If Thomas Friedman Weren’t a Propagandist Looking at the “Arab-Muslim Sea”

iran israel deal
That President Obama’s recent agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear enrichment capabilities stands as a diplomatic victory remains largely undisputed in the most prestigious circles of academic and journalistic discourse. Without this deal Iranians, much like their Iraqi and Afghan neighbors, would have suffered the wrath of the US armed forces the argument goes. Disregarding the fact that Iran, as a signatory the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has a legal right to enrich uranium and evidenced no intention to develop a nuclear weapon, the world is justified in breathing a sigh of relief knowing that “the greatest threat to world peace” is exercising its power less belligerently.

Nonetheless, this pause in international violence and aggression is unlikely to survive if some of the media’s most dedicated servants to power have their way. Enter New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. In an article that can only be described as a toxic brew of anti-Arab racism, blatant falsehoods, and borderline criminal incitement we are provided a graphic illustration of the resilience of imperial doctrines in the American press and the psychological ease with which its most ardent enthusiasts petition its demands.

Headlined If I Were an Israeli Looking at the Iran Deal Friedman begins by stating if he were an “Israeli grocer” he would “hate [the nuclear deal] for enshrining Iran’s right to enrich uranium, since Iran regularly cheated its way to expanding that capability, even though it had signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.” Notice Iran is “cheating” by disobeying US demands to restrict its capabilities, a capability legally protected under the NPT, but Israel (a non-signatory to the NPT) is not “cheating” in its casual disregard for every conceivable norm of non-proliferation.

Furthermore, it is not the nuclear deal that’s responsible for “enshrining Iran’s right to enrich uranium,” but the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Not only has this been repeatedly declared by Iranian government officials but in 2012 the Non-Aligned Movement affirmed Iran’s “inalienable right to develop research, production and uses of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” Only under the assumption that the majority of the world and established international law should be subordinated to US rules of Good Behavior can we take Friedman’s contention seriously.
nonproliferationThe same can be said of his condemnation of “Iran’s proxy, the Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah.” Hezbollah, according to Friedman, “started an unprovoked war with Israel,” in 2006 “and when Israel retaliated against Hezbollah military and civilian targets, Hezbollah fired thousands of Iranian-supplied rockets all across Israel.” Here we have a total inversion of the historical record. That the 2006 war was a war of aggression by Israel (Washington’s proxy), and not Hezbollah, is so well documented that any argument otherwise can only be interpreted as a deliberate evasion of the facts if not apologetics for Israeli violence.

As scholar and activist Steven Salaita observed in his 2008 collection of essays Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought, “the immorality of Israel’s wanton destruction [of Lebanon] does not present much of a political or ethical debate for those who would distinguish between military targets and civilian ones, or between terrorists and ordinary people. The problem is that American media repeatedly omitted either distinction, thereby transforming Israel’s aggression into an act of self-defense.” Hence, Friedman can write about how Israel “retaliated against Hezbollah military and civilian targets (my emphasis)”, the implicit assumption being Lebanese civilians were just as culpable in their deaths as Hezbollah fighters.

And the easy resort to dehumanization did not end here. Friedman proceeds to inhabit the mind of an Israeli general, proud and confident in the assertion that “No enemy will ever out-crazy us into leaving this region”, a sentiment with a great deal of merit in lieu of recent history. Yet we gain the most insight into the unadulterated racism that influences commentators like Friedman when he lays out Israel’s war strategy:

“Israel plays, when it has to, by what I’ve called ‘Hama rules’ — war without mercy. The Israeli Army tries to avoid hitting civilian targets, but it has demonstrated in both Lebanon and Gaza that it will not be deterred by the threat of civilian Arab casualties when Hezbollah or Hamas launches its rockets from civilian areas. It is not pretty, but this is not Scandinavia. The Jewish state has survived in an Arab-Muslim sea because its neighbors know that for all its Western mores it will not be out-crazied. It will play by local rules.”

Israel, a nation with a first world military and nuclear weapons, unleashes an aerial assault on densely populated strip of land, 50% of whose inhabitants are children. Over 2,100 people are killed, the majority Palestinian civilians. Hamas, a military faction under foreign occupation without a navy, air force, tanks, or a hegemonic military superpower bankrolling its soldiers, fires low-grade rockets into Israel killing 73 people, the majority Israeli soldiers (66). That anyone can be aware of this disparity in power and designate Hamas as the exemplar of “war without mercy” defies rational explanation, as does the ludicrous claim that “the Israeli Army tries to avoid hitting civilian targets.”
palestineIt takes little effort to see that a vulgar racism underlies these conclusions. Nightmarish scenarios of the Jewish state being swept away by the turbulent “Arab-Muslim sea,” compels this island of western civilization and “Western mores” to “play by local rules”, namely the rules of “savages.” Inherent in this characterization is a sharp distinction between enlightened, restrained, white, Europeanized (“this is not Scandinavia”) Jews and crazy, impulsive, uncivilized Arabs so maniacal in their desire to kill Israelis that they would readily sacrifice the lives of their children to achieve this end (this human shield myth has also been thoroughly refuted).

Perhaps the greatest irony of Thomas Friedman’s latest contribution to the booming industry of anti-Arab racism is that he embodies perfectly the mindless bloodlust and impulsive thinking that he so baselessly directs at the people of Gaza and Lebanon. Informing readers on what he’d do as Israeli Prime Minister to diffuse any suspicions about Iranian misbehavior, Friedman states the following:

“So rather than fighting with President Obama, as prime minister I’d be telling him Israel will support this deal but it wants the U.S. to increase what really matters — its deterrence capability — by having Congress authorize this and any future president to use any means necessary to destroy any Iranian attempt to build a bomb. I don’t trust U.N. inspectors; I trust deterrence. And to enhance that I’d ask the U.S. to position in the Middle East the U.S. Air Force’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a precision-guided, 30,000-pound ‘bunker buster’ bomb that could take out any Iranian reactor hidden in any mountain. The Iranians would get the message.”

Essentially, Friedman is proposing that President Obama hold together a diplomatic agreement by threatening to drop a 30,000 lb. bomb on a sovereign country (a blatant violation of the UN prohibition against the threat of force in international affairs) citing the Mafioso doctrine that such an exercise in “deterrence” would force Iranians to “get the message.” Apparently, the “local rules” of military savagery expands beyond the provinces of ultra-violent, ethno-supremacist occupier states. These rules also must be advanced by their ideological courtiers in the American press lest the menacing unpeople of the “Arab-Muslim sea” get the impression that they can’t be “out-crazied.”

