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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He Said He Looked Like a Demon

Officer Wilson said he looked like a demon.
A “demographic threat” to be silenced with live bullets,
An “aggressor” in America’s internal colony.
After all, the Newspaper of Record said he was “no angel.”

Imagine that. The face of a demon!
Did he look like Justice Taney?
“It is too clear for dispute,” he decreed
“That the enslaved African race were not intended
To be included, and formed no part of the people
Who framed and adopted this declaration.”

Or what about Hoover?
If so, when?
When he was instructing Dr. King to find a way to blow his brains out
Or ingest poison (whatever method he preferred)?
Was it when he directed the eyes of the State into our living rooms?
Anyone else notice it’s hard to find a picture of Hoover smiling?
An unhappy man for sure. But demonic?

How about Woodrow Wilson?
No, he was a devout Christian.
But he did send in the Marines rape Haiti.
Was the military carrying out an exorcism?
Pat Robertson did say the earthquake was punishment for devil worship.
The Haitians, FDR observed, are “little more than primitive savages.”

Did he look like Ronald Reagan?
Bush Sr.? Clinton? Bush Jr.? Obama?
Did he look like Rudy Giuliani?
Was he “tough on crime”?
Did he make sure all the other demons couldn’t imagine what it felt like not to be a demon?
When the plantations were replaced with prisons did he pretend he gave them heaven?
Did he consult Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine before he delivered murder from the sky
And then profess how “haunted” he was by the carnage?
Did he incorporate God’s name in every speech only to humiliate him with his every deed?

Officer Wilson said he looked like a demon.
But how does a demon look?
Like an animal? A human? A hybrid creature?
Or is it supernatural without dimension?
Where does this demon’s hairline begin?
What atrocity stains its chin?

Did you look at the “entrepreneurs”?
The warlords?
The Titans of Industry?
The Masters of the Universe?

Look where you wish.
But please, look beyond the fires of Ferguson.

The “Newspaper of Record” Gives Mike Brown an Imperial Eulogy


“Throughout history, the powers of single Black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world rightly gauged their brightness.”

—W.E.B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

New York Times journalist John Eligon has come under intense scrutiny after he published a profile of slain Missouri teen Mike Brown in which he declared he was “no angel.” Several reports have since been published critical of this description. This report from Vox is of particular significance as it exposes some of the persistent double standards that have long been a part of American media discourse when it comes to how they treat white killers as compared to Black victims.

But more troubling than this one line is the overall theme of Eligon’s piece. As the Columbia Journalism Review aptly noted in their critique of the piece, “Given the circumstances, it’s an easy jump to suggesting that Brown is at least partly responsible for his fate.” This phenomenon of victim blaming, what MIT professor John Tirman calls “victim derogation”, is a central aspect of how Black people, particularly young Black men, are viewed within the US. A simple Google query shows just how pernicious this worldview is. Below are photographs of what Google autofills when one types in the names of three highly recognizable Black teenagers slain by white men followed by the word “was.” The results are revealing as they are instructive:

jordan davis

Notice that each of the Black victims, with the exception of Mike Brown, who shares the name of a NBA coach, is described as a “thug.” The fact that there is no information to substantiate these claims is of little importance. The mere fact that they were Black and male suffices. In contrast, when one carries out a Google query using the names of white killers the results are radically different. Here are the results when one types in the names Jared Loughner, Timothy McVeigh, and James Holmes:
jared loughner

Strikingly, two of these well-known killers are described as “heroes” despite the fact that they did nothing heroic. Other names of white killers produce similar results. For example, the Sikh Temple killer and Neo-Nazi Wade Michael Page is also a “hero” along with the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik.

As transparent as this double standard is, some still stand by Eligon’s article. New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan described Eligon’s report as “solid and thorough.” The limit of her critique was that perhaps the timing of the publication was “not ideal” and the choice of words was “a blunder”, a severe understatement.  Meanwhile, Eligon attempted to defend his choice by saying his profile of Brown was a “mostly positive picture”, sharply conflicting with CJR’s observation (which I find more accurate) that “the posthumous profile [focused] overwhelmingly on [Brown’s] personal problems.” Indeed, Eligon focused so singularly on Mike Brown’s “problems” that he mentioned his alleged drug use twice without adding any new information.

In the fifth paragraph he acknowledges that Brown “dabbled in drugs and alcohol.” Then, in the third to last paragraph, he repeats exactly the same point, writing “[Brown] occasionally smoked marijuana and drank alcohol, according to friends.” Perhaps this can be attributed to poor editing or a lack of proofreading, but the effect indisputably elevates this particular claim about Brown over and above some of the more “positive” traits. And the New York Times national editor Allison Mitchell only worsened the official response, assuring readers “There was certainly no hint that this poor young man should have been shot” (note the condescending choice of words: “poor young man”).

Aside from these claims, I personally received a message from the New York Times Labor Correspondent Steven Greenhouse. After posting a Tweet that Eligon’s profile was “the best” he had read of Mike Brown I responded that his statement was “disappointing” and “shameful.” Greenhouse then reinforced his previous assertion, saying that he appreciated the profile because he thought it was “a smart, sympathetic profile that captured whole person, warts & all.” Additionally, “It showed he did well despite huge obstacles.” Quite apart from Greenhouse’s characterization, Eligon’s piece was not “smart” or “sympathetic.”

If we are to be honest, Eligon’s profile perpetuated some of the most toxic stereotypes about Black people—violent, marijuana smokers, “vulgar”, thieves, academically below average—in a way that most would find utterly appalling were it applied to someone with power. It’s worth noting the New York Times is the same newspaper that took years to begin calling the crime against humanity that is torture “torture.” But when a young Black man is ruthlessly murdered by a white police officer it only takes a few weeks before he is very matter-of-factly described as “no angel.” Whether conscious or not (I think it’s conscious) this double standard nurtures deeply ingrained prejudices which allow atrocities like the Mike Brown murder to continue with impunity.

Perhaps this is why in a recent study it was revealed that whites generally felt that the Mike Brown investigation was “going fine.” According to a poll published in Vox “there is a huge racial gap in the public’s perception of events in Ferguson.” While 52% of white respondents expressed a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of “confidence” in the Mike Brown shooting investigation only 18% of Black respondents held this view. More revealingly, while 65% of Black respondents said the police in Ferguson “went too far” in their response to the popular protests only 33% of white respondents held this view.

These results are not accidental, but they are the rational outcome of a media industry that systematically undervalues Black life as dispensable or criminally suspect. Interestingly, this is the same ideology at work in Israel-Palestine. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu falsely condemned Hamas for using “telegenic” corpses he was attempting to undermine any sympathy for Palestinians.  The New York Times, and other media outlets, produce these degrading profiles of Black victims for the same reason. Just in case anyone had the unacceptable thought that Mike Brown’s life mattered, it was necessary to remind readers he was “no angel.”

It’s difficult to conceive of a journalistic decision more insidious than this because not only does it advance bigoted views, but the bigotry is being directed at someone who cannot even defend themselves. It has become the norm that when dealing with the murder of young Black men and women at the hands of white vigilantes and cops the victim must die twice. First their physical person is killed and then, with equal venom, it’s necessary to kill their character. This was done to Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Oscar Grant and many others. Consequently, the legal convention of “presumption of innocence” is revised for Black victims. For Black victims there’s a presumption of guilt. One’s innocence must be proven.

Margaret Sullivan may prefer to disingenuously refer to this character assassination of Mike Brown as a “blunder”—incidentally, this is the same soft language used to describe the illegal invasion of Iraq—but for those who have been condemned to suffer the cruelty of this system, a system thoroughly permeated with myths of white supremacy and Black inferiority, a different characterization comes to mind. The great sociologist and revolutionary W.E.B. Dubois articulated the predicament of Black people in America in devastatingly precise terms. In his seminal text The Souls of Black Folk he states “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge this double self into a better and truer self.” Dubois then presciently adds “he simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.”

Now that Mike Brown has had “the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face” the Newspaper of Record has taken up the ignoble task of “cursing” and “spitting” on him. This is how imperial societies eulogize the unpeople trapped within their internal colonies and the New York Times has graphically demonstrated how the colonizers will exert their authority over their subjects everywhere, even into the grave.

Sources: 

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/25/us/michael-brown-spent-last-weeks-grappling-with-lifes-mysteries.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpSumSmallMedia&module=photo-spot-region&region=photo-spot&WT.nav=photo-spot&_r=1

http://www.vox.com/xpress/2014/8/18/6031577/pew-poll-on-ferguson-racial-disparity

http://www.vox.com/xpress/2014/8/25/6066343/new-york-times-michael-brown-no-angel?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_name=share-button&utm_campaign=vox&utm_content=article-share-bottom

http://m.cjr.org/303546/show/be20fc4b28cfd67a5755382e9821bfec/

http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/publiceditor/2014/08/25/an-ill-chosen-phrase-no-angel-brings-a-storm-of-protest/

Dismantling the Fiction of “Black Criminality”

Black criminalityAmong the many unavoidable facts that have bubbled to the surface since the murder of Mike Brown at the hands of St. Louis police is the deep racial character of the killing and the equally racial character of the police response to the popular protests that followed it. This uncontroversial fact can be perceived in the abundance of media reports exploring the dimensions of Black life in America. One of the more glaring additions to this national discussion occurred on the popular Sunday morning political program Meet the Press. Hosting a round-table on the topic of the “Racial Divide in America,” Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal remarked that we shouldn’t “pretend that our morgues and cemeteries are full of young Black men because cops are shooting them.” Rather, Riley argued, “the reality is that it’s because other Black people are shooting them and we need to talk about Black criminality.” The two white guests silently nodded in approval, granting Riley’s comment a level of legitimacy it did not deserve. Aside from the clearly degrading and dehumanizing nature of this statement, it has absolutely no basis in fact.

Anyone with a minimal level of intellectual curiosity and a mild tolerance for empirical data (admittedly, an intimidating task for America’s leading cultural managers) would have noticed this. Writing for the Daily Beast, journalist Jamelle Bouie observed that quite apart from some innate drive to kill (the “thug” mythology), internecine killings among Black people can be attributed to the geographic “proximity” of Black communities and the chronic lack of socioeconomic “opportunity.” Further, “racial exclusivity was also true for white victims of violent crime”: “86% of white victims were killed by white offenders.” Bouie also highlighted the crucial reality that “while it’s true that young Black men are a disproportionate share of the nation’s murder victims, it’s hard to disentangle this from the stew of hyper-segregation (often a result of deliberate policies), entrenched poverty, and non-existent economic opportunities that characterizes a substantial number of black communities.”

Given the transparent absurdity of this myth of “Black criminality”, one would think empirical analysis of this kind would suffice. Nonetheless, this myth and its many analogues cannot be meaningfully debunked unless that empirical critique is coupled with a critique of the ideological prejudices on which they are based. Moreover, these cultural stereotypes are not exclusive to domestic politics. They arise in international affairs as well. As Columbia University political scientist Mahmood Mamdani observed in his brilliant study Good Muslims, Bad Muslims “the history of the modern state can also be read as the history of race, bringing together the stories of two kinds of victims of European colonial modernity: the internal victims of state building and the external victims of imperial expansion.” Accordingly, within the dominant discourses about oppressed communities (Black “thugs”, Arab “terrorists”, Mexican “illegals”, etc.) there exists a sharp ideological continuity in the empire’s portrayal of the inhabitants of its internal and external colonies. That ideological continuity consists of three basic components:

1.) Excise the decisive role of the oppressors in stimulating retail violence through policies of wholesale state-violence.

The “Black criminality” myth and its analogues cannot be sustained unless the role of the oppressor is hidden from view. The violence and misery in oppressed communities is supposed to be the product of “bad culture” or “corrupted values”, not the rational outcome of social and economic policies consciously designed to dispossess and disenfranchise an entire group of people. A graphic illustration of this understanding can be found in the mainstream discussion about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. The typical line goes that Israel, the benevolent guardian, “granted” Palestinians territory in Gaza, but Palestinians, due to their backwardness and insolence, squandered this gift and transformed what could have been a shining example of prosperity into a “haven for terrorists.” As NYU Law Professor Thane Rosenbaum asked in a Haaretz article “Unoccupied for nearly a decade, why do Gaza’s people know little else aside from explosives and martyrdom?”
Wiesel

Systematically omitted from this highly deceitful narrative is the fact that Palestinians in Gaza, unlike populations in US-backed petromonarchies, were able to choose their leadership in a democratic election. Furthermore, and this is a crucial fact, the Bush administration punished Palestinians for this crime of democracy. Also excluded from this fairy tale is the suffocating state of siege that Israel refuses to lift, despite clear requirements to do so under international law. Israel is free to control Gaza’s airspace, borders, territorial waters, electromagnetic spectrum, and even the calories that Gazans are allowed to consume (what Israeli official Dov Weinglass chillingly calls “keeping Gaza on a diet”). Rarely is any of this mentioned as a precipitating factor behind Hamas “rocket” attacks. Like Jason Riley’s mythology of “Black criminality”, the Israeli government relies on the mythology of “Islamic terrorism” or Palestinian “child sacrifice”, as author Elie Wiesel described the Israeli murder of Palestinian children in one of his more appreciated hasbara soup recipes.

Other examples of this norm can be found in the US discourse on sectarianism in Iraq. When Islamic State factions moved into northern Iraq commentators were quick to reduce the internal bloodshed to “ancient hatreds”, which had been simmering just below the surface for over a thousand years. This orientalist narrative has been thoroughly debunked by journalist Murtaza Hussain, nonetheless it persists as a potent explanation of Arab “barbarism.” Any reference to the fact that the Bush administration’s criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent destruction of the Baathist government elicited the sectarian violence is beneath serious consideration in mainstream circles as is the uncontroversial fact that the Obama administration, quite apart from leaving Iraq “to its own people”, was forced out of Iraq after the Maliki government refused to grant the US legal immunity (seriously undercutting claims of US “benevolence”).

2.) Concoct frightening fairy tales about a uniquely nefarious threat with an added racial/religious label or insinuation.

Here propagandists are given free rein to let their imagination run wild. Frightening stories about the evil deeds of a domestic or foreign enemy are concocted to mold the minds of the public into the required shape. As in the first component, Israel excels in this field as well. When Israel commenced its latest round of “mowing the grass” (a euphemism for killing innocent men, women and children) it was necessary to produce elaborate horror stories, all of which were baseless, about the “terror tunnels” that Hamas fighters use to inflict death and destruction on Israeli citizens. “Israelis exchange nightmare scenarios that are the stuff of action movies: armed enemies popping up under a day care center or a dining room, spraying a crowd with machine gun fire or maybe some chemical, exploding in a suicide belt or snatching captives and ducking back into the dirt.” These are the haunting words of New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, a journalist who, in addition to producing vulgar propaganda of this kind, reserves little, if any, time for Palestinians, plausibly because she’s too busy hanging out with imperial cheerleaders like the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman.

One can document endless examples this culture of demonization from Thomas Jefferson’s condemnation of “merciless Indian savages” to 19th century hysteria surrounding the “Yellow Peril” of Chinese immigrants. In the case of the Yellow Peril, political officials received ample assistance from the intellectual community, foremost Jack London, who envisioned exterminating the entire population of China via bacteriological warfare—“the great task, the sanitation of China”—in his novel The Unparalleled Invasion. Nearly two decades prior to the publication of this genocidal fantasy the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, effectively banning Chinese immigration. Rutgers University cultural historian H. Bruce Franklin examined this phenomenon of anti-Chinese hysteria in his penetrating study War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination, writing “the snarling racism of the Yellow Peril literature expresses cultural furies that have shaped the ugliest features of American history,” among them the “savage exploitation of ‘coolie’ labor.” At bottom, this language of fear is designed to neutralize any sympathy for the victims of state-corporate power, thus clearing the way for their oppressors to commence the required task of “taming” the unpeople within the empire’s domestic colonies.

3.) Display how much you are overflowing with compassion for the victims of the fratricide.

While the erasure of the oppressors role in the creation of crises and the construction of frightening narratives certainly probes the depths of moral depravity, the third component of this mythology is arguably the most insidious. In addition to maintaining a situation where the role of the oppressor is concealed from view, the feigning of compassion for the victims of fratricidal violence is consciously carried out in order to elevate the oppressor to a moral plane over and above the oppressed. The violence of the oppressor, under this mode of thought, attains a “moral character” (the IDF is the most “moral army in the world”, America is “exceptional”, etc).  As a result, the oppressor is not only blameless for the suffering of the oppressed but their standard of morality hovers so far above that of the victim that their compassion, unable to be contained, extends just as easily to those outside their group. Embedded in this construct is a racist assumption that people of color are so tribalistic and obsessively attached  to their racial identity that any act of murder within their group is irrefutable proof that they are savages. The most common illustration of this doctrine can be found in the regular refrain among the Washington elite about disobedient leaders in foreign countries who kill “their own people.” For instance, the violence of Saddam Hussein was perfectly understandable (if loathed) when it was portrayed as being directed at “westerners” but when he used poison gas against Iraq’s Kurdish population this marked the height of savagery. Unlike violence toward “western” leaders, here he was killing “his own people”, which in the racist mind resonates like watching a warthog kill another warthog or an ape killing another ape. Killing within the group, according to this logic, is the supreme transgression of the tribal norm.
fergusiibNotice how conspicuously absent this doctrine is when the fratricide is occurring within predominately white countries. Take for example the violence in the Ukraine. How many commentators described the violence between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian factions as Ukrainians or Russians killing “their own people”? Incidentally, that phrase would be more appropriate here since both Russians and Ukrainians are of the same race, namely white. This could not be said of Saddam Hussein (an Arab) gassing Kurds (not Arabs).

And political elites in Washington are by no means alone in using this “he-kills-his-own-people” tactic. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also indulged this doctrine in a recent speech. Responding to news that the United Nation’s launched an inquiry into Israeli war crimes carried out in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, he ridiculed the UN committee for “giving legitimacy to murderous terror organizations like Hamas and the Islamic State.” “Instead of checking Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians and the use it makes of Gaza’s residents as human shields, instead of checking the massacre carried out by (President) Assad in Syria, or the massacre of Kurds by Islamic State members, the UN has decided to come and check Israel.” He continued by saying the UN committee should “go see the Syrian army,” where “they will find war crimes.”

Much like Jason Riley, who abhors “Black-on-Black crime”, Netanyahu focuses, laser-like, only on those conflicts where the violence is Arab-on-Arab. Even in the case of Hamas he made sure to note that Hamas uses the people of Gaza as “human shields.” Incidentally, it’s Israel, not Hamas, that has a history of using Palestinians as human shields. Israel also uses Palestinians as guinea pigs for their hi-tech weaponry courtesy of US tax dollars. Through this discourse of Palestinian infamy the specter of the Arab “terrorist” looms large alongside that of the Black “thug.” Anyone who objects to their liquidation under the guardianship of their moral superiors can be written off as hopelessly ignorant or utterly oblivious to why the “morgue” is really full of “young Black men” and Palestinian “terrorists.”

Generally, it’s quite easy to erupt in hysterics when confronted with violence among the oppressed. Self-reflection has always been anathema to power systems. This refusal to look in the mirror isn’t entirely irrational as serious interrogation would inevitably render these myths obsolete and undermine the very power systems that they were formulated to defend. The fact that Jason Riley could utter these patent falsehoods despite the color of his skin is a dramatic testament to just how dangerously intoxicating these fictions remain. Still, they don’t have to be accepted. Other lies have been overcome. We no longer nod in approval to descriptions of America’s indigenous population as “merciless Indian savages” nor would we remain silent in the face of racist descriptions of Chinese immigration as an ominous “Yellow Peril.” The same standard should be applied to the mirage of “Black criminality”, “Islamic terrorism”, “Mexican illegals” and other contemporary iterations of this doctrine. Such a level of intellectual honesty is demanded of those who genuinely empathize with the people of Ferguson County and the countless others in America’s colonies (internal and external) who share their tragic fate.

Sources:

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror by Mahmood Mamdani

War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination by H. Bruce Franklin

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.605297

http://www.thenation.com/article/180783/five-israeli-talking-points-gaza-debunked#

http://www.haaretz.com/mobile/1.610408

http://www.fair.org/blog/2014/06/24/time-on-iraq-war-what-did-we-do-to-deserve-this/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/15/the-trayvon-martin-killing-and-the-myth-of-black-on-black-crime.html

What if Mike Brown was Shot in Kiev?

FinalIranPicSince the slaying of Missouri teenager Mike Brown at the hands of St. Louis police, scenes of police brutality have dominated the news. Peaceful protesters have been met with overwhelming force in the form of tear gas canisters, armored police vehicles, and militarized police officers toting military grade weaponry. Writing for The Intercept, investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald put it in ominous terms: “Americans are now so accustomed to seeing police officers decked in camouflage and Robocop-style costumes, riding in armored vehicles and carrying automatic weapons first introduced during the US occupation of Baghdad, that it has become normalized.” At times like this it’s critical to examine presidential statements, not for reasons of policy—rhetoric and policy rarely, if ever, align—but because they provide valuable insight into the prevailing ideologies of power systems. Responding to these scenes of police brutality, President Obama proclaimed “Now is the time for peace … Now is the time for healing.” The Washington Post characterized this statement as an attempt to “strike a balance to calm tensions in the St. Louis suburb.” This has become a trademark of the Obama administration. Whenever there’s a legitimate struggle for justice, instead of siding with the demonstrators, Obama produces morally vacuous statements urging “restraint” and “calm.”

The Arab Spring protests provide one of the more recent examples of this pattern. During this revolt the Obama administration lined up squarely behind Hosni Mubarak while feigning “concern” for the non-violent demonstrators. Hillary Clinton even said the Egyptian dictator was “like family.” Given the routine nature of this practice, any deviation should stand out. Three deviations come to mind: the ongoing protests in Ukraine, the February 2014 protests in Venezuela, and the June 2009 protests in Iran. Quite apart from the equivocation and ambiguity that permeates Obama’s statements in response to protests against US-backed power, the Obama administration has vigorously denounced state violence against demonstrators in so-called enemy states.  When Ukrainian security officials forcefully responded to demonstrators in Kiev Obama did not mince words. In addition to saying the Ukrainian government was “primarily responsible” for the violence in Kiev, he stated “we expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence in dealing with peaceful protesters,” adding that Washington would be monitoring the events in Kiev “very closely” and there would be “consequences if people step over the line.” In reference to the protesters he stated “ultimately our interest is to make sure the Ukrainian people can express their own desires and we believe a large majority of Ukrainians are interested in an integration with Europe and the commerce and cultural exchanges that are possible for them to expand opportunity and prosperity.”

So not only did Obama side with the protesters in Kiev, but more importantly, he addressed their alleged grievances as legitimate. Furthermore, the demonstrators in Kiev were incomparably more violent than the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri. Russia scholar Stephen Cohen acknowledged the violence of the Kiev demonstrators in a Democracy Now! interview and condemned Obama for inciting social unrest. When asked to respond to Obama’s statement that the Ukrainian government was tasked with “the primary responsibility to prevent the kind of terrible violence that we’ve seen, to withdraw riot police, to work with the opposition to restore security and human dignity, and move the country forward,” Cohen unleashed:

Shame. Shame. He is saying that the responsibility for restoring peace is on the Ukrainian government, and it should withdraw its security forces from the streets. But let me ask you, if in Washington people throwing Molotov cocktails are marching on Congress—and these people are headed for the Ukrainian Congress—if these people have barricaded entrance to the White House and are throwing rocks at the White House security guard, would President Obama withdraw his security forces? … This incites, these kinds of statement that Obama made. It rationalizes what the killers in the streets are doing. It gives them Western license, because he’s not saying to the people in the streets, “Stop this, stop shooting policemen, stop attacking government buildings, sit down and talk.”

Contrast Obama’s incitement of Ukrainian violence with his words to demonstrators in Ferguson: “There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting.” Under this warped worldview it’s perfectly fine for Ukrainian demonstrators to use violence in an attempt to overthrow an elected government, but any show of force, irrespective of evidence, on the part of American citizens in the face of an unambiguously racist police force merits presidential condemnation. Similar statements were made during the massive demonstrations in Venezuela. When citizens from an overwhelmingly wealthy sector of the country rose up against the government of Nicholas Maduro Obama was quick to denounce the response of Venezuelan security forces as “unacceptable violence.” To rub salt in Maduro’s wounds, Obama added that Maduro’s government should stop “trying to distract from its own failings by making up false accusations against diplomats from the United States.” Moreover, Maduro was refusing to address the “legitimate grievances” of Venezuelan demonstrators (again invoking a standard of legitimacy that he chooses not to apply to Ferguson demonstrators.)
aljazeeraWhile the reactions to the protests in Kiev and Caracas were instructive, they pale in comparison to the most dramatic illustration of this double standard, namely the Obama administration’s response to the June 2009 protests in Iran, commonly cited as marking the rise of the so-called Green Movement. Obama Condemns Iran’s Iron Fist Against Protests read the New York Times headline. Not only did the Obama administration trot out the predictable clichés regarding Iranian “repression” and authoritarianism, but he omitted the now uncontroversial fact that there is zero evidence to substantiate the claim that the 2009 elections were rigged. International relations scholars Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett dispelled this myth in their superb analysis of Iranian society Going to Tehran. Despite repeated claims within the US political class, opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi “never substantiated any of his myriad accusations of electoral misconduct, though virtually all of them, if true, should have been easily documentable.” Among the charges brought against the Ahmadinejad government by Mousavi was that his electoral observers were unfairly treated. When the Iranian Guardian Council found that 5,016 of Mousavi’s 40,676 observers “were not registered because his campaign had ‘failed to provide the required documents,'” Mousavi was not only unable to refute the findings, but his campaign could not “identify a single registered observer who had been excluded from a station or a single station where observers had been excluded.”
fergusonimageInconvenient facts of this kind, nevertheless, did not interfere with Obama’s mission to paint the incumbent government as a gang of crooks stealing an election. In comments that the New York Times characterized as “more forceful and less ambiguous,” President Obama made it known just how “appalled and outraged,” he was “by the threats, beatings and imprisonments of the past few days.” Additionally, he “praised what he called the courage and dignity of the demonstrators, especially the women who have been marching.” This sentiment was specifically directed at slain Iranian demonstrator Neda Soltani, recognized within US circles as a “martyr” for the movement. As the Leverett’s note, “barely seventy-two hours after her fatal shooting, the White House organized a press conference to give President Obama a platform to talk about her fate and, more broadly, to pivot toward a tougher rhetorical line regarding Iran.”

Contrarily, three days passed before the Obama administration issued a written statement on the murder of Mike Brown, a statement that didn’t even mention the fact that he was killed by the police. 48 hours after the publication of this written statement—a total of five entire days since Mike Brown was gunned down, approaching double the time it took him to rush, watery-eyed, to the podium to condemn Iranian violence—and he finally gave a public statement. Much like the written statement, Obama’s public statement made sure to surgically excise the decisive role of the police in the murder and the subsequent cover-up by withholding the suspected officer’s name. This effort to conceal uncontroversial facts was not lost on intrepid reporters like Kevin Gosztola, who astutely observed that “no specifics were given” in the speech and “his mention of Brown was surrounded by meaningless jargon.” As a result, Obama “could not even bring himself to acknowledge that Brown was shot and killed by police or that he was black and that the fact that he was black may have had something to do with why he was shot and killed …”

To the extent that Obama did criticize the actions of the police, they were confined to the way they “bullied” journalists, which, incidentally, is an awfully innocuous way to describe the indiscriminate launching of tear gas canisters at Al Jazeera reporters (place this alongside other state-terrorist colloquialisms like “we tortured some folks”). This is omitting the fact that President Obama condemning anyone for repressing journalists is the absolute peak of hypocrisy. Following Obama’s statement, the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review published a piece headlined Why Obama’s statement on reporters’ arrest in Ferguson is hypocritical. “Just minutes after the president finished his remarks, a coalition of journalism organizations at the National Press Club in Washington began a news conference condemning the Obama administration’s attempt to compel James Risen, a New York Times reporter, to identify a confidential source,” CJR reported. And Risen is by no means alone as a victim of the The Most Transparent Administration in History™. Doubtless, Obama’s statements in opposition to police “bullying” of journalists in Ferguson would resonate with Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who was “bullied” into a Yemeni prison by Washington’s Nobel Laureate after he had the gall to blow the whistle on one of his many drone strikes (acts of international terrorism) in southern Yemen. This particular strike killed 44 civilians (22 of which were children).

Overshadowing all of these unmentionable thoughts is an important question. Why such a double standard? The answer is obvious to any tenth-rate gangster, where this kind of behavior comes naturally. Official ideology requires that imperial leaders feign neutrality in the face of horrors for which they share responsibility. This facade of balance is strengthened through meaningless statements calling for “de-escalation” and “peaceful transitions.” Meanwhile, in the background, they’re supposed to enthusiastically cheerlead the violence by increasing diplomatic, ideological and material support for the aggressors. The recent Israeli massacres in Gaza provide a paradigmatic example of this doctrine at work. Conversely, when horrors unfold which cannot be traced back to Washington the same individual who before was urging “calm” and “de-escalation” miraculously transforms into a dedicated humanitarian whose conscience is repeatedly “shocked” and “outraged” by the oppression of others. On rare occasions, these real crimes can even elicit tears.

So as the militarized police force of St. Louis proceed in their macabre imitation of G.I. Joe, it’s worth asking what the reaction would be if Mike Brown was a citizen of Tehran, Caracas or Kiev. Would Obama be simply “heartbroken” by the “loss” of a “young man” or would he be “outraged” by the brutal murder of a “martyr” who had “legitimate grievances”? Would the violence be narrowly confined to the “bullying” of journalists or would he highlight where the overwhelming portion of the brutality is being directed, namely at the Black bodies of Ferguson County? What if Mike Brown was not Black? Suppose he was a white Ukrainian or a wealthy Venezuelan? Would that make a difference? What if Mike Brown was shot like a dog in the middle of Kiev?

Sources:
Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/us/politics/24webobama.html?_r=0
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/02/19/obama-on-ukraine-there-will-be-consequences-if-people-step-over-the-line/
http://www.cjr.org/the_kicker/obama.php
http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2014/08/14/president-obamas-statement-avoids-the-issue-of-militarized-police-in-ferguson/#.U-2z6ZdQI2N.facebook
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/08/12/statement-president-passing-michael-brown
https://xavierobrien.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/the-emperor-wears-no-clothes-neither-does-his-mistress-king-davids-not-so-sexy-crimes-against-humanity/
http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/20/a_new_cold_war_ukraine_violence
http://www.latintimes.com/obama-condemns-unacceptable-violence-venezuela-153746
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/14/al-jazeera-ferguson-tear-gas-journalists_n_5678081.html 

Restoring “Quiet” in Missouri’s Internal Colony

whiteparentsSince the brutal murder of Black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of St. Louis County police, there has been a great deal of popular protest and anger, all of which is entirely justified, directed at an institution of “law” enforcement that has systematically oppressed the local Black community. Latest reports show that even journalists have been arrested, one reporting “I’ve been afraid several times while reporting on the ground here in Ferguson.” While reports of this kind certainly provide an unvarnished picture of the arbitrary use of force by county police, it’s worth noting that buried beneath this climate of terror is a history of Black life in America that provides insight not only into historical understandings of race, but how these understandings reverberate in contemporary society.

Paul Finkelman’s scholarly review of the 1857 Supreme Court decision Dred Scott v. Sandford offers a revealing glimpse of this ignoble tradition. The Scott case, Finkelman observed, “symbolized the high point of racism in American law.” This “high point” was chillingly affirmed in the court ruling of 7 to 2, which declared that Scott, a former slave from northern Missouri, was to be denied freedom in opposition to the explicit mandate of the 1820 Missouri Compromise. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney was, by far, the most enthusiastic of the supporters for slavery, stating that the framers of the Declaration of Independence were “great men” who “perfectly understood the meaning of the language they used”, namely that “it would not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race, which by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery.”

Concurring opinions echoed Justice Taney in racist cruelty. Justice Peter V. Daniel, alarmed by the very prospect of free Black people, proclaimed “the African negro race never have been acknowledged as belonging to the family of nations,” and “the introduction of that race into every section of this country was not as members of a civil or political society, but as slaves, as property in the strictest sense of the term.” He continued by advocating the continuation of slavery as necessary for the “preservation of order and social existence.” Emancipation of slaves, Justice Daniel argued, was an illustration of “despotic” power enforced to “arbitrarily invade and derange [the] most deliberate and solemn ordinances.” Therefore, “the injustice and extravagance necessarily implied,” by the “supposition” of free Black people could not “be nationally imputed to the patriotic or the honest, or to those merely sane …” Translation: only an anti-American lunatic would endorse Black liberation.

These opinions live on in the ongoing plague of police violence perpetrated against Black people today. From the murder of Eric Garner to the recent killing of Michael Brown, the idea of autonomous Black people, free from the arbitrary force of State-corporate power, still resounds as a thought overflowing with “extravagance.” Consequently, it’s in no respect surprising to read a report of a Ferguson police officer refer to those who the media misleadingly calls “rioters” as “fucking animals.” This brand of dehumanization is standard in colonial societies. For example, former Israeli Prime Minister Manachem Begin was recorded to have described Palestinian Arabs as “two-legged beasts.” Another much more recent example is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s description of Hamas as “human animals.”

Accompanying this effort on the part of the police department to dehumanize the Black community is a media discourse that all but ensures that this deeply seated culture of racism never rises to the surface in any meaningful way. A paradigmatic example of this journalistic malpractice can be found on CNN, where a discussion was held about what “Black parents tell their sons.” While it’s perfectly fine to explore what Black parents teach their children to do when confronted by racist police officers, this framing completely ignores a much larger question–at least for those serious about reversing police terror and not accommodating it–namely what do white parents tell their sons. It’s simply taken for granted that racist police officers are free to unleash indiscriminate violence and terror on Black communities with absolute impunity.

Accordingly, no questions arise about what their parents told them as children or why American society, despite claims of “post-racialism”, consistently produces generation after generation of police departments that explicitly function as instruments of racial oppression. The plausible answer is that white supremacy, and its institutional expressions, is accepted as legitimate, hence it is above serious inquiry. How nicely this conforms with an overarching two-tiered “justice” system where due process is accorded based on one’s net worth as opposed to their basic humanity. As Glenn Greenwald astutely notes in his penetrating study of the US “justice” system With Liberty and Justice for Some, “one of the ugliest and most toxic aspects of the multi-tiered approach to justice is that those who suffer the most from it are, in extreme disproportion, racial minorities.” Moreover, “at current rates … one-third of all black males will go to prison during their lifetimes.” One would be hard pressed to find any of this in President Obama’s statement on the murder of Michael Brown, which impressively managed not to mention the fact that he was murdered by the police. Incidentally, this decision aligned neatly with previous episodes of moral detachment where another aggressor was insulated from serious public criticism.

Much like the external colonies that the US military occupies and destroys abroad–Iraq and Afghanistan are two notable examples–a well managed empire also requires internal colonies and a domestic military (police departments) to suppress what Noam Chomsky accurately termed the “superfluous population”, “superfluous” because they contribute little to elite interests, particularly wealth accumulation. From the NYPD’s spying operations on New York’s Muslim communities and unlawful Stop and Frisk policies to outright murder, the contours of this colonial enterprise are becoming more and more visible. For far too long the Black community has been treated as a testing ground for the most structurally violent and oppressive policies in the so-called “industrialized world.” Even the UN highlighted the “enduring racial disparities in the [US] justice system, including large numbers of black prisoners serving longer sentences than whites”, “racial profiling by police, including the mass surveillance of Muslim communities by the New York police department”, and “segregation in schools,” in its latest human rights report.

Disgraceful realities of this kind highlight just how important a serious interrogation of white supremacy is in the wake of the Michael Brown murder. The refusal to punish–in this case even the refusal to release the identity of the officer who committed the killing–only reinforces this culture of immunity. In this culture the well known doctrine of deterrence is radically inverted. Typically, legal punishment is understood to be a deterrent to crime, but separate standards are invoked for the powerful. For the powerful punishment does not deter crime, but crime, when carried out with sufficient wealth and institutional backing, deters punishment. This is why it would never occur to CNN to ask what white parents tell their sons. Such questions, by elementary imperial logic, are patently absurd because it’s not white, but Black communities that need to change, specifically Black communities that fail to submit quietly to Justice Taney’s ruling that “civilized society” is not “supposed to embrace the negro race.”

Following the Dred Scott decision, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, effectively “[repealing] part of the Missouri Compromise, by allowing settlers in much of the Great Plains territories to decide for themselves if they wanted slavery”; basically, affirming the pro-slavery argument that emancipation was an unjust encroachment on states-rights (the position of Justice Samuel Nelson). Even after the Civil War, which led to the formal abolition of slavery, America’s Black population was re-enslaved in a brutal convict-lease system whereby “convicted people were ‘leased’ by the government to work without pay for private corporations, allowing both government and the owners to rake in exorbitant profits.” Scholar Eugene Puryear documents this phenomenon in expert detail in his book Shackled and Chained noting that “corporate prison bosses, who had acquired their Black labor on the cheap, were more willing to beat, work and starve them to death than the slave-owners decades earlier who invested large sums in their human property.”

This crucial history situates the murder of Michael Brown in the proper social context and helps to explain the “riots” and the militarized response from the St. Louis police department. Images are now emerging of Black men and women with their hands raised above their heads as a symbolic gesture against police brutality. “Don’t Shoot” is the central message. But how to respond to a system that has managed to target and kill, in addition to unarmed Black teenagers, an entire community’s sense of hope for a better future? Questions of this kind aren’t merely familiar to the Black community but has been a core aspect of the Black experience in America. The people of Ferguson, moved to action by an organization of domestic power that is fundamentally unjust, deserve the support of us all. Meanwhile, the ghosts of Justice Taney and his acolytes are free to mourn the “despotism” of free Black people rightfully prepared to bring an end to their “civilized world.”


Sources:

With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful by Glenn Greenwald

Dred Scott v. Sanford: A Brief History with Documents by Paul Finkelman

Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians by Noam Chomsky

Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America by Eugene Puryear

http://www.businessinsider.com/police-militarization-ferguson-2014-8

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/08/13/washington-post-reporter-arrested-in-ferguson/?tid=sm_fb

http://abcnews.go.com/International/israeli-pm-calls-killers-israeli-teens-human-animals/story?id=24367041

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/13/us-un-human-rights-abuses-nsa-drones

A Myth Scratched Out of Rock: Friedman and Obama Whitewash the History of Palestine

friedmanandobamaA partial examination of the history of state formation and global conflict suggests that we can consider it an established truth that most, if not all, nation-states rely founding myths. The founding myth of the United States is that European “explorers” “discovered” a “vast wilderness” sparsely populated with “merciless Indian savages” who, over time, faded away under the march of “civilization.” Today we recognize this as a morally grotesque whitewash of the actual story, namely that the European “explorers” were really genocidal killers who plundered and pillaged their way across the continent under the doctrine of “manifest destiny.” As the late University of Texas professor William Newcomb Jr. observed in his 1974 study on the continent’s indigenous population North American Indians: An Anthropological Perspective, “low population estimates” of the indigenous civilization that preceded the European invasion “had the effect of making the European conquest of North America more palatable to white Americans.” Moreover, anthropologists were of the view that “displacing a million or so Indians North of the Rio Grande and ultimately reducing their population to half that number is far easier to rationalize or ignore than is the extirpation of ten or fifteen times that number.”

The official seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony captures this murderous ideology perfectly in the illustration of an indigenous man holding a downward pointed spear with a scroll flowing from his mouth bearing the inscription “come over and save us.” Rightly, this kind of imagery and brutality shocks the conscience of ordinary people, yet similar myths abound today about the founding of Israel in 1948. One illuminating example of this can be found in a recent Thomas Friedman interview with President Obama that appeared in the New York Times. Asked what he thinks about Israel, Obama responded “It is amazing to see what Israel has become over the last several decades … To have scratched out of rock this incredibly vibrant, incredibly successful, wealthy and powerful country is a testament to the ingenuity, energy and vision of the Jewish people.” As pleasant and unproblematic as this description sounds, it completely revises the actual events of Israel’s founding, which was not the emergence of a nation “scratched from rock” but the forceful imposition of a another nation atop the ruins of Palestinian villages evacuated in a campaign of ethnic cleansing known as the nakba.

Obama honors PeresThis traumatic confrontation with colonialism, an integral part of the Palestinian experience, is completely ignored in Obama’s response despite the fact that it’s accepted as uncontroversial among credible scholars. As Dr. Norman Finkelstein observes in his brilliant study on Israeli criminality Beyond Chutzpah “today there is a broad consensus among scholars that Palestinians suffered ethnic cleansing in 1948… ” Israeli journalist Amira Hass makes a similar observation. In her book Drinking the Sea at Gaza, she recognizes “the long history of dispossession that had begun in 1948, when more than 700,000 Palestinians (of a population of some 1.3 million) became refugees, forced to leave their land as the Jewish national home came into being.” It’s therefore extremely disturbing to hear Obama ask “How can you preserve a Jewish state that is also reflective of the best values of those who founded Israel.” If the actual historical record, and not the mythology concocted by propagandists, matters these “values” would certainly include massacres of civilians (re: Deir Yasin) and the mass expulsion of indigenous populations. A Times article that appeared in October of 1948 captured the horror of the ethnic cleansing in evocative terms:

“… in Beersheba itself, once a thriving center for camel trading, a few inhabitants remain, and at present members of the Israeli army are systematically looting the houses which survived the bombing. It is perhaps an ancient and tacitly accepted rule of war that troops should make themselves comfortable at the expense of the vanquished … “

How strikingly prescient these words were as Israel proceeded in its colonial project decades after this catastrophe, all “at the expense of the vanquished.” It is with this knowledge that Obama’s evasions of the historical record appear not only intellectually irresponsible but unambiguously immoral. And this immorality is reinforced when he showers the architects of this ongoing tragedy with praises and accolades. Take for example Ariel Sharon, a war criminal who participated in countless atrocities, for example the Qibya massacre and the killings at Sabra and Shatila. President Obama described him as someone who “dedicated his life to the State of Israel.” This is an awfully sanitized way to describe a man who in a 1953 attack on the El-Bureig refugee camp commanded a unit that threw bombs “through the windows of huts where refugees were sleeping.” Furthermore, as the refugees attempted to flee the terrorist assault “they were attacked by small arms and automatic weapons.” This massacre, which is credited for helping to “launch Sharon’s career”, left an estimated 50 refugees dead (Israeli figures). None of these inconvenient facts are highlighted in Obama’s glorification of a state struggling to maintain “its democratic and civic traditions.” Much like the character of Uncle Ruckus from Aaron McGruder’s critically acclaimed television series The Boondocks, President Obama continually goes out of his way to lavish racists and war criminals with praises, all the while perpetuating vulgar stereotypes about the Arab menace. In his interview with Friedman he recycles the racist cliche that Israel is a model of civilization marooned in an ocean of savagery, stating “others can cause Israel pain,” because Israel is in “a really bad neighborhood.”

Uncle Ruckus pays homage. Language of this kind dovetails perfectly with the ethnocentric and supremacist rhetoric of Israeli leaders repeatedly warning the Israeli public of the looming “demographic problem”, namely too many brown people in a Jewish state. Sentiments of this kind would delight Uncle Ruckus, who finds no shame in “thanking the white man for the sunrise, for the land [he] walks on, and the air [he] breathes.” Ruckus also maintains a shrine devoted to “special white people in his life” like John Wayne (“the great white man who didn’t take no shit from niggas, injuns nor Mexicans”), George Bush Sr., and Barry Manilow. Likewