Asia (West &amp; South) https://podur.org/taxonomy/term/9 en Just How Powerful Is Russia Internationally? https://podur.org/node/1187 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">Just How Powerful Is Russia Internationally?</span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/2" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Justin Podur</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Mon, 03/12/2018 - 14:44</span> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-blog field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><p><img height="50%" src="http://static.kremlin.ru/media/events/photos/big/CzDAA1DF7RYGWGUb23MxHx2jWJUYyBeg.jpg" width="50%" /></p> <p>After the 2016 U.S. election, Barack Obama provided some perspective on the U.S.'s growing fear of Russia; fear that has only grown in the year since.</p> <p>“Russia can't change us,” Obama said. “They are a smaller country, they are a weaker country, their economy doesn't produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil, and gas and arms.”</p> <div id="TeadsNative"> </div> <p>Obama was appealing to an analysis students are taught in first-year undergraduate international relations class: the idea, espoused in Yale history professor Paul Kennedy's textbook <a href="https://smile.amazon.com/Rise-Fall-Great-Powers/dp/0679720197/?tag=alternorg08-20" target="_blank">The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers</a>, that military power is determined ultimately by industrial power. Kennedy's work is full of tables showing the relative industrial power of countries in armed conflict. The winner in each case is the one with more industrial power.</p> <p>Table 33, Tank Production in 1944, shows Germany producing 17,800 tanks, Russia producing 29,000 tanks, Britain producing 5,000, and the US producing 17,500. Germany produced less than Russia alone, in other words, and far less than the Allies combined.</p> <p>Table 34, Aircraft Production of the Powers, shows how year after year, the allies out-produced the Axis, by the end, by more than four times or five times. Table 35 shows combined military production: The Allies produced $62.5 billion in arms in 1943, compared to $18.3 billion from the Axis.</p> <p>Based on the tables, the allied victory was inevitable. The tables don't lie. Look at hundreds of years of war and in each conflict, the side that brings the most economic power to bear almost always wins.</p> <p>Trying to estimate Russia's relative power has been a Western preoccupation for centuries. One quote, “Russia is neither as strong nor as weak as it appears,” has been attributed to Western statesmen from Metternich to Talleyrand to Churchill.</p> <p>Going through Great Power history looking specifically for Russia, we see phases during which Russia's relative power expanded and phases when it contracted. Between 1815-1880, as the other powers were industrializing, they pulled far ahead of Russia: Russia's GNP in 1830 was $10.5 billion, compared to Germany's $7.2 billion and Britain's $8.2 billion; but in 1890, Russia's GNP had grown to $21.1 billion while Germany's had grown to $26.4 billion and Britain's to $29.4 billion. Russia had fallen even further behind on a per capita basis.</p> <p>It was in this period, in 1867—when Russia's rulers wondered whether they would even be able to get to their Alaskan territory should the invincible British navy contest them—that they sold Alaska to the United States. At the end of this period, in 1904-'05, Russia lost a war to Japan, a loss that surprised both sides.</p> <p>Despite two devastating World Wars, Russia was, in relative terms, at its strongest during its Soviet phase from 1917-1991. Even in those decades, though, as Russia expanded its industrial and military power, it never came close to rivaling the wealth and power of the United States.</p> <p>The post-Soviet phase in Russia began with the fastest loss of living standards for the greatest number of people in history. Around 70 million people became impoverished virtually overnight when Yeltsin imposed American-advised economic shock therapy on the country. In the 1990s, NATO expanded across Central Europe and reached Russia's own borders. NATO military interventions dismembered Russia's ally, Yugoslavia, and a U.S.-led covert mission destroyed Russia's neighbor, Afghanistan, which is today occupied by U.S. troops.</p> <p>If Russia's might seems to be growing today, it is because Putin set about trying to reverse some of the post-1991 losses to Russian living standards and to Russia's regional alliances. To the degree that Putin's policies have been successful—in restoring Russia's per capita GDP to pre-1991 levels by around 2006, for example, and preventing Syria's state from being partitioned like Yugoslavia was—they are popular in Russia. This is a far cry, however, from making Russia (with a $1.3 trillion GDP) a challenger to a U.S. economy 15 times its size (with an $18 trillion GDP).</p> <p>In 2017, the U.S. spent a cool 10 times what Russia did on arms; the U.S. budget is around $600 billion, the Russian is $61 billion. Russia spends considerably less than China ($150 billion) and less than Saudi Arabia ($77 billion).</p> <p>Russia approaches U.S. levels in arms exports—the U.S. exported around $10 billion in 2016, while Russia came in second at around $6.4 billion, according to <a data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=//www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2017/02/10-countries-export-major-weapons-170220170539801.html&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1520100975140000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGqSz-VZgROja2zfBKn4dnWSL-ZLA" href="https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2017/02/10-countries-export-major-weapons-170220170539801.html" target="_blank">a report</a> by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. But it is still behind the U.S. even on this metric.</p> <p>By other, softer measures of power, Russia has yet to catch up to its pre-1991 levels. In scientific research, in the early 1990s, Russia was producing around the same amount of research as China, India and Brazil, none of which were anywhere near the U.S. <a data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=//nopr.niscair.res.in/bitstream/123456789/12846/1/ALIS%252058%25283%2529%2520228-236.pdf&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1520100975140000&amp;usg=AFQjCNHsjaVAiM2rwiCgtYZjjiaYf0nESQ" href="https://nopr.niscair.res.in/bitstream/123456789/12846/1/ALIS%2058%283%29%20228-236.pdf" target="_blank">By 2009</a>, 20% of global science publications were authored by Americans; 13.7% by Chinese; and only 1.6% by Russians. In 2011, <a data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=//www.researchcghe.org/perch/resources/publications/wp9.pdf&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1520100975140000&amp;usg=AFQjCNHJdMVzKlwzVDNX_k2L30vjYcasEw" href="https://www.researchcghe.org/perch/resources/publications/wp9.pdf" target="_blank">U.S. researchers published</a> 212,394 papers. Russian researchers published 14,151.</p> <p>None of this precludes the sorts of Russian influence that the American public fears. Russia doesn't have to have more scientific output than America to get compromising information on its president or to have informal influence over him. Russia doesn't have to outspend America for Russian hackers to get a lucky break and expose embarrassing emails that influence an election.</p> <p>But lucky breaks and clever spycraft are as easy for the wealthier and more powerful side to achieve as they are for the smaller, weaker country—easier, even. In the long run, industrial power is a better predictor of influence. America's military bases ring Russia's borders, not the other way around. America's economic power dictates to the world, not Russia's. And even if a Russian hacker group got a lucky break once a week, the fact is that day to day the Internet is monopolized by American corporations that work with American government agencies to maximize American influence in the world.</p> <p>Exaggerating Russian power may help justify higher military expenditures in the U.S.; it may soothe Democratic party leaders who want to believe their electoral loss was due to something other than their own unpopularity. But it requires ignoring hundreds of years of the history of economic and military power.</p> <p><a href="https://www.alternet.org/world/just-how-powerful-russia-internationally">First published on AlterNet March 6, 2018.</a></p> </div> <div class="field field--name-taxonomy-vocabulary-1 field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field__label">Tags</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/3" hreflang="en">Americas (South &amp; North)</a></div> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/13" hreflang="en">Europe (East &amp; SouthEast)</a></div> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/9" hreflang="en">Asia (West &amp; South)</a></div> </div> </div> Mon, 12 Mar 2018 18:44:41 +0000 Justin Podur 1187 at https://podur.org The Ossington Circle Episode 28: Turkey's Invasion of Syria with Sardar Saadi https://podur.org/node/1183 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">The Ossington Circle Episode 28: Turkey&#039;s Invasion of Syria with Sardar Saadi</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field__label visually-hidden">Body</div> <div class="field__item"><p><a href="https://archive.org/download/OssingtonCircleTurkeyAfrinInvasion/toc_sardaronafrin_jan282018.mp3"><span>The Ossington Circle Episode 28: Turkey's Invasion of Syria with Sardar Saadi</span></a></p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="30" mozallowfullscreen="true" src="https://archive.org/embed/OssingtonCircleTurkeyAfrinInvasion" webkitallowfullscreen="true" width="500"></iframe></p> <p>In this episode I talk to Sardar Saadi about Turkey's invasion of Afrin in Syrian Kurdistan. We recap the past few years of Syrian Kurdistan and the many players in the Syrian Civil War, and lament the continuing absence of an antiwar movement that could address the escalating and neverending wars in the region.</p> <p><img height="331" src="http://www.rudaw.net/Library/Assets/afrin-afp-2201%20(8).jpg" width="497" /></p> <p>Turkey's invasion of Afrin. Source: rudaw.net</p> </div> </div> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/2" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Justin Podur</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Sun, 01/28/2018 - 21:56</span> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-video field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> <div class="field field--name-taxonomy-vocabulary-1 field--type-entity-reference field--label-above"> <div class="field__label">Topics</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field__item"><a href="/podcast" hreflang="en">The Ossington Circle</a></div> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/9" hreflang="en">Asia (West &amp; South)</a></div> </div> </div> Mon, 29 Jan 2018 02:56:12 +0000 Justin Podur 1183 at https://podur.org Afghanistan's Painful, Never-Ending War Takes a New Bad Turn https://podur.org/node/1180 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">Afghanistan&#039;s Painful, Never-Ending War Takes a New Bad Turn</span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/2" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Justin Podur</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Sat, 10/28/2017 - 23:43</span> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-blog field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><p><em><strong>The return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Butcher of Kabul, is the latest symbol of the country's destruction.</strong></em></p> <p><img src="http://www.rawa.org/darkdays/masoud-gul.jpg" /></p> <p>This past May, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, sometimes known as the Butcher of Kabul, Afghanistan's most famous and probably most hated warlord, returned to Kabul through a negotiated deal with the government. He arrived in a convoy of trucks, with armed followers brandishing their military hardware. The country's president, Ashraf Ghani, said that Hekmatyar's return would “pave the way for peace” with the Taliban. A holy warrior who once refused to shake hands with then-President Ronald Reagan, Hekmatyar reached a hand out to the Taliban: “Come forward, let's talk about peace and prosperity.”</p> <p>Peace processes are painful. For the sake of the country, victims are asked to forgive what was done to them. If the prospects for peace are real, some are willing to do it so that the war does not go on. So it is worth looking at what Afghans are being asked to forgive, and what relationship Hekmatyar's return has to peace.</p> <p>The war in Afghanistan today is not a war about ideology, progress, or what kind of society Afghanistan will be. The belligerents are the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the one side and the Taliban on the other. Both sides are coalitions that spend resources and lives on infighting. There are defections and local understandings, alliances made and broken. Local life is determined by warlords. This is how the Afghan war has been fought for more than 25 years.</p> <p>Hekmatyar has been active for much longer than that. When Hekmatyar's career started in the 1970s, Afghanistan's war had a very different character. Afghanistan wasn't always an eternally conservative place: people like Hekmatyar had to kill a lot of Afghans to make it seem so.</p> <p>The debate about reform in Afghanistan is an old one. One reform-minded monarch, Amanullah Khan, defeated the British imperial armies in 1919 and spent the next 10 years building girls' schools, overturning dress codes for women, putting forward a constitution, and trying to weaken tribal ties. There were revolutions and changes happening all over that part of the world, from East Asia to the newly created Soviet Union. Such reforms, 100 years ago, did not seem so unusual for a progressive government in Asia to attempt.