Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Response to Steve Weissman's "Nonviolence 101"

http://www.truthout.org/062909A

 

A Response to Steve Weissman's "Nonviolence 101"

Sunday 28 June 2009

by: Stephen Zunes, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

 

photo
Iranian protesters. (Photo: alanoftulsa / Flickr)

    Steve Weissman's article "Iran: Nonviolence 101" was profoundly inaccurate and misleading, particularly in regard to the role of Peter Ackerman and the organization he co-founded, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), for which I chair the committee of academic advisers.

    All of Weissman's arguments against US government involvement in training and related support for nonviolent resistance movements in Iran, which he put forward in his article, would be quite valid - if they were true.

    They are not, however.

    First of all, while the US has armed and supported Kurdish and Baluchi guerrillas in Iran and has funneled money to some other rather dubious opposition groups (primarily consisting of exiles with virtually no popular support within the country), I have never seen any evidence whatsoever of any US government involvement in the training of Iranian dissidents in strategic nonviolent action.

    Secondly, while ICNC has facilitated some seminars and workshops which provide generic information on the history, theory and dynamics of strategic nonviolent action - including one in Dubai for Iranians four years ago - there was no training in Hushmail or any communications technology, as Weissman alleges, nor was any other specific training or applications part of that or any other workshop.

    More significantly, ICNC's charter prevents it from accepting any government funding. Furthermore, ICNC's charter specifically forbids providing any guidance, direction, money or material assistance to any individual or group.

    Similarly, Dr. Ackerman has never worked for the US government and does not provide that kind of practical support either. All his presentations on the topic - as with all the educational projects of ICNC, like the Dubai workshop - have simply entailed generic information on the history, theory and dynamics of strategic nonviolent action, and have not included any specific advice or any kind of logistical support.

    Furthermore, no one associated with ICNC to my knowledge has ever had any conversations about "regime change" in Iran with anybody, certainly not with anyone affiliated with the US government.

    Despite Weissman's claims that Ackerman and ICNC only work with those who oppose governments Washington doesn't like, ICNC has supported at least as many seminars and workshops for those challenging US-backed governments, including West Papuans, Western Saharans, Guineans, Azerbaijanis, indigenous Guatemalans as well as immigrants rights activists here in the United States, among many others. And, despite Weissman's insistence to the contrary, ICNC has also worked with those engaged in nonviolent resistance in Egypt, Colombia and the Israeli-occupied territories. Dr. Ackerman himself has been to Cairo and Ramallah to speak to Egyptian and Palestinian activists on nonviolent resistance. By contrast, he has never been to Iran or engaged in workshops with Iranians.

    Meanwhile, while the US government has directly and indirectly funded opposition groups in various countries, it has never provided "training for non-violent revolutions." The US government doesn't know the first thing about nonviolent revolutions. The US government knows a lot about invasions, coups, and other violent means of intervention, but I'm yet to find any major US official who knows anything about how to foment a successful nonviolent revolution.

    Weissman's depiction of Dr. Ackerman simply as a "Wall Street whiz kid" is rather misleading, given that he is best known for his scholarly work on strategic nonviolent action, the topic of his doctoral dissertation. His books "Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century" and "A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-Violent Conflict" are among the best in the field, the latter of which became a three-part PBS special, which is used in peace studies programs across the country. Similarly, while quite wealthy, Ackerman is certainly not a billionaire, as Weissman claims. Personally, I'm glad someone with money has been willing to put part of his wealth into promoting the understanding of strategic nonviolent action as an alternative to both passivity and war.

    Weissman quotes from Ackerman's 2006 op-ed from the International Herald Tribune are so highly selective as to be misleading. He did not provide a link to it in his article, but if you actually read the original op-ed, you'll find that it actually comes out against "external intervention." While it calls on governments to try to pressure the Iranian regime to stop oppressing its people, it says that only NGOs should be involved with actively supporting Iranian civil society groups. The op-ed also stresses that these NGOS should only provide support for what the Iranians are already doing, as opposed to providing them direction or strategic advice. This is no different than what women's groups, environmental groups, human rights organizations, trade unions, and other groups are doing in support for their counterparts in countries all around the world. Yet, Weissman makes it sound like it's some kind of conspiracy.

    In addition, rather than being part of the "hot-bed of neo-con support for American intervention" at Freedom House, Dr. Ackerman actually battled the neocons within that 68-year old organization in what was apparently an unsuccessful effort to separate it from the US government and partisan politics.

    It's also clear from his article that Weissman does not know much about the recent history of pro-democracy uprisings. Despite his claims to the contrary, there has never been an attempted "color revolution" in Venezuela. There was a short-lived military coup in 2002, which soon collapsed due to an outpouring of support for the democratically-elected government of Hugo Chavez; there was a temporary shut down of the oil industry a couple of years later, which folded for lack of popular support; and, there have been occasional small protests. There has never been anything like the popular nonviolent uprisings, which have resulted in the downfall of autocratic governments in the Philippines, Chile, Serbia, Mali, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Indonesia, Georgia, Nepal, Ukraine, the Maldives, and other countries over the past couple of decades.

