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.
Asia (West & South)
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.
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.
On the evening of November 8, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, went on live television to tell over one billion people that their 500- and 1000- rupee bills were invalid as of that night. They could exchange their invalid bills for new 500- and 2000-rupee bills at the bank. The exchange of notes was stopped on November 24, equally abruptly. There is a new deadline of December 30, 2016 for the deposit of all of the demonetised notes.
The economic damage caused by this unannounced fiat remains to be calculated. But it will be devastating. A ratings agency, Fitch, predicted a reduction of growth of 0.5% of GDP solely due to this 'demonetisation'. Other estimates have been a 1% reduction, or a 2% reduction in growth. But the Forbes article reporting the prediction, in its title, points out that “No One Really Knows”. As for the editor of Forbes Magazine, he has called demonetisation “sickening” and “immoral”: “What India has done is commit a massive theft of people's property without even the pretense of due process--a shocking move for a democratically elected government.” Forbes compared the move to the forced sterilization program of the 1970s: “Not since India's short-lived forced-sterilization program in the 1970s--this bout of Nazi-like eugenics was instituted to deal with the country's "overpopulation"--has the government engaged in something so immoral.” Historian Sashi Sivramkrishna pointed out that induced currency shortages helped cause the Great Bengal Famine of 1770.
This is a 3-part podcast series on the case of Hassan Diab, a Lebanese-Canadian sociology professor extradited from Canada and currently in a French jail, accused of a bombing that happened in Paris in 1980.
Part 1 looks at the bombing of the synagogue at Rue Copernic in 1980 - the turn French investigators made from suspicion of the extreme-right anti-semitic terrorism to suspicion of "middle eastern terrorism".
Part 2 looks at the way French investigators created a story about Hassan Diab to try to match the bombing - the perils of using intelligence as evidence.
Part 3 looks at why Canada handed Hassan Diab over to France - the nature and price of Canadian diplomacy.
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 26/16: Homa Hoodfar was released from prison.
At the end of August, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to six Latin American countries: Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and Venezuela. On what was mainly a business tour, Zarif discussed megaprojects like the Grand Interoceanic canal. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said that “Iran has such a position that it can pick its political friends and trade partners and does not have to cooperate with a specific country or region in the world.” After the successful diplomatic conclusion of the nuclear agreement last year, Iran is pursuing a foreign policy to break the isolation that the US has sought to impose on it.
Good for Iran. The economic sanctions did nothing but harm and those in the US and elsewhere who fantasize about war with the country, after so many decades of destruction in the region, should be made to wait in frustration. Latin American countries who have suffered so much under imperialism have every reason to forge closer relations. And businesses like Boeing, currently hammering out a multi-billion dollar (perhaps $25 billion) deal with Iran for passenger planes, have no special reason to not do business with Iran, despite attempts by US legislators to stop the deal.
In recent decades, as efforts to demonize Iran in the West have proceeded, sensible people have stepped forward to try to point out some basic truths: Iran is a vast, diverse country of nearly 80 million people; These people cannot be reduced to racist caricatures about Islam; From a foreign policy perspective, Iran has good reasons to want stability in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; Western cooperation with Iran could help the region, while demonization can only do more damage.
In his short time as foreign minister, the former Liberal leader is building a legacy of disgrace
Published by Ricochet Media: https://ricochet.media/en/1078/from-saudi-arabia-to-israel-stephane-dion-is-continuing-harpers-policies
Editors' note: Today the Globe and Mail reported, "Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion quietly granted Ottawa’s crucial approval for a controversial $15-billion shipment of armoured combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia in early April – even though the Liberals insisted they could not reverse a 'done deal' clinched under the Harper government."
Stéphane Dion has been an easy figure to ridicule. He was once famous for handing a silly video to media networks during the political crisis after the 2008 election. After Dion's departure, Canadians wondered if a Liberal could possibly do worse than Dion, and it took Empire Lite Michael Ignatieff in 2011 to prove that, indeed, one could. Dion's 2008 candidacy was probably sabotaged from within the Liberal Party. Back then, I thought it was unfair that the media were treating him as some kind of buffoon.
But that was then. Dion, as Trudeau's appointed foreign minister, has racked up quite a few new zingers. Recently, he's defended a $15-billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Cancelling the deal, he has said, “would not have an effect on human rights in Saudi Arabia.”