Sunday, January 30, 2011

Towards A Hermeneutics Of Post-Structural Falafel Contingencies.

"For all the leftish positioning of 'transgressive' academics they have been naive to the point of stupidity about the right. They assumed that Conservatives did not mean what they said and would not take money from institutions which have gone out of their way to alienate the intellectually curious. People write well when they have something say. The willingness of too many academics to write badly has told their fellow citizens that they are not worth listening to or fighting for."

- Writes Nick, with his accustomed clarity.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Faisons La Révolution.

Crank it up.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What A Travesty. This Guy Is One Of Ours.

"Cindor I'm telling you as I told you two years ago we will kill you here in liberia so we are not going through the trouble of killing you in Canada Because we know that Canada will have you deported to Liberia."

Canada is on the verge of deporting Cindor Reeves, a man largely responsible for bringing to justice one of the most blood-soaked tyrants in recent history, back to his native Liberia.

Charles Taylor is now on trial in The Hague in large part because Reeves — of his own volition, without receiving anything, and at enormous risk to himself — helped the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone build its case.

Tell Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to intervene. Now.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Miles To Go Before We Sleep.

In Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. Never forgive, never forget.

Two Lovers In Kunduz.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fawzia Koofi: "The face of what Afghanistan could be."

The Globe and Mail today has a refreshingly different kind of Afghanistan story - an interview with Fawzia Koofi. For some reason she shows up in the Globe story as "Fawzi" but nevermind. The odd thing is that this morning I was going over my notes from an interview with Fawzia at her place in Kabul - she was happy and proud to show me the rabbbits her daughters are raising for food and for sale at the local market - and I came upon the Globe story.

If it's "the face of what Afghanistan could be" you want, the photograph in the Globe doesn't let you see the young Badakhshan MP's face that well, so here is a photograph I took of Fawzia. I'm no great photographer, and this is not a photograph of what Afghanistan could be. But it is a photograph of Fawzia Koofi, the face of what Afghanistan already is - a country whose people are worth fighting for.

In our conversation, the subject of the weird "troops out" view so fashionable in countries like Canada came up, as the subject almost always does when you talk to Afghan progressives and democrats.

"I don't think there is an 'Afghan war'," she said. "There is a global war. "We have lots of unfinished problems with Pakistan. Even Iran is appeasing the Taliban - they don't support the Taliban but they support Hamas. Also there are political games going on in your countries, and these games influence what happens in Afghanistan as well.

"There is a lack of proper communication in your country about Afghanistan. They don't see all the good progresses. For me, the hope is for the younger generation. Young men are voting for women. The society is under a big transformation, and there are people who don't want to see this.

"In Canada, the people don't see this. The problem is that they listen to Malalai Joya."

Marg Bar Diktator.

Josh Shahryar, in this essay, reflects on the vicious acid attack on the brave Afghan journalist Razaq Mamoon, who "to us was perhaps what Edward R. Murrow was back in the 1960s to U.S. journalists." The attack occurred the same day that bullying from the Iranian embassy in Ottawa shut down the screening of the film Iranium at the National Library and Archives, followed by several "complaints" and anonymous threats (including the delivery of letters containing a suspicious white powder) that shut down the Library itself.

From his hospital bed in Kabul, Mamoon says his publisher had been threatened by the Iranian embassy and there is no doubt whatsoever that his attackers were agents of the Khomeinist police state in Tehran: "They tried to ban the book. I had the feeling that they would do something. I don't think this will be the first and last." Writes Shahryar: "What scares me, however, is how far can Iran's arms reach? Should other journalists living abroad who've criticized the Islamic Republic fear for their lives?" My question: Which side are you on?

The backstory, and how things turned out in Ottawa:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Judgment Day Comes (And Related News).

KABUL -The new Afghan parliament decided Thursday to convene as planned at the start of next week, in a defiant response to President Hamid Karzai ordering the opening session postponed by a month.

Our own Grant Kippen, joined by Scott Worden, explains the significance of what is happening, in Foreign Policy. Grant was the head of the Elections Complaints Commission that nullified Karzai's initial election win in 2009. In a noticeably understated way, Kippen and Worden point out the stakes involved: "The most fundamental and immediate issue at hand is whether the Afghan government will get away with solving its political problems at the expense of a fragile electoral system that, while flawed, has performed its essential duties according to the law."

Abdullah Abdullah, leader of Afghanistan's democratic opposition, warns that what Karzai is doing is illegal and unconstitutional and threatens to plunge the country into crisis: "There is no doubt that Karzai wants to rule without parliament, accountability and without an institution that could raise the people's voice."

