Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Syrian Revolution: Caught Between Repression & Imperialism

The first and foremost thing that must be said is that the people of Syria, who have resisted an utterly vicious military repression of their aspirations for nearly a year, are some of the bravest people on the planet. Day after day the government of the Assad dynasty find new levels of depravity in their attempt to brutalize and torture the democratic aspirations of their population into submission. We are witnessing both the heights and the depths to which human nature can sink.

For that reason I have absolutely no sympathy with those who attempt to excuse the actions of the regime on the grounds of supposed anti-imperialism. This is a vicious and bloody police state that is fighting for its life, not some progressive bastion - any more than was Libya - it deserves to have no tears shed for it.

That doesn't imply, however, that it isn't a complex situation. Sadly, the Syrian regime is not the only vicious and anti-democratic regime in the world. The United States comes to mind. After all, they arm the thoroughly backward, religiously justified police state of the Saudi  monarchy. They benefit from the sectarian and repressive Bahraini monarchy next door. They have financed the Egyptian military's repressive apparatus since the 1970s. And that doesn't even include the millions of people whose deaths can be directly and indirectly laid at the feet of the US government (that's right, I wrote millions - Iraq, Indonesia in 1965, El Salvador, Chile, the Philippines, et al). And a number of equally (or more) vicious, anti-democratic regimes have their fingers in the Syrian pie in a way that is no so very different from Libya.

As I've noted more than once, the Arab revolutions in the first instance threw the USA and its allies in Europe and the Middle East, on the back foot. Their core clients were thrown onto the backfoot and for a moment it looked like the USA would even lose Bahrain, home to the extremely strategic 5th Fleet. But counter-revolution, like rust, never sleeps and, as Mao said, in crisis there is opportunity. With the uprising in Libya, the Americans, Europeans and the Gulf Cooperation Council - which composes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait and was fresh from crushing the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain - moved to intervene in the Arab revolution. The idea was clearly two or threefold. 1) Steer the revolution in a "moderate", pro-capitalist and pro-western (cough, cough, Israel) direction. 2) Eliminate regimes that were not fully in the pocket of the Americans and the Saudis/GCC. And 3) do some damage to the ambitions and strategic interests of other imperialist powers, in particular China and Russia.

Libya may have been the first stop on this traveling road show but it most certainly isn't the last. And now Syria is becoming the next target and battleground for inter-imperialist rivalry. This is, of course, very dangerous for the region and the Syrian people. None of the big players give a damn about democracy or self-determination. The Russians spent more than a decade slaughtering Chechens who were foolish enough to think that they deserved independence because it's a democratic right - not to mention the Russian government's penchant for internal repression and fixing elections. The Chinese? Tiananmen Square, anyone? Actually, China makes no pretence about having any support for democratic rights - the Chinese people "aren't ready" for democracy. Turkey has, of course, also made noises of support for the anti-Assad movement in Syria but their concerns for democracy can't be taken seriously either, with their continued denial of the rights of their Kurdish population, including a recent deadly bombing raid on Kurd civilians - and a counter-insurgency in the 90s that destroyed something like 40,000 villages.

The involvement of these opposing players with their regional ambitions - I haven't even discussed Iran, which remains in the crosshairs of the west - is making the struggle for democracy more difficult. It is making it more, not less, likely that Syria will descend into civil war. For those of us who live in the Europe and North America, our first responsibility is to oppose all attempts by our governments to intervene in the Syrian conflict. They are not here or anywhere interested in the human and democratic rights of the population.

Within Syria itself the scene on the ground is very complicated. There is much talk in the press about divisions within the opposition but how much that is reflected on the ground inside Syria is unclear and how much of it is a cynical attempt to get the more radical and grassroots Local Coordination Committees to line-up with the pro-imperialist, emigre-based Syrian National Council (SNC) is unclear. The existence of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) also further complicates matters. On the one hand its existence is a positive sign of the disintegration of the Syrian state's repressive apparatus. On the other it risks becoming a substitute for a mass movement and causing a descent into civil war, which will be much more convenient for the imperialists of each side to back. It doesn't help that the FSA leadership has itself lined up with the SNC. Like in Libya, the FSA could easily end up acting as the foot soldiers for a NATO military operation.

