The Muslim Refusenik and Me, Part I

The blogging and reporting on Iraq has been so good that I won’t do another roundup here, other than to lament, as someone who is subjected to the Canadian media, how dreadful the asymmetry is. The most ‘liberal’ paper in the country, the Toronto Star, had a massive headline: “12 more marines die in Iraq”. The subheadline, much smaller — “3-day toll is 30 Americans and 130 Iraqis” (that would be my emphasis). The casualties are almost certainly far higher for Iraqis, as the US has sealed Fallujah off to commit atrocities unnoticed there. It seems that I have commented on Iraq, after all. But the purpose of this entry is to discuss my correspondence with that intrepid ‘Muslim Refusenik’, Irshad Manji… read on, if you have the stomach.

So, Norman Finkelstein called Alan Dershowitz a ‘raving lunatic’ in a recent interview, and I patterned my own review of Irshad Manji after Finkelstein’s work. Unfortunately I lack Norman’s imagination for terms of abuse, although that’s probably just as well: Dershowitz’s strategy is plagiarism and fabrication under the veneer of Harvard University. Manji’s strategy is flagrant displays of ignorance in order to elicit abuse, which she can then use as proof of how intolerant her detractors are. That’s why I stuck to the fact that she’s a fraud in the review, rather than on any opinions I might have of her character.

Anyway, at the end of my review I wrote this:

“Let me say publicly that on Nov. 20, 2003, at her public talk at Ryerson university in Toronto, in front of several hundred people who came to listen to her speech, “Defending Israel is Defending Diversity”, I told Irshad Manji that she has a standing invitation to go to the Occupied Territories with the International Solidarity Movement. I gave her my email address and the sites for ISM Canada ( and ISM ( She has not replied to my invitation.”

A few weeks later, Manji did indeed write to me! I’ll post the first email, and then leave you hanging… posting the next round in a later post.

December 16, 2003

Dear Justin,

Greetings. Irshad here. I’m writing to explore next steps with regard to sending me on a journalistic mission under the auspices of the International Solidarity Movement. I’ve checked out both websites that you’ve given to me, and look forward to learning more.

Next steps?



P.S. Sorry I couldn’t follow up with you sooner. I’ve been on book-related travels. Life gets even more hectic as of mid-January, so let’s be sure touch base before then.

Urgent situation in Sudan

Of course it’s the News Insider who pointed this story out, as usual. In fact, readers, you should assume that any obscure story I come up with in this blog, if it is in the mainstream media and in English, it probably came from the News Insider (not the case for Spanish sources, or alternative media sources). Human Rights Watch is very concerned about the situation in the Sudan. I started looking into Sudan because of the similarities with Colombia: state-armed militias, massacres with the express purpose of displacing people from resource-rich zones, ‘development without people’, and so on. Sudan is an ‘official enemy’ of the US, on the terrorist list, but it won itself some wiggle room to attack its population by collaborating with the US after 9/11. Most, though not all, of the experts on the conflict have a relatively pro-US outlook on the world. I reviewed a worthwhile book by one of those experts recently — it might serve as context for what’s going on.

Iraq Roundup Today

So, things continue in Iraq. We have a very good report from Andrea Schmidt in Baghdad. Please check it out. Rahul is blogging as usual, no less analytical for being right on the scene. Fisk has a new one that should be up on the ZNet site shortly. In that, you will find this:

“What good this will do “new” Iraq is anyone’s guess. Vast concrete walls have been lowered across the road and military vehicles have been used to chase away civilians trying to by-pass them. A prolonged series of Israeli-style house raids are now apparently planned for the people of Fallujah to seek out he gunmen who first attacked the four Americans – whose corpses were later stripped, mutilated and hanged.”

“The helicopter attacks in Shoula – by ghastly coincidence the very same Shoula suburb in which civilians were slaughtered by an American aircraft during last year’s invasion – looked like a copy-cat of every Israeli raid on the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, Iraqis are well aware that the US military asked for – and received – Israel’s “rules of engagement” from the Sharon government. America’s losses these past 24 hours – at least 12 dead and many soldiers wounded – have come nowhere near Iraq’s but their enemies may soon outnumber them.”

