial motive in mind when he got out of his patrol car to confront 18-year-old Mike Brown on August 9.

Whatever the case, if you put all these facts and figures together, it’s clear that Ferguson’s long history, bound up with racism and social oppression, helped set the stage for both the murder of Mike Brown–and the powerful upsurge of protest against it ever since.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

IN MANY ways, Ferguson’s history embodies W.E.B. DuBois’s famous assertion that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.” It’s clear from all the statistics about Ferguson today that racism structures daily life for the city’s African American population–but it’s also clear this is also nothing new.

Ferguson’s existence as a distinct city from nearby St. Louis has its roots in the failures of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the former states of the Confederacy. The city and county of St. Louis separated their legal connection in 1877 over the issue of the under-representation of city dwellers in county politics–the same year that marked the end of Reconstruction and the federal government’s attempt to “reconstruct” the political systems of the former slave states that had seceded to start the Civil War.

This split sharpened the historical divide between city and county–and as a racist backlash developed following the retreat of Reconstruction, many Black Southerners fled to the cities, including St. Louis. But even if the city offered some protection from the Klan, that hardly meant St. Louis was a beacon of racial progress. The city, in collusion with the county, embarked on a project of segregation that would remain legal for nearly a century.

The state of Missouri passed a law [9] requiring that: “Separate free schools shall be established for the education of children of African descent; and it shall be unlawful for any colored child to attend any white school, or any white child to attend a colored school.” Another law declared: “All marriages between…white persons and negroes or white persons and Mongolians…are prohibited and declared absolutely void…No person having one-eighth part or more of negro blood shall be permitted to marry any white person.”

Housing was a primary target of the Jim Crow system. Like many of the 91 municipalities surrounding the city of St. Louis, Ferguson was closed off to Black residents by racist housing covenants. Black Missouri residents remained overwhelmingly concentrated in the city while racist terror continued across the countryside.

Within the city, Black workers endured unequal pay, hiring discrimination and the constant degradation that all African Americans faced under Jim Crow. The inability to live outside the city limits restricted their access to better schools, public services, schools and employment. Black neighborhoods were characterized by substandard housing, overcrowding and poor sanitation.

Housing rights became a major focus of civil rights struggle in St. Louis. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelley v. Kraemer [10], which declared that state enforcement of racially restrictive housing covenants was unconstitutional, revolved around a St. Louis case. Even though the 6-0 decision of the justices was handed down in 1948, it took two more decades of struggle to finally tear down the housing covenants.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

BY THE 1970s, activists had secured the removal of the covenants, and Black residents of the city of St. Louis were able to move out into the municipalities, including Ferguson. In 1980, the population of Ferguson was still 85 percent white and 14 percent Black. Today, those numbers are nearly reversed.

African Americans had scored a major victory in removing the housing covenants, but as the city’s Black population moved out into the suburbs, many whites fled, leaving not only towns like Ferguson, but even the state itself, moving across the river to Illinois–or into concentrated pockets of white wealth, such as nearby Country Life Acres, a tiny municipality that is 96 percent white, with a median household income of $200,000. By comparison, Ferguson’s median annual household income of $37,500.

Today, the St. Louis metro area remains one of the most segregated in the country [11]. That divide extends to unemployment [12], which is 20 percentage points higher for Blacks than the 6.2 percent jobless rate for whites in white unemployment in the area around Ferguson.

Housing discrimination has continued despite the outlawing of legalized discrimination through the housing covenants. As Bryce Covert wrote for Think Progress [13]:

Racial housing segregation hasn’t just affected community makeups, but their economics. Given that Blacks have been shut out of buying homes, a huge source of wealth, and discriminatory practices depressed the values of those who did manage to buy houses, it’s no surprise that there continues to be a huge racial wealth gap. The average Black household has $75,040 in wealth stored in its home, while the average white one has $217,150. Overall, the gap in wealth between white households and Black ones was $84,960 in 2011. A similar gap is apparent in Ferguson, where the median household income is about $37,500 but in St. Louis County as a whole it’s $58,500.