At present the movement seems to have, against tremendous odds, retained its mass, popular character with strikes, sit-ins and other forms of civil disobedience and popular mobilization. It is, in many ways, now a game of wills - who can withstand the pressure exerted by the other longer. The Syrian state is a "deep state", which, like many other dictatorships in the region, has utilized clientelism, sectarianism, tribal and ethnic rivalries to sustain its power base. Undermining those deeply embedded relations of clientelism and fear was never going to happen overnight and was unlikely to ever happen without bloodshed, given the vicious nature of the regime. But the momentum seems to be in the direction of the disintegration of the Syrian regime, as the movement has now firmly taken hold in the capital, Damascus. What the movement needs most at the moment, it seems, is time to finish the job free of the meddling of outside interlocutors whose interests are anything but democracy and justice.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Shafia Becomes An Excuse For Anti-Muslim Racism

Of course the horror of the multiple murders of three young girls and their mother by the father, son and second wife ought to be condemned. It ought to be the focus for a public discussion about the plight of women who are too often the focus for familial violence.

But that is not what is happening with this trial. Instead the trial is being used to blame immigrants in general and Muslims in particular for violence against women and children. It's posed as "honour" killings, using a symbology that has already been constructed as distinctly foreign and Islamic.

However, while it is certainly the truth that some murderers of women will use Islam to justify their acts, others will use whatever ideology is at hand - Christianity, male supremacy - or none at all. Violence against women is a social, not an Islamic, problem. By deflecting the blame onto the "Muslim community" not only is it deepening the idea that somehow Muslims are preternaturally more likely to harm and oppress women but also that it is a problem confined to that community. The rest of us can rest safe and feel no need to look more deeply at the root causes of violence.

Yet, what is certain is that Robert Picton, who systematically slaughtered dozens of sex trade workers from the streets of Vancouver was not a Muslim. Nor was Paul Bernardo, who raped and murdered numbers of women.

More mundanely, as the statistics demonstrate, large numbers of women across the country face abuse at the hands of spouses as a matter of course. In 1997-98 there 90,792 admitted to the 413 battered women's shelters across Canada. In 2001 69 men were accused of killing their wife or ex-wife. And there were 183 family related homicides in 2001. While the ethnicity and religion of the victims and culprits is not available in these statistics, it is almost certain that the vast majority of family killings were of white, Christian men killing white, Christian women.

And, yet, there is no call for the "Christian community" to wake up and deal with the issue of Christian violence. Even after we have seen repeatedly the scandal of Catholic priests sexually abusing children there was no outrage about the complacency of the Catholic community. There is, in fact, a double standard rooted in racism and the justification necessary for the ongoing war in Afghanistan and for beating the war drums about Iran and, previously, Iraq.

Instead of blaming Muslims for this heinous crime, the conversation ought to be about eliminating the real source of oppression of women. It ought to be about addressing lack of funding for social services that make women dependent upon men - like lack of daycare or attacks on women's right to abortion. It ought to address the fact that women are still paid less than men, which is a concrete manifestation of the belief that women are of less value than men. The list could go on.

But, of course, that won't happen. The federal, provincial and municipal governments are all on an austerity binge and, inevitably, the people who suffer the most are those who are already vulnerable - women, immigrants, the poor. Then, when the insurmountable pressure of cuts and demonization leads to acts of interpersonal violence or eliminates escape routes for women, the demonization is simply further ramped up. It means that the tragedy of these murders will not end with the deaths of four women - it will be doubled and trebled by ignorance and misdirection.

