Thursday, August 31, 2006

When the Levees Collapsed. posted by Richard Seymour

Spike Lee's brilliant new documentary about Katrina should be seen as widely as possible. It is a four-part documentary, and I'm uploading Parts I & II as fast as I can, and will post further links asap. I will upload Parts III & IV this evening if possible.

For now, here's the first ten minutes:

And here's the second:

Straightforward links will be added to later uploaded segments rather than embedded videos.

A couple of quick comments. The documentary has to peel through layers of misperception by some people, and wilful misdirection by certain political figures, and the story is not straightforward. There are questions raised about the levees, and whether there were explosions, but it isn't principally about that. There is tonnes of footage from within, lots of discussions with different people, who Lee allows to tell their own stories. He's a bit too soft on Nagin so far, to be honest, but one or two relevant criticisms are raised. There is a cutting account of some of the conduct of the Bush administration and some historical discussion. The issues of race and class intersect in obvious ways: contiguous, rather than competing issues that is.

Segments: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.

That's all of parts I & II.

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George Galloway in Beirut. posted by Richard Seymour

Galloway reports for The Guardian:

As the smoke clears from the battlefield of the 34-day war in Lebanon, it would be a mistake to count the cost only in fallen masonry and fresh graves. All is changed, changed utterly, by the defeat that the whole of Israel is now debating, from the cabinet through the lively press to the embittered reservists at the falafel stall. Practically the only person in the world who claims Israel won the war is George Bush - and we all know his definition of the words "mission accomplished".

Reports that the Hizbullah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, expressed regret this week at having underestimated Israel's reponse to the capture of two of its soldiers were misleading. In fact, Nasrallah thanked God that the attack came when the resistance movement was prepared, as he was convinced Israel would have otherwise invaded later in the year at a time of its choosing.

If the fierce thicket of the Iraqi resistance stopped the Bush war spreading to Syria then the extraordinary Hizbullah victory has surely made the world think again about an attack on Iran. But the main - and maybe the most welcome - shift in the 40-year-old paradigm of the Israeli-Arab conflict is the puncturing of the belief in a permanent and unchallengeable Israeli military superiority over its neighbours and the hubris this has induced in Israeli leaders - from the sleek Shimon Peres through the roughhouse of Binyamin Netanyahu to the stumbling Mr Magoo premiership of Ehud Olmert.

The myth of invincibility is a souffle that cannot rise twice...

Read on

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

61,290 posted by Richard Seymour

That's how many they expected to die during Katrina:

As Katrina roared into the Gulf of Mexico, emergency planners pored over maps and charts of a hurricane simulation that projected 61,290 dead and 384,257 injured or sick in a catastrophic flood that would leave swaths of southeast Louisiana uninhabitable for more than a year.
These planners were not involved in the frantic preparations for Katrina. By coincidence, they were working on a yearlong project to prepare federal and state officials for a Category 3 hurricane striking New Orleans.

Their fictitious storm eerily foreshadowed the havoc wrought by Category 4 Katrina a few days later, raising questions about whether government leaders did everything possible — as early as possible — to protect New Orleans residents from a well-documented threat.

Via Qlipoth.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Solidarity - a new movement for socialism in Scotland. posted by Richard Seymour

A socialist party with a one word name and a charismatic if aleatory Scotsman as the media figurehead - where did they get that idea?

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From 'Totalitarianism' to 'Islamofascism'. posted by Richard Seymour

I've had a bash at this preposterous 'totalitarianism' notion before, but there's a good piece about it in Socialist Worker this week. I particularly want to highlight the section that deals with Blair's grubby little catchphrases and connects with a very old kind of Cold War ideology:

In Blair’s Los Angeles speech, he spoke about how in politics “the increasing divide today is between open and closed” - and “open” in this context means “free trade” and “managed immigration”.

The notion that the fundamental political distinction is between “open” and “closed” societies was first championed by Karl Popper.

He was an Austrian philosopher whose political theories rose to prominence at the end of the Second World War and became deeply influential in right wing circles during the Cold War.

Popper came from a Jewish background and had to flee his native Austria when the Nazis came to power. He opposed fascism - but he was also a fanatical anti-Marxist. Popper argued that communism and fascism, far from being opposites, were in fact twins.

Both were examples of “closed” societies marked by “totalitarian” political ideologies.

Liberal democracies, on the other hand, were “open” and thus equally opposed to both extremes, left and right.

These ideas, and related theories of “totalitarianism”, were eagerly championed by ruling classes across the US and Western Europe.

They provided the perfect cover for imperialist meddling abroad and political repression at home. Liberation movements in the colonies and trade unionists in the West could all be labelled as “communist”, and therefore as “enemies of freedom”.

The other crucial feature of Popper’s “totalitarianism” theory was that it deliberately blurred the distinction between left and right - another favourite theme of Blair.

This allowed Western ruling classes to put a “left wing” gloss on their ideology when it was convenient. Communism was the same as fascism, the left opposed fascism, therefore the left should side with the US against Russia - or so the logic went.

These arguments did in fact attract certain sections of the far left. Trotskyist activists such as Max Shachtman in the US, reeling from the murderous repression meted out by Stalin’s agents against revolutionaries, started to see Western capitalism as relatively progressive.

Shachtman’s followers supported the US during the Vietnam war and some, such as Irving Kristol, became full-blown neoconservatives.

Blair's arguments, then, come directly from the Atlanticist tradition in the Labour Party which have always dovetailed neatly with Cold War liberalism and its successor, neoconservatism. It is interesting in that respect how easily, almost gracefully, New Labour idiotology has become outright neoconservatism.

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Katrina reports: exploitation, racism, theft, and other little details. posted by Richard Seymour

The newspapers this morning are carrying pictures from the crime scene. Some of them are shocked that so little has been done to reconstruct and revitalise the city. I wonder if any of the reporters who are shocked ever flick on the television? Last Friday night, don't ask me why, I found myself watching a new US television comedy on Channel 4, in which the big laugh was the white father who was upset that his daughter was going out with a black guy. The canned audience could scarcely contain itself as he implied that the kid was probably a gangster, (before going on to dish out some homophobic abuse toward his own son). One has become used to casual racism presented as comedy on television screens (like the charming way in which 'American Dad' makes light of rape, torture and murder in Guantanamo), but there was nothing casual about this. And we've all seen the racism in US action films: Clint gazing down at the wounded black bank robber, Seagal busting up the black drug dealer or pimp, Tom Sizemore et al firing desperately at storms of dark-skinned people... add your own examples. A culture in which people are encouraged to view non-whites as a criminally culpable, decadent and dangerous underclass who must be policed, repressed, gunned down, whose suffering matters little, whose self-defense is an affront, who are lucky to be tolerated - that is the context in which people believed that starving, neglected people in New Orleans had shot at aid workers. When that particular story went out in the press, ITN interviewed a few bigots in nearby states who were simply agog at the reported behaviour of New Orleans blacks: "well, of course they ain't gon come help yew if you're shootin at em!"

A report (PDF) by the Advancement Project, the National Immigration Law Center and The New Orleans Workers Justice Coalition, discusses the racism, abuse, exploitation and violations of law that black and Latino workers encountered following the catastrophe. For instance:

In September, a labor broker arrived at the White Mountain Apache Nation reservation where Dan lived in Arizona and told him about work in New Orleans. He was told the pay was $14 to $16 an hour, the work was guaranteed, and he would have housing. The tribal government paid a labor broker $1,600 for gas and expenses, and some 80 Apaches climbed into vans to find work. In New Orleans, the labor broker disappeared. The Apaches, including Dan, were dropped off in front of a FEMA office, and were turned away. After several days of homelessness, the Apaches found City Park, an unlit makeshift campground, where Dan has been paying $300 a month to pitch a tent. For months, he would barely find enough construction work to scrape by. “Now I have a job. I drive a truck for a company that’s rebuilding the levees.” Dan works 18-hour shifts. Today he works from 6 a.m. to midnight, but the port-o-lets at the park are only open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. “So where do I brush my teeth?” Dan asks, clutching a toothbrush as he leaves the park to get to work.

That would have been around the time Bush was suspending minimum wage and safety laws so that the companies allied to him and the local Democratic political class could cash in.

Another by Save the Children discusses the horrible conditions and the threats to children's health from the transitional 'housing' that thousands are still forced to live in.

A third report by 142 US organisations and 32 individuals documents human rights abuses during and after Katrina.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on how businesses have taken the opportunity to drastically inflate prices for everything in New Orleans, and while many areas of the Gulf Coast are being rebuilt rapidly, New Orleans is stagnating due to the curious 'inertia' of 'local community leaders' (they're busily privatising everything they can get their hands on and trying to sideline local people so that they can turn the place over to rich developers). Today, by the way, is the deadline for locals to gut and board up their destroyed homes before the city siezes them. If you're out of state for any wierd reason, the state is about to cancel your entitlement to the house you have worked and paid for. Meanwhile, the state has saved the insurance industry billions of dollars by siding against policyholders whose homes were destroyed by a surge.