Thus, persistent, pervasive, structural racism extends far beyond policing. The existence of legally separate but still closely integrated townships has had a clear and inevitable impact. St. Louis County’s mainly Black municipalities have high poverty rates rooted in decades of underinvestment, employment discrimination and more.

In Ferguson itself, the poverty rate of 22 percent [14], a full 10 percentage points higher than the county average (and 22 percentage points higher than the 96 percent white municipality with the $200,000 median income).

The county structure of many small municipalities over a large metro area exacerbates the effect of poverty. In the poorer ones, schools are underfunded. Resources for public services are scarce compared to the demand. The municipalities compete in a race to the bottom to provide tax incentives for businesses to locate in their town or city–which gives the chain stores lining the streets of Ferguson a subsidy on the backs of poor residents.

The structure of St. Louis County has, in effect, helped lock Black residents without the means to leave the area into highly segregated communities, with disproportionate rates of poverty by any measure–whether the comparison is to the county, the state or the nation.

Emerson Electric, Boeing and Express Scripts all employ large numbers of people in the Ferguson area, but thanks to the fragmented municipalities, these corporate giants not only receive massive tax breaks, but they avoid paying anything into the tax bases that fund the public schools and services their workers rely on.

Ferguson exemplifies the way that segregation, police violence and economic inequality are tightly woven together.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

TWENTY YEARS of disinvestment and impoverishment as Ferguson became a majority Black city have taken a visible toll.

As soon as you pull off the Interstate into town, there is a strip mall that stands completely dark. Payday loan companies have set up shop on almost every corner. The notice for a free adult clinic on Saturday hangs from the sign of a business that has been closed for a while.

The ditches that line the streets to help alleviate flooding from the Mississippi River were carefully built and reinforced with concrete a long time ago, but they’re overgrown with brush thick enough to block adequate drainage–even though the town is just minutes from the riverbanks.

But this is not all there is to know about Ferguson.

The media reports that blame Mike Brown for his own murder, with their focus on a surveillance video released by police that allegedly shows Brown in a confrontation with a store employee, also blame protesters for the discord in their community. But nothing could be further from the truth. The police killed Mike Brown, and they are also trying to destroy the community solidarity built up over the past week and a half.

If you go to Ferguson, stop at the QuikTrip, and you’ll see an inspiring sense of trust and community–something that reminded activists of the occupation of the Wisconsin state Capitol in 2011, among other historic struggles.

The people of Ferguson are proud of their community. The immaculate lawns that most residents keep, many with carefully laid stone gardens and neatly trimmed shrubbery, line roads in desperate need of repair. When we meet Kristian Blackmon, a lifetime Ferguson resident who has been protesting each day since Mike Brown was killed, the pride in her voice is clear when she declares to each person she meets that she is Ferguson “born and raised.”

The history of Ferguson–up to and including the killing of Mike Brown and the rebellion we have witnessed over the last week and a half–has been profoundly shaped by racism and inequality that was embedded in this place from its founding.

As a result, the residents of Ferguson, who have come together to oppose the murder of an unarmed 18-year-old and the reign of police terror in their community, are also challenging other forms of racism and inequality that threaten their lives.

Standing together with them, we will fight to stop the racist killer cops–and know that we’re also fighting against the racism built into the very foundation of Ferguson and every other city in this country.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Fisk on ISIS: mind your language!

August 23, 2014 at 1:24 pm (apologists and collaborators, fascism, genocide, grovelling, Human rights, iraq, islamism, jerk, Jim D, kurdistan, language, Syria, terror, Uncategorized, United States)

Robert Fisk, Christchurch, 2008.jpg

Above: Fisk says ‘apocalyptic’ talk is “childish”

An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Yazidis driven onto Mount Sinjar to escape genocide; 130,000 other Yazadis fleeing to Kurdistan or Irbil; 100,000 Assyrian Christians in flight for their lives; 20,000 Shia Turkmen residents of Amerli besieged for two months and at risk of massacre and/or starvation; countless women and girls kidnapped, raped and sold into slavery; massacres, beheadings, crucifictions, forced conversions …

… I’d say that was a pretty apocalyptic picture, warranting strong action by those of us who care about human rights and democracy.

But for The Independent‘s Robert Fisk, not only is strong action unwarranted: even strong language is to be deplored.

Yesterday, Fisk’s characteristic combination of sneering and preaching was directed at Obama’s use of language:

‘Foley’s murder [has been turned] into a further reason to go on bombing the Isis “caliphate” . And what else did they provoke from us – or at least from America’s vacationing President/ A battle on strictly religious terms … Yes Barak Obama … informed the world that “No just God would stand for what they [Isis] did yesterday and for what they do every single day.” So there you have it: Obama turned the “caliphate’s” savagery into an inter-religious battle of rival Gods, “ours” [ie the West's] against “theirs” [the Muslim God, of course]. This was the nearest Obama has yet come in rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 in which he said that “we” are going to go on a “Crusade”.’

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that any serious commentator on Isis would have more important things to fulminate about than Obama’s use of language? Never mind the fact that Fisk’s interpretation of what Obama said and the comparison with Bush’s use of the word “crusade” is plainly nonsense, and even Fisk himself goes on to admit as much in his next paragraph. So what point, exactly, is this so-called “expert” on Middle Eastern affairs trying to make? Who knows, except that it’s all “our” (ie the West’s, the US’s, Britians’s, Europe’s, etc, etc) fault, perhapd because of “our” use of language. But cutting through Fisk’s verbose waffle is a difficult task, and I for one actually prefer the straightforward ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ western self-hatred of, say,  Seumas Milne, and the Stop The War Coalition’s simple formula that everything’s the fault of the ‘West’.

And Fisk’s linguistic concerns continue: in today’s Indepenedent he once again deplores the Yanks’ use of strong language when describing Isis/Islamic State:

‘”Apocalyptic.” “End-of-days strategic vision.” “Beyond anything we have ever seen.” “An imminent threat to every interest we have.” “Beyond just a terrorist group.” “We must prepare for everything.”

‘So are they Martians? Alien invaders from Planet X? Destroyer spacecraft from the movie Independence Day?

‘The word movie is the clue. Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. It only needed Tom Cruise at their press conference to utter the words “Mission impossible”. Who writes this God-awful script? Can’t the US Defence Secretary and his joint chiefs chairman do better than this?

It would be interesting to witness this educated, cultured Brit Arabist and Middle East “expert” explain to the Yazidis, the Assyrian Christians, the Shias of Amerli and the many other victims of Isis/Islamic State, just why the “apocalyptic” language used by Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey, is so inappropriate. And why it’s the main issue that should concern us when discussing a fascist movement.

Iraq map

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Lauren Bacall and Hoagy Carmichael: How Little We Know

August 16, 2014 at 1:35 pm (cinema, Civil liberties, Democrats, film, good people, jazz, Jim D, mccarthyism, RIP, song, theatre, United States)

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014) and Humphrey Bogart lead a march to the Capitol in Washington, DC to protest against Senator McCarthy's witch hunt of communists and alleged communists, 1947.

The death of Lauren Bacall (pictured above with husband Humphrey Bogart leading a 1947 march against McCarthy’s witch hunt of leftists and liberals) robs us of the last great star from Hollwood’s ‘golden age’ and a brave liberal – in the best sense of the word. She described herself to TV host Larry King, in 2005, as “anti-Republican and a liberal. The L-word. Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind.”

I can’t resist the opportunity to show you a clip of Bacall in her first film, Howard Hawks’ 1944 ‘To Have And Have Not’, in which she sings the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer number ‘How Little We Know’, accompanied by Hoagy himself at the piano. For many years it was thought that Bacall’s singing was dubbed by the young Andy Williams, but Hawks confirmed (in Joseph McBride’s book ‘Hawks on Hawks’) that although Williams’ voice was recorded, it was not used because he (Hawks) decided Bacall’s voice was good enough.