    In any case, despite Weissman's insinuations to the contrary, neither Ackerman nor ICNC had any connections whatsoever with Georgians prior to their 2003 uprising against the corrupt and unpopular Shevardnadze regime. ICNC has provided some videos, books and simulation games to some Venezuelans and Ukrainians who requested them, as they have for Palestinians, Egyptians, Western Saharans, West Papuans, Guineans, Burmese, and people from scores of other countries, without asking any questions about their politics. The only time ICNC ever sent someone to Venezuela was when they supported a trip by me and radical pacifist David Hartsough to the World Social Forum in 2006; while there, we met with some Venezuelan government officials about how strategic nonviolent action could be used to resist a possible coup attempt against that country's democratically-elected government, not foment one.

    Not only does Weissman not know his facts, he did not even bother to interview Dr. Ackerman or anyone affiliated with ICNC in putting together his article to see if they were correct. If he had, he would have known the assertions he makes in his article are totally groundless.

    Similarly, if he had bothered to do his research, he would have noted that ICNC advisers and consultants consist of such radical scholars and activists as Sonoma State political science Professor and Truthout contributor Cynthia Boaz; the noted anarcho-pacifist Swedish scholar of resistance studies Stellan Vinthagen; the veteran peace activist and sociologist Les Kurtz; Canadian activist Philippe Duhomel, a principal organizer of the anti-FTAA demonstrations in Quebec City; South African leftist Janet Cherry, a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle in both the ANC and UDF; and, the prominent progressive New Zealand peace scholar Kevin Clements. These are hardly the kinds of people who would work with the government to advance US imperialism in Iran or anywhere else.

    It is also bizarre to imply that the United States has anything to do at all with the uprising in Iran, given that the opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and the vast majority of his supporters are strongly nationalist, anti-American, anti-imperialist and would neither desire nor accept US support. Indeed, the last thing the United States would want is a popular and legitimate Islamist government in Iran, which is why neoconservatives and other hawks were hoping for an Ahmadinejad victory. It also ignores the longstanding Iranian tradition of such largely nonviolent civil insurrections against imperialist powers and autocratic rulers and that, given this history, no outside power is needed to convince the Iranian people to rebel.

    With all the very real manifestations of US imperialism and interventionism out there, it is rather bizarre that Weissman would choose to write about a phony one.

»

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco. He is a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus and chair of the committee of academic advisers for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net

 

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

 

Iran and Leftist Confusion

Published on Monday, June 29, 2009 by CommonDreams.org

Iran and Leftist Confusion

by Reese Erlich

When I returned from covering the Iranian elections recently, I was surprised to find my email box filled with progressive authors, academics and bloggers bending themselves into knots about the current crisis in Iran. They cite the long history of U.S. interference in Iran and conclude that the current unrest there must be sponsored or manipulated by the Empire.

That comes as quite a shock to those risking their lives daily on the streets of major Iranian cities fighting for political, social and economic justice.

Some of these authors have even cited my book, The Iran Agenda, as a source to prove U.S. meddling. Whoa there, pardner. Now we're getting personal.

The large majority of American people, particularly leftists and progressives, are sympathetic to the demonstrators in Iran, oppose Iranian government repression and also oppose any U.S. military or political interference in that country. But a small and vocal number of progressives are questioning that view, including authors writing for Monthly Review online, Foreign Policy Journal, and prominent academics such as retired professor James Petras.

They mostly argue by analogy. They correctly cite numerous examples of CIA efforts to overthrow governments, sometimes by manipulating mass demonstrations. But past practice is no proof that it's happening in this particular case. Frankly, the multi-class character of the most recent demonstrations, which arose quickly and spontaneously, were beyond the control of the reformist leaders in Iran, let alone the CIA.

Let's assume for the moment that the U.S. was trying to secretly manipulate the demonstrations for its own purposes. Did it succeed? Or were the protests reflecting 30 years of cumulative anger at a reactionary system that oppresses workers, women, and ethnic minorities, indeed the vast majority of Iranians? Is President Mahmood Ahmadinejad a "nationalist-populist," as claimed by some, and therefore an ally against U.S. domination around the world? Or is he a repressive, authoritarian leader who actually hurts the struggle against U.S. hegemony?

Let's take a look. But first a quick note.

As far as I can tell none of these leftist critics have actually visited Iran, at least not to report on the recent uprisings. Of course, one can have an opinion about a country without first-hand experience there. But in the case of recent events in Iran, it helps to have met people. It helps a lot.

The left-wing Doubting Thomas arguments fall into three broad categories.  

1. Assertion: President Mahmood Ahmadinejad won the election, or at a minimum, the opposition hasn't proved otherwise.

Michael Veiluva, Counsel at the Western States Legal Foundation (representing his own views) wrote [1] on the Monthly Review website:

 "[U.S. peace groups] are quick to denounce the elections as ‘massively fraudulent' and generally subscribe to the ‘mad mullah' stereotype of the current political system in Iran.   There is a remarkable convergence between the tone of these statements and the American right who are hypocritically beating their chests over Iran's ‘stolen' election. 

Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, James Petras wrote [2]:

"[N]ot a single shred of evidence in either written or observational form has been presented either before or a week after the vote count. During the entire electoral campaign, no credible (or even dubious) charge of voter tampering was raised." 

Actually, Iranians themselves were very worried about election fraud prior to the vote count. When I covered the 2005 elections, Ahmadinejad barely edged out Mehdi Karoubi in the first round of elections. Karoubi raised substantive arguments that he was robbed of his place in the runoff due to vote fraud. But under Iran's clerical system, there's no meaningful appeal. So, as he put it, he took his case to God.

On the day of the 2009 election, election officials illegally barred many opposition observers from the polls. The opposition had planned to use text messaging to communicate local vote tallies to a central location. The government shut down SMS messaging! So the vote count was entirely dependent on a government tally by officials sympathetic to the incumbent.

I heard many anecdotal accounts of voting boxes arriving pre-stuffed and of more ballots being printed than are accounted for in the official registration numbers. It seems unlikely that the Iranian government will allow meaningful appeals or investigations into the various allegations about vote rigging.

A study [3] by two professors at Chatham House and the Institute of Iranian Studies at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, took a close look at the official election results and found some major discrepancies. For Ahmadinejad to have sustained his massive victory in one third of Iran's provinces, he would have had to carry all his supporters, all new voters, all voters previously voting centrist and about 44% of previous reformist voters.  [3]

Keep in mind that Ahmadinejad's victory takes place in the context of a highly rigged system. The Guardian Council determines which candidates may run based on their Islamic qualifications. As a result, no woman has ever been allowed to campaign for president and sitting members of parliament were disqualified because they had somehow become un-Islamic.

The constitution of Iran created an authoritarian theocracy in which various elements of the ruling elite could fight out their differences, sometimes through elections and parliamentary debate, sometimes through violent repression. Iran is a classic example of how a country can have competitive elections without being democratic.  

2. Assertion: The U.S. has a long history of meddling in Iran, so it must be behind the current unrest.

Jeremy R. Hammond writes [4] in the progressive website Foreign Policy Journal:

"[G]iven the record of U.S. interference in the state affairs of Iran and clear policy of regime change, it certainly seems possible, even likely, that the U.S. had a significant role to play in helping to bring about the recent turmoil in an effort to undermine the government of the Islamic Republic.
[4]

Eric Margolis, a columnist for Quebecor Media Company in Canada and a contributor to The Huffington Post, wrote [5]:

"While the majority of protests we see in Tehran are genuine and spontaneous, Western intelligence agencies and media are playing a key role in sustaining the uprising and providing communications, including the newest electronic method, via Twitter. These are covert techniques developed by the US during recent revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia that brought pro-US governments to power."

Both authors cite numerous cases of the U.S. using covert means to overthrow legitimate governments. The CIA engineered large demonstrations, along with assassinations and terrorist bombings, to cause confusion and overthrow the parliamentary government of Iran' Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. The U.S. used similar methods in an effort to overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002. (For more details, see my book, Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba [6].)  [6]

Hammond cites my book The Iran Agenda and my interview on Democracy Now to show that the Bush Administration was training and funding ethnic minorities in an effort to overthrow the Iranian government in 2007.

All the arguments are by analogy and implication. Neither the above two authors, nor anyone else of whom I am aware, offers one shred of evidence that the Obama Administration has engineered, or even significantly influenced, the current demonstrations.

Let's look at what actually happened on the ground. Tens of millions of Iranians went to bed on Friday, June 12, convinced that either Mousavi had won the election outright or that there would be runoff between him and Ahmadinejad. They woke up Saturday morning and were stunned. "It was a coup d'etat," several friends told me. The anger cut across class lines and went well beyond Mousavi's core base of students, intellectuals and the well-to-do.

Within two days hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating peacefully in the streets of Tehran and other major cities. Could the CIA have anticipated the vote count, and on two days notice, mobilized its nefarious networks? Does the CIA even have the kind of extensive networks that would be necessary to control or even influence such a movement? That simultaneously gives the CIA too much credit and underestimates the independence of the mass movement.

As for the charge that the CIA is providing advanced technology like Twitter, pleaaaaaase. In my commentary [7] carried on Reuters, I point out that the vast majority of Iranians have no access to Twitter and that the demonstrations were mostly organized by cell phone and word of mouth.

Many Iranians do watch foreign TV channels via satellite. A sat dish costs only about $100 with no monthly fees, so they are affordable even to the working class. Iranians watched BBC, VOA and other foreign channels in Farsi, leading to government assertions of foreign instigation of the demonstrations. By that logic, Ayatollah Khomeini received support from Britain in the 1979 revolution because of BBC radio's critical coverage of the despotic Shah.

Frankly, based on my observations, no one was leading the demonstrations. During the course of the week after the elections, the mass movement evolved from one protesting vote fraud into one calling for much broader freedoms. You could see it in the changing composition of the marches. There were not only upper middle class kids in tight jeans and designer sun glasses. There were growing numbers of workers and women in very conservative chadors.