Any student of history will immediately recognize that Friedman is not the first and will by no means be the last to espouse this imperialist, orientalist, and racist worldview. Indeed, the perceptions put forth in his article permeate our academic, political, and intellectual culture so deeply that it would not be an exaggeration to describe them as foundational to the American national self-image. Nevertheless, the regularity of its expression does little to diminish its insidious influence in how we, as citizens of declining empire, think of the world around us and the solutions available to solve its many crises. So while Friedman peers out at the world through the eyes of Israeli generals and prime ministers we should dare to look at the world from the perspective of those who are victimized by their decisions. Hesitation in this regard would only prolong the needless suffering that only a genuine culture of solidarity with the oppressed can combat.

Source:

The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/12/opinion/thomas-friedman-if-i-were-an-israeli-looking-at-the-iran-dealhtml.html?ref=international&_r=0

http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/prepcom12/documents/WP24.pdf

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/gaza-israel_b_5624401.html

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Confusing Righteous Indignation With Hatred: Dismantling Michael Eric Dyson’s Critique of Cornel West

Dr. West and I (Jan. 2012)
Dr. West and I (Jan. 2012)

“The righteous indignation of a Martin Luther King Jr. becomes a moment in political calculation and that makes my blood boil.”

–Dr. Cornel West

Arguably the most valuable aspect of democratic culture is the freedom afforded those who choose to dissent. Without constant, unimpeded criticism of the status quo societies collapse into paralysis or, in the direst of circumstances, one or another form of tyranny. Unfortunately, this ability to voice criticisms of power is not always taken advantage of. In fact, the temptation to succumb to ideological conformity is sometimes strongest in societies that purport to champion traditions of liberty. A textbook case of such conformity can be found in the two latest articles (here and here) by Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson in the establishment liberal journal The New Republic.

Responding to what he describes as Dr. Cornel West’s “rage against President Barack Obama”, Dyson condemns the former Princeton professor and public intellectual for his “callous disregard for plural visions of truth”, a malady that can be overcome only through “the prophet’s duty of pitiless self-inventory.” Undoubtedly, the desire to carry out a “pitiless self-inventory” is surely an essential characteristic needed to critically engage with the most pressing problems of the day, a characteristic Dyson ought to have in abundance, at least if he counts himself immune to the hypocrisies he now attributes to his erstwhile mentor.
dyson_westAmong the many crimes appended to Dr. West’s bill of indictment are his impassioned criticisms of Obama’s defenders, who he accuses of sacrificing elementary principles of justice for access to centers of privilege and power. “West’s attacks on me were a bleak forfeiture of 30 years of friendship,” intones Dyson. “It was the repudiation of a fond collegiality and intellectual companionship, of political comraderie and joined social struggle.” Putting aside the tone of West’s criticisms, which are of marginal significance compared to the substance of them, it’s worth investigating what kinds of critiques led to the end of this companionship. Dyson’s original TNR piece features three YouTube videos. In one 43 second video Dr. West, during an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! , describes Obama as a “Rockefeller Republican in Blackface.” Presumably, this was posted to illustrate Dr. West’s penchant for “verbal brutalities”, a term Dyson used to describe West’s “hateful language” in his subsequent article. The two other videos feature a BBC appearance of Dr. West urging Obama not to become “the friendly face of American empire,” and another appearance on C-SPAN (quoted above) where he decries the hypocrisy of Obama conducting his swearing-in ceremony with Dr. King’s Bible while perpetuating policies (drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia for example) that radically depart from King’s emancipatory message.

Again, ignoring the tone of West’s critiques, it’s undeniable that there is a thread that connects them, namely a principled opposition to imperial power and corporate criminality. Notably, even in the Democracy Now! video, despite its brevity, West brings attention to Obama’s “imperial foreign policy at work.” Indeed, if Dyson were truly interested in writing a “sharp polemic” (his self-description) he would at least devote some attention to these hugely consequential topics of global importance. Why else would they reappear in Dr. West’s critiques with such frequency and clarity? Strangely, Dyson’s “self-inventory” yields no results. As the intrepid sportswriter and Nation contributor Dave Zirin observed shortly after the publication of Dyson’s first piece:

The word ‘Palestine’ or ‘Palestinian’ does not once make its way into Dyson’s piece. Neither does ‘Wall Street’ or ‘immigration.’ The word ‘drones’ only comes up in a quote attributed to West. We can debate how sincere West’s commitments are to these issues or whether they are a cover for his hurt feelings and heartbreak that Dyson posits is at the root of all the discord. But they should be reckoned with.

Likewise, author and investigative journalist Max Blumenthal, in a piece written for AlterNet, observed, “BDS might be sweeping American campuses, but Dyson has been largely silent on Israel’s endless occupation. Dyson carps about character assassination, but he is reticent on drone assassinations. Since Obama entered the Oval Office, Dyson has had much more to say about Nas than the NSA.”

Moreover, Dyson’s second article—one which he introduces as “a few lines to address the most salient responses,” to his original article—also devotes zero attention to drone warfare, Israeli criminality, NSA surveillance or imperial power quite generally. Briefly, Dyson addresses this oversight in his second article, arguing he would “leave the breadth and depth of West’s political activities to his advocates or biographers,” since he was more interested in “probing the vituperation that clouds West’s political stances no matter their variety or virtue.”

Discarding the fact that one doesn’t have to be an “advocate” or a “biographer” to expound on Dr. West’s or anyone else’s “political activities” (how one could host a political show on MSNBC with this standard is a mystery to me), that Dyson chooses not to inspect, in the least, the “variety and virtue” of West’s criticism of Obama only reinforces the reasonable suspicion that Dyson is either unwilling to denounce, or more insidiously, in complete agreement with these policies. Particularly glaring is this oversight since it was explicitly brought to his attention via Zirin’s critique, providing him ample opportunity to dispel any false assumptions.

Incidentally, what of the “vituperation” that “cloud’s” Dr. West’s criticism? Is that a crime? Uncontroversially, compared to words that would be uttered by the victims of Obama’s drone policies West would likely be counted too generous. Not only have approval ratings for Obama’s policies in Pakistan equaled those earned by President Bush, an impressive feat, but the New York Times recently reported that drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have “incited deep resentment toward the United States” (my emphasis). That this “deep resentment” may sometimes find its way to the Oval office and is sometimes directed at the man who, in the wake of the tragic killings of two western hostages in Pakistan, took “full responsibility” for drone policy is not only understandable but perfectly rational. Is it completely inconceivable that Dr. West may empathize with their outrage? Rather than criticize those who are filled with resentment over these criminal policies, Dyson ought to dedicate more time to trying to stop these policies that foster such righteous fury.
drones pewAnd this is where Dr. Dyson and Dr. West part ways. While Dyson falsely accuses West of having his judgment clouded by “vituperation”, his own judgment is, it seems, irreversibly clouded by infatuation, not with the individual that is President Obama, but the power and achievement that he embodies (a form of power that is, at bottom, very reactionary). Examples of this infatuation are as plentiful as they are cringe-inducing. Whether it’s Dyson’s impassioned MSNBC speech announcing his talent in “riding the Obama bandwagon hard” or his less comical, but equally troublesome, appeal to 2012 voters to “join me” in “helping [Obama].” As for sustained criticism? Dyson once “riled the White House” when he bravely denounced Obama as a “gifted leader whose palpable discomfort with discussing race made him a sometimes unreliable and distant narrator of black life.” With critics like this who needs commissars?

Graphic as these testimonials are, they are of secondary importance to what Dyson doesn’t say and what these silences imply. Historically, it has always been incredibly easy to tear down public figures, especially those as vocally anti-authoritarian as Dr. West, on the grounds that they are uncivil or too vigorous in their criticism. Take the example of Native American Studies professor and Palestinian solidarity activist Steven Salaita. After condemning Israeli atrocities in the Gaza Strip during the 51 day massacre last summer he was denied a teaching position at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Reacting to Salaita’s condemnation of Israeli crimes, university Chancellor Phyllis Wise declared that UIUC could not tolerate “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them”, a justification the widely read Academe Blog deemed “ridiculous.” Fundamentally, Dyson’s dissatisfaction with Dr. West is of the same brand.

Without venturing into hagiography, which is always an unattractive trait for those genuinely committed to critical thought, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of Dr. West as a voice of dissent and social uplift, not only in the Black community but in the United States as a whole. From the numerous arrests that he has undergone in the spirit of grassroots civil disobedience, to his outreach to the younger generation, to his defense of political prisoners like Mumia Abu Jamal and Palestinians languishing in the open air prison of the Gaza Strip, no amount of “philosophical meditation on prophetic vocation, scholarly craft and writerly art” can diminish his contributions to our national discourse and the movements that spring from them, a combination that is helping to construct a more just society. Legendary German socialist Rosa Luxemburg famously remarked that “those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” It’s about time Dr. Dyson joined Dr. West and noticed his own.

Sources:

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121640/michael-eric-dyson-responds-cornel-west-all-black-lives-matter

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121550/cornel-wests-rise-fall-our-most-exciting-black-scholar-ghost

http://www.thenation.com/blog/204769/cornel-west-not-mike-tyson

http://academeblog.org/2014/08/22/chancellor-phyllis-wise-explains-the-firing-of-steven-salaita/

http://www.pewglobal.org/2012/06/13/global-opinion-of-obama-slips-international-policies-faulted/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/25/opinion/regret-over-a-drones-deadly-damage.html?smid=fb-share

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-warren-weinstein-killed-20150423-story.html

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/cornell-wests-radical-critique-race-and-us-brutality-middle-east-driver-michael

On the Significance of Social Media Activism

reviewsocialmedia
Any honest observer of contemporary activist struggles would be remiss to ignore the substantial influence of social media in bringing together disparate groups struggling to achieve a common goal. Contributions of social media activism to political discourse are numerous from gruesome images filtering out of occupied territories to raw footage of militarized police brutalizing nonviolent protestors. Undoubtedly, political agitation cannot be confined to the physical realm. Mass movements crucially depend on the rapid circulation of information and images, which, more often than not, occurs in cyberspace.

The social media activism that accompanied Israel’s seven week assault on the Gaza Strip offers a paradigmatic illustration of the central role Internet users play in galvanizing mass support for marginalized populations. As journalist Yousef al-Helou stated in his assessment of the impact of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter in generating support for Palestinians fleeing in terror under Israeli bombs:

“Citizen journalism from Palestine is especially valuable for those who are looking for information which has not been filtered through a Western agenda. Social media has definitely weakened the Israeli narrative, as Palestinians are able to connect directly with overseas audiences and tell the stories that they feel are important. Hundreds of thousands of tweets exchanged reports, opinions, and challenges to mainstream news reports and to each other.”

This adversarial spirit—the willingness to present “challenges to mainstream news reports”—is a thread that unites several of the most prominent social media campaigns and is reflective of the public’s desire to move away from the highly corporatized and anti-septic discourse of the establishment press toward more non-mediated and participatory forms of information sharing.

Not unlike other trends toward democratization, this blossoming in social media activism has elicited a fair amount of criticism from centers of privilege and power. Perhaps the most recent iteration of this elite backlash can be found in an article published in New York Magazine by former New Republic journalist Jonathan Chait. Decrying the rise of political correctness, a “system of left-wing ideological repression”, Chait targets social media and its broad influence as culpable in spreading this virus:

“Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate. Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today’s political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.”

Echoing such establishment manifestos like the Powell Memo, which infamously denounced the failure of “institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young” (schools), Chait’s criticism conveys a palpable sense of alarm, a fear that the hallowed corridors of “respectable” discourse are being intruded upon by less qualified and less enlightened commoners. Fundamentally, Chait’s article conveyed, as Glenn Greenwald put it in a stinging critique, “anger over being criticized in less than civil and respectful tones by people who lack any credentials (and thus entitlement) to do so.” This is a sentiment that is as pernicious as it is pervasive and the elite response to social media activism is just one of its more visceral manifestations.
chait
Incidentally, similar objectives to stem the tide of social activism’s “vast cultural reach” likely lay behind the concerted efforts on the part of the telecommunications industry to eliminate net neutrality, a campaign that was recently dealt a devastating defeat thanks to a grassroots movement of “guerrilla activism”, much of it online, dedicated to preserving the “the principle that all Internet traffic must be treated equally.” Responding to the FCC’s decision to uphold these basic rules of net neutrality, the campaign director of Free Press stated “this is probably the most important ruling in the history of the FCC.” In these hard-won achievements we can discern the significance of social media, not only as a virtual public square where dialogue and reflection on some of the most important issues of our time can flourish, but as a space whose mere existence constitutes a grave threat to those whose power relies on the erasure of these sites of democratic expression (the National Security Agency’s regime of electronic surveillance, a legal monstrosity hauntingly portrayed in Laura Poitra’s award winning documentary CitizenFour, is one of the more obvious opponents of Internet freedom in this respect.)

hasbaraUnderstandably, this is why “companies such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, had lobbied furiously against [net neutrality], spending tens of millions on lobbying and on so-called ‘astroturf’ efforts to pay third party groups to support their position.” Faced with the inability to manage the formation attitudes and opinion online, power systems have pursued the same tactic applied to the print media, namely exercising stricter control over the medium. Sometimes this control rises to the level of law enforcement, as the Obama DOJ made clear in a recent announcement that they would be “willing to indict people who assist ISIS with its use and production of social media”, a decision that “raises questions about where the government would draw the line between support for a terrorist group and legally protected free speech.” Indeed, if pro-ISIS propaganda is criminalized why not criminalize other forms of propaganda?