RIP Betty

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The US attack on ISIS and the inconsistencies of the ‘anti imperialist’ left

August 12, 2014 at 8:17 am (imperialism, internationalism, iraq, islamism, Middle East, Obama, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, Stop The War, Syria, terror, United States, war)

As ever, with a reblogged article, please do not assume that all of us at Shiraz agree with all the contents of this piece, which first appeared on the Australian GreenLeft discussion group:

bush_bolton_obama_-_medium

Above: the US Answer anti-war coalition last year on Syria: what do they say now?

“Anti-imperialists” protesting US war on Iraq?

By Michael Karadjis

For days now, the US military has been launching air strikes against the reactionary Sunni-fascist group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS, or just IS now) in Iraq. Yet, strangely, not only have I not seen any evidence of anti-war demonstrations, or organising for them, I have also not seen the entire faux-“left” cybersphere full of fulminating attacks on US imperialist intervention, with everyone repeating and slightly re-wording the same half-baked, evidence-free article, like we saw last August during the alleged build-up to an entirely imaginary US attack on the reactionary, secular-fascist regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.

The geopolitics is of course interesting. While the Syrian regime of Assad barely fired a shot at ISIS for an entire year (and vice versa), and instead both focused on crushing the Free Syrian Army (FSA, and its more moderate Islamist allies, and also Jabhat al-Nusra), often even directly and blatantly collaborating against the FSA, and in oil deals, and “the West”, forever refusing to send even a bullet to the FSA under the bullshit rubric that such arms “might get into the hands of extremists”, even though for the whole year, the only force in the entire region (apart from the Kurds) that were actually fighting ISIS (the worst extremists) were the FSA and its allies (and indeed are still furiously resisting ISIS in Syria right now); well now that the US is bombing ISIS, and bolstering and arming Assad’s ally, the sectarian-Shia regime of Maliki, so now the Assad regime and ISIS have also FINALLY come to blows! What an amazing coincidence!

Anyway, let’s try to figure out some differences for anti-war western leftists.

Perhaps we should only oppose US interventions when they are just a figment of our imaginations, as opposed to ones that are actually happening in our face.

Perhaps we should only oppose imaginary US interventions when the US shows that it is impossible to intervene without going around in a whole lot of circles like countless committee meetings, taking a war proposal to Congress for the first time in half a century etc, whereas when the US shows that you can order air strikes without all that pretense, then it is OK.

Perhaps it should depend on the degree of imaginary “anti-imperialism” of the reactionary tyrants under real or imaginary US attack. So apparently, since the Syrian Baath regime has collaborated with US imperialism for decades, right up to the rendition and torture program of “terror” suspects on behalf of the US in very recent times, and slaughtered Palestinians and their camps and organisations and militants with a passion rivalling the Zionist regime, we should defend such a well-intentioned regime, whereas a regime like ISIS which is totally, fundamentally anti-imperialist to the core (I don’t use that as a compliment, rather it is a neutral statement), then we should not oppose a US attack.

Perhaps we should look at who has done the most slaughtering. Both of course are monstrous tyrants to the core and neither has any redeeming feature whatsoever. But since ISIS has probably killed several thousand, and Assad has pretty much levelled every city in Syria, turned the whole country to rubble, killed over 100,000 people to be generous, tortured tens of thousands to death in medieval dungeons, bombed hospitals and schools with a fury rivalling Israel in Gaza, and at that very time, last August, had bombed hundreds of children in their sleep with chemical weapons, of course we should defend only Assad, not ISIS.

Perhaps someone could offer some other suggestions.

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Obama authorises ”targeted air strikes” to “prevent genocide”: where does the left stand?

August 8, 2014 at 12:29 pm (Andrew Coates, anti-fascism, genocide, iraq, islamism, murder, Obama, reblogged, Stop The War, United States)

From Tendance Coatesy:

Confronted with the threat of mass murder in Iraq by the genociders of the Islamic State (ISIL)  the American President, Obama, has issued this statement.