Iranian youth particularly resented President Ahmadinejad's support for religious militia attacks on unmarried young men and women walking together and against women not covering enough hair with their hijab. Workers resented the 24 percent annual inflation that robbed them of real wage increases. Independent trade unionists were fighting for decent wages and for the right to organize.

Some demonstrators wanted a more moderate Islamic government. Others advocated a separation of mosque and state, and a return to parliamentary democracy they had before the 1953 coup. But virtually everyone believes that Iran has the right to develop nuclear power, including enriching uranium. Iranians support the Palestinians in their fight against Israeli occupation, and they want to see the U.S. get out of Iraq.

So if they CIA was manipulating the demonstrators, it was doing a piss poor job.

Of course, the CIA would like to have influence in Iran. But that's a far cry from saying it does have influence. By proclaiming the omnipotence of U.S. power, the leftist critics ironically join hands with Ahmadinejad and the reactionary clerics who blame all unrest on the British and U.S. 

3. Assertion: Ahmadinejad is a nationalist-populist who opposes U.S. imperialism. Efforts to overthrow him only help the U.S.

James Petras wrote [2]: "Ahmadinejad's strong position on defense matters contrasted with the pro-Western and weak defense posture of many of the campaign propagandists of the opposition...."

"Ahmadinejad's electoral success, seen in historical comparative perspective should not be a surprise. In similar electoral contests between nationalist-populists against pro-Western liberals, the populists have won. Past examples include Peron in Argentina and, most recently, Chavez of Venezuela, [and] Evo Morales in Bolivia."

Venezuela's Foreign Ministry wrote [8] on its website:

"The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela expresses its firm opposition to the vicious and unfounded campaign to discredit the institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, unleashed from outside, designed to roil the political climate of our brother country. From Venezuela, we denounce these acts of interference in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, while demanding an immediate halt to the maneuvers to threaten and destabilize the Islamic Revolution."

From 1953-1979, the Shah of Iran brutally repressed his own people and aligned himself with the U.S. and Israel. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran brutally repressed its own people and broke its alliance with the U.S. and Israel. That apparently causes confusion for some on the left.

I have written numerous articles and books criticizing U.S. policy on Iran, including Bush administration efforts to overthrow the Islamic government. The U.S. raises a series of phony issues, or exaggerates problems, in an effort to impose its domination on Iran. (Examples include Iran's nuclear power program, support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and support for Shiite groups in Iraq.)

During his past four years in office, Ahmadinejad has ramped up Iran's anti-imperialist rhetoric and posed himself as a leader of the Islamic world. That accounts for his fiery rhetoric against Israel and his denial of the Holocaust. (Officially, Ahmadinejad "questions" the Holocaust and says "more study is necessary." That reminds me of the creationists who say there needs to be more study because evolution is only a theory.) As pointed out by the opposition candidates, Ahmadinejad's rhetoric about Israel and Jews has only alienated people around the world and made it more difficult for the Palestinians.

But in the real world, Ahmadinejad has done nothing to support the Palestinians other than sending some funds to Hamas. Despite rhetoric from the U.S. and Israel, Iran has little impact on a struggle that must be resolved by Palestinians and Israelis themselves.

So comparing Ahmadinejad with Chavez or Evo Morales is absurd. I have reported from both Venezuela and Bolivia numerous times. Those countries have genuine mass movements that elected and kept those leaders in power. They have implemented significant reforms that benefitted workers and farmers. Ahmadinejad has introduced 24% annual inflation and high unemployment.

As for the position of Venezuela and President Hugo Chavez, they are simply wrong. On a diplomatic level, Venezuela and Iran share some things in common. Both are under attack from the U.S., including past efforts at "regime change." Venezuela and other governments around the world will have to deal with Ahmadinejad as the de facto president, so questioning the election could cause diplomatic problems.

But that's no excuse. Chavez has got it exactly backward. The popular movement in the streets will make Iran stronger as it rejects outside interference from the U.S. or anyone else.   

This is no academic debate or simply fodder for bored bloggers. Real lives are at stake. A repressive government has killed at least 17 Iranians and injured hundreds. The mass movement may not be strong enough to topple the system today but is sowing the seeds for future struggles.

The leftist critics must answer the question: Whose side are you on? 

 

Freelance foreign correspondent Reese Erlich covered the recent elections in Iran and their aftermath. He is the author of The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis [9]. (Polipoint Press)

 

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net

 

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

 

Unlikely Ally for Residents of West Bank

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/28/world/middleeast/28westbank.html?_r=2

 

The New York Times

 

June 28, 2009

Unlikely Ally for Residents of West Bank

By ETHAN BRONNER

SAFA, West Bank — Ezra Nawi was in his element. Behind the wheel of his well-worn jeep one recent Saturday morning, working two cellphones in Arabic as he bounded through the terraced hills and hardscrabble villages near Hebron, he was greeted warmly by Palestinians near and far.

Watching him call for an ambulance for a resident and check on the progress of a Palestinian school being built without an Israeli permit, you might have thought him a clan chief. Then noticing the two Israeli Army jeeps trailing him, you might have pegged him as an Israeli occupation official handling Palestinian matters.