</p> <p>Amanullah was overthrown though, by rivals operating with support from the vengeful British. He had a series of short-lived successors who sacked Kabul, rolled back the reforms, and repaired the relationship with the British Empire. After four years of this chaos, King Zahir Shah (who would rule for 40 years) arrived on the throne, and reform was back on the agenda.</p> <p>In a chapter of a new book on Afghanistan's Islam from Conversion to the Taliban, Afghan-Australian scholar Faridullah Bezhan writes about the first political party to work openly in Afghanistan: the Awaken Youth Party, which emerged in the 1940s. The AYP espoused nationalism and constitutionalism against the religious establishment. According to Bezhan, the AYP's nationalist ideas were popular with a large portion of the country's educated class. Nationalists sought to counter the influence of the religious establishment, whose members had often been sponsored by the British and who were happy to undermine national agendas in exchange for imperial support for their social conservatism. The AYP sought to reform Afghan society into a constitutional monarchy through modern education. They believed in the “fight against superstition and bad social customs,” and even in “consuming local products as much as possible.” By the 1950s, religious figures were leading demonstrations against modern education and nationalists were leading demonstrations in support. At this point, the Islamists started to try to organize political parties to imitate the effectiveness of the nationalists. The government cracked down on all parties in 1952.</p> <p>But a decade later, reform was back again. Zahir Shah introduced a new constitution in 1964, beginning the constitutional decade. The constitution guaranteed the vote, women's rights, and parliamentary elections, but the king stopped short of legalizing political parties. Parties worked unofficially at the new educational institutions, which each had foreign sponsors: Kabul University, which attracted foreign aid from the US, and the Polytechnic, which attracted Russian aid. The strongest political parties were communists (Parcham and Khalq factions), Maoists (Shola-e-Jawedan), and Islamists (Hekmatyar was in the Jawanan-e-Musalman, but the Islamists split into a number of groups). The debates in the constitutional decade are as unrecognizable compared to today's Afghanistan as the now-famous photos of female students from the period are. A major dispute with the Shah's Iran over water rights and a hydroelectric dam brought thousands into the streets. A dispute with Pakistan over the status of Pakistan's Pashtun areas and populations (the so-called “Pashtunistan” issue) preoccupied successive elected governments.</p> <p>But Gulbuddin Hekmatyar—who flunked out of engineering school at Kabul University at this time—had other concerns.</p> <p>These were conducting acid- and rock-throwing attacks against female students, and murdering leftists, whether they were Parcham, Khalq, or Shola-e. Hekmatyar was jailed in 1972 for the murder of Maoist student and poet Saydal Sukhandan, but escaped a year and a half later—though not before he was given a leadership role in the Islamist movement, directing their political activities in jail. Shortly after he got out of jail, Hekmatyar fled to Peshawar, Pakistan, along with other famous Islamist leaders, Burnuhuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Massoud. These Islamists, led by Massoud, launched a failed uprising against the government in 1975. Massoud, who was later known as the Lion of the Panjshir Valley, was routed quickly by the Afghan army and by people of that valley, who, at the time, supported the government and had no interest in an Islamist uprising. This was years before the Soviet invasion: the Islamists, who became the mujahideen, were fighting against Afghan nationalism and progressive reform. And the US supported them the whole time.</p> <p>This history matters because it dispels some very pernicious myths about Afghanistan. Eternally conservative countries don't need men like Hekmatyar to murder leftists and assault female students. And the mujahideen, supported by the empire of the day (the US), were trying (and failing) to overthrow reform long before the communist coups of 1978 and the Soviet invasion of 1979.</p> <p>Based on his experiences there in the early 1980s, Guardian correspondent Jonathan Steele's book Ghosts of Afghanistan dispels some persistent myths about the country. He notes that:</p> <ul><li> <p>The civil war (and Western support for the mujahideen) preceded the Soviet invasion by several years.</p> </li> </ul><ul><li> <p>The USSR was not really defeated by the Islamists in battle: indeed the vaunted Lion of Panjshir, Ahmad Shah Massoud, made a non-aggression pact with the Soviets from 1983, allowing Soviets to set up a base in his valley (partly because Massoud felt he needed to conserve his forces to defend his valley against - Hekmatyar).</p> </li> </ul><ul><li> <p>The vaunted Stinger missiles from the Tom Hanks movie Charlie Wilson's War didn't affect the Soviet decision to withdraw, which was made in 1985, a year before the missiles arrived (in 1986). The main effect of the missiles was to force Soviet and Afghan government forces to bomb from higher altitudes.</p> </li> </ul><p>The USSR left Afghanistan because it was collapsing internally and because it wanted to repair its relationship with the West. Withdrawal was one of Gorbachev's first decisions when he came to power in 1985, and it was completed by 1989. But the Afghan government, then under President Mohammad Najibullah, held on until 1992, with a bit of Soviet aid and the support of a population that greatly (and correctly) feared what would happen if the Islamists like Hekmatyar came to power.</p> <p>The United States didn't just “walk away” in this period, either: that, too, is a myth. The U.S. kept on supporting the mujahideen after the Soviets left in 1989, making it clear that they would not allow any reconciliation effort or national unity government that included any progressive, liberal, or communist.</p> <p>Throughout the war, Hekmatyar became famous for his own brand of warfare: torturing and killing people because they were from Tajik, Hazara, or Uzbek minority groups, assassinating rival Islamist commanders and their troops, skinning Soviet soldiers alive, hijacking aid caravans carrying medicine and food, killing foreign journalists. Hekmatyar took over the heroin trade after assassinating smuggler Mullah Nasim in 1990 in Peshawar. But a higher priority was the murder of leftists and liberals: Dr. Faiz Ahmad of the Maoists; Meena, the founder of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA); philosophy professor Sayyid Bahauddin Majrooh.</p> <p>The Afghan government was not easy to defeat. President Najibullah coordinated the battle of Jalalabad when Hekmatyar tried to take the important city in 1989, a decisive moment that showed that the government could hold on indefinitely. Najibullah also foiled a coup by his own defense minister, Shahnawaz Tanai, who quickly fled in 1990 to join Hekmatyar in Pakistan.</p> <p>The Afghan communists lost not on the battlefield, nor in Afghan public support, but when the collapsed Soviet Union under its drunken president Boris Yeltsin (who also oversaw the greatest economic collapse perhaps in human history in his own country) handed Afghanistan to the mujahideen in August 1991. Yeltsin did so in a way that would be maximally damaging to the Afghan government's morale and will, meeting Islamist leaders in Moscow in November 1991, announcing the “complete transfer of state power to an interim Islamic government,” and that there would be no more aid beginning in 1992. Steele compared this to Obama announcing in 2008 that Afghanistan would be handed over from Karzai to the Taliban.</p> <p>The defections began immediately, with Afghan army commanders like Rashid Dostum carving out their own fiefdoms and taking their men and equipment with them. When Najibullah tried to flee in 1992, Dostum didn't let him go. Najibullah hid in the UN compound in Kabul until 1996, when he was hanged from a lamppost by the Taliban.</p> <p>Once Yeltsin handed them the country and the government began to collapse, the mujahideen finally had their chance to show how they would govern in power. Hekmatyar took his forces and raced to Kabul, but Massoud got there first. Hekmatyar besieged the city and spent the next three years launching indiscriminate rocket attacks that destroyed the capital and killed at least 25,000 people.</p> <p>Along with another leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani (of the Haqqani group famous for kidnapping the main character in "Serial" season 2, Bowe Bergdahl, and more recently the Canadian Boyle family), Hekmatyar had been the recipient of the greatest US and Pakistani largesse to fight the Soviets: the estimates cited by Ishtiaq Ahmad, who wrote a biography of Hekmatyar, are that the US sent $3 billion to the mujahideen throughout the 1980s, and $600 million of it went to Hekmatyar.</p> <p>After a couple of years of watching Hekmatyar lay waste to Kabul, Pakistan's intelligence agency despaired of their proxies ever setting up a stable government. They switched horses and chose a new armed group that had grown up in Pakistan's refugee camps for Afghans on the border: students (“Taliban”) of the teachings of one of the old Islamist leaders, Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi. As the Taliban broke the impasse and routed mujahideen forces, heading for the capital, Massoud and Rabbani became desperate and brokered a deal with Hekmatyar, the very commander who had been shelling their capital city to rubble for years. Hekmatyar entered that capital as prime minister, further insulting and demoralizing Kabul's people who had suffered from his siege. He lasted about two months (during which he imposed various new restrictions on women's rights) before the Taliban took Kabul and Hekmatyar fled again, this time to Iran, where he lived from 1996-2002 in a palace outside of Tehran.</p> <p>The war didn't end when the Taliban took the Kabul in 1996 and it didn't end when they fled US bombing and went to Pakistan in 2001. Their mujahideen rivals fought on, and in 2001 the US ousted one group of mujahideen and installed another. President Bush clarified that the US interest wasn't nation-building—a consistent position, given all the US had done to kill the nation-builders.</p> <p>The Afghan people, it is still said, had rejected the nation-builders. The communists, who tortured and killed their political enemies, lost the support of the people. They engaged in purges and infighting. Their reform programs of women's rights and land reform alienated the conservative population. That, not billions of dollars in Western aid and weapons, not the Soviet Union's collapse, was why the mujahideen were able to win. Even mythbusters like Jonathan Steele engage in this sort of myth-making, arguing that the Afghan communist governments tried to change too much too fast when they canceled peasant debts, redistributed land, forbade child marriages, reduced dowry payments, and launched literacy programs. He quotes a former member of the government, Sultan Ali Keshtmand, saying that the Afghan communist government of Hafizullah Amin and Noor Muhammad Taraki in 1978 “wanted to eradicate literacy within five years. It was ridiculous. The land reforms were unpopular... Society wasn't ready.”</p> <p>There is plenty to criticize about Afghan communists Taraki (killed by Amin), Amin (killed by the Soviets), Karmal, and Najibullah (killed by the Taliban). The reports of tortures and murders under their governments are well documented and are to be believed. And no doubt their reforms were unpopular with at least a significant segment of the population.</p> <p>But was Afghanistan really “not ready?”</p> <p>Because the (real) tortures and murders by Amin and Taraki are dwarfed by the now heroically returned Hekmatyar and the numerous other warlords running parts of Afghanistan today. And if Afghans weren't ready for a redistributive land reform, were they ready for the Khalid-bin-Walid land project in Mazar e-Sharif under the US-backed government of Karzai? The governor, Atta Mohammad Noor, gave land out to his friends, former mujahideen commanders, who bought it at a subsidized rate and rented or sold it at a vastly higher market price, becoming a land mafia in Mazar (the story is told in a recent book on warlord governance by Dipali Mukhopadhyay). The governor of Nangarhar from 2005-2009, Gul Agha Sherzai, ran an electricity mafia and collected taxes on trucks, perhaps pocketing half of the funds designated for reconstruction. The people of Afghanistan can't stomach land reform, but they are happy to tolerate land mafias? They couldn't tolerate women's rights, but were fine with warlords pillaging reconstruction funds?</p> <p>Maybe there is another explanation.</p> <p>History is written by the victors, after all, and if myths about the Afghan civil war don't hold up, if the mujahideen are revealed to be a collection of imperial-backed mass murderers, thieves, and nation-destroyers, of which Hekmatyar is the quintessential example, then new myths have to be created to justify their continuance in power and Western indulgence toward them. Of the few myths left, the communists would have been worse and the country wasn't ready still offer some comfort.</p> <p>With politics based on these myths, how could they not welcome Hekmatyar back? He is just an extreme version of the kind of man the US looks for, the most uncompromising opponent of the same forces the US opposes everywhere in the world—independent nationalism and leftism. With US help, men like Hekmatyar excluded and destroyed the left and killed a generation of nationalists. For that service, they are allowed to destroy the country and to continue to loot the ruins.</p> <p>Hekmatyar's return will not bring peace or reconciliation. It has nothing to do with these things. It is the latest and most powerful symbol (so far) of the destruction of Afghanistan's sovereignty.</p> <p>First published on <a href="https://www.alternet.org/world/return-gulbuddin-hekmatyar">Alternet </a>October 24, 2017: https://www.alternet.org/world/return-gulbuddin-hekmatyar</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-taxonomy-vocabulary-1 field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field__label">Tags</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/16" hreflang="en">afghanistan</a></div> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/9" hreflang="en">Asia (West &amp; South)</a></div> </div> </div> Sun, 29 Oct 2017 03:43:04 +0000 Justin Podur 1180 at https://podur.org The Afghans are being used! https://podur.org/node/1179 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">The Afghans are being used!</span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/2" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Justin Podur</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Mon, 10/02/2017 - 20:53</span> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-blog field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><p> </p> <figure><img height="308" src="https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/Liwa_Fatemiyoun_near_Palmyra_2.png" width="461" /><figcaption>The Fatimeyoun division. I found myself wondering if ethnicity or sect could be discerned from a photo like this.</figcaption></figure><p> </p> <p>Five months ago I wrote <a href="https://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Afghans-Are-Coming-20170518-0011.html">an article for TeleSUR English</a> following the story (more of a meme, really) about, and this should pronounced as a single phrase, "Afghan Shia Militias in Syria". I compared it to the older story about Gaddafi's "African Mercenaries", used to good propaganda effect in that war. I spent some time trying to get to the bottom it and find what sources writers were basing their stories on when they wrote about the "Afghan Shia Militias in Syria". What I found was thin indeed: anonymous Syrian opposition fighters who talked about facing off with these (fast running, death-defying) Afghans on the battlefield; pseudonymous Afghan fighters who told journalists unverifiable stories; and finally poorly-sourced statements by anonymous Iranian officials. Based on these shoddy sources, journalists were building up to some outrageous conclusions: that the Afghans were an "inexhaustible reservoir of the desperate", that they "run faster" than the Syrians they were fighting, and that they had the miraculous ability to "keep shooting even when surrounded."</p> <p>There <em>was</em> an Afghan community in Syria at the start of the war; some of these Afghans <em>did</em> join the civil war on the government side. As for Afghan fighters from Iran, the most promising reports to continue following the story were on the Iranian side. There <em>are</em> millions of Afghan refugees in Iran; many of them (perhaps most) <em>are</em> Shia, from the Hazara ethnic group. Some of the young men from this group have fought with Iran's military in their own unit (the "Fatimeyoun") in Syria. Since my story came out in May, I have seen reports from Iranian news agencies about such fighters - specifically about their bodies being returned to Iran for burial. </p> <p>Human Rights Watch has documentation about <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/29/iran-sending-thousands-afghans-fight-syria">these fighters</a>, among whom they recently found <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/29/iran-sending-thousands-afghans-fight-syria">tombstones for eight child soldiers</a>.</p> <p>The HRW reports are framed differently than the Syrian opposition-sourced stories about Assad's use of "Afghan Shia militias". Those stories emphasized that these were <em>Afghans</em> and <em>Shia</em> who were fighting for Assad - invoking ethnic and sectarian phobias in the service of war propaganda. The subtext in those stories, I wrote in May, was " if Assad has "Afghan Shiite Militias" fighting for him, what atrocity is he incapable of?" By contrast, HRW's reports are about the cruelty of recruiting soldiers from a vulnerable refugee population.</p> <p>On that score, HRW's reports are right. Afghan refugees are mistreated everywhere they go. Iran - where Afghans have suffered mass executions and deportations - is very much included. If the story of Afghans fighting in Syria is used with an agenda to help protect Afghan refugees in Iran, that is a far better outcome than the story being used to fuel sectarian conflict in Syria's bloody civil war.</p> <p>Photo from Tasnim News Agency [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-taxonomy-vocabulary-1 field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field__label">Tags</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/9" hreflang="en">Asia (West &amp; South)</a></div> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/16" hreflang="en">afghanistan</a></div> </div> </div> Tue, 03 Oct 2017 00:53:02 +0000 Justin Podur 1179 at https://podur.org The Ossington Circle Episode 24: How the World Breaks with Stan Cox and Paul Cox https://podur.org/node/1175 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">The Ossington Circle Episode 24: How the World Breaks with Stan Cox and Paul Cox</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field__label visually-hidden">Body</div> <div class="field__item"><p><a href="https://archive.org/download/tocepisode24_howtheworldbreaks/tocepisode24_howtheworldbreaks.mp3">The Ossington Circle Episode 24: How the World Breaks with Stan Cox and Paul Cox</a></p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="30" mozallowfullscreen="true" src="https://archive.org/embed/tocepisode24_howtheworldbreaks" webkitallowfullscreen="true" width="500"></iframe></p> <p>In this episode I talk to Stan Cox and Paul Cox, authors of How the World Breaks: Life in Castastrophe's Path from the Caribbean to Siberia. We discuss how we think and talk about disasters, the aid industry, and the uses and excuses associated with the concept of 'resilience'.</p> <p><img alt="locations in how the world breaks" src="http://www.howtheworldbreaks.com/sites/default/files/static/maps_page_02.jpg" /></p> </div> </div> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/2" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Justin Podur</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Thu, 08/03/2017 - 22:50</span> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-video field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> <div class="field field--name-taxonomy-vocabulary-1 field--type-entity-reference field--label-above"> <div class="field__label">Topics</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field__item"><a href="/podcast" hreflang="en">The Ossington Circle</a></div> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/9" hreflang="en">Asia (West &amp; South)</a></div> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/3" hreflang="en">Americas (South &amp; North)</a></div> </div> </div> Fri, 04 Aug 2017 02:50:54 +0000 Justin Podur 1175 at https://podur.org The Ossington Circle Episode 19: The New Cold War with Roger Annis https://podur.org/node/1168 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">The Ossington Circle Episode 19: The New Cold War with Roger Annis</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field__label visually-hidden">Body</div> <div class="field__item"><p><a href="https://archive.org/download/toc_episode19/toc_episode19rogerannisnewcoldwarmay20_2017.mp3">The Ossington Circle Episode 19: The New Cold War with Roger Annis</a></p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="30" mozallowfullscreen="true" src="https://archive.org/embed/toc_episode19" webkitallowfullscreen="true" width="500"></iframe></p> <p>In this episode of The Ossington Circle, I speak with Roger Annis, editor of Newcoldwar.org, about Russia, imperialism, the new cold war, and the analytical challenges for leftists in the West.</p> </div> </div> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/2" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Justin Podur</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Sat, 05/27/2017 - 20:05</span> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-video field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> <div class="field field--name-taxonomy-vocabulary-1 field--type-entity-reference field--label-above"> <div class="field__label">Topics</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field__item"><a href="/podcast" hreflang="en">The Ossington Circle</a></div> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/9" hreflang="en">Asia (West &amp; South)</a></div> </div> </div> Sun, 28 May 2017 00:05:32 +0000 Justin Podur 1168 at https://podur.org The Ossington Circle Episode 18: Western Wars, Arab Revolutions with Vijay Prashad https://podur.org/node/1167 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">The Ossington Circle Episode 18: Western Wars, Arab Revolutions with Vijay Prashad</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field__label visually-hidden">Body</div> <div class="field__item"><p><a href="https://archive.org/download/toc_episode18/toc_episode18_vijayprashaddeathofanationmay132017.mp3">The Ossington Circle Episode 18: Western Wars, Arab Revolutions with Vijay Prashad</a></p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="30" mozallowfullscreen="true" src="https://archive.org/embed/toc_episode18" webkitallowfullscreen="true" width="500"></iframe></p> <p>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.</p> </div> </div> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/2" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Justin Podur</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Sat, 05/20/2017 - 18:35</span> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-video field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> <div class="field field--name-taxonomy-vocabulary-1 field--type-entity-reference field--label-above"> <div class="field__label">Topics</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field__item"><a href="/podcast" hreflang="en">The Ossington Circle</a></div> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/9" hreflang="en">Asia (West &amp; South)</a></div> </div> </div> Sat, 20 May 2017 22:35:36 +0000 Justin Podur 1167 at https://podur.org The Afghans are Coming! https://podur.org/node/1166 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">The Afghans are Coming!</span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/2" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Justin Podur</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Thu, 05/18/2017 - 21:55</span> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-blog field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><p><span><span><span><span><span>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. </span></span></span><span><span><span>In the context of Libya, there was a line about “African Mercenaries”.</span></span></span><span><span><span> The </span></span></span><span><span><span>one</span></span></span><span><span><span> I </span></span></span><span><span><span>keep hearing about Syria</span></span></span><span><span><span> is that Assad has "Afghan Shia militias" fighting for him.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>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.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>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, <em>The Kite Runner </em>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.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>Since the overthrow of the Taliban, there have developed in Afghanistan armed Hazara groups, even Hazara warlords. These groups are mainly preoccupied with self-defense and survival: against the Taliban, other sectarian warlords, and now even ISIS in Afghanistan, which was why I was suspicious of the claims of "Afghan Shia Militia" fighting in Syria. I asked friends in the Afghan diaspora if they thought it was possible. Some thought yes, though none had heard of the phenomenon from the Afghan media or community.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>I came across two sources about these Afghan Shia Militia in the footnotes of Christopher Phillips's book, </span></span></span><span><em><span>The Battle for Syria</span></em></span><span><span><span>. One, an article from May 11, 2015 in </span></span></span><span><em><span>Der Speigel </span></em></span><span><span><span>by Christoph Reuter, is titled "</span></span></span><a href="http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/afghan-mercenaries-fighting-for-assad-and-stuck-in-syria-a-1032869.html"><span><span><span>The Afghans Fighting Assad's War</span></span></span></a><span><span><span>". It is hard to tell whether the fact that Germany hosts a big Afghan refugee and diaspora community </span></span></span><span><span><span>(</span></span></span><span><span><span>or whether racist resentment against Muslim refugees in Germany is often focused on the Afghan community</span></span></span><span><span><span>)</span></span></span><span><span><span> played a helpful role in finding the hook for this one, but its dubious analysis is on display more clearly in other ways. After an evocative scene with "Murad", cowering in a pile of Syrian rubble having followed his Iranian officer's orders, Reuter provides some paragraphs of context.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <blockquote> <p><span><span><span><span><span>"The Assad family dictatorship is running out of soldiers and is becoming increasingly reliant on mercenaries. Indeed, from the very beginning the Assad regime had an opponent that it could never really defeat: Syria's demography.