Today I authorized two operations in Iraq — targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.

……

First, I said in June — as the terrorist group ISIL began an advance across Iraq — that the United States would be prepared to take targeted military action in Iraq if and when we determined that the situation required it.  In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Erbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces.

To stop the advance on Erbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city.  We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad.  We’re also providing urgent assistance to Iraqi government and Kurdish forces so they can more effectively wage the fight against ISIL.

Second, at the request of the Iraqi government — we’ve begun operations to help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the mountain.  As ISIL has marched across Iraq, it has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis.  And these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect.  Countless Iraqis have been displaced.  And chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and enslaving Yezidi women.

In recent days, Yezidi women, men and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives.  And thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — are now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their backs.  They’re without food, they’re without water.  People are starving.  And children are dying of thirst.  Meanwhile, ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.  So these innocent families are faced with a horrible choice:  descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger.

I’ve said before, the United States cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world.  So let me be clear about why we must act, and act now.  When we face a situation like we do on that mountain — with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help — in this case, a request from the Iraqi government — and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.  We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide.  That’s what we’re doing on that mountain.

The Stop the War Coalition has published this a couple of days ago (from the most recent Labour Briefing)

ISIS barbarians threatening Iraq: who they are and where they come from.

Sami Ramadani states,

We should support secular-democratic efforts to rebuild a measure of peaceful co-existence between the sects, religions, ethnicities and nationalities of Iraq and the Middle East. Keeping quiet about ISIS throat-cutters and their assorted allies, just because we oppose the Maliki regime’s policies, is a recipe for disaster.

Having pillaged large parts of Syria and terrorised its religious and ethnic minorities, as well as its women, they are now marching towards Baghdad, joined by Saddamist officers and Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi zealots. This will lead to a sectarian bloodbath.

ISIS will not flinch from burning Baghdad’s remaining books and removing its girls from schools. They want to punish millions of “idolatry” Shia and crucify its remaining “Nassara” Christians. They were funded, armed and trained by the US and its allies: Turkey and the amoral sheiks and princes of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Israel helped them by bombing raids on Syria and treating their wounded in Israeli hospitals before re-arming them to go back to Syria to escalate the carnage.

We need to face the fact that popular activity in west and north west Iraq, just like in Syria, has been effectively highjacked by sectarian and racist forces. I cannot possibly remain silent about movements, no matter how popular, that are led by racist, sectarian and nihilist forces. In Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah, they have capitalised on popular demands and are now dominant.

Ramadani is critical of the Iraqi government, led by Maliki, which he describes as sectarian and brutal,

What Iraq needs, and sadly lacks today, is strong secular, democratic organisations that can unite the people to overthrow the occupation-built sectarian institutions, and rid Iraq of US intervention and that of all regional powers. This cannot be achieved by replacing Maliki’s corrupt regime with a regime led by the above organisations. Maliki is a passing phase, but, if the barbarians win, they will destroy what is left of Iraqi society, following its devastation by the US-led occupation.

It is for the Iraqi people to remove Maliki and not for the US and its proxies to impose a more pliant ruler. This is the devastation that evolved in Syria and we must not ignore its probable evolution in Iraq. For the winners will be the oil companies, arms manufacturers, and sectarian war lords plunging the entire Middle East into a blood bath.”

The evidence is that Baghdad is ruled by a sectarian government.

As Patrick Cockbrun states in the latest London Review of Books,

Iraq’s Shia leaders haven’t grappled with the fact that their domination over the Iraqi state, brought about by the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, is finished, and only a Shia rump is left. It ended because of their own incompetence and corruption and because the Sunni uprising in Syria in 2011 destabilised the sectarian balance of power in Iraq.