Those are some of the details of the crime spree that is ongoing, but we need to understand what lies beneath it. New Orleans is still owned and run by a racist, quasi-aristocratic capitalist class, the descendants of slave-owners and segregationists. These people have stated over and over that they do not want the working class, especially the black working class, to return. Lance Hill of Tulane University tells the BBC:

"In the wake of the flood, a small group of powerful business leaders and developers - the old blue-blood elite - took it upon themselves to plan the city into the next 20-30 years."

The problem was that "virtually no African-Americans" had returned to the city when those plans were being formed, says Mr Hill, who describes himself as a white liberal.

There were proposals not to rebuild historically black neighbourhoods, which alarmed African-Americans, he says.

"African-Americans who were displaced became deeply suspicious that their homes were going to be bulldozed, their jobs taken away and their hospitals closed.

"There was a general fear that they were being locked out of the city," Mr Hill says.

He says he believes the intention was to exclude poor people. But because the city had been racially segregated for generations, the practical effect was to exclude blacks.

"If you want to eliminate a high concentration of poor African-Americans by eliminating a neighbourhood, you also eliminate working-class, middle-class, even wealthy blacks," he says.

"Class became race in New Orleans."

Of course, that blue-blood elite had ample warning of the disaster to come, and they were deeply involved in the pre-Katrina planning that mysteriously ommitted plans to assist the poor. Greg Palast reports on the expert who gave advance warnings of Katrina and was threatened for his efforts - by a state official who now works for Innovative Emergency Management. The Bush administration was also warned in advance and then made its curious sequence of decisions including the blockading of aid, the refusal to allow those trapped in the city, starving and dying of thirst, to leave, and then the imposition of martial law and the attempt at forcible eviction of those who remained. If they had been planning to use this catastrophe as an excuse to 'clean out public housing' as one Congressman cheerfully put it at the time, and thereby initiate the 'thirty-year plans' for the development of the city with its 'underclass', they could not have done much better than they have. The only thing that could possibly hinder them would be the resistance of survivors and the solidarity of American workers from across the country.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Sadr: street fighting man. posted by Richard Seymour

Right on cue, the Mahdi Army is fighting the occupiers and their surrogates in the streets. It looks as if a crackdown on the group, probably induced by their sectarian pro-occupation antagonists in the puppet government, has brought this about. It's a real problem for the occupiers, since they know that to turn Sadr into an armed resistance leader would be it for them. They can't win against the resistance as it is, but they'd certainly lose if an alliance between the Sadrists combined themselves with it.

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Hurricane Katrina: Race and Class. posted by Richard Seymour

Kristen Lavelle and Joe Feagin, "Hurricane Katrina: The Race and Class Debate", Monthly Review, Volume 58, No 3.

An excellent and timely discussion of the dynamics of race and class in New Orleans from antebellum slavery until the present.

PS: The Hurricane Katrina dossier has been updated, with many more links and stories.

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On the anniversary of Katrina: why Hezbollah does what Bush wouldn't. posted by Richard Seymour

The Katrina dossier undoubtedly needs updating, but looking through it, it stands up well as an account of the racist, barbaric criminality of the Bush administration, the local Democratic establishment, the police and practically every relevant institution of the American state. Far from being merely incompetence or cruel indifference during a natural disaster, it was a shocking crime perpetrated on the poor. Not merely underfunding and poor planning: they had a plan, but it didn't include helping the poor. Not merely neglect, but the conscious blockading of the city, the refusal of aid, and the eventual imposition of martial law. Not merely the inability to house 'refugees', but the deliberate use of the situation to impose a plan for turning New Orleans into a Disneyland for rich yuppies.

How's it looking now? Well:

We are still finding dead bodies. Ten days ago, workers cleaning a house in New Orleans found a body of a man who died in the flood. He is the 23rd person found dead from the storm since March.

Over 200,000 people have not yet made it back to New Orleans. Vacant houses stretch mile after mile, neighborhood after neighborhood. Thousands of buildings remain marked with brown ribbons where floodwaters settled. Of the thousands of homes and businesses in eastern New Orleans, 13 percent have been re-connected to electricity.

The mass displacement of people has left New Orleans older, whiter and more affluent. African Americans, children and the poor have not made it back – primarily because of severe shortages of affordable housing.

Thousands of homes remain just as they were when the floodwaters receded – ghost-like houses with open doors, upturned furniture, and walls covered with growing mold.

Not a single dollar of federal housing repair or home reconstruction money has made it to New Orleans yet. Tens of thousands are waiting. Many wait because a full third of homeowners in the New Orleans area had no flood insurance. Others wait because the levees surrounding New Orleans are not yet as strong as they were before Katrina and fear re-building until flood protection is more likely. Fights over the federal housing money still loom because Louisiana refuses to clearly state a commitment to direct 50 percent of the billions to low and moderate income families.

Meanwhile, 70,000 families in Louisiana live in 240-square-foot FEMA trailers – three on my friend’s street. As homeowners, their trailer is in front of their own battered home. Renters are not so fortunate and are placed in gravel strewn FEMA-villes across the state. With rents skyrocketing, thousands have moved into houses without electricity.

Meanwhile, privatization of public services continues to accelerate.

Public education in New Orleans is mostly demolished and what remains is being privatized. The city is now the nation’s laboratory for charter schools – publicly funded schools run by private bodies. Before Katrina the local elected school board had control over 115 schools – they now control 4. The majority of the remaining schools are now charters.

The metro area public schools will get $213 million less next school year in state money because tens of thousands of public school students were displaced last year. At the same time, the federal government announced a special allocation of $23.9 million which can only be used for charter schools in Louisiana. The teachers union, the largest in the state, has been told there will be no collective bargaining because, as one board member stated, “I think we all realize the world has changed around us.”

Public housing has been boarded up and fenced off as HUD announced plans to demolish 5,000 apartments – despite the greatest shortage of affordable housing in the region’s history. HUD plans to let private companies develop the sites. In the meantime, the 4,000 families locked out since Katrina are not allowed to return.

The broken city water system is losing about 85 million gallons of water in leaks every day. That is not a typo, 85 million gallons of water a day, at a cost of $200,000 a day, are still leaking out of the system even after over 17,000 leaks have been plugged. Michelle Krupa of the Times-Picayune reports that the city pumps 135 million gallons a day through 80 miles of pipe in order for 50 million gallons to be used. We are losing more than we are using; the repair bill is estimated to be $1 billion – money the city does not have.

Public healthcare is in crisis. Our big public hospital has remained closed, and there are no serious plans to reopen it. A neighbor with cancer who has no car was told that she has to go 68 miles away to the closest public hospital for her chemotherapy.

Mental health may be worse. In the crumbling city and in the shelters of the displaced, depression and worse reign. Despite a suicide rate triple what it was a year ago, we have lost half of our psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and other mental health care workers, the New York Times reports.

Nevertheless, some commentators in the US have noticed, resentfully, that Hezbollah is assiduously reconstructing the destroyed areas of Lebanon. Big difference? While Hezbollah is a movement rooted in poor communities, the Bush administration is a government of rich sociopaths dedicated to a massive transfer of wealth to the capitalist class, particularly that sector most allied to it. That's going quite well, by the way. I mentioned before that wages had continually failed to keep up with inflation for the last six years. Latest reports show that the median wage has declined by 2 per cent since 2003, while UBS, the investment bank, describes the current period as "the golden era of profitability". Profit rates are still well below those that obtained during the long postwar boom: it is doubtful whether the structural imbalances in the US economy will allow it to recover to those peaks, especially given the growing likelihood of another recession, but Bush is doing his best to ensure that the growing crisis is paid for by American workers and not their bosses.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Latest Iraq opinion polls. posted by Richard Seymour

It has come to this for the occupiers: they have lost the support of the Kurds. The poll is from the University of Michigan. The table is from Abu Aardvaark, who sums up the findings rather neatly:

The bottom line: 91.7% of Iraqis oppose the presence of coalition troops in the country, up from 74.4% in 2004. 84.5% are "strongly opposed". Among Sunnis, opposition to the US presence went from 94.5% to 97.9% (97.2% "strongly opposed"). Among Shia, opposition to the US presence went from 81.2% to 94.6%, with "strongly opposed" going from 63.5% to 89.7%. Even among the Kurds, opposition went from 19.6% to 63.3%. In other words, it isn't just that Iraqis oppose the American presence - it's that their feelings are intense: only 7.2% "somewhat oppose" and 4.7% "somewhat support."

On these findings, 84.5% of Iraqis strongly oppose the occupation. Other interesting findings, according to the University of Michigan's account is the dramatic decrease in support for religion in politics. Secular nationalism is the prevailing sentiment, it would seem. This is undoubtedly a result of the sheer fecklessness and incompetence and corruption of the SCIRI, who have allowed themselves to be conduits of US power and who have charged their Badr Corps with the task of slaughtering Iraqis. That bit may have tested the patience of some. But there is probably also a sense in which most Iraqis increasingly understand religion in politics to be a potentially divisive factor, undermining national unity and producing sectarian violence. This would explain why the nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is reportedly growing in influence in Iraq, such that he is described as the most popular politician in the country. It is the sectarians of all groups and backgrounds that are increasingly reviled. This bodes well for attempts to form a national resistance coalition with political representation, something that has been in the works in Iraq for some time.

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The Full Galloway. posted by Richard Seymour

Following up from last night's recordings, I have the full 2 hours of this evening's broadcast for those who missed it, those who need to hear it again, and those who wish to prove a point by poring over details.

You may listen to the whole thing here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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Noam Chomsky v Andrew Marr. posted by Richard Seymour

I've put this classic bust-up between Chomsky and a youthful Andrew Marr on Youtube, so any of you who haven't seen it can now do so:

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Galloway in Beirut - Live. posted by Richard Seymour

I have recorded some of the discussion from tonight's show, from 9pm onward, and put it up on Youtube. Unfortunately, because of Youtube's 'ten minute' rule, not everything is included. But, since Talksport has a lot of ads, most of the useful discussion is. In particular, the contributions from people who served in Palestine at the tail-end of the Mandate were invaluable, but Galloway also has some imperishable dialogue with a few pro-Zionist commentators:

The rest here, here and here.

James Whale is surprisingly friendly - I always thought he was a bit of a rightist provocateur.

Update: Thanks to this guy, I now have the first hour as well: here, here, here, here and here.

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George Galloway live from Beirut posted by bat020

Just a quick reminder to Tomb readers that George Galloway's radio phone-in shows on TalkSport this weekend are being broadcast live from Beirut, 8pm to 10pm tonight and tomorrow nights (ie Saturday and Sunday). You can tune in on 1089/1053 AM, or via digital radio, or via the station's website.

There's been some chatter on the pro-war blogs about this, and talk of flooding the show with morons spouting the usual Zionist propaganda. So don't be shy about calling up and getting in your tuppence worth - phone 08704 202020 or text comments to 81089.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Lebanon's victory electrifies Egyptian dissidents: what of the European left? posted by Richard Seymour

This article, despite the contrived melancholy tone and sneering condescension, accurately reflects the growing trend toward unity in the Egyptian resistance to Mubarak as a result of Hezbollah's success. From the Muslim Brothers to secular reformers to Coptic Christians: all are united by their admiration of Hezbollah's methods and see it as a model for unity. The article mentions the Muslim Brothers' decision to abandon its hostility to Shi'ite organisations, as discussed by Sameh Naguib in Socialist Worker earlier this week. Typically, with the bureacratic focus of a wire service, the Bloomberg article doesn't mention the role of and effect on the Egyptian left and the communists. Naguib described it as follows: "The war has had a very strong polarising effect on the left in Egypt. For instance, there is a section of the Stalinist left, a 'right wing left', that says it is no longer important to be against imperialism, that we have to concentrate solely on winning democracy, that we can never stand with the Islamists, that Islamists are fascists, whether in Palestine or Lebanon or anywhere else. This kind of view, which has had some influence among a section of the left, has now disintegrated completely. People have had to shift their position, and the ones who were in the middle have shifted to the left because of the war."

The unity between the Lebanese communists, Hezbollah, Amal and even the right-wing Christian forces of Aoun provide a model for this. As one Lebanese communist remarked:

"We have a joke that, in the average Lebanese family with seven children, four will be with Hezbollah, two will be with the communists and one will be with Amal - all of them with the resistance".

That the communists fought and died along with the other resistance fighters and contributed to Israel's defeat has shown the Arab left how it can be done. It should also have sent a message to the Italian communists presently participating in Romano Prodi's government. The Italian communists, most of whose representatives in government voted to send troops to Afghanistan, based on remarkably familiar reformist arguments, are now trying to reposition themselves: they wish to support the use of Italian troops in south Lebanon and in doing so claim that this will hasten an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. As if Italy doesn't have enough soldiers to assist the imperial hegemon in all three countries if it wishes. This sort of pettifogging 'mediation' (as they prefer to call it) results directly from their decision to enter into a coalition government with Prodi and thereby share responsibility for its neoliberal, warmongering policies. This is a problem more broadly where left parties are working with or sharing government with centre-left parties. As Israel's attack on Lebanon was under way, representatives from the European United Left went to meet with the Lebanese communists and show solidarity, but the Party of the European Left have since taken an exceptionally weak position, urging EU heads to take a more 'active' role, seeking the establishment of a UN 'buffer zone' and so on (you'll have to ignore the typically sectarian attitude of that last linked article). In general, I think, we should leave it to the Lebanese resistance to decide whether they want UN troops. But if left parties enter government coalitions, they have to decide whether they want to send delegations, and in that instance the decision to support a UN-led occupation reflects reformist commitments.

The European Anticapitalist Left Bloc, by contrast, emphasises extra-parliamentary activism and militancy, and while it has not the same institutional representation as the parties of the PEL, it should act as a focus for that perspective in the European Left more generally. During Israel's assault, the European Social Forum issued a statement of solidarity with the Lebanese resistance. It's only a statement, yes, but I don't think that even this would have happened if reformists like Bernard Cassen of Attac had hegemonised the anticapitalist movement. The great success of the London ESF in 2004 was characterised by its commitment to anti-imperialism, whereas people like Cassen (and even, regrettably, George Monbiot) have argued instead that the movement should hope for the EU to act as a counterweight to the US: a grand mistake, I think. It is this kind of orientation that leads to left leaders urging the EU to be more 'active' in the Middle East. (Ironically, there was at one point a coalescence between the positions of Michael Hardt and Bernard Cassen over the allegedly baleful effect of the antiwar movement on anticapitalism: the former because he sees no relevance to nation-states at all and therefore no point in focusing resistance toward them, while the latter thinks they can tame capitalism and therefore perhaps also tame US 'unilateralism').

There were protests against Israel's aggression by leftist groups all over Europe, with the largest in London, but quite sizeable ones elsewhere including in Brussels. These were broadcast across the Middle East, alongside the ones in Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, and it was important that they were. I don't think they would have been very impressive or sizeable if the message had been "Long Live the EU" and "Giscard d'Estaing for Lebanon".

National states are not completely useless, of course. Chavez notably ordered the withdrawal of the Venezuelan ambassador to Israel. His visit to the region and his words have made him wildly popular there. But Chavez is in a unique position as a leftist leader in a capitalist state: oil revenues have given him the ability to redistribute some wealth, while his ability to outmaneouvre political enemies based on the collective strength of workers and peasants has enabled him to improve workers' rights, and actually introduce a wave of collectivisation under workers' control. It is the most profound democratisation available within a capitalist state, and is for that reason extremely tenuous. But while Chavez uses the process of reforms, he is by no means pursuing a strategy strictly delimited by reformism. In doing what he is doing, he is building up the strength of the working class and peasantry, providing the institutional means for them to defend themselves while bolstering Venezuela's defenses against external aggression by arming the populace. The issue is reformism: Chavez doesn't pursue a reformist strategy because he knows he relies upon the collective strength of those who voted him in and who filled the streets when he was ousted, thus providing the radical layers in the army with the confidence that they could restore him to power.

Now, what Chavez is doing, were it repeated in - say - Egypt, would be even more scandalous for the US than it is as practised in Venezuela. Even Aristide's mild reforms were shocking enough for the US to overthrow him, and replace him with a corrupt alliance between death-squad leaders and sweat-shop owners: under the rubric of the UN, you'll note. Venezuelan-style populism may well end up being practised by a unity government in Lebanon, because Siniora won't survive an election and neither will the Hariri gang. Hezbollah and the Lebanese left are notably the two main forces to have resisted both the Hariri neoliberal reforms and Israeli aggression. The movement against neoliberalism and for real democracy is, as I've said before, also a movement against imperialism since it is the same forces that support both, and for the same reasons. This political lesson is being drawn by the left across the Middle East, and it should be noticed on the European Left too.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Election rigging. posted by Richard Seymour

Via Alternet, the confessions of an election-rigger:

Are there computer programs that can be used to secretly fix elections?


How do you know that to be the case?

Because in October of 2000, I wrote a prototype for Congressman Tom Feeney [R-FL]...

It would rig an election?

It would flip the vote, 51-49. Whoever you wanted it to go to and whichever race you wanted to win.

And would that program that you designed, be something that elections officials... could detect?

They'd never see it.

Follow the link to watch the video testimony.

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Wall Street Journal impressed by New Fascism. posted by Richard Seymour

The trend in European far right parties has for some time been to publicly abandon their traditional antisemitic stance, embrace Israel (since they never minded its racist repression of Arabs, only its status as 'the Jewish state'), and redirect the pogrom toward Muslims. The Wall Street Journal has noticed (link from Islamophobia Watch), and reports on developments in Belgium, where the far right Vlaams Belang is having an ideological facelift:

Younger party leaders, realizing their anti-Semitic taint was poison, began making pro-Israel overtures. And the party's tough-on-crime, hostile-to-Muslims stance began to attract a considerable share of the Jewish vote, particularly among Orthodox Antwerp Jews who felt increasingly vulnerable in the face of the city's hostile Muslim community. Today, Vlaams Belang is the largest single party in the country.

