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Turkey’s Coup aftermath and Human Rights: A Feminist Perspective

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 - 12:22am

By Banu Gökarıksel | ( Duke University Blog ) | – –

Feminist critiques of political power reveal the central function of gender, sexuality, and difference in maintaining that power. Yet, in current events, a feminist geopolitics is rarely considered and has been absent from analysis of the 2016 coup attempt and its aftermath in Turkey. Much more than tallying the number of women who participated in protesting against the coup, a feminist approach reveals the ways in which the coup attempt (and responses to it) in Turkey relied on the exercise of masculine discursive and material power. Violence was both engineered by a powerful institution, the Turkish military, as well as opposed by the political power of the AKP backed by other state institutions such as the police and gendarme. Both coup plotters and their opponents played a significant role in constructing and symbolizing normative masculinity and heterosexuality. The eruption of violence reinforced the hegemonic relationship between the military, the state, and the nation.

Feminist critique reveals that under President Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership, the AKP government has taken increasingly repressive and alarmingly authoritarian measures against minorities, women, and girls, and has galvanized a populist nationalist masculinity that Erdoğan himself embodies. The crowds of civilian men, police officers, and anti-coup soldiers who fought against the putschists, sometimes without any weapons, also legitimate and embolden a nationalist masculinity built on religious and social conservatism and populism.

The stepping up of its war against the Kurds is part of the government’s attempt to reestablish its nationalist and patriarchal power. Despite the magnitude of horror and human cost of this war, it could be thought in connection to a regulation for the chemical castration of sex offenders and the ‘rape’ bill proposal introduced in November 2016 (that would have absolved rapists who marry their victims under 18 years of age from any criminal punishment but met with huge demonstrations and did not secure enough votes to pass). Without attending to the bolstering of this masculinist power in the streets and in government, analysts miss a crucial dimension of how a political environment of fear and intimidation has been legitimated and how violence and militarization have recast Turkish subjects.

The coup attempt on 15 July 2016 was unexpected but not entirely surprising given Turkey’s history. What was surprising was what happened afterwards. Following Erdoğan’s call to defend democracy over a FaceTime call broadcast live on television and constant prayer calls from minarets, people in huge numbers poured out to the streets, breaking the curfew. Although some women were present, the overwhelming majority were men. The civilian men joined the police and anti-coup soldiers to fight against the putchists. Waving Turkish flags and shouting “Ya Allah, Bismillah, Allahuekber”, they attacked soldiers and tanks.

By the following morning it was clear that the coup attempt had failed. 241 people were killed and more than two thousand were injured during the coup. Crowds came out to occupy public squares to celebrate the defeat of the putschists in ‘democracy vigil’s that continued for weeks. The people who attended these democracy vigils did not seem to fully support democratic ideals and norms, asking for the immediate hanging of all the putschists and declaring unconditional loyalty to Erdoğan’s leadership.

The Turkish government’s reaction to the coup attempt has also been to the detriment of an already deteriorating democratic environment in which freedoms and rights of most citizens, mostly importantly of women and minorities have been increasingly restricted. Initiating a familiar re-militarization of society, the AKP government quickly and violently acted to restore its masculinist power, repressing any expression of difference from its normative Turkish citizenship. It declared a state of emergency which persists and strengthened its grip on power through arrests, purges, travel bans, and property seizures. The initial targets expanded from coup plotters, supporters, and anyone associated with Fethullah Gülen’s hizmet movement, which the government alleges masterminded the coup, to all critics of government policies, especially its war against the Kurds. Hundreds have been detained or arrested; thousands have been fired from their jobs or forced to resign; over one hundred media outlets have been closed down since July. Academics who signed a peace petition, journalists who wrote anything critical of the government continue to become targets as late as February 2017.

The coup attempt and the AKP’s response to it are manifestations of masculinist political power. The aggressive, violent masculinities that the coup attempt and its aftermath bolstered constitute the architecture of a security state. Political power is never gender-neutral but works through gendered and sexual production of bodies that belong and that do not, that need protection and that are threats, and through the gendered and sexual construction of borders and territory. A feminist critique provides insights into the production of an environment of increasing consolidation of masculinist power, rhetoric of national unity, violence, and militarism. But it also shows the possibilities for building solidarities and working towards a different future built on pluralism, non-violence, and peace.

Read the Special Forum: Feminist Perspectives on the 2016 Coup Attempt and its Aftermath in Turkey here.

Banu Gökarıksel is co-editor of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies. The most recent issue of the journal, volume 13 and issue 1, features a special forum on Feminist Perspectives on the 2016 Coup Attempt and its Aftermath in Turkey.

Via Duke University Blog

Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Trumpocalypse: How the U.S. Invaded, Occupied, and Remade Itself

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 - 12:16am

By Tom Engelhardt | ( | – –

It’s been epic! A cast of thousands! (Hundreds? Tens?) A spectacular production that, five weeks after opening on every screen of any sort in America (and possibly the world), shows no sign of ending. What a hit it’s been! It’s driving people back to newspapers (online, if not in print) and ensuring that our everyday companions, the 24/7 cable news shows, never lack for “breaking news” or audiences. It’s a smash in both the Hollywood and car accident sense of the term, a phenomenon the likes of which we’ve simply never experienced. Think of Nero fiddling while Rome burned and the cameras rolled. It’s proved, in every way, to be a giant leak. A faucet. A spigot. An absolute flood of non-news, quarter-news, half-news, crazed news, fake news, and over-the-top actual news.

And you know exactly what — and whom — I’m talking about.  No need to explain.  I mean, you tell me: What doesn’t it have?  Its lead actor is the closest we’ve come in our nation’s capital to an action figure.  Think of him as the Mar-a-Lego version of Batman and the Joker rolled into one, a president who, as he told us at a news conference recently, is “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life” and the “least racist person” as well.  As report after report indicates, he attacks, lashes out, mocks, tweets, pummels, charges, and complains, showering calumny on others even as he praises his achievements without surcease.  Think of him as the towering inferno of twenty-first-century American politics or a modern Godzilla eternally emerging from New York harbor.

As for his supporting cast? Islamophobes, Iranophobes, white nationalists; bevies of billionaires and multimillionaires; a resurgent stock market gone wild; the complete fossil fuel industry and every crackpot climate change “skeptic” in town; a press spokesman immortalized by Saturday Night Live whose afternoon briefings are already beating the soap opera General Hospital in the ratings; a White House counselor whose expertise is in “alternative facts”; a national security adviser who (with a tenure of 24 days) seemed to sum up the concept of “insecurity”; a White House chief of staff and liaison with the Republicans in Congress who’s already being sized up for extinction, as well as a couple of appointees who were “dismissed” or even frog-marched out of their offices and jobs for having criticized The Donald and not fessed up… honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up, or rather only Trump himself can do so.  And by the way, just so you know, based on the last weeks of “news” I could keep this paragraph going more or less forever without even breaking into a sweat.

Among so many subjects I haven’t even mentioned, including Melania and former wife Ivana — is it even possible that she could become the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic? — there are, of course, the Trump kids and their businesses and the instantly broken promises on (such an old-fashioned phrase) their conflicts of interest and the conflicts about those conflicts and the presidential tweets, threats, and bluster that have gone with them, not to speak of the issue of for-pay access to the new president.  And how about Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner (another walking conflict of you-know-what), who reputedly had a role in the appointment of the new ambassador to Israel, a New York bankruptcy lawyer known for raising millions of dollars to fund a West Bank Jewish settlement and for calling supporters of the liberal Jewish group J Street “far worse than kapos” (Jews who aided the Nazis in their concentration camps). Kushner has now been ordained America’s ultimate peacemaker in the Middle East.  And don’t forget that sons Donald and Eric are already saving memorabilia for the future Trump presidential library, a concept that should take your breath away.  (Just imagine a library with those giant golden letters over its entrance to honor a man who proudly doesn’t read books and, as with presidential executive orders and possibly even volumes he’s “written,” signs off on things he’s barely bothered to check out.)

And speaking of Rome (remember Nero fiddling?), have you noticed that these days all news roads lead back to… well, Donald Trump?  Take my word for it: nothing happens in our world any longer that doesn’t relate to him and his people (or, by definition, it simply didn’t happen).  Since he rode that Trump Tower escalator into the presidential race in June 2015, his greatest skill has, without any doubt, been his ability to suck up all the media air in any room, whether that “room” is the Oval Office, Washington, or the world at large.  He speaks at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, amid angry outbursts on leaks from the intelligence community and attacks on “the dishonest media” for essentially firing his national security adviser, he suddenly turns his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue and says, “So, I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”  And the world as we’ve known it in the Middle East is suddenly turned upside down and inside out.


In its way, even 20 months after it began, it’s all still so remarkable and new, and if it isn’t like being in the path of a tornado, you tell me what it’s like.  So no one should be surprised at just how difficult it is to step outside the storm of this never-ending moment, to find some — any — vantage point offering the slightest perspective on the Trumpaclysm that’s hit our world.

Still, odd as it may seem under the circumstances, Trump’s presidency came from somewhere, developed out of something.  To think of it (as many of those resisting Trump now seem inclined to do) as uniquely new, the presidential version of a virgin birth, is to defy both history and reality.

Donald Trump, whatever else he may be, is most distinctly a creature of history.  He’s unimaginable without it.  This, in turn, means that the radical nature of his new presidency should serve as a reminder of just how radical the 15 years after 9/11 actually were in shaping American life, politics, and governance.  In that sense, to generalize (if you’ll excuse the pun), his presidency already offers a strikingly vivid and accurate portrait of the America we’ve been living in for some years now, even if we’d prefer to pretend otherwise.

After all, it’s clearly a government of, by, and evidently for the billionaires and the generals, which pretty much sums up where we’ve been heading for the last decade and a half anyway.  Let’s start with those generals.  In the 15 years before Trump entered the Oval Office, Washington became a permanent war capital; war, a permanent feature of our American world; and the military, the most admired institution of American life, the one in which we have the most confidence among an otherwise fading crew, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, television news, newspapers, big business, and Congress (in that descending order).

Support for that military in the form of staggering sums of taxpayer dollars (which are about to soar yet again) is one of the few things congressional Democrats and Republicans can still agree on.  The military-industrial complex rides ever higher (despite Trumpian tweets about the price of F-35s); police across the country have been armed like so many military forces, while the technology of war on America’s distant battlefields — from Stingrays to MRAPs to military surveillance drones — has come home big time, and we’ve been SWATified.

This country has, in other words, been militarized in all sorts of ways, both obvious and less so, in a fashion that Americans once might not have imagined possible.  In the process, declaring and making war has increasingly become — the Constitution be damned — the sole preoccupation of the White House without significant reference to Congress.  Meanwhile, thanks to the drone assassination program run directly out of the Oval Office, the president, in these years, has become an assassin-in-chief as well as commander-in-chief.

Under the circumstances, no one should have been surprised when Donald Trump turned to the very generals he criticized in the election campaign, men who fought 15 years of losing wars that they bitterly feel should have been won.  In his government, they have, of course, now taken over — a historic first — what had largely been the civilian posts of secretary of defense, secretary of homeland security, national security adviser, and National Security Council chief of staff.  Think of it as a junta light and little more than the next logical step in the further militarization of this country.

It’s striking, for instance, that when the president finally fired his national security adviser, 24 days into his presidency, all but one of the other figures that he reportedly considered for a post often occupied by a civilian were retired generals (and an admiral), or in the case of the person he actually tapped to be his second national security adviser, a still-active Army general.  This reflects a distinct American reality of the twenty-first century that The Donald has simply absorbed like the human sponge he is.  As a result, America’s permanent wars, all relative disasters of one sort or another, will now be overseen by men who were, for the last decade and a half, deeply implicated in them.  It’s a formula for further disaster, of course, but no matter.

Other future Trumpian steps — like the possible mobilization of the National Guard, more than half a century after guardsmen helped desegregate the University of Alabama, to carry out the mass deportation of illegal immigrants — will undoubtedly be in the same mold (though the administration has denied that such a mobilization is under serious consideration yet).  In short, we now live in an America of the generals and that would be the case even if Donald Trump had never been elected president.

Add in one more factor of our moment: we have the first signs that members of the military high command may no longer feel completely bound by the classic American prohibition from taking any part in politics.  General Raymond “Tony” Thomas, head of the elite U.S. Special Operations Command, speaking recently at a conference, essentially warned the president that we are “at war” and that chaos in the White House is not good for the warriors.  That’s as close as we’ve come in our time to direct public military criticism of the White House.

The Ascendancy of the Billionaires

As for those billionaires, let’s start this way: a billionaire is now president of the United States, something that, until this country was transformed into a 1% society with 1% politics, would have been inconceivable.  (The closest we came in modern times was Nelson Rockefeller as vice president, and he was appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1974, not elected.)  In addition, never have there been so many billionaires and multimillionaires in a cabinet — and that, in turn, was only possible because there are now so staggeringly many billionaires and multimillionaires in this country to choose from.  In 1987, there were 41 billionaires in the United States; in 2015, 536.  What else do you need to know about the intervening years, which featured growing inequality and the worst economic meltdown since 1929 that only helped strengthen the new version of the American system?

In swift order in these years, we moved from billionaires funding the political system (after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened the financial floodgates) to actually heading and running the government.  As a result, count on a country even friendlier to the already fantastically wealthy — thanks in part to whatever Trump-style “tax cuts” are put in place — and so the possible establishment of a new “era of dynastic wealth.”  From the crew of rich dismantlers and destroyers Donald Trump has appointed to his cabinet, expect, among other things, that the privatization of the U.S. government — a process until now largely focused on melding warrior corporations with various parts of the national security state — will proceed apace in the rest of the governing apparatus.

We were, in other words, already living in a different America before November 8, 2016.  Donald Trump has merely shoved that reality directly in all our faces.  And keep in mind that if it weren’t for the one-percentification of this country and the surge of automation (as well as globalization) that destroyed so many jobs and only helped inequality flourish, white working class Americans in particular would not have felt so left behind in the heartland of their own country or so ready to send such an explosive figure into the White House as a visible form of screw-you-style protest.

Finally, consider one other hallmark of the first month of the Trump presidency: the “feud” between the new president and the intelligence sector of the national security state.  In these post-9/11 years, that state within a state — sometimes referred to by its critics as the “deep state,” though given the secrecy that envelops it, “dark state” might be a more accurate term — grew by leaps and bounds.  In that period, for instance, the U.S. gained a second Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security with its own security-industrial complex, while the intelligence agencies, all 17 of them, expanded in just about every way imaginable.  In those years, they gained a previously inconceivable kind of clout, as well as the ability to essentially listen in on and monitor the communications of just about anyone on the planet (including Americans).  Fed copiously by taxpayer dollars, swollen by hundreds of thousands of private contractors from warrior corporations, largely free of the controlling hand of either Congress or the courts, and operating under the kind of blanket secrecy that left most Americans in the dark about its activities (except when whistle-blowers revealed its workings), the national security state gained an ascendancy in Washington as the de facto fourth branch of government.

Now, key people within its shadowy precincts find Donald Trump, the president who is in so many ways a product of the same processes that elevated them, not to their liking — even less so once he compared their activities to those of the Nazi era — and they seem to have gone to war with him and his administration via a remarkable stream of leaks of damaging information, especially about now-departed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.  As Amanda Taub and Max Fisher of the New York Times wrote, “For concerned government officials, leaks may have become one of the few remaining means by which to influence not just Mr. Flynn’s policy initiatives but the threat he seemed to pose to their place in democracy.”

This, of course, represented a version of whistle-blowing that, when directed at them in the pre-Trump era, they found appalling.  Like General Thomas’s comments, that flood of leaks, while discomfiting Donald Trump, also represented a potential challenge to the American political system as it once was known.  When the fiercest defenders of that system begin to be seen as being inside the intelligence community and the military you know that you’re in a different and far more perilous world.

So much of what’s now happening may seem startlingly new and overwhelming. In truth, however, it’s been in development for years, even if the specifics of a Trump presidency were not so long ago unimaginable.  In March of 2015, for instance, two months before The Donald tossed his hair into the presidential ring, in a post at TomDispatch I asked if “a new political system” was emerging in America and summed the situation up this way:

“Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state. Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.”

We’re now living in Donald Trump’s America (which I certainly didn’t either predict or imagine in March 2015); we’re living, that is, in an ever more chaotic and aberrant land run (to the extent it’s run at all) by billionaires and retired generals, and overseen by a distinctly aberrant president at war with aberrant parts of the national security state.  That, in a nutshell, is the America created in the post-9/11 years.  Put another way, the U.S. may have failed dismally in its efforts to invade, occupy, and remake Iraq in its own image, but it seems to have invaded, occupied, and remade itself with remarkable success.  And don’t blame this one on the Russians.  

No one said it better than French King Louis XV: Après moi, le Trump.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Tom Engelhardt

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Reviews of our latest Dispatch book, John Feffer’s superb dystopian novel, Splinterlands, are just beginning to come in and they’re uniformly superb.  The Washington City Paper, citing its “brilliance,” writes, “If you’re having a hard time deciding whether to read 1984 or The Origins of Totalitarianism — or if you’ve already read them both and want something in-between — consider local author John Feffer’s Splinterlands.”  The Midwest Book Review adds, “Readers who enjoy dystopian stories that hold more than a light look at political structures and their downfall will more than appreciate the in-depth approach John Feffer takes in his novel.”  I urge you to support TomDispatch (and get a riveting late night read) by picking up a copy, or for a $100 donation ($125 if you live outside the U.S.), get your own signed, personalized copy from the author via our donation page (where numerous other books of our moment are also available) and give this site a real helping hand.  Tom]


Iran’s Oscar-Winning Director Hopes Anti-Fascist Movement Grows

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 - 12:08am

TeleSur | – –

“We believe there is no best country, best gender, best religion or best color,” the directors of the five Oscar foreign films nominees wrote in a joint statement.

Thousands of people braved London’s winter drizzle on Sunday for a screening of the Oscar-nominated movie that has become a rallying point for opponents of U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policy.

Hours ahead of what looked set to be the most politicized Academy Awards for years, London Mayor Sadiq Khan made clear his political motivation in hosting the British premiere of the “The Salesman,” whose Iranian director is boycotting the Hollywood ceremony.

“President Trump cannot silence me,” Khan said to cheers from the crowd gathered in Trafalgar Square. “We stand in solidarity with Asghar Farhadi, one of the world’s greatest directors.”

Farhadi, who won an Oscar in 2012 for “A Separation”, won another Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards Sunday but is stayed away in protest of Trump’s attempt to ban people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

In a video message from Tehran, Farhadi thanked the “dear people of London who are gathered on this cold afternoon,” saying he was heartened by the reaction of filmmakers and artists to “the oppressive travel ban of immigrants.”

“I hope this movement will continue and spread for it has within itself the power to stand up to fascism, be victorious in the face of extremism and saying no to oppressive political powers everywhere,” Farhadi said.

Farhadi and the film’s lead actress, Taraneh Alidoosti, both said over a month ago they would not travel to Los Angeles to represent “The Salesman” because of Trump’s ban, even if that meant they would be exempt from winning.

The ban was later overturned by U.S. courts but the administration is working on a new executive travel order.

In a statement to Hollywood trade publication Variety Friday, Farhadi’s publicist said that engineer Anousheh Ansari, who was the first female space traveler, and Firouz Naderi, a former director of NASA’s Solar System Exploration program, would take Farhadi’s place at the Oscars and represent him on stage should the film win.

Ansari moved to the United States from Iran in 1984 as a teenager and made headlines as the first Iranian and first Muslim woman in space in 2006. Naderi left Iran for the United States in 1964 and worked for some 30 years in positions with the U.S. space agency.

On Friday, Farhadi and the five other directors in the running for this year’s foreign-language Oscar issued a joint statement blaming “leading politicians” for creating “divisive walls.”

The directors included Martin Zandvliet, director of Denmark’s “Land of Mine,” Hannes Holm, director of Sweden’s “A Man Called Ove,” Maren Ade, director of Germany’s “Toni Erdmann,” and Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, joint directors of Australia’s “Tanna.”

Without explicitly referring to any politician, they said, “On behalf of all nominees, we would like to express our unanimous and emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the US and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, mostly and unfortunately of all, among leading politicians.”

Regardless of who wins the Oscar, “we believe there is no best country, best gender, best religion or best color,” the directors added. “We want this award to stand as a symbol of unity between nations and the freedom of the arts.”

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Variety: “Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman” Best Foreign Language – Oscars 2017 – Full Backstage Interview”

Spurned Reporters should dump Trump Briefings, turn to Investigative Journalism

Sun, 26 Feb 2017 - 3:25am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Donald Trump was unhappy Saturday that the major media had neglected to report a point made by Herman Cain in an interview on Fox. Cain alleged that in Barack Obama’s first month, the Federal budget deficit rose $200 bn., but in Trump’s first month it fell to only $12 bn. Obviously, Obama had nothing to do with the deficit in his first month– that was a result of the 2008 collapse, which had something to do with Republican policies of deregulating the banks and other mortgage lenders and declining to exercise any oversight over sketchy practices. And Trump had nothing to do with the deficit during his first month in office. That was a result of Obama’s 8 years of pulling the economy back out of the toilet to which the Republican Party had consigned it.

Trump’s petty attacks on journalists as enemies of America, as the worst people, and as irrationally denying him the credit for his 4 weeks of economic turnaround, are deeply worrisome to many Americans sensitive to the danger of a spiral down into authoritarian rule. William H. McRaven, the retired four-star admiral and former Navy Seal who led the raid against Usama Bin Laden, called Trump’s remark on the press as an enemy of the people “the greatest threat to democracy” he has ever seen.

Trump’s immature sidelining of reporters on his enemy’s list kept rolling on this weekend. White House spokesman Sean Spicer was set to do an on-camera press briefing on Friday, and then Donald Trump spoke at the conservative gathering CPAC. It is a custom that the spokesman doesn’t do an on-camera event the same day the president gives a substantial address. So Spicer switched to doing what is called a “gaggle,” a smaller briefing in his office attended only be a few reporters in a pool who then would convey his remarks to others.

Spicer pared down the invitee list to the bare bones. He excluded the BBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Buzzfeed, the Daily Mail and Politico, among others. He allowed ABC, Fox News, Breitbart News, Reuters and the Washington Times. Breitbart is not a news outlet, but a propaganda arm of elements of the Ku Klux Klan who wear suits rather than white robes.

The exclusions were so egregious and petty that the Associated Press, USA Today and Time magazine declined to be present. The Washington Post and McClatchy did not know about the disinvitees, and said that if they had been aware of what was going on, they would not have attended, either.

Since Spicer often conveys fake news (the Atlanta Attack) or pro-Trump propaganda at his briefings, it isn’t clear that the excluded media were exactly missing anything.

Then Trump announced that he would be the first president since Tricky Dick Nixon voluntarily to skip the annual dinner of the White House correspondents, where in recent decades the president and the press engaged in some good-natured ribbing. Trump appears to have felt humiliated at one of these events by remarks of then President Barack Obama, pushing back against Trump’s outrageous lies about Obama’s birthplace.

But Spicer’s and Trump’s attempts to exclude so many journalists from a briefing may be all to the good.

Something is broken in American journalism. Maybe it is the “inverted pyramid” whereby US reporters put the “most important thing” first in the article. It has been pointed out that this way of organizing the article gives an unfair advantage to a duplicitous administration, since anything the president says goes first in the article. Bush and his people used this principle to game the press all the time. (When the scandal about US personnel torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq broke on a Thursday evening, Bush quickly came out and condemned the practice. The Friday headlines were “President condemns torture at Abu Ghraib.”)

Or maybe it is access journalism, whereby an administration adopts a few favored writers and feeds them scoops that it suits the administration to go on the front page.

Or maybe it is the news conference. Why privilege an administration’s narrative about itself by doing articles based on nothing more than hot air coming from the general direction of the West Wing?

Most major newspapers in the US, when there were major print newspapers, used to have an investigative journalism team. With the decline of ad revenue and the hard times on which journalism has fallen, investigative journalism has often been abandoned. Administrations and the Washington bureaucracy don’t like a young journalist nosing around. ProPublica, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and some other independent organizations (often with limited resources) have been left to try to fill the gap left when big media cut back on investigative reporting.

But we need that back, big time, in this administration. Everywhere you dig in Trump’s cabinet, you find bodies. So instead of sitting in a room being fed falsehoods by Spicer or Trump, best for the journalists to be working contacts in the White House or at NSC or the Pentagon to get the real story. Enough people in Washington are appalled by the Trump-Bannon attempt to fascize America that they seem willing to leak damaging information all on their own. How much better if a trained journalist got those stories through initiative.

So here’s to Trump excluding virtually all the newspapers and cable channels. Let him. Go get the scoops he doesn’t want you to have.

Someone (probably not George Orwell) once said, ““News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.” Whoever said it, truer words were never spoken.

We need less advertising (or “public relations” in some versions), and a helluva lot more journalism these days.


Related video:

CBS Evening News: “Trump won’t attend White House correspondents’ dinner”

As Trump Goes In: Foxing the public over Yemen and Iran

Sun, 26 Feb 2017 - 12:20am

By Brian Whitaker | ( )

When it comes to reporting the conflict in Yemen, Fox News is exceptionally bad. Fox has been fooling its viewers for years but now, with Donald Trump installed in the White House, the problem is becoming a more serious. Trump is a devotee of Fox News: it tells him what he wants to hear – about Iranian influence in Yemen, among other things – and he seems to trust it more than he trusts America’s intelligence agencies.

To make matters worse, though, Trump appears to be watching Fox News without giving it his full attention, presumably because he also has his Twitter feed and presidential business to attend to. As we saw from his reference to an “incident” in Sweden last week – an imaginary event which he claimed to have heard about on Fox News – he has a tendency to pick up garbled versions of what Fox actually broadcasts.

There was a similar Fox-inspired “incident” earlier this month involving Iran or, to be more accurate, not involving Iran. On 2 February, White House spokesman Sean Spicer wrongly asserted that Iran had attacked an American warship. Spicer told reporters “Iran’s additional hostile action that it took against our Navy vessel” (along with a recent Iranian missile test) was one of the reasons why the US was putting Iran “on notice”.

The “American” warship in question was actually Saudi. It had been attacked in the Red Sea at the end of January by Houthi fighters from Yemen who – as Fox constantly reminds its viewers – are “Iranian-backed”. The mistaken idea that the ship was American appears to have come from a Fox News report claiming the attack might have been “meant for an American warship”.

There was no credible evidence to support this claim but Fox was happy to report it on the basis of quotes from anonymous Pentagon officials even though the Houthis had been claiming all along that the ship was Saudi and identified it – correctly – as a frigate named al-Madinah which had been taking part in a naval blockade along the Houthi-controlled portion of Yemen’s coastline. Nevertheless, suggesting that the intended target was American helped to raise fears about Iran and allowed Fox’s presenter to tell viewers it “could have ominous implications for the US military”.

Fox is always ready to sound alarm bells about Iran on the slenderest of pretexts. Last October, for instance, it got excited about the supposed threat to the US Navy posed by a single 48-year-old Iranian frigate and its supply ship which sailed harmlessly past Yemen to southern Africa, as Iran had said it would do.

While Obama was president propaganda of this kind didn’t have much influence on American policy but it now has a receptive audience in the White House. The danger is that if Trump becomes mired in domestic political conflicts, as seems very likely, he may view confrontation with Iran as a way of rallying Americans around him.

Fox, of course, isn’t the only source of the scaremongering but it is one of the more extreme examples. In large sections of the media Iran’s deep involvement in Yemen is taken for granted: it is assumed to be so obvious that there is no need to consider or even provide any evidence. This is reminiscent of the run-up to the 2003 war in Iraq when it became almost heretical to question whether Saddam Hussein really had weapons of mass destruction.