He indicates that the genociders have powerful backing from outside Iraq and Syria,

The foster parents of Isis and the other Sunni jihadi movements in Iraq and Syria are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies and Turkey. This doesn’t mean the jihadis didn’t have strong indigenous roots, but their rise was crucially supported by outside Sunni powers. The Saudi and Qatari aid was primarily financial, usually through private donations, which Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, says were central to the Isis takeover of Sunni provinces in northern Iraq: ‘Such things do not happen spontaneously.’

If a “a new and terrifying state has been born.” perhaps it will die of its internal contradictions.

It may well be that US intervention will not solve anything.

Unfortunately the Christians, Yezidi and Shia of Iraq cannot wait or pose these questions.

They need help now.

Can we stand by, criticise Obama, and let nothing be done to come to their aid?

Some of us would accept help from anyone if we were in the plight of the potential victims of the Islamist genociders.

Updates:

France prepared to give military support for action in Iraq against the Islamic State, without giving details of what this entails. Libération.

Why are the Yazidis threatened with genocide?

They are not “people of the Book”:

“Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking people who follow an ancient religion blending elements of Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity and local folk beliefs. Several hundred thousand followers live in Sinjar and Sheikhan, two regions just west and east of Mosul.

Smaller communities of Yazidis live in Syria, Armenia and Germany.

At their unique conical temples, they worship a peacock deity called Melek Taus and hold elaborate ceremonies that involve fire and water.

“Yezidism is a syncretic religion that takes from a variety of different traditions, some Zoroastrianism, Islamic and a little bit of animism,” said Austin Long, professor of international affairs at Columbia University in New York.  “It’s a mixed religion with a long-standing history in Iraq. Most are Kurds, ethnically.”

Through the centuries, Yazidis have often been persecuted by Muslims who say the faith is forbidden. In 2007, hundreds of Yazidis in Sinjar died in a series of massive explosions orchestrated against them by al-Qaida in Iraq — the precursor of the Islamic State.” from here.

More:  Why you really need to pay attention to Iraq’s Yazidi community By SOFIA PATEL 

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Chomsky in ‘The Nation’ on BDS

July 3, 2014 at 1:18 pm (Chomsky, Human rights, intellectuals, israel, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reblogged, United States, zionism)

.

The Nation: July 7-14, 2014

Noam Chomsky’s new article in The Nation on the BDS campaign against Israel has caused a stir. He makes quite a few highly controversial points, not all of which Shiraz would necessarily agree with. We republish this important piece, exacty as it appears in The Nation (starting with the Editor’s note)  in the interests of information and debate:

Editor’s Note: BDS has been a topic of vigorous debate in the Nation community. For more on that debate, and for a range of responses to this article in the coming days, go to TheNation.com/BDS.

On Israel-Palestine and BDS
Those dedicated to the Palestinian cause should think carefully about the tactics they choose.
By Noam Chomsky

The misery caused by Israel’s actions in the occupied territories has elicited serious concern among at least some Israelis. One of the most outspoken, for many years, has been Gideon Levy, a columnist for Haaretz, who writes that “Israel should be condemned and punished for creating insufferable life under occupation, [and] for the fact that a country that claims to be among the enlightened nations continues abusing an entire people, day and night.”

He is surely correct, and we should add something more: the United States should also be condemned and punished for providing the decisive military, economic, diplomatic and even ideological support for these crimes. So long as it continues to do so, there is little reason to expect Israel to relent in its brutal policies.

The distinguished Israeli scholar Zeev Sternhell, reviewing the reactionary nationalist tide in his country, writes that “the occupation will continue, land will be confiscated from its owners to expand the settlements, the Jordan Valley will be cleansed of Arabs, Arab Jerusalem will be strangled by Jewish neighborhoods, and any act of robbery and foolishness that serves Jewish expansion in the city will be welcomed by the High Court of Justice. The road to South Africa has been paved and will not be blocked until the Western world presents Israel with an unequivocal choice: Stop the annexation and dismantle most of the colonies and the settler state, or be an outcast.”