 

But Mr. Nawi is neither. It is perhaps best to think of him as the Robin Hood of the South Hebron hills, an Israeli Jew helping poor locals who love him, and thwarting settlers and soldiers who view him with contempt. Those army jeeps were not watching over him. They were stalking him.

 

Since the Israeli left lost so much popular appeal after the violent Palestinian uprising of 2000 and the Hamas electoral victory three years ago, its activists tend to be a rarefied bunch — professors of Latin or Sanskrit, and translators of medieval poetry. Mr. Nawi, however, is a plumber. And unlike the intellectuals of European origin with whom he spends most Saturdays, he is from an Iraqi Jewish family.

“My mother gave birth to me in Jerusalem when she was 14,” said Mr. Nawi, who is 57 and one of five siblings. “So my grandmother raised me. And she spoke to me in Arabic.”

 

His family has trouble understanding his priorities. His mother says she thinks he is wasting his time. And many Israelis, when told of his work, wonder why he is not helping his own. Mr. Nawi has an answer.

“I don’t consider my work political,” he said between phone calls as he drove. “I don’t have a solution to this dispute. I just know that what is going on here is wrong. This is not about ideology. It is about decency.”

 

For his activist colleagues, Mr. Nawi’s instinctual connection to the Palestinians is valuable.

“Ezra knows Palestinians better than any of us,” said Amiel Vardi, a professor who works closely with him. “This is not only because of the language, but because he gains their confidence the minute he starts talking with them. He has all sorts of intuitions as to what should be done, what are the internal relations — things we hardly ever notice.”

 

The difficulties of Palestinian life in the West Bank have been well documented: Israeli military checkpoints, a rising separation barrier and Israeli settlers. But in this area, the problems are more acute. The Palestinians, many of them Bedouin, are exceptionally poor, and the land they bought decades ago is under threat by a group of unusually aggressive local settlers. The settlers have been filmed beating up Palestinians. Settlers have been killed by Palestinians. But Mr. Nawi said that the law inevitably sided with the Israelis, and that occupation meant there could be no equity.

 

“The settlers keep the Palestinian farmers from their land by harassing them, and then after several years they say the land has not been farmed so by law it is no longer theirs,” Mr. Nawi said. “We are only here to stop that from happening.”

 

That is not the view of the settlers.

 

“He is a troublemaker,” asserted Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, a spokesman for Israeli settler communities in the area. “It’s true that from time to time there is a problem of some settlers coming out of their settlements to cause problems. But people like Nawi don’t want a solution. Their whole aim is to cause trouble.”

 

True or not, Mr. Nawi is now in trouble. Having spent several short stints in jail for his activism over the years, he now faces the prospect of a long one. He is due to be sentenced Wednesday for assaulting an Israeli policeman two years ago during a confrontation over an attempt to demolish Palestinians’ shacks on disputed land on the West Bank. The policeman said Mr. Nawi struck him during that encounter. Mr. Nawi denied it, but in March a judge convicted him.

 

What is left of the Israeli left is rallying around him, arguing that Mr. Nawi is a known pacifist who would not have raised his hand against anyone.

 

“Since I’ve known the man for decades and seen him in action in many extreme situations, I’m certain that the charge is untrue,” David Shulman, a Hebrew University professor and peace activist, wrote in the newspaper Haaretz. Of Mr. Nawi, he added, “He is a man committed, in every fiber of his being, to nonviolent protest against the inequities of the occupation.”

 

Mr. Nawi attributes his activism to two things: as a teenager, his family lived next door to the leader of Israel’s Communist Party, Reuven Kaminer, who influenced him. And he is gay.

 

“Being gay has made me understand what it is like to be a despised minority,” Mr. Nawi said.

Several years ago, he had a relationship with a Palestinian from the West Bank and ended up being convicted on charges of allowing his companion to live illegally in Israel. His companion was jailed for months.

 

Mr. Nawi said harassment against him had come in many forms. Settlers shout vicious antigay epithets. His plumbing business has been audited, and he was handed a huge tax bill that he said he did not deserve. He is certain that his phone calls are monitored. And those army jeeps are never far behind.

He is not optimistic about his coming sentencing, although he is planning an appeal. And he says the Israeli news media have lost interest in the work he and his fellow activists do. But he does not stop.

“I’m here to change reality,” he said. “The only Israelis these people know are settlers and soldiers. Through me they know a different Israeli. And I’ll keep coming until I know that the farmers here can work their fields.”

 

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Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

 

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net

 

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

 

Iraqi Whose Lies Made the Case for War Looks on from Afar

Published on Monday, June 29, 2009 by The Guardian/UK

Iraqi Whose Lies Made the Case for War Looks on from Afar

by Martin Chulove

When the Iraqi who could be considered more responsible than any other for the US invasion six years ago quietly returned last March to the land his lies helped shape, Iraq was entering one of its most stable and promising phases in six years of turmoil

Rafid Ahmed Alwan - otherwise known as Curveball - slipped back into Baghdad after 10 years of exile in Germany.