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>"In order to prevent the collapse of Syrian government forces, experienced units from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah began fighting for Assad as early as 2012. Later, they were joined by Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Yemenis -- Shiites from all over, on whom the regime is increasingly dependent. But the longer the war continues without victory, the more difficult it has become for Assad's allies to justify the growing body count."</span></span></span></span></span></p> </blockquote> <p><span><span><span><span><span>Of course, "Syria's demography" is only an unbeatable enemy if the demographer is a devoted sectarian who assumes that all Sunni Syrians are against Assad and all Shia, Alawi, or Christian Syrians are for Assad. Such a demographer would be at home in ISIS, in al Qaeda, or in the Saudi Kingdom and if that demographer were correct, yes, because Sunni Syrians are the majority, demography wins. But a full sectarian split in Syria remains an aspiration of ISIS and al-Qaeda, not a reality, despite what Reuter writes.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>As for Reuter's picture of "Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Yemenis – Shiites from all over", this is a distorted mirror image of the reality, which is that foreign fighters "from all over" have come to Syria to join ISIS and fight against the Syrian government. Drinking in the sectarianism of Wahhabi clerics from the Saudi Kingdom, they hate the Shia and find religious rationales for every manner of atrocity against them. On the other side, Shia militias from Iraq are well-documented in Syria, and given the geography and the connections between the two countries (and the fact that their enemy, ISIS, operates in both countries), it makes sense. So, too, does the involvement of Hizbollah of Lebanon. But the recruitment of sectarian fighters "from all over"? That's an ISIS/al-Qaeda cause, not a Shia one.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>It is not until a few paragraphs later, though, that Reuter gets into some really ugly imagery.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <blockquote> <p><span><span><span><span><span>"Up to 2 million Hazara live in Iran, most of them as illegal immigrants. It is an inexhaustible reservoir of the desperate, from which the Pasdars -- as Iran's Revolutionary Guards are called -- have recruited thousands for the war in Syria over the last year and a half."</span></span></span></span></span></p> </blockquote> <p><span><span><span><span><span>An "inexhaustible reservoir of the desperate"! By that logic, surely Iran's population of 79 million would be even more inexhaustible! Some of these millions might be children, elderly, not military-aged, but no matter. Might Iran, whose interest is for Assad to actually win the war, be interested in sending some of its own half-million strong military with some training, equipment, maybe even language skills, rather than recruiting from Afghan refugee camps? Obviously not, for in Reuter's world, the only qualification is desperation.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>Reuter then returns to Murad's story – a refugee arrested for a petty crime in Iran and offered amnesty if he would serve as cannon fodder in Syria. He then repeats the description of an anonymous Syrian rebel, who says the Afghans are "incredibly tenacious, run faster than we do and keep shooting even after they have been surrounded" - like machines, Reuter adds for colour. He outlines what happened to Murad for him to end up under rubble and how he wants to go back to Afghanistan, "to the misery he once tried to escape." As he hangs out with the rebel commanders who are trying to arrange prisoner exchanges – rebels for Afghan prisoners -- Reuter hears that the Syrian government officer Colonel Suhail al-Hassan, aka <em>the Tiger</em>, says "You can kill them, they're just mercenaries. We can send you thousands of them." An interesting response indeed for a commander whose army is "running out of soldiers".</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>In the end, Reuter's sole sources are anonymous rebels and "Murad", whose story can't be checked. The rest is bald assertion and "the Shia are coming" fear-mongering.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>Another source is a report from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which Israel Lobby scholar Stephen M. Walt </span></span></span><a href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2010/04/09/robert-satloff-doth-protest-too-much/"><span><span><span>has called</span></span></span></a><span><span><span>" a key organization in the Israel Lobby". </span></span></span><a href="http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/irans-afghan-shiite-fighters-in-syria"><span><span><span>This report</span></span></span></a><span><span><span>, "Iran's Afghan Shiite Fighters in Syria", is written by Phillip Smyth, who also writes a blog called Hizballah Cavalcade "which focuses on Shiite Islamist militarism in the Middle East"; and author of another monograph called "The Shiite Jihad in Syria and its Regional Effects". In other words, expect fair and balanced on this one.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>Smyth begins citing the WSJ (May 22/14) that Iran was recruiting "Afghan Shiite refugees to fight in Syria" with promises of Iranian residency and $500 per month. In 2012, Smyth continues, the Free Syrian Army posted on YouTube videos of interrogations of "Afghan Shiite fighter" Mortada Hussein; in 2013, "opposition and regime social media ciriculated undconfirmed images of uniformed Afghans posing together and holding weapons. In many cases, their faces – which tended to be ethnically distinct – were clearly shown... Yet these fallen Afghans were never named."</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>Despite the lack of names, </span></span></span><span><span><span>Smyth has more than a few "ethnically distinct faces" to show. He cites Afghan writer Ahmad Shuja, who </span></span></span><a href="http://outlookafghanistan.net/topics.php?post_id=6666">had written</a><span><span> </span></span><span><span><span>about a small refugee community of Afghans (mainly Hazara) who had been living in Syria before the conflict broke out. "Their migration to Syria occurred in several small waves," Shuja wrote, "with most fleeing Afghanistan to escape ethno-religious persecution and a few settling in the country after their pilgrimage to the holy Shiite sites in the country." Shuja's article describes the dire humanitarian situation of these Afghan refugees who were displaced from their neighbourhood of Syeda Zainab in 2012, "easily identifiable by their Asiatic features and foreign accents, making them easy targets for attacks by all sides." Shuja quotes from a letter from an Afghan refugee reporting that "Afghan Refugees are victimized of torture and they have been threatened just because they are different and they believe in a religion as called 'Shiite'." Based on this piece by Shuja, Smyth makes the following suggestion (my emphasis): Fighters from this refugee population </span></span></span><span><em><strong>appear to have followed an organizational model similar to </strong></em></span><span><span><span>Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA), the main pro-regime Shiite brigade in Syria. What follows in Smyth's piece is a description of LAFA, which it turns out comprises Iraqis, not Afghans.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>Another source, Smyth says, is what Reuter called the "inexhaustible reserves of the desperate" - the Afghan refugee population in Iran. For this claim, Smyth cites "Iranian government-backed newspapers and Afghan Shiite sources". And "a third and more debatable source of Afghan Shiite fighters is refugee populations in countries other than Iran and Syria", but "<em><strong>real evidence of direct recruitment in Afghanistan has yet to surface.</strong></em>"</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>The rest of the article is mainly speculation of what Iran could be thinking by using these fighters. There is mention of Afghans captured by Syrian rebels. Three names are offered: Reza Ismail, who "had attended Iran's University of Mashhad" and was "beheaded by Sunni jihadist rebels", Ali Saleihi, an Afghan refugee in Syria who joined the fight and was killed around Damascus, and the aforementioned Mortada Hossein. In other words, the report is a mix of rebel videos, rebel testimonies, mention of "Iranian newspapers and Afghan Shiite sources", and speculation.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>By 2016, some amazing numbers </span></span></span><span><span><span>are being bandied around</span></span></span><span><span><span>. An Iranian foreign legion apparently includes 20,000 "Afghan Shia fighters", according to </span></span></span><a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/iran-foreign-legion-leans-afghan-shia-syria-war-160122130355206.html"><span><span><span>Al Jazeera</span></span></span></a><span><span><span>. The source? Anas al-Abdah, "the secretary of the opposition Syrian Coalition's political committee." </span></span></span><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/30/iran-covertly-recruits-afghan-soldiers-to-fight-in-syria">A Guardian report</a><span><span> </span></span><span><span><span>from June 2016, like many others, cites "a senior Iranian official" saying that Iran's "Foreign Legion", called the Fatimeyoun, has 18,000 Afghans fighting in Syria. The report acknowledges that the number could be "exaggerated" and cites "an independent Iran analyst" who thinks there are "a couple of thousand" Afghans fighting in Syria.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>Maybe. But it remains impossible to get verifiable information from rebel held areas, as </span></span></span><a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-aleppo-iraq-mosul-isis-middle-east-conflict-assad-war-everything-youve-read-could-be-wrong-a7451656.html"><span><span><span>Patrick Cockburn wrote last year</span></span></span></a><span><span><span>. As for the broken telephone that led a "senior Iranian official" to report tens of thousands of Afghan fighters operating in Syria and that getting reported in Western outlets like the Guardian and Gulf-Western outlets like Al-Jazeera? Again, maybe. But the certainty with which these speculations are discussed and the ready quality of the phrase, "Afghan Shia Militias", suggests some other function at work.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>The Hazara of Afghanistan are discriminated against in their country, as Hazara. They are attacked by the Taliban, massacred by ISIS, and embattled </span></span></span><span><span><span>by </span></span></span><span><span><span>other sectarian warlords as Shia. They are discriminated against in Iran as Afghans. They are mistreated and oppressed in Europe and North America as migrants, </span></span></span><span><span><span>as </span></span></span><span><span><span>refugees, and as Muslims. It seems to me that the phrase "Afghan Shia Militias" is actually about rubbing some of that racial stigma off on the Syrian government and its supporters. In that sense, the "Afghan Shia Militias" play a similar symbolic role to the myth of the "African Mercenaries" that was used to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya. Patrick Cockburn </span></span></span><a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/rebels-wreak-revenge-on-dictators-men-2345261.html"><span><span><span>wrote about this at the time</span></span></span></a><span><span><span>:</span></span></span></span></span></p> <blockquote> <p><span><span><span><span><span>"The killing of so-called mercenaries in Tripoli is a case in point. Since February, the insurgents, often supported by foreign powers, claimed that the battle was between Gaddafi and his family on the one side and the Libyan people on the other. Their explanation for the large pro-Gaddafi forces was that they were all mercenaries, mostly from black Africa, whose only motive was money. In the early days of the conflict, some captured Gaddafi soldiers were shown off at press conferences as mercenaries. Amnesty International investigators discovered that all had subsequently been quietly freed since they were, in fact, undocumented labourers from Chad, Mali and West Africa. But the effect of this propaganda has been to put in danger many African migrants and dark-coloured Libyans."</span></span></span></span></span></p> </blockquote> <p><span><span><span><span><span>Maximilien Forte, author of </span></span></span><span><em><span>Slouching Towards Sirte</span></em></span><span><span><span>, </span></span></span><a href="http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/08/31/the-top-ten-myths-in-the-war-against-libya/">wrote about</a><span><span> </span></span><span><span><span>the "African Mercenaries" of Libya in 2011 as well:</span></span></span></span></span></p> <blockquote> <p><span><span><span><span><span>"The "African mercenary" myth continues to be one of the most vicious of all the myths, and the most racist. Even in recent days, newspapers such as the </span></span></span><em><span><span><span>Boston Globe </span></span></span></em><span><span><span>uncritically and unquestioningly show photographs of </span></span></span><a href="http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/08/libya_the_fight_continues.html#photo6">black victims</a><span><span> </span></span><span><span><span>or </span></span></span><a href="http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/08/libya_the_fight_continues.html#photo12">black detainees</a><span><span> </span></span><span><span><span>with the immediate assertion that they must be mercenaries, despite the absence of any evidence. Instead we are usually provided with casual assertions that Gaddafi is "</span></span></span><a href="http://old.news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110825/wl_nm/us_libya_killings"><span><span><span>known to have</span></span></span></a><span><span><span>" recruited Africans from other nations in the past, without even bothering to find out if those shown in the photos are black </span></span></span><em><span><span><span>Libyans</span></span></span></em><span><span><span>. The lynching of both black Libyans and Sub-Saharan African migrant workers has been continuous, and has neither received any expression of even nominal concern by the U.S. and NATO members, nor has it aroused the interest of the so-called "International Criminal Court"."