For example, why not criminalize the Facebook administrators who created a fan page for Chapel Hill murderer Craig Stephen Hicks? In fact, if we accept that issuing indictments in response to social media propaganda is the proper course of action (one would hope we don’t) then it probably would be more reasonable to indict these propagandists since gun related killings committed by non-Muslims vastly outnumber deaths associated with so-called Islamic terrorism. Or why not indict US citizens who regurgitated Israeli hasbara manufactured in IDC Herzliya “war rooms”? How was this not apologetics for terrorism? Naturally, certain forms of propaganda, namely those types which conform to elite US opinion, will pass under the DOJ’s radar more easily than other “anti-American” forms. Consequently, this decision risks converting policies with the ostensible purpose of combating “terrorism” into effective weapons against political opponents (terrorist or not).

Whether it’s a battle for Internet freedom, the publication of humanizing representations of Palestinians or the fight for social and governmental policies that affirm the urgent, inspirational demand that #BlackLivesMatter, it’s abundantly clear that the struggles currently underway cannot be reduced to petty ideological contests waged from the safety of our computers. To the contrary, these struggles raise profoundly consequential questions about the social, cultural, and political evolution of not only our society but, when one considers the unprecedented forms of solidarity that social media activism is able to foster, the fate of us all globally.

Source:

http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/social-media-weapon-choice-gaza-israel-conflict-1807202428

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/01/not-a-very-pc-thing-to-say.html

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/23/justice-department-we-ll-go-after-isis-twitter-army.html

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/02/26/net-neutrality-thanks-unprecedented-guerrilla-activism-campaign/

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/01/28/petulant-entitlement-syndrome-journalists/

http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/israel-student-union-sets-war-room-sell-gaza-massacre-facebook

https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:om1AfiYiBA0J:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Craig-Stephen-Hicks/1535483460072616+&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

 

 

The “Rift” That Never Was: How Hyping Obama-Netanyahu Gossip Preserves the Status Quo Against Iran & Palestine

Disrespect IV
Among the myriad tactics employed by the establishment right in the US, a category which increasingly includes Democrats and Republicans, a favorite is what can be called the repositioning of the political center. Under this logic radical, militarist policies are normalized as legitimate responses to “imminent” threats by “liberals” while “conservatives” lambaste presidential decisions, no matter how egregious, as being too “soft on terror.” One of the more recent applications of this framework could be detected during the US bombing of Iraq and Syria. When President Obama decided to commence an air war against the Islamic State, a clear violation of international law, the dominant theme within elite media was that this was behavior emblematic of a “reluctant warrior.” “The Bible makes it clear that leadership is unpredictable: That the most powerful people often don’t get to choose what they themselves will do,” opined David Brooks in an embarrassingly effusive Op-Ed in the New York Times. “History is full of reluctant leaders, too. President Obama is the most recent.”

Arguments of this kind are extremely convenient in that they foreclose entirely peaceful alternatives while reducing the debate to how hard we should pummel the “enemy”, and not the much more consequential question of what legal or moral right we have to engage in such acts of aggression. Furthermore, this tactic obscures the consensus between both political factions that violence is justified, rendering critical analysis of this area of agreement more difficult. It therefore should come as no great surprise that this tactic has surfaced once again, this time in the context of the ongoing US-Israeli hostility to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Current debate has it that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is undermining President Obama’s Iran policy in his decision to deliver a speech before the US Congress promoting his more aggressive stance against Iran and its nuclear program. “White House officials remain furious with Netanyahu for failing to notify the administration about the address to Congress, a breach of diplomatic protocol,” reported John Hudson of Foreign Policy. New York Times columnist, and noted expert on everything Iranian, Roger Cohen echoed this sentiment, observing that the Israeli Prime Minister’s actions made Obama “furious, with cause,” adding, “He has been a firm supporter of Israel,” and “His patience with its leader is at an end” (my emphasis).

Exaggerations aside, Cohen’s assessment is worth further analysis in one crucial respect, namely his acknowledgement that Obama has been “a firm supporter of Israel”, an understatement when one takes a look at the diplomatic record. Numerous scholars, from Rashid Khalidi and Max Blumenthal to more mainstream commentators like Hillary Mann Leverett and Fawaz Gerges have been unambiguous in their acknowledgement that the Obama administration has been an uncritical advocate for Israeli militarism and diplomatic sabotage. Since November 2008, Israel has carried out three major military assaults against the Gaza Strip: Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense, and Operation Protective Edge. In all three cases Obama vigorously embraced the Israeli line that any display of Israeli terror, regardless of how many civilians it kills, falls under the rubric of “the right to self-defense.” During Operation Protective Edge the Obama administration went as far as blocking a UN inquiry into war crimes carried out in the Gaza Strip.

Writing on Obama’s policy with regard to Israel-Palestine, London School of Economics professor Fawaz Gerges stated “US politicians, including Obama, are trapped in a political culture that promotes conformity and groupthink on Israel and strongly discourages dissenting voices. After a promising start, the new president dared not to exert real pressure on Israel to stop the construction of settlements on the West Bank and to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians.” While Gerges attributed this to a combination of Obama’s “timidity” and his being “trapped” by external forces beyond his control, other critics have been less generous. In his extensive review of US policy in Israel-Palestine Brokers of Deceit Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi was unequivocal in his description of Obama as an unprincipled cheerleader for Israeli brutality:

“Crucially, since Barack Obama first stated his view on this topic, he has always accepted a constant, central element of Israel’s self-presentation: its victim status, to which it has always clung fiercely and aggressively. In his public statements he has always accepted as well a related proposition, dear in particular to the heart of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli right wing, and its followers in the United States, but widely believed farther afield: that the state of Israel and the Israeli people, indeed the entire Jewish people, are in a state of perpetual existential danger.”

Incidentally, it is precisely this argument—that Israel is facing an existential threat from Iran—that Benjamin Netanyahu aims to invoke in his speech to Congress, a point conceded by Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Moreover, this is also the argument that various media organizations are laboring to portray as antagonistic (and not compatible) to Obama’s policies despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. So the Obama administration’s decision to sale 55 “bunker buster” bombs to Israel in 2011, a move widely interpreted as a preparation to attack Iran’s underground nuclear facilities, does little, if anything, to interfere with the perception that Obama is opposed to Netanyahu’s policies. In fact, in some vital respects Obama’s policy vis-à-vis Iran has gone considerably beyond his “neoconservative” predecessors. As Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett state in their authoritative study of US-Iran relations Going to Tehran “[the Obama administration] did nothing to rein in the anti-Iranian covert programs it inherited from its predecessor; indeed, leaked documents show that such programs (including ties to groups whose actions in Iran, had they been taken in Israel or many other countries, would be condemned as terrorism) intensified after Obama came in.”

More troubling, “the Obama administration used nuclear talks with Iran primarily as a way to set the stage for more coercive measures—tougher sanctions and, at some point, military strikes—and to bring international partners and the American public on board” (my emphasis). Another glaring illustration of just how supportive Obama is of the US-Israeli status quo in the region can be found in his decision to boycott a nuclear non-proliferation conference in Helsinki on the dubious pretext that the “political turmoil in the region and Iran’s defiant stance on non-proliferation,” made US participation impossible. When Israel’s attendance was requested the Obama administration denounced it as an act of “coercion.” Predictably, this blatant disregard for international law (as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Iran has a legal right to enrich uranium) was misleadingly described in USA Today as indicative of “clashing visions of disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.” Perhaps this description is correct, if consciously escalating the threat of nuclear proliferation by shielding the one state with a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East (Israel) from any form of international scrutiny can be described as a “vision of disarmament and non-proliferation” (disarmament for “enemies” and proliferation for “allies”).
White House Statement
To the limited extent that there does exist any animosity between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama it has virtually no impact on the substance of US-Israeli policy. In tactical terms, Obama’s resort to military force may be more calculated than Netanyahu’s but to read this as representative of a split between Obama’s position and the Israeli Prime Minister’s is to ignore these much larger areas of strategic and ideological overlap which, if left unchecked, will only add to the horrors currently enveloping the region. Much more significant, and thus underreported, is the growing divide between the US public and centers of power. Latest public opinion polls reveal a noticeable shift in American attitudes towards Israeli aggression. After Operation Protective Edge Gallup reported that 51% of Americans under 30 said that “Israel’s aggression in Gaza [was] unjustified.” Meanwhile, Pew reported “among 18-29 year olds, 29% blamed Israel for the current wave of violence, while 21% blamed Hamas.” These are the political transformations that would dominate headlines in a genuinely democratic society, not the highly personalized, gossipy squabbles between two war criminals, which may deserve lengthy analysis in the National Enquirer or the Globe but not anywhere where the fate of humanity should be a high priority.

 

 

Sources:

Leverett, Flynt Lawrence., and Hillary Mann. Leverett. Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Khalidi, Rashid. Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Gerges, Fawaz A. Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment? New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/julian-borger-global-security-blog/2011/sep/27/iran-nuclear-weapons

http://inthesetimes.com/article/14387/nuclear_iran_gravest_threat

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/report-israel-seeking-to-upgrade-its-nuclear-weapons-capabilities-1.392957

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/13203-latest-gallup-poll-shows-young-americans-overwhelmingly-support-palestine

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2012/11/11/mideast-nuke-talks-npt/1697215/

http://fair.org/blog/2013/09/27/nyt-columnist-you-cant-trust-shiites/

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/01/dermer-on-netanyahu-boehner-and-iran/385003/

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/04/democrats-huddle-with-israeli-ambassador-to-discuss-delay-of-netanyahu-speech/?wp_login_redirect=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/06/opinion/roger-cohen-israel-needs-a-grown-up.html?ref=opinion&_r=0

https://xavierobrien.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/the-reluctant-imperialist-obama-gets-a-boost-from-the-servants-quarters/

The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, & the Poverty of Liberal Thought

41U9bCoyn0L__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Since the release of the Oscar nominated film American Sniper there has been plenty of heated discussion about the life and attitudes of the film’s protagonist Chris Kyle. A brief look at some of the excerpts from his autobiography reveals a soldier immersed in delusions of American exceptionalism and the rightness of the US invasion of Iraq. Pitifully little of this made it into Eastwood’s film but this is to be expected. Imperial societies are notorious for their inability to look in the mirror. Constructing elaborate fantasies about one’s own benevolence and heroism is much less painful. Nevertheless, those serious about overcoming this severe moral deficiency would not pass over this norm silently. In particular, one would not ignore the critical role that anti-Arab racism and highly reductionist conceptions of Muslims plays in ensuring that dehumanizing portrayals of Arabs, like those featured in American Sniper, are ignored or, more insidiously, celebrated. Steven Salaita’s Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought is essential reading for those willing to explore this recurring theme in American entertainment culture and US political culture at large. Consisting of twelve essays covering topics from anti-Arab racism in Michael Moore’s healthcare documentary Sicko to the thinly veiled bigotry embedded in liberal critiques of Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, professor Salaita challenges readers to move beyond the obvious and interrogate those prejudices which form the foundations of intellectual discourse about Arabs and Muslims in the US. On the topic of Israel, he highlights the tendency of commentators to begin their criticism from the position that Israel’s interests are paramount. In this form of criticism the fate of the Palestinian and Lebanese people is rendered invisible.

As Wisconsin-based political analyst John Nichols stated in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, “Israel’s attack on Lebanon, which has already killed and wounded hundreds and destroyed much of that fragile democracy’s infrastructure … has done nothing to make Israel safer or more secure from threat posed by the militant Islamic organization Hezbollah.” Nichols went on to add “no one in their right mind thinks Israel is going about the mission in a smart manner.” This position, that illegal wars of aggression should be evaluated on the basis of its efficacy (is the war crime “smart”) and not on the basis of international law or morality, is standard in liberal circles. Focusing on this practice, Salaita notes, “Nichol’s analysis reinforces Israel’s right to violence and then encourages it not to terminate its attacks but to practice a wiser form of aggressiveness.” Incidentally, this type of unquestioning support for violence as a purely tactical matter was replicated in President Obama’s condemnation of the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a “dumb war.” Like Nichols’ critique of the Israeli invasion, Obama was merely calling for a “wiser form of aggressiveness.”

Another notable example of the liberal disregard for Arab and Muslim lives could be found in Michael Moore’s healthcare documentary Sicko. In an attempt to lampoon the US healthcare system, Moore exploited the very real and intense suffering of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. After Republican Senator Bill Frist made the claim that “prisoners on the US military base at Guantanamo receive excellent healthcare,” Moore attempted to make the healthcare available to ailing 9/11 rescue workers who were “unable to obtain adequate medical coverage.” Ostensibly, the premise of the action was to illustrate that the US healthcare system was so hopelessly corrupt that it would more readily attend to the healthcare needs of “terrorists” than 9/11 rescue workers. But this point could only be made if Moore completely ignored the verifiable fact that many of the prisoners at Guantanamo were kidnapped and imprisoned illegally in violation of international law (therefore, they weren’t “terrorists”). Furthermore, many of the prisoners were also subjected to cruel and sadistic forms of torture, another fact conspicuously omitted from Moore’s documentary. Consequently, Moore’s critique of the US healthcare system relies on the invisibility of the victims of US power, an erasure that is made more troubling by the appeal to patriotism. “The detainees,” observes Salaita, “are rendered props in Moore’s rhetorical circus and are thus precluded from the luxury of basic human identification … Here the Guantanamo prisoners become dehumanized tableaux.”

Aside from these scathing critiques of “well-intentioned” liberalism, Salaita’s book also offers emotionally moving autobiographical glimpses into the life of a public intellectual grappling with the complexities of being an Arab in America and the Othering effects that come with this particular ethnic and cultural identity. Reflecting on the national mood during the First Gulf War, Salaita states, “I knew that I wasn’t merely an American, I was also an Arab, like the Iraqis. Like Saddam Hussein. This reality wasn’t lost on my classmates, who routinely demanded that I reaffirm my loyalty to the United States.” Accordingly, Salaita reaffirmed his “loyalty” by “[pumping] [his] fist along with everybody else when American warplanes blew things up”, acts that “weren’t traitorous but immoral.” Stories of this kind echo those featured in his previous book Anti-Arab Racism in the USA. In both cases they touch on a highly relevant theme in American nationalism, namely the theme of redemptive violence and how the politics of exclusion are necessary to cement a “national identity” (what Salaita calls in Anti-Arab Racism “imperative patriotism”).

Special treatment is given to the topic of redemptive violence in the essay on the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. Departing from conventional narratives that portrayed the mass shooting as a shocking aberration which was entirely unpredictable due to the fact that the killer was thoroughly “assimilated”, Salaita argues that Cho Seung-Hui’s crime must be understood within the context of American society at large and how the survival of American institutions depend crucially on the reproduction of violence, physically and systemically. Taking these realities in mind, we must acknowledge “the ugly truth” that “the American government does a fine job on its own nurturing a culture of violence in the United States.”

Reviewing the hideous record of anti-Arab racism, regularly intensified by periodic military “incursions”, one gains a new understanding of the significant barriers that prevent the emergence of a genuinely humanistic discourse free from the patronizing and simplistic explanations of establishment liberal discourse. In order to surmount these difficulties it will be necessary to dispense with Orientalist assumptions about Arabs and Muslims. Moreover, it will be necessary to listen to those who are on the receiving end of US violence. In Salaita’s words, “Please disagree with me; please argue with me; please point out where I am wrong; but please don’t be so damn certain from the outset that I represent a culture or world-view that is fundamentally inferior.” Sadly, such certitude is something that Hollywood movies like American Sniper are designed to cultivate, a fact made glaringly obvious when one considers the public expressions of bloodlust that have characterized some of the more enthusiastic fans of the film. Throughout his autobiography Chris Kyle refers to the Iraqi people as “savages.” This attitude did not form in a vacuum. It was nurtured by a political culture that rationalizes the most barbaric of actions under the pretext of “national security”, “patriotism”, and “American values.” Professor Salaita’s essays are indispensable in demystifying these pernicious doctrines and combatting the Chris Kyles of history, the big screen, and (if these insights aren’t seriously absorbed) the near future.

Goliath: Life & Loathing in Greater Israel

Blumenthal-GoliathIf there ever were a manual designed to instruct colonial administrators on how to best manage an oppressed population there’s little doubt that one of its leading principles would be to repeatedly, and emphatically, portray every resort to violence, no matter how egregious, as an heroic attempt to promote peace. Such is the case with Israel’s long, brutal, and US-backed (crucial detail) occupation of Palestine. After the Palestinian Authority’s decision to seek membership in the International Criminal Court, what Newsweek described as Abbas “[rolling] the statehood dice”, US and Israeli officials wasted little time in venting their rage. While Israel reacted “by saying it will withhold $120 million of tax and customs receipts it collects on behalf of Palestinians each month” (a reality that flatly contradicts the Israeli self-image as a fortress of “democracy” and not a military occupier), the US State Department, in typical paternalistic fashion, condemned Palestinians for making a move that “badly damaged the atmosphere for peace.” Conversely, US military support for Israeli atrocities, a policy that made 2014 the most devastating year for Palestinians in terms of casualties since 1967, did not “badly damage the atmosphere for peace.” These crimes, as our colonial instruction manual would surely contend, enhanced “peace.”

Anyone observing this state of affairs could learn a great deal by asking how a worldview of this kind is sustained, and more importantly, what we can do to undermine it. Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel offers a deeply unsettling look into what is often called “the only democracy in the Middle East” and in doing so challenges readers to defy these propagandistic constructs which exert such tremendous influence on American attitudes and US political discourse generally. Separated into ten parts, bearing titles like “Indoctrination Mills”, “This Belongs to the White Man”, and “Feeling the Hate”, Blumenthal is unsparing in his examination of a country drowning in toxic ideologies of racism, nationalism, aggressive militarism, and ethnic supremacy. Reading Blumenthal’s study it’s extremely difficult to ignore the fact that the anti-Arab (and in many cases anti-African) racism within Israel extends far beyond the confines of illegal settlements. The Israeli political establishment has not only legitimized these hateful ideologies but has been in the lead in ensuring that they are treated with the reverence of sacred truths.

One glaring example in the legal realm is the 2010 Acceptance to Communities Law. Proposed by Israeli Knesset member David Rotem, this law “officially [sanctioned] ethnic segregation in the small Jewish towns planted across the Galilee and the Negev Desert.” Policies of this kind conform neatly to Israeli public opinion, which views Arabs as a “demographic threat” to be contained, if not expelled entirely in accordance with exclusivist doctrines of ethnic purity. “A poll taken in August 2012 by Tel Aviv University statistician Camil Fuchs revealed that a majority of Israeli twelfth-graders supported the total deportation of non-Jewish African asylum seekers living in the country, and the expulsion of their Israeli-born children.” Meanwhile, “almost half of secular high schooler seniors declared their refusal to live next door to an Arab,” and “nearly 90 percent of their religious counterparts endorsed the segregationist view.” Openly racist viewpoints of this kind are the rational results of a society with a school system geared toward “the transmission of nationalist attitudes through Israel school textbooks, both through implicit and explicit messaging”, an educational model Blumenthal described as “systemic and comprehensive.”

Along with Israeli atrocities in the Palestinian territories, these racist attitudes are given scant, if any, attention in mainstream US discourse. Part of this silence can be attributed to the routine hypocrisy that ignores unpleasant realities about so-called allies while amplifying those of declared enemies, but another, much deeper reason may lie in the fact that the United States is not immune to this brand of systemic racism. Indeed, US political and media elites almost certainly identify with it. This congruence between race relations in the US and those within Israel came into sharp focus in the aftermath of the highly publicized murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. In addition to casting light on the close cooperation between Israeli security forces and US police departments, these events demonstrate how state violence relies heavily on obscuring the humanity of oppressed populations, whether it be through everyday forms of racial discrimination, which constitutes the core of apartheid regimes, or the dissemination of Founding myths designed to whitewash the historical grievances of others. Just as political elites in Arizona worked feverishly to purge public school curriculums of ethnic studies programs that provided an alternative to the Eurocentric narratives of establishment discourse, Israeli public figures have dedicated themselves to removing any trace of the Palestinian Nakba from the historical record. “Since the foundation of the State of Israel,” Blumenthal writes, “Palestinian students in the country’s segregated Arab schools have been forbidden from learning about the Nakba.” He continues, “though textbooks in Arab schools are replete with Holocaust history, references to the Nakba have been completely omitted.”

Given the savage assault on the Gaza Strip last summer, and the enthusiastic support for it within the US Congress (“progressives” included), it’s incredibly tempting to succumb to defeatism. But only if one ignores the enormous sacrifices of the Palestinian people. If this—the courageous and irrepressible spirit of Palestinians—is acknowledged one can easily adopt the opposite approach: a moral urgency to denounce the indignities of a social and political order that values degradation above human affirmation and the consolidation of power above the defense of the powerless. Very much in the tradition of classic texts like W.E.B. Dubois’ The Souls of Black Folk, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, and Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism, Blumenthal’s Goliath takes what could have been a very dispassionate work of investigative journalism and brings it to life it with emotionally moving glimpses into the lives of those on the other side of the gun. Whether it’s his writings on the resilience of the Tamimi family after being subjected to a litany of tragedies at the hands of Israelis—wrongful arrests, imprisonment, exile and murder—or the families of the Abu Eid Refugee Camp whose homes were demolished under Benjamin Netanyahu’s “campaign of ‘Judaization’”, these stories serve as an inspiration to all who are sincere in their desire for justice in the region.

This brings us back to the second half of the opening question: what can we do to undermine the easy resort to dehumanizing clichés and violence? A recent editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz acquires new meaning in the context of Blumenthal’s book and provides a possible answer. Summing up the general mood in Israel, the board observed, in disturbingly casual tone, “Few things are more popular in Israel than making life harder for Palestinians.” The horrors concealed in this throwaway line merits more than idle contemplation when the US contribution to this policy is fathomed. As journalist and activist Ali Abunimah eloquently stated in his latest appearance on Democracy Now! “I’ll tell you what didn’t help the atmosphere [for peace] … during the summer in Gaza when dozens of people were being killed every day by Israeli bombs, when entire neighborhoods were being destroyed and carpet-bombed by Israeli shelling, when, during that time, the Obama administration, President Obama, decided to resupply the Israeli military with bombs so it could continue to murder people in Gaza. To put it mildly, that didn’t help the atmosphere.” As much as this book puts Israel under the magnifying glass, we must not lose sight of the country that has consistently undersigned these policies of state terror, namely the United States. Meaningful change requires more than negotiations over Israeli and Palestinian borders, (central as they are to a just resolution). It also requires long-lasting social, cultural and political transformations within our own society. Goliath is essential reading in helping us embrace this grave responsibility.

 

Sources:

http://www.newsweek.com/abbas-rolls-statehood-dice-international-criminal-court-move-296806

http://www.democracynow.org/2015/1/5/defying_us_israel_will_icc_membership

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.635307

http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/how-new-york-times-conceals-israeli-violence-against-palestinians

http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/rania-khalek/israel-trained-police-occupy-missouri-after-killing-black-youth

 

Anti-Arab Racism in the USA: Where it Comes from & What it Means for Politics Today

Anti-Arab RacismThe University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign has come under intense criticism after Chancellor Phyllis Wise decided to un-hire professor Steven Salaita. Salaita, an outspoken critic of Israeli terror, was denied the teaching position after complaints arose about Tweets he posted condemning the Israeli massacres in Gaza (“Operation Protective Edge”). The primary argument given to justify this removal was that Salaita’s Tweets violated University standards of “civility” or as the Chancellor stated “What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.”

John K. Wilson of the Academe Blog described this justification as “ridiculous”, noting “Respect is not a fundamental value of any university, and being ‘disrespectful’ is not an academic crime.” Moreover, a petition has now surfaced urging Salaita’s reinstatement. Underlying this entire affair is a deep history of complicity between seats of power and domestic institutions (colleges for example) which purportedly exist to challenge such displays of authority. Steven Salaita’s Anti-Arab Racism in the USA unveils how profoundly racist doctrines of American exceptionalism, colonialism, and white supremacy have permeated US discourse about Arabs (both domestically and internationally). The endemic culture of racism directed at Arab communities, Salaita argues, is but the latest iteration in a long history of racism that has its roots in the European genocide of North America’s indigenous population and the subsequent crimes against humanity carried out through the enslavement of Africans. “Modern American racism developed as a result of the imagery of Indians and Africans promulgated by White settlers,” observes Salaita. “Indeed, the covenantal Messianism with which early American settlers invested their identity invents and reinvents itself based on deeply encoded notions of racial superiority.” In this sense, Salaita’s text views anti-Arab racism as derivative of a larger discourse of racism that targets multiple ethnic groups in distinct ways.

One area of particular focus is what Salaita calls “imperative patriotism.” Under imperative patriotism statements are made that represent “a stable fixed identity rooted in a physical and cultural Whiteness for which many immigrants do not qualify.” Exclusivist doctrines of this kind are often voiced in xenophobic remarks such as “If you don’t like America, go back to where you came from” or equally ludicrous comments concerning Arabs who threaten the American “way of life.” Salaita samples a range of media, from the “liberal” and “progressive” to the “neoconservative” end of the spectrum, and they all parrot, in one way or another, these reductionist tropes. For example, Salaita critiques Michael Moore’s critically acclaimed documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Particularly, Salaita criticizes the Eurocentric character of the film, noting “one would think that only middle-class Whites are inconvenienced by [the passage of the Patriot Act].” Moore, Salaita continues, “could have profiled thousands of Arabs or Muslims who have been detained on undisclosed ‘secret evidence,’ denied access to legal representation, and held for months in solitary confinement.”

Apart from these illustrations of “progressive” contributions to anti-Arab racism, Salaita thoroughly analyzes the pernicious role of neoconservative lobbies in influencing the quality of instruction within institutions of higher education. Here Salaita writes with a prescience and clarity that perfectly anticipates the treatment he eventually received at the hands of Chancellor Wise and her associates at the University of Illinois.  Years before Salaita was denied employment for the crime of incivilty the US House of Representatives passed a bill with the explicit goal of undermining any effort to educate the American public on the extraordinary oppression Palestinians have been forced to live under: House bill HR-3077. This remarkable piece of legislation was unanimously passed by the House Subcommittee on Select Education in order to “create a federal tribunal to monitor criticism of Israel on American college campuses.” Furthermore, any professor who violated its totalitarian strictures would be “subject to investigation.”

On October 21, 2003 “the bill was passed by the full House,” with the objective to “set up a seven-member advisory board that has the ability to recommend cutting federal funding to universities harboring academics accused of endangering Israel’s interests.” The undemocratic removal of professor Salaita is merely an affirmation of this insidious principle that was articulated in perhaps its most virulent form in 2003. Tragically, such treatment is not new for Salaita, as he has been ostracized and marginalized for most of his academic career. He opens the book with a recollection of how he was subjected to cruel racism in his grade school years. “The foreign kid never wins crack fights in American schools,” he solemnly remarks. In one childhood memory Salaita recalls how “a first grade teacher once referred to the warang dawali (grape leaves) [his] mother had packed [him] as ‘little pieces of doo-doo’ in front of a crowd of laughing children.”

Unlike  Salaita, who was made to endure the scornful words of the colonial administrators at the University of Illinois, these teachers were not censured for their lack of “civility.” In fact, Salaita could not “remember a single instance, from kindergarten to twelfth grade, when a teacher intervened to stop others from insulting [him],” and “it was teachers who articulated racism with a cruelty unsurpassed by students.” It is within this cultural environment that deeply reductionist narratives about Arabs are allowed to flourish, creating an acute sense of foreboding among many Arab students in the University setting. Consequently, “most Arabs in American universities exist in contradictory and problematic spaces: for an Arab academic (in, say, the humanities), the simple act of raising one’s voice can be controversial.” As a result, the dominant function of the University conforms with that desired by anti-Arab racists which “isn’t to foster critical thinking … but to enhance the image of the United States at home and abroad and to work with policymakers to transform students into good citizens.”

Crucially, this intersection between American imperial policies abroad and state-capitalist policies at home brings into sharp focus the ideological underpinnings of anti-Arab racism. Included in this ideological makeup are Christian evangelicals eager to bring about the apocalypse (what Salaita refers to as the “dispensationalist” camp), Zionists (of the Christian and Jewish variety), and state terrorists from the Bush administration. The anti-Arab racism fomented by the Bush regime was graphically displayed after the gruesome revelations of US torture carried out in Abu Ghraib prison. In this crime against humanity the American intelligentsia participated in a “racism of denial” whereby the relentless cruelty and savagery of US soldiers was written off as an aberration—the “bad apples” argument—rather than an illustration of the fundamentally racist character of the Iraq war.

While Rush Limbaugh compared the images of torture to “anything you’d see Madonna or Britney Spears do on stage,” commentator Tammy Bruce indifferently remarked “I consider the vast majority of what happened at Abu Ghraib to be hazing—nothing more, nothing less.” Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Cucullu intoned “until [Iraqis] begin to wise up to the fact that they are thwarting those who are fighting to liberate them, I worry less about the Arab Street losing its ‘good will’ than I would fret about a recurring Ice Age.” Cucullu was plausibly articulating a worldview held by many within the US military which was thoroughly immersed in anti-Arab literature like Rafael Patai’s The Arab Mind, “a viciously racist work of pseudoscience.”

In this book Arabs are described “in explicit detail as lazy, sexually obsessed, incurably hostile, and irrationally dedicated to an honor-bound culture.” Writing on the circulation of this book within the US military Guardian reporter Brian Whittaker observed “according to one professor at a US military college, The Arab Mind is ‘probably the single most popular and widely read book on the Arabs in the US military,'” and “it is even used as a textbook for officers at the JFK special warfare school in Fort Bragg.” It was within this military culture, shot through with racism, that Abu Ghraib guard Lynndie England, in that infamous photograph, held “a leash attached to the neck of a naked Iraqi man, who was lying on the floor in obvious pain.” Though “universally overlooked” in the corporate press, University of Toronto scholar Sherene Razack decoded the “visual symbolism” of this atrocity, a symbolism which revealed a “racial relationship.” Salaita recreates the scene: “The brown, bearded man is naked before his White captor. He is subdued on a leash, a device usually reserved for animals, and made to lie on the floor, although the White captor seems to be trying to pull him onto all fours, thus to force the man to emulate a dog and complete the act of dehumanization.” It was this image—the “juxtaposition of England and the prisoner”—that Salaita identified as the “perfect metonym for the invasion of Iraq, in total, in which the uncivilized brown people were to be subdued for their own good by their enlightened (and benighted) Western liberators.”

Aside from this review of media complicity in crimes against humanity, perhaps the most surprising element of Salaita’s examination of this ideological campaign is his incredibly nuanced analysis of Zionism. “Surprising” because of how sharply it conflicts with unsubstantiated allegations of anti-Semitism directed at him, mainly by University of Illinois professor Cary Nelson. In a section titled Is Zionism Racism? Salaita states “it is unfair to say ‘Zionism is racism,’ a blanket statement that leaves no room for group or individual nuance.” He continues “I wish to be clear that I object to this statement not on moral grounds but in the interests of intellectual probity, for I believe that the majority of worldviews that arise from Zionism are infused with anti-Arab racism, or directly purvey it.”

Careful and nuanced analysis of this kind illustrates how absurdly authoritarian it is to un-hire a professor based solely on 140 character Tweets (Tweets which, despite the hysterical propaganda about their contents, accurately captured the savagery of the Israeli military bombardment of Gaza). Quite apart from advancing anti-Semitic views, Salaita is a victim of those who propagate the doctrine of “the new anti-Semitism.” The new anti-Semitism slanders anyone who criticizes the policies of Israel as incurable racists who are unable to overcome their seething hatred for Jewish people. Embedded in this construct of the new anti-Semitism is “an ulterior motive”, namely to “increase financial and philosophical support for Israel, thus tying it even more closely to Zionism.”

Instead of portraying the fight against anti-Jewish hatred as inherently antagonistic to the fight for Palestinian self-determination, Salaita sees both of these struggles, when sincere, as complimentary. Indeed, he acknowledges that the history of persecution carried out against Jews is but one part of a larger edifice of white supremacy that today is routinely imposed on Arabs. Referencing a 1994 essay by Ronald Stockton on “negative ethnic imagery” Salaita astutely notes “anti-Arab racism is derived from the same attitudes that produced American anti-Semitism.” This is an “ironic” fact because “one way Americans now marginalize Arabs is by labeling them anti-Semitic when they articulate their (legitimate) political sensibilities.”

Very much in the tradition of post-colonial scholars like Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, and Rashid Khalidi, Steven Salaita’s profoundly complex and cogently argued study of anti-Arab racism powerfully captures the prevailing sociocultural norms of the society he inhabits. Furthermore, he offers viable and potentially transformative ways forward to combat this soul-deadening phenomenon that has afflicted far too many in America’s internal and external domains of control. On “Arab violence” Salaita proclaims “you either promulgate the assumption that Arabs are irrationally violent, or you simultaneously examine the context in which that violence arises. There is no other option intellectually: you are either a thoroughgoing racist or you take your responsibilities as a citizen and commentator seriously.” Unless these elementary truths are absorbed—in television studios, editor board rooms, University classrooms, and among the American public at large—the toxic myths and stereotypes that currently saturate “educated” discourse will spread unimpeded. While Academic Proconsuls like Phyllis Wise work vigorously to turn this ominous prospect into an unalterable reality, conscientious scholars like professor Steven Salaita are essential if this outcome is to be avoided.

Sources:

http://academeblog.org/2014/08/22/chancellor-phyllis-wise-explains-the-firing-of-steven-salaita/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/07/steven-salaita-university-of-illinois-fired_n_5658806.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4f188vtcgY

https://www.change.org/p/phyllis-m-wise-we-demand-corrective-action-on-the-scandalous-firing-of-palestinian-american-professor-dr-steven-salaita

http://www.thenation.com/article/181406/why-unhiring-steven-salaita-threat-academic-freedom#