One crucial question is whether the United States will stop undermining the international consensus, which favors a two-state settlement along the internationally recognized border (the Green Line established in the 1949 ceasefire agreements), with guarantees for “the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all states in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.” That was the wording of a resolution brought to the UN Security Council in January 1976 by Egypt, Syria and Jordan, supported by the Arab states—and vetoed by the United States.

This was not the first time Washington had barred a peaceful diplomatic settlement. The prize for that goes to Henry Kissinger, who supported Israel’s 1971 decision to reject a settlement offered by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, choosing expansion over security—a course that Israel has followed with US support ever since. Sometimes Washington’s position becomes almost comical, as in February 2011, when the Obama administration vetoed a UN resolution that supported official US policy: opposition to Israel’s settlement expansion, which continues (also with US support) despite some whispers of disapproval.

It is not expansion of the huge settlement and infrastructure program (including the separation wall) that is the issue, but rather its very existence—all of it illegal, as determined by the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice, and recognized as such by virtually the entire world apart from Israel and the United States since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who downgraded “illegal” to “an obstacle to peace.”

One way to punish Israel for its egregious crimes was initiated by the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom in 1997: a boycott of settlement products. Such initiatives have been considerably expanded since then. In June, the Presbyterian Church resolved to divest from three US-based multinationals involved in the occupation. The most far-reaching success is the policy directive of the European Union that forbids funding, cooperation, research awards or any similar relationship with any Israeli entity that has “direct or indirect links” to the occupied territories, where all settlements are illegal, as the EU declaration reiterates. Britain had already directed retailers to “distinguish between goods originating from Palestinian producers and goods originating from illegal Israeli settlements.”

Four years ago, Human Rights Watch called on Israel to abide by “its international legal obligation” to remove the settlements and to end its “blatantly discriminatory practices” in the occupied territories. HRW also called on the United States to suspend financing to Israel “in an amount equivalent to the costs of Israel’s spending in support of settlements,” and to verify that tax exemptions for organizations contributing to Israel “are consistent with U.S. obligations to ensure respect for international law, including prohibitions against discrimination.”

There have been a great many other boycott and divestment initiatives in the past decade, occasionally—but not sufficiently—reaching to the crucial matter of US support for Israeli crimes. Meanwhile, a BDS movement (calling for “boycott, divestment and sanctions”) has been formed, often citing South African models; more accurately, the abbreviation should be “BD,” since sanctions, or state actions, are not on the horizon—one of the many significant differences from South Africa.

Read the rest here

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Gove doesn’t want pupils to read ‘Of Mice and Men’

May 25, 2014 at 11:24 pm (Asshole, culture, Education, humanism, Jim D, literature, Tory scum, tragedy, United States)

In an extraordinary outburst of anti-American philistinism, Michael Gove seeks to remove Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice And Men’, and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ from the GCSE curriculum. What a disgrace!

‘Of Mice and Men’ may not be Steinbeck’s greatest novel, but it’s still a major work. The final scene is one of the most moving pieces of literature you’ll ever read, to be set alongside the best of Dickens, but without the mawkish sentimentality: Steinbeck’s terse, straightforward prose prevents that.

The book was originally going to be called ‘Something Happened’, which sums up Steinbeck’s approach to story telling. Like the book that preceded it, ‘In Dubious Battle’ and the book that followed, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, this is about itinerant agricultural  labourers in 1930’s Carlifornia. But unlike those two books, there is little overt social or political context: it’s essentially a story of friendship, hope and loss. It’s a great modern tragedy and that final scene remains the only piece of fiction I have ever read that can, without fail, make me cry.

Lennie looked eagerly at him. “Go on, George. Ain’t you gonna give me more hell?”

“No” said George.

“Well, I can go away,” said Lennie. “I’ll go right off in the hills an’ find a cave if you don’t want me.”

George shook himself again. “No,” he said. “I want you to stay with me here.”

Lennie said craftily – “Tell me like you done before.”

“Tell you what?”

“‘Bout the other guys an’ about us.”

George said, “Guys like us got no fambly. They make a little stake an’ then they blow it in. They got nobody in the worl’ that gives a hoot in hell about ‘em -“

But not us,” Lennie cried happily. “Tell about us now.”

George was quiet for a moment. “But not us,” he said.

“Because  – “

“Because I got you an’ – “

“An’ I got you. We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us,” Lennie cried in triumph.

The little evening breeze blew over the clearing and the leaves rustled and the wind waves flowed up the green pool. And the shouts of the men sounded again, this time much closer than before.

George took off his hat. He said shakily, “Take off your hat, Lennie. The air feels fine.”

Lennie removed his hat dutifully and laid it on the ground in front of him. The shadow in the valley was bluer, and the evening came fast. On the wind the sound of crashing in the brush came to them.

Lennie said, “Tell how it’s gonna be.”

George had been listening to the distant sounds. For a moment he was business-like. “Look across the river, Lennie, an’ I’ll tell you so you can almost see it.”

Lennie turned his head and looked across the pool and up the darkening slopes of the Gabilans. “We gonna get a little place,” George began. He reached in his side pocket and brought out Carlson’s Luger; he snapped off the safety, and the hand gun lay on the ground behind Lennie’s back. He looked at the back of Lennie’s head, at the place where the spine and the skull were joined.

A man’s voice called from up the river, and another man answered.

“Go on,” said Lennie.

George raised the gun and his hand shook, and he dropped his hand to the ground again.

“Go on,” said Lennie. “How it’s gonna be. We gonna get a little place.”

“We’ll have a cow,” said George. “An’ we’ll have maybe a pig an’ chickens…an’ down the flat we’ll have a…little piece alfalfa  –  “

“For the rabbits, ” Lennie shouted.

“For the rabbits,” George repeated.

“And I get to tend the rabbits.”

“And you get to tend the rabbits.”

Lennie giggled with happiness. “An’ live off the fatta the lan’.”

“Yes.”

Lennie turned his head

“No, Lennie. Look down across the river, like you can almost see the place.”

Lennie obayed him. George looked down at the gun.

There were crashing footsteps in the brush now! George turned and looked towards them.

“Go on, George. When we gonna do it?”

“Gonna do it soon.”

“Me an’ you.”

“You…an’ me. Ever’body gonna be nice to you. Ain’t gonna be no more trouble. Nobody gonna hurt nobody nor steal from ‘em.”

Lennie said, “I thought you was mad at me, George.”

“No,” said George. “No, Lennie. I ain’t mad. I never been mad, an’ I ain’t now. That’s a thing I want ya to know.”

The voices came close now. George raised the gun and listened to the voices.

Lennie begged, “Le’s do it now. Le’s get that place now.”

“Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta.”

And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie’s head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, and he lay without quivering.

George shivered and looked at the gun, and then he threw it from him, back up the bank, near the pile of old ashes.

The brush seemed filled with cries and with the sound of running feet. Slim’s voice shouted, “George. Where you at, George?”

But George sat stiffly on the bank and looked at his right hand that had thrown the gun away. The group burst into the clearing and Curley was ahead. He saw Lennie lying on the sand. “Got him, by God.” He went over and looked down at Lennie, and then looked back at George. “Right in the back of the head,” he said softly.

Slim came directly to George and sat down beside him, sat very close to him. “Never you mind,” said Slim. “A guy got to sometimes.”

But Carlson was standing over George. “How’d you do it?” he asked.

“I just done it,” George said tiredly.

“Did he have my gun?”

“Yeah. He had your gun.”

“An’ you got it away from him and you took it an’ you killed him?”

“Yeah. Tha’s how.” George’s voice was almost a whisper. He looked steadily at his right hand that had held the gun.

Slim twitched George’s elbow. “Come on, George. Me an’ you’ll go in an’ get a drink.”

George let himself be helped to his feet. “Yeah, a drink.”

Slim said, “You hadda, George. I swear you hadda. Come on with me.” He led George to the entrance of the trail and up towards the highway.

Curley and Carson looked after them. And Carlson said, “Now what the hell you suppose is eatin’ them two guys?”

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