</span></span></span></span></span></p> </blockquote> <p><span><span><span><span><span>Yesterday's "African Mercenaries", today's "Afghan Shiite Militias". The subtext is the same as it was with Gaddafi: if Assad has "Afghan Shiite Militias" fighting for him, what atrocity is he incapable of?</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>The truth is a casualty of war. Propaganda operations are some of modern warfare's most important strategies and no rebellion could afford to neglect them. The phrase "Afghan Shiite Militias" is a tool of the war, and it is no mystery why the Gulf monarchies and the rebels they sponsor would use it. What is harder to stomach is when people who have never met an "Afghan Shiite" and have no knowledge of Afghanistan repeat the phrase.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span><span><span>First published on TeleSUR on May 18, 2017: <a href="http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Afghans-Are-Coming-20170518-0011.html">http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Afghans-Are-Coming-20170518-0011.html</a></span></span></span></span></span></p></div> <div class="field field--name-taxonomy-vocabulary-1 field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field__label">Tags</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/9" hreflang="en">Asia (West &amp; South)</a></div> </div> </div> Fri, 19 May 2017 01:55:02 +0000 Justin Podur 1166 at https://podur.org The Ossington Circle Episode 17: The Kingdom of the Unjust, with Laila https://podur.org/node/1164 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">The Ossington Circle Episode 17: The Kingdom of the Unjust, with Laila</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field__label visually-hidden">Body</div> <div class="field__item"><p><a href="https://archive.org/download/toc_episode17_saudikingdom/toc_episode17_lailaonsaudikingdomapril262017.mp3">The Ossington Circle Episode 17: The Kingdom of the Unjust, with Laila</a></p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="30" mozallowfullscreen="true" src="https://archive.org/embed/toc_episode17_saudikingdom" webkitallowfullscreen="true" width="500"></iframe><br /> 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, <a href="http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/kingdom-of-the-unjust-by-medea-benjamin/">Kingdom of the Unjust</a>.</p> </div> </div> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/2" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Justin Podur</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Sat, 05/06/2017 - 23:24</span> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-video field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> <div class="field field--name-taxonomy-vocabulary-1 field--type-entity-reference field--label-above"> <div class="field__label">Topics</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field__item"><a href="/podcast" hreflang="en">The Ossington Circle</a></div> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/9" hreflang="en">Asia (West &amp; South)</a></div> </div> </div> Sun, 07 May 2017 03:24:32 +0000 Justin Podur 1164 at https://podur.org The Ossington Circle Episode 16: The Destruction of Syria and Solidarity with Max Ajl https://podur.org/node/1163 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">The Ossington Circle Episode 16: The Destruction of Syria and Solidarity with Max Ajl</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field__label visually-hidden">Body</div> <div class="field__item"><p><a href="https://archive.org/download/toc_episode16maxajlsyriaandsolidarityapril222017/toc_episode16maxajlsyriaandsolidarityapril222017.mp3">The Ossington Circle Episode 16: The Destruction of Syria and Solidarity with Max Ajl</a></p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="30" mozallowfullscreen="true" src="https://archive.org/embed/toc_episode16maxajlsyriaandsolidarityapril222017" webkitallowfullscreen="true" width="500"></iframe></p> <p>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.</p> <p><img alt="US missiles launched from an aircraft carrier towards Syrian airfield" height="480" src="http://navylive.dodlive.mil/files/2017/04/170407-N-JI086-301.jpg" width="640" /></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm">[TRANSCRIPT:]</p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>Justin Podur</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: 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.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>Max Ajl</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Thank you very much for having me.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: So Max, when Trump launched those cruise missiles at the Syrian air base, I saw a Facebook post that you wrote - it was circulating on Twitter and other places – and you said: </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-left:1.27cm; margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%">“<font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Six years of Qatari and Saudi propaganda has given a great gift to the US regime, making those who oppose the violent dictatorship of US capital feel sometimes guilty, muted, fumbling, silenced about doing so, and making those who support it feel right and righteous in so doing.” </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">And I think that feeling is something that I have personally been feeling for a really long time – guilty, muted, fumbling, silenced – about opposing imperialism, especially in Syria, and it’s been really confusing for me. And so for you to write that…I felt a lot of relief reading that somebody else felt that way. And that’s a big part of why I wanted to have you on this show. So can you just elaborate on this idea of…what is this Qatari and Saudi propaganda, because - I think as people who know Palestine, we’re familiar with the way the pro-Israeli lobby works and the way Israeli media and PR operations work – but the idea that there could be similar operations coming from the monarchies in the Gulf is fairly new, for me anyway.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yeah, so I think that you can trace this back to the founding of Al Jazeera and then the founding of Al Jazeera English, which is owned basically by the Qatari government. And since that time, the Gulf states, in consort with the US government and US ruling class, have really built up their capacity substantially – both their overall economies and specifically their media systems, and have created a large apparatus that has played an interesting and complex role in terms its overall service to the US ruling class. And it’s important to break these systems apart so we see how each system, how each component of the system, is playing a unique role. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Like, in the same way that we see that the Israeli lobby’s primary role is to attack critics of Israel, but also to make sure that Israel stays separate – and that the Palestine case stays separate - from other progressive movements. And this isn’t to absolve the rest of the propaganda system or the elites more broadly; it’s just to identify the specific roles each conglomerate, or each set of conglomerates plays in the larger system. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">So one portion of this has been that US media consumers grew to….first of all, we were like: “Ok, we want to centre Arab voices”; second of all, we were like: “Anyone who supports Palestine is being transgressive, so we can take that as a valuable point of reference on other regional affairs. So this kind of made newscasts like Al Jazeera English and more recently the New Arab, and Middle East Eye uniquely suited to use their occasional and usually decent support on Palestine to cover up for the larger US/Qatari/Saudi regressive agenda in the region more broadly. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">And so, what we can see since 2011, are a variety of almost formulaic attacks on the left in Syria: “the left isn’t doing this on Syria”; “the left is all Putinites”; “the left is supporting genocide”; “the left has a double standard”; “the left should supply the same standard of Palestine to the Syrian conflict”; “the left is inadequately supporting the revolution”. And at the same time, we have so-called news coverage saying that whatever is occurring in Syria has no foreign help, is not getting support from the US government, there are no sectarian elements, and so forth. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">So it’s been kind of a one-two punch, and the result has been – and it’s not them alone that’s been doing it, of course; there’s lots of other organizations that are doing it and we can discuss them further on, but these groups and these media platforms have played a really effective role unfortunately, in confusing Anglophone media consumers about what exactly has been going on in Syria, and more specifically, about the negative role played by Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and of course behind and largely coordinating them, the United States. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: I just want to start with Al Jazeera, because Al Jazeera was a big story in 2003 during the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. And we were all watching Al Jazeera, fascinated by the whole idea that a US war would no longer enjoy the kind of monopoly of information that it had previously. And so it was this incredibly refreshing thing, like, here are people from the region with their own powerful media organization that has a way of breaking through that propaganda wall. And I think that is a big part of why we’re having a hard time mapping that opening on to what’s going on in Syria now, because we’re expecting that same level of opposition to power that we saw Al Jazeera do in 2003, but it doesn’t seem to be working the same way.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yeah, absolutely not, and this is really the fruit of what the Gulf media and the US media have insisted on calling the Arab Spring. Without entering into divisive polemics about what has occurred there, I think we can say one good thing: there were people who were expressing legitimate discontent about the prevailing orders in most of the region, but with very different levels of mobilization in different countries…Yemen has had the largest per capita mobilizations, and it’s gotten some of the least coverage, especially in comparison to most mobilizations in the region. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">The reverse is the case in Syria. So there was that aspect. And then it was also the occasion for Saudi Arabia and Qatar – sometimes in coordination, sometimes backing various sorts of regressive groups – to kind of recompose the governing system and to battle for a recomposition of regional hegemony. And Qatar has powerfully deployed Al Jazeera in the service of this broader goal. And one of the crucial things is that in 2011, many people were observing that Al Jazeera was basically silent about what was happening in Bahrain. Whereas it was recording and publicizing in a wildly disproportionate manner - compared to the scale of the protests - what was occurring in Libya and Syria, both of which were, not at all coincidentally, on the US target list. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">And here we can see that, within the most basic parameters, we can see that who they chose to target, which protests they chose to ignore, basically were in concordance with the framework and the agenda of the United States. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: And then, another point that you raise, and you raised it earlier, but also in your (twitter) feed, where you say: </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%">“<font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">My feed is filled with folks ripping into an imaginary left that has been silent on the Obama regime’s bombing campaigns against Syria...Well, find me an organized anti-war formation that’s been silent on these bombing runs and tell me how many are silent versus speaking up.” </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">So the fact that the target all this is always the left - often when it’s leftists even making these speeches…people who call themselves leftists and identify as leftists that say: “The left is pro-Assad” and “The left is pro-Putin”…</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">And it strikes me that, on the one hand, some of these people that are saying this are leftists, but a lot of them are not, and I think we get confused because we see…again, we’re looking back and we are saying: “These are people that are pro-Palestine”, or “These are people that were against the invasion of Iraq in 2003” – I covered the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – but they’re not leftists. They actually hate leftists. They hate the secularism, they hate the equality, they hate the republicanism that leftists express, especially leftists from the region. But from the west we think, “Oh, they’re pro-Palestine, they’re anti-invasion of Iraq/2003, they must be leftists.”