It's nice to see the editors of the New York Times get around to noticing just how serious this is: "Mr. Karzai’s seemingly unlimited tolerance for corrupt relatives and cronies and his inability to deliver basic services are already two of the insurgents’ biggest recruiting points. Another blatant power grab will make things even worse." Like that's news or something. Still.

Meanwhile, in the Canadian news media's coverage of Afghanistan, remember this story about how the Taliban had finally decided to allow girls to go school? Rachel Reid, a journalist who actually knows what she's talking about, not only rubbishes the claim but points out the bigger story the news media missed, which is about why such obvious and transparently bogus revisionism makes its way through the news media in the first place.

Speaking of the rubbish you read in the media, do you remember the story (I know, there were so many of these it's hard to tell one from the other) about how Canadian soldiers killed some kid and engaged in some coverup and tortured somebody and lied about it or whatever that was, blazing across the front pages of newspapers last spring? The story that originated (as all those stories did) from an eminently dubious axe-grinding character given a platform by the torture-fetish display chamber known as the House Special Committee on Afghanistan?

Oh, look: Turns out that there is no evidence to support the scrounger's allegations.

My my, what a surprise. Malgarai's lawyer, Amir Attaran (is Attaran also representing Malgarai in his compensation lawsuit against the Defence Department, I wonder?) dismisses the findings because the inquiry wasn't carried out by an independent agency not connected to the military. Like perhaps the Ottawa Glebe Community Centre Shiatsu Massage and Anti-Imperialist Aromatherapy Men's Group or something.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Bloc Quebecois Should Fuck Off.

And no, I will not watch my language. Not this time. These people are goombahs.

The Parti Quebecois is no better. Just the other day security guards at the Quebec legislature denied entry to four Sikhs with kirpans on their sashes. Quebec is going all French about regulating niqabs and so on and fair play to them but the Parti Québécois wants to go whole hog and "regulate" kirpans. If that wasn't stupid enough the Blocquistes now want kirpans banned from the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Apparently, these people think kirpans are "knives," so it's a security issue. Sweet Mother of God. You couldn't even cut into a banana with a kirpan.

The blockheads and the pequistes are being just as stupid about this as those Royal Canadian Legion people a few years ago who wanted Sikh veterans to remove their turbans before being allowed into legion halls. Some geezers thought turbans were hats, if you don't mind. If I'm giving the Bloc MPs way too much benefit of the doubt here by regarding them as merely dimwits and eejits, get a load of this: "The Conservative government and the NDP refused to take a public position in the dispute." Mewling, spineless wankers.

Good for Iggy. He says the kirpan should be allowed in every legislature in Canada. And just you wait - I'll bet you a loonie to a nickel that the guns-for-everybody crowd will be on Iggy's case any time now, caterwauling about security threats and political correctness and the mollycoddling of immigrants and such gibberish. As though the presence of kirpan-wearing turbaned Sikhs was something new for Canada, like they haven't been here from pretty well the beginning already.

If you wanted to assault some politician in any one of Canada's legislative precincts you certainly would not use a kirpan. You'd pick up a desk and drop it on the auld slag. That's what I'd do anyway.

Just saying is all.

UPDATE: The NDP points out that its caucus members fall within the taxonomical classification of the phylum chordata, after all.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Iranian Embassy's Demands Are Refused And A "Suspicious" Package Shuts Down The National Library in Ottawa. . .

[UPDATE II, directly related: Razaq Mamoon, a fearless Afghan journalist who has been particularly outspoken in recent days about the Khomeinists' dirty campaign of subversion in Afghanistan, was attacked on a Kabul street yesterday. He had acid sprayed in his face. From his hospital bed, he says: ''Absolutely the Iranians are behind this attack because nobody dares to speak out in front of Iran."]

When federal Cabinet Minister James Moore intervened today to protest the cancelled screening of the film Iranium at the National Library and Archives in Ottawa, he said: "I am disappointed that Library & Archives Canada chose not to show the film tonight due to threats of violence. . . The Iranian Embassy will not dictate to the Government of Canada which films will or will not be shown in Canada."

But the screening ended up cancelled anyway after a "suspicious package" shut down the Library. Ottawa police and a haz-mat team showed up late this afternoon and the staff was sent home. In another version of events, most employees were already gone when suspicious letters were dropped off at the building, on Wellington Street, by a man who hurried away.

Altogether it's been a busy couple of days for my pal Fred Litwin, who runs Ottawa's Free-Thinking Film Society, the host of the event. Fred's been keeping me posted - I'm a director of the society (and no, I'm neither "libertarian" nor "conservative"). Only two months ago I joined some Iranian comrades at the National Library to give a talk at a Film Society screening of another film about Iranian despotism, The Stoning of Soraya M.