Shafia trial a wake-up call for Canadian Muslims - The Globe and Mail:

'via Blog this'

Did NATO's Libyan "Liberation" Blow-Up In Their Faces

During NATO's bombing campaign to dominate and destroy the Libyan revolution liberate Libya last year, I wrote that their real interests lie with intervening into the Arab Spring in such a way as to bend it towards European and American ends. The other driving motivation behind the intervention was to counter China's growing hegemony on the African continent.

For a number of years China has quietly been increasing its capital investments and trade relationships with a number of African countries. From the point of view of the African governments - more or less democratic or repressive - China's involvement has been more heartily welcome than that of Europe and North America for the simple reason that China's money, etc. comes with no (apparent) strings. No doubt this is a product of two factors. The first is that European and North American governmental policies with regards to Africa are based upon a set of vile racist and colonialist assumptions about Africa. And going along with that is a never-ending jogging for influence via proxy armies and direct interventions.

Secondly, China is the new kid on the block, or the new store on the block. And they have learned from lengthy experience that the way to break into new markets is by offering better deals than the old stores. This is the oldest trick in the export market book. Think way back to Japan's Honda cars, which were basically disposable, cheap cars way back in the 1970s. Now they are semi-luxury sedans. Ditto Hyundai from the South Koreans. And, of course, with China you can say that about everything they make. From dollar store trinkets and laughably constructed toys for kids they are now the manufacturer of choice for every high tech company in the west from Apple to HP to IBM (who sold off their PC division to China, which renamed it Lenovo and made it massively successful - oops!).

Now, transpose that method into one that is geared towards the developing world and building the influence of China as a nation that needs major raw material inputs. You begin to see their method and its success. It also makes clear the real reason why China (along with Russia) is so opposed to Syria becoming another Libya. It has nothing whatsoever to do with national self-determination and opposition to imperialism - any more than western hand-wringing and sanctions has anything to do with concern for human rights or democracy. If you don't believe me about the latter, I will only point out that the US gives $1.3 billion to the Egyptian army every year specifically to finance the security services - never mind the money and weapons that are sold or given to every dictatorship in the region. As for China's interest in self-determination - Tibet and Xinjiang provide clear and bloody refutation of any delusions in that direction.

All of that is background to the fact that NATO's intentions in Libya seem to be blowing up in their faces - a reminder that besides death and misery, the thing that war produces most of is irony. Within Libya itself, the prospective client regime is having its own difficulties living up to the hopes of NATO. Not only are elements of Gaddafi's former supporters giving it military troubles - witness the recent recapture of Bani Walid by a pro-Gaddafi militia - but even in the TNC stronghold of Benghazi there have been violent protests against the new bosses.

In the rest of Africa the knock-on effect of NATO's forceful intervention in the Libyan conflict has not been to make Africa more compliant and open to western demands. Rather, it has pushed African governments deeper into China's embrace, as evidenced by the keynote delivered at this past week's African Union summit delivered by a senior Chinese diplomat in the new AU HQ that was built with Chinese money and with the announcement that China would step into the financing void left by Gaddafi's overthrow. While this irony has a certain deliciousness to it, it also has serious and potentially bloody dangers. Europe - with its old world sense of aristocratic entitlement - and the USA - with its belligerent, cowboyish sense of entitlement - are unlikely to let the matter lie. What is more likely is that the immediate future of Africa will see an intensifications of covert and over interventions to try to regain hegemony. That, of course, is a recipe for further instability and war in Africa and greater inter-imperialist rivalry more generally.

African Union embraces generous Chinese financing - The Globe and Mail:

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gingrich: Vote For the Kook, I Mean Crook, I Mean Astronaut

This is awesomely awesome stuff and further proof that the American political system can only be defined as being from outer space. Newt Gingrich made a campaign speech in Florida in which he promised to establish a permanent moon base - for science tourism and advanced manufacturing - within 8 years.