</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yeah, it’s been a remarkable phenomenon. It should all be traced further back. The need to express rhetorical or symbolic support – rising to political, monetary or material support – for Palestine has been what the political scientist Mike Hudson called “an all-Arab legitimating issue”. So every Arab government of any kind has had to support Palestine as part of its moves towards domestic legitimacy. And some governments have taken that quite far, such as the Gaddafi government’s support for the PFLP for example in the 70s, and the Syrian government has had ongoing relations with Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front; whereas the regressive Arab regimes – you know, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – have mostly kept this support at the symbolic level and have offered some material support, for example, to the Hamas movement in Gaza, but this has been more in the measure of trying to co-opt and contain them to a very marked degree. So we need to understand it all occurring within this broader framework in order to be understood in the US context. So that’s the first thing. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">The second thing is that Iraq was a long time ago. If you take 2011 it was eight years ago, and by now it was fourteen years ago. And there is a tendency among most people to shift to the right. So they were opposing the war on Iraq and they may have even been leftists then, and they would often have ceased being leftists now. And that’s a fundamental shift and there are lots of these people who have shifted very markedly. Furthermore, part of how they’ve represented Syria itself has allowed some of them to retain the credibility as whatever this very difficult and confusing umbrella term “leftist” means…they’ve been allowed to maintain credibility and that credibility in turn relies on them pushing forward this narrative of a revolution that they support and that we oppose because we’re not committed to human emancipation, we’re just committed to geopolitics, those of us on the anti-imperialist left which is another target of smears. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">By itself, this framework is actually vicious in the first place, because geopolitics is not a term I hear all that many anti-imperialists using; it’s about things like state sovereignty – that’s the entire framework of the post-Nazi international juridical order and it’s meant to actually prevent wars of aggression and to allow states to be sovereign, and for political movements to feel that that state sovereignty has social and political meaning. Once you collapse that, basically you have carte blanche for anyone to intervene for any reason whatsoever, which is a very old imperial agenda…to go in and save people from themselves. So this entire discourse has been topsy-turvy from the beginning. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">And in a sense it reflects the power of intervention discourse, that even people calling for intervention, such as calling for lifting the US arms embargo – they actually have to say is that what they’re against is intervention. They say that the US has been blocking anti-aircraft weapons from flowing in over the Jordanian and Turkish borders, and that we should be against US intervention and that therefore we should be against the US blocking those shipments from going in. We can go a little further into that argument and what has actually been going on in terms of the logistics of arms transfers. But what’s significant is that they actually have to justify it with references to (inaudible…) </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yeah, I was struck by that argument. I was actually going to bring that up with you. I saw an article after the Tomahawk missile strikes on the Syrian airfield mentioning this. It was comparing Syria to Palestine of course, as they always do, and they were saying “How could you oppose what Israel’s doing to the Palestinians and not oppose what Assad is doing to the Syrian people?” and “Don’t you know that the US has blocked these advanced anti-aircraft missiles from getting into the hands of the Syrian revolutionaries?” And I just thought: it’s so inconsistent…I can’t imagine these people – or any people – complaining that the US is blocking advanced anti-aircraft weapons from getting to Hamas, for example, or to the Palestinians that are trying to fight Israel. That’s way outside of anything anyone could imagine saying publicly. But they make comparisons with Palestine and then talk about the blocking of these missiles as if anybody could ever say that the USA should supply Hamas with missiles. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yeah, it’s quite absurd on a number of levels…I mean, the absurdity of the article you actually refer to - which was in </font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><i>Jacobin</i></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"> and the author was Bashir Abu-Manneh – the absurdity starts even with the personnel itself. This individual – who I used to be on relatively good terms with and I would publish his stuff in Jacobin on Palestine when I was editing the middle east content there - kept on pestering me for years to be publishing Gilbert Achcar, who took a rather tortuous approach to ensuring that the US dissidents did not mobilize against the US intervention in Libya. He refused to call this supporting the Libyan intervention; Achcar just said, well he didn’t want anyone…..</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yes, I remember this…</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: …he said he didn’t want anyone opposing it, which comes to the same thing. The only way to stop something that the US is…</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: He was not </font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><i>for </i></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">intervention….</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: He was neither for nor against, and urged that we be able to counsel interventionists once they had done so. So this very much put him on the opposite side of what I considered a fairly non-controversial red line. But Bashir kept on writing to me. I was civil to him because I think he has some interesting things to say on Palestine – he’s Palestinian from ’48…</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yeah, and he’s done a great book, a really good book on literature, right? </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yeah, it’s a nice book although he feels the need to rouse up support for the US destruction of Syria at the end of the book, unfortunately. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">He was quite insistent about this and I didn’t really have time for it, so Bashir…the long and short of it was that Bashir helped orchestrate a kind of soft coup d’etat against me at Jacobin. And since then, the Jacobin content on Palestine has had nothing on political prisoners, scarcely mentions right of return, has not really had a consistent anti-imperialist stance on geopolitics. But even on the Palestinian case in my opinion, the coverage has been much worse. And as for what it’s done for Syria, it’s not like anyone on the editorial board shifted their position. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">It’s obviously just much more convenient, and you get banner ads from the New Arab, which is a Qatari enterprise; you get banner ads when you support the war on Syria. So it’s totally cynical. Bashir wrote this article comparing the post-colonial state of Syria to Israel which is quite disturbing. It almost beggars belief, because for one thing the US supported and created Israel whereas the post-colonial Syrian state emerged out of resistance to French colonial sovereignty. So these aren’t really units that one should intelligibly compare. This struck me as intellectually and morally bankrupt. But maybe it was convincing to some other people, especially those who support the destruction of Syria.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yeah, I doubt it changed anybody’s mind. It probably reinforced what people already thought. I did want to go back to Achcar, because I remember when he was saying one shouldn’t oppose the bombing of Libya, one shouldn’t support the bombing of Libya. If we call for a no-fly-zone over Libya now in 2011, next time Israel bombs Gaza, we can go out there and have a very powerful case for arguing for a no-fly-zone over Israel. And after that happened, when Israel bombed Gaza in 2012 and 2014, and I don’t know if you saw any of these demonstrations calling for a no-fly-zone over Israel, but I certainly don’t remember seeing them.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yeah, what it does is it completely confuses and saps any clarity around a consistent anti-imperialist position. Part of what we oppose about Israel and what the Palestinian left has historically opposed, why it has such regional and international appeal, is because it’s such a crushing example – if not a condensation – of US global racism. And now we’re going to call for a no-fly-zone? It just confuses people beyond belief and it’s the most disingenuous argument. You can use as many words as one likes to cover up the basic line of argument being taken, but I don’t find it particularly convincing and it only serves to sow confusion. That’s the only political agenda. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Another intra-left line of reasoning – and all these roads lead to why we need to support the bombing of Syria and they’re all different constructions - one of them I’ve seen is: anti-imperialists follow Chomsky in saying “We have a primary responsibility for trying to stop our governments from doing bad things in the world because that’s where we can have the most effect.” And it goes back to some of what you were saying about the idea of sovereign states and the sovereign state being the unit in which people can exercise their democratic rights and develop their capacities. But then the counterargument I’ve seen is: “Well, how can we accede to this narrow nationalist argument when what we should be going for is a global working class solidarity”, and global working class solidarity with the Syrian people requires supporting the destruction of their state.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA: </b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Yeah, you know this is a very old argument in a sense. I studied Tunisia and many of these same arguments were put forward by the trade unions linked to the French colonial socialist trade unions as opposed to the more domestic indigenous trade unions linked to Tunisians, and some of them said, “Well, we’re just going to ignore the national question, pretend it doesn’t matter”, and the other ones insisted on the importance of the national question. And the national question continues to matter. It is global south countries that need to affirm that principle to avoid being destroyed. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">So it’s not about internationalism versus parochial nationalism. It’s about substantive versus vacuous nationalism. It’s about internationalism that takes account of one’s location, and the privileges and political opportunities that are available to one, and that one has in a given location, versus one that is very much blind to it, and ends up being very idealist</font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>. </b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">I believe in internationalism</font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b> </b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">and international solidarity but I believe that supporting the peoples of the global south in their struggles begins with looking at the ways the US government prevents people in the global south from determining the courses of their own lives. And frequently – given that we live in a world which is commonly broken up along national units – then part of that is going to take the appearance of nationalism. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">But this accusation that nationalism is parochial is actually historically a position that comes from the colonial end of the so-called socialist movement, and is very chauvinist in my opinion and regressive. Because for people in given geographical territories, living in that territory often imposes common experiences and a common fate on them. Like when the US destroyed Iraq, for people in Iraq to support national resistance…was that nationalism? Yes, and was it </font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><i>bad</i></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"> nationalism? Of course not. The Latin American experiments have seen a very creative and powerful reinvigoration of nationalism, the </font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><i>nacional-popular,</i></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"> and recuperated discourse of sovereignty. And emanating from that sovereignty, they branched out into more regional agendas and have engaged in a more substantive internationalism. So to just sidestep how that happens, how struggle marks the course of history, and to just assert this very idealist internationalism of globally-linked civil society struggles…this kind of discourse seems to come straight from the State Department.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yeah, exactly. And those origins and those debates are really interesting to trace and I’m happy with the discussion we’ve had about the left, and the targeting of the left, and the imaginary left that has been supposedly silent and so on. I’m also very interested to talk to you about the targeting of the Palestine movement, because that has also, in addition to Syria, been something that is used to attack ‘the left’ - whatever ‘the left’ is – claiming that the left has been totally inadequate on this issue. But I’ve also found a really strong degree of targeting, and in some cases of destroying, local student activist groups around Palestine. I know you have some experience and something to say about that, so I’d like to ask you about that now. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Absolutely, I mean, we could sense that this was becoming a rather urgent issue….it was a rather urgent issue about Syria from the outset. It was apparent to me that there was an attempt to - and one can have a range of legitimate opinions about what was going on in the early months in Syria – but what was clear was that certainly the Gulf governments and the US were looking to use whatever had happened and to elevate the strands they preferred, to use those strands to justify or incite a militarization and destroy Syria. It’s targeted particularly the Palestine movement in a variety of ways. And one of the most effective ways has just been through Yarmouk - what happened in the Yarmouk camp. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">What actually happened is still a bit cloudy and argued over but one can certainly say that by late 2013 the Yarmouk camp had been an arena of fighting between sectarian groups and militias that were on the same side as the Syrian government, and that the Syrian government was deployed on the outskirts of the Yarmouk camp, basically in order to contain the situation. And one of the consequences of that was that food was becoming very difficult to access in the camp. There were a lot of actors actually bringing food in, it wasn’t a hermetic siege by any means. But, as always whenever there’s a situation in which food is harder to access, prices go up, and the most vulnerable suffer. And this, in turn, was being used as a way to split the Palestine movement, especially globally. In fact, an intern for the American Task force for Palestine - which had been continuously funded by Gulf regimes and was a pro-normalization organization – started writing a wide range of articles calling on us to take action about the Yarmouk camp. The basic call that came from the Palestinian factions, from Palestinian solidarity organizations in the US, was that two things should happen: One, that there should be measures taken to ensure the food could be brought into the camp so that food did not become a weapon of war against a civilian population; and two, that these armed groups – whatever support people in Yarmouk had for what had occurred in Syria and for the Syrian opposition, certainly the armed groups did not appear to be broadly welcomed in the camp - all relevant representatives and institutions appeared to be calling for the armed groups to leave. And those were the basic demands. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">My student group, recognizing that there was this attempt at manipulation going on, amplified those demands and situated them in anti-imperialist politics, identifying the US role in first using Israel to divert Syria from what had been a progressive course through 1967, and then setting it on a further rightward course after that; and then also playing a role in destroying the PLO, and in militarizing the process…all of which is openly acknowledged. And furthermore, that people living in the US didn’t stand outside of that history, and that any negative things going on in Syria at the hands of the government</font></font><font color="#ff0000"> </font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">- insofar as that was relevant - they were, in part, responsible for. And we think that this is what substantive internationalism looks like: identifying the way that US power has actually constituted history as we confront it in front of us. For us, anyway. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Now, we – that is, Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine - were very viciously attacked. People were trying to say we were justifying collective punishment which was very disingenuous since we called directly for food to go in, and we weren’t sure how you could at the same time justify collective punishment and call for it to end. It’s incoherent. But the people making this attack were primarily from Chicago-based student groups, people who were more or less engaged in various forms of provocation, some from the Trotskyite movement, socialist organizations, grassroots membership coordinators, US Campaign to End the Occupation, and so forth. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">And, very broadly, we, and especially I, were marginalized in the student movement. We were told to dissolve ourselves during an April attempt to get Cornell to divest itself of Israeli investments – we were doing a divestment campaign – and they actually told us too dissolve our chapter. And the individual who made that call is friends with a wide range of student activists and people who, at the time, were on the coordinating committee of National SJP. So really this was kind of a precursor to, or first step towards really splitting apart the Palestine movement, and it only got worse and worse. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">I’m sure you’ve seen the attacks on journalists linked to Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, which are… - both have a broad range of politics, both on Syria and more broadly - but they are media institutions that play a fundamental role in supporting the Palestinian liberation movement and solidarity movement. They’re fundamental, and to attack them and sap their energy in this way, and say: “Either you’re going to toe the line on US intervention in Syria in terms of supporting it, supporting a ‘revolution’” (that – whatever it had been in 2011 – simply had zero progressive credentials by 2014) is to basically hold the Palestine movement hostage. It is to say: “We don’t really care if the Palestine movement collapses due to infighting if it won’t support the uprising.” And it’s clear that a movement can’t really survive – or flourish, certainly – under such pressures: under pressure of attempts to split it. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">And if you take for example, the student movement 2012/13, 2013/14 versus 2015/16, 2016/17, the volume of divestment or attempted divestments, has decreased by – I would estimate – a factor of ten. And divestment is the primary tactic of the student movement. Now, tracing a direct linear line of causality between one and the other is difficult, although one can certainly identify people who have been involved in saying “we don’t really want a movement if it doesn’t support what we call the Syrian Revolution, and blame the Syrian government 100 or 99 or 95 percent for what is going on.” </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">It’s been very much wracked with infighting; there are certain places and people who have managed to maintain a principled…</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP: </b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Yeah, I’ve seen many people say: “I don’t talk about Palestine unless you’re anti-Assad. Don’t talk about Palestine; I don’t want to hear anything about Palestine unless you support the Syrian Revolution” which I’ve always found to be a really bizarre line to take, when everybody in your society is telling you to shut up about Palestine. Making an additional condition – that you’re supposed to shut up about Palestine unless you agree with me about facts and interpretations of what the nature of this opposition to Assad is - doesn’t strike me as something that has Palestine at its heart. It doesn’t seem to me to be people who are looking after Palestine’s interests that are making this call. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA: </b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">One has to be honest and state that a lot of vocal young people from the [Palestinian] Diaspora basically signed on to that position. I don’t mean thousands, or a numerically high percentage, but I do mean that, of people who are active, a lot have taken this position. So it creates a great difficulty. If you look at the Palestinians in Syria, they’ve been very much split. A lot of them have been pro-government, and pro-government in ways that, in the west, you would be accused of eating Syrian babies for breakfast. But a lot have been pro-government. And also in Palestine. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">The bottom line is that…the Palestinians are split. Any claim that there’s a kind of unity on the issue is not really true, and so we should own the political position …we should take a position on Syria and own it for ourselves. Often we’ll end up working with people we may disagree with about interpretations of what’s going on in Syria. Unless people prefer to do otherwise, which strikes me as very sectarian and has been manifestly disruptive.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP: </b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">A theoretical question going back to our discussion of the left debate: another thing that I’ve heard (we haven’t discussed this before but I suspect you’ll have something interesting to say about it) is the idea that, being anti-imperialist in the Syrian context, really means opposing Russia and Iran because those are the real imperialists in Syria right now.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: To talk about who is or isn’t imperialist isn’t a question of describing who is or isn’t intervening in Syria, or if you don’t like them or don’t like the side they’re supporting. It should be a theoretical category. It should be a theoretical category that derives from what was going on before, and be used to interpret it and make sense of it, not just opportunistically deployed in order to justify whatever side one’s on. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">So one can go back to 1917 – or earlier – and talk about Lenin’s theory of imperialism or export of capital, and in that case, Russia is not exporting capital to Syria – at the current moment, Iran is expending capital in order to support the Syrian government: there’s loans, I think there are oil shipments that are ongoing. Both countries are supporting the Syrian treasury, extending large credit lines. Calling a post-colonial state - no matter what one wants to say about its political and social track record post-1970 – that called on allied forces to support the state institutions doesn’t strike me as imperialism by any understanding of the word, especially if one actually looks and tries to understand why both Russia and Iran have actually supported it. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Now there’s been a real paucity of analysis about these forces. More so, there’s been an absence of good analysis based on why Russia has responded to this call by the Syrian government. People say it’s ok, it’s just to maintain its one Mediterranean outpost. Well yeah, of course that’s certainly true, but that just adds a little more detail to the issue without clarifying what is actually at stake. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">I would say for Iran, that the Iranian government fundamentally understands that it is under siege by the west: it’s basically surrounded by US military bases. And to the extent that it’s able to extend either state or asymmetric, popular, militia-based arms-capacity, it’s able to exert a certain pressure against the US political goal of putting both economic, political and diplomatic pressure on it in order to collapse the state institutions and reverse the 1979 revolution. This is the keystone of US strategy in the region…to reverse 1979 and re-impose a client state on Iran. And also, the Gulf States and Israel also play their role in supporting and encouraging this strategy, but fundamentally it emanates from 1979 and US strategic preparedness. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">And so Iranian support for Syria is quite defensive and reactive. Really, I think it’s the same for Russia. Yes, Russia does want to extend that and yes, it’s true that Russia appears to have reconstituted a Soviet military-industrial complex. And people are saying that its sale or other provisioning of weapons to the Syrian government is something that the domestic arms industries are profiting from…this may very well be true, but I don’t think it accounts for Russian involvement.</font></font><font color="#ff0000"> </font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">I think Russia is also under siege by the US. There may be a partial rapprochement under Trump, but I think this is an attempt to target…if anything, it’s an attempt by the Trump administration to target China and Iran, and an attempt to leverage Russia outside of that so it can isolate and take them one by one, as opposed to the Obama administration strategy, which was kind of a full-spectrum confrontation. During the tailing days of the Obama government, they moved thousands of tanks right up, practically, to Russia’s western border. And Russia basically just recovered its Soviet levels of life expectancy, its percentage of GDP military spending - far, far, far under that of the US. All of this is very well known. What people mean by imperialism is that Russia’s doing something they don’t like and therefore it’s imperialism. And this is not a coherent theoretical account of imperialism at all. No one has made a coherent account of whether or not Russia is exporting a surplus, whether or not it’s securing profit from its endeavours in Syria. What it most resembles – speaking in broad terms – is actually the Soviet defensive strategy in Eastern Europe where it actually cost the Soviet Union money to uphold these states as a political/military defence line against US/European encroachment and aggression and which was along the historic invasion route through Germany into the USSR. I would say it has the most family resemblance to this pattern of action; whether or not it’s imperialist…is quite absurd. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">The idea that Iran is acting in an imperialist manner in Syria just beggars belief. Such terms by these people are never applied to Saudi Arabia. I’ve seen estimates from Camille Otrakji – who is a Syrian who used to get quite a lot of coverage and is now excluded from western media – and he’s estimated that the collective western and GCC’s cost to support this war on Syria is 35-50 billion dollars: mercenaries and black-ops and weapons transfers and so forth. I don’t know whether that’s true – it strikes me as a ball-park estimate. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">And the amount of Iranian troops that are on the ground is not very many at all. We don’t have accurate information, but we do have accurate information on death-counts for pro-government, non-Syrian militia and it’s a few thousand at most, whereas the broad range of anti-government militia, including Daesh and all the rest of the anti-government militia, the foreign dead, according to the count of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights - which is problematic but at least more credible than any other source on these – has put it at 50,000. So that tells you something about who’s doing the fighting. So sending in tens of thousands of mercenaries is not imperialism, but sending in a third or a quarter of that many is? I don’t know what kind of imperialism they’re talking about but it sounds more like they’re throwing around concepts to justify US aggression. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP: </b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Maybe we can move towards wrapping it up, but I wanted to return to your statement here where you say: “We were the first to raise our voices sice 2011 against the US/Gulf pouring weapons in when just thousand were dead, not hundreds of thousands.” And that really burns me to think about that, how long this has been allowed to go on, how many more deaths have happened because people just dug in, and joined a kind of an “anti-war” position and just kept digging in no matter what the facts on the ground were telling them.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA: </b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">People will</font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b> </b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">shift, at various times, their political position; the flood of propaganda about Syria was immense. Even now, I would say, it costs more to people to speak out about Syria than it costs them to speak out about Palestine. So if you look at US Middle East scholars and Middle East academics, the people speaking out against the US war on Syria are very few indeed. Even in 2011, by July-August-September-December, it was clear that there was a militarization going on, including offensive attacks against Syrian armed installations. There were reports of people crossing the Lebanese border. And Al Jazeera refused to air video of this by someone named Ghassan bin Jiddo, who went on to found the Pan Arabic, </font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><i>Al Mayadeen</i></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"> channel which has taken a very different stance on the Syrian conflict. He represented the Arab nationalist side at Al Jazeera, and he resigned from Al Jazeera because they wouldn’t share this video. And if one talks to Lebanese communists, they’ll say, “Yes, there were people, there were training camps in the north of Lebanon, they were sending fighters. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Now I don’t want to sidestep or really enter into a very fraught discussion about what was indeed going on in Syria, what was the dominant dynamic. Even very anti-imperialist media, a Lebanese leftist newspaper have criticized the Syrian government for putting in place what it called the “security solution” in response to what was going on in March-April-May, meaning, choosing to respond to nonviolent protests that were met with, sometimes, murder, in the words of a columnist for Al Akhbar. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Now again, whatever was going on in Syria – and I do think the rhetoric of the revolution was, at this stage, was far more a propaganda edifice than meant to illuminate what was going on in Syria. And as for what people outside were saying, you could barely trust it at all. It was clear that there was an attempt to use whatever went on in Syria to destroy Syria itself, as is the case basically on the entire planet. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">The role of people in the core, in Canada and the US, was to identify what the government was doing and act to come out against it. And those of us speaking out about this were accused, even then, of “denying Arab agency”. We might say, “Ok, the US is basically acting with total convergence with Saudi Arabia and Qatar”, and they would say, “Well, you’re denying the agency of the Arab working class”. Well what does that mean? I mean these countries are, first of all, the modern states were half-created by the US, their entire capital flows, their developmental apparatus…you know, they rely 100% on the US: their treasuries go to the US, their weapons come from the US, the US police are there, they’re under the US security umbrella. In essence, they’re US protectorates. So what does this rhetoric of “agency” mean, other than to deny…</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: I think it means “Shut up!” </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Yeah, it means “Shut up”, and the people saying “shut up” have been emerging from the woodwork since 2011. They want people to shut up, and that’s the basic agenda. I mean it was clear what turkey’s role has been and it’s clear that this has been in coordination with the US which has operating [bases?] in both Turkey and also in Jordan. And it’s been reported, including by Andrew Cockburn, that there are CIA agents coordinating weapons flows on the Turkish border, and there were militants going in, and the Turkish border guards going in. Now it was clear as early as 2011 that this was going on, and it was clear that Syria, already in 2011, was a massive international news item. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Now what the people saying that this wasn’t going on with US approval are suggesting, is that from 2011, Turkey, Jordan, and the Gulf States, historic US allies, were carrying out extensive operations in one of the most hot-button conflicts zones of US imperialism over the last 90 years, were carrying out huge policies that the US didn’t want them doing, and basically the US just did its best – unsuccessfully, perhaps – to control these people. And all it could do was to prevent anti-aircraft missiles? </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">The flip side of this is that to report a more complicated narrative going back to March 2011 or to this narrative of a popular revolution at all - and the revolution narrative has been used to justify any [ ] US/Gulf malfeasance in that arena. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Because revolution is meant to carry its own legitimacy. If there’s a revolution it doesn’t need to draw on any external claims for legitimacy, we just assume “Ok, there’s something beautiful going on and we need to support it, which is precisely why this revolution rhetoric continues to live on, because it serves quite a powerful purpose for destroying Syria. And so if there’s a revolution and it’s calling for US weapons, or if there’s a revolution calling for a US no-fly zone, at the very least – we might not need to support such actions - we certainly shouldn’t oppose it. Which was the same rhetoric of Gilbert Achcar, almost to the letter, about Libya. And the upshot of this has been that this war - which in the first six months claimed, at a very rough estimate, 3,500 lives. By now it has claimed maybe half a million. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">Whatever one wants to claim about the violent role of the government, there’s zero dispute amongst serious people that the US role has been absolutely massive in destroying Syria. We know this both from open and public reporting and we know it because this is basically what the US government has announced that this is what it has wanted to do since 2006. It said, “We want to destabilize and destroy Syria.” And these people have said, “Ok we don’t want you opposing any of the violence. If you do, you’re responsible for what the Syrian government does.” Whereas they, who don’t want us opposing the US government, or the fighting, they who don’t want us to act to oppose the ongoing violence, don’t want to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions,</font></font><font color="#ff0000"> </font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">which are basically meant to destroy the country. It’s very much upside-down in fact. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>JP</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Last question, where do you think this is all going. I mean, I studied Haiti, and in Haiti there was a fake revolution that was used to destroy an elected popular government and to then enact an occupation of the country that’s now gone on for, I guess it’s thirteen years now. And a lot of people supported that and said, “Ariside (who was president of Haiti at the time) has become unpopular; it’s time for him to go; and we support his overthrow from the left.” A lot of people who supported that have just kind of forgotten that they ever said that. You know, their statements have been scrubbed from the internet, and those of us who remember, don’t really talk about it anymore, because they’re back to doing their good work against neoliberalism, or whatever it was. So I’m sort of disgusted by that on the one hand but on the other hand I’m almost hopeful that that’s something that could happen for Syria where people will come around to this. But I don’t know, I don’t see a lot of people coming around even now. I wonder what your sense of it is. Is there any sense that this is changing on the horizon, or is this just a sign of how easy it is to capture and undermine solidarity in anti-imperialism.</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt"><b>MA</b></font></font><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">: Broadly, I thin it’s a sign of how easy it is to capture people. People have to admit that they were wrong, that they were duped, or that they were complicit in lies. If this was 2013, you know there are people who switched positions. I think that was late, but people switched, finally. And people switched positions in 2014. We’re almost halfway through 2017. It’s very late for people to begin to switch positions, and accept that they were allied with US imperialism, that they were allied with Israel…</font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">For one, it just seems very unlikely that they’re going to do it. For two, it seems that there’s still hope in pushing the destruction of Syria. I mean, the project is ongoing, because the scale of a US defeat is very large, and this is underappreciated. The US goal hasn’t necessarily been to overthrow the Syrian government; it’s been primarily to destroy Syria. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">It’s also a very much wanted Syria to change course on foreign policy, because a foreign policy that supports the sovereignty of states, which is also the foreign policy, to some extent, of Palestine and to a much larger extent, of Iran. It’s a foreign policy that the US won’t tolerate in the region when its primary goal is to reverse the revolution of Iran. So this attack, this assault, is still ongoing, and many of these people stake out these positions, you know, they are the cultural compliment to this assault. I don’t think that they’re independent agents. I don’t actually think that they could be independent agents. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">A lot of them are bought-and-paid-for. They have built lucrative careers and reputations by being intellectual mercenaries of a US assault on a sovereign country, which the US intends to continue until it is somehow forced to stop for one reason or another. </font></font></span></p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"> </p> <p class="western" style="margin-bottom:0cm"><span style="line-height:100%"><font size="4"><font style="font-size: 14pt">I haven’t really even thought or hoped for people to shift their ground, but what I have hoped for is people who are scared to speak out, to speak out. Those are the people I’m most concerned about. I hope that they can overcome the intimidation and the thuggery, and speak out in defence of Syria as a nation, and against the war going on against it, in which the US government is so heavily complicit. But for the other people, the real heavy ideologues, I don’t see them ever shifting. </font></font></span></p> </div> </div> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/2" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Justin Podur</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Sat, 04/29/2017 - 11:58</span> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-video field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> <div class="field field--name-taxonomy-vocabulary-1 field--type-entity-reference field--label-above"> <div class="field__label">Topics</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field__item"><a href="/podcast" hreflang="en">The Ossington Circle</a></div> <div class="field__item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/9" hreflang="en">Asia (West &amp; South)</a></div> </div> </div> Sat, 29 Apr 2017 15:58:15 +0000 Justin Podur 1163 at https://podur.org