Archive for Imperialism

The Failure of the Arab “State” and Its Opposition

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2012 by loonwatch
YemenTribal fighters loyal to Sadiq al-Ahmar, the leader of the Hashed tribe, walk in front of a bullet-riddled building in Sanaa 10 April 2012. (Photo: REUTERS – Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

“If you want to live under sharia law, go back to the hellhole country you came from, or go to another hellhole country that lives under sharia law.”  ~ Mahfooz Kanwar, professor emeritus of sociology at Mount Royal University in Calgary, and a member of the Muslim [sic] Canadian Congress.

Ah yes, the “Islamic” hellhole meme. Islamophobes never tire of bashing Muslim-majority countries for their supposed backwardness.

Apparently they’ve never noticed that many Christian-majority nations savaged by Western colonialism aren’t faring any better. The centuries-long struggle with European colonialism–and neo-colonialism in the decades that followed–simply doesn’t factor into the dominant discourse.

Author and activist Hisham Bustani provides a fresh perspective, with a focus on  historical context and the popular uprising that began in late 2010, widely known as the Arab Spring.

The Failure of the Arab “State” and Its Opposition

By: Hisham BustaniAlakhbar

After one year of the Arab uprisings that initially exploded in Tunisia and swept like wildfire throughout the Arab world, it became very clear that the spark, which has resulted in the removal of three oppressors so far, was spontaneous. That does not mean that the explosion had no preludes. On the contrary, the people were squeezed with each passing day, but those uprisings clearly showed that even in the absence of an organized catalyzing formation (revolutionary party, revolutionary class), an explosion takes place when a certain threshold is reached, a critical mass.

Uprisings in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet-bloc states came about through the work of organized opposition groups and parties (like Solidarity in Poland), and by decades of calm covert undermining, infiltration, and propaganda undertaken by the West. By contrast, the Arab uprising was not led by an organized opposition. Instead, it came as a surprise to the imperialist circles that historically backed their client oppressor regimes.

The Failure of the Post-Colonial Arab “State”

Following the British-French-Italian colonialism of the Arab region, the Europeans left behind an area that they deliberately divided into “states”. These were designed so as to leave no possibility for their becoming truly independent and sovereign. They also left a watchdog and an easy solution to assuage their anti-Semitic-burdened consciousness: “Israel,” a colonial-settler state that would maintain the imperialist design in the wake of the physical withdrawal of its patrons.

The post-colonial states were subordinate by design, by their innate nature of being divided and incomplete, and by the ruling class that followed colonialism. The homogeneous collective of people that included many religions, sects, and ethnicities was also broken down. Colonialism fueled internal conflicts, and the subsequent Arab regimes maintained that tradition and kept in close alliance with the former colonizers. Alliance here is an overstatement. A subordinate structure cannot build alliances. It is always subordinate.

Thus, the post-colonial Arab “state” was everything but a state. Concepts like “the rule of law” or “governing institutions” or “citizenship rights” did not apply. Countries were run with a gangster mentality. There were no “traditions” or clear sets of rules that applied to all. Unlike the model of a bourgeois democracy where rules, laws, and traditions maintain and preserve the capitalist system and apply to all its components, this form was not present in the post-colonial Arab “state.” The ruling class were free to issue laws, revoke laws, not implement laws, not implement constitutions, amend constitutions, forge fraudulent elections, embezzle, torture, massacre, confiscate basic rights, indulge in blatant corruption, fabricate identities, and pass on the presidency from father to son.

The example closest to the modern post-colonial Arab state is the Free Congo State (1885-1908) which was the private property of the Belgian king Leopold II, along with all its people, resources, and 2.3 million square kilometers territory. The post-colonial Arab state is nothing but an expanded feudality. Its head answers to imperialist powers that pay certain amounts of “foreign aid” and finance and train armies and police, all to keep people beyond the explosion point using a composition of fear and the fulfillment of very basic needs that are portrayed as grants and the accomplishments of the ruler. The same imperialist powers that paid their bribes in “aid,” worked hard through IMF economic-restructuring schemes and World Bank loans to dismantle any possible internal independent growth, and worked hard to privatize the public sector.

The Arab regimes, reigning over a further subdivided space that is economically and politically destroyed, extracted their authority from external delegation and internal terror, and succeeded in transforming themselves into a buffer, a guarantor for all the divided segments. They succeeded in absorbing almost all opposition frameworks into their structure, and in producing coreless governing institutions, thus giving themselves much longer life spans than one would expect for such a system.