And there is more…

A story in the Washington Post, by Thomas E. Ricks, describes the kinds of atrocities that one ought to expect from an occupation — “an allegation that U.S. troops killed an Iraqi detainee when they forced him and another man to jump from a bridge into the Tigris River.” This is something the Vietnamese would remember. Or the Chileans, under Pinochet.

Fallujah has been sealed off. I haven’t been able to get figures for Iraqis killed, but everyone is sure they are high: US soldiers have been counted, and two more were killed today according to Reuters.

What is all this about? Again, both Fisk and Rahul have described these as ‘stupid’ on the part of the US. Indeed, Fisk has gone so far as to say they are playing into as-Sadr’s hands. Again, I can’t agree with him. It is too convenient to have the big, dumb, USA playing into the hands of clever, ruthless Arabs in the colonies. It might be an interesting way to reach people, but I don’t think it’s the case. It’s the empire that provokes the violence it needs to do what it does, not the reverse.

UTS, while disagreeing with me about what the motives of that provocation might be, agree that the US is provoking all this. They just think that Bush is counting on the media to cover up the chaos that will be happening underneath the surface, and are wrecking more in order to keep the contracting/rebuilding shell game going.

Fair enough. The electoral motive Naomi suggested wasn’t really the point I wanted to emphasize, though I think it’s as compelling as the two reasons suggested by Jessica via Brian — just that chaos is the intended outcome , in virtually every intervention the US has made since at least 1999 — maybe before — as opposed to some evolved authoritarian dictatorship.

More soon… but I there is other chaos to report on…

Chaos is not a side effect

Reading Naomi Klein and Robert Fisk on what’s going on in Iraq, you get the same facts but two different interpretations. Both are on the ground right now. Fisk has a longer experience in the region. But I think it’s Naomi who’s right. About Paul Bremer’s decision to shut down as-Sadr’s paper, Fisk says:

“It now seems that his decision to shut down the paper (its circulation of 10,000 was hardly going to arouse Shias to attack Western troops) has incited violence on a far greater scale than Mr Bremer could have imagined.

“Yet he managed to say all the wrong things again yesterday. “This morning, a group of people in Najaf have crossed the line and they have moved to violence,” he announced. “This will not be tolerated. This will not be tolerated by the Iraqi people and this will not be tolerated by the Iraqi security forces.”‘…

Fisk also says:

“The Americans can scarcely contain the Sunni Muslim revolt to the north; they cannot fight another community, this one representing 60 per cent of Iraqis, even if British troops, who control the largely Shia city of Basra, become involved.”

But is this really the case? Or are the Americans doing just exactly what they want? Naomi believes the latter.

“On the surface, this chain of events is mystifying. With the so-called Sunni triangle in flames after the gruesome Faluja attacks, why is Bremer pushing the comparatively calm Shiite south into battle?

“Here’s one possible answer: Washington has given up on its plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, and it is now creating the chaos it needs to declare the handover impossible. A continued occupation will be bad news for George Bush on the campaign trail, but not as bad as if the handover happens and the country erupts, an increasingly likely scenario given the widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the interim constitution and the U.S. appointed Governing Council.”

I think this is exactly what is going on, and it is a very important point, not yet widely understood, about the way the US has been operating lately. A few decades back, the preferred mode of operating in third world countries was to find an authoritarian ruler who would bring ‘stability’: open markets, freedom to invest and plunder the country for multinationals, accompanied by a police state and the liquidation of opposition. But I don’t think that’s the case any more. Today, it is a different model. Military bases in key areas give the option of direct control over resource-rich areas, and prevent anyone else from controlling those resources. As for the type of government, if a pliant authoritarian regime can be found, fine. If not, complete chaos is fully acceptable, so long as the bases and control are there.

That is what was done in the Balkans; it was the model for Haiti; it is the model for Venezuela; it is what is happening in Colombia; it is what is happening in Afghanistan; and it is what the US is preparing in Iraq.

All hell is breaking loose in Iraq…

And no, the title doesn’t mean I got to the Fallujah story too late. Instead, I’d like to call your attention to what I can only interpret as the reprisals for the killings of the mercenaries in Fallujah — again, these stories come via the News Insider, although I’m pretty sure there will be very good reports from our own people, many of whom are in Iraq now, including Rahul Mahajan, Dahr Jamail, Naomi Klein, and Andrea Schmidt. But now to the stories you *could* find in the mainstream, if you were following it as closely as the folks at the News Insider.

Riots — of Shia now, supporters of a leader (Muqtada al-Sadr) who Bremer has just declared an ‘outlaw’ — in Sadr City, Najaf, Kufa, and Nasiriyah, resulted in at least 22 Iraqis killed, 8 US soldiers, and one Salvadorean soldier, according to the Guardian — and hundreds injured, according to other sources. I’m reminded of the outbreak of the second intifada, when deaths of Palestinians at demonstrations were low, but injury statistics were massive. Not sure if that’s what’s going on here… injuries are always higher than deaths, it need not imply a systematic policy of shooting to injure.

In Baghdad, US tanks crushed two Iraqi protesters, also apparently supporters of as-Sadr.

Italian and Portuguese police were injured by a grenade in Nasiriyah(sorry about the passive voice — I’m quoting from the Dow Jones newsbrief that doesn’t identify who did it).

4 Iraqis were killed by a car bomb, this time in North Iraq.

British troops ‘clashed’ with protesters in Amara, though no reports on casualties yet.

Rahul Mahajan put it simply in his own blog: “All hell is breaking loose in Iraq”. More soon, but take a look at some material on how it all started, from the UTS blog.

Starving Gaza

Killing Sheikh Yassin and a half-dozen innocent bystanders was not enough for Israel, which is also intensifying its efforts to starve the population of Gaza. After the UN Special Rapporteur for food last year warned that a fifth of the children in Gaza are malnourished and that the situation is getting worse, a BBC story of a few days ago describes how “the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) said an Israeli ban on moving empty containers out of Gaza had forced it to suspend delivering 11,000 tons of food.” Why? Because, according to an (unnamed) Israeli spokesman, suicide bombers might be hiding in the food containers… this after UNRWA had already cut rations from 60% to 40%, where unemployment is total, 2/3 of the families are below poverty, and the town of Rafah is being razed to the ground. And that’s not all…

The UNRWA spokesperson, Peter Hansen, said “If the new restrictions in Gaza continue, I fear we could see real hunger emerge for the first time in two generations”. The Israeli spokesman said that “At the moment we cannot trust anything, especially since the death of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.”

To clarify: because Israel engaged in a major attack against Gaza, killing civilians by dropping a bomb in the middle of a city, Israel is now forced to starve the population of Gaza.

An Israeli professor, Lev Greenberg of Ben Gurion University, has accused the state of Israel of genocide. Greenberg was imprisoned as a refusenik. The Minister of Education for Israel, Limor Livnat, was not impressed: “I am not authorized to interfere in academic affairs”, she said, “but I call on the president of the university and the academic community to take issue with and denounce anyone who attacks and opposes the government of Israel”.

And last, while we’re on the topic, it turns out that Israel believes that the BBC is biased — against Israel!

“Natan Sharansky, Israel’s minister for diaspora affairs, complained that Guerin had portrayed the army’s handling of the arrest of Hussam Abdu, who was captured with explosives strapped to his chest, as “cynical manipulation of a Palestinian youngster for propaganda purposes”. He said this revealed “a deep-seated bias against Israel”.”

ZNet published an article by Tim Llewellyn a few months back on the BBC’s coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict that rather disagrees with Sharansky.

The pieces on Gaza and Greenberg came via the News Insider, an indispensable source for any blogger.

Haiti’s Killing Fields

Anthony Fenton, a Canadian who has been writing some of the best stuff on Haiti since the coup (see Haiti Watch for some of it) has just returned from a delegation in the country. He will be publishing a lot over the next few days, I believe. But what he reports already is truly chilling, the more so because of the inadequacy of the responses by even principled people outside the country to the crisis..

First, a sneak preview of what Fenton has to say. I had a chance to ask him a few questions over email about a week ago.

Have you learned anything about the people behind the coup?