The Iranian embassy confirms it was involved in the initial "complaints" about the Iranium event. The Library confirms the embassy lodged a formal request to cancel the screening. A "suspicious" package or a letter that turned out to be a false alarm - that's something I can understand as a justification for cancelling the showing. But the National Library first cancelled tonight's screening yesterday after merely having received "complaints." Today it agreed not to back down to the protests, only after Moore's office intervened. But then the Library apparently backed down again after "letters" and "threats" and "protests," or something.

“I’m outraged that in the capital of Canada the Iranians have been able to shut down a movie,” Fred said today. “Bad enough in Tehran, but in Ottawa?”

Apparently so. Something very nasty is going on here, and I am more than a little curious to discover what's at the bottom of it, who was involved in these "protests," and what the hell the National Library was thinking by cancelling the screening in the first place. The National Library is not the Bijou. It's a venerable, national, public institution. Iranium is an important film, it's a new film, and Clare Lopez, a Middle East strategic policy and intelligence expert was flown in from Washington D.C. for tonight's screening. The National Library owes more than an apology and a lot more than full compensation for the Film Society's costs. It owes every Canadian a complete explanation and full accounting of what the hell just happened.

UPDATE: An authoritive account from the Ottawa Citizen here.


One Lives In Hope That One Day, Canada Will Have A Proper Socialist Party.

Anything would be better than Jack Layton's Afghan Fantasy: "That Jack Layton’s trippy prescriptions for the ills that ail Afghanistan are less a persistence of noble left-wing internationalist traditions and more along the lines of black-leotard interpretive dance from a post-modern alternative universe will not be a surprise to anyone who has followed the NDP leader’s pronouncements on the matter. . . In all my visits to Afghanistan, the one firm conviction I have reached is that Afghanistan’s democrats need less 'help,' not more, from the country’s neighbours, and more help, not less, in the form of hard-headed solidarity and objective support from proper democracies like Canada. It may cause people like Mr. Layton to reach for their patchouli oil and smelling salts, but that solidarity must include young men and women, in uniform, with guns."

At some point, I just gotta say: I give up. First the NDP howled and hollered when Canadian soldiers were sent to Kandahar because the Yanks were still running things down there with their silly "Operation Enduring Freedom" - It should be NATO! After NATO took over and Canada was leading ISAF in Afghanistan and the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (a rebuke to the Americans, in fact) it was all "This is a George Bush style seek and kill mission! Bring the troops home!" Then we were told that Canadian soldiers shouldn't be doing "development" and "aid" work. Now that Canadian soldiers are getting out of the bang-bang down in Kandahar, we have Jack Layton complaining about the "military" aspects of the troop-training role we've taken on at the UN's request and at NATO's request.

I mean, imagine that. There is still a "military" aspect to what our soldiers are doing in Afghanistan. A "military" aspect, if you don't mind. Soldiers. Doing things that are, like, "military."

I said I wasn't going to blog for a while, so I will tell myself this post doesn't count because it's just something I'd already written for the National Post and the good people at the Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. But I will not be blogging for a while. I will, however, happily trigger the auto-delete function to keep lumpen stoppists out of the comments box here. I'm fed up with them. If you think I'm channeling my inner Felix Dzerzhinsky about this, tough.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Tunisian Model: Crush The Islamists And Liberation Awaits.

I was taking a hiaitus from posting but the news from Tunisia is is too heartening to ignore. It's yet another reason why I'm liking 2011 so much aready. Vive la révolution:

"Given the historical ineffectiveness of Arab publics to effect real change in their governments and the Tunisian regime's reputation as perhaps the most repressive police state in the region, the events of the past week are nothing short of remarkable. And while reports and analyses have focused on the extraordinary nature of the protests, it is equally important to consider what has been missing -- namely, Islamists.

"Unlike in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, and most other secular Arab autocracies, the main challenge to the Tunisian regime has not come from Islamist opposition but from secular intellectuals, lawyers, and trade unionists. The absence of a strong Islamist presence is the result of an aggressive attempt by successive Tunisian regimes, dating back over a half-century, to eliminate Islamists from public life. . ."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Inference [Sic] Here Is That Tory MP Maurice Vellacott Is Preposterously Wrong.

Having been raised in the Roman Catholic tradition I lay claim to what I like to think is just the tiniest bit of an edge by way of insight into the langer-thick idiocy and hypocrisy at work in the religious crawthumping that tends to erupt in the matter of "gay marriage," which is a meaningless term to begin with because either it's marriage or it isn't, but nevermind that.

Only too well do I remember having been hectored in my libidinous Catholic youth about the shabby and sham institution of "civil marriage." Oh you wouldn't want to do anything like that, lad. Why Father? Well, you see, my child, to enjoin with a woman in a mere civil marriage is to place yourself and the girl in a state of sin, and think about the implications for the 17 babies you'll be wanting herself to provide you besides. A marriage commissioner officiates over a worthless and invalid institution that does not amount to a true bill of "marriage" at all. It's the genuine article you'll be wanting, my child, the proper Holy and Apostolic sacrament of marriage, so leave off this business of paying a fee to the Crown for a scrap of paper that has neither soul-perserving nor ecclesiastical value.

And thus it had come to pass down through the holy centuries that for a man and a woman to co-habit without first procuring the sacrament of marriage was to be consigned to an ash-pit of depravity, and to resort to the mere confines of a civil marriage was to engage in a delusion and a calamity so bereft of grace that the institution could be said to be fit only for homos.

But do you know what happened then? In the final years of the 20th century, those among us not given to the heterosexual persuasion but nonetheless given to some pluck and ginger began to triumph in their brave and righteous agitations not for holy matrimony but for the right to the benefit and security of civil marriage. And do you know what happened next? No quicker than you could say segregated and unconsecrated graveyards for unbaptised babies, clergymen of all stripes, not least the Roman, commenced to thunder and caterwaul about the sanctity of civil marriage, if you don't mind. Let not this institution fall, we were instructed, to the advance troops of the sinister homosexualist agenda.

One minute, that hollow, worthless and fraudulent institution was a thing we were admonished to avoid at all costs to our immortal souls. The next minute it was worth its weight in the Holy Father's toenail clippings. Suddenly it was the bedrock of our civilization. Priests were howling from the pulpits with exhortations that we protect the (utterly foreign and un-Catholic, but nevermind) institution and stand a vigilant guard against the hordes of sodomites shimmying up the very ramparts that separate all that is decent from all that is savage.

Well, the priests lost. But some geezers just don't get it.

Good news comes by way of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruling that discovers to no one's surprise that like every other civilized jurisdiction in Canada, in Saskatchewan a marriage commissioner cannot resort to some weird personal or religious gimcrackery to justify a refusal to provide the benefit of the marriage law to heterosexual citizens and homosexual citizens alike. It is a straightfoward finding. But it is perplexing to Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott, who raises an objection, and has now lodged it with Justice Minister Don Morgan. Here it is:

"It’s a serious misunderstanding of Christian faith or any faith for that matter. . .the inference [sic.; he means 'implication'] here (is) you can hold these beliefs and freedom to worship just long as it doesn't affect your life or how you live out your life. And that obviously is a serious problem. It sets up a hierarchy of rights saying these same-sex rights are more important than freedom of conscience and religion."

The ruling does absolutely nothing of the kind. The Canadian people are entitled by law to enter into marriage, and whether one is queer or straight should not enter into it at all. It's that simple. Marriage commissioners who find this confusing because of their superstitions or because of their unfamiliarity with plain logic or for any other reason might want to think of taking up some other vocation, like standing on streetcorners to shout and shake bibles at passersby.

In Ontario, as a bent-over-backwards concession to dyspeptic marriage commissioners of the religious class, government policy allows such imbeciles to excuse themselves on "religious grounds" while at the same time ensuring that no "same-sex" couple is turned away. Personally, I think this is a specimen of "political correctness gone mad," but Saskatchewan might nonetheless consider a similar approach, if only to spare gay couples the indignity, on their wedding day, of having to put up with the winces of such sour-faced Jansenists as still infest the ranks of marriage commissioners in that province. In any event, the old days will soon be over. Cheer up. For those who don't like it, tough. Pay attention, PEI. You're next.

Anyway, it's going to be very quiet around here for some while as I'm getting down to the last lengths of a writing project that has consumed a great deal of my attention for too long. So for now, in the spirit of the subject of this post, and in keeping with the proposition that Canadians are equal before the law, that being queer or straight shouldn't even come into it, and in Saskatchewan the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is in operation just like anywhere else, let's recall Father Murphy's immortal words. "The ten commandments are in operation in Ballybunion just as they are anywhere else." Yes, even in Ballybunion, that den of wickedness, drink-taking and who-knows-what else:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Anti-Totalitarian Round-Up.

In its continuing brute-force harassment of Azadiya Welat, Turkey's only Kurdish-language daily newspaper, 24-year-old former editor Emin Demir has been sentenced to a 138-year prison term. Emin is on the run, but at least nine of the newspaper's journalists are in jail. Another former editor, Vedat Kursun, was sentenced last May to 166 years in prison. Last February, Ozan Kilinç was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

In Tehran, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has just been sentenced to 11 years in prison and banned from practicing law and traveling for 20 years. She got five years for “acting against national security,” five years for “not wearing hejab during a videotaped message,” and a year for “propaganda against the regime.”

In Tunisia, 14 protesters were killed in "clashes with security forces" over the weekend. The country is being brought to its knees by police-state oppression, rising unemployment and skyrocketing food prices. In neighboring Algeria, at least three people were killed and 300 others injured in riots sparked by rising food costs and a housing crisis.

In Kabul, an Iranian embargo on fuel which has caused heating costs to skyrocket has prompted hundreds of protesters to gather at the Iranian embassy. The demonstrations are being led by Afghan MP Najib Kabuli, whose television station was shut down last year - at Tehran's insistence - for persistently exposing Iran's subversion of Afghan democracy.

There's bad news and good news, but at least there appears to be something of an anti-totalitarian surge underway here and there. Pro-democracy activists should be very wary about who they talk to, of course, lest Julian Assange rat them out. In Canada, you establish your radical credentials by whining about Don Cherry in the valiant struggle to force the CBC to broadcast your preenings and mewlings during Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts. Meanwhile, in Tunisia, the state's media censors are now moving to shut down blogs, e-mail servers and Facebook accounts, and our comrades are facing bullets:

Saturday, January 08, 2011

One World.

A. Rather than turn to the generals, we must stand by the democratically elected civilian government, despite its many faults (and there are many indeed). We should remain invested in the democratic process and the rule of law, which is what Pakistanis demanded only three years ago when they peacefully toppled another dictator, General Musharraf, despite the Bush administration’s desperate efforts to keep him in power.

The stakes are enormous. Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world and is home to more terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba than any other country. On virtually every global issue that matters to Americans in the twenty-first century—from terror to proliferation to nuclear war to the future of the global jihad—Pakistan is the crucial nation, and the place where all those issues collide in a uniquely combustible fashion. . .

B. But in response, Karzai does not have many options. His "decisions" don't actually change reality so much as they express intent or exhibit symbols. In the face of his many challenges, almost the only tools he has are words. If he wants to protest air strikes or home raids, he makes dramatic statements about a "foreign occupation." If he feels threatened by conservatives and warlords, he starts to burnish his Islamic credentials and sound populist rhetoric. If he believes the Taliban are winning and the international community is withdrawing, he threatens to switch sides. None of these words stem from real beliefs so much as they simply reflect whichever pressure Karzai feels most urgently at the moment. . . Governance requires fundamentally different skills than corruption. A change at the top does not change the skills, abilities, and inclinations of a whole network. The Afghan government and the Karzai network are equally incapable of governing, regardless of their skill at criminal enterprises. . .

C. I believe we are witnessing the end of the post-colonial era in politics and economics. In China, Brazil and a dozen other countries, the type of thinking known as “post-colonial” – defined as a stark choice between angry resistance or humiliating subservience – has simply ceased to matter in political and business relations. . . While post-colonialism clings on in Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Zimbabwe and a handful of other places, it has vanished from most of the world with amazing speed.

D. Cheer on my friends! Cheer on the assassin! Smile and clap your hands, chant odes to the ghazi’s bravery! Go ahead, applaud the darkness that is coming your way, because once it has taken you into its embrace, there’ll be no cheer left in your life. Hail the assassin as your hero! Lift him up on your shoulders and show his brave deed to your children! Tell them to emulate his example and follow his footsteps! Kiss the ground he walked on! Congregate outside the prison that holds him and shout slogans so he hears your support through the walls. Because soon, the only heroes left in your life will be those with blood on their hands and death in their hearts. . .So do it! Celebrate all manner of bloodlust because soon there will be nobody left in your life who can call murder by its name.

E. On October 9th, 2010, photographs of 100 gay men and women were printed in a Ugandan newspaper called "Rolling Stone" under the headline, "100 Pictures of Uganda's Top Homos Leak" (Ugandan newspapers are nortoriously full of bad grammar) with an accompanying banner that said "Hang Them". The names and addresses of each of the individuals were also printed in the newspaper. Those in the photos were in immediate danger, and most went into hiding. However, at least four people whose photos were printed have been violently attacked to date, and one woman nearly killed. . . Democratization and the entrenchment of human rights are the only ways in which Uganda will stabilize and move forward, and the only criteria by which it can join the civilized world and be taken seriously within the international community.

F. It's getting better.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Still waiting for the great leap forward.

Hitch on Blair:

"When Tony Blair took office, Slobodan Milošević was cleansing and raping the republics of the former Yugoslavia. Mullah Omar was lending Osama bin Laden the hinterland of a failed and rogue state. Charles Taylor of Liberia was leading a hand-lopping militia of enslaved children across the frontier of Sierra Leone, threatening a blood-diamond version of Rwanda in West Africa. And the wealth and people of Iraq were the abused private property of Saddam Hussein and his crime family. Today, all of these Caligula figures are at least out of power, and at the best either dead or on trial. How can anybody with a sense of history not grant Blair some portion of credit for this? And how can anybody with a tincture of moral sense go into a paroxysm and yell that it is he who is the war criminal? It is as if all the civilians murdered by al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be charged to his account. This is the chaotic mentality of Julian Assange and his groupies."

Marty Peretz on Obama:

"My point is that across the depths of Africa--from Egypt in the north to Zimbabwe in the south (and dare I say South Africa itself?) and in Congo and Sudan and a dozen countries besides--the killers and the humiliators are free to kill and humiliate without even a chastising from the United States. So where are the idealists and youthful human rights champions? Nowhere. Darfur was only an issue when they could taunt George Bush about it."

Jackson Diehl on Obama:

"When the administration touts its record it often focuses on the declarations it has engineered by multilateral forums, such as the U.N. Human Rights Council. The ideology behind this is that the United States is better off working through such bodies than acting on its own. The problem is that, in practice, this is not true. Set aside for the moment the fact that the U.N. council is dominated by human rights abusers who devote most of the agenda to condemnations of Israel. Who has heard what the council said about, say, the recent events in Belarus? The obvious answer: far fewer people than would have noticed if the same critique came from Obama or Clinton."

How to explain this? Nick Cohen has an answer:

"I accept that readers may find this a hard sentence to swallow, but when it comes to promoting democracy, the emancipation of women and the liberation of the oppressed, Barack Obama has been the most reactionary American president since Richard Nixon."

Meanwhile, Canada limps along.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

"Will you be a lousy scab or will you be a man?"

Coming upon this especially gruesome eruption of boss journalism at Press TV, which blames the Jews (conventionally and variously described for purposes of plausible deniability as the Zionists, or Israel, or the Zionist Entity) for the New Year's Day slaughter of 21 Coptic Christians who were innocently celebrating Mass at Alexandria, one is informed of several interesting things.

There are obvious and amusing lies. "Since the emergence of Islam, Muslims and Christians in the East have always coexisted peacefully," for one. "Never, ever have the Christians in Egypt complained of any problems keeping them from carrying out their religious duties," for another. We are informed that Israel and the United States have been carrying out acts of terror against Christians in Muslim countries for years, that the coming referendum on independence for Southern Sudan is really an Israeli ploy to control the flow of the Nile River in order to exact ransom from the 11 countries through which the Nile passes, and so on.

What is most revealing about the article, however, is not just that it appears in Press TV, the Khomeinist regime's English language propaganda arm (which most noticeably employs the scab George Galloway, the reputed free-speech champion and darling of the western world's anti-imperialist "left," as its most prominent celebrity presenter). It's that the author of the article is none other than Hassan Hanizadeh, the president of the scab union Iranian journalists are obliged to join - the Islamic Journalists Association of Iran.

The head of the Iran's legitimate press union is Mashallah Shams Al-Waizeen, chairman of Iran's Journalists Union. Two years ago, Al-Waizeen bravely engaged Hanizadeh in a direct confrontation, televised on Al Jazeera. Al-Waizeen refused to kowtow to Hanizadeh's propaganda claim that Iran's wingnut president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had allowed press freedom in Iran, pointing out that 175 newspapers and magazines had been shut down by the Khoemeinist regime, 25 of them since Ahmadinejad's election.

Last month, Al-Waizeen was sentenced to 16 months in jail for "undermining the regime" and insulting Ahmadinejad. Al-Waizeen joins at least 34 journalists currently known to be in prison in Iran, some in solitary confinement, some at the ghastly Evin prison, all for merely doing their jobs. Around the same time that Al-Waizeen was being carted off to jail, Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi was being sentenced to six years in jail and barred from directing and producing movies for the next 20-years for the crime of "making propaganda against the regime," and Iranian transport workers were risking arrest by demonstrating in front of Evin Prison. They were there to demand the immediate release of their leaders, including Mansour Osanloo and Reza Shahabi. Osanloo, serving a five-year sentence, is in the prison hospital. Shahabi has just ended a 60-day hunger strike protesting his illegal arrest.

Our friend Mehdi Kouhestaninejad reports that the economic circumstances into which Iranian workers are being turfed, even before you calculate the impact of sanctions, are rapidly deteriorating, owing to Ahmedinejad's anti-worker policies: "It is expected that the labor movement objects to these policies, but the government wishes to suppress any type of opposition.”

It is a heartbreaking struggle, largely unaided and ignored by all but a few principled trade unionists in the rich countries of world. But the Iranian workers carry on (for a fine overview of Iran's freedom struggle, see Young Lions of the Green Movement). Estimates are that roughly two million Iranian workers have bolted government-run boss unions to form independent trade unions in recent years. "The stage is being set for a showdown between Iran's workers and the Khomeinist establishment. The outside world, including the international media, had better pay more attention."

Mewling about American imperialism and gibbering about Zionist conspiracies is for idiots and scabs. In Golestan province alone, the regime has failed to pay miners' wages in 21 of the province's 42 coal mines. Thousands of miners are on strike. There is only one question that counts: Which side are you on?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Heart Of The Matter: A Corrosive, Reactionary Parochialism On 'The Left'.

The headline on Stephen Kinzer's unintentionally self-incriminating display of the rot that has eaten away at the rich world's "left" spoke sufficient volumes all by itself last week: "End Human Rights Imperialism Now".

Apart from being a classic study in deception masquerading as revelation and self-deception masquerading as reflection (and a workshop-worthy specimen of straw-man argument, besides), what was exceptionally useful about the spectacle Kinzer made of himself was the service he provided in presenting a textbook example of the madhouse delusion that will inevitably result from the muddles of moral, epistemic and cultural relativism.

There's no point in resorting to empirically-derived evidence if you're trying to talk sense to someone whose very arguments rest on the absence of such universal standards if not their wholesale rejection. The dialectic, as we used to say, is simply not going to move forward. There will be rot in both form and content. Some people are just numpties.

But today, also in the Guardian, in an essay well-titled Beware those who sneer at 'human rights imperialism', our friend Sohrab Ahmari does yeoman service in exposing the bankruptcy of the pseudo-left orthodoxy that Kinzer so helpfully distilled. Sohrab does so by simply raising this question:" If the isolationist, provincial left manages to convince us that the blessing of liberty is to be allocated randomly – along geographic lines and according to the accident of birth – will the heart still beat on the left?"

It's my own view that on the so-called "anti-imperialist" left, the truly progressive heart had already stopped beating at least a decade ago. True enough, the zombies have been stumbling around for much longer than that. Ahmari begins by citing Albert Camus's observations of his erstwhile French comrades in the 1950s. In its response to the Hungarian Uprising, the "left" had betrayed itself as having fallen into useless decadence, "caught in its own vocabulary, capable of merely stereotyped replies, constantly at a loss when faced with the truth, from which it nevertheless claimed to derive its laws."

The thing about the contemporary iterations of that decadence that gets at me like fingernails scratching on a blackboard is its cynical disregard for the bravery of hundreds of thousands of Afghans, especially, who every day take greater risks and make greater sacrifices in the struggle for the rule of law, free speech, womens rights and civil liberties than any of the rich-kid "anti-imperialists" have undertaken in their entire lives. It's the arrogance of it all that I can't abide. It's a distinctly "western" kind of arrogance, parodoxically, that would assert that "western" values are what these brave Afghans are fighting for, but to which - owing to their nature, their "race," their religion, their "identity" or some dang thing - they are somehow disentitled, and we in the west must not stand with them or support them because to do so is to engage in "imperialism."

In the context of contemporary freedom struggles (he cites Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Bahrain, and Tunisia), Ahmari rightly notices that Kinzer's polemics "might strike some as eminently reasonable." And indeed they do give that appearance. It should go without saying that you can't make a democratic silk purse out of an autocratic sow's ear in a day, and that there is much virtue in human-rights gradualism and in a proper focus on objective support for the oppressed in their own struggles for self-emancipation. Most importantly, we should all be very wary of dramatic acts of revolutionary transformation. Fair enough.

But for Kinzer to marshall these observations in the hopes of showing that the universality of human rights is "imperialist" is to score a spectacular own-goal, in this specific way: It would have to mean the entire Third World "anti-imperialist" revolutionary legacy of the 20th century was similarly vice and folly (and even "western" in its usual Marxist character), which would make an even bigger laughing stock the post-modern "anti-imperialist" polemics which purport to derive from that legacy. And yet that's exactly the polemical pose Kinzer adopts. In this way, Kinzer's own evidence ends up fatally undermining his own "anti-imperialism."

This is both hilarious and especially instructive. Kinzer's critique betrays itself in its affiliation with and descent from the drivel you would expect to hear spoken at a posh Tory club ca. 1890 (the wogs will never be capable of governing themselves properly) or at a John Birch Society gathering ca. 1961 (the blacks can't claim to possess the rights we've won for ourselves). And yet it fits perfectly, and on several levels, with the so-called anti-imperialism of the fashionably transgressive "left" of the first decade of the 21st century.

Ahmeri situates this blood-curdling phenomenon in the "systematic relativism" of the "isolationist, provincial left." That makes eminent sense to me. But call it what you like, there is nothing revolutionary, anti-imperialist or even mildly progressive about it at all.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Outlines Of The Coming Convulsion (Something's Busy Being Born).

I would like to think it started in Iran: The pro-democracy movement is practically leaderless. It's now taken on a life of its own. The uprising changes everything. Not just in Iran. But in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Europe, North America, everywhere.

Half way through December, Nick Cohen noticed something about the political outlines of the British student uprising: A few weeks ago, it seemed "realistic" politics to soak the young, who are few in number and unlikely to vote, while pandering to the old, who are many and vociferous. The media played along. . . It was an act of political extremism; a raw display of the power of the old over the young."

Then on Christmas Eve, Laurie Penny (smarter and more relevant than the go-to media personality Naomi Klein wished she still was) wrote about the student uprising this way: It is highly significant that one of the first things this hydra-headed youth movement set out to achieve was the decapitation of its own official leadership. . . Of course, the old left is not about to disappear completely. It is highly likely that even after a nuclear attack, the only remaining life-forms will be cockroaches and sour-faced vendors of the Socialist Worker. . . (but) for these young protesters, the strategic factionalism of the old left is irrelevant."

In yesterday's New York Times: "The outrage of the young has erupted, sometimes violently, on the streets of Greece and Italy in recent weeks, as students and more radical anarchists protest not only specific austerity measures in flattened economies but a rising reality in Southern Europe: People like Ms. Esposito feel increasingly shut out of their own futures. Experts warn of volatility in state finances and the broader society as the most highly educated generation in the history of the Mediterranean hits one of its worst job markets. Politicians are slowly beginning to take notice."

I don't think it's a stretch to say all these things are rather intimately connected. I won't pretend to know where it's heading or whether we're going to like what it means. But it does leave me feeling quite chipper.

UPDATE: Are we seeing this now in Gaza?

I'm with Peter.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Viva Brazil. Felicitaciones, Presidente. Venceremos!

Former Marxist guerrilla Dilma Rousseff was sworn in today as Brazil's first female president, taking over from her mentor, Lula da Silva, who left office with an astonishing approval rating of 87 percent. Rousseff, who was imprisoned and tortured in the 1970s during the tyranny of Brazil's military dictatorship, served as Lula's chief of staff and mines minister and was a key architect of his social-democratic policies.

Under the Workers' Party, Brazil's sound fiscal policy, equitable social programs and wealth redistribution have helped pull 20 million Brazilians out of poverty. After having been at the brink of international loan defaults eight years ago, Brazil now lends money to the International Monetary Fund. Unemployment is at a record low and the currency has doubled in value against the US dollar. But poverty continues to torment the country.

"I will not rest while there are Brazilians without food on their table, homeless in the streets, and poor children abandoned to their luck," Rousseff said today. Recalling her roots in the armed struggle against Brazil's military rule, Rousseff choked back tears and said: "That at-times tough path made me value and love life much more. It gave me, more than anything else, courage to confront even bigger challenges. It is with this courage that I'm going to govern Brazil."

Less noticed by the English-language press were Rousseff's expressions of commitment to liberty, democracy, and a greater openness to the democratic world. "We will preserve and deepen the relationship with the United States and the European Union," as well as with Brazil's "brothers of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa." She added that Brazil will continue to safeguard individual political and religious rights: "I affirm my commitment to respect press freedom and free speech. I prefer the sound of a free press to the silence of the dictatorship."

Rousseff's Workers' Party policies invite a stark comparison with the Venezuelan police state ushered in by the thug Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan dissenter Francisco Toro (h/t HP) notices:

"All of the social goals Chávez told us Venezuela could only reach once we buried 'the bourgeois state' (read: pluralist constitutional democracy) are goals Brazil is achieving without gutting its democracy. And they’re goals we’re failing to achieve even as our democracy gets put through the wood-chipper.

"As Brazil does what we in Venezuela can only dream of – which includes putting a brilliant economist, one-time guerrilla and political prisoner, descended from Bulgarian immigrants, in the presidency – it’s perhaps time to reflect on what our Southern Counterfactual says about our road not taken. The Brazilian experience shows that the frontal assault on our political rights and civil liberties has been entirely pointless. The monstrous contention that our freedom was the price we had to pay for social justice is quietly refuted, day in and day out, just on the other side of Santa Elena de Uairén."

And how was the Venezuelan president ringing in the New Year? By seizing rule-by-decree powers to head off the January 5 arrival of a new parliament and pushing through a raft of laws to regulate the Internet, prohibit NGOs from receiving foreign funding and prevent lawmakers from voting against Uncle Hugo's party. "Let's see how they're going to make their laws now," Chávez crowed.

Let's see, indeed, Hugo. Your days are numbered. Here's to hoping the Age of Tyrants is in its final hour, and for a chorus of Marg Bar Diktator the world round. To usher in the New Year, here's John McSherry and Francis McIlduff with "At First Light":