This isn’t to suggest that Iran has no role in Yemen at all but it’s important not to exaggerate. The Houthis certainly have some religious affinity with Iran and nobody – least of all, the Iranians – would deny that Iran has given them encouragement. But while describing the Houthis as “Iranian-backed” is factually correct it’s liable to be be misleading unless qualified with further explanation. And while it suits Saudi Arabia’s purposes to characterise the Yemen conflict as a proxy war with Iran, local factors inside Yemen are actually far more relevant.

There is a very noticeable contrast between the sort of Yemen coverage provided by Fox News and discussions among people who follow Yemen closely for professional or academic reasons and have no particular axe to grind. I have attended plenty of discussions of the latter kind since the conflict began and the Iranian angle is rarely given much significance. On one occasion it was 40 minutes before anyone even uttered the word “Iran”.

One possible explanation for this is that the country with the longest, most extensive and most negative history of interference in Yemeni affairs is not Iran but Saudi Arabia. Its meddling over the years far outstrips anything done by Iran.

As for what Iran is actually doing to support the Houthis, available evidence suggests it’s not very much – though this may be due more to the practical difficulties involved than a lack of inclination. A key question here is whether, or to what extent, Iran might be arming the Houthis (and supporters of ex-President Saleh who are allied with them).

A recent UN report by a panel of experts looked at this in detail and concluded that if Iran is providing weapons it is unlikely to be doing so on a large scale. The report said:

“The panel has not seen sufficient evidence to confirm any direct large-scale supply of arms from the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, although there are indicators that anti-tank guided weapons being supplied to the Houthi or Saleh forces are of Iranian manufacture.”

One factor here is that the Houthi-Saleh forces may not have had much need (so far) to import weapons from abroad because they already have access to a large part of Yemen’s national stockpile. The report noted:

“The data indicate that the legitimate [Saudi-backed] government has potentially lost control of more than 68 per cent of the national stockpile during the conflict. The panel has been unable to determine the size of the national stockpile before the current hostilities, and thus it is not yet possible to realistically estimate for how long the weapons and ammunition will sustain Houthi or Saleh forces in combat until they need major external resupply.”

On the question of external supplies, the report considered various ways arms might be smuggled into Yemen from Iran. It discounted the possibility of delivery by air (since the Saudi coalition controls the skies) and identified three possible maritime supply routes. However, these are fraught with difficulties and are probably only suitable for small-scale arms trafficking, as the report explained:

1. Coastal dhows to Houthi-Saleh-controlled ports on the west coast of Yemen

UN report: “Coastal dhows, if en route to Houthi-Saleh-controlled ports on the west coast of Yemen, even if routed via a transit point in Djibouti or Somalia, must pass from the Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea through the busy Bab al-Mandab strait, which is 28 km wide. This is well patrolled by the Combined Maritime Forces, the United States Navy Fifth Fleet and the Royal Saudi Navy. If sent in very small consignments on coastal dhows, it is probable that some shipments would arrive, but many would inevitably be interdicted by naval patrols. The panel has seen no evidence of any maritime seizures to date on this route, which strongly suggests that it is not being actively exploited.”

2. Coastal dhows to Omani transit ports

UN report: “There are only two small Omani ports to the west of Salalah, Dhofar governorate, with road access to the border with Yemen that would be suitable for the offloading of arms. Ship-to-shore transfers across Omani beaches in Dhofar are also possible. The subsequent requirement for vehicles to then transit through the most likely border crossing point at Sarfayt/Hawf carries a higher risk of interdiction by border guards than if ship-to-shore transfers were made directly across a Yemeni beach. Recent land seizures indicate that this route may be in use for small-scale shipments.”

3. Coastal dhows to south-eastern ports or beaches in Yemen

UN report: “The only suitable port for the direct offloading of weapons in south-eastern Yemen would be Nishtun, but this is under the control of government forces, meaning that its use would imply a level of corruption on the part of officials. The alternative to offloading weapons at Yemeni ports is, however, to operate a covert ship-to-shore transfer from coastal dhows or small boats across the known smugglers’ beaches at Ghaydah, Haswayn and Qishn. Recent land seizures indicate that this route is also probably in use for small-scale shipments.”

Whether weapons are smuggled across the border from Oman or landed on Yemen’s southern coast, the hazards of transporting them overland to the Houthis through hostile territory are considerable. The UN report commented:

“The land routes from the border crossing points with Dhofar, Oman, to the nearest Houthi-controlled territory, or from south-eastern Yemeni ports, pass through more than 600 km of government-controlled territory. The probability of large-scale shipments being able to successively use this route without detection is low, but it is possible. The route is being exploited, as indicated by recent seizures by the government. These were all from large trucks and either hidden under other cargo, for example chicken boxes, or were in false compartments of the trailer units …

“Although anti-tank guided weapons are now being smuggled on the land routes, the panel assesses it as unlikely that the network using these routes could covertly transfer any significant quantities of larger-calibre weapon systems, such as short-range ballistic missiles, into Yemen at the current time. An anti-tank guided weapon is less than 1 m in length and easily hidden in a large truck, while a short-range ballistic missile of 7m in length is much more difficult to conceal.”

Seizures at sea: a question of destination

During 2015 and 2016 there were only four confirmed seizures of weapons in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. All four vessels had sailed from Iran but there’s no real evidence that Yemen was their destination. The UN report suggests they are more likely to have been heading for Somalia:

24 September 2015: Fishing vessel Nasir intercepted by Australian frigate HMAS Melbourne.

UN report: “The FV Nasir, which departed from Chabahar in the Islamic Republic of Iran, was seized at a position on the most direct and economical track to Hurdiyo, Somalia. This was the destination plotted [and] recovered as evidence by HMAS Melbourne. Mobile and satellite phones were also inspected during the seizure operation and subsequent traffic analysis from data provided by a [UN] member state provided further evidence that the originator was based in the Islamic Republic of Iran and that Somalia was the destination for the shipment … The master of the FV Nasir was also in contact with known arms dealers with links to a former pirate, Isse Mohamoud Yusuf (“Yullux”), and the leader of the ISIL faction in Somalia, Abdulqadir Mumin.”

27 February 2016: Fishing vessel Samer intercepted by Australian frigate HMAS Darwin.

UN report: “The FV Samer was seized at a position 130 nautical miles south-east of the most direct and economical track from Chabahar, Islamic Republic of Iran, to Boosaaso, Somalia, this being the destination port assessed as likely by HMAS Darwin. This position is further away from the Yemeni coast than the most direct and economical track and suggests that a more likely direct destination was the eastern smuggling ports of Somalia than Boosaaso.”

20 March 2016: Unknown fishing vessel intercepted by French destroyer FS Provence.

UN report: “The unknown fishing vessel was seized by the FS Provence at a point on the most direct and economical track from Chabahar, Islamic Republic of Iran, to its declared destination of Qandala, Somalia.”

28 March 2016: Fishing vessel Adris intercepted by American patrol ship USS Sirocco.

The interception by USS Sirocco was announced in a press release by the American Fifth Fleet and reported in the media but despite two requests from the UN experts, the US has still not disclosed the location of the seizure or provided evidence to support its claim that the shipment “was likely bound for Houthi insurgents in Yemen”.

This is not the only instance where countries engaged in the struggle against arms smuggling have been less than forthcoming with information for the UN panel. Regarding seizures on the overland routes, for example, the report notes:

“The panel has requested detailed information on seizures from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen [i.e. the Hadi government]. Only the United Arab Emirates has responded to date.”

Nor have the Saudis been eager to elaborate on reports of a possible fifth seizure of weapons at sea in 2016:

“Media reports claimed that two small dhows had been captured by the coalition led by Saudi Arabia off the coast of Salif, with conflicting reports stating that they had been destroyed by air strikes. Saudi Arabia has not responded to the panel’s requests for more details on the reported incident or incidents.”

It does seem a bit odd that governments which readily accuse Iran of arming the Houthis are not more enthusiastic about providing credible evidence. But perhaps they assume the public is already persuaded and needs no more convincing – and they could be right about that.

View the discussion thread.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Licence.



Related Video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: ” Yemen loyalists push back rebels on Red Sea coast”

Photo of the Day: Gaza (the Old Town), 1862

Sun, 26 Feb 2017 - 12:20am

The New York Public Library | Francis Frith | – –

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Gaza (the Old Town)” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed February 26, 2017.

Title: Gaza (the Old Town)
Names: Frith, Francis (Photographer)
Collection: Sinai and Palestine.

Date Issued: 1862 (Questionable)
Place: London
Publisher: W. Mackenzie

At this time the population of Palestine was around 411,000, almost all of them Palestinian Arabs of Muslim heritage. Perhaps ten percent of them were Christian. The Palestinian Arab families had lived on this land since time immemorial. In-migration was minor. There were only a few thousand Jews, mostly pilgrims from the Russian Empire who retired to Jerusalem where they lived on pious charities.

Did White House interfere with FBI Probe of Russia Ties?

Sun, 26 Feb 2017 - 12:16am

By Nika Knight, staff writer | ( ) | – –

Brazen attempt at political interference provokes comparisons to Watergate

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus attempted to interfere with an FBI investigation into the White House, CNN reported Thursday. (Photo: Getty)

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus contacted the FBI and asked them to deny reports that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russian intelligence agents before the November election, CNN reported Thursday, citing multiple U.S. officials who asked to remain anonymous.

Such a request would mark a stark breach of protocol put in place to ensure that FBI investigations remain free of political interference.

As Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told the Guardian: “The White House is simply not permitted to pressure the FBI to make public statements about a pending investigation of the president and his advisers.”

The Guardian explained the protocol reportedly violated by Trump’s White House:

A 2009 memo from the then attorney general Eric Holder says the Justice Department should advise the White House on pending criminal or civil investigations “only when it is important for the performance of the president’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.” …

The New York Timesstory on communications between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials was published on February 14. Soon thereafter, “White House officials had sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russia matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, the officials said,” CNN reported.

The brazen attempt to interfere with an active investigation reminded some of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, during which Nixon tried to use the CIA to quash the FBI investigation of the Watergate burglary.

The outrageous breach of protocol has fueled calls for Priebus’ resignation.

“This is plainly a White House that has no compunction about asking the federal law enforcement apparatus to run its errands, and to operate as barroom bouncers on call whenever the jefe feels inconvenienced,” wrote Esquire‘s Charles P. Pierce. “At least Nixon hired his own investigators when he got pissed at newspaper leaks. These clowns tried to turn the FBI into the Plumbers. It’s going to get really crowded in D.C. parking garages pretty soon.”

“Where will transgressions end?” tweeted Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) co-founder Norm Eisen:

This is shocking. If in Obama WH, Reince would now B w Flynn on unemployment line. Such contacts forbidden. Where will transgressions end?

— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) February 24, 2017

Meanwhile, the only public response President Donald Trump has had to the story thus far is to take to Twitter and attack the FBI: “The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time,” Trump tweeted.

The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security “leakers” that have permeated our government for a long time. They can’t even……

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2017

find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2017

In fact, it seems that instead of an independent investigation into the reports of ties between Trump aides and Russian officials, the American public may only see an investigation into “low-life leakers” conducted by a billionaire Trump ally, as Common Dreams reported.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Trump Administration Told FBI To Back Off Russia?”

Dear Trump officials: Stop confusing Muslim Conservatism with Terrorism!

Sun, 26 Feb 2017 - 12:01am

By Z. Fareen Parvez | (The Conversation) | – –

The Trump administration has been using the phrase “radical Islam” when discussing the “war on terror.” From his inauguration address to remarks to military leaders, President Trump has been warning against “Islamic terrorists.”

Many different kinds of individuals and movements get collapsed into this category of radical Islam. A common one that is increasingly being used by politicians and journalists both in Europe and the U.S. to equate with “radical Islam” is the Salafist tradition.

For example, Michael Flynn, who recently resigned as national security advisor, was clear that what unites terrorists is their belief in the “ideology” of Salafism. Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the president, also describes Salafism as a “fundamental understanding of Islam” that justifies terrorism.

France and Germany are targeting this movement, vowing to “clean up” or shut down Salafist mosques, since several arrested and suspected terrorists had spent time in these communities.

As a scholar of religion and politics, I have done research in Salafi communities, specifically in France and India, two countries where Muslims are the largest religious minorities.

Salafists constitute a minority of the Muslim population. For example, in France, estimates range from 5,000 to 20,000 – out of a Muslim population of over 4 million. Security experts estimate a worldwide number of 50 million out of 1.6 billion Muslims.

But there’s not much understanding of Salafism, its history and its diversity. In fact, Muslims themselves often have different definitions of what it means to be a Salafist.

So, who are Salafists?

Origins of Salafism

The Arabic term salaf means “ancestors.” It refers technically to the first three generations of Muslims who surrounded the Prophet Muhammad. Because they had direct experience with the original Islamic teachings and practices, they are generally respected across the Muslim world.

Reaching Kaaba, a building at the center of Islam’s most sacred mosque, Al-Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Farid Iqbal Ibrahim, CC BY-NC

Self-identified Salafists tend to believe they are simply trying to emulate the path of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. This might include an array of practices from dress to culinary habits as well as ethical teachings and commitment to faith.

Salafism as a movement is believed to have originated in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some historians claim it started as a theological reform movement within Sunni Islam. The impetus was to return to the original teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran – a consequence, in part, of social changes and Western colonialism.

They specifically cite the works of Egyptian, Persian and Syrian intellectuals from the 19th century as shaping Salafist movements. One recent study, however, argues that these intellectuals from the past never even used the term Salafism. In other words, there is no authoritative account of how or when exactly this movement originated.

Finally, it is also open to debate as to which Islamic groups, schools of thought and practices may be considered Salafist. This is because groups and individuals who are labeled Salafist do not always view themselves this way. And they disagree amongst each other over what defines authentic Salafist practice.

Here’s what my research shows

The vast majority of people who loosely affiliate with Salafism, however, are either simply nonpolitical or actively reject politics as morally corrupt. From 2005-2014, I spent a total of two years as an ethnographic researcher in the cities of Lyon, in southeastern France, and in Hyderabad, in south India. I clearly observed this among these two communities.