Before the invasion, Curveball had become the CIA's most valuable source on Iraq's fictitious chemical and biological weapons programme, a man who underscored the White House's push for war through a litany of lies that later claimed the careers of the former secretary of state Colin Powell, and CIA chief George Tenet.

Both were forced to admit they had gone to war partly on the word of a collaborator whom no American agency had even debriefed until one year after Baghdad fell.

Curveball was a trained chemical engineer, who had been taken straight from university to work in a division of Saddam Hussein's intelligence services, known as division four, which dealt with the former dictator's pet projects. That much was true. But he also harboured illusions of grandeur; a life in a new land with riches, unveiled women and a new Mercedes.

The Baghdad he returned to in March must have seemed almost unrecognisable. Curveball stayed with a nephew in Baghdad's north-east who he told he was planning to return for good from Germany, which has continued to offer him sanctuary.

The plump 42-year-old saw none of his old friends or colleagues during his visit; nor did he bother the alumni of Baghdad University of Technology - a campus still reeling from the conduct of its former student.

"Are you here to talk about uncle coming back again?" his nephew asked expectantly last week, believing the Guardian was facilitating Curveball's travel. "He hasn't been gone long and we are expecting him soon."

Had he gone near his old workplace, the Saad State Company for Housing and Construction, Curveball would have found his former colleague Dr Abdul Salam Jeber at his desk. He agreed to talk for the first time about his three months in CIA custody, which he now knows were caused by Curveball, a man he barely knew, but never trusted.

Two months after Baghdad fell, Jeber was approached by his boss who told him a group of Americans wanted to meet him. At the time, the American military was scanning Iraq intensively, looking for proof of a chemical and biological weapons programme. They were building their case on the word of Iraqi collaborators who had filled in the dots when United Nations weapons inspectors could not.

There were about six high value informants, used by the US and Britain, none more so than Curveball.

As the ultimately fruitless search intensified, Curveball remained under the protection of his German handlers, who drip-fed reports to the CIA throughout the lead-up to the invasion and the increasingly desperate months that followed.

Their man was sticking to his story. He had provided highly detailed and technically specific information about several facilities around Iraq that apparently masqueraded as agricultural plants. Jeber worked at one of them, the al-Hakem plant, south-west of Baghdad.

"They were expecting to find information about fermentation projects for bacterial weapons. I was the chief of the fermentation section of the company at the time," he said. "I know exactly what all the facilities were used for and there was no dual purpose for any of them.

"The Americans interrogating me didn't understand that if a project like that was to be started, a minimum of 200 people would know about it; there would be technical reports, chemical process designs, mechanical design, installation, then operation. Any one of the 800 employees in Saad Company may well have known about it."

Jeber was moved around Iraq from American-run prisons at Baghdad airport, to Camp Bucca near the Kuwaiti border, desert tents nearby, Abu Ghraib, and a small room in one of Saddam Hussein's over-run palaces. He estimates he was interrogated at least 50 times - always the same questions.

He was blindfolded and sleep-deprived for days then enticed with fruits and family visits. It was a classic counter-espionage routine designed to break defences that didn't exist.

"They said I had signed an agreement not to disclose information to foreigners, which is totally true. We all had to do that," he said.

"I now know that the 15 July date they kept talking about was a date in which Rafid had told them about an important moment in the so-called dual purpose facility. They also asked me about the three tucks that he talked about."

Jeber was given $1,000 and released in September 2003. Within eight months Tenet and Powell had resigned. He is, however, satisfied at a serendipitous achievement that he lays at Curveball's feet. "It was very important to get rid of Saddam," he said. "I never expected he would be removed from Iraq.

Should Curveball return, he faces a highly uncertain future in Iraq. Ba'athist militias still see him as an enemy. His friends seem to have largely disowned him and his family has scattered to the four winds. The wife he abandoned when he fled to Germany will have nothing to do with him. Tracked down at her home in Baghdad, she sighed and, holding her three-year-old son said: "My life with him was lie after lie after lie."

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

 

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net

 

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

 

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free

Published on Monday, June 29, 2009 by TruthDig.com

The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free

by Chris Hedges

The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The pernicious idea that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the freedom to accumulate vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others has collapsed. The conflation of freedom with the free market has been exposed as a sham. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out and people get a taste of Bill Clinton's draconian welfare reform. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.

Our economic crisis-despite the corporate media circus around the death of Michael Jackson or Gov. Mark Sanford's marital infidelity or the outfits of Sacha Baron Cohen's latest incarnation, BrĂ¼no-barrels forward. And this crisis will lead to a period of profound political turmoil and change. Those who care about the plight of the working class and the poor must begin to mobilize quickly or we will lose our last opportunity to save our embattled democracy. The most important struggle will be to wrest the organs of communication from corporations that use mass media to demonize movements of social change and empower proto-fascist movements such as the Christian right.

