In this episode of The Ossington Circle, I talk with Vijay Prashad about his book, Death of a Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution, with a particular focus on the Syria war and the peace process in Astana.
There's a phrase that keeps popping up in discussions of Syria. It's a string of words that always appear together, without variation, which is a tell for propaganda phrases and talking points. In the context of Libya, there was a line about “African Mercenaries”. The one I keep hearing about Syria is that Assad has "Afghan Shia militias" fighting for him.
The phrase caught my attention, because when I heard it used, it was by people who don't know Afghanistan. The country has sectarian and linguistic differences: there are two official languages (Dari and Pashto), there are different self-identified ethnic groups (Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara), there are rural-urban differences, and there are differences of sect within the main religion (Sunni and Shia Islam). For the first few centuries of its existence, including the first several decades of the 20th century, Afghanistan's leaders tried to create a nationalism that transcended these differences. Then came the war and the foreign interventions that played the differences up for short-term gain, destroying the country so thoroughly that it now sits near the bottom of the UN Human Development Index.
The phrase "Afghan Shia" doesn't mean much in Afghanistan. There are rare exceptions, but if you are talking about "Afghan Shia", you are probably talking about the Hazara, a group of people traditionally oppressed along caste and ethnic lines. The one book many Westerners have read about Afghanistan, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, prominently features the oppression and violence against a Hazara boy, a friend of the protagonist. During the Afghan wars, sectarian warlords and the Taliban singled Hazara communities out for massacres and atrocities. Millions of Afghans fled to Iran during these wars -- many of them Hazara – and were mistreated there, often charged with trumped-up crimes and even executed en masse. Nonetheless, there is a long-term community of Afghans living in Iran, many of whom are Hazara.
In this episode of The Ossington Circle, I talk to "Laila", an activist who has studied the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for many years. For preparation, I read Medea Benjamin's new book, Kingdom of the Unjust.
In this episode of The Ossington Circle, academic, activist, and editor at Jadaliyya Max Ajl discusses the destruction of Syria and the vitriol directed at leftists and Palestine activists who have opposed intervention in Syria.
Justin Podur: Hello and welcome to the Ossington Circle. Today I’m here with Max Ajl, PhD student at Cornell University, and editor at Jadaliyya and a Palestinian solidarity activist. We’re going to talk today about Palestine a little bit, but mainly about Syria. Max, thank you for joining me.
When journalist Rania Khalek's lecture was cancelled on February 27, the group that invited her, Students for Justice in Palestine – University of North Carolina (SJP-UNC) issued a statement saying that the cancellation was because of Rania's “views” on Syria, and that they believed “her invitation would mistakenly imply SJP to hold such views”. They also added that they “do not endorse nor reject her views on the Syrian civil war as they remain relatively unclear according to our members’ diverse opinions of Rania's analyses.”
In response to the cancellation, a large number of signers, many of whom have been involved with Palestine solidarity, signed a statement against Rania's blacklisting but also against blacklisting in general. That statement concluded:
“The signers of this statement hold a range of views on Syria. Some agree with Khalek; others disagree – in some cases quite vehemently. But we feel that when a group seeking justice in Palestine subjects speakers or members to a political litmus test related to their views on Syria, it inevitably leads to splits, silencing, confusion, and a serious erosion of trust. It runs contrary to the possibility of people learning from one another, changing their minds, and educating one another through their activism. Disagreements about political issues exist inside every movement coalition. They must not be made fodder for targeted vilification of activists in the movement.”
The statement “against blacklisting” triggered another wave of slanders, as many of the same people who had pressured the SJP to cancel her talk approached signers to argue that they should not have signed. Among their arguments was that there is and should be a political litmus test, one that Rania fails. As an initial signer myself, I was approached more than once by friends who suggested that I didn't really know Rania's views.
In this episode of The Ossington Circle, Colombian physician and activist Manuel Rozental returns from a trip to Turkey, during which he spent time with Syrian refugees, to talk about the advancing war in Syria and on the planet.
In this episode of The Ossington Circle I talk to Cynthia Peters, a City Life/Vida Urbana organizer in Boston, about changes, continuities, and strategy in a USA now under Trump's administration.
In this episode of The Ossington Circle, I talk to labor historian and activist Jeremy Brecher about a possible strategy against Trump called Social Self Defense.
In this episode of The Ossington Circle, I interview sociologist William I. Robinson about the relationship between Trumpism, capitalism, and fascism and what leftists could do in this environment.