We met with Lavalas today, solid meeting. We have confirmed that the military is executing Lavalas supporters nightly. Over one thousand corpses were seen by Haitian journalists the night after the coup [March 1st], photographed by a Reuters photographer who will not however go on record, fearing for his/her life. We are arranging to meet with victims of the recent atrocities in Bel Air in the next couple of days, where at least 70 people were slaughtered by the US. We hear gunfire nightly, incidentally, from where we are staying. This is how the US does it, nightly carrying out murders of Aristide supporters. As far as people behind the coup go, they defend their position with the typical rhetoric that you are familiar with as I said in the previous message. They deflect all questions that challenge this. We have yet to meet with the OAS, the US and Canadian embassies, and another group of elites.

Now, on to the provocative comment about the inadequacy of the response. I went to a public forum in Toronto just days after the coup. There were very knowledgeable people speaking — these were clearly Haitians, people who had a real commitment to the country, people who had opposed Aristide from the left. What struck me about the forum, though, was that not one of the speakers called what happened in Haiti a ‘coup’. Not one of them called for the restoration of Aristide. Not one of them mentioned the Canadian role in the coup and very little was mentioned of the American role. What was said was imperialism — ‘now that we’re in Haiti, I hope we stay for the long haul’, type stuff. We being the Canadian state, presumably.

Well, *we* are there and people are, apparently, being slaughtered under *our* watch, rather silently because *our* media has left, no longer needed now that the coup has already taken place.

Grassroots International, a good international solidarity organization, was circulating this, in my opinion horrible, call from four people on the Haitian left.

The idea was to prevent Aristide from going to Jamaica, to inform public opinion about the true nature of Aristide’s ‘anti-popular and anti-national regime’, and… as almost an afterthought, to help the Haitian people fight the current military occupation and regime.

Suppose Aristide was everything that they say he was — anti-national, anti-popular, etc. — would that mean that the thing for popular forces and movements to do would be support paramilitaries who spent the previous ten years slaughtering popular forces and movements get into power where they would be in a better position to slaughter… and deliver the country and economy more firmly into the hands of those multinationals that have even a vague interest in super-exploited sweatshop labour… and overthrow the constitution… and bring the US Marines and other colonizing forces back into the country, and this on the 200th anniversary of independence?

It all seems bizarre. But it seems that there have been a few better responses in recent days. I saw a petition that had a sense of proportion and priority yesterday. It calls for: “the unconditional and immediate return of President Aristide to Haiti in order to serve out his term of office until 2006. Respect the vote of the Haitian people.” You can get the petition at .

Bill Fletcher’s article on Haiti’s coup also hit the right notes, I think.

Another interesting development for Colombian Democracy

Just got this from an important human rights group in Colombia, the ‘Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyer’s Collective’. Apparently on March 30, a ‘technical commission’ from the Attorney General’s office made what amounts to a raid on the Colombian Senate’s Human Rights offices. The ‘technical commission’ looked up information on individuals — basically activists, unionists, human rights defenders, very sensitive information about people under threat that you’d find in a government human rights office; and took the information on them away…

Remember that this is in a context where, under Uribe, thousands of people have been rounded up all over Colombia, most on quite bogus charges of ‘terrorism’. Remember too that this is a context where the government and paramilitary death squads work hand-in-hand; the real danger is that this information will fall into the hands of killers.

This is all doubly ironic for another reason. An article in the Colombian magazine CAMBIO presented a transcription of a recording of a Colombian general named Jaime Alberto Uscategui who reveals links between the army and paramilitaries and talks about the Mapiripan massacre. The recording talks about an archive of 300 documents that are in the general’s possession. He says that the pamphlets taken by the paramilitaries to Mapiripan, where they murdered peasants, were created on a computer at the Paris Battalion of the Colombian army. That same computer had documents on the paramilitary organization (AUC) pay schedules, the names of the entire Guaviare front of AUC…

Small wonder that very battalion, posted 8 kilometers from the massacre’s site, ‘failed to act’ when the massacre was underway.

THAT archive of documents is safely sealed away from public view. Meanwhile information on human rights defenders that could get them killed is raided by ‘technical commissions’ of the Fiscalia…