Every week I participated in mosque lessons and Islamic study circles among dozens of Salafist women. These communities maintain strict separation between men and women, but I was able to interact with and interview a few men as well.

Who are Salafist women?
Patrick Denker, CC BY

Based on conversations and observation, I learned that they actually avoided politics. They did not attend protests or do advocacy, and in Lyon many did not vote in elections.

It is the case that there are Muslim women, including many converts, who actively embrace Salafism. They take up strict forms of veiling and work hard to practice their religion every day.

Let’s take Amal, a 22-year-old woman who grew up in a working-class neighborhood in southeastern France. I met her during my time as an ethnographic researcher on Muslim minorities in France. Amal identifies with the Salafist tradition in Islam. And if we go by the definitions being floated around, she would be considered a “radical Muslim”: She prayed five times daily, fasted all 30 days of Ramadan, and wore the “jilbab,” a loose, full-body garment that covers everything but the face. Steadfast in her religiosity, she also studied the Quran regularly and attended local mosques in the area.

She worked hard to live her life in accordance with the ethical teachings of Islam. This included spending part of her week tutoring Muslim girls in the neighborhood who homeschooled. Amal worried a great deal about their futures in France, since anti-veiling legislation had constrained their opportunities. She also quietly worried about the future of Islam, believing it is under siege both by governments and by the ungodly and destructive work of the Islamic State.

Religious does not mean radical

As anthropologists of religion have shown, Salafi women are not passive adherents. Nor are they forced into strict practices by their husbands. Still, this doesn’t mean they’re all the same.

Among the French Salafist women I knew, most were the daughters and granddaughters of immigrants from the former French North African colonies. Almost a third were converts to Islam that chose specifically the Salafist tradition as opposed to mainstream currents of Islam. They were drawn to the clear expectations, rigorous routines and teachings about trusting God.

While some of the women were raised in religious families, many broke away from their Muslim families or earned the wrath of their parents for turning to Salafism. Because the parents practiced a cultural form of Islam, or did not practice at all, they did not want their daughters to wear the jilbab. Despite this disapproval, the women focused a great deal on what it meant to have faith in God, and they emphasized that they had to continually struggle to strengthen that faith.

These struggles included various ethical behaviors including not talking too much, suppressing one’s ego and respecting people’s privacy. Along the way, some committed “sins,” like smoking or lying, and deviated from the teachings by not praying or fasting. Some even doubted their faith, which they considered normal and acceptable.

In my research, non-Muslims as well as other Muslims claimed Salafists were judgmental of those who did not believe or practice like them. In my observation, the contrary was the case: Salafis emphasized that one’s faith and piety were deeply private matters that no one but God had the right to judge.

Diverse views

However, like any movement or tradition, Salafism is profoundly diverse and encompasses a number of debates and struggles for legitimacy.

So, there are those self-identified Salafists around the world who join political organizations or participate in political debates. These include, for example, several political parties in Egypt and the Ahl-i-Hadees in India.

A small minority, estimated to be 250,000 in number by security experts, rejects nation-states and embraces political violence. They span continents but are centered in Iraq and Syria.

Different from Wahhabism

In today’s climate, however, it has become a political term. This is partly because of its connection to Saudi Arabia.

Salafism is sometimes referred to as Wahhabism, the Saudi Arabian variant of the movement that is intimately tied to the Saudi regime. They share some intellectual roots and theological emphases, but they also differ, especially in how they approach Islamic jurisprudence. While Wahhabis follow one of the main Sunni orthodox schools of law, Salafis tend to think through legal questions independently. So equating the two is a mistake.

For some Salafists, labeling them as Wahhabi is a way to dismiss their faith or even insult them. Identifying with Salafism does not mean one supports the politics of the Saudi state. In my research, in both India and France, people sometimes noted concerns about the Saudi government’s political corruption or human rights record.

Yet outwardly, practices might overlap. For example, many Salafist women wear the niqab (that covers the face). Saudi intellectual centers and sheikhs provide literature and training in numerous countries. They circulate lectures as well as money for building mosques and schools.

Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Camera Eye, CC BY

And of course, Mecca and Medina are the spiritual centers for Muslims more broadly. In this way there is a transfer of intellectual and spiritual resources from Saudi Arabia that supports Salafist communities around the globe.

Avoiding stereotypes, assumptions

Why is it important to recognize the complexity and diversity of the Salafist movement?

It is true that as one part of the global Islamic revival, it appears to be growing. And it likely will remain part of the social landscape in a number of cities for the foreseeable future.

But, it is important not to assume that people’s religious faith and practices are the same as terrorist violence. It fuels fear and hatred – like the kind that inspired the recent shootings at the mosque in Quebec or the arson attack that burned down a mosque in Texas.

So, from my perspective, when we hear politicians warn us of the “global Salafi threat,” or if we see a woman like Amal walking down the street in her jilbab, it’s vital to remember the dangers of simplistic (and mistaken) stereotypes of “radical Muslims.”

Z. Fareen Parvez, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Massachusetts Amherst

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Dr. Jonathan AC Brown – Political Quietism and Non-Violence in Contemporary Salafism

Top 5 Hypocrisies of Trump Friday

Sat, 25 Feb 2017 - 3:19am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

On Friday, Trump was making news again, after having appeared to be subdued (or muzzled?) by his staff midweek. But he addressed the conservative equivalent of that bar scene in Star Wars, CPAC. As usual, the sum total of his wacky pronouncements added up to a minus number. Here are a few of the more striking contradictions:

1. At CPAC Trump complained that the US deficit has soared to $20 trillion.

Then he said,
“We’re also put nothing a massive budget request for our beloved military. And we will be substantially upgrading all of our military, all of our military, offensive, defensive, everything, bigger and better and stronger than ever before. And hopefully, we’ll never have to use it, but nobody’s gonna mess with us, folks, nobody.

The annual US military budget is $773.5 billion. The US spends as much on the military as the next 14 countries, and this massive spending on war-related institutions drives the country into repeated wars (war spending creates constituents and lobbies). The federal government plans to collect $3.2 trillion in taxes and fees in fiscal 2017 and to spend $3.6 trillion– i.e. is spending $400 bn more than it has. The military budget is a quarter of the federal budget. War spending cannot be expanded without vastly increasing the deficit, as Trump himself seemed to admit when he talked about the wastefulness of the Bush wars.

2. At CPAC he said, “So I’m not against the media, I’m not against the press. I don’t mind bad stories if I deserve them.” And he said, “And I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me. Nobody.”

Then he disinvited CNN, NYT, LAT, Politico and Buzzfeed from the Friday press briefing. Trump is attempting to make Breitbart and other alt-NeoNazi outlets into the mainstream media and to destroy even the center-right corporate media which he and Steve Bannon see as insufficiently worshipful of the privilege of the white and wealthy, and insufficiently worshipful of Trump.

3. Trump is always going on about how he will make the US more secure.

Then he basically called for a new nuclear arms race and ratcheting up of the planet’s most deadly arsenal.

4. Trump said, “And by the way, I want regulation. I want to protect our environment, I want regulations for safety, I want all of the regulations that we need and I want them to be so strong and so tough…”

But Trump is now again allowing corporations to dump their coal ash into our rivers and thus our drinking water. He also intends to reverse many of President Obama’s other clean water regulations.

5. Trump says he wants the intelligence community to report on the danger to the US emanating from the 7 countries whose citizens he wishes to place on a travel ban.

But when on Friday The Department of Homeland Security issued a report questioning the premises of Trump’s 7-country visa ban, Trump immediately and totally dismissed it.


Related video:

PBS NewsHour: “What Trump targeting the media means for press access”

Study finds 6 600 spills from fracking in just four US states

Sat, 25 Feb 2017 - 2:21am

The Watchers | – –

Each year, 2 to 16 percent of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells spill hydrocarbons, chemical-laden water, hydraulic fracturing fluids and other substances, according to a study published yesterday in Environmental Science & Technology.

The analysis, which appeared February 21 in Environmental Science & Technology, identified 6 648 spills reported across Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania during a 10-year period.

“This study provides important insights into the frequency, volume, and cause of spills,” said Lauren Patterson, policy associate at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the study’s lead author.

Researchers examined state-level spill data to characterize spills associated with unconventional oil and gas development at 31 481 wells hydraulically fractured or “fracked” in the four states between 2005 and 2014.

“State spill data holds great promise for risk identification and mitigation,” Patterson said. “However, reporting requirements differ across states, requiring considerable effort to make the data usable for analysis.”

North Dakota reported the highest spill rate, with 4 453 incidents, followed by Pennsylvania at 1 293, Colorado at 476 and New Mexico at 426. The number of spills reported is partly a reflection of the reporting requirements set by each state. For example, North Dakota required reporting smaller spills (42 gallons or more) than Colorado and New Mexico (210 gallons or more).

“As this form of energy production increases, state efforts to reduce spill risk could benefit from making data more uniform and accessible to better provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills,” Patterson added.

The results of the study exceed the 457 spills calculated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for eight states between 2006 and 2012 because the EPA’s analysis only considered the hydraulic fracturing stage, rather than the full life cycle of unconventional oil and gas production.

“Understanding spills at all stages of well development is important because preparing for hydraulic fracturing requires the transport of more materials to and from well sites and storage of these materials on site,” Patterson said. “Investigating all stages helps to shed further light on the spills that can occur at all types of wells – not just unconventional ones.”

Fifty percent of spills identified in the Environmental Science & Technology article were related to storage and moving fluids via pipelines, although it was not always possible to determine the cause of the spill because some states explicitly required this data to be reported while others relied on narrative descriptions.

Across all states, the first three years of a well’s life, when drilling and hydraulic fracturing occurred and production volumes were highest, had the greatest risk of a spill. The study found that a significant portion of spills (from 26% in Colorado to 53% in North Dakota) occur at wells that experienced more than one spill, which suggests that wells where spills have already occurred merit closer attention.

“Analyses like this one are so important, to define and mitigate risk to water supplies and human health,” said Kate Konschnik, director of the Harvard Law School’s Environmental Policy Initiative. “Writing state reporting rules with these factors in mind is critical, to ensure that the right data are available – and in an accessible format — for industry, states and the research community.”

A data visualization tool of spill data contained in this study is available at

DATA: The data, as reported by the states, is all publicly available and accessible. It’s included in the supplemental information in the journal article and accessible at this link: Materials related to how the data was extracted for each state ( and a spreadsheet with calculations ( is also available online at the same location. 

Source: Duke University / Nicholas Institute


  • "Unconventional Oil and Gas Spills: Risks, Mitigation Priorities and States Reporting Requirements" – L. Patterson, K. Konschnik, H. Wiseman, et. al. – Environmental Science & Technology (2017) – DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.05749.

Featured image: Visualizing spills data from unconventional oil and gas activity. Credit: Nicholas Institute/Duke University, SNAPP

Via The Watchers

I Cover Hate. I Didn’t Expect It at My Family’s Jewish Cemetery

Sat, 25 Feb 2017 - 1:58am

by Ariana Tobin | ProPublica | – –

When it comes to death, my family honors all of the Ashkenazi Jewish traditions: We name our children after dead relatives, we sit shiva for a week, we gather around trays of fruit and lox and cream cheese, we cover the mirrors, we say the Kaddish prayer, we each toss three shovelfuls of dirt into the grave, and we wait a year to put a stone on top of it. When I got my driver’s license at 16, my mom asked me not to sign the organ donor card because Jews are supposed to be laid to rest in one piece. When I turned 18 and signed it anyway, I couldn’t stop imagining her face when she found out after I’d died in a car accident.

But traditions don’t protect you from death, or the life of anxiety in preparation for it. When I told my grandmother — her mother called her Malka, her sisters called her Mollie — that I had an opportunity to teach English abroad, I knew what to expect in response: “That’s nice, baby, but why don’t you find a teaching job around here where it’s safe?” That, and a $20 bill she couldn’t necessarily afford to give.

But when I added, “I’m going to a place in Belarus called Minsk; it’s a big city,” her reply took me by surprise. “Minsk!” she exclaimed. “That’s where my mother was from! I guess you could go. Maybe you’ll see where they lived?”

I did go. I didn’t see where they lived because that place does not exist anymore, thanks to World War II and the Soviets. To identify the symbols of Judaism left in a city that was about 37 percent Jewish in 1941, you have to squint at the stone facades of buildings and say, “Yes, I think that might be a Hebrew character.” You have to stare hard, and wonder, “Hmm, is that Yiddish?”

There are statues and plaques here and there. But look as one might, there are few relics of Jewish death. When you visit Khatyn, a memorial to the victims of “the Great War,” you learn about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, but little to nothing about what religion they practiced. Nor are there signs marking entire villages of Belarussians, Jews and non-Jews, that became unmarked mass graves. When I would ask my students and co-workers and friends, “What happened to the Jews here?” all most of them would say was, “They left.”

Here, of course, we know why they “left.” My relatives who stayed in Eastern Europe died. Those who moved to America lived. Every single one of my great-grandparents was a first- or second-generation Eastern European immigrant to St. Louis. If you’ve been following the news this week, you probably know where this story is going: Almost all of my immigrant ancestors are buried in the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery, where nearly 200 graves were vandalized this past weekend.

I’ve been to only one funeral at Chesed Shel Emeth, which is in University City, about 15 minutes from where I grew up. I certainly wasn’t there when they buried my grandmother’s mother, Alice, the immigrant from Minsk, more than 40 years ago. Her tombstone wasn’t among the ones vandalized. But I know the idea that it might have been desecrated — that it is even a possibility — is on Grandma Mollie’s mind today, and on my mother’s as well. I know because for the last several days all we’ve been talking about are relatives like “little Grandma Alice,” who never grew to 5 feet, who cooked elaborate noodle kugels, whose husband died young, who never really learned to drive or speak English and who was scared of strangers unless her family was around.

