The Children of Men

Watched “Children of Men” tonight. For those who don’t know, it’s one of those British dystopia movies – I think 28 Days Later and V for Vendetta fall into the category. It’s set in 2027, in a kind of business-as-usual bleak scenario, with an ongoing insurgency and an authoritarian government, but with the twist that no babies have been born in 18-some years. When a girl is found to be pregnant and is in the hands of the resistance, the protagonist has to try to get her to safety from the various groups that would do her harm or use her. I thought it was okay. It had some things that bothered me.

-The only trustworthy people in the movie were white… those in the resistance who turned out to be traitorous were black/brown.
-The pregnant girl, the quintessential single mother, happened to be black.
-The Islamic and Arab aspect of the rebellion in the refugee camp was overstated, I think, for the UK in 2027.
-The incompetence and lack of politics of the rebels was grating.
-I found it hard to believe that ordinary human and family relationships had been wiped out to that extent – even after 20 years of not having babies.

Perhaps these latter dislikes of mine are due to the writers being able to see farther than I can, as opposed to the writers’ limitations.

What I liked about the film:

-It seemed to capture the broad contours of a bleak future. Probably because it captures the broad contours of the bleak present. Dispossession, propaganda, violence, alienation, nowhere safe, no one to trust, a collapsing society and environment, and seemingly random violence.
-It captures this with very spectacular cinematography and effects. I didn’t like some of the military aspects of the major battle in the refugee camp, but it had some very significant realism as well, and captured the sights and sounds and terror of such situations very well.

But I return to the political problems that were inadequately handled. Were the writers just seeing to a future when genuine alternatives had been destroyed, when the process of their destruction had left resistances that long since lost their own ethical framework and could offer nothing to the population? Or was envisioning a battle between an authoritarian, diffuse, collapsing capitalist society and a genuine alternative, politically fought, beyond the ability of our moviemakers today? I mean, I think the future is as bleak as anybody, but I also think that there are people and organizations out there that are inspiring. I don’t think the fight for the future will be so bereft of decency, which can be found in some terrible situations. But maybe not all of them.

Israel, Apartheid, Avnery…

I read Uri Avnery’s piece in Counterpunch on Israeli Apartheid, cautioning against the use of the Apartheid analogy. Stephen Friedman and Virginia Tilley replied, providing interesting facts from the record on South African Apartheid.

When I read Avnery’s piece I thought it was a good conversation opener. There are things in it I disagreed with, some of which Friedman and Tilley address. And things that I think are good fodder for discussion.

The apartheid analogy has several merits. First, as pointed out by Avnery and by Friedman/Tilley, there are major elements that the systems of South African apartheid and Israeli apartheid share (Avnery thinks of these as methods, Friedman and Tilley argue that there is also substance). Uri Davis’s book, ‘Apartheid Israel’, describes the Israeli system very well. Second, when South Africa claimed that there were plenty of oppressive regimes in the world, the world replied that legally-enforced racism was a special affront that deserved a very high priority of international attention and pressure.

Avnery raises several cautions. One, the demographics are different. This is true, and makes Israel relatively stronger than South Africa was compared to the people it is trying to displace and destroy. Two, South Africa depended on indigenous labor, while Israel has successfully replaced Palestinian labor. Three, and Avnery doesn’t say it quite like this, but Israeli apartheid isn’t a system for exploitation, but ultimately for replacing the Palestinian population. I believe, and Friedman/Tilley may disagree with me, that Israel’s stance towards the Palestinians is fundamentally genocidal and it has opportunities and means for carrying this out that the South African white regime did not. This puts the Palestinians in a more precarious position than Black South Africans were in. And although Friedman/Tilley point out the facts of ethnic cleansing of Africans by whites in South Africa, the usefulness of the apartheid analogy should not blind us to the extra precariousness of the Palestinian situation and the genocidal campaign of Israel, exemplified by what is happening in Gaza.

I agree with Friedman/Tilley about how the limits of the apartheid analogy don’t necessarily lend support to Uri Avnery’s preferred solution to the conflict, a two-state solution. I also agree with Friedman/Tilley that the basis for a binational solution, with the right of return guaranteed (I wrote a little fiction about it a while ago) is not religious fundamentalism, as Avnery argues.

Some other differences. I’d like to remind readers of a nice piece by Joel Kovel in Tikkun arguing about how to end Israeli apartheid, making comparisons to South Africa, from May 2003. Here’s a very nice quote from that piece, on the differences:

There are of course important differences between Israel and apartheid South Africa. The latter was only a secondary (though not insignificant) client of the United States, inasmuch as it lacked strong domestic constituencies in America, and more importantly, was not a factor in controlling an area so strategic as the Middle East. Because South Africa is a wealthy and largely self-sufficient powerhouse, while Israel would collapse like a house of cards without the support of its patron, a much greater role would be given to organizing within the United States in the struggle against Zionism compared to the struggle against Apartheid. At the same time, the depth of the American-Israeli tie makes that organizing much more arduous, even as the present state of war and looming expulsion of the Palestinian people (ethnic cleansing was not significant for South Africa) gives it an immediate urgency. Prevention of the latter catastrophe necessarily provides the entry point into the struggle against Zionism, without altering the long term goal. And this is defined by the deep structural similarities between the two racist states.

Apartheid analysis leads naturally to the idea that the apartheid state should be isolated internationally, economically and politically, until it changes. And as Kovel says, this would lead in Israel to very rapid shifts. On the flip side, Israel is completely integrated with North American power, and will not be so easily isolated. Indeed, isolating Israel means defeating the political elites of the US (and Canada, for those interested, and so on) in a significant way: Israel is not something they will compromise on. That might be the most important thing an anti-apartheid campaigner can remember.

The reason they won’t give up easily is two-pronged. On the one hand, it is because supporting a “western” country like Israel to ethnically cleanse a west asian population comes naturally in the west. Racism means Israel is part of the family, Palestinians are not. On the other hand, it is the use of anti-racist feeling. The very reason that made it possible to isolate South Africa – that racism is a special affront – is a reason for many who don’t fully grasp what is being done to the Palestinians to support Israel. Jews have a long history of being the victims of racism. The struggle against anti-semitism is a moral issue. When support for Israel can be cast as part of that historical struggle, instead of the abomination of that struggle that it is, it can be cast as a moral issue that people will fight very hard for.

The history and even the particular forms that anti-semitism has taken (boycotts, for example) make thinking carefully about the tactics of a boycott/divestment/sanctions campaign against Israel imperative. Tactics that worked against South Africa can’t be adopted wholesale. Mostly white academics telling other white academics that they are not welcome because they represent the South African apartheid state looks different from mostly white academics telling Jewish academics they are not welcome because they represent the Israeli apartheid state. The massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich olympics means that a sports boycott against Israel would evoke very different feelings than the sports boycott against South African athletes.

Having discussed the differences, let me return to Kovel and the similarities by way of conclusion:

Here we need to remind ourselves that we are talking about changing the Israeli state. A state is not a society, a nation or a territory, but a mode of regulation and control, and the disposition of official violence. States control and direct society, contain nations, and command territories. The racist state aggrandizes one group by annihilating others, who essentially stand helpless before it. The Holocaust happened to state-less Jews, Gypsies, etc, who became the victims of the nihilism of a racist, Nazi state; similarly, state-less Palestinians have become victims of the nihilism of the racist, Zionist state. Given the nihilistic violence built into the Zionist state, it is reasonable to say that such an outcome is in the interests of both the bodily and spiritual survival of the Jewish people.

Being “thrown into the sea” is a fantasy of projected vengeance. It is predicated on sustaining a racist state-organization into the future, forever surrounded by those it has dispossessed and humiliated. Therefore the chief condition to strive for is creation of a society in which the wheel of vengeance is put out of commission. And if this seems completely off the scale, especially so given the extreme violence built into the Israeli state, it is most important to recall the bringing down of the murderous apartheid state of South Africa—and to realize that if so great an accomplishment could be done there, then an equivalently great accomplishment can take place in Israel/Palestine.

… (snip) …

In a vision of a post-racist society we find, however, the moral force capable of inspiring and drawing in people of good will from all sides of the conflict. If such people were able to demand the downfall of apartheid, why should they not do the same for Zionism, and unify themselves under this banner? It will be a long and hard struggle, and only a vision worthy of its sacrifices will suffice for the path ahead.

To which I can only add that it will be a long and hard struggle, but one on which we’ll all have to account for the side we were on.

The Genocide Option in Iraq

An important commentary by Ed Herman on ZNet, where he makes the comparison to Vietnam that actually matters: that the US pursued genocidal policies in Vietnam and is moving towards the same in Iraq. I’ve written before that I dislike talk of how the US was “defeated” in Vietnam and I dislike any talk of “quagmire” for imperialists – the US walked away from Vietnam after having killed several million people and no one in the US answered for it. As for “quagmire”, it is an inversion of reality, implying that the US “can’t” leave for some reason, when in fact it can leave whenever it decides to, and isn’t leaving because it doesn’t want to. There is nothing to celebrate in these “defeats”. Iraq is deliberately created chaos, in which hundreds of people are being murdered every day. The planned US operations for the next few months are going to make things worse. Mass murder is occurring while we watch. It seems that our desensitization is proceeding on schedule.

Did the Americans kill the Ecuadorian Defense Minister?

Too early to know, but not too early to suspect foul play for Ecuador’s new Defense Minister for a left government that was planning a different relationship between Ecuador’s military and the United States, whose helicopter crashed very close to the US Manta Air Force Base, which the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa promised to close upon coming to power. Remember Guadalupe Larriva, and may her death, whether it was an accidental tragedy or a planned atrocity, hasten the removal of the air force base from that country.



25 de enero de 2007
«Las personas que transitan por la vida sembrando utopías, como una estrella en el firmamento, no mueren y se mantienen, por siempre, en el corazón de sus pueblos.» Guadalupe Larriva, Altercom, 26 de agosto de 2004
La Ministra de Defensa Nacional del Ecuador y Presidenta Nacional del Partido Socialista Ecuatoriano Guadalupe Larriva ha muerto, junto a los dos tripulantes de su helicóptero militar, en las inmediaciones de la Base Aérea de Manta, ocupada parcialmente por fuerzas extranjeras de origen estadounidense que realizan operaciones de caracter electrónico y vuelos sobre Ecuador y Colombia.
El accidente ocurrió pasadas las 20 horas. Los informes son todavía confusos, aunque se conoce por testigos presenciales que chocaron dos helicópteros de fabricación francesa. La hija de Guadalupe, Claudia Ávila Larriva, de 17 años, viajaba junto a su madre y también murió en el accidente.
La destacada dirigenta socialista, maestra, geógrafa, historiadora, escritora, ex legisladora, ocupó por nueve días la cartera militar del gabinete del Presidente Correa. Fue la primera mujer en ocupar ese ministerio en Ecuador, mantuvo en alto la tesis de revisar el denominado «Libro Blanco de las Fuerzas Armadas», rechazar las fumigaciones uribistas en nuestra frontera norte y negarse enfáticamente a que nuestros soldados intervengan en el Plan Colombia. Su prioridad fue la de vincular a las Fuerzas Armadas en el cambio profundo que reclama su pueblo y en que sean baluartes de la defensa de la Soberanía Nacional.
Guadalupe Larriva se destacó por su lealtad a la causa revolucionaria y al pueblo ecuatoriano, sufrió cárcel por sus ideas y su combate por la liberación de los oprimidos. Maestra destacada, profesora universitaria, fue presidenta de la Unión Nacional de Educadores de Azuay.
El colectivo de ALTERCOM, que fue honrado con su amistad y cooperación, se une al dolor que aflige a las revolucionarias y revolucionarios ecuatorianos por la pérdida de la destacada militante socialista. Lloramos su muerte y reclamamos su legado de integridad, honradez y valentía para la historia del Ecuador.
Altercom exige una investigación inmediata, plena y transparente de este accidente y sus circunstancias.
La Base Aérea de Manta debe volver a ser territorio soberano de la Patria de Guadalupe Larriva.
Agencia de Prensa de Ecuador. Comunicación para la Libertad.

Colombia is the model for Afghanistan

An AP article sent to me by Anthony Fenton describes how a US General (Pace) says that Colombia’s drug war is the model for the Afghanistan drug war.

I’m reproducing it below. The article contains critique from the decent and intelligent Adam Isacson, who notes that Colombia’s drug war is a disaster by any sane or decent measure.

But of course the stated goals of drug wars have little to do with the actual goals, as I’ve noted in my own comparison between Afghanistan and Colombia months ago.

In particular, the aspects of the model that aren’t discussed include:

-Getting the resources of the country in the hands of friends and allies

-Funding and arming forces to control territories and populations; handing those forces political and military power in exchange

-Establishing permanent bases and military control in a country as a foothold into an entire region; establishing military forces close to perceieved ‘threats’

These are the military logic of these campaigns, for which drugs are just a useful pretext…

See the article below.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press
All Rights Reserved
Associated Press Worldstream

January 20, 2007 Saturday 12:54 AM GMT


LENGTH: 593 words

HEADLINE: U.S. military chief sees anti-drug Plan Colombia a model for Afghanistan

BYLINE: By JOSHUA GOODMAN, Associated Press Writer



The United States’ top military official said Friday that American-backed anti-drug and counterinsurgent operations in Colombia the world’s largest producer of cocaine should serve as a “model” for the Afghan government.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Colombia’s campaign to “rid certain areas of terrorists” followed by relief and jobs programs for the poor was a “good model for (Afghan) President Hamid Karzai to consider as he looks at how to reduce the amount of drug trafficking in his country.”

Afghanistan has been plagued by skyrocketing heroin production. But critics say it would be a mistake for the country to duplicate Colombia’s model, which they say has been ineffective despite costing American taxpayers more than US$4 billion (euro3 billion) since 2000.

Pace’s comments, at the end of a two-day visit here, were made in the presence of William Wood, who on Thursday was nominated by the White House to become its next ambassador in Afghanistan.

Wood has served as U.S. ambassador to Bogota since 2003.

Pace also thanked the government of President Alvaro Uribe Washington’s staunchest ally in Latin America for the way “he has reached out to Karzai and his government to provide experience and teams of experts” in combatting drugs.

Colombia, at the urging of the United States, has sent several missions of police and anti-drug experts to train Afghan police and advise Kabul. Opium production in Afghanistan last year rose 49 percent enough to make about 670 tons (607 metric tons) of heroin.

Many Afghan oppose spraying herbicides to kill fields of poppies, which are used to make heroin. The method is seen as likely to anger farmers and scare local residents.

Afghanistan is the source of 90 percent of the world’s opium production, although Colombia is the main supplier of heroin to the United States.

In Colombia the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have financed their four-decade old leftist insurgency through the drug trade, while in Afghanistan rising poppy production is blamed for fueling an increase in Taliban-led attacks against U.S. troops.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said Colombia “was more than willing to continue and increase” counter-narcotic cooperation with U.S., British and Afghan officials.

Since 2000, the U.S. government has provided Colombia with more than US$700 million (euro540 million) in annual military aid to chemically eradicate fields of coca the base ingredient of cocaine and train troops fighting the FARC. Another US$125 million (euro96 million) are devoted to humanitarian relief and programs to encourage poor farmers to switch to growing legal crops.

Colombia is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid outside the Middle East.

But despite record aerial eradication campaigns a cornerstone of the U.S.-backed anti-drug policy critics say the costly Plan Colombia has fallen well short of its goal to halve the country’s production of coca.

The latest U.S. government survey found 26 percent more land 144,000 hectares (355,000 acres) in 2005 dedicated to the plant than the previous year’s survey.

“It would be a disaster for Afghanistan if they were to copy the character and model of Plan Colombia,” Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, told The Associated Press.

“If Afghanistan began fumigating across its country, Colombia has shown us that after five or six years later you’ll have just as much drug crop being grown and a lot more angry people who don’t trust their government and continue to be poor,” he said.

Politics in classrooms, “terrorism” at union meetings…

A little more on the case I mentioned yesterday, in which a teacher tried to get a boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) resolution passed in a Ontario teacher’s union.

The forces mobilized against the resolution, Canada’s Globe and Mail reports, included B’nai Brith and the Jewish Defense League (JDL). .

The JDL is on the US State Department’s terrorist list.

Continue reading “Politics in classrooms, “terrorism” at union meetings…”

Don’t bring POLITICS into the CLASSROOM!

Back in the summer we at ZNet published a fine piece by a very intelligent teacher named Jason Kunin on how to talk about Israel/Palestine issues to unionists. In Canada, activists in unions are trying to push a boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) campaign to force Israel to stop its ongoing ethnic cleansing and genocidal policies against the Palestinians. Goes without saying that this is an uphill battle. This is, after all, the same jurisdiction where a children’s book that talked about children in Israel and Palestine was banned.

Uphill, indeed. Kunin tried to pass a motion in his union on BDS. It seems that Kunin’s school board took it upon themselves to suspend him and investigate his teaching. They have suspended him, the preliminary reports say, for bringing politics into the classroom. The irony of this seems to have escaped them.

The motion is copied below. If I hear more on how to support this case I will publish it here.

BIRT D-12 STBU bring the following motion to AMPA 2007:

BIRT that AMPA 2007 express its concern about the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories by taking the following actions:

a) Requesting the PE to endorse the recommendations of Amnesty International, in its report “Israel & the Occupied Territories: Road to Nowhere” (December 1, 2006)

b) Requesting that the Provincial Executive write a letter to the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, copied to the Prime Minister of Canada as well as to the leaders of the opposition stating OSSTF’s endorsement of the recommendations of Amnesty International, in its report “Israel & the Occupied Territories: Road to Nowhere” (December 1, 2006)

c) request the provincial HRC to educate OSSTF members to the present crisis and to develop moral and other supports for students, teachers, unions, or other organizations in the Occupied Territories and Israel as may be appropriate.

d) Develop ways OSSTF can demonstrate its support of the growing international call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel.

Moved: Jason Kunin
Seconded: Hayssam Hulays