And don't think the WSJ is put off an otherwise fully subscribable neoconservative programme by the Muslim-bashing element. Oh no - the reporter goes on to fulminate about the terrible political correctness in Belgium that prevents the government from dealing with crime, which is the usual paranoid fascist rant. And he goes on:

Meanwhile, the real fascists in Belgium are gaining strength, largely protected from scrutiny by the country's "anti-racism" legislation. At Brussels's Imam Reza mosque, a preacher commemorated the 17th anniversary of the Ayatollah Khomeini's death: "The enemies cannot extinguish the light of the Islamic Revolution." And in Molenbeek, the newspaper Het Volk published a study of the local Muslim population: The editor, Gunther Vanpraet, described the commune as "a breeding ground for thousands of Jihad candidates".

Wicked, naughty anti-racism legislation! The Muslims are the "real fascists", because a preacher chose to commemorate the Islamic Revolution (which, er, wasn't a fascist revolution) and because a racist newspaper editor made a racist comment. That is to say, the racist conclusions of racists are proof of the validity of those racist conclusions.

The WSJ has been the mouthpiece of the most comically reactionary segment of US capital for some years. In 2005, it reported that its readership profile was 60% top management, with an average income of $191,000, an average household net worth of $2.1 million, and an average age of 55. And, as it did not report, an average colour of white and an average gender of male. This isn't a tiny number of people: they have 712,000 paid subscribers: more than enough, if it came to it, to mount a coup I should think. Now, it's reasonably well-known that the actual news reporting in the paper is much more sane and realistic than the editorial department, which the news division sometimes characterises as "Nazis", with good reason. I should say the division of labour is roughly as follows: the news team gives the owners of America the information they need to make a killing; the editorial teams gives them the bigoted, moralistic, supremacist attitudes they require to make a killing. On this evidence, they're presently given to providing psychic fuel for putschist wing of the capitalist class. Because after all, the "real fascists" are the brown people.

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Hiding Behind Cedars?: Why Israel targetted civilians. posted by Richard Seymour

From my inbox, a brief useful article by Muhammad Ali Khalidi of the American University of Beirut:

A few days before the ceasefire took effect, a leaflet dropped by an Israeli plane wafted down outside my office window in the center of Beirut. It read, in halting Arabic: "To Lebanese Citizens: You can restore the aroma of cedars to Lebanon if you wish!!! And brush the destroyer of Lebanon off your shoulders". The accompanying caricature showed the ostensible destroyer, Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah, hiding behind a cedar tree.

At the time the truce took effect, the estimated death toll in Lebanon was put at around 1,100, up to 90% of them civilians, while official Israeli sources put their dead at 156, the majority of them combatants. The disproportionate number of civilian casualties on the Lebanese side is frequently explained by Israeli spokespersons by saying that they are fighting an enemy that is deliberately "hiding behind civilians" or using them as "human shields." In the words of the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, "When you sleep with a missile, sometimes you do not wake up in the morning."[1]

This gruesome argument is used to corroborate the claim that there is a "moral disequivalence" between Israel and Hizbullah, since the latter deliberately attacks civilians (Israeli) and hides behind civilians (Lebanese), while the former does everything possible to avoid harm to noncombatants. This claim has been repeated by George Bush and Bill Clinton alike. But there are several problems with the idea that Hizbullah uses the citizens of Lebanon as human shields.

First, Israel has yet to supply conclusive proof that a Hizbullah rocket launcher or similar military installation was positioned in close proximity to civilians. Several videotapes have been provided by the Israeli military allegedly depicting missiles being fired adjacent to civilian areas.[2] Most show rocket launchers in orchards or open fields. Although some are in the vicinity of buildings, there is no way to know if the buildings in question are residential, or indeed if they were occupied by civilians at the time.

Ironically, at least two Arab members of the Israeli Knesset have recently charged that Israel places its own military installations near inhabited Arab towns and villages in northern Israel, which they say accounts in part for the disproportionate number of Arabs (almost half) among Hizbullah's civilian victims.[3]

Second, none of the many foreign journalists stationed in southern Lebanon have produced evidence of Hizbullah installations or personnel stationed in close proximity to civilians. In a report released on August 3, Human Rights Watch "found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack."[4]

Third, military analysts argue that the primary reason that Israel has been unable to decisively defeat Hizbullah is that they have placed many of their fighters and their weapons in underground bunkers in hard-to-reach locations. Veteran Israeli military correspondent Ze'ev Schiff wrote on August 10 in Ha'aretz that in at least one battle, "Hezbollah men were hiding in underground bunkers well camouflaged from the outside. The bunkers had been stocked with large quantities of food, enough to last for weeks, and ammunition, including antitank missiles and, in several cases, short-range rockets."[5]

Fourth, Hizbullah, which has overwhelming support in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa valley, would undoubtedly lose much of its popular appeal were it to deliberately place its military installations in the vicinity of non-combatants. To suggest otherwise is to presume that Lebanese civilians, unlike their counterparts elsewhere, are positively suicidal.

If the high number of casualties among Lebanese civilians is not due to Hizbullah's hiding behind civilians, why else would Israel produce so many innocent victims and risk widespread international condemnation? Why, in the words of Human Rights Watch, have "Israeli forcesS systematically failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians in their military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon"[6]?

From the outset of the conflict, Israeli officials asserted that at least part of their aim was to put pressure on the Lebanese government and ordinary Lebanese citizens to compel Hizbullah to disarm.[7] If a high price is paid by ordinary people, the theory goes, then they are more likely to pressure Hizbullah to lay down its weapons.

As many of the leaflets dropped over Lebanon demonstrate, Israel has been waging open psychological warfare to achieve this aim. But targeting Lebanese civilians is unlikely to make them more hostile to Hizbullah. The wrath of the Lebanese, among Hizbullah's core constituency and beyond, seems largely directed at Israel. One poll in late July showed a staggering 87% of Lebanese supporting Hizbullah in its conflict with Israel.[8]

Israel's offensive in Lebanon, the overwhelming majority of whose victims have been innocent civilians, will lead to greater popular resentment and hostility towards the Jewish state. This means that we can look forward to more years of warfare and bloodshed.



3. Knesset member Azmi Bishara "has accused the Israeli government of providing no bomb shelters for the Arab population and using them as 'human shields' by placing artillery units beside Israeli Arab villages in the north." Similarly, Knesset member Sheikh Abbas Zako said in a statement: "During a short visit to offer condolences to the families of victims killed in Hizbullah's rocket attacks, I saw Israeli tanks shelling (south) Lebanon from the two towns of Arab Al-Aramisha and Tarshiha, which are predominantly populated Arabs." Zako stressed that the Israeli tanks are positioned just next to the houses of citizens. "Hizbullah's rockets are only a response to shelling by tanks positioned inside the towns," he said.

4. Human Rights Watch, "Fatal Strikes: Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon," volume 18, no. 3(E), August 2006, p.3. Accessed at:

5. Ze'ev Schiff, "The IDF in Lebanon: Security zone not yet secure," Ha'aretz, 10 August 2006. Accessed at:


7. See e.g. Paula Margulies, "The predicament of the Lebanese government," Jerusalem Post, 13 July 2006.

8. Cited in Nicholas Blanford, "Israeli strikes may boost Hizbullah base," Christian Science Monitor, 28 July 2006. Accessed at:

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Greenpeace and consumerist fantasies. posted by Richard Seymour

Greenpeace have produced an advert with the ostensible aim of showing that 4x4 cars are bad. In fact, the ad actually says that people who drive 4x4 cars in urban areas are bad. Personally, I don't think you need to be driving much around city centres at all, but then I don't drive. The fuck do I know? Maybe that air-conditioned coccoon of reinforced steel is an essential part of getting around. No beggars in a car, eh?

But if you watch the ad, it actually involves an office worker who is totally ostracised by his fellow workers, has his tea spat in, is called a wanker, has insulting notes pinned to his back... because he drives one of these cars. This is all a little bit silly and spiteful, but what strikes me is that the problem resides in the very form of advertising itself. Greenpeace want to disseminate a 'message' in a short, sexy format that doesn't demand too much of your time or intelligence, and which is designed to pander rather than challenge. The intention appears to be to encourage would-be environmentalists to feel smugly superior, to play on their resentment, with the vain hope that they will sign up for or donate to an organisation that makes them feel like that.