Actually, it wouldn't surprise me if it could be done theoretically speaking. I mean, they got to the moon less than ten years after Kennedy's famous speech. And America does spend about a ba-zillion dollars on coming up with ways to kill people in every corner of the planet if they don't do what America says support democracy. If they took that ba-zillion dollars and instead put it towards building the coolest, bestest space hotel in the solar system that would save a lot of lives and create a lot of jobs. Just think of all the people you'd need to work in the hotel serving lunar drinks to Newt and his buddies or in the gift shop where advanced manufacturing products like lunar keychains that beep when you clap your hands will be sold.

Newt Gingrich promises moon base by the end of his second term | World news | guardian.co.uk:

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Year One Of The Egyptian Revolution

There will be gobs and gobs of text filling the pages, websites and on air coverage today about the 1 year anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution. A lot of it, particularly in North America, will be stupid, low level stuff - fears of the Islamists taking power, etc etc. Very little of it will have a deeper sense of the continuing dynamic heart of the revolutionary process that is unfolding in Egypt and which will likely continue to unfold over the next several years. I'd hate to be one to join in the stupidity and there is also lots and lots of excellent coverage out there, including eyewitness coverage on the ground in Tahrir. So, I will just summarize what I think are the three or four main points that are most important and often forgotten or avoided.

1) The Egyptian revolution is the most important political event since the fall of the former USSR. Because Egypt is an ally, in particular its military leadership who receive $1.3 billion, there is considerably less enthusiasm for bigging up the Egyptian revolution than there was the collapse of the rival Soviet empire in 89-91. But let there be no mistake, the revolution in Egypt - and throughout the region, lest we forget that there are active revolutionary processes still taking place in Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, etc - will profoundly reshape the world and the political alignments in a way no less profound than 1989. If it reaches its full potential - hell, if it reaches half its potential - this will be the biggest blow to US imperialism since Vietnam (in a different way of course) and perhaps larger since the Middle East is much more strategic to US interests.

2) This ain't over by a long shot. The fall of Mubarak was really just a beginning. It reconfigured the balance of class and political forces inside of Egypt in a profound way but the old regime is still in control. And the revolution, though it ebbs and flows, is nowhere near to exhausting itself. There are challenges for sure - for both sides - but there will be an extended period of jockeying and realignment that takes place over the next few years. Watch, in this next phase, for the Muslim Brotherhood, now in control of Parliament to face increasing challenges as their very moderate leadership fail to deliver on the aspirations unleashed by the revolution and they increasingly try to put an end to the revolutionary process. If the left is smart and works with the most militant and active sections of the Brotherhood, particularly the youth, I expect to see some splits (rather than just individuals as has been the case up to now, even if there have been large numbers of individuals) of significant size that move towards a position that Egypt needs a second revolution.

3) The class struggle is key. All eyes are on Tahrir, which has incredible symbolic power in the revolution. That is why the generals have tried to so hard to discredit the Tahrir sit-ins. But Tahrir is just the symbol. The real power of the revolution has always been with the very large working class in Egypt. It was when the working class moved into open struggle with an explosive strike wave that the generals gave Mubarak the shove. And it has been the ebbing and flowing of the strike waves over the past year that have won de facto trade union rights, built an independent union movement of hundreds of thousands practically overnight (no small thing - it makes them the first and largest mass democratic organizations in the country) and forced issues onto the agenda like a maximum and minimum wage, the right to strike and protest, etc. As the revolutionary process continues and matures, watch for the growing importance of the labour movement in Egypt and its spokespeople to become the high profile leaders of the revolution.

4) What happens in Egypt will determine the fate of the struggle elsewhere. We know that the revolution that began in Tunisia lit a fuse that spread to Egypt and then throughout the region. In Yemen there are now strikes in the military against the defense minister, a relative of the recently resigned president. In Syria all signs indicate that the state is beginning to disintegrate with shelling of rebel neighbourhoods in the capital city of Damascus taking place, as well as strikes and sit-ins around the country. But Greece is right next door to all this. And Italy and Spain are right across the water. If the revolution deepens and becomes clearly a class revolution against austerity and neoliberalism that starts to win important and visible victories this can't but inspire a spread of enthusiasm and tactics to Europe. Already, the Occupy movement and the indignados movement in Spain have to be seen as directly inspired by Egypt's Tahrir movement. If the working class takes centre stage in Egypt multiply the Tahrir effect by ten.

With all that in mind, I think it's an understatement to say that we live in exciting times. Happy Egyptian Revolution Day!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Republican Contest: Battle Of The Scumbags

Where do they dig up these cretins? I mean, is it really possible that in the 21st century these guys can be the front runners of one of America's two mainstream parties to be the next president? Seriously?
On the bright side, I can't see how the Republicans can possibly win the White House with these evil, fanatical weasels running up against Obama.

Don't get me wrong, Obama is no shirk when it comes to evil himself. He ramped up the illegal war inside the borders of Pakistan (not to mention in Afghanistan et al), he continued the clampdown on civil liberties in the United States. He not only did nothing to help out the millions of Americans who were losing their homes and their jobs, he hired the jokers who were responsible for the 2008 economic meltdown as his advisors. And he handed out money to the richest of the rich to reward them for screwing up the global economy. But Obama doesn't come across as a crass, personally odious and heartless asshole. The Republican presidential hopefuls?

Well, first there's Rick Santorum who would urge his daughter, were she raped and impregnated, to not get an abortion. Why? Well gals you really ought to accept the "gift" that "God is giving to you." What's more odious than this is that millions of freaky deaky US conservatives will vote for him precisely because he is such a vile shitburger (to use the proper term of this type of human being). Happily, so many people know what kind of dude he is that if you google his name you are just as likely to come up with results that compare him to fecal matter (thank you, Dan Savage!) as to his actual personage.

Then there's the front runners, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. These two jokers are trying to out do each other in the "you're more of a corrupt and selfish fuck" contest. It really is hard to pick which one is the winner. Could it be Romney whose job as the head of a Bain Capital was to throw American workers onto the unemployment line. As reward for that despicable role Romney made millions, for which he paid little - if any taxes. His reluctantly released returns of the past two years showed him paying less than 15% taxes on $45 million in income - and those are for years when he knew he was going to run for president. He has refused to release the details of earlier returns when, it is speculated he probably paid even less, not thinking about his presidential career.

Gingrich is, of course, a long time crook who was so corrupt that even the Republicans turfed the dirt bag as head of their party back in '95 because of his, possibly illegal, activities while lecturing poor Americans - and implementing cutbacks. As Romney himself said during debates last night:
"The speaker was given an opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994 and at the end of four years he had to resign in disgrace," said Romney. "In the 15 years after he left the speakership, the speaker has been working as an influence peddler in Washington."
As Romney pointed out, Gingrich was not only paid millions by pharmaceutical companies while serving as a US Representative in Congress who opposed healthcare reforms - a position that benefited the people paying him big bucks. He also was paid $1.6 million by Fannie Mae - the semi-public US mortgage lender that had to be bailed out because of its role in the sub-prime debacle. Gingrich tried to claim that he was hired as a "historian" but nobody can possibly buy that he was paid $1.6 million - $25,000 per month for six years - to give lessons on the origins of the American suburb. It's so not surprising that Gingrich is receiving big time backing from the wife of Sheldon Adelson who is a major casino owner. I mean, does it get any more parasitic than owning a casino?

Certainly all these creeps deserve to be put in jail rather than in the highest political office in America. But the fact that their personal failings dominates the debate as it does, is not only a sign of how corrupt the presidential candidates (all of them multi-millionaires) all are. It is also a sign of the corruption of American politics. There is so little real difference between the candidates from both parties that you'd be hard pressed to slide a cigarette paper between them. Even where their rhetoric differs by degrees the policies that they implement are well nigh identical and the differences in their impact on the lives of ordinary Americans fades to statistical insignificance.

If I were an American citizen I can tell you where my vote would go: Revolution, Egypt style. It's long overdue, don't you think?
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