In the last month we have seen or read about Israel rejecting calls for a nuclear free Middle East; condemned the NonProliferation Treaty; put out news stories that it has placed nuclear armed submarines off the coast of Iran; attacked a ship belonging to a country that signed an accord with Iran that a US administration had sought; attacked and killed unarmed civilians on relief aid boats in international waters; continued the blockade and siege of a defenseless population and American troops are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for what?
In this day of information technology and rapid news gathering, there is still too much silence coming from the halls of government and the corporate media about the attack on the Gaza bound flotilla and the violation of international law on the part of the Israelis. So here is a response to the vacuum left by “power” and by the way the answer to the question posed by Cook is a resounding NO!
It is quite astounding that Israel has been able to create over the past 12 hours a news blackout, just as it did with its attack on Gaza 18 months ago, into which our main media organisations have willingly allowed Israeli spokespeople to step in unchallenged.
How many civilians were killed in Israel’s dawn attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla of aid? We still don’t know. How many wounded? Your guess is as good as mine. Were the aid activists armed with guns? Yes, says Israel. Were they in cahoots with al-Qaeda and Hamas? Certainly, says Israel. Did the soldiers act reasonably? Of course, they faced a lynch, says Israel.
If we needed any evidence of the degree to which Western TV journalists are simply stenographers to power, the BBC, CNN and others are amply proving it. Mark Regev, Israel’s propagandist-in-chief, has the airwaves largely to himself.
The passengers on the ships, meanwhile, have been kidnapped by Israel and are unable to provide an alternative version of events. We can guess they will remain in enforced silence until Israel is sure it has set the news agenda.
So before we get swamped by Israeli hasbara let’s reiterate a few simple facts:
* Israeli soldiers invaded these ships in international waters, breaking international law, and, in killing civilians, committed a war crime. The counter-claim by Israeli commanders that their soldiers responded to an imminent “lynch” by civilians should be dismissed with the loud contempt it deserves.
* The Israeli government approved the boarding of these aid ships by an elite unit of commandoes. They were armed with automatic weapons to pacify the civilians onboard, but not with crowd dispersal equipment in case of resistance. Whatever the circumstances of the confrontation, Israel must be held responsible for sending in soldiers and recklessly endangering the lives of all the civilians onboard, including a baby.
Israel has no right to control Gaza’s sea as its own territorial waters and to stop aid convoys arriving that way. In doing so, it proves that it is still in belligerent occupation of the enclave and its 1.5 million inhabitants. And if it is occupying Gaza, then under international law Israel is responsible for the welfare of the Strip’s inhabitants. Given that the blockade has put Palestinians there on a starvation diet for the past four years, Israel should long ago have been in the dock for committing a crime against humanity.
Today Israel chose to direct its deadly assault not only at Palestinians under occupation but at the international community itself.
Will our leaders finally be moved to act?
As Israel continues its assault on the human rights and lives of those who disagree with the terrorist state, it appears even some of its citizens have to fear the Draconian beliefs of the Zionist state. While European countries are decrying Muslim women’s choice to wear articles of clothing they want, Israeli Jewish men are deciding for women what they can and cannot think or where they should and should not worship without any condemnation from Western leaders who are far too quick to invade Muslim countries for similar offenses. Perhaps as Israel seems intent on pushing America into war with another one of her neighbors, Americans should reflect on just whether the examples above reflect American values the next time it’s asked to send its sons and daughters to fight wars for this ‘democratic ally’.
The Israeli government has decided for itself the role of international pariah and no one has the intestinal fortitude to tell them that except lowly internet bloggers like Miscellany101 and others who have seen enough of the atrocities this country has inflicted on everyone it feels victimized by. Having bought off American and European politicians and quieted an obsequious press, Israel once again gets away with murder in the deaths of the passengers of the Gaza flotilla. In a night raid against unarmed civilians, a particularly Israel like tactic, the IDF boarded one of the ships of the flotilla that was in international waters and began shooting all those who didn’t quickly comply with their demands, leaving in their wake anywhere from 10 to 20 dead.
Of course, the Israeli government will claim they were acting in self defense and the apologists will echo that claim; governments will not issue any voices of protest or reprimand, nor make any demands on the Israelis for transparent investigations and over time, people will forget this latest act of murder like all the rest before it. The conscientious citizen ought to know, however, that the Israelis for the moment are the merchants of death and destruction and that this rogue and lawless state has nothing to offer the international community until they are brought in line with law and order, something the Israelis are not the least bit interested in at this time. The self-proclaimed super power is instead a super coward in the face of the petulant, lawless state, which sees no limits for its own behavior while super critical of the behavior of its opponents. Indeed America has relegated itself to being a client state of Israel, the dog wagged by its own tail.
It’s now painfully obvious why we went to war in Iraq. I agree with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern some of it was because of “oil”, “Israel” and “logistics”, which form the acronym, oil. The “O” in that word really was the main reason, but on an even larger level there were more and other business interests to satisfy. Basically however, a former US businessman then President sent Americans over to fight a war to increase his bottom line, his ledger, his accounts; war is profitable to the American economy and all that’s left to do is figure out how to get people to willing sacrifice their sons and daughters to fight such a war, even when there is no other reason to do so than the personal profitability of the commander in chief and his associates, and then execute that war, not towards a successful conclusion but for as long as it takes to get corporate America back in the black. Now you know why no one wants to talk of withdrawal from Iraq or any other war zone, because such decisions are made when the markets and other economic indicators say it is time to do so and not one day before.
So while partisan politics takes potshots across the great political divide over the ever scandalous BP disaster, intimating that one side or the other is benefiting from the largest eco catastrophe in American history, let them not forget we fight wars where we kill people and get killed in order to revitalize our economy. In essence we fight people who are defenseless; we kill people who mean us no harm, we destroy whole societies, many of them older than our own because we can and because it’s good for business. It has nothing to do with defending the homeland, it has nothing to do with promoting democracy or even capitalism and it has nothing to do with helping the weak or the oppressed. The blood of your loved ones and the ones they kill increases the profit margins of the ones who send those very loved ones off to meaningless and perpetual war. How do you like that America?!
The military is all hot and bothered about this youtube video that shows a soldier leading some Iraqi children in a catechism that is not at all flattering. The Army says it, the video, is not “representative of our soldiers” but in the age of the internet, and youtube, and to paraphrase Bill Maher, ‘everything you say can and will be used against you in a youtube search’ there are plenty of other examples of Army personnel acting less than exemplary during their tour.
There are also examples of military personnel acting honorably with Iraqi citizens in prosecuting the war, but the point is both sides are representative of US action in Iraq, and lest one forget, diplomacy is not the job description for soldiers, killing combatants in defense of national interests is. The American government has given up its claim to diplomacy in Iraq when it falsely proclaimed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; we should not expect soldiers to do the job of diplomats. Likewise, we should not be surprised at the images of hatred and abuse from soldiers towards civilians due to a government authority that has put them in harms way purposefully. Those who act honorably should be welcomed back into society with open arms, but those who don’t live up to that standard need help to be repatriated onto the shores of America, something many returning from the war front claim is not being done by a forgetful government. Soldiers on the ground in Iraq are smart enough to see they were lied to and frustrated enough to act on that deception in sometimes less than moral ways. The sooner we stop deceiving ourselves about that, covering up this frustration by saying it’s not ‘representative’, forgetting the role government has played in putting those soldiers in that position, and then denying them the support services they need there in theater and beyond, the better we’ll be at correcting one of the most grievous and egregious acts that will be recorded for this century. Stop the denial! It is what it is! Return US military personnel from Iraq!
For over four years, Israel has subjected the civilian population of Gaza to an increasingly severe blockade, resulting in a man-made humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions. Earlier this month, John Ging, the Director of Operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza, called upon the international community to break the siege on the Gaza Strip by sending ships loaded with humanitarian aid. This weekend, 9 civilian boats carrying 700 human rights workers from 40 countries and 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid will attempt to do just that: break through the Israel’s illegal military blockade on the Gaza Strip in non-violent direct action. In response, the Israeli government has threatened to send out ‘half’ of its Naval forces to violently stop our flotilla, and they have engaged in a deceitful campaign of misinformation regarding our mission.
Israel claims that there is no ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Every international aid organization working in Gaza has documented this crisis in stark detail. Just released earlier this week, Amnesty International’s Annual Human Rights Report stated that Israeli’s siege on Gaza has “deepened the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Mass unemployment, extreme poverty, food insecurity and food price rises caused by shortages left four out of five Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid. The scope of the blockade and statements made by Israeli officials about its purpose showed that it was being imposed as a form of collective punishment of Gazans, a flagrant violation of international law.”
Israel claims that its blockade is directed simply at the Hamas government in Gaza, and is limited to so-called ’security’ items. Yet When U.S. Senator John Kerry visited Gaza last year, he was shocked to discover that the Israeli blockade included staple food items such as lentils, macaroni and tomato paste. Furthermore, Gisha, the Israeli Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, has documented numerous official Israeli government statements that the blockade is intended to put ‘pressure’ on Gaza’s population, and collective punishment of civilians is an illegal act under international law.
Israel claims that if we wish to send aid to Gaza, all we need do is go through ‘official channels,’ give the aid to them and they will deliver it. This statement is both ridiculous and offensive. Their blockade, their ‘official channels,’ is what is directly causing the humanitarian crisis in the first place.
According to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: “Palestinians in Gaza are being actually ’starved to death,’ receiving fewer calories per day than people in the poorest parts of Africa. This is an atrocity that is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza. It is a crime… an abomination that this is allowed to go on. Tragically, the international community at large ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more like animals than human beings.”
Israel claims that we refused to deliver a letter and package from POW Gilad Shalit’s father. This is a blatant lie. We were first contacted by lawyers representing Shalit’s family Wednesday evening, just hours before we were set to depart from Greece. Irish Senator Mark Daly (Kerry), one of 35 parliamentarians joining our flotilla, agreed to carry any letter and to attempt to deliver it to Shalit or, if that request was denied, deliver it to officials in the Hamas government. As of this writing, the lawyers have not responded to Sen. Daly, electing instead to attempt to smear us in the Israeli press. We have always called for the release of all political prisoners in this conflict, including the 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, among them hundreds of child prisoners.
Most despicably of all, Israel claims that we are violating international law by sailing unarmed ships carrying humanitarian aid to a people desperately in need. These claims only demonstrate how degenerate the political discourse in Israel has become.
Despite its high profile pullout of illegal settlements and military presence from Gaza in August—September 2005, Israel maintains “effective control” over the Gaza Strip and therefore remains an occupying force with certain obligations. Among Israel’s most fundamental obligations as an occupying power is to provide for the welfare of the Palestinian civilian population. An occupying force has a duty to ensure the food and medical supplies of the population, as well as maintain hospitals and other medical services, “to the fullest extent of the means available to it” (G IV, arts. 55, 56). This includes protecting civilian hospitals, medical personnel, and the wounded and sick. In addition, a fundamental principle of International Humanitarian Law, as well as of the domestic laws of civilized nations, is that collective punishment against a civilian population is forbidden (G IV, art. 33).
Israel has grossly abused its authority as an occupying power, not only neglecting to provide for the welfare of the Palestinian civilian population, but instituting policies designed to collectively punish the Palestinians of Gaza. From fuel and electricity cuts that hinder the proper functioning of hospitals, to the deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid delivery through Israeli-controlled borders, Israel’s policies towards the Gaza Strip have turned Gaza into a man-made humanitarian disaster. The dire situation that currently exists in Gaza is therefore a result of deliberate policies by Israel designed to punish the people of Gaza. In order to address the calamitous conditions imposed upon the people, one must work to change the policies causing the crisis. The United Nations has referred to Israel’s near hermetic closure of Gaza as “collective punishment,” strictly prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. All nations signatory to the Convention have an obligation to ensure respect for its provisions.
Given the continuing and sustained failure of the international community to enforce its own laws and protect the people of Gaza, we strongly believe that we all, as citizens of the world, have a moral obligation to directly intervene in acts of nonviolent civil resistance to uphold international principles. Israeli threats and intimidation will not deter us. We will sail to Gaza again and again and again, until this siege is forever ended and the Palestinian people have free access to the world.
How Obama’s Election Drove the American Right Insane
On the day Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, much of the nation — particularly those who supported and voted for him — celebrated the election of the first African American to the country’s highest office. For those who voted for his opponent, John McCain, there was naturally the usual bitterness and disappointment.
Among a certain subset of those Americans, however — especially those who opposed Obama precisely because he sought to become the nation’s first black president — it went well beyond the usual despair. For them, November 5, 2008, was the end of the world. Or at least, the end of America as they knew it.
So maybe it wasn’t really a surprise that they responded that day with the special venom and violence peculiar to the American Right. Like the noose strung in protest from a tree limb in Texas.
Students at Baylor University in Waco discovered the noose hanging from a campus tree the evening of election day, near a site where angry Republican students had gathered Obama yard signs and burned them in a big bonfire. That same evening, a riot nearly broke out when Obama supporters, chanting the new president’s name, were confronted outside a residence hall by white students who told them: “Any nigger who walks by Penland [Hall], we’re going to kick their ass, we’re going to jump him.” The Obama supporters stopped and responded, “Excuse me?” — and somehow managed to keep the confrontation confined to a mere shouting match until police arrived and broke things up.
There were also the students on the North Carolina State University campus, in Raleigh, who spent election night spraypainting such fun-loving messages as “Let’s shoot that Nigger in the head” and “Hang Obama by a noose.” The university’s administration was so upset by this behavior that it protected the students’ identities and refused to take any legal action against them or discipline them at all.
Those were just warm-ups from the student cheering section. The real thugs, exemplars of the dark side of the American psyche, were shortly to make their mark.
That night, four young white men from Staten Island “decided to go after black people” in retaliation for Obama’s election. The men first drove to the mostly black Park Hill neighborhood and assaulted a Liberian immigrant, beating him with a metal pipe and a police baton, as well as their fists and feet. They drove next to Port Richmond, where they assaulted another black man and verbally threatened a Latino man and a group of black people.
The hooligans finished up the night by attempting to drive next to a man walking home from his job as a Rite Aid manager and club him with the police baton. Instead, they simply hit him with their car, throwing him off the windshield and into a coma for over a month. The pedestrian was actually white, but this crew of geniuses managed to misidentify him as a black man. All four of the thugs wound up convicted of hate crimes and will spend the duration of Obama’s first term in prison. Look for them to turn up on Fox News in a few years claiming to be victims of the oppressive Obama administration.
The day after the election in Midland, Michigan, a discarded Ron Paul activist named Randy Gray (he had been peremptorily dismissed from the Paul campaign when his white-supremacist activism was revealed), dressed in full Ku Klux Klan regalia, stalked the sidewalk in the middle of a heavily trafficked intersection and waved an American flag. He also toted a handgun.
Police talked to Gray but let him continue his display after he told them his behavior had nothing to do with Obama winning the presidency.
A bus full of schoolkids in Rexburg, Idaho, started chanting “Assassinate Obama” just to tease the tiny minority of their fellow schoolkids who were Obama supporters. In Rexburg — where the population is more than 90 percent Mormon — that’s about three kids in the entire school. District officials didn’t discipline the children who had led the chants, but they did send a letter to the kids’ parents reminding them that students are to be told such behavior is unacceptable.
Then there were the arsons.
On election night, a black family in South Ogden, Utah, came home from volunteering at their local polling station to discover that their American flag had been torched.
In Hardwick Township, New Jersey, a black man taking his eight-year-old daughter to school emerged from his front door the morning after the election to discover that someone had burned a six-foot-tall cross on his lawn, right next to the man’s banner declaring Obama president. It had been torched too.
Another cross was burned on the lawn of the only black man in tiny Apolacon Township, Pennsylvania, the night after the election. A black church in Springfield, Massachusetts, was burned to the ground the night of the election; three white men were arrested and charged with setting the fire as a hate crime.
And if the election itself wasn’t enough to bring the haters out of the woodwork, there was Obama’s inauguration on January 21, 2009.
Two days before the big event, arsonists in Forsyth County, Georgia, burned down the home of a woman who was a public supporter of Obama; she was in DC for the inauguration at the time. Someone also painted a racial slur on her fence, along with the warning “Your black boy will die.”
On inauguration day, someone taped newspaper articles featuring Obama onto the apartment door of a woman in Jersey City, New Jersey, and set fire to the door. Fortunately, the woman had stayed home to watch the inauguration on TV and smelled the burning, and she was able to extinguish the fire before it spread. If only she could have done the same for the hate that sparked the act.
The day after the inauguration, a large, 22-year-old skinhead from Brockton, Massachusetts, named Keith Luke decided it was time to fight the “extinction” of the white race, so he bashed down the door of an African American woman and her sister and shot them both; one died. Police cornered and arrested Luke before he could pull off the next phase of his shooting rampage. According to the district attorney, Luke intended to “kill as many Jews, blacks, and Hispanics a
he pain and violence inflicted by these haters were just beginning.
In all, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), in Montgomery, Alabama, counted more than 200 “hate-related” incidents in the first weeks after the election of Barack Obama, a number that more than doubled after the inauguration. We called up the SPLC’s Mark Potok for his thoughts on what was happening. Here’s what he said:
I think there’s something remarkable happening out there. I think we really are beginning to see a white backlash that may grow fairly large. The situation’s worrying.
Not only do we have continuing nonwhite immigration, not only is the economy in the tank and very likely to get worse, but we have a black man in the White House. That is driving a kind of rage in a certain sector of the white population that is very, very worrying to me.
We are seeing literally hundreds of incidents around the country — from cross-burnings to death threats to effigies hanging to confrontations in schoolyards, and it’s quite remarkable. I think that there are political leaders out there who are saying incredibly irresponsible things that could have the effect of undamming a real flood of hate. That includes media figures. On immigration, they have been some of the worst. There’s a lot going on, and it’s very likely to lead to scapegoating. And in the end, scapegoating leaves corpses in the street.
Among the indicators of this spike in violent white racism was a sharp increase in business for white-supremacist Web sites like the neo-Nazi forum Stormfront. It collected more than 2,000 new members the day after the election. One poster to the Stormfront site, a North Las Vegas resident going by the moniker Dalderian Germanicus, reflected the consensus sentiment in the comments: “I want the SOB laid out in a box to see how ‘messiahs’ come to rest. God has abandoned us, this country is doomed.”
That theme popped up a lot among the denizens of the extremist Right in the weeks after the election. One middle-aged Georgian, quoted by an Associated Press reporter, voiced the typical view: “I believe our nation is ruined and has been for several decades, and the election of Obama is merely the culmination of the change.”
For the American Right, 2008 was indeed the end of the world.
If you don’t believe me ask Eduardo Caraballo.
NYT’s Friedman Rejects Iran Nuke Deal
By Robert Parry
May 27, 2010
Washington’s new “group think” on Iran – that the only possible approach is a heightened confrontation followed by “regime change” – is being shaped by the same opinion leaders who charted the way into the bloody disaster in Iraq and paid no career price.
On Wednesday, New York Times’ columnist Thomas L. Friedman rejoined the gang of tough-guy pundits by roughing up the leaders of Brazil and Turkey for daring to negotiate an agreement with Iran that would have it ship about half its low-enriched uranium out of the country and thus spur hopes for a peaceful settlement.
To Friedman, this deal was “as ugly as it gets,” the title of his column. However, others might think that seven-plus years of carnage in Iraq – the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, children with limbs blown off, and the 4,400 dead American soldiers and their grieving families – might be uglier.
But not Friedman, who like many of his fellow millionaire pundits cheered on the Iraq War as the only possible way to deal with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, just as they now are demanding “regime change” in Iran, rather than an agreement to ensure that Iran doesn’t produce a nuclear bomb, which Iran vows it doesn’t want anyway.
In his new belligerent column on Iran, Friedman makes clear that he isn’t really interested in nuclear safeguards; instead, he wants the United States to do whatever it can to help Iran’s internal opposition overthrow President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Islamic-directed government.
“In my view, the ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran is the most important, self-generated, democracy movement to appear in the Middle East in decades,” Friedman wrote.
“It has been suppressed, but it is not going away, and, ultimately, its success — not any nuclear deal with the Iranian clerics — is the only sustainable source of security and stability. We have spent far too little time and energy nurturing that democratic trend and far too much chasing a nuclear deal.”
That argument, of course, runs parallel to the neocon case for war with Iraq, that “regime change” was the only acceptable outcome. False claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were just the means to get the American public to support that end, just as the exaggerated fears about Iran’s nuclear program are becoming the new excuse for another bid at “regime change.”
However, unlike Iraq which was ruled by dictator Saddam Hussein, the neocon goal of overthrowing Iran’s government faces the unacknowledged reality that Ahmadinejad almost certainly won the June 12, 2009, election – that he is a popularly elected leader.
The Election Fraud Myth
Though the U.S. press corps has refused to accept that fact – and routinely describes the election as “fraudulent,” “rigged” or “stolen,” the reality is there has been no serious evidence presented to support those claims.
Indeed, the overwhelming evidence is that Ahmadinejad, with strong support from the poor especially in more conservative rural areas, defeated the “Green Revolution” candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi by roughly the 2-to-1 margin of the official results.
For instance, an analysis by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes earlier this year concluded that most Iranians voted for Ahmadinejad and viewed his reelection as legitimate, contrary to claims made by much of the U.S. news media.
Not a single Iranian poll analyzed by PIPA – whether before or after the June 12 election, whether conducted inside or outside Iran – showed Ahmadinejad with less than majority support. None showed Mousavi, a former prime minister, ahead or even close.
“These findings do not prove that there were no irregularities in the election process,” said Steven Kull, director of PIPA. “But they do not support the belief that a majority rejected Ahmadinejad.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It!”]
If these and other scholarly examinations are correct – and there is no counter-evidence that they aren’t – what happened after the June 12 election is that Mousavi simply refused to accept the voters’ choice and – with the enthusiastic backing of the U.S. news media – undertook to reverse the results with massive street protests.
During those demonstrations, a few protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police (scenes carried on CNN but quickly forgotten by the U.S. news media) and security forces overreacted with repression and violence.
Though it’s fair to condemn excessive force used by Iran’s police, you can be sure that if the same factors were transplanted to an American ally, the U.S. news media’s treatment would be completely different. Suddenly, the security forces would be protecting “democracy” from anti-democratic mobs disgruntled over losing.
But Friedman and other neocon pundits have taken the false conventional wisdom – that Mousavi was the voters’ choice – and transformed it into a new casus belli.
This pattern of turning propaganda into political truth is eerily reminiscent of the black-and-white portrayals of the crisis with Iraq eight years ago. Then, neocons advanced the notion that violent confrontation with Iraq was the only way to remake the Middle East so it would be less threatening to Israeli and Western interests.
‘Tony Blair Democrat’
However, Friedman’s new column leaves out the historical context of Iraq. For instance, he doesn’t recall how enamored he was of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s glib rationale for invading Iraq and forcibly planting the seeds of “democracy” there.
In those days, Friedman dubbed himself a pro-war Democrat who favored “regime change” – what he called “a Tony Blair Democrat” in line with the widespread neocon belief that President George W. Bush was right to invade Iraq but that Blair’s crisp English-accented rhetoric presented the case better.
Today, it might seem that anyone foolish enough to call himself “a Tony Blair Democrat” – after Blair has gone down in history as “Bush’s poodle” on Iraq and set the stage for this year’s historic repudiation of his Labour Party – should have the decency to simply vacate the public stage and let some other aspiring pundit try his or her luck.
But that’s not how it works in the world of U.S. punditry. As long as you don’t disrupt what the Establishment wants to do, you can count on keeping your job. When the carousel circles around to another possible war, you’re poised to reach for another brass ring.
So it has been with Thomas Friedman, whose witty observation before Bush’s invasion of Iraq was that it was time to “give war a chance,” a flippant play on John Lennon’s lyrics to the song, “Give Peace a Chance.”
Then, when the war didn’t go as swimmingly as he and other neocons expected, Friedman became famous for his repetitious, ever-receding “six month” timelines for progress. Finally, in August 2006, he concluded that the Iraq War wasn’t worth it, that “it is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are babysitting a civil war.”
Friedman added “that means ‘staying the course’ is pointless, and it’s time to start thinking about Plan B – how we might disengage with the least damage possible.” [NYT, Aug. 4, 2006]
Yet, despite this implicit admission that the war was a waste, Friedman kept slighting Americans who had resisted the rush to war in the first place.
Twelve days after his shift in position, Friedman demeaned Americans who opposed the Iraq War as “antiwar activists who haven’t thought a whit about the larger struggle we’re in.” [NYT, Aug. 16, 2006]
In other words, according to Friedman, Americans who were right about the ill-fated invasion of Iraq were still airheads who couldn’t grasp the bigger picture that had been so obvious to himself, his fellow pundits and pro-war politicians who had tagged along with Bush and Blair.
As I noted in an article at the time, “it’s as if Official Washington has become a sinister version of Alice in Wonderland. Under the bizarre rules of Washington’s pundit society, the foreign policy ‘experts,’ who acted like Cheshire Cats pointing the United States in wrong directions, get rewarded for their judgment and Americans who opposed going down the rabbit hole in the first place earn only derision.”
More Regime Change
In the nearly four years since then, the twisted reality of Official Washington hasn’t changed. The mainstream U.S. media is still dominated by the editorialists and news executives who endorsed the invasion of Iraq – and who now are determined to seek “regime change” in Iran.
Friedman is back reprising his role as a neocon propagandist with a friendly “pro-democracy” rationale for confrontation. Interestingly, however, he is acknowledging what some neocon critics, such as former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, have claimed, that the goal of the standoff with Iran isn’t really about its alleged nuclear-bomb desires, but rather about the desires for “regime change” among American neocons and Israeli hardliners.
Friedman is arguing that the Obama administration, instead of seeking an agreement that would ensure that Iran will live up to its word that it doesn’t want to build a nuclear bomb, should pursue “regime change” by supporting the Green Revolution and promoting “democracy.”
The fact that Ahmadinejad was the choice of the majority of the Iranian people doesn’t seem to matter much in Friedman’s “democratic” calculations. In that, Friedman seems to be expressing a view that he knows what’s best for the Iranian people, although he masks that paternalism with his bogus claim that Mousavi actually won.
Surely, Ahmadinejad, like Saddam Hussein, has contributed to his and his nations’ problems with wrongful actions and stupid rhetoric, making the work of neocon propagandists all the easier. But the truth is that actions of any national leader can be made to appear more outrageous or more reasonable depending on how the media frames these matters.
For example, Ahmadinejad, a little-educated populist from the Tehran’s “street,” has made obnoxious and ill-informed comments questioning the Holocaust against Jews during World War II (though I’m told he recognizes his mistake and has agreed to keep his mouth shut on this topic for months).
However, to extrapolate Ahmadinejad’s idiotic comments about the Holocaust into a readiness to attack Israel, a rogue nuclear state with hundreds of undeclared nukes, is the kind of logical overreach that we saw before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Back then, the Bush administration conjured up nightmare scenarios of Iraq flying unmanned planes over the United States to spray poison gases.
The game here is always to put what an “enemy” says or might theoretically do in the worst – or most alarmist – light. Similarly, if the goal is “regime change,” then the recent peace-seeking actions of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had to be condemned, not praised.
Rejecting a Breakthrough
In what could have been an important breakthrough over Iran’s nuclear program, Erdogan and Lula da Silva persuaded Ahmadinejad to accept an agreement, originally brokered by the Obama administration last fall, to send 2,640 pounds of Iran’s low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for higher-enriched uranium that could only be put to peaceful medical uses.
Yet, even before the revived agreement was announced on May 17, the neocon editors of the Washington Post were already mocking the Brazil-Turkey initiative as “yet another effort to ‘engage’ the extremist clique of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
After the joint Iran-Brazil-Turkey announcement in Tehran, the rhetorical abuse escalated with Washington pundits and administration hardliners, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, treating the leaders of Brazil and Turkey as unwelcome interlopers who were intruding on America’s diplomatic turf in an effort to grandstand.
Lula da Silva responded by challenging those Americans who insisted that it was “none of Brazil’s business” to act as an intermediary to resolve the showdown with Iran.
“But who said it was a matter for the United States?” he asked. “The blunt truth is, Iran is being presented as if it were the devil, that it doesn’t want to sit down” to negotiate, contrary to the fact that “Iran decided to sit down at the negotiating table. It wants to see if the others are going to go along with what (it) has done.”
What Friedman revealed in his Wednesday column was that the neocons have no particular interest in a negotiated settlement regarding Iranian nukes; they want an escalation of tensions that can set the stage for either internal upheaval in Iran or an external assault on its military infrastructure.
Friedman essentially tossed the leaders of Brazil and Turkey out of the civilized world and portrayed them as dupes of Ahmadinejad, writing:
“I confess that when I first saw the May 17 picture of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joining his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with raised arms — after their signing of a putative deal to defuse the crisis over Iran’s nuclear weapons program — all I could think of was: Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table?
“No, that’s about as ugly as it gets.”
Notice how Friedman reprised all the key propaganda points regarding Iran, including the “vote-stealing” canard.
President Obama’s Letter
This unrelenting hostility toward the Iran-Brazil-Turkey accord caught Brazilian and Turkish officials by surprise, in part because it turns out they had been encouraged by President Barack Obama to pursue this initiative.
After Friedman’s column and the other derogatory comments, Brazil released a three-page letter that President Obama sent to President Lula da Silva just last month in which Obama said the proposed uranium swap “would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s” stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
The contrast between Obama’s support for the initiative and the anger from other voices in Washington caused “some puzzlement,” one senior Brazilian official told the New York Times. After all, this official said, the supportive “letter came from the highest authority and was very clear.”
Yet, this extraordinary incident may actually clarify two important points:
First, that American neocons and Israeli hardliners aren’t really interested in getting Iran to agree to a nuclear accord, but rather want to use the nuclear standoff as an excuse to press for “regime change.”
And second, that neocon opinion-shapers, like Friedman, remain very influential in the U.S. news media and have the clout to obliterate a peace initiative – even one favored by the President of the United States.
They may think they are still in control, still the smart ones looking down at upstarts like the leaders of Turkey and Brazil who had the audacity to ignore U.S. warnings and press ahead with diplomacy to head off a possible new war, this one over Iran.
On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced success in persuading Iran to send roughly 50 percent of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for higher-enriched uranium that would be put to peaceful medical uses.
The tripartite agreement parallels one broached to Iran by Western countries on Oct. 1, 2009, which gained Iranian approval in principle but then fell apart.
That Monday’s joint announcement took U.S. officials by surprise betokens a genteel, ivory-tower-type attitude toward a world that is rapidly changing around them, like old British imperialists befuddled by a surge of anti-colonialism in the Raj or some other domain of the Empire.
Tellingly, U.S. officials and their acolytes in the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) could not bring themselves to believe that Brazil and Turkey would dare pursue an agreement with Iran after Clinton and President Barack Obama said not to.
However, the signs were there that these rising regional powers were no longer willing to behave like obedient children while the United States and Israel sought to take the world for another ride into a Middle East confrontation.
Standing Up To Israel
In March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was so upset with President da Silva’s advocacy of dialogue with Iran that he gave the upstart from South America a stern lecture. But the Brazilian president did not flinch.
Da Silva had grown increasingly concerned that, without some quick and smart diplomacy, Israel was likely to follow up a series of escalating sanctions by attacking Iran. Mincing no words, da Silva said:
“We can’t allow to happen in Iran what happened in Iraq. Before any sanctions, we must undertake all possible efforts to try and build peace in the Middle East.”
Turkey’s Erdogan had his own face-off with an Israeli leader – shortly after Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza from Dec. 17, 2008, to Jan. 18, 2009, in which some 1,400 Gazans and 14 Israelis were killed.
On Jan. 29, 2009, the Turkish president took part with Israeli President Shimon Peres on a small panel moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius at the World Economic Summit at Davos, Switzerland.
Erdogan could not abide Peres’s loud, passionate defense of Israel’s Gaza offensive. Erdogan described Gaza as “an open-air prison,” and accused Peres of speaking loudly so as to hide his “guilt.”
After Ignatius allotted Peres twice as much time as he gave Erdogan, the latter was livid, and insisted on responding to Peres’s speech.
The final one-and-a-half minutes, captured on camera by the BBC, shows Erdogan physically pushing Ignatius’s outstretched arm down and out of the way, as Ignatius tries to cut him off with entreaties like, “We really do have to get people to dinner.”
Erdogan keeps at it, refers to “the sixth commandment — Thou Shalt Not Kill,” and adds, “We are talking about killing” in Gaza. He then alludes to barbarity “way beyond what it should be,” and strides off the stage saying, “I don’t think I’ll come back to Davos.”
The Brazilian government also condemned Israel’s bombing of Gaza as “disproportionate response.” It expressed concern that violence in the region had affected mainly the civilian population.
Brazil’s statement came on Jan. 24, 2009, just five days before Erdogan’s strong criticism of the Israeli president’s attempt to defend the attack. Perhaps it was then that a seed was planted to germinate and later grow into a determined effort to move forcefully to prevent another bloody outbreak of hostilities.
And that is what Erdogan did, with the collaboration of da Silva. The two regional leaders insisted on a new multilateral approach to head off a potential Middle East crisis, rather than simply acquiescing to the decision-making from Washington, as guided by the interests of Israel.
So, get over it, boys and girls in the White House and Foggy Bottom. The world has changed; you are no longer able to call all the shots.
Eventually you might even be thankful that some prescient grownups came by, rose to the occasion, and defused a very volatile situation from which no one — repeat, no one — would have profited.
Giving Hypocrisy a Bad Name
One might have even thought that the idea of Iran surrendering about half its low-enriched uranium would be seen as a good thing for Israel, possibly lessening Israel’s fears that Iran might get the bomb sometime soon.
By all rights, the surrender of half Iran’s uranium should lessen those concerns, but the bomb does NOT appear to be Israel’s primary preoccupation. You see, despite the rhetoric, Israel and its supporters in Washington do not view the current dispute over Iran’s nuclear program as an “existential threat.”
Rather, it is viewed as another golden opportunity to bring “regime change” to a country considered one of Israel’s adversaries, as Iraq was under Saddam Hussein. As with Iraq, the selling point for intervention is the accusation that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, a weapon of mass destruction that might be shared with terrorists.
The fact that Iran, like Iraq, has denied that it is building a nuclear bomb — or that there is no credible intelligence proving that Iran is lying (a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 expressed confidence that Iran had halted such efforts four years earlier) — is normally brushed aside in the United States and its FCM.
Instead, the fearsome notion of Iran with nuclear weapons somehow sharing one with al-Qaeda or some other terrorist group is used to scare the American public once more. (That Iran has no ties to al-Qaeda, which is Sunni while Iran is Shiite, just as the secular Saddam Hussein despised al-Qaeda, is sloughed off.)
Yet, earlier this year, answering a question after a speech in Doha, Qatar, Secretary Clinton let slip a piece of that reality, that Iran “doesn’t directly threaten the United States, but it directly threatens a lot of our friends, allies, and partners” — read Israel, first and foremost among friends.
Clinton also would have us master the mental gymnastics required to buy into the Israeli argument that, were Iran to somehow build a single bomb from its remaining uranium (presumably after refining it to the 90 percent level required for a nuclear weapon when Iran has stumbled technologically over much lower levels), this would pose an unacceptable threat to Israel, which has 200-300 nuclear weapons along with missiles and bombers to deliver them.
But if it’s not really about the remote possibility of Iran building a nuclear bomb and wanting to commit national suicide by using it, what’s actually at stake? The obvious conclusion is that the scare tactics over Iranian nukes are the latest justification for imposing “regime change” in Iran.
That goal dates back at least to President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” speech in 2002, but it has an earlier precedent. In 1996, leading American neocons, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, prepared a radical strategy paper for Israel’s Netanyahu calling for a new approach to guaranteeing Israel’s security, through the removal or neutralizing of hostile Muslim regimes in the region.
Called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” the plan envisioned abandoning “land for peace” negotiations and instead “reestablishing the principle of preemption,” beginning with the ouster of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and then tackling other regional enemies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran.
However, to achieve such an ambitious goal — with the necessary help of American money and military might — required making traditional peace negotiations appear foolish or impossible and then ratcheting up tensions.
Obviously, with President Bush in the White House and with the U.S. public outraged over the 9/11 attacks, new possibilities opened – and Saddam Hussein, the first target of “securing the realm,” was taken out by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
But the Iraq War didn’t go as easily as expected, and President Obama’s intentions to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process and to engage Iran in negotiations emerged as new obstacles to the plan. It became important to show how naïve the young President was regarding the impossibility of dealing with Iran.
Derailing a Deal
Many Washington insiders were shocked last Oct. 1 when Tehran agreed to send 2,640 pounds (then as much as 75 percent of Iran’s total) of low-enriched uranium abroad to be turned into fuel for a small reactor that does medical research.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, gave Tehran’s agreement “in principle,” at a meeting in Geneva of representatives of members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, chaired by Javier Solana of the European Union.
Even the New York Times acknowledged that this, “if it happens, would represent a major accomplishment for the West, reducing Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon quickly, and buying more time for negotiations to bear fruit.”
The conventional wisdom presented in the FCM today has it that Tehran backed off the deal. True; but that is only half the story, a tale that highlights how, in Israel’s set of priorities, regime change in Iran comes first.
The uranium swap had the initial support of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And a follow-up meeting was scheduled for Oct. 19 at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
However, the accord soon came under criticism from Iran’s opposition groups, including the “Green Movement” led by defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has had ties to the American neocons and to Israel since the Iran-Contra days of the 1980s when he was the prime minister who collaborated on secret arms deals.
Strangely, it was Mousavi’s U.S.-favored political opposition that led the assault on the nuclear agreement, calling it an affront to Iran’s sovereignty and suggesting that Ahmadinejad wasn’t being tough enough.
Then, on Oct. 18, a terrorist group called Jundullah, acting on amazingly accurate intelligence, detonated a car bomb at a meeting of top Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders and tribal leaders in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan in southeastern Iran. A car full of Guards was also attacked.
A brigadier general who was deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards ground forces, the Revolutionary Guards brigadier commanding the border area of Sistan-Baluchistan, and three other brigade commanders were killed in the attack; dozens of other military officers and civilians were left dead or wounded.
Jundullah took credit for the bombings, which followed years of lethal attacks on Revolutionary Guards and Iranian policemen, including an attempted ambush of President Ahmadinejad’s motorcade in 2005.
Tehran claims Jundullah is supported by the U.S., Great Britain and Israel, and retired CIA Middle East operations officer Robert Baer has fingered Jundullah as one of the “good terrorist” groups benefiting from American help.
I believe it to be no coincidence that the Oct. 18 attack – the bloodiest in Iran since the 1980-88 war with Iraq – came one day before nuclear talks were to resume at the IAEA in Vienna to follow up on the Oct. 1 breakthrough. The killings were sure to raise Iran’s suspicions about U.S. sincerity.
It’s a safe bet that the Revolutionary Guards went directly to their patron, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, arguing that the bombing and roadside attack proved that the West cannot be trusted.
Khamenei issued a statement on Oct. 19 condemning the terrorists, whom he charged “are supported by certain arrogant powers’ spy agencies.”
The commander of the Guards’ ground forces, who lost his deputy in the attack, charged that the terrorists were “trained by America and Britain in some of the neighboring countries,” and the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards threatened retaliation.
The attack was big news in Iran, but not big news in the United States, where the FCM quickly consigned the incident to the great American memory hole. The FCM also began treating Iran’s resulting anger over what it considered acts of terrorism and its heightened sensitivity to outsiders crossing its borders as efforts to intimidate “pro-democracy” groups supported by the West.
Still, Iran Sends a Delegation
Despite the Jundallah attack and the criticism from the opposition groups, a lower-level Iranian technical delegation did go to Vienna for the meeting on Oct. 19, but Iran’s leading nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili stayed away.
The Iranians questioned the trustworthiness of the Western powers and raised objections to some details, such as where the transfer should occur. The Iranians broached alternative proposals that seemed worth exploring, such as making the transfer of the uranium on Iranian territory or some other neutral location.
But the Obama administration, under mounting domestic pressure on the need to be tougher with Iran, dismissed Iran’s counter-proposals out of hand, reportedly at the instigation of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and neocon regional emissary Dennis Ross.
Both officials appeared averse to taking any steps that might lessen the impression among Americans that Ahmadinejad is anything other than a rabid dog needing to be put down, the new most despised bête noire (having replaced the now deceased Saddam Hussein, who was hanged by the U.S.-installed government in Iraq).
Watching all this, da Silva and Erdogan saw the parallels between Washington’s eagerness for an escalating confrontation with Iran and the way the United States had marched the world, step by step, into the invasion of Iraq (complete with the same deeply biased coverage by the leading American news outlets.)
This spring, hoping to head off a similar result, the two leaders dusted off the Oct. 1 uranium transfer initiative and got Tehran to agree to similar terms last Monday. Both called for sending 2,640 pounds of Iran’s low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for nuclear rods that would have no applicability for a weapon.
Yet, rather than embrace this Iranian concession as at least a step in the right direction, U.S. officials sought to scuttle it, by pressing instead for more sanctions. The FCM did its part by insisting that the deal was just another Iranian trick that would leave Iran with enough uranium to theoretically create one nuclear bomb.
An editorial in Tuesday’s Washington Post, entitled “Bad Bargain,” concluded wistfully/wishfully:
“It’s possible that Tehran will retreat even from the terms it offered Brazil and Turkey — in which case those countries should be obliged to support U.N. sanctions.”
On Wednesday, a New York Times’ editorial rhetorically patted the leaders of Brazil and Turkey on the head as if they were rubes lost in the big-city world of hard-headed diplomacy. The Times wrote:
“Brazil and Turkey … are eager to play larger international roles. And they are eager to avoid a conflict with Iran. We respect those desires. But like pretty much everyone else, they got played by Tehran.”
Rather than go forward with the uranium transfer agreement, Brazil and Turkey should “join the other major players and vote for the Security Council resolution,” the Times said. “Even before that, they should go back to Tehran and press the mullahs to make a credible compromise and begin serious negotiations.”
Focus on Sanctions
Both the Times and the Post have applauded the Obama administration’s current pursuit of tougher economic sanctions against Iran – and on Tuesday, they got something to cheer about.
“We have reached agreement on a strong draft [sanctions resolution] with the cooperation of both Russia and China,” Secretary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making clear that she viewed the timing of the sanctions as a riposte to the Iran-Brazil-Turkey agreement.
“This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide,” she declared.
Her spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, was left with the job of explaining the obvious implication that Washington was using the new sanctions to scuttle the plan for transferring half of Iran’s enriched uranium out of the country.
Question: “But you say that you’re supportive and appreciative [of the Iran-Brazil-Turkey agreement], but don’t you think you handicapped it in any way? I mean, now by introducing the resolution the day after the agreement, you almost guarantee that Iran is going to react in a negative way.”
Another question: “Why, if, in fact, you think this Brazil-Turkey deal — Iran will prove that it is not serious and you don’t have a lot of optimism that it’s going to go forward and Iran will continue to show that it’s not serious about its nuclear ambitions, why don’t you just wait for that to play out and then you could get a tougher resolution and even presumably Brazil and Turkey would vote for it because Iran would have humiliated them and embarrassed them? Why don’t you just wait to see how that plays out?”
Yet another question: “The impression left, though, is that the message here — sure there’s a message to Iran, but there’s also a message to Turkey and Brazil, and that is, basically, get out of our sandbox, that the big boys and girls are playing here and we don’t need your meddling. Do you not — you don’t accept that?”
I almost found myself feeling sorry for poor P.J. Crowley, who did his level best to square these and other circles. His answers were lacking in candor, but did reflect an uncanny ability to stick to one key talking point; i. e., that the “real key,” the “primary issue” is Iran’s ongoing enrichment of uranium. He said this, in identical or similar words no fewer than 17 times.
That the State Department at this moment has chosen to cite this single point as a showstopper is curious, at best. The proposed deal offered to Tehran last Oct. 1 did not require it to give up enrichment, either.
And the current emphasis on non-observance of Security Council resolutions – which had been demanded by the United States and its allies – is eerily reminiscent of the strategy for maneuvering the world toward the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Crowley said the administration has “no particular timetable” in mind for putting a resolution to a vote, saying, “it will take as long as it takes.” He added that President Obama “laid out a goal of having this done by the end of this spring” – about one month from now.
Despite the efforts by Washington officialdom and neocon opinion-makers to derail the Iran-Brazil-Turkey plan, it still seems on track, at least for the moment.
Iranian officials have said they would send a letter confirming the deal to the IAEA within a week. In a month, Iran could ship 2,640 pounds of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey.
Within a year, Russia and France would produce 120 kg of 20-percent enriched uranium to be used to refuel a research reactor in Tehran that produces isotopes to treat cancer patients.
As for Clinton’s claim that China, as well as Russia are part of a consensus on the draft Security Council resolution, time will tell.
There is particular doubt as to how firmly China is on board. On Monday, Chinese officials hailed the Iran-Brazil-Turkey proposal and said it should be fully explored. Russian officials also suggested that the new transfer plan be given a chance.
Also, the proposed new sanctions don’t go as far as some U.S. and Israeli hardliners wanted. For instance, it does not embargo gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran, a harsh step that some neocons had hoped would throw Iran into economic and political chaos as a prelude for “regime change.”
Instead, the proposed new sanctions call for inspections of Iranian ships suspected of entering international ports with nuclear-related technology or weapons. Some analysts doubt that this provision would have much practical effect on Iran.
Israel will be conferring with Washington before issuing an official response, but Israeli officials have told the press that the transfer deal is a ”trick” and that Iran had “manipulated” Turkey and Brazil.
There is every reason to believe that Israel will search deep into its toolbox for a way to sabotage the agreement, but it isn’t clear that the usual diplomatic tools will work at this stage. There remains, of course, the possibility that Israel will go for broke and launch a preemptive military strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In the meantime, it’s a sure bet that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will apply all the pressure he can on Obama.
As a former CIA analyst, I hope that Obama would have the presence of mind to order a fast-track special National Intelligence Estimate on the implications of the Iran-Brazil-Turkey agreement for U.S. national interests and those of the countries of the Middle East.
Obama needs an unvarnished assessment of the agreement’s possible benefits (and its potential negatives) as counterweight to the pro-Israel lobbying that will inevitably descend on the White House and State Department.
Everyone has their breaking point for hate speech and racism. Mine came when I watched the video you can find here, where what started out to be a “decent” interview between a Fox reporter, Megyn Kelly, and a representative of the Media Research Center and Council of American-Islamic Relations ended with the Fox reporter shouting ‘that’s way out of line, that’s way out of line’ at the CAIR representative as if to imply he had no businesss making the assertion that more abortion clinic personnel have been killed by members of the Christian right who protested what is a legal right women have to abortion than people who’ve been killed by Muslims protesting depictions of the Last Messenger and Prophet. Evidently that fact doesn’t fit into Fox News’ ideas of domestic terrorism and who the adherents of terrorism are especially if they are white Christians and not brown skinned bearded, covered and menacing Muslims.
Glen Greenwald’s breaking point must have come when he read a New York Times editorial by one Ross Douthat a rather nasty Islamophobe who has been featured in the pages of Miscellany101 before here. Douthat’s piece put forth the premise Muslims can intimidate artists who live by poetic license into not offending Muslim sensibilities but law abiding Christians who supposedly don’t engage in the same polemic are offended by artists who are not afraid of them nor have any respect for Christian religious beliefs. Greenwald pretty much slams the door on Douthat and by extension the visibly upset FoxNews reporter’s argument thusly:
It looks like Ross Douthat picked the wrong month to try to pretend that threat-induced censorship is a uniquely Islamic practice. Corpus Christi is the same play that was scheduled and then canceled (and then re-scheduled) by the Manhattan Theater Club back in 1998 as a result of “anonymous telephone threats to burn down the theater, kill the staff, and ‘exterminate’ McNally.” Both back then and now, leading the protests (though not the threats) was the Catholic League, denouncing the play as “blasphemous hate speech.”
I abhor the threats of violence coming from fanatical Muslims over the expression of ideas they find offensive, as well as the cowardly institutions which acquiesce to the accompanying demands for censorship. I’ve vigorously condemned efforts to haul anti-Muslim polemicists before Canadian and European “human rights” (i.e., censorship) tribunals. But the very idea that such conduct is remotely unique to Muslims is delusional, the by-product of Douthat’s ongoing use of his New York Times column for his anti-Muslim crusade and sectarian religious promotion.
The various forms of religious-based, intimidation-driven censorship and taboo ideas in the U.S. — what Douthat claims are non-existent except when it involves Muslims — are too numerous to chronicle. One has to be deeply ignorant, deeply dishonest or consumed with petulant self-victimization and anti-Muslim bigotry to pretend they don’t exist. I opt (primarily) for the latter explanation in Douthat’s case.
As Balloon-Juice’s DougJ notes, everyone from Phil Donahue and Ashliegh Banfield to Bill Maher and Sinead O’Connor can tell you about that first-hand. As can the cable television news reporters who were banned by their corporate executives from running stories that reflected negatively on Bush and the war. When he was Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani was fixated on using the power of his office to censor art that offended his Catholic sensibilities. The Bush administration banned mainstream Muslim scholars even from entering the U.S. to teach. The Dixie Chicks were deluged with death threats for daring to criticize the Leader, forcing them to apologize out of fear for their lives. Campaigns to deny tenure to academicians, or appointments to politicial officials, who deviate from Israel orthodoxy are common and effective. Responding to religious outrage, a Congressional investigation was formally launched and huge fines issued all because Janet Jackson’s breast was displayed for a couple of seconds on television.
All that’s to say nothing of the endless examples of religious-motivated violence by Christian and Jewish extremists designed to intimidate and suppress ideas offensive to their religious dogma (I’m also pretty sure the people doing this and this are not Muslim). And, contrary to Douthat’s misleading suggestion, hate speech laws have been used for censorious purposes far beyond punishing speech offensive to Muslims — including, for instance, by Christian groups invoking such laws to demand the banning of plays they dislike.
It’s nice that The New York Times hired a columnist devoted to defending his Church and promoting his religious sectarian conflicts without any response from the target of his bitter tribalistic encyclicals. Can one even conceive of having a Muslim NYT columnist who routinely disparages and rails against Christians and Jews this way? To ask the question is to answer it, and by itself gives the lie to Douthat’s typically right-wing need to portray his own majoritarian group as the profoundly oppressed victim at the hands of the small, marginalized, persecuted group which actually has no power (it’s so unfair how Muslims always get their way in the U.S.). But whatever else is true, there ought to be a minimum standard of factual accuracy required for these columns. The notion that censorship is exercised only on behalf of Muslims falls far short of that standard.
(1) Several people are insisting that the problem of violence and threats by Muslims is far greater than, and thus not comparable to, those posed by Christians and Jews. This is just the same form of triabalistic, my-side-is-always-better blindness afflicting Douthat. Who could possibly look at the U.S. and conclude that brutal, inhumane, politically-motivated, designed-to-intimidate violence is a particular problem among Muslims, or that Muslims receive special, unfairly favorable treatment as a result of their intimidation? Do you mean except for the tens of thousands of Muslims whom the U.S. has imprisoned without charges for years, and the hundreds of thousands our wars and invasions and bombings have killed this decade alone, and the ones from around the world subjected to racial and ethnic profiling, and the ones we’ve tortured and shot up at checkpoints and are targeting for state-sponsored assassination?
(2) There’s no question that violence or threatened violence by Islamic radicals against authors, cartoonists and the like is a serious problem. But (a) simply click on the links above — or talk to workers in abortion clinics about the climate in which they work — and try to justify how you can, with a straight face, claim it’s not very pervasive among extremists and fanatics generally, and (b) avoid exaggerating the problem. The group that threatened the South Park creators is a tiny, fringe group founded by a former right-wing Jewish-American settler in the West Bank who converted to Islam and spends most of his time harrassing American Muslims (the former “James Cohen”; h/t Archtype); they’re about as representative of Muslims generally as Fred Phelps and these people are representative of Christians. Moreover, numerous blogs displayed the Mohammed cartoons and plan to do so again; the notion that the Western World is cowering in abject fear from Muslim intimidation is absurdly overblown.
(3) Sarah Palin recently defended the Rev. Franklin Graham’s statement that Islam is “a very evil and wicked religion.” That barely caused a ripple of controversy. Imagine if a leading political figure had said anything remotely similar about Christianity or Judaism. The claim that Muslims receive some sort of special protection or sensitivity is the opposite of reality.
I might add everywhere you see The New York Times and or Ross Douthat in Greenwald’s piece above, you can safely insert FoxNews and Megyn Kelly, or any other corporate media type and their corresponding lackey/reporter….the rhetoric is essentially the same and equally perverse. If you want to really get a flavor for Greenwald’s piece read it in its entirety here.
What is common about these two media encounters, mine and Greenwald’s is how it appears media wants to inflame public passions against a group of people who are 0.00067% of the Muslim population (548 members of Revolution Muslim out of an estimated population of 6 million Muslims) of the US in such a way as to imply they can possibly limit or even do away with the freedoms of speech we hold so dearly when it has been the government’s response to this minuscule number that poses a greater threat to that freedom than anything the Revolution Muslim can conjure. Such is the rhetoric which drives media and government ever closer to the precipice of destroying the social order in a way no amount of terror, Islamic, foreign, domestic, militia driven or otherwise could ever do and yet the general public seems alright with that notion that freedom and liberty are ok to forfeit or lose at the expense of persecuting minorities, the opposition, but certainly for now Muslims. It is a notion we have embraced to readily in our past and it’s time to forgo it now.
During the height of L.A.’s Rampart scandal–in which a rogue unit of anti-gang cops orchestrated the deportation of hundreds of illegal immigrants and then used deportation threats to elicit all kinds of phony informant testimony and to cover up their own brutally criminal behavior in a heavily immigrant neighborhood–I happened to take a slow drive through the Rampart area to gawk at the few remaining Victorian mansions still standing amidst the graffiti-strewn stucco and open-air smack dealers. Through distracted confusion at a semi-tricky intersection I ended up running a red light, right in front of an LAPD patrol car.
“What are you doing in this neighborhood?” one of the cops asked. I told them, apologized for my mistake, and they…sent me on my way. “Be more careful next time!”, etc. It was the most memorable data point in something I’ve noticed ever since cutting off my hippie hair and losing all the terrible earrings: When you look “normal,” interaction with police–or “lawful contact,” in the Arizona parlance–tends to go much smoother. Better yet, it rarely takes place at all.
You can observe this phenomenon not just behind the wheel, but out on the street. I jaywalk probably every day (though only when the coast is totally clear), and frequently do so right in front of The Man (him being so prevalent in the District of Columbia). Though I got ticketed once during the longhair days, the only time a cop has said boo ever since was when I blatantly crossed over to the D.C. Convention Center in front of a half-dozen policemen standing there looking at me. “Use the light next time,” one said, and I was on my way. Good thing I wasn’t some dude walking in L.A.’s Skid Row.
I mention this trivia because Steve Chapman had an important point this morning about the question over what could constitute “legal contact” or probable cause in Arizona. “On the average car,” Chapman said a cop once told him, “he could find half a dozen reasons to write up additional citations if provoked. Any of those would serve equally well to justify a stop.” When you have thousands upon thousands of criminal laws, chances are non-trivial that you’re breaking one of them as we speak, or at least can be seen as possibly breaking one of them, in case you happen to cross paths with a motivated law enforcement officer. The “driving while black” phenomenon is not some Al Sharpton urban legend.
Of all the misguided apologia I’ve seen for Arizona’s papers-please law, chief among them has been the notion that somehow, some way, this won’t lead to selective enforcement based on personal appearance. For instance, American Spectator writer (and Reason contributor) W. James Antle III:
Far from authorizing local police officers to pull Hispanics from crowds at random and demand to see proof of legal residency, the law requires a prior “legal contact” — that is, there needs to already be something going on, like an arrest or a traffic stop. The law specifically bans race and ethnicity as the sole grounds for a “reasonable suspicion” of illegal presence in the United States.
Or the American Conservative‘s Daniel Larison:
[T]he only people who have reason to complain about this law are those who are here illegally and those who believe that immigration laws should simply not be enforced.
The whole only-people-with-reason-to-fear argument, to put it mildly, has not been a historical friend of liberty. Nor is it usually accurate. If you are a legal resident immigrant from Mexico, you have plenty of “reason to complain” about this law, because now it’s more likely that you are going to be pulled over by an Arizona cop. And every transaction with a cop, especially if you are viewed as non-normal, is an opportunity for a negative outcome, from detainment to car impoundment (even if you’re never charged with a crime!) to something worse.For those clinging to the fantasy that the law’s “may not solely consider race, color or national origin” provision will somehow prevent profiling of Mexican-looking people, three points: 1) Steve Chapman’s six likely infractions by every driver is a built-in workaround for that “may not solely.” When you have thousands of laws, it’s not hard finding one that justifies the profiling. 2) Even in jurisdictions that didn’t just pass new laws targeting illegal immigrants, when you lower the bar for “legal contact” you increase the likelihood of targeting minorities. In the police empowerment zone that is New York City, a “stop-and-frisk” policy that has averaged 1,260 legal contacts per day has been enforced thusly: “A disproportionate 84 percent of […] stops involved blacks or Hispanics; only 10 percent involved white people.”
But the biggest blind spot in conservatives’ trust-the-government approach concerning Arizona is the easily discoverable fact that local law enforcement has already been engaging in the behavior that the apologists say won’t happen. Here’s a Phoenix New Times story from two years ago:
[Maricopa County Sheriff Joe] Arpaio began sponsoring “crime suppression sweeps” earlier this year, bringing hundreds of deputies and volunteer posse members to heavily Hispanic areas. Residents were pulled over for minor traffic offenses and questioned about their immigration status.
I have sympathy for people who are freaked out by desperate immigrants and ruthless smugglers trampling over their property in southern Arizona, and as I’ve said elsewhere, us pro-immigrant types too easily skate over rule-of-law objections. Federal immigration policy is a failure, and poses real public policy challenges that no amount of righteous indignation and/or handwaving makes disappear.
But anti-illegal immigration crackdowns almost always end up restricting freedom for the rest of us. And giving cops more power is almost always felt more on the receiving end by people–including people just as law-abiding as you and I–who don’t look like the norm. Remember, the stated goal of the new law is “to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona.” Those who think you can surgically accomplish “attrition” without inflaming and driving out legal residents, too, are kidding themselves. I doubt that many Arizonans themselves believe it.