Behind it is the classic market-oriented logic in which the problem is not institutions and the fuel-deathlock economy that we're trapped in, but some socially irresponsible individuals who don't purchase wisely. I bet BP wouldn't be at all unhappy to sponsor an advertisement like this, since you can predict that it would have no negative effect on their sales while raising their profile among those sympathetic to environmentalists. Because BP, as everyone knows, is Beyond Petroleum. Soon, boys and girls, BP will supply a range of low-carbon fuels for today's active lifestyle. Like low-tar cigarettes, they will kill you a little more slowly, but they will provide the animating illusion that by spending a little more or choosing a different pump or engine, all will be well. At the moment, they are already pushing a Carbon Credit scheme, in which you will pay for BP's destruction of the environment by funding some renewable energy sources. Your conscience can rest a little easier. And you'll need that moral credit, once you've finished pissing in your co-worker's beer and stuffing potatos up his exhaust pipe.

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Amnesty: Israel committed war crimes. posted by Richard Seymour

Amnesty International has written up a report showing that Israel has committed war crimes. In a not totally useless move, they are also asking people to write to various government ministers and so on - but I wouldn't recommend using the form letter they've produced.

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Lebanese public opinion; live from Beirut. posted by Richard Seymour

Angry Arab brings news of the latest public opinion survey in Lebanon:

What do Lebanese want? Lebanese Public Opinion. Well, there is a new public opinion survey released by the Beirut Center (thanks Abdo for sending it to me). Quite revealing. 72 % of Lebanese believe that the resistance (a reference to Hizbullah) came out victorious from this war (70.8% of Sunnis; 96.3% of Shi`ites; 62.8% of Druzes; and 59.7% of Christians. To the question "Was the Israeli war on Lebanon due to the capture of two Israeli soldiers or to a premeditated plan, 84.6% of Lebanese believed it was due to a premeditated plan (81% of Sunnis; 97.2% of Shi`ites; 76.7% of Druzes; and 79.7% of Christians). 25.5% of Lebanese believe in the possibility of "peace with Israel" (21.3% of Sunnis; 1.9% of Shi`ites; 32.6% of Druzes; and 41.9% of Christians.)

While I'm here, I might as well mention that George Galloway's weekend radio show on Talk Sport will be broadcast this week live from Beirut. He is appealing for callers since there is sure to be an influx of Israeli apologists on the line. You can listen on Saturday and Sunday between 8pm and 10pm, 1089/1053 AM. The website isn't very reliable for carrying the sound, so I recommend you get it on your radio if you can.

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A clamorous, multiplying, gaggle of petty magistrates. posted by Richard Seymour

John Berger on the latest witch-hunt:

Without ethics man has no future. This is to say mankind without them cannot be itself. Ethics determine choices and actions and suggest difficult priorities. They have nothing to do, however, with judging the actions of others. Such judgments are the prerogative of (often self-proclaimed) moralists. In ethics there is a humility; moralists are usually righteous.

Via Charlotte Street

What we lack in our lives - real power - we sometimes try and attain through petty attempts to control or dominate others. Thus, a temporary sense of self-worth can be obtained through pointless vindictiveness or by projecting oneself into the role of Judge Judy in which the personal failings of others are exposed to one's withering critique and ultimately merciless damnation. Jail this or that person, deport them, sack him, evict her... In a pseudo-democratic culture such as ours, we can surely have phone and internet polls in which people are invited to denounce the latest villain, suggest punishments, argue for the prosecution or defense, plea for clemency etc. So long as it doesn't matter. So long as it doesn't really make any difference to your life. Vote now.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

SW Exclusives on Lebanon. posted by Richard Seymour

Socialist Worker has some excellent exclusive reports from Lebanon this week: an account of how the village of Aita al-Shaab resisted the Israelis despite the enormous destruction inflicted by air bombardment, and another of how the Lebanese civilians fed one another, clothed their children and averted a massive refugee crisis. In the latter, this stands out:

This new movement was also marked by class. The newly reconstructed upmarket district of Beirut closed its doors - and its extensive network of underground shelters - to refugees. Government supplies of food and essential items were hidden away in warehouses or sold at exorbitant rates.

Nevertheless the civilian resistance was able to forestall a refugee crisis. Over a million people who had fled their homes were absorbed into schools, parks and private homes. They were fed, given clothes and kept safe from areas targeted by Israeli bombers.

With the active backing of so many ordinary people, the displaced become an organised mass of angry people, rather than desperate refugees. On the morning of the ceasefire they would have the final word.

Far from snatching a final victory, the Israelis had instead manoeuvred themselves into a dangerous trap. They were faced with a mass of people descending from the north - and Hizbollah fighters still in control of the south.

By the evening refugees reached the border town of Bint Jbail, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting during the war. The roads were too badly damaged by Israeli bombs, so they abandoned their vehicles and marched to the town on foot.

The decisive role of ordinary Lebanese people and the class dynamic has simply not been touched on in other reports that I have seen.

Also of note is an interview with Egyptian activist Sameh Naguib, who talks about the decisive role that Hezbollah's fight has had on the Egyptian left and on the Arab streets. One of the more interesting effects has been that the Muslim Brotherhood's traditional hostility to Shi'ism was completely broken:

That has dissipated very quickly. Mahdy Akef, the general leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, produced a very strong statement a week after the war started, saying that all differences between Sunni and Shia were meaningless now. He said we should all support the resistance, that Hassan Nasrallah was the leader of all the Arab resistance, and that we should fight with him.

This is a historic document that will have repercussions on Sunni Islam and Islamism across the Arab world. It could even have positive repercussions within the Iraqi resistance, in terms of the possibilities for Shia and Sunni to fight together against the US.

So the more backwards and conservative side of Islamism has been set back at this point, at least for a period. People really didn’t care whether Nasrallah was Shia or Sunni - and this is new. All people would talk about before were details of religious belief and so on. This is receding now, and the force of resistance is much stronger.

There is also an obvious class dimension. People can see that it’s the poor of Lebanon who are suffering and that it’s the poor of Lebanon who are fighting. It’s not just any old resistance - it’s the resistance of the Lebanese working class. People can see this on television every day, and it’s easy for them to associate their misery with the misery of the Lebanese south.

The war has had a very strong polarising effect on the left in Egypt. For instance, there is a section of the Stalinist left, a “right wing left”, that says it is no longer important to be against imperialism, that we have to concentrate solely on winning democracy, that we can never stand with the Islamists, that Islamists are fascists, whether in Palestine or Lebanon or anywhere else.

This kind of view, which has had some influence among a section of the left, has now disintegrated completely. People have had to shift their position, and the ones who were in the middle have shifted to the left because of the war.

We still don’t know what the end results of this polarisation will be, but there are serious discussions, arguments and fights on the left. These are not sectarian - it is a real polarisation and it means something new. This will affect how the left in general deals with Islamic movements in Egypt and the whole position of the left towards national liberation in this region.

Also worth reading is this interview with an Iraqi poet. Oh, and one another thing: Why was the Liban Lait milk factory destroyed?

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Israeli soldiers shoot at antiwar activists. posted by Richard Seymour

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Latest Iraq resistance stats. posted by Richard Seymour

Surprisingly, the BBC carried this:

I am staggered that the 'multi-national forces' would simply release these figures, since they blatantly undermine everything that they have said about the resistance. Nevertheless, there they are for you: even after the attack on the al-Askari shrine, which was supposed to inaugurate the transition from resistance to civil war, the vast preponderance of attacks are on coalition troops, with a much smaller number on their Iraqi auxiliaries and even less on civilian targets: this despite the fact that sectarian violence has increased (thanks in large part to the pro-occupation Badr Corps and the Special Police Commandos set up by Steven Casteel, a man with a great deal of experience in the use of death squads). The BBC also mentions the official estimates of the scale of the resistance: all, certainly, underestimates. The occupiers say between 8,000 and 20,000, but they openly boast of having killed many more resistance fighters than that. The puppet government says it has 40,000 fighters plus 160,000 supporters. Let me give you some details from that Hashim book I was citing the other day - here is a list of some insurgent groups in Iraq, with a bit of detail about who they are and estimated size where possible:

The General Command of the Armed Forces, Resistance and Liberation in Iraq - former Iraqi military personnel, security and intelligence.

Popular Resistance for the Liberation of Iraq - little-known Iraqi group calls for Arab and Muslim solidarity.

Iraqi Resistance and Liberation Command - secular and nationalist group, calls for "jihad until the liberation of Iraq" (this religious language is not at all uncommon among secular groups).

Al 'Awdah (The Return) - also largely former military, pro-Ba'ath, possibly on the 'restorationist' wing of the resistance.

Harakat Ra's al-'Afa (Snake's Head Movement) - also Ba'athist, some links to Sunni Arab tribes around Fallujah and Ramadi.

Nasserites - pan-Arab nationalists, with little support in Iraq.

Thawwar al-'Arak-Kata'ib al-Anbar al-Musallallah (Iraq's Revolutionaries - Al-Anbar Armed Brigades) - an anti-Saddam nationalist insurgent group based in the Anbar province.

General Secretariat for the Liberation of Democratic Iraq - a leftist, anti-Saddam nationalist group.

Higher Command of the Mujahideen in Iraq - in 2003, they had 8,000 people. This is one of the most active resistance groups in Iraq. Although it states that it supports an Islamic state, it includes both Islamists and secularists.

Munazzamat al-Rayat al-Aswad (Black Banner Organization) - both nationalist and religious, supports attacks on the oil infrastructure.

Unification Front for the Liberation of Iraq - anti-Saddam and anti-Baath.

National Front for the Liberation of Iraq - incorporates both former Republican Guards and Islamists, apparently tried to assassinate Ahmed Chalabi, but sadly missed.

Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah - no figures available, but apparently one of the largest groups in Iraq, incorporating both Kurdish and Sunni Arab Islamists.

Mujahideen al ta'ifa al-Mansoura (Mujahideen of the Victorious Sect) - Salafist movement, includes non-Iraqi fighters.

Kata'ib al Mujahideen fi al-Jama'ah al-Salafiyah fi al-'Arak (Mujahideen Battalions of the Salafi Group of Iraq) - Salafist group with some connections to what was the Afghan mujahideen.

Jihad Brigades/Cells - guerilla fighters, little known about them.

Armed Islamic Movement of the Al Qaeda Organization, Fallujah Branch - a little known group, apparently has some amount of support in the city.

Jaish Muhammad (Army of Muhammad) - no numbers again, but apparently one of the largest resistance movements, founded in Diyala, operates around the loci of Ramadi, Fallujah, Samarra and Baqubah. (Astoundingly, several American newspaper articles and blog entries describe this largely Sunni Arab outfit as a recipient of help from Iran. Not only is this counterintuitive, but the only evidence for it is a Memri translation of the 'confessions' of a Colonel Muayed Al-Nasseri, who claims to have founded the organisation after the fall of Saddam - which is to claim that Iran assisted an organisation allegedly founded by its long-time rival).

Islamic Army of Iraq - estimated at between 15,000 and 17,000 fighters as of 2005. There are various claims about this organisation's ideological tendencies, but it appears to embrace Salafism although it appears to include ex-Baathists.

Jaish al Mahdi (Mahdi Army) - estimated at over 10,000 fighters since 2004, but easily mobilises a much larger base of non-military support. You know about these guys: Iraqi nationalism, religious piety, popular leader.

There are others, of course, but bearing in mind that most resistance groups are actually very localised cells with no integration into any national or even regional structure of command and control, I think you might have some sense that even the estimate of the size of the resistance from the puppet administration is an underestimate. The number of resistance attacks is growing; the passive support for resistance attacks registered in polls has been growing; one infers that active non-military support for the resistance has been growing too.

However, one thing about the BBC's piece that is irksome is the total neglect of violence from the occupiers. The piece is entitled "Iraq violence: Facts and figures" - well, facts and figures regarding deaths from occupation violence may be riddled with problems, but look at this:

These are the number of bodies appearing in Baghdad mortuaries every month. Baghdad alone. Now, the US recently carried out several extremely bloody raids in parts of Baghdad, and is routinely deploying violence there. Yet, the BBC can only interpret this through the prism of 'sectarian violence' (notwithstanding the occupiers' responsibility for sectarian violence, which obviously the BBC never mentions and never will).

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Redrawing the Middle East map. posted by Richard Seymour

The US Armed Forces Journal on redividing the Middle East:

The author of this demented piece waxes indignant about the injustice of the present set-up in the Middle East and its roots in self-interested European colonialism (such people always forget Woodrow Wilson's role in all of this). However, it doesn't seem to occur to him that one very obvious problem with the present division of the Middle East is that it was imposed by imperialist states. It is not only that it was done with total disregard for ethnic facts on the ground. The underlying notion of such a critique, at any rate, is the problematic assertion that people need to be apart from those of different ethnicity and together with those of similar ethnicity - the "natural ties of blood and faith" as the author has it. This position totally ignores the recent history of the Middle East, the shifting identifications based on ideology, nationality, religion and ethnicity, with each acquiring priority in different circumstances. The problem is that imperialist states have always treated the people of the Middle East as a substrate on which they may operate or a dangerous rabble which they must suppress. The will to dominate has usually been presented in such gushing terms, but the tone results less from a surfeit of idealism than from the pressing necessity to frustrate and thwart the perpetually impending catastrophe: that the people of the Middle East will select their own polities, control their own resources, choose their own governments. Sure, the author is dreaming, but not idly so: and he's not the only one.

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SSP news. posted by Richard Seymour

A split is actually now underway in the SSP. There is a motion going round the branches asking people to leave the SSP with the aim of building a broader coalition. Here is the SW Platform statement on the SSP.

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Ooh aah, Hezbollah. posted by Richard Seymour

Shortly after posting pictures and video of the 100,000 strong London demonstration against the war on Lebanon, I started to get hits from Michael Berube's site. He appears to be lit crit, as well as a pet cret of the Dems. No, really, I have no idea who the guy is. Berube was whining about my support for Hezbollah and, as I seemed to be a merely incidental character for his diorama of infidel leftists, and since he is clearly incurably banal, I decided to leave him alone. Maxims and Reflections has a word or two, however:

[T]here is a powerful undertow toward power in the discourse of the "democratic" "left" that I finally find so dismaying that I have no choice but to reject the thing root and branch. Because few people they accuse of defending Milosevic or Hussein or Nasrallah or any other Hitler-Of-The-Month has defended these people with anything like the vigor and passion with which the "democratic" "left" has implicitly defended Bush, Clinton or Bush; or, if not these men themselves, then the right of these men to send an army anywhere, to level any city from the air, to destroy any state, to define any population as criminal, outlaw, subhuman.

The "democratic left" is the "civilised left" of which hucksters like Kamm speak, it is the domesticated left, the left that is constantly refashioning itself in the image of the bourgeoisie, the left that accepts liberalism as the horizon of discourse and thinks democracy is the same thing as liberal capitalism. The "democratic left" supports the right of no oppressed group to defend itself against violence by "democratic" states. No matter how bad the murder is, self-defense is an offence. Hezbollah has no right to defend itself because it is not composed of liberal democrats. Same goes for Hamas, and the Iraqi resistance. Axiomatically, the honorary White Man of the Levant does have a Right to Defend Itself - against ambulances, villages, fleeing cars and so on.

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Turn Again, Malik. posted by Richard Seymour

Let me tell you about this guy. Shahid Malik is an interesting politician: and by interesting I mean, of course, dismally dull. This is by no means unique among New Labour apparatchiks and he deserves no special criticism for it. He is fairly right-wing, but that isn't exactly a novelty these days either. It is worth remembering that his successful promotion from CRE commissioner to Labour NEC member to MP for Dewsbury was a success, however limited, for British Muslims - or, as it would have been until a few years ago, British Asians. Sadiq Khan MP is the only other British born Muslim MP. (Salma Yaqoob will be the next). It was their struggle that made it possible for Malik to rise to prominence. Quite literally, in one way. For he was a relative nonentity, a New Labour careerist, until during the Bradford riots he tried to mediate between demonstrators and police, and the police decided to kick his head in. His bloodied face appeared all over the television news. He subsequently made some mild criticisms of the frothingly reactionary comments made by David Blunkett over the riots. There's been some controversy over exactly how sturdy his opposition to the war in Iraq was, but one could infer that the growing confidence of British Muslims in activity against the war contributed to his success.

He remains a careerist and as far as New Labour is concerned, they appear to expect him to Root Out the Evil Ideology in the Muslim Community while spiriting in the premises of neoliberalism. He has been of some use to the government in criticising mainstream Muslim leaders over their criticism of UK foreign policy in relation to the 7/7 attacks, while his questions in parliament have been softball - stuff about energy accreditation schemes, youth training and wild bird imports. He has never rebelled against the government, and has even supported controversial policies such as nuclear power, ID cards, the Crossrail scheme, and measures to reduce parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. He has done the rounds in various committees. He was on Gordon Brown's Economic Policy Committee at one time, was then on the Home Affairs Committee for about a year until 18th July 2006 and is now PPS to Jim Knight at the Department for Education and Skills. He is undoubtedly seen in New Labour's ranks as a Bright Young Thing (and I suppose two out of three isn't all that bad).

But he stepped out line recently when he signed a letter criticising UK foreign policy in light of the recent 'terror plot' scare. The Mirror described it as "Muslim blackmail", as did the fash. UK ministers contemptuously dismissed the letter, and there must have been some serious words behind closed doors: "Shahid, you're supposed to be one of us! It's bollocks, Shahid, we're not going to be held to ransom, you know! You're supposed to support government policy, you jumped up little wanker - do you want the next 'promotion' to be a trip to the fucking Sports Minister's desk? Eh? Who fucking fixed you up with Dewsbury when they fucked you in Burnley, eh? Sort it out!" And so he did.

Shahid wrote a very penitent article for the Sunday Times, entitled "If you want sharia law, you should go and live in Saudi". He wants to explain this to some of the more pushy advocates of sharia in Saudi Arabia - they don't think the House of Saud has quite the right idea about it. Anyway, in the article Malik says he came out of chatting politics with Prescott one day when he was:

immediately asked by the media whether I agreed that what British Muslims needed were Islamic holidays and sharia (Islamic law). I thought I had walked into some parallel universe.

Sadly this was not a joke. These issues had apparently formed part of the discussion the day before between Prescott, Ruth Kelly, the communities minister, and a selection of “Muslim leaders”. I realised then that it wasn’t me and the media who were living in a parallel universe — although certain “Muslim leaders” might well be.

I know, sharia law! It's that awful thing various evildoers get up to. They make you wear some unseasonal item of clothing so that you can do suicide bombings, innit? It's in the papers. You'd have to be careful wearing it about the house. Next thing you know, you might have to fly next to one of them. Outraged, Malik goes on to describe Muslim leaders as out "of touch with reality, frightened to propose any real solutions for fear of 'selling out', but always keen to exact a concession — a sad but too often true caricature of some so-called Muslim leaders." Tell em, Shahid. He goes on: "Other members of the Muslim community I am sure would have cringed as I did when listening to Dr Syed Aziz Pasha, secretary-general of the Union of Muslim Organisations of the UK and Ireland, who explained his demand for sharia and more holidays: 'If you give us religious rights we will be in a better position to convince young people that they are being treated equally along with other citizens.'" Islamic holidays, Islamic law - why can't they be satisfied with Christmas in Belmarsh? Malik goes on to expatiate on the privileges of living in Britain, and then essays on the responsibility of Muslims who live in Britain: "given that these acts are carried out in the name of our religion — Islam — we have a greater responsibility not merely to condemn but to confront the extremists."

Allow me to gently relieve that sweating knot of muscle around your anus: there is going to be no sharia law, nor even Islamic holidays. Pasha alone made the suggestion, others said 'perhaps not' and the discussion moved on. The entire basis for Malik's confected outrage was as slight as that. However, the Blairite blogs have absolutely lapped it up, because as threadbare as the thing is for argument, it says everything they would have wished to and wags a stern finger at Muslims in ways that they might themselves find difficult to do. "Yesss," they hissed gleefully to themselves as they read the piece, "finally one of Them has said it!" HP Sauce has demanded a 'new leadership' for Muslims in this country, one perhaps so bold as Malik - because they are simply brimming with concern and compassion for Muslims. A certain New Labour blog that I happened on yesterday has practically creamed itself at Malik's ruminations. My left-wing friend Stephen Pollard instantly evacuated his bowels and made another blog post. Some bloggers calling themselves Muscular Liberals have executed countless one-armed reps over the whole thing. Such excitement over such a little thing.

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Israel readies new attack on Lebanon posted by Richard Seymour

Israel is preparing for the "next round" of war, which Haaretz describes as "Hezbollah hostilities liable to restart soon". In brief, Israel's strategy is going to be to make whatever attacks it feels are useful and which they could pull off (more 'daring commando raids'), and then say that they were in fact preventing an arms transaction: thereby upholding Resolution 1701. By that rationale, Hezbollah should immediately form an alliance with Iran and Syria to enforce UN Resolution 242. Oh sure, Hezbollah are to be 'disarmed' but it doesn't say when.

As Virginia Tilley writes for Counterpunch, Resolution 1701 effectively endorses Israel's narrative of the conflict, which only reflects the relative balance of international forces. That being the case, there are sufficient loopholes to allow Israel to resume attacks without appearing to be in breach of the letter of the Resolution. Such is the nature of international law, moreover, that if the Resolution were worded differently and made more concessions to Lebanon's claims, Israel would still find a way (citing precedent, finding loopholes, insisting on a peculiar exception, harking back to Article 51 of the UN Charter) to present its attacks in the context of a lawful response to aggression. If they can fabricate an arms transaction, which no one is seriously going to challenge them on, they can fix up almost any old scenario to suit themselves.

The only real constraint being exerted on Israel right now is its sense of danger given what Hezbollah has already been able to do. Nevertheless, it is significant that the Internal Security Minister, Avi Dichter, is talking about returning the Golan Heights to Syria. This isn't, as you'll gather on reading the article, a magnanimous gesture: the main motive is to get a water agreement with Syria since Israel consumes way more than it can provide for itself from domestic water tables. But it is a considerable distance from bombing and invading. Israel's defeat at the hands of Hezbollah might well have temporarily strengthened or encouraged those elements in the Israeli state that prefer to sheath the iron fist in a velvet glove. I say temporarily: Binyamin Netanyahu will, if I'm not very much mistaken, be the next Prime Minister of Israel, and he isn't exactly pacifically minded. But even that raving lunatic will have to come to terms with the very real prospect that Israel will be defeated again if it attacks again: and Israel cannot survive too many defeats.

So the question is: how much mayhem and murder is Israel prepared to inflict from its lofty heights? Does the Samson Option lie at the end of this yellow-brick road?

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bush's plan for dictatorship in Iraq. posted by Richard Seymour

It seems that all the bells and whistles signifying 'democracy' in Iraq are to be shorn. According to the New York Times, Bush is planning an outright dictatorship for Iraq. The spirit of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson is proving too much for Iraqis, so we're told, and so the plan is to revert to the standard procedure of implanting a client dictatorship:

"Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy. Everybody in the administration is being quite circumspect, but you can sense their own concern that this is drifting away from democracy."

The news and commentary around this revelation have tended to accept the assertion that what presently persists in Iraq is anything like democracy. Hence, we are told by some that the US must not give up the fight for democracy (blah) or by others that it must not entertain such unrealistically high aspirations for such people. The real story here is that the US initially hoped that such opposition as would appear among Sunnis would be drowned out by the pro-US euphoria among Shi'ites: their strategy from the start was marked by the deepest sectarianism, as Hashim discusses in that book I referenced the other day. When that did not obtain, they relied on the idea of bolstering conservative and sectarian-minded Shi'ite groups like the SCIRI against nationalist Shi'ites. The SCIRI would work alongside the Kurdish leadership who have been effectively coopted by the United States for some years. This has served its purpose for a while, averting the serious risk of a pan-Iraq resistance movement forming in 2004. However, this resulted in a serious diminution in the stature of the SCIRI, while the PUK-KDP leadership has seen some erosion in support even though it remains the main player in the Kurdish north. As the opposition to the occupation started to translate into passive, then increasingly active support for armed resistance even in the Shi'ite areas of Iraq, the US started to pursue a strategy of promoting violent sectarian conflict through the Special Police Commandos and the Badr Corps. The sectarian death squads would both kill resistance fighters and divert energies to either pursuing or averting inter-communal violence. However, with increasing dissent among the domestic population toward the puppet government which resulted in Maliki being forced to criticise the occupiers, the dramatic growth in attacks directed at troops (still, after everything, the bulk of attacks are directed at US troops and not civilians), and the growing connections between Sadr's movement and the Sunni resistance: with all of that, the US is considering toppling its man, the guy it pressed to be put in the role of PM in the first place, and putting in place an open dictator.

This is the beginning of the end for the occupiers. Such a step would catalyse the growing national unity of the resistance movements, and its development of a pan-Iraqi political structure. It would require a drastic increase in troop commitments at a time when domestic opinion in the imperialist countries tends in the opposite direction. They may not, on account of its obvious pitfalls, opt for such a drastic scenario - but the fact that they are tending in this direction and countenancing such options is indicative of the dire straits they are in.

PS: This bollocks in the Telegraph today - what can you say? This is obviously propaganda from the NCRI, a shell for the MEK (which managed to move from revolutionary socialism to Baathism to neoconservatism in less than three decades). The NCRI was behind previous claims that Iran was developing nukes - they even provided sattelite imagery. The claim is that Iran is manufacturing explosives for the Iraqi resistance. Some reasons why this is preposterous: the resistance in Iraq is composed of nationalist movements, which the Iranians don't want to see strengthened, whether Sunni or Shi'ite. It certainly doesn't want to support the Salafist fringe either. Iran has an excellent partner in the pro-occupation SCIRI, and it does not want to see its once great geopolitical rival resuscitated except as an ally. While we're on the topic, the secular Alawite regime in Syria doesn't want to help the Islamists in Iraq, especially not the Sunni Islamists whose growing influence in Syria is causing the Assad regime some serious problems. Neither Iran nor Syria wants ongoing instability on its borders. No credible evidence has so far emerged that these two governments are acting in ways contrary to their own interests by supporting Iraqi insurgents. So perhaps we can drop the baby talk about axes of evil and evil states supporting evil-doers and so on - please?

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Money walks, Racism flies. posted by Richard Seymour

Via Chris in the comments box:

Mutiny as passengers refuse to fly until Asians are removed
Passengers refuse to allow holiday jet to take off until two Asian men are thrown off plane


Passengers noticed that, despite the heat, the pair were wearing leather jackets and thick jumpers and were regularly checking their watches.

Initially, six passengers refused to board the flight. On board the aircraft, word reached one family. To the astonishment of cabin crew, they stood up and walked off, followed quickly by others.

The Monarch pilot - a highly experienced captain - accompanied by armed Civil Guard police and airport security staff, approached the two men and took their passports.

Half an hour later, police returned and escorted the two Asian passengers off the jet.


Mrs Schofield, 38, said: "The plane was not yet full and it became apparent that people were refusing to board. In the gate waiting area, people had been talking about these two, who looked really suspicious with their heavy clothing, scruffy, rough, appearance and long hair.

"Some of the older children, who had seen the terror alert on television, were starting to mutter things like, 'Those two look like they're bombers.'

"Then a family stood up and walked off the aircraft. They were joined by others, about eight in all. We learned later that six or seven people had refused to get on the plane.

"There was no fuss or panic. People just calmly and quietly got off the plane. There were no racist taunts or any remarks directed at the men.

"It was an eerie scene, very quiet. The children were starting to ask what was going on. We tried to play it down." (Reported with glee in the Mail on Sunday.

This happened before, I seem to recall around 2002. As is in the previous case, the airline here simply capitulated to passenger racism and penalised two innocent men. What they should have done was to have instructed the passengers that they could sit their pampered, lazy, ignorant, racist, fat arses down on the seats and shut the fuck up, or they could abandon the flight and get no refund. And by the way, that picture of the racist couple in the linked story? Think about it for a second: they actually thought they should pose for a national newspaper after behaving like spoiled brats. What wankers.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Destruction of Lebanon posted by Richard Seymour

Via Socialist Worker, this video of destroyed villages in southern Lebanon:

Now, of course, Israel has attacked Lebanon again, this time targeting a village west of Baalbeck. According to the BBC: "The Israeli army said the raid was to prevent arms being delivered to Hezbollah by Iran and Syria."

Angry Arab thinks it is another of those "daring commando raids" from the Israelis:

Another fiasco...another Israeli "daring commando raid." I don't mean to ever give advise to Israel, but should they not give up on those "daring commando raids"? I mean, it has been one fiasco after the other. Just today, their commando raid near Ba`albak was foiled. Apparently, it was another failed at attempt to kidnap Shaykh Muhammad Yazbak. To cover the embarrassment, the Israeli military later claimed that this was an attempt to prevent a shipment of arms. And why this focus on Shaykh Muhammad Yazbak? I really think that this is due to Israeli Orientalist misunderstanding. You see, Muhammad Yazbak was quite influential in the party back in the 1980s, but his influence declined in the 1990s. He now is a member of the Shura Council of the party, but is known mostly as the [religiously] "legal representative" of Khamenei as marji` taqlid.

Hezbollah foiled the raid.

Incidentally, I can't help a chuckle at the fury with which the Americans and Israelis regard the fact that Hezbollah is reconstructing Lebanon and paying benefits to those who suffered. A story from the New York Times has Hezbollah giving $12,000 stacks to those whose houses have been destroyed by the Israeli attack. Evil bastards, eh? America is trying to undermine this flagrant attempt at reconstruction by offering their own package. The trouble is, while Nasrallah is now the most popular leader among Arabs (yes, a popular Shi'ite in an overwhelmingly Sunni area; a nightmare for orientalists), the US could be seen as having caused the destruction by, y'know, urging the Israels to go to war, helping to plan the war, providing them with the money to go to war, rushing cluster bombs to them to help kill as many as possible...

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Hari's Piece: anecdotes and antidotes of antisemitism. posted by Richard Seymour

Look, I don't know how these rumours got out of a bust-up between me and Johann Hari. I like him. Honestly. And not only because of that boyishly sexy picture of him that appears next to his columns.

Here's one of his latest: The spiteful resurgence of anti-Semitism. This is one of those The New Antisemitism articles that appears from time to time. I don't think this general tendency among liberals and neoconservatives alike has anything to do with a perceptible increase in antisemitism or Jews. Obviously, the fanatical worshippers of Israel (who obviously include most power-worshipping intellectuals working in Britain and the United States) work very hard to denounce its critics and opponents as antisemites, and liberals occasionally exhibit their obedience by saying "yes, isn't it awful?" But I will, if only for fun, do Hari the courtesy of considering his own arguments. I think he'd like that: can you see the look on his little face already?

Hari's proof of a resurgent antisemitism appears to consist of the following: a) an experience with the notorious far right front the IHR; b) an experience with his hairdresser; c) an obviously embellished account of the Edinburgh festival from Jamie Glassman and d) quite predictably, a mention of Gilad Atzmon (whose approach has changed somewhat, although one wouldn't expect Hari to be interested).

I want to ponder some of Glassman's claims for a moment. If you read the article, he tells you the following:

The great Lenny Bruce, a comedian who suffered endlessly at the hands of the American authorities for the right to freedom of speech and to break taboos, once did a bit that began: “Are there any niggers here tonight?” His liberal audience was initially shocked at this racist outburst, but as the monologue continued he made it clear that it was “the suppression of the word that gives it the power”. That was taboo-busting. That was a righteous plea for freedom of speech.

But there again:

Reginald D. Hunter is doing sell-out shows in the new E4-sponsored venue, the Udderbelly. Three hundred come along every night to see Hunter’s Pride and Prejudice and Niggas. You should see the poster.

I was laughing along until he announced that he was about to be extremely controversial and break the last taboo of stand-up comedy. Long silent pause. "Jeeeeews" Another long pause with some giggles from the audience. "You see, you’re not allowed to say that."

He went on to say how its illegal to deny the Holocaust in Austria. He has a good mind to go to Austria, stand in the street and say the Holocaust didn’t happen so that he could get arrested and tell the judge he was talking about the Rwandan holocaust. Whether or not he thought there should be a law against going to Rwanda and denying that genocide, he didn’t say.

By claiming that making a joke about Jews is the one last, great comic taboo, he simultaneously provides the moral justification for a crack at the Jews and he silences them from the right to complain, as this would only confirm the unspoken premise: that Jews are overprotected in society or even worse that Jewish media controllers are obsessed with silencing any criticism of their own.

Well, there you have it: a Jewish comedian using obscene racist language is fine, it's taboo-busting. But this black guy coming out and saying something about "Jeeeeews" is apparently an outrage. I think it's misguided to compete over the representation of oppression, but I wouldn't dream of slandering someone who might reasonably be offended that the suffering of one oppressed group is insufficiently represented as an antisemite. It would be racist. Glassman, a writer for Ali G (which used to be a funny show, but has happily propounded lazy stereotypes of every kind even when it purports to be satirising them), insists that comedians have the right to say anything, but also a responsibility to think about who they might be offending. Anyone who might be offended by the n-word remains curiously outside Glassman's thoughts.

I don't want to labour the point too much. Glassman offers other instances in which it would be hard to deny that antisemitism is present - although he happily conflates these with perfectly sensible views, such as the claim that Cheney is more dangerous than bin Laden, and that the Iranian president doesn't actually wish to nuke Israel. Because that's what it's all about: for Glassman, it is less a matter of seriously tackling racism than it is of disciplining the left.

Back to Hari. Mark his salutary reminder that Jews are not exempt from racist attacks and harrassment, and that they have to be on the lookout for "suicide packs" because "Remember: 38 percent of British Muslims believe British Jews are 'a legitimate target'". This devious racist slur was not wholly manufactured by Hari, since the loaded poll originally appeared in The Times. That said, even The Times did not impute the phrase "legitimate target" to those who answered the question. Nor did it invent the bit about "suicide packs": this much was entirely invented by Hari. Perhaps before instructing others about a nebulous 'resurgence' of anti-Jewish racism, he should deal with his Muslim problem. Perhaps he should also think twice about describing Jews as a "tribe".

In an amazing stroke of ingenuity, Hari cites his lack of surprise at antisemitic arguments as proof that they are becoming mainstream. He is even surprised at his lack of surprise - but then ignorance is the mother of amazement. I have to confess that however marginal antisemitism may be (and it is), I would not be especially surprised to encounter someone who repeated those views. I would be revolted and outraged, and would certainly have a go at someone who came out with this rubbish. But not surprised, especially. What would be surprising would be if there were no nutters in the world.

Of course there is an issue of people on the fringes of discussion taking criticism of Israel to mean criticism of Jews. Unsurprisingly, as Hari notes, people like Melanie Phillips repeat this antisemitic argument. But we have to distinguish between four categories of such people: 1) the oppressed, who take Israel "the Jewish State" literally at its word and mistake their enemy (but then even Hamas and Hezbollah, who do come out with antisemitic arguments, nevertheless have had no problem meeting Jewish supporters like Noam Chomsky); 2)European critics of Zionism who get it profoundly wrong, and need to be challenged; 3) anti-semitic provocateurs like Phillips and the semite-haters at Harry's Place, for instance; and 4) the fascist filth and their penumbra. The first two we can have a serious discussion with, the others we have to fight relentlessly.

I'm not sure if there should be a separate category for those who diminish the cause of anti-racism by roping it into their hectoring of Muslims (that is, who use Jews to provide an anti-racist patina for racism), or who use it to whip the left into shape.

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