I’m privileged to have grown up in St. Louis, a place where my grandparents wanted me to stay because it felt “safe” to them — a place they’d made their way to with the help of documents that we know weren’t entirely accurate or complete, and they became citizens anyway. So when a news link about my family’s Jewish cemetery popped up in the group chat for a reporting project on hate crimes that I’m involved in at ProPublica, I wasn’t prepared. Nor was I prepared when I called home and my mom told me that she was going to exchange cash for gold in case “things get worse” and that my dad — who has never considered shooting anything in his life — had wondered out loud about getting a gun.

I wanted to say, “You’re overreacting.” But I can’t, really, in part because it’s so hard to gauge the threat. Data on hate crimes — against Jews and everyone else — is miserably incomplete and poorly tracked. My job is about presenting facts to contextualize the news of the day, horrible as it may be. This time, I had to tell my family that I didn’t have them.

We don’t know if the vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth was technically a hate crime. The motives behind it may well be uncovered. What we do know is that there is a long tradition of desecrating Jewish cemeteries, from Nazi Germany to present-day France and New York. And whatever the particulars, the news hit at a time when the Jewish community has been put on edge by threats to Jewish community centers where kids go to preschool and their retired grandparents take Kabbalah-infused yoga classes.

That’s why our project, “Documenting Hate,” an attempt to create a reliable database of hate crimes and bias incidents, asks victims to submit their stories. When I read the submissions, it’s clear that defining “hate crimes” can be as elusive as reliable data tracking them. It’s just as clear that we need to make the attempt to define them, report them, investigate them — to gather enough, at least, for context.

Yes, it’s about confronting the ugliness and comforting the scared. But it’s also about giving real answers, using actual numbers and telling true stories when our children ask questions like, “What happened to the Jews?”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Ariana is an engagement reporter at ProPublica.

Via ProPublica


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: ” Muslims Organize Fundraiser For Vandalized Jewish Cemetery”

Oscar Nominee Asghar Farhadi between US Muslim Ban and Ayatollahs’ Censorship

Sat, 25 Feb 2017 - 1:46am

By Kevin Hagopian | (The Conversation) | – –

Politics loom over this year’s Oscars, with many bracing for what the winners will – or won’t – say when they ascend the stage before millions of television viewers on Feb. 26.

One nominee, however, has already made a statement.

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman” is one of five films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. But last month, after President Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries – Iran included – Farhadi decided to boycott the annual awards ceremony.

“To humiliate one nation with the pretext of guarding the security of another is not a new phenomenon in history and has always laid the groundwork for the creation of future divide and enmity,” he wrote. “I hereby express my condemnation of the unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the citizens of the other six countries trying to legally enter the United States of America and hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations.”

Given the attention Farhadi has received for his act of protest, it’s worth looking at how Iranian film has evolved under a regime that seeks to quell criticism – and how filmmakers like him navigate these restrictions to produce powerful, politically potent art.

A bipolar movie culture

Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, an independent film sector existed alongside government-financed film production. Revolutionaries, however, viewed the film industry as a symbol of cultural corruption, and during the revolution set fire to hundreds of movie theaters.

Beginning in 1982, Iranian cinema began to regroup. The government wanted to construct a national film culture that would express the ethics of Islam and the unique history of the Iranian state. But this goal often clashed with filmmakers who had strong ties to Iran’s literary culture and wanted to be able to portray modern Iran in critical terms. As a result, Iran’s movie culture is bipolar, with apolitical, domestic melodramas outnumbering art films that critique everyday life.

Today, Iranian cinema reveals some of the contradictions of life under a theocracy. Yes, filmmakers must adhere to strict guidelines: The Ministry of Culture forbids unflattering portrayals of Islam, women, the nation and its history. But these rules are vague, and censorship of Iranian films is inconsistent, often based on the tastes of individual officials.

Nonetheless, the art cinema of filmmakers like the late Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi and Mohsen Amiryoussefi has received worldwide acclaim. Since the mid 2000s, Iranian films have won awards at prestigious festivals such as Cannes, Venice and San Sebastian.

The extraordinary overseas success of Iranian films has further complicated the censorship picture. It was the Iranian government, for instance, that approved the script of “The Salesman,” and determined that the film would be the country’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Perhaps authorities give films like “The Salesman” a pass because their depiction of Iran’s social realities is subtle, not strident. Literal-minded officials are often unable to find obvious examples of blasphemy or criticism of the political regime.

Gentle – but forceful – criticism

In “The Salesman,” for instance, a couple, Ranaa and Emad, are performers who are rehearsing for a production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”

Their own home, however, is collapsing, the result of faulty construction. They’re forced to rent an apartment, which, they soon discover, had previously been occupied by a prostitute. Her clients continue to show up, creating a whole host of new problems for Ranaa and Emad.

In its elliptical treatment of Iran’s civil society as a “crumbling building” – and its depiction of the conflicting social and religious roles Iranian women must grapple with – the film subtly manages to be critical of modern life in Iran. In “The Salesman,” Islam is not the problem; rather, the film insists that repressive institutions – cultural, economic or religious – are what narrow the possibilities for humane communication and equality. These, Farhadi seems to argue, are the true dangers to any society.

The trailer for ‘The Salesman.’

Meanwhile, female filmmakers like Samira Makhmalbaf – joined by other female actors, writers and directors – bring a muted feminism to an industry that exists at the sufferance of a patriarchal government.

What scholar Hamid Naficy calls a “cinema of the averted gaze” has emerged. Both male and female filmmakers obliquely confront the terms of female subservience – as well as the hidden sources of female cultural power – in a patriarchal society.

Defying the censors

Even though the criticism of the theocracy is often so gentle that it’s hardly noticeable, that hasn’t stopped the government from banning some Iranian films for domestic audiences. “Circle” (2000) was banned for its depiction of runaway girls, a social problem that’s at least partially the result of religious laws. Official regulators of culture in Iran have long seen themselves as fighting modernity and globalism, which they stereotypically connect with a hostile, decadent West – just the kind of xenophobia that, unfortunately, Trump’s blanket indictment of Islam echoes.

Nonetheless, Iran’s leaders haven’t been able to fully halt the forces of globalism they despise, and art films have been able to examine the ways in which international capital and conflict impact Iranian lives. “Surviving Paradise” (2001), the story of two young Iranian refugees lost in the streets of Los Angeles, was the first English-language Iranian-American film to be distributed in America. Several festivals of Iranian cinema also continue to take place each year around the world, part of a pattern of cultural exchange that predates the 1979 revolution.

Iranian cinema has also undercut the monolithic narrative that the theocratic state seeks to communicate.

For example, an Iranian war film like “Duel” (2004) doesn’t simply broadcast patriotic messages. Instead, it makes a powerful statement about the trauma of the Iran-Iraq War, using the memory of the conflict as a lens through which to understand modern Iran. Marjane Satrapi’s animated film of her own graphic novel “Persepolis” (2007) is perhaps the most outspoken and direct cinematic revision of the government’s version of the 1979 Revolution. (This film, however, was made in France.)

Looking ahead to the Oscars

Farhadi’s personal boycott is significant because it shows that rash and punitive U.S. immigration policies can be counterproductive, limiting some of the most liberal and cosmopolitan voices in the Muslim world.

Farhadi previously won an Academy Award for directing “A Separation” (2011), a film about a marriage that dissolves over the question of whether or not to leave Iran. Credited as the writer, producer and director of “The Salesman,” he is widely regarded as a luminary of world cinema, and has joined a handful of living directors – Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar, Wong-kar Wai and Alfonso Cuaron – as auteurs who are making lasting contributions to the art.

If the contentious statements from the podiums of the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Director’s Guild Awards are any indication, the Oscars will culminate a unique post-election season of cultural politics – and a rejection of the cultural assumptions inherent in Trump’s brand of politics. Farhadi referred to the Oscars as “this great cultural event.” But with Farhadi absent and his film present, he will be able to contribute to the political undertones of this year’s Oscars in a way that American movie stars ascending the stage can’t.

In his statement, Farhadi also wrote that “Hard-liners, despite their nationalities, political arguments and wars, regard and understand the world in very much the same way…via an ‘us and them’ mentality.” In this sense, he seems to be equating the Trump administration with Iran’s ruling regime.

Some have urged the Oscar organizers to use Skype to at least allow Farhadi to be present visually, if not politically. In either case, if “The Salesman” ends up winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, it could be seen as yet another repudiation of Trump’s xenophobic, “us versus them” platform.

After all, as Farhadi subtly points out, his executive order is comparable to the very Iranian extremism his policies claim to contain.

Kevin Hagopian, Senior Lecturer of Media Studies, Pennsylvania State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit Entertainment: ” Director Asghar Farhadi To Address Crowd”

“Get out of my Country!” White Terrorist Shoots Asian-American Engineers in Wake of Trump Visa Ban

Fri, 24 Feb 2017 - 3:07am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

It is alleged that Adam W. Purinton, a regular at a bar and grill, went up to two Indian-American patrons on Wednesday night in Olathe, Kansas and screamed racial slurs at them. He was asked to leave by the bartender, but 15 minutes later came back, shouted “get out of my country!” and shot them. One victim, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, died of his injuries in a Kansas City hospital. He is said to have left behind a wife who is five months pregnant.

The other intended victim, 32-year-old Alok Madasani of Overland Park, is wounded and in hospital.

It is speculated that Purinton, who had served in the Navy and worked in internet technology, thought that the men were Middle Eastern Muslims rather than Indian Hindus.

Also shot and wounded in the hand, chest and neck is 24-year-old Ian Grillot, who just happened to be at the bar and grill, and who tried to stop Purinton as he fled. Grillot, from his hospital bed, told the story of how he was under a table and counted out nine shots then pursued the alleged assailant. But apparently he miscounted, and the gunman still had a shot to get off.

Grillot said: “It’s not about where he [victim] was from or his ethnicity. We’re all humans, so I just did what was right to do.”

Grillot’s injury is a badge of honor and courage, and he should be saluted by all right-thinking people. But it is a dark parable. White terrorism against people the white supremacists code as non-white or foreign will also victimize white people.

Purinton was picked up at another bar 80 miles away from the scene of the crime, where he allegedly confessed to having shot two “Middle Eastern” men. That kind of stupidity is an active danger to the survival of our species.

Remember, the shooter had been told by Trump-Bannon that Muslims hate America and should be excluded from the US.

Kuchibhotla was a star software engineer originally from Hyderabad, India (his wife is also from there). He had degrees from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in Hyderabad and from the University of Texas. His co-workers say he was the nicest person. His bereaved wife and his family are trying to raise money to send his body back to India for his funeral.

He and Madasani worked at Garmin International.

The White House sets a tone in a country. Trump’s assertion that “Islam hates us” and his project of a Muslim ban sent a signal permitting hate crimes to the millions of unbalanced people in the US into whose hands the National Rifle Association has insisted on putting firearms.

But ironically, Trump would approve of Kuchibhotla.

As Willa Frej tells the story, then Steve Bannon had a radio show on Sirius XM in 2015, he had Donald Trump on as a guest and complained about all the foreigners in the US. Trump pushed back, saying that a lot of bright people come to America and get Ivy League degrees, and we should try to keep them.

Bannon told Trump, “When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think… A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”

Needless to say, Bannon’s “facts” are fake. Asian-Americans actually account for 14 percent of CEOs in Silicon Valley. And, as we social scientists use the phrase “civil society” (non-governmental public organizations), there is no reason to exclude Asian-Americans. That is, there is no analytical reason, assuming you’re not, like, a racist bigot.

Bannon speaks of a “civilizational war” with Muslims and through the executive orders he crafter for Tump he has laid the ground work for blood in the streets.

Bannon is not fit to shine the shoes of any of the three victims here, who actually contribute positively to our country rather than trying to Nazify it.

Two of my uncles fought the Nazis. I mind anyone trying to import racist thuggery into this country. There’s no difference between publishing a rag like Breitbart and going out to Arlington cemetery and spitting on the graves every day.


Related video:
KCTV5 News: “Witnesses say Olathe bar shooting may have racial overtones”

Did David Brooks & the NeoCons pave the Way for Trump?

Fri, 24 Feb 2017 - 12:19am

By Andrew J. Bacevich | ( ) | – –

Apart from being a police officer, firefighter, or soldier engaged in one of this nation’s endless wars, writing a column for a major American newspaper has got to be one of the toughest and most unforgiving jobs there is.  The pay may be decent (at least if your gig is with one of the major papers in New York or Washington), but the pressures to perform on cue are undoubtedly relentless.

Anyone who has ever tried cramming a coherent and ostensibly insightful argument into a mere 750 words knows what I’m talking about.  Writing op-eds does not perhaps qualify as high art.  Yet, like tying flies or knitting sweaters, it requires no small amount of skill.  Performing the trick week in and week out without too obviously recycling the same ideas over and over again — or at least while disguising repetitions and concealing inconsistencies — requires notable gifts.

David Brooks of the New York Times is a gifted columnist.  Among contemporary journalists, he is our Walter Lippmann, the closest thing we have to an establishment-approved public intellectual.  As was the case with Lippmann, Brooks works hard to suppress the temptation to rant.  He shuns raw partisanship.  In his frequent radio and television appearances, he speaks in measured tones.  Dry humor and ironic references abound.  And like Lippmann, when circumstances change, he makes at least a show of adjusting his views accordingly.

For all that, Brooks remains an ideologue.  In his columns, and even more so in his weekly appearances on NPR and PBS, he plays the role of the thoughtful, non-screaming conservative, his very presence affirming the ideological balance that, until November 8th of last year, was a prized hallmark of “respectable” journalism.  Just as that balance always involved considerable posturing, so, too, with the ostensible conservatism of David Brooks: it’s an act.

Praying at the Altar of American Greatness

In terms of confessional fealty, his true allegiance is not to conservatism as such, but to the Church of America the Redeemer.  This is a virtual congregation, albeit one possessing many of the attributes of a more traditional religion.  The Church has its own Holy Scripture, authenticated on July 4, 1776, at a gathering of 56 prophets.  And it has its own saints, prominent among them the Good Thomas Jefferson, chief author of the sacred text (not the Bad Thomas Jefferson who owned and impregnated slaves); Abraham Lincoln, who freed said slaves and thereby suffered martyrdom (on Good Friday no less); and, of course, the duly canonized figures most credited with saving the world itself from evil: Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, their status akin to that of saints Peter and Paul in Christianity.  The Church of America the Redeemer even has its own Jerusalem, located on the banks of the Potomac, and its own hierarchy, its members situated nearby in High Temples of varying architectural distinction.

This ecumenical enterprise does not prize theological rigor. When it comes to shalts and shalt nots, it tends to be flexible, if not altogether squishy. It demands of the faithful just one thing: a fervent belief in America’s mission to remake the world in its own image. Although in times of crisis Brooks has occasionally gone a bit wobbly, he remains at heart a true believer. 

In a March 1997 piece for The Weekly Standard, his then-employer, he summarized his credo.  Entitled “A Return to National Greatness,” the essay opened with a glowing tribute to the Library of Congress and, in particular, to the building completed precisely a century earlier to house its many books and artifacts.  According to Brooks, the structure itself embodied the aspirations defining America’s enduring purpose.  He called particular attention to the dome above the main reading room decorated with a dozen “monumental figures” representing the advance of civilization and culminating in a figure representing America itself.  Contemplating the imagery, Brooks rhapsodized:

“The theory of history depicted in this mural gave America impressive historical roots, a spiritual connection to the centuries. And it assigned a specific historic role to America as the latest successor to Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. In the procession of civilization, certain nations rise up to make extraordinary contributions… At the dawn of the 20th century, America was to take its turn at global supremacy.  It was America’s task to take the grandeur of past civilizations, modernize it, and democratize it.  This common destiny would unify diverse Americans and give them a great national purpose.”

This February, 20 years later, in a column with an identical title, but this time appearing in the pages of his present employer, the New York Times, Brooks revisited this theme.  Again, he began with a paean to the Library of Congress and its spectacular dome with its series of “monumental figures” that placed America “at the vanguard of the great human march of progress.”  For Brooks, those 12 allegorical figures convey a profound truth.

“America is the grateful inheritor of other people’s gifts.  It has a spiritual connection to all people in all places, but also an exceptional role.  America culminates history.  It advances a way of life and a democratic model that will provide people everywhere with dignity.  The things Americans do are not for themselves only, but for all mankind.”

In 1997, in the midst of the Clinton presidency, Brooks had written that “America’s mission was to advance civilization itself.”  In 2017, as Donald Trump gained entry into the Oval Office, he embellished and expanded that mission, describing a nation “assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger; to be brother and sister to the whole human race.” 

Back in 1997, “a moment of world supremacy unlike any other,” Brooks had worried that his countrymen might not seize the opportunity that was presenting itself.  On the cusp of the twenty-first century, he worried that Americans had “discarded their pursuit of national greatness in just about every particular.”  The times called for a leader like Theodore Roosevelt, who wielded that classic “big stick” and undertook monster projects like the Panama Canal.  Yet Americans were stuck instead with Bill Clinton, a small-bore triangulator.  “We no longer look at history as a succession of golden ages,” Brooks lamented.  “And, save in the speeches of politicians who usually have no clue what they are talking about,” America was no longer fulfilling its “special role as the vanguard of civilization.”

By early 2017, with Donald Trump in the White House and Steve Bannon whispering in his ear, matters had become worse still.  Americans had seemingly abandoned their calling outright.  “The Trump and Bannon anschluss has exposed the hollowness of our patriotism,” wrote Brooks, inserting the now-obligatory reference to Nazi Germany.  The November 2016 presidential election had “exposed how attenuated our vision of national greatness has become and how easy it was for Trump and Bannon to replace a youthful vision of American greatness with a reactionary, alien one.”  That vision now threatens to leave America as “just another nation, hunkered down in a fearful world.”

What exactly happened between 1997 and 2017, you might ask?  What occurred during that “moment of world supremacy” to reduce the United States from a nation summoned to redeem humankind to one hunkered down in fear?

Trust Brooks to have at hand a brow-furrowing explanation.  The fault, he explains, lies with an “educational system that doesn’t teach civilizational history or real American history but instead a shapeless multiculturalism,” as well as with “an intellectual culture that can’t imagine providence.”  Brooks blames “people on the left who are uncomfortable with patriotism and people on the right who are uncomfortable with the federal government that is necessary to lead our project.” 

An America that no longer believes in itself — that’s the problem. In effect, Brooks revises Norma Desmond’s famous complaint about the movies, now repurposed to diagnose an ailing nation: it’s the politics that got small.

Nowhere does he consider the possibility that his formula for “national greatness” just might be so much hooey. Between 1997 and 2017, after all, egged on by people like David Brooks, Americans took a stab at “greatness,” with the execrable Donald Trump now numbering among the eventual results.

Invading Greatness

Say what you will about the shortcomings of the American educational system and the country’s intellectual culture, they had far less to do with creating Trump than did popular revulsion prompted by specific policies that Brooks, among others, enthusiastically promoted. Not that he is inclined to tally up the consequences. Only as a sort of postscript to his litany of contemporary American ailments does he refer even in passing to what he calls the “humiliations of Iraq.”

A great phrase, that. Yet much like, say, the “tragedy of Vietnam” or the “crisis of Watergate,” it conceals more than it reveals.  Here, in short, is a succinct historical reference that cries out for further explanation. It bursts at the seams with implications demanding to be unpacked, weighed, and scrutinized.  Brooks shrugs off Iraq as a minor embarrassment, the equivalent of having shown up at a dinner party wearing the wrong clothes.

Under the circumstances, it’s easy to forget that, back in 2003, he and other members of the Church of America the Redeemer devoutly supported the invasion of Iraq.  They welcomed war.  They urged it. They did so not because Saddam Hussein was uniquely evil — although he was evil enough — but because they saw in such a war the means for the United States to accomplish its salvific mission.  Toppling Saddam and transforming Iraq would provide the mechanism for affirming and renewing America’s “national greatness.”

Anyone daring to disagree with that proposition they denounced as craven or cowardly.  Writing at the time, Brooks disparaged those opposing the war as mere “marchers.” They were effete, pretentious, ineffective, and absurd.  “These people are always in the streets with their banners and puppets.  They march against the IMF and World Bank one day, and against whatever war happens to be going on the next… They just march against.”

Perhaps space constraints did not permit Brooks in his recent column to spell out the “humiliations” that resulted and that even today continue to accumulate.  Here in any event is a brief inventory of what that euphemism conceals: thousands of Americans needlessly killed; tens of thousands grievously wounded in body or spirit; trillions of dollars wasted; millions of Iraqis dead, injured, or displaced; this nation’s moral standing compromised by its resort to torture, kidnapping, assassination, and other perversions; a region thrown into chaos and threatened by radical terrorist entities like the Islamic State that U.S. military actions helped foster.  And now, if only as an oblique second-order bonus, we have Donald Trump’s elevation to the presidency to boot.

In refusing to reckon with the results of the war he once so ardently endorsed, Brooks is hardly alone.  Members of the Church of America the Redeemer, Democrats and Republicans alike, are demonstrably incapable of rendering an honest accounting of what their missionary efforts have yielded.

Brooks belongs, or once did, to the Church’s neoconservative branch. But liberals such as Bill Clinton, along with his secretary of state Madeleine Albright, were congregants in good standing, as were Barack Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton.  So, too, are putative conservatives like Senators John McCain, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, all of them subscribing to the belief in the singularity and indispensability of the United States as the chief engine of history, now and forever.

Back in April 2003, confident that the fall of Baghdad had ended the Iraq War, Brooks predicted that “no day will come when the enemies of this endeavor turn around and say, ‘We were wrong. Bush was right.’” Rather than admitting error, he continued, the war’s opponents “will just extend their forebodings into a more distant future.”

Yet it is the war’s proponents who, in the intervening years, have choked on admitting that they were wrong. Or when making such an admission, as did both John Kerry and Hillary Clinton while running for president, they write it off as an aberration, a momentary lapse in judgment of no particular significance, like having guessed wrong on a TV quiz show. 

Rather than requiring acts of contrition, the Church of America the Redeemer has long promulgated a doctrine of self-forgiveness, freely available to all adherents all the time. “You think our country’s so innocent?” the nation’s 45th president recently barked at a TV host who had the temerity to ask how he could have kind words for the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Observers professed shock that a sitting president would openly question American innocence.

In fact, Trump’s response and the kerfuffle that ensued both missed the point. No serious person believes that the United States is “innocent.” Worshipers in the Church of America the Redeemer do firmly believe, however, that America’s transgressions, unlike those of other countries, don’t count against it. Once committed, such sins are simply to be set aside and then expunged, a process that allows American politicians and pundits to condemn a “killer” like Putin with a perfectly clear conscience while demanding that Donald Trump do the same.

What the Russian president has done in Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria qualifies as criminal. What American presidents have done in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya qualifies as incidental and, above all, beside the point.

Rather than confronting the havoc and bloodshed to which the United States has contributed, those who worship in the Church of America the Redeemer keep their eyes fixed on the far horizon and the work still to be done in aligning the world with American expectations. At least they would, were it not for the arrival at center stage of a manifestly false prophet who, in promising to “make America great again,” inverts all that “national greatness” is meant to signify.

For Brooks and his fellow believers, the call to “greatness” emanates from faraway precincts — in the Middle East, East Asia, and Eastern Europe.  For Trump, the key to “greatness” lies in keeping faraway places and the people who live there as faraway as possible. Brooks et al. see a world that needs saving and believe that it’s America’s calling to do just that.  In Trump’s view, saving others is not a peculiarly American responsibility. Events beyond our borders matter only to the extent that they affect America’s well-being. Trump worships in the Church of America First, or at least pretends to do so in order to impress his followers.

That Donald Trump inhabits a universe of his own devising, constructed of carefully arranged alt-facts, is no doubt the case. Yet, in truth, much the same can be said of David Brooks and others sharing his view of a country providentially charged to serve as the “successor to Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome.” In fact, this conception of America’s purpose expresses not the intent of providence, which is inherently ambiguous, but their own arrogance and conceit. Out of that conceit comes much mischief. And in the wake of mischief come charlatans like Donald Trump. 

Andrew J. Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, now out in paperback.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Andrew J. Bacevich


Self-Radicalized? US ‘Moderate’ and Far Right at CPAC

Fri, 24 Feb 2017 - 12:15am

TeleSur | – –

Although the so-called “moderate” right wishes to distance itself from the far right, the list of speakers at the CPAC conference shows they have more in common than not.

Some far right big names were excluded from the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday, with Milo Yiannopoulos disinvited and Richard Spencer kicked out by staffers.

Yiannopoulos, famous for drawing fury for his controversial views, was disowned by much of his followers over the weekend when a video of him defending pedophilia surfaced on the internet.

While Spencer was among those who drew a line with Yiannopoulos’ latest comments — others have also been criticized for defending varying forms of racism, white nationalism and misogyny, among other forms of bigotry — his credentials were also revoked, even though he bought a ticket, for being a founder and prominent voice of the far-right movement.

Matt Schlapp, leader of the American Conservative Union or ACU, told NBC that Spencer’s views were “repugnant” and that, “there are boundaries, one of those boundaries is having respect for people, people’s heritage, people’s race, and the alt-right is not a voice in the conservative movement.”

Spencer fired back, calling the ACU “children” and “pathetic” and threatening that, “CPAC cannot host a speech where they denounce the alt-right by name and then expect me not to come.”

Although the so-called “moderate” right wishes to distance itself from the far right — the self-proclaimed, “alt-right” — the list of speakers at the CPAC conference, once a fringe event, but now decidedly in the Republican mainstream, shows they have more in common than not.

So far, the main speakers have been Steve Bannon and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who told Republicans, “We want you to have our back” in upcoming battles, denouncing media criticism of President Donald Trump.

Bannon is a former head of Breitbart, which has a following among the far right and which Bannon has called a platform for that movement. Some Breitbart staffers were also scheduled to participate in CPAC panel discussions.

Schlapp credited Trump with naming the most conservative Cabinet in a half-century and nominating a Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, who has the right-wing’s blessings.

Bannon warned that Republicans should get prepared to defend the president in the days ahead.

“If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight you are sadly mistaken,” said Bannon. “It’s going to get worse every day” as Trump presses forward with his 2016 campaign promises.

Via TeleSur

Film about Israeli imprisonment of Palestinians wins top award in Berlin

Fri, 24 Feb 2017 - 12:03am

IMEMC | – –

A film depicting the torture, humiliation and violence experienced by Palestinians imprisoned by Israel won the first ever “Silver Bear” award at the Berlinale international film festival.

The film, “Istiyad Ashbah” (Ghost Hunting), was produced by Palestinian filmmaker Raed Andoni.

It was one of 18 finalists competing for the top honor at the Berlinale film festival this year. The ‘Golden Bear’ award was won by Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi for the film “Testrol es lelekrol” (On Body and Soul).

Andoni’s film “Ghost Hunting” involves a powerful re-enactment of interrogation rooms and prison facilities in the infamous ‘Russian Compound’ prison run by Israel.

According to journalist Rene Windangel, who spoke with Andoni about the creation of the film, the director began by confronting his own ghosts, having been imprisoned during the first intifada in the late 1980s. He then “turned to newspaper ads as he set out to find a group of former inmates able to work as set designers and craftsmen in recreating a prison on the film set. He also sought out ex-detainees willing to play the roles of prison wardens and prisoners. And so this group of people, who had themselves experienced imprisonment, began to meticulously build their own prison.”

German commentator Rene Windangel wrote in the paper ‘Qantara’, in a review of the film, “By giving the actors and crew room to express themselves, Andoni’s film manages to avoid cliches. In no way is the film limited to the observation of suffering or the re-enactment of victimisation. Raed Andoni’s film functions as both trauma therapy and as an opportunity to discuss the political problem of prisoners. First and foremost, though, the film works as an impressive piece of cinematography dealing with the basic questions of the human condition.”

Currently there are around 7000 Palestinian men and women imprisoned by Israel. Over 750,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned since 1967 and the start of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Most were sentenced by military courts, while others were held without any charges in so-called “administrative detention”. There are practically no Palestinian families that have been spared the experience of prison.



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67th Berlinale | Closing-Award Ceremony

Buyers’ Remorse: Americans think Trump is bad at almost Everything

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 - 12:19am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The vast majority of Americans in a new Quinnipiac opinion poll do not believe that Donald J. Trump is level-headed or shares their values. Of course, this is only one poll, and likely the plus or minus swing is 3 or 4 percent. But actually the findings are so decisive in most cases that that wouldn’t matter. Qunnipiac showed Trump beating Clinton last summer, so you can’t accuse them of being biased against him.

And only 38% think he is doing a good job in his first month, versus 55% who say no. In contrast, a strong majority trust the courts to do the right thing.

This finding has to be underlined. Only 33 percent of Americans (as projected from this poll) think Trump is level-headed.

National poll – #PresidentDonaldTrump strengths and weaknesses

— Quinnipiac Poll (@QuinnipiacPoll) February 22, 2017

So this is the guy with the nuclear codes. The guy with the power, as things evolved through the 20th century, unilaterally to declare war. The guy who presides over a trillion-dollar a year security and military complex. Who has several hundred thousand people spying on us all. The guy who issues executive orders, which now make up about 1/3 of all of our national legislation, and who does so by fiat.

And 63 percent of you think he isn’t level-headed? And, like, this wasn’t apparent to you all the way through 2016?

I mean, is this a joke? You put a flake (isn’t that what you mean by “not level-headed”?) in the most powerful office in the world? What, did you think it would be entertaining, sort of like one of those asteroid movies where in the end there is no way to stop it from destroying most of the earth? Did your mother drop you on your head?

And get this, only 37 percent think Trump shares their values. It would be scary, of course, if they really even believed what they told the pollsters. Do 118 million Americans really think it is all right to just start grabbing the person next to them in inappropriate ways? Or do they only talk like that in the locker room? Do 118 million Americans really think the 10% of the country that is first-generation immigrants are all criminals?

So my guess is that on mature reflection even the 37 percent might have some doubts.

But again, if 60 percent of you think this guy’s values are alien to you, why would you put him in the presidency? Just for a change of pace?

It goes down the line. You don’t think he is honest (55%). You don’t think he has good leadership skills (55%). You don’t even think he cares about the average Joe (55%). So you thought it might be a good idea to have a lying, incompetent elitist rat bastard as president?

The only positives for Trump here are that you think he is intelligent and a strong leader.

First of all, you have confused slyness with intelligence.

Second of all, you have confused mouthing off with being a strong leader. (I will remind you that you just said he has poor leadership skills; then how do you think he’s a strong leader?)

Then let’s take the issues, according to the Quinnipiac findings:

National poll – Approval of the way #PresidentDonaldTrump is handling #Economy #Terrorism #Immigration #ForeignPolicy

— Quinnipiac Poll (@QuinnipiacPoll) February 22, 2017

You think he is bad at handling foreign policy (56%). You think he’s bad on immigration (58%). You even think he is bad at counter-terrorism (49%). The only thing you think he is good at is running the economy (47% positive on that). And boy, do you have another think coming. Wait till he gets rid of Dodd Frank and deregulates even further the big banks and investment firms. The 2008 crash will look like a kindergarten field trip. And the environment is part of the economy. This is the guy who thinks it was much better when coal companies could release their toxic ash into our streams and rivers and when dirty oil pipelines could spill their poisonous sludge into our drinking water and fields. (So they can, again).

The vast majority of you think Trump’s Muslim ban went too far, and you are really against banning Syrian refugees, and you think in general the Federal government has taken this counter-terrorism thing way too far, chipping away at our civil liberties.

I saw on social media someone quoting a Trump supporter that they want us to give them a way to say they were wrong and made a mistake, without our telling these voters that they were bad people.

OK, you’re not bad people. You just made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes.

But there are things you have to do to make up for the mistake. You have to give Trump a Democratic Senate and even House in 2018 if you want those bad instincts you just identified to be restrained. The GOP is obviously going to let Trump exercise his bad judgment all he likes. Even so-called mavericks like Sen. John McCain have not voted against Trump even once.

And, you have in your own life to counter-act Trump. Help with or give some support to refugees already here. Join a Muslim-American civil rights organization like MPAC or an Arab-American one like the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination committee. And where you can afford it and it is practical, cut down on your carbon footprint. Use public transportation or drive an electric vehicle. Pressure your utility to give you more green energy. If you can, put up solar panels.

You made a mistake. Fix it.


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Trump Approval Rating Historically Low

Red state rural America is acting on climate change – without calling it climate change

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 - 12:18am

By Rebecca J. Romsdahl | (The Conversation) | – –

President Donald Trump has the environmental community understandably concerned. He and members of his Cabinet have questioned the established science of climate change, and his choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA many times and regularly sided with the fossil fuel industry.

Even if the Trump administration withdraws from all international climate negotiations and reduces the EPA to bare bones, the effects of climate change are happening and will continue to build.

In response to real threats and public demand, cities across the United States and around the world are taking action to address climate change. We might think this is happening only in large, coastal cities that are threatened by sea-level rise or hurricanes, like Amsterdam or New York.

Research shows, however, that even in the fly-over red states of the U.S. Great Plains, local leaders in small- to medium-size communities are already grappling with the issue. Although their actions are not always couched in terms of addressing climate change, their strategies can provide insights into how to make progress on climate policy under a Trump administration.

‘Deliberate framing’

My colleagues and I did a survey of over 200 local governments in 11 states of the Great Plains region to learn about steps they’re taking to mitigate the effects of climate change and to adapt to them. We found local officials in red states responsible for public health, soil conservation, parks and natural resources management, as well as county commissioners and mayors, are concerned about climate change, and many feel a responsibility to take action in the absence of national policy.

In terms of framing, using wind energy is a way to improve local air quality and save money on energy, while also reducing emissions from fossil fuels.
paytonc/flickr, CC BY-SA

But because it is such a complex and polarizing topic, they often face public uncertainty or outrage toward the issue. So while these local officials have been addressing climate change in their communities over the past decade, many of these policy activities are specifically not framed that way. As one respondent to our survey said:

“It is my personal and professional opinion that the conservation community is on track with addressing the issue of climate change but is way off track in assigning a cause. The public understands the value of clean water and clean air. If the need to improve our water quality and air quality was emphasized, most would agree. Who is going to say dirty water and dirty air is not a problem? By making the argument ‘climate change and humans are the cause’ significant energy is wasted trying to prove this. It is also something the public has a hard time sinking their teeth into.”

In order to address the vulnerabilities facing their communities, many local officials are reframing climate change to fit within existing priorities and budget items. In a survey of mayors, we asked: “In your city’s policy and planning activities (for energy, conservation, natural resources management, land use, or emergency planning, etc.) how is climate change framed?” The following quotes give a sense of their strategies.

“In terms of economic benefit & resource protection. This framing was deliberate to garner support from residents who did not agree with climate change.”

“We frame the initiative as: energy savings (=$ savings), as smart growth/good planning, and as common sense natural resource management. Climate change is only explicitly referenced in our Climate Protection Plan adopted in 2009. Most initiatives fall under the “sustainability” umbrella term.“

“We mask it with sustainability, we call it P3 (People, Planet, Prosperity)”

“The initial interest in climate change came about as a result of concern about the potential for poor air quality affecting economic development in the City. Air quality and climate change were framed as being extremely related issues.”

“Climate change is framed as one of several benefits of conservation measures. Other benefits of conservation, recycling, walking, etc. include it’s ‘good for the earth’ (regardless of climate change), healthful, economical, etc.”

The results show that energy, economic benefits, common sense and sustainability are frames that are providing opportunities for local leaders to address climate change without getting stuck in the political quagmire. This strategy is being used across the Great Plains states, which include some of the most climate-skeptical areas of the country.

Local needs and values

Every region of the U.S. will need to address practical questions of how states and local communities can reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts. Under the Trump administration, it is likely any progress on U.S. climate policy will continue at these subnational levels. That’s why a variety of experts argue that we should encourage the types of pragmatic strategies now being employed by local leaders in red states.

In the Great Plains in particular, local officials are facing severe impacts from higher temperatures, which will place greater demands on water and energy.

Capturing methane gases from landfill can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be a local source of fuel for power.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, CC BY-NC

In our research we found local leaders focus on regional and local issues such as drought, energy and flooding. These are problems that are tied to climate change, but are already a priority on the local level. And the sought-for improvements, such as energy savings, health benefit and flood management, fit well with local needs and values.

For example, Fargo, North Dakota mitigates some of its greenhouse gas emissions and created a new source of city revenue by capturing the methane from its landfill facility and selling that gas to the electricity company. The city trash is now providing renewable energy for local residents and an industrial facility.

Perhaps the question facing us is: Should we reframe climate change and other environmental problems to fit the Trump administration’s priorities with a strong focus on practical solution ideas? For example, Trump has stated that infrastructure projects will be a high priority. That could easily translate into fixing the drinking water crisis experienced by Flint, Michigan and many other cities where it is likely to happen; Trump has also highlighted mass transit, which could help reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.

With an administration eager to expand fossil fuel development and consumption, the outlook for federal action on reducing climate-altering greenhouse gases is dire. Given that, reframing climate change to address cobenefit issues seems a logical strategy, and we can look for local government leaders in red states to show the way.

Rebecca J. Romsdahl, Professor of Environmental Science & Policy, University of North Dakota

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump v. Islam

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 - 12:16am

By John Feffer | (Foreign Policy in Focus) | – –

Trump the businessman is at war with Trump the ideologue over the question of Islam.

Donald Trump rode to power on a wave of fear. During his presidential campaign, he portrayed terrorists, immigrants, the Chinese government and many other people and entities as threats to America. But nothing proved more powerful as a mobilizing force than his anti-Islamic pronouncements.

Other presidential candidates were careful to distinguish between what they considered to be radical extremists and ordinary Muslims. Trump made no such attempt. “I think Islam hates us,” he declared. It was not a very great leap to his conclusion: Ban all Muslims from the country. Trump was going beyond mere political incorrectness to challenge the very U.S. Constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on religion.

As president, Trump has followed through on his promise. With his executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries entrance to the United States, the president has attempted to legalize his Islamophobia. The order does not mention Islam, and the order doesn’t include the largest Muslim country in the world: Indonesia. Nor does the order mention Christianity. But it promises to “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” In other interviews, Trump has made it clear that he means to specifically prioritize Christians.

True, the executive order doesn’t apply to all Muslims around the world. But Trump and his allies, like Rudy Giuliani, know that his policies must have at least the appearance of legality to make them less susceptible to judicial challenge. More importantly, Trump wants to foster a hostile climate of opinion in the United States so Muslims will think twice about visiting, immigrating or staying. The courts have, so far, blocked Trump’s efforts. But he will likely issue another executive order that tries to achieve the same results but within the parameters of the law.

The new president’s Islamophobia is purely political. As a businessman, Trump has had no problems making deals with predominantly Muslim countries. He owns a pair of towers in Istanbul. He’s moving forward on two luxury resorts in Indonesia. He licensed his name to a golf course in Dubai. In the past, has had Muslim clients in the United States as well, such as Qatar Airways.

If Trump were merely a transactional president, he would be making deals everywhere in the world. But Trump as president is not looking at the world through a businessman’s eyes. He has surrounded himself with advisers who have a very different approach. Strategic adviser Steve Bannon, for instance, wants to turn the United States into a Whiter, more Christian and more conservative country, and many Trump supporters concur. As a result, the Trump administration is pushing policies that Trump the businessman would have opposed because they adversely affect U.S. corporations and the U.S. economy.

This disregard for the bottom line can be seen most prominently in the administration’s approach to Iran. From a business standpoint, the nuclear deal with Iran is a win-win. The United States stops a potential nuclear threat, and U.S. businesses eventually gain access to a lucrative overseas market. During the presidential campaign, Trump disregarded the obvious economic advantages of the agreement in favor of using it as a cudgel to beat those associated with negotiating it.

Even after the election was over, Trump didn’t back away from his criticisms of the deal and of Iran in general. Ostensibly in response to an Iranian missile test, Trump applied new sanctions against the country. “The international community has been too tolerant of Iran’s bad behavior,” Michael Flynn said when he was still national security adviser, signaling the new direction of U.S. policy. “The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.” At risk is the nuclear deal as well as the nearly $17 billion worth of commercial jetliners that Boeing has sold to Iran.

Moreover, the Obama administration spent eight years trying to balance the two major powers in the Middle East — predominantly Shia Iran and predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia — in an effort to keep Iraq together, minimize fallout from the Arab Spring, and later find some solution to the conflict in Syria. Trump and the Republican Congress have no interest in maintaining such a balance.

Trump has widened the scope of his actions beyond Iran. In addition to threatening to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, the administration wants to include the Muslim Brotherhood. Here again, anti-Islamic orthodoxy has trumped pragmatism. The Brotherhood has attracted the ire of real terrorist organizations for abandoning armed struggle in favor of participating in democratic politics. Senior State Department and Pentagon officials are reportedly urging Trump to reconsider these designations.

During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to focus more on problems at home. He seemed less interested in trying to use either soft power or hard power to change the complex realities of the Middle East. With the single exception of destroying the Islamic State, Trump preferred to address problems at the water’s edge with immigration bans, physical walls and a beefed-up military to protect the homeland. A streak of isolationism ran through his “America First” rhetoric. Trump was also proudly ignorant of the most basic facts about the region, saying that he’d learn the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah if and when necessary.

As president, Trump has largely abandoned this hands-off approach. He has announced that he would be delighted to arrange a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. At the same time, he has sided almost exclusively with Israel on every important issue of disagreement — supporting a move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, condemning a UN vote on Israel’s settlement policy that the Obama administration backed, and nominating an ambassador to Israel (David Friedman) who believes that the country should simply annex parts of the West Bank.

Outside the Middle East, the Trump administration has betrayed a similarly anti-Islamic approach. It has aligned itself with far-right wing and Islamophobic political parties in Europe, such as the National Front in France. The travel ban has potentially jeopardized relations with majority-Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia and elicited adenunciation from the African Union as well.

But the most troubling aspect of the Trump administration’s approach to the Muslim world is its tendency to view matters through a “civilizational” lens. Bannon understands Western civilization as fundamentally anti-Islamic (and anti-secular), its identity forged at the Battle of Tours in 732 and through later conflicts with the Ottoman Empire. Bannon and his extremist allies in Europe are threatened not just by separatist movements like the Islamic State, but also by religious pluralism, which blurs the lines of their particular identity politics. The documentary project that Bannon was working on before joining the Trump campaign focused on a hypothetical Islamic takeover of the United States, a companion piece to the “Londonistan” and “Eurabia” arguments made by European Islamophobes. The resignation of Michael Flynn might diminish the overt Islamophobia of the administration but it will not affect the underlying civilizational framework within which Bannon and others operate.

Many Americans supported Trump because he promised to be a transactional president who “gets things done.” In the end, because of the people he has brought into his inner circle, Trump will end up attempting to transform the relationship between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds. It’s not likely, however, that Trump will go down in history as either the dealmaker he promised to be as president or the transformational leader his aides are pushing him to become.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the new novel Splinterlands.


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Vox: ” How Steve Bannon sees the world”

Is Israel’s Netanyahu running Rings around the inexperienced Trump?

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 - 12:02am

By Avi Shlaim | (Via ) | – –

Trump is unencumbered by any knowledge of the Palestinians, their history, their politics, or their legitimate struggle for statehood.

At the press conference after his meeting with Israel’s prime minister on 15 February, president Trump displayed ignorance and irresponsibility in roughly equal portions. In a single sentence, he blithely broke away from two decades of US commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump’s narrow focus on Israel sets him apart from postwar American presidents. Their stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict divides American presidents into two broad schools of thought: the even-handed and the “Israel first”. Jimmy Carter is the best example of the former, whereas George W Bush is the leading example of the second and much larger group. Trump does not fall neatly into either category because he is utterly one-sided in his identification with Israel. He is unencumbered by any knowledge of the Palestinians, their history, their politics, or their legitimate struggle for statehood.

Ever since the Oslo Accord was concluded by the PLO and Israel in 1993, the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel has been the cornerstone of American diplomacy under both Democratic and Republican administrations. While this was the policy at the declaratory level, America failed to exert effective pressure on Israel to implement it. Indeed, the very existence of the so-called “peace process” provided Israel with a convenient cover for promoting the Zionist settler-colonial project. Trump did not rule out a two-state solution, but he implied that his administration has no preference regarding the shape of the final peace agreement.

Standing alongside Mr Netanyahu, the neophyte president said: “I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like”. Referring to the Israeli prime minister by his nickname, but no Palestinian leader by any name, he added: “I can live with either one. I thought for a while it looked like the two-state, looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly if Bibi and the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best”.

This vague and incoherent kind of talk on a crucially important issue is typical of the Trump White House. Under his mercurial management, the White House team is chaotic and dysfunctional. There is no decision-making structure, no rules, and no coordination in the formulation of foreign policy. Nor is it clear who the key players are in each particular area of policy. Within Trump’s inner circle there are advisers with wildly divergent views. Some of them are stone-cold racists and white supremacists. Hence the strange statement issued by the president on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which made no mention of either Jews or antisemitism.

On the other hand, two of Trump’s closest advisers on Israel-Palestine are not just Orthodox Jews but ardent Zionists. One is his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a real estate investor with zero diplomatic experience whose family foundation financially supports the illegal settlements on the West Bank and the Israeli military. Trump appointed the 36-year-old Kushner as senior White House adviser and put him in charge of brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The other influential adviser is David Friedman, Trump’s real estate and bankruptcy lawyer for the last 15 years, who was picked to be America’s ambassador to Israel. Friedman is a controversial figure even among American Jews on account of his fervent pro-settlement views and firm opposition to a Palestinian state. Friedman does not consider the settlements as an impediment to peace and he does not think that annexing parts of the West Bank would compromise Israel’s Jewish or democratic character. He is the chairman of the American Friends of Beit El, one of the more hard-line ideological settlements on the West Bank. Friedman raises around $2 million of tax-free donations a year for the Beit El. One Donald J Trump contributed $10,000 to this charity.

Friedman is also a strong supporter of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, one of Trump’s campaign promises. This move would ring the death knell of the two-state solution. It would mean American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem, including the Muslim holy places in the Old City. An editorial in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, titled “David Friedman Is Unfit to Serve as U.S. Envoy to Israel,” described him as “a man with a simplistic, dangerous worldview, a member of the extreme right who supports annexing territory on the West Bank to Israel”. On the Israeli political map, Friedman is well to the right of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Odd as it may sound, Netanyahu is one of the more moderate politicians in the coalition government he heads. This is the most right-wing, racist, xenophobic, expansionist, and pro-settler government in Israel’s history. Despite the occasional rhetorical genuflection by Netanyahu in the direction of two states in the distant past, both he and his ministers are decidedly opposed to a Palestinian state. They have built a network of roads on the West Bank for the exclusive use of the settlers with the intention of making the status quo permanent. In the lead-up to the elections of 2015, Netanyahu stated categorically that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.

Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party and the defence minister, is himself a settler who aggressively pushes the settlers’ agenda in the cabinet. Naftali Bennett, leader of the religious-nationalist Jewish Home party and minister of education, is vehemently opposed to a Palestinian state in any shape or form. He advocates the outright annexation of Area C which comprises 60% of the West Bank where the majority of the settlements are located. Ayelet Shaked, the minister of justice, is another member of the Jewish Home party with far-right, ethnocentric, and genocidal views. She is spearheading the attack on one of the last bastions of Israeli democracy and the rule of law – the Supreme Court.

Shaked was the driving force behind the law recently passed by the Knesset to legalise theft. Calling it the Regularization Bill could hardly conceal its highly irregular and crudely discriminatory nature. A more honest name would have been the Expropriation Bill. For what the bill did was to retroactively legalise 50 Jewish outposts, with around 4,000 homes, on the West Bank that had been built illegally on private Palestinian land. The bill is a naked land grab by the settlers and their sponsors whose purpose is to erase any prospect of a viable Palestinian state. Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit, said he would not defend the law in the Supreme Court, calling it unconstitutional and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Netanyahu initially opposed the bill, warning his cabinet that it could land its backers at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, but he changed his mind for fear of losing votes to his militant political rivals.

Both Netanyahu and the hawks in his cabinet were overjoyed by the election of Donald Trump. They expected him to give them a free hand to pursue their aggressive colonial project in what they call Judea and Samaria – and they were not far wrong. Naftali Bennett tweeted: “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to retract the notion of a Palestinian state”. Two days after Trump’s inauguration, the cabinet announced two decisions: to issue permits for 5,500 new housing units, and to build an entirely new settlement on the West Bank. The second decision was a clear violation of an official pledge that Israel had given to the US at the time of the Oslo Accord not to build new settlements. The idea behind the pledge was to give peace a chance.

The reaction of the White House to these provocative announcements could have hardly been more equivocal. The statement read: “While we don’t believe that the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful to achieving that goal”. Muddled as it was, the statement signalled a clear reversal of American policy since 1967 which held that all settlements on occupied Arab territory are illegal and an impediment to peace.

This permissive attitude towards Israel’s violations of both international law and its promises to its chief ally assured Netanyahu of an easy ride on his meeting with the new incumbent at the White House. The contrast with his first meeting with Barack Obama in 2009 could hardly have been greater. At that meeting Obama wanted to focus on solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while Netanyahu tried to side-line this issue by focusing on the threat of the Iranian nuclear programme. Obama identified an Israeli settlement freeze as an indispensable condition for any progress in peace-making. Netanyahu’s persistent refusal to freeze settlement activity soured his relations with the Obama administration. Yet, despite his evident personal loathing of Netanyahu, Obama gave more money and arms to Israel than any of his predecessors. His parting gift was a $38 billion military aid package for the next decade. With this gift securely in his pocket, Netanyahu could look forward to a new era in Israel-US relations and to taking advantage of a new president whose ignorance and insecurity made him an easy target for manipulation.

At the press conference with Trump, Netanyahu was evasive on the subject of a two-state solution. Rather than dealing with “labels”, he said he wanted to deal with substance. But his substantive position was completely uncompromising: “There are two prerequisites for peace”, he said. “First, the Palestinians must recognise the Jewish state…second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River…otherwise we’ll get another terrorist Islamic state in the Palestinian areas, exploding the peace, exploding the Middle East.” Netanyahu’s insistence that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state is a relatively recent condition that he himself invented in order to make it difficult for the Palestinians to engage in peace talks. His second condition leaves no room for Palestinian sovereignty or statehood in any meaningful sense of these words.

Netanyahu routinely reiterates that he is ready to start peace talks with the Palestinians without any preconditions. This is a transparent propaganda ploy. The two “prerequisites” reflect his deep ideological commitment to hold on to, in perpetuity, what he calls the “Land of Israel”. Netanyahu grew up in a fanatical revisionist Zionist home. In a 2009 interview his octogenarian father, Benzion Netanyahu, asserted: “The two-state solution doesn’t exist…There is no Palestinian people, so you don’t create a state for an imaginary nation”. This apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

At the press conference Trump said to his guest: “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements a little bit”. This may sound like a mild rebuke, but it was not intended nor was it taken as such. On the contrary, this remark was actually helpful to Netanyahu, and he may have even solicited it himself. As prime minister, Netanyahu has to maintain a delicate balance between his right-wing coalition partners for whom any talk of peace is anathema and the pretence that his government is seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict. His partners-rivals are urging him to annex the strategic settlement blocs round Jerusalem, Ma’ale Edumim and Gush Etzion. He, for his part, lectures them on the need to coordinate their moves with the new president. Trump’s call for holding back a bit enables the embattled prime minister to protect his flank and to restrain the parties to his right. The friendship with Trump also helps him to bolster his position with the Israeli public at a time when he is being investigated by the police for receiving illicit gifts of champagne and cigars from a billionaire businessman. Netanyahu’s overriding goal is to maintain the status quo with only minor adjustments, and this he largely achieved at his meeting with the most powerful man in the world.

The other major item on the two leaders’ agenda was Iran, and here too there was a convergence of Israeli and American positions. Netanyahu had been the most strident opponent of the nuclear agreement reached between the Obama administration and five other world powers with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He claimed that Iran could not be trusted and that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel. The warning was coupled with threats of an Israeli military strike to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. These threats were not credible. At that time, none of Israel’s defence chiefs supported military action. Major-General Meir Dagan, soon after stepping down as director of the Mossad, said that this was the silliest idea he had ever heard. The considered opinion of Israel’s securocrats was that the landmark international agreement with Iran actually served to reduce the potential military threats to their country. The real concern which united the prime minister with his intelligence and defence chiefs was that the nuclear agreement would pave the way to a more general American-Iranian rapprochement and that this would downgrade Israel’s role as America’s primary strategic partner in the region. So while Netanyahu’s verbal assaults on Iran continued after the conclusion of the treaty, the threat of military action was quietly dropped.

The election of Donald Trump went a long way to allay Israeli concerns. During the presidential campaign candidate Trump echoed Netanyahu’s rhetoric, promising to tear up the nuclear deal that Obama had signed with Iran in July 2015. Following his election, however, Trump moderated his position, if not his rhetoric. His administration imposed new sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missiles tests, but these were consistent with the American obligations under the nuclear deal. So by the time Netanyahu arrived in Washington, the threat of a US-Iranian détente had receded. At the 15 February press conference, Trump called the agreement with Iran “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen”, but he said nothing about abandoning or even renegotiating it. So once again America and Israel were singing from the same hymn sheet.

What was absent from the press conference was any consideration for the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people. Their “prerequisites” for peace were not mentioned even once. Echoing one of Netanyahu’s regular talking points, Trump castigated the Palestinians for allegedly teaching their children to hate Israel. His indifference to a one-state or two-state solution betrayed a shocking ignorance of the implications of the former. A one-state solution can mean one of two things. It can mean a secular democratic state stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea with equal rights for all its citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity. This kind of a unitary state is anathema to all but a tiny fringe of left-wing Israelis because sooner or later the Jews will become a minority. The alternative is one state with two systems, in other words, a state in which the Jews preserve all their powers and privileges and the Palestinians remain second-class citizens in perpetuity. There is only one word to describe this scenario – apartheid.

A solution along these lines, if it can be called one, is totally unacceptable to the Palestinians. The Palestinians, the real victims of this bitter and protracted conflict, will accept nothing less and they deserve nothing less than a fully independent state alongside Israel with a capital city in Jerusalem. Moreover, a genuine two-state solution commands the support of the broadest international consensus which included, until the bizarre press conference at the White House, the United States of America.

All the international efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the Gulf war of 1991 have been based on the premise of two states. The Arab states are part of this international consensus. In 2002 the Arab League put forward the Arab Peace Initiative. It was endorsed by all 22 members of the Arab League. It offered Israel not just peace but normalisation with all of them in return for the creation of an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with a capital in East Jerusalem and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. There has been no official Israeli response to this offer.

The truth of the matter is that Israel is addicted to occupation, and it will continue to resist with all its might any international efforts to end it. So the Palestinians are engaged in what is probably the last anti-colonial struggle of the postwar era. The asymmetry of power between Israel and the Palestinians is so great that a voluntary agreement between the two parties is inconceivable. A settlement of the conflict in line with the international consensus can only come about if America joins with the rest of the international community in pushing Israel into it. This has never happened in the past and there is even less of a chance that it will happen now under the one-sidedly pro-Israeli Republican administration.

Donald Trump has simply abandoned the long-suffering Palestinians to the tender mercies of their Israeli oppressors. The notion that the Palestinians deserve justice does not appear to have crossed his mind. The most charitable explanation of his conduct is that he lives in a delusional bubble. Be that as it may, there isn’t even the faintest prospect on the horizon that the self-proclaimed deal-maker will be able to broker a peace deal to end this tragic century-old conflict.

Avi Shlaim is an emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford University and the author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.