The failure of the Arab “organized” opposition

Just as the imperialist centers and Arab regimes failed to predict the time of the onset and the magnitude of the Arab uprisings, so did opposition organizations. The latter were not part of it. Nor did they work toward it. Nor did they add any value to it after its onset.

With a few exceptions (like the Kifaya movement in Egypt, the Islamic al-Nahda Party and The Workers’ Communist Party in Tunisia, and some intellectuals in Syria), the organized Arab opposition (political parties, unions and other organizations) seldom challenged the Arab regime and its system. While the interwar period saw the emergence of a number of ideological movements that sought to rectify the colonialist design for the region, many such groups were either tamed or became absorbed in the status quo. The opposition regularly sought acknowledgement and legitimacy from the Arab regimes. The opposition wanted to be “legal,” and it followed the “rules” set by the regimes and accepted their reign.

Thus, the organized Arab opposition was actually a factor of stability for the Arab regimes, adding to their longevity. It was not until people took things into their own hands, rejecting the legitimacy of the Arab regimes and acting autonomously, away from the established opposition via more creative forms, that things started to move.

A quick review of how the organized opposition behaviour following the uprisings can provide a clue as to how they acted during the uprisings and in the period that led up to them. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt never challenged the Mubarak regime. On the contrary, it periodically sent comforting signs showing that they wanted the Mubarak regime to continue. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did not participate in the early days of the uprising, and after the uprising it backed the Military Council and its oppression of the demonstrations of January 2012. Many of the so-called leftist and nationalist organizations in Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon are currently backing the Bashar Assad regime and its massacre in Syria.

The organized opposition often dreamt of a moment when the people would rise up against their oppressors. Rightfully, they diagnosed the Arab regimes as tools of imperialist intervention and the main obstacles to any liberation project. Now they ally themselves against the people and with the regimes. They do so because they are empty. Over the years they failed to present any alternative, neither in theory or in practice. They are empty and they are afraid of a future outside they are unable to control, comprehend, or contribute to. Like Israel, they “know” the current regimes. What will happen next is something they don’t know, and they lack the capacity to influence it. So – just like Israel – they’re willing to stand against it.

The Unity of the Oppressed in the Arab World

Pan–Arabism often dreamed about a unified Arab homeland, but other than military coups that ultimately transformed into local oppressive regimes, it lacked any tools to fulfill that dream. Some independent Arab Marxists worked for some sort of “union of the oppressed.” The people of the Arab world are diverse and were fragmented by different factors along sectarian, religious, and ethnic divides. It is only when the oppressed realize that they are united by their own miserable status that people tend to mobilize en masse and achieve their common goals. This was what actually happened in 2011.

The mobilization in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen fulfilled that requirement, so it was partially successful. By contrast, the mobilization in Jordan was made along the local pathogenic divide (those of Palestinian origin vs. those of East Jordanian origin), so it was doomed to failure and can be understood as a movement within the regime rather than one from outside it.

Another key lesson was proven by the immediate contagion of the uprising phenomena throughout the Arab world. What started in Tunisia echoed with different volume levels from Morocco in the West to Bahrain in the East. There is a material integration of people’s interests. For example, continuity can be seen in the almost automatic demonstrations across the Arab world against Israel when it regularly and bloodily attacks Palestinians. This was further stressed by the same continuity when confronting the Arab regimes. The people of the Arab world find depth, support, and power in one other, and they tend to be inspired by each other, and they still think that their cause is one. No wonder, then, that the colonialist powers and their successor dependant Arab regimes fought hard to maintain the isolationist division of the post-colonial states.

It is no surprise then that Arab uprisings are finding it difficult to proceed beyond the conditions of colonially-fabricated states. The uprisings must seek solutions beyond the crippling designs in order to break from subordination and become a true revolution.

Hisham Bustani is a writer and activist from Jordan. He has published three volumes of short fiction in Arabic.

Pepe Escobar: The Horror, The Horror

Posted in Loon Politics, Loon Violence with tags , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2012 by loonwatch

Pepe Escobar tears apart US Empirical hegemony worldwide, specifically its immorality, hypocrisy and deadly consequences in Afghanistan:

The horror, the horror

“We must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig… cow after cow… village after village… army after army…”  – Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now

Hong Kong – It started way before a lone killer, a US Army sergeant, married with two children, walked into villagesin Panjwayi, southwest of Kandahar city, and “allegedly” went on a shooting spree, leaving at least 16 civilians dead.

This was Afghanistan’s Haditha moment – as in Iraq; or My Lai – as in Vietnam.

It had been building up via the serial drone-with-Hellfire bombings of tribal wedding parties; the serial secret US Special Forces’ “night raids”; the serial “kill team” murders in 2010; the ritual urination onto dead Afghans by “our men in uniform”; and last but not least, the Quran burnings in Bagram. Mission … accomplished?

According to the latest Post-ABC News poll – conducted even before the Kandahar massacre – 55 per cent of Americans want the end of the Afghan war.

US President Barack Obama once again stressed that 10 years into a war that has cost at least $400bn, the “combat role” of NATO troops will end in 2014. According to Obama, Washington only wants to make sure “that al-Qaeda is not operating there, and that there is sufficient stability that it does not end up being a free-for-all”.

Al-Qaeda “is not operating there” for a long time; there are only a bunch of instructors “not there” but in the Waziristans, in the Pakistani tribal areas.

And forget about “stability”. The “Afghan security forces” that will be theoretically in charge by 2014, or even before, are doomed. Their illiteracy rate is a staggering 80 per cent. At least 25 per cent become deserters. Child rape is endemic. Over 50 per cent are permanently stoned on hashish, on steroids.

The level of mistrust between Afghans and Americans is cosmic. According to a 2011 study that became classified by the Pentagon after it was leaked to the Wall Street Journal – the American military essentially view Afghans as corrupt cowards while Afghans see the American military as coward bullies.

Get a Saigon 1975 moment now or in 2014, the facts on the ground will remain the same: Hindu Kush-rocking instability.

Toss the COIN and I win

Afghanistan was always a tragedy trespassed by farce. Think about NATO’s original 83 restrictions on the rules of engagement, which led, for example, to a rash of French soldiers killed in 2008 because France, pressed by the US, stopped paying protection money to the Taliban; or think about Berlin calling it not a war, but a “humanitarian mission”.

Internal battles – unlike Vietnam – became legend. Such as the COINdinistas – the counter-insurgency gang, supported by then Pentagon chief Bob Gates – invested in a “new mission” and a “new military leadership”, winning against Vice-President Joe Biden’s CT PLUS strategy, as in less soldiers on the ground doing counter-terrorism.

The winner, as everyone remembers, was rockstar General Stanley McChrystal, who insisted that the Biden plan would lead to “Chaosistan”, which happened to be the name of a classified CIA analysis.

Stanley McChrystal – a Pentagon spokesperson during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq – badly wanted to change the culture of NATO and the US Army in Afghanistan. He wanted to destroy the culture of shoot-first-and-blow-shit-up and go towards “protecting the civilian population”. In his own words, he stressed that “air-to-ground munitions” and “indirect fires” against Afghan homes were “only authorised under very limited and prescribed conditions”.

He prevailed – shielded by his rockstar status – only for a brief moment.

Meanwhile, even if on one side the State Department, the DEA and the FBI would be warning about nasty drug smugglers and assorted criminals, on the other side the CIA and the Pentagon, praising them for good intel, would always win.

And everything was fully justified by an array of reluctant warriors/liberal hawks in places such as the Center for a New American Security – crammed with “respectable” journalists.

Hamid Karzai won the Afghan elections by outright fraud. His half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai – then provincial council chief in Kandahar – was free to keep running his massive drug business while dismissing elections (“the people in this region don’t understand it”).

Who cared if the Afghan government in Kabul was/is in fact a crime syndicate? “Loyal” local commanders – “our bastards” – increasingly got funding and even dedicated Special Forces as personal advisors to themselves and their death squads.

McChrystal, to his credit, admitted that the Soviets in the 1980s did many things right (for instance, building roads, promoting central government, education for boys and girls alike, modernising the country).

But they also did a lot of things terribly wrong, such as carpet-bombing and killing 1.5 million Afghans. If only Pentagon planners had the presence of mind to read Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1970-89 (Profile Books), by former British ambassador Rodric Braithwaite, drawing on a wealth of Russian sources from the KGB to the Gorbachev Foundation; from the internet to a spectacular book by the late General Alexander Lyakhovsky.

You have the right to be misinformed

The Pentagon will never accept the withdrawal date of 2014: it goes full-frontal against its own Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine, which counts on scores of US bases in Afghanistan to monitor/control/harass strategic competitors – Russia and China.

The way out will be a ruse. The Pentagon will transfer its special operations to the CIA; they will become “spies”, not “troops on the ground”.

This will mean, essentially, an extension ad infinitum of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, which carried out the targeted killing of over 20,000 “suspected” Vietcong supporters.

And that leads us to the current CIA director, media-savvy General David Petraeus and his baby – COIN field manual FM 3-24, the Pentagon’s answer to William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell as the marriage of counter-insurgency with the war on terror. And this, even after a 2008 RAND study titled How Terrorist Groups End stressed that the only way to defeat them was through a good old law enforcement operation.

 Afghan killings strain relations with US

Petraeus couldn’t care less. After all, his “information operations” – as in all-out media manipulation, coupled with the massive distribution of the proverbial suitcase full of US dollars – had won “his” and George W Bush’s surge in Iraq.

Proud Pashtuns were a much tougher nut to crack than Sunni sheikhs in the desert. They went so low-tech – fabricating tens of thousands of IEDs with fertiliser, wood and old munitions – that they in fact froze US technology dead in its tracks, leading to endless Pentagon newspeak reports on “vast increase in IED activity”.

Since Obama’s inauguration, the Pentagon had been playing extra-dirty to extract the exact war they wanted to carry out in Afghanistan.

They got it. Petraeus went on non-stop spin mode on “progress”. Local populations were “becoming more receptive” to US troops, even as a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) – the cumulative knowledge of 17 US intelligence agencies – remained grim.

Petraeus did what he does best: he remixed the NIE. He never admitted that the war would be over by 2014.  He cranked up airstrikes, unleashed Apache and Kiowa attack helicopters, tripled the number of night raids by Special Forces, authorised a mini-Shock and Awe, totally levelling the town of Tarok Kolache in southern Afghanistan.

After yet another US massacre in February 2011 in Kunar Province, with 64 dead civilians, Petraeus even had the gall of accusing Afghans of burning their own children to make it look like collateral damage. Good for him. At the time, his relationship with Obama was even improving.

The Obama administration is, in fact, convinced that Obama’s surge, led by Petraeus and scheduled to finish by September, has left Afghanistan “stable”, at least in the region known as “regional command east”; that’s what Petraeus dubs “Afghan good enough”.

Most of the country is in fact “Talib good enough”, but who cares? As for burning babies, cynics might qualify it as a feature of American exceptionalism. One just has to remember the Amiriya Shelter in Baghdad on February 13, 1991, when no fewer than 408 children and their mothers were burned to death by the US.

I’ll never look into your eyes… again

How not to remember the inimitable Dennis Hopper as the psychedelic photojournalist in Apocalypse Now, talking about Colonel Kurtz/Marlon Brando: “He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense…”

“Poet-warrior” McChrystal was convinced Afghanistan was not Vietnam; in Vietnam the US was fighting a “popular insurgency”, unlike Afghanistan (wrong: the many strands bundled under the moniker “Taliban” have become more popular in direct proportion to Karzai’s disaster, not to mention that in Vietnam the official Pentagon spin was that the Vietcong were never popular).

Generals, anyway, don’t go on Kurtz-style killing sprees. Petraeus was promoted to unleash Shadow War Inc at the CIA. After he was sacked following a profile in Rolling Stone magazine – how rockstar is that? – McChrystal ended up rehabilitated by the White House.

He taught at Yale, went into consulting, is making a fortune on the conference circuit – distilling wisdom about “leadership” and the Greater Middle East – and was made an unpaid adviser to military families by Obama.

McChrystal sees Afghanistan as stuck in “some kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare”. Conrad’s “the horror… the horror…” is perennial. The Pentagon’s key lesson from Vietnam was how to seal off the horror, how to put it in boxes, and how to, voluptuously, embrace it.

So it’s no wonder McChrystal could not possibly see that he was starring as the remixed Colonel Kurtz – while Petraeus was a more methodical, but no less deadly Captain Willard. Unlike Vietnam, though, this time there won’t be a Coppola to win the war for Hollywood. But there will be plenty of Hollow Men left at the Pentagon.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is named Obama Does Globalistan(Nimble Books, 2009).

Islam, Orientalism and the West

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , on August 15, 2011 by loonwatch
Edward SaidEdward Said

I’m writing a much longer piece on Orientalism and its ramifications on our society today, but I found this article in TIME magazine from 1979 very interesting. It is essentially a long review of Edward Said’s historic work “Orientalism,” less than a year after its initial publication.

One piece of information that struck out was the fact that between 1800 and 1950 some 60,000 works on “Islam and the Orient” were published:

As writing about Islam and the Orient burgeoned—60,000 books between 1800 and 1950—European powers occupied large swatches of “Islamic” territory, arguing that since Orientals knew nothing about democracy and were essentially passive, it was the “civilizing mission” of the Occident, expressed in the strict programs of despotic modernization, to finally transform the Orient into a nice replica of the West.

Post 9/11, with the Iraq and Afghan invasions and the rise of Islamophobia to endemic levels I think its a safe bet that there have been thousands of publications about ‘Islam and Muslims in the Orient and the Occident.’

Special Report: Islam, Orientalism And the West

(TIME Magazine)

An attack on learned ignorance

In an angry, provocative new book called Orientalism (Pantheon; $15), Edward Said, 43, Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, argues that the West has tended to define Islam in terms of the alien categories imposed on it by Orientalist scholars. Professor Said is a member of the Palestine National Council, a broadly based, informal parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He summarized the thesis of Orientalism in this article for TIME.

One of the strangest, least examined and most persistent of human habits is the absolute division made between East and West, Orient and Occident. Almost entirely “Western” in origin, this imaginative geography that splits the world into two unequal, fundamentally opposite spheres has brought forth more myths, more detailed ignorance and more ambitions than any other perception of difference. For centuries Europeans and Americans have spellbound themselves with Oriental mysticism, Oriental passivity, Oriental mentalities. Translated into policy, displayed as knowledge, presented as entertainment in travelers’ reports, novels, paintings, music or films, this “Orientalism” has existed virtually unchanged as a kind of daydream that could often justify Western colonial adventures or military conquest. On the “Marvels of the East” (as the Orient was known in the Middle Ages) a fantastic edifice was constructed, invested heavily with Western fear, desire, dreams of power and, of course, a very partial knowledge. And placed in this structure has been “Islam,” a great religion and a culture certainly, but also an Occidental myth, part of what Disraeli once called “the great Asiatic mystery.”

As represented for Europe by Muhammad and his followers, Islam appeared out of Arabia in the 7th century and rapidly spread in all directions. For almost a millennium Christian Europe felt itself challenged (as indeed it was) by this last monotheistic religion, which claimed to complete its two predecessors. Perplexingly grand and “Oriental,” incorporating elements of Judeo-Christianity, Islam never fully submitted to the West’s power. Its various states and empires always provided the West with formidable political and cultural contestants—and with opportunities to affirm a “superior” Occidental identity. Thus, for the West, to understand Islam has meant trying to convert its variety into a monolithic undeveloping essence, its originality into a debased copy of Christian culture, its people into fearsome caricatures.

Early Christian polemicists against Islam used the Prophet’s human person as their butt, accusing him of whoring, sedition, charlatanry. As writing about Islam and the Orient burgeoned—60,000 books between 1800 and 1950—European powers occupied large swatches of “Islamic” territory, arguing that since Orientals knew nothing about democracy and were essentially passive, it was the “civilizing mission” of the Occident, expressed in the strict programs of despotic modernization, to finally transform the Orient into a nice replica of the West. Even Marx seems to have believed this. Read more

Kareem Salama: America’s Muslim Cowboy Ambassador

Posted in Feature with tags , , , , , , , on April 12, 2011 by loonwatch

If you told someone that there was an American Muslim Cowboy Ambassador, they would laugh and not think for one second you were telling the truth, but there is, his name is Kareem Salama and he is being sponsored by the State Department for an “outreach” trip to the Middle East.

There are some points in the article below that may give us pause. Such as, why is America engaged in throwing so much money into the coffers of a PR campaign in the Muslim world to fix its image? Why doesn’t America extricate itself from the wars it is involved in, or review its policy of support for apartheid regimes and despots instead?

Salama says he doesn’t care too much about “politics” and attempts to avoid it, but is he undermining his cause, a noble one, to show that America is not a monolith by allowing himself to be bankrolled by the State Department?

Cynical Arabs and Muslims may view this as a mere PR stunt while bombs are being dropped on their heads despite the good intentions.

One cause of worry is encapsulated in this line,

Another $1.3 billion has been allocated to the Muslim World Outreach Program—this multi-year federal initiative, launched in 2003 by the National Security Council, aims to“transform Islam from within” by supporting secular, liberal Arab organizations as well as the work of secular, liberal Muslim scholars.

This rings like loud bells in the ears of Muslims and Arabs. Such a venture feeds into the narrative of extremists such as Anwar al-Awlaki who wish to say that America has an agenda when it comes to “Islam.” Instead of helping liberal or progressive Muslim and Arab thinkers and scholars it undermines and sabotages their work and smacks of the old imperial and colonial efforts.

To push the point further, this National Security Council effort should be reviewed in light of the recent “Arab Spring” and more attention should finally be paid to the clarion calls of Robert Pape, Scott Atran and others who tell us that our lowly image in the world is due to occupation, war and support for autocratic and corrupt regimes and movements that stifle freedom and progress.

America’s Muslim Cowboy Ambassador

How Oklahoma-born singer Kareem Salama became part of US diplomacy efforts in the Middle East.

— By Ashley Bates (Mother Jones)

When Andrew Mitchell, the cultural affairs officer at the US Embassy in Egypt, heard that a Muslim dude was making a go of it as a country star, he thought it was “the funniest thing I’d ever heard.”

So Mitchell began checking out Kareem Salama’s stuff—his two self-released albums, Generous Peace and This Life of Mine, and his 2007 hit song “Generous Peace,” whose video is as wholesome as an ABC After-School Special. “Gentlemen, I’m like incense; the more you burn me, the more I’m fragrant,” Salama sings, echoing the writings of the eight century Islamic scholar Muhammed Al-Shafi’ee.

“That is a concept,” Mitchell recalls thinking, “that if I could broadcast anything to this part of the world, that’s what I would say.”

Salama is an American, born of Egyptian parents—engineers both—who came to the US for college and ultimately settled down here. They raised Kareem and his three siblings in the rural town of Ponca City, Oklahoma. The town had no mosque, and only one other Muslim family lived there, but the children learned Islamic traditions at home. Salama, now 33, considers himself devout; he prays regularly, and doesn’t drink or date.

Culturally, though, he identifies as a rodeo-going, country music-loving southerner. “I grew up in a place where country music is kinda like crickets,” Salama explains in his heavy drawl. “You just hear it everywhere you go.”

The more Mitchell learned about Salama, the more excited he became about the stereotype-busting potential of his story. Egyptians (and Americans) tend to associate country music—and the American South—with conservatism. And they tend to associate conservatives with Islamophobia. Egyptians will say, “‘Oh, he’s a cowboy. He’s a conservative. He hates all Muslims,’” Mitchell says. “We can show them: Here’s an Oklahoma cowboy who not only doesn’t hate Muslims, he is a Muslim!”

In US diplomacy terms, Salama was a “total winner all around,” Mitchell says. So he pulled some strings. Last summer, Salama was invited to participate in a six-week, US government-sponsored tour of the Middle East. The program included both concerts and group discussions at schools and community centers. Salama jumped at the opportunity. “I like to focus on a message of reconciliation and bringing people together,” he says.

Everywhere he went—Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Morocco, Kuwait, and Syria—there were droves of people at his appearances, especially children. “A lot of times when we talked about things like respecting people who are different than you and being tolerant, it was clear that they had already discussed those things in school,” Salama recalls. (He included some tour footage in the video for his pop song, “Makes Me Crazy.”)

But Salama refused to engage Middle Easterners on controversial topics. If, for example, an audience member asked why the US government was sponsoring his tour while simultaneously providing billions of dollars in military aid to repressive Arab regimes, Salama dodged the question. “I’m not a politician and I don’t like to talk about politics,” he explains. “I told them that I don’t answer political questions. And the press corps was like: Why? And I said because, at the end of the day, I think it’s a waste of your time. Most of you have never voted in your lives or effected any change in the government whatsoever. And the intelligent person always focuses in their lives on the things that they can actually do something about.”

Sometimes, Salama would simply redirect the conversation. “There was a moment when we were in Jordan when a kid who was of Palestinian descent asked me something about America’s foreign policy. I looked at JJ [an American friend], and I put my hand on his shoulder, and I said, ‘Did JJ ever do anything to you?’ And his face completely changed. He softened in that moment and just goes, ‘No he hasn’t.’ And that was it.”

Salama’s songs can be spiritual, but they’re not overtly Islamic. Nor do his lyrics criticize American foreign policy. One song, “Baby I’m a Soldier,” tells the fictional story of two dying soldiers from opposing sides, emphasizing their common humanity—but it takes no jabs at US military actions.

In Bahrain, Salama performed at schools that primarily served the country’s more-affluent Sunni community. At the time, he was unaware of religious tensions in Bahrain, or that the Western-backed government, which has close ties with Saudi Arabia, systematically represses and discriminates against the country’s Shiite majority. “I’m pretty woefully ignorant of Bahrain in general,” Salama acknowledges.

But he did tell audiences in Bahrain and elsewhere about his idyllic childhood in Oklahoma. “I didn’t experience much” discrimination, he told me, adding that he even played the lead in his sixth-grade Christmas play. “There’s an old Arabic poem that says, ‘It’s sad to see a man who has 100 good days, and he always complains about the one bad day.’ Even if there was something bad that happened, I’ve had such a beautiful life and a beautiful experience growing up where I did.”

Salama is pretty patriotic. Even so, he sometimes encounters bigotry online. In 2007, after he appeared on Fox News to talk about racial profiling, some anonymous Fox commenters claimed he was a “terrorist hiding in the open,” and not a “real” American.

The 2010 tour was part of a larger “public diplomacy” program that costs US taxpayers more than $100 million each year in the Middle East alone, according to a State Department official. Every embassy in the world has a public diplomacy division that engages in various outreach activities, hoping to nurture person-to-person relationships between Americans and foreigners. That’s in addition to the Peace Corps, a federal program whose budget was $400 million last year. Another $1.3 billion has been allocated to the Muslim World Outreach Program—this multi-year federal initiative, launched in 2003 by the National Security Council, aims to“transform Islam from within” by supporting secular, liberal Arab organizations as well as the work of secular, liberal Muslim scholars.

Mitchell believes cultural-exchange programs help combat extremism, and implies that many Arab civilians are simply unaware that most Americans are decent human beings. He offers a hypothetical scenario where a kid meets Salama and is later approached by a jihadist who insists that America is “the Great Satan.” That kid, Mitchell says, “is going to say, ‘Wait a minute. I met an American. And he was a Muslim. And he was nice. They are not all the Great Satan.’”

In March, inspired by the revolutions sweeping the Middle East, Salama released a new song and video called “Be Free Now.” But out of respect for pro-democracy activists, he’s postponed the release of his latest album, City of Lights, until May 24. The new album is a mix of country-western and catchy pop tunes. “I guess it’s just a gut feeling,” he says of the postponement. Releasing it now “might appear like, ‘He’s over there in America busy with his music and stuff, and we are going through this much more important thing.’”

Here’s the “Generous Peace” video, which tackles bias against Muslims and advocates turning the other cheek…

Tariq Ali: Bernard-Henri Lévy Indicted!

Posted in Loon People with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2011 by loonwatch

An entertaining article by Tariq Ali. Bernard-Henri Levy certainly should be indicted in the mind of public opinion. I agree with most of the indictment though I would contend that Bernard-Henri Levy is not guilty of merely promoting “Zionism” which on its own may not be an indictable offense but of promoting “extremist Zionism” in which he apologizes for land grabs and racist state apparatuses within Israel. I wonder how the trial went?

Bernard-Henri Lévy Indicted!


On January 28, activists belonging to the PIR (Parti des Indigènes de la République) are organizing a trial of Bernard-Henri Lévy in the old PCF/CGT stronghold of Saint Denis. Norman Finkelstein and myself are the only non-French who are giving evidence against BHL.  The trial will commence at 6.30pm at the Bourse du Travail de St-Denis. 9-11 rue Génin, Saint Denis. Metro  13 – Porte de Paris.

More of my views on Bernard-Henri Lévy may be found below, but first, the Indictment:

“Order for the  indictment of Bernard-Henri Lévy before the Assize Court, and for  his arrest:

We have determined that whereas investigation has established the following facts concerning the accused:

– His unrelenting promotion of imperialism and Zionism,

– His intellectual fakery, symptom of philosophical nullity amid the accumulation of capital and power,

– His leveling of false accusations and calumnies against Iran,

– His warmongering and advocacy of “humanitarian imperialism,”

– His aiding in the creation and promotion of SOS Racisme to smother autonomous immigration movements,

– His dissemination of false news likely to sow social and eligious discord between Christians and Muslims.

For these reasons, we rule that  there is sufficient evidence against Bernard-Henri Lévy that he  committed such acts, punishable under the Criminal Code, in regard to Articles 175, 176, 181, 183 and 184. We order the indictment of Bernard-Henri Lévy, to be lodged at the Court of Assizes of the department of Seine- Saint-Denis to be tried according to law.”

Executed in Chambers, December 18, 2010.”

I’ve always regarded BHL as a comic figure. On the two occasions — in Berlin and New York– that I’ve shared a platform to debate him he reminded me of a puffed up peacock in heat (hence, I thought, the permanently unbuttonedbhlshirt). In France, however, more than a few citizens find him more sinister than comic. He is the Republic’s most visible and most vain mediatic intellectual. A veritable Tintin no less. Ready for adventures whenever he’s needed to strike a pose. Kabul falls to NATO. Off goes Tintin and returns to inform us that in order to help the Afghans he has launched a new magazine in Kabul.  Its name?Nouvelle Kabul. Of course. How could it be anything else. This was in 2002, but every Afghan I’ve asked swears on the Koran that no such magazine exists, not even in Kabul’s fortified green zone. Was it pure fantasy? Possible. The dividing line between reality and non-reality is never clear when Tintin is involved. I got a strong whiff of this when I reviewed his appalling book on the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl that was largely fantastical. I wrote at the time:

“He has written a strange hybrid of a book about his adventures in Pakistan, a country whose language he doesn’t speak and whose people he seems to hate, despite the last-page invocation of a ‘gentle Islam’, firmly placed in the medieval period and counterposed to the ‘madmen of Peshawar’… Half fiction, a quarter speculation, one-eighth film script (with BHL as himself?) and one-eighth regurgitated newspaper articles, this book gives narcissism a bad name. Is there anything of value in it? I searched in vain, hoping that his ‘diplomatic connections’ might have helped out with some previously unknown facts. Nothing. Given the absence of real content, style becomes all; and it is pure pastiche. At times, ‘my dear Sartre’ is invoked for no apparent reason, except to make it clear that Lévy is the only true heir. At another point, he is reminded of his old tutor at the Ecole Normale:

‘Latent homosexuality. Or, if not, perhaps no sexuality at all, pleasure is a sin, the purpose of relations with a woman is to procreate. Omar [Pearl’s assassin] . . . has probably never slept with a woman . . . he is a 29-year-old virgin. Is this the key to the psychology of Omar? . . . Asexuality, and the will to purity that goes with it, as possible sources of the moral standards of the religion of fundamentalist crime? . . . But I remember, I cannot help but remember, a great French philosopher, Louis Althusser, still a virgin at 30 and who . . . No. Out of bounds, precisely. Because truly blasphemous. And too flattering to Omar.’”

There is nobody quite like him in the States or elsewhere in Europe. Hitchens, in healthier times, could have come close to this status had he been provided a regular column in the NYT and a book show on one of the networks. CH would have had many an advantage, since unlike BHL he can both write and read, though ill-health, sadly, has meant a confused imagination such as detecting a ‘moral core’ in Tony Blair and flattering Ben Ali, the toppled despot of Tunis.

His dominant media position makes BHL a powerful enemy of the Left, of the kids in the banlieues, of anyone who dares question Israel’s moral superiority to everyone else, but especially its victims. He supports most of US policies abroad. Unsurprisingly he arouses a great deal of anger, hatred and contempt.

On  January 28, activists belonging to the PIR (Parti des Indigènes de la République) are organizing a mock trial in the old PCF/CGT stronghold of Saint Denis. Norman Finkelstein and myself are the only non-French who are giving evidence against BHL. It should be good fun. Nobody is quite sure whether Tintin will be in Paris or entertaining the King in his huge villa in Morocco … he should beware the Maghreb now. The times they are a-changing.

Tariq Ali’s latest book “The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad’ was published by Verso last fall.