Friday, October 31, 2008

A Plague on Both their Houses

The great thing about the forthcoming American presidential election is that Hillary Clinton won’t be the winner. The lamentable thing is that either Barack Obama or John McCain will be.

I have detested Hillary Clinton since she led a New York demonstration against ‘Arab terror’ in the first days of the second Intifada. This was before the Intifada became militarised, when it still centred around stone-throwing crowds and peaceful demonstrations, and when the zionist occupation was murdering dozens of Palestinians every day. This year her campaign website stated: “Hillary Clinton believes that Israel’s right to exist in safety as a Jewish state, with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, secure from violence and terrorism, must never be questioned.” Just run your eyes over that again. Hillary Clinton doesn’t just believe that the citizens of Israel should be safe, but that Israel “as a Jewish state”, as an apartheid state for Jews only, not for its citizens or for those it has driven out, should be safe. She believes that illegally occupied and illegally colonised east Jerusalem, an ancient Arab city originally built by Canaanite Jebusites, should remain under eternal zionist occupation. And she believes not only that her immoral and stupid positions are right, but that they should never be questioned. Such is the weight of zionism on American political life – as heavy a taboo as God is in the east.

Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq invasion, which has killed a million Iraqis, destroyed Iraq’s social fabric, flooded Syria and Jordan with refugees, vastly expanded the power of Wahhabi-nihilist groups, and led to atrocities in London and Madrid. She also voted for the Kyl-Lieberman Resolution which categorises the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian army, not a shadowy non-state actor, and its role is to defend the second most democratic (after Turkey) society in the Middle East – a society which, unlike the zionist settler state, has never attacked its neighbours. Here is Clinton’s open hand to seventy million Iranians: “In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.” When Ahmadinejad expressed the opinion that the zionist regime would one day be wiped from the page of history, he was mistranslated and misinterpreted as calling for the obliteration of five million Israeli Jews. The western world collapsed into rolling orgasms of righteous fury. But Clinton threatening to “obliterate” the Iranian people, that’s fine.

The Republican McCain’s claim to decency and manliness arises from his participation in the American imperialist massacre of 2 million Vietnamese men, women and children. He chose for his running mate Sarah Palin, a Christian Zionist who believes that creationism should be taught in science classes, that ungodly books should be banned from public libraries, and that environmentalism is a leftist plot. When Obama won the Democratic nomination, Palin allegedly reported the news thus: “So Sambo beat the bitch.”

Why would anyone vote Republican this year? Bush is, as Gore Vidal predicted, the least popular president ever. Under Republican rule America has galloped towards economic, military and diplomatic disaster. For anyone with faith in the American democratic theatre (not me), voting for Obama is the only logical option.

So the Republicans must rely for their votes on deep wells of illogicality and hatred. Hysterical racism has passed largely unchallenged at Republican rallies. Sarah Palin has encouraged it by talking about how “different” Obama is. McCain was praised for bringing an end to this when a supporter described Obama as an Arab, and McCain responded, “No, Ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen.” This is bringing racism to an end? If a supporter had shouted “Obama’s a Jew!” would McCain have said, “No, Ma’am. He’s a decent family man” ? Today McCain is saying that Obama attended a “neo-Nazi” meeting with tame Palestinian-American academic Rashid Khalidi.

America is probably about to experience its first black president. Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice have already reached very high office. There are black millionaires and executives. This shows that there is greater social mobility in America than before, and that the ideological overhang of an obsolete economic model – slavery – has lost most of its relevance for most people. Nevertheless, America is still sick with racism. Black people are still much more likely to be poor, imprisoned and badly housed than whites. And there are new-old targets to fit the new imperial age.

A month or so ago 28 million copies of an Islamophobic and racist DVD called “Obsession” were distributed free with 74 newspapers in American swing states, presumably to encourage votes for the ‘security-conscious’ Republicans. The DVD was sponsored by the Clarion Fund, a neo-con and zionist front. Neo-conservatives and zionists, and the potently ignorant Christian Zionists, have shaped and developed American racism for their own ends.

Then there’s Obama. I have to admit Obama excites me. He’s not only very intelligent but, unusually for an American presidential candidate, he’s not afraid to show it. He knows how to use language to good effect. And he’s black, with all the sad knowledge that entails. The world needs a black president of the USA, because it’s difficult for a black American to have a simplistic view of his own country or, therefore, of the world. That Obama is aware there are human beings walking around in Kenya and Indonesia also helps.

Obama once had a meal with Edward Said. He once attended an interesting church (the Reverend Jeremiah Wright does look like a man worth voting for). He didn’t vote for the Iraq war. He once said something favourable about negotiating with Iran and Syria (but not with the democratic representatives of the Palestinians). He’ll close Guantanamo Bay.

Another thing in Obama’s favour is that he isn’t Hillary Clinton.

Or is he?

Obama said the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had “rightly been labeled a terrorist organization.” He’s promised $30 billion in military ‘assistance’ to Israel. And he told AIPAC “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

He described last year’s unprovoked Israeli raid on a Syrian military site as an “entirely justified” attempt to stop Syria’s “weapons of mass destruction” program – although anybody who knows anything knows the US-Israeli story about a North Korean reactor in the desert is pure fabrication. The IAEA’s preliminary reports from the bombed site confirm this. No word from Obama on Israel’s real nuclear weapons.

Obama could have fought it over Iran and empire if he’d wanted to. He could have linked the Bush administration’s lies about Syria to its lies about Iraq. Just as he’s managed to reclaim some religiosity from the Republicans, he could have someway reclaimed patriotism from aggressive imperialism. People say Israel and Arabs are subjects too touchy to discuss honestly in America, that Obama has to go through the motions, say the right thing. But what, ultimately, is the point of a democratic election if not to have an honest, informed national conversation?

And Obama hasn’t merely toed the (decadent) imperial line on the ‘War on Terror’; he’s pushed the line rightwards. Obama recommended bombing Pakistan before McCain agreed and Bush made it policy. Does he know what he’s playing with? Shaky, angry, collapsing Pakistan, with its hundreds of thousands of displaced and dead. A vote for Obama is a vote against the concept of national sovereignty. What kind of a system makes decent, progressive people invest energy in a man who wants more war?

People say the man has to do what it takes to be elected, then he can be himself. But what kind of system is it when we have to assume a man is a good liar in order to elect him? And even if Obama is lying through his teeth, that’s not how it works. Obama has made his promises, he’s chosen his friends. Like Joe Biden. Here’s a quote from the running mates’ debate:

Biden: No one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden. I would have never, ever joined this ticket were I not absolutely sure Barack Obama shared my passion.

Palin: But I’m so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think that is a good thing to get to agree on, Senator Biden. I respect your position on that.

Passion and love, you see. The American-Israel relationship is something quite beyond geo-strategic.

Whether McCain or Obama wins, foreign policy will be about the same: a drawdown of troops from Iraq but no end to the occupation, an expansion of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The key to the development of American foreign and military policy in coming years is not the man at the top but what happens to American economic power relative to China, Russia and others.

I wouldn’t use the word ‘democracy’ to describe American society, but America is dynamic, fluid, and has great democratic potential. It may be that the energies unleashed by the Obama phenomenon will have long term positive effects. Still, if I were an American, I would vote for Ralph Nader, on the basis that every vote for Nader means a hundred more people have engaged in real conversation, actually thought about the system that enthralls them. I’d vote for Ron Paul too, if he were to run as an independent.

I may just be too cynical. I may be pleasantly surprised. I’ll finish with what Angry Arab (see link top left) imagines we’ll hear in Obama’s acceptance speech:

“My real name is Hasan Husayn Obama, and I am really a Muslim Arab, but did not want to admit that because I would not have been elected. I hereby announce that William Ayers shall be appointed as Director of FBI, and Dennis Kucinich will be appointed as Secretary of Defense. As for Rev. Wright, he shall serve as director of CIA. I would also like to appoint Angry Arab as my special Tsar for the Dismantlement of the Zionist Entity. And Immanuel Wallterstein will serve as Secretary of Treasury. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I have been a committed Marxist-Leninist all my life. Good night.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Terrorists Strike Syria

America has already killed a Syrian border guard during its disastrous occupation of Iraq. And now it has sent four helicopter gunships eight kilometres into Syrian territory and killed at least eight Syrian citizens.

A reader of sent in this post, which is the best information I’ve heard yet on the raid itself:

“I just spoke on the phone with a doctor in ABou Kamal- He confirmed that the attack happened around sunset. The 4 helicopters came from the East of the township, he saw them coming. The soldiers debarked and shot people who were working in a building under construction on the periphery of the township. 9 people were pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital- Two more are severely wounded and are being operated on right now [he does not expect them to survive]- He has not read the papers (there are none to read at this time of the night) nor listened to the news and there is no internet there….His report was completely spontaneous. I was not able to get the details on the ages of the injured but he described them as poor simple people (Masakeen)from the town.”

And this is from the Guardian:

“Intriguingly, Farhan al-Mahalawi, mayor of the nearby Iraqi border town of Qaim, told the Reuters news agency that the targeted village had been surrounded by Syrian troops.”

It isn’t clear if those killed were a farming family, a family of smugglers, or labourers on a construction site. The Americans, having had a day in which to work out their story, claim that an al-Qa’ida militant was targetted. The sentence from the Guardian (although one wonders how the mayor of al-Qaim would know) suggests the Syrians may have been aware of a militant presence in the area and were keeping their own eye on it. It doesn’t necessarily suggest the people killed were the same militants. (As one would expect, most of the western media have taken American claims more seriously than Syrian reports. In fact, the US military’s description of the attack as “a warning to Syria” was anticipated by western headline writers by 24 hours.)

Even if it turns out that the dead were Wahhabi-nihilists, which I very much doubt, America’s action remains what it was: an unprovoked terrorist attack on a sovereign state. An act of war.

The Syrian-Iraqi border area has often been a zone of confrontation. When I travelled there in the late 90s I found the remains of ancient fortifications along the banks of the Euphrates, sites such as Dura Europos, a Macedonian city garrisoned to hold the line against Sassanid Persians. In more recent times the border was the frontier between two rival wings of the Ba’ath Party, and it was usually closed. Still, car bombs and smuggled goods passed through, because all borders are permeable and this more than most – the people on both sides belong to the same tribes. I saw the border itself from a distance, from a high waterside outside Aal Bukamal, and it was nothing but a tiny Syrian checkpoint, a half kilometre of scrub, and then a tiny Iraqi checkpoint.

There was an obvious mukhabarat presence in Aal Bukamal, watching out for Iraqi infiltrators. My friend and I, like almost everyone else in town, wore gellabiyehs. But we weren’t wearing the known faces of the Bukamal tribe, so we were called over to present our papers and introduce ourselves. I handed over the British passport and explained my strange ancestry. The plainclothes man looked hard into my eyes, then slowly said: “Manaatu…anta shawi min ingeltra.” – “This means…that you’re a Beduin from England.” Everybody laughed and slapped their thighs and the plainclothes man offered tea.

Further north, the dusty souq of Deir ez-Zor, a souq which Damascenes would scorn, was full of swooning Iraqis not believing the luxury, the variety, the quality. By then the Iraqi middle class had been destroyed by sanctions.

Syria had joined the American side in the Kuwait war of 91. This was an enormously unpopular move inside Syria, but it paid off. Syrian troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, so they didn’t have to shed Arab blood. In the war’s aftermath a Syrian peace prevailed in Lebanon, and Israel was dragged to the negotiating table in Madrid. (This rare moment of American pressure on Israel, applied by George Bush the father, made many Arabs imagine that Bush the son would be a friendly president).

In the last years of the Saddam Hussain regime Syria opened the border. There was a sense at the time that, as far as Iraq was concerned, enough was enough. It was one thing for the Syrians to have their old enemy cut down to size, but quite another to watch a neighbouring Arab society collapse under the brutal sanctions regime.

Syria opposed the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. All the leaderships in the region claimed to be against the invasion, but all except Syria, Turkey and Iran actively aided it. If Syria was on anything like equal military terms with the invader it would have fought to defend its neighbour, just as Britain would defend France or Russia would defend South Ossettia. But Syria could do nothing more than make clear its abhorrence and refusal of an imperialist occupation of Iraq, however bad Iraq’s leader (an American client for years anyway) might be.

And Syria was of course right. Talking about yesterday’s raid, an American military official said, “We took things into our own hands.” Since Americans took things into their own hands in Iraq a million Iraqis have died, and the ancient social fabric of this country that gave the world writing has been ripped to bloody shreds.

As a result of America’s war Syria has had to take in up to two million Iraqi refugees. House prices and rents have rocketed. Prostitution and drug dealing have exploded. Resurgent sectarianism threatens the future.

When ‘shock and awe’ descended on Baghdad, enthusiastic Syrian shabab crossed the border to fight. That’s how shocked and awed they were. I have a friend who joined the general rush. At the time, Syrian border officials were allowing anyone with a valid passport to pass. Fortunately, my friend didn’t have a passport, and returned home before his family realised he was missing. Many like him – with basic military service under their belts – did get through, and found work to do in Iraq. And most of them had nothing to do with al-Qa’ida. My friend was religiously observant but by no means fanatical; he opposed sectarianism and Saddam Hussein’s regime as much as he opposed America and Israel. He says he wanted to fight for nationalist reasons, to defend Syria as much as Iraq, because America would come to eat Syria once it had eaten Iraq.

So Syria didn’t fight America, but it allowed people who may have been fighters to cross the border fairly easily, in both directions. Most of these fighters were indistinguishable from anyone else, because they were also in many cases refugees, or members of the tribes which straddle the border. And there was a point of principle which the people wanted the regime to uphold: why should Syria hold itself responsible for the security of the occupier?

As the war continued in Iraq, however, Syria made much more strenuous efforts to police the border, to the extent that in some places mukhabarat and soldiers outnumbered the locals. Why the change in attitude? Certainly American pressure had a role, but also Iraq had degenerated into civil war, and American policy and Gulf money had made al-Qa’ida a huge threat to everybody in the vicinity. Now there’s a sand barrier for much of the long desert plain frontier. General Petraeus says the Syrian measures have dramatically cut insurgent flow into Iraq, down from 100 a month in 2006 to 20 a month today.

Most of the al-Qa’ida types entering Iraq are Saudis, but America doesn’t bomb its best Arab friend. Britain is watching Salafi nihilists in Birmingham and Manchester, but America doesn’t bomb Britain to deliver “a warning.” Syria’s crime is that it hasn’t yet surrendered to the imperial order (or chaos). So the empire must bomb.

America is said to be specifically upset because Syria won’t resume security cooperation. Syria wants the Americans to send their ambassador back to Damascus first. It’s surely a good thing for human rights in Syria for this standoff to continue; ‘security cooperation’ often meant the Americans subcontracting the torture of unfortunates like Maher Arar to Damascus. On the other hand, Syria provided the US with plenty of usable information on Wahhabi-nihilists after September 11th 2001. It was America that rejected the cooperation.

Perhaps the attack outside Aal Bukamal was ordered by Bush himself, perhaps to help McCain in the election, perhaps in a fit of impotence and spite. Perhaps the attack was carried out by a secret command, some Rumsfeld-dreamed-up unit accountable to none. Perhaps it was designed to kill an initiative (I’m imagining) due to be announced by the Syrian and British foreign ministers after their meeting today. In any case, what is clear is that the empire has given up all pretence at recognising national sovereignty. Very worryingly for those looking forward to an Obama Whitehouse, it was Obama who first called for American attacks on Pakistan. I’ll be very pleasantly astounded if he condemns the raid on Syria.

America’s war is now murdering and displacing civilians across a great swathe of Afro-Asia, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia.

So why do they hate us? The people of Aal Bukamal have some fresh new answers to that question.