American culture-or cultures, for we once had distinct regional cultures-was systematically destroyed in the 20th century by corporations. These corporations used mass communication, as well as an understanding of the human subconscious, to turn consumption into an inner compulsion. Old values of thrift, regional identity that had its own iconography, aesthetic expression and history, diverse immigrant traditions, self-sufficiency, a press that was decentralized to provide citizens with a voice in their communities were all destroyed to create mass, corporate culture. New desires and habits were implanted by corporate advertisers to replace the old. Individual frustrations and discontents could be solved, corporate culture assured us, through the wonders of consumerism and cultural homogenization. American culture, or cultures, was replaced with junk culture and junk politics. And now, standing on the ash heap, we survey the ruins. The very slogans of advertising and mass culture have become the idiom of common expression, robbing us of the language to make sense of the destruction. We confuse the manufactured commodity culture with American culture.

How do we recover what was lost? How do we reclaim the culture that was destroyed by corporations? How do we fight back now that the consumer culture has fallen into a state of decay? What can we do to reverse the cannibalization of government and the national economy by the corporations?

All periods of profound change occur in a crisis. It was a crisis that brought us the New Deal, now largely dismantled by the corporate state. It was also a crisis that gave the world Adolf Hitler and Slobodan Milosevic [1]. We can go in either direction. Events move at the speed of light when societies and cultural assumptions break down. There are powerful forces, which have no commitment to the open society, ready to seize the moment to snuff out the last vestiges of democratic egalitarianism. Our bankrupt liberalism, which naively believes that Barack Obama is the antidote to our permanent war economy and Wall Street fraud, will either rise from its coma or be rolled over by an organized corporate elite and their right-wing lap dogs. The corporate domination of the airwaves, of most print publications and an increasing number of Internet sites means we will have to search, and search quickly, for alternative forms of communication to thwart the rise of totalitarian capitalism.

Stuart Ewen [2], whose books [3] "Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture" and "PR: A Social History of Spin" chronicle how corporate propaganda deformed American culture and pushed populism to the margins of American society, argues that we have a fleeting chance to save the country. I fervently hope he is right. He attacks the ideology of "objectivity and balance" that has corrupted news, saying that it falsely evokes the scales of justice. He describes the curriculum at most journalism schools as "poison."

" ‘Balance and objectivity' creates an idea where both sides are balanced," he said when I spoke to him by phone. "In certain ways it mirrors the two-party system, the notion that if you are going to have a Democrat speak you need to have a Republican speak. It offers the phantom of objectivity. It creates the notion that the universe of discourse is limited to two positions. Issues become black or white. They are not seen as complex with a multitude of factors."

Ewen argues that the forces for social change-look at any lengthy and turgid human rights report-have forgotten that rhetoric is as important as fact. Corporate and government propaganda, aimed to sway emotions, rarely uses facts to sell its positions. And because progressives have lost the gift of rhetoric, which was once a staple of a university education, because they naively believe in the Enlightenment ideal that facts alone can move people toward justice, they are largely helpless.

"Effective communication requires not simply an understanding of the facts, but how those facts will take place in the public mind," Ewen said. "When Gustave Le Bon [4] says it is not the facts in and of themselves which make a point but the way in which the facts take place, the way in which they come to attention, he is right."

The emergence of corporate and government public relations, which drew on the studies of mass psychology by Sigmund Freud and others after World War I, found its bible in Walter Lippmann's book "Public Opinion," [5] a manual for the power elite's shaping of popular sentiments. Lippmann argued that the key to leadership in the modern age would depend on the ability to manipulate "symbols which assemble emotions after they have been detached from their ideas." The public mind could be mastered, he wrote, through an "intensification of feeling and a degradation of significance." 

These corporate forces, schooled by Woodrow Wilson's vast Committee for Public Information [6], which sold World War I to the public, learned how to skillfully mobilize and manipulate the emotional responses of the public. The control of the airwaves and domination through corporate advertising of most publications restricted news to reporting facts, to "objectivity and balance," while the real power to persuade and dominate a public remained under corporate and governmental control.

Ewen argues that pamphleteering, which played a major role in the 17th and 18th centuries in shaping the public mind, recognized that "the human mind is not left brain or right brain, that it is not divided by reason which is good and emotion which is bad."

He argues that the forces of social reform, those organs that support a search for truth and self-criticism, have mistakenly shunned emotion and rhetoric because they have been used so powerfully within modern society to disseminate lies and manipulate public opinion. But this refusal to appeal to emotion means "we gave up the ghost and accepted the idea that human beings are these divided selves, binary systems between emotion and reason, and that emotion gets you into trouble and reason is what leads you forward. This is not true."

The public is bombarded with carefully crafted images meant to confuse propaganda with ideology and knowledge with how we feel. Human rights and labor groups, investigative journalists, consumer watchdog organizations and advocacy agencies have, in the face of this manipulation, inundated the public sphere with reports and facts. But facts alone, Ewen says, make little difference. And as we search for alternative ways to communicate in a time of crisis we must also communicate in new forms. We must appeal to emotion as well as to reason. The power of this appeal to emotion is evidenced in the photographs of Jacob Riis [7], a New York journalist, who with a team of assistants at the end of the 19th century initiated urban-reform photography. His stark portraits of the filth and squalor of urban slums awakened the conscience of a nation. The photographer Lewis Hine [8], at the turn of the 20th century, and Walker Evans [9] during the Great Depression did the same thing for the working class, along with writers such as Upton Sinclair and James Agee. It is a recovery of this style, one that turns the abstraction of fact into a human flesh and one that is not afraid of emotion and passion, which will permit us to counter the force of corporate propaganda. 

We may know that fossil fuels are destroying our ecosystem. We may be able to cite the statistics. But the oil and natural gas industry continues its flagrant rape of the planet. It is able to do this because of the money it uses to control legislation and a massive advertising campaign that paints the oil and natural gas industry as part of the solution. A group called EnergyTomorrow.org, for example, has been running a series of television ads [10]. One ad features an attractive, middle-aged woman in a black pantsuit-an actor named Brooke Alexander who once worked as the host of "WorldBeat" on CNN and for Fox News. Alexander walks around a blue screen studio that becomes digital renditions of American life. She argues, before each image, that oil and natural gas are critical to providing not only energy needs but health care and jobs. 

"It is almost like they are taking the most optimistic visions of what the stimulus package could do and saying this is what the development of oil and natural gas will bring about," Ewen said. "If you go to the Web site there is a lot of sophisticated stuff you can play around with. As each ad closes you see in the lower right-hand corner in very small letters API, the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying group for ExxonMobil and all the other big oil companies. For the average viewer there is nothing in the ad to indicate this is being produced by the oil industry."

The modern world, as Kafka predicted, has become a world where the irrational has become rational, where lies become true. And facts alone will be powerless to thwart the mendacity spun out through billions of dollars in corporate advertising, lobbying and control of traditional sources of information. We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty that have been blunted by the parameters of traditional journalism. The lines between artists, social activists and journalists have to be erased. These lines diminish the power of reform, justice and an understanding of the truth. And it is for this purpose that these lines are there.

"As a writer part of what you are aiming for is to present things in ways that will resonate with people, which will give voice to feelings and concerns, feelings that may not be fully verbalized," Ewen said. "You can't do that simply by providing them with data. One of the major problems of the present is that those structures designed to promote a progressive agenda are antediluvian."

Corporate ideology, embodied in neoconservatism, has seeped into the attitudes of most self-described liberals. It champions unfettered capitalism and globalization as eternal. This is the classic tactic that power elites use to maintain themselves. The loss of historical memory, which "balanced and objective" journalism promotes, has only contributed to this fantasy. But the fantasy, despite the desperate raiding of taxpayer funds to keep the corporate system alive, is now coming undone. The lie is being exposed. And the corporate state is running scared.

"It is very important for people like us to think about ways to present the issues, whether we are talking about the banking crisis, health care or housing and homelessness," Ewen said. "We have to think about presenting these issues in ways that are two steps ahead of the media rather than two steps behind. That is not something we should view as an impossible task. It is a very possible task. There is evidence of how possible that task is, especially if you look at the development of the underground press in the 1960s. The underground press, which started cropping up all over the country, was not a marginal phenomenon. It leeched into the society. It developed an approach to news and communication that was 10 steps ahead of the mainstream media. The proof is that even as it declined, so many structures that were innovated by the underground press, things like The Whole Earth Catalogue, began to affect and inform the stylistic presentation of mainstream media."

"I am not a prophet," Ewen said. "All I can do is look at historical precedence and figure out the extent we can learn from it. This is not about looking backwards. If you can't see the past you can't see the future. If you can't see the relationship between the present and the past you can't understand where the present might go. Who controls the past controls the present, who controls the present controls the future, as George Orwell said. This is a succinct explanation of the ways in which power functions."

"Read ‘The Gettysburg Address,' " Ewen said. "Read Frederick Douglass' autobiography or his newspaper. Read ‘The Communist Manifesto.' Read Darwin's ‘Descent of Man.' All of these things are filled with an understanding that communicating ideas and producing forms of public communication that empower people, rather than disempowering people, relies on an integrated understanding of who the public is and what it might be. We have a lot to learn from the history of rhetoric. We need to think about where we are going. We need to think about what 21st century pamphleteering might be. We need to think about the ways in which the rediscovery of rhetoric-not lying, but rhetoric in its more conventional sense-can affect what we do. We need to look at those historical antecedents where interventions happened that stepped ahead of the news. And to some extent this is happening. We have the freest and most open public sphere since the village square."

The battle ahead will be fought outside the journalistic mainstream, he said. The old forms of journalism are dying or have sold their soul to corporate manipulation and celebrity culture. We must now wed fact to rhetoric. We must appeal to reason and emotion. We must not be afraid to openly take sides, to speak, photograph or write on behalf of the disempowered. And, Ewen believes, we have a chance in the coming crisis to succeed. 

"Pessimism is never useful," he said. "Realism is useful, understanding the forces that are at play. To quote Antonio Gramsci [11], ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.' "

© 2009 TruthDig.com

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com [12]. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning [13], What Every Person Should Know About War [14], and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. [15]  His most recent book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle [16], will be out in July, but is available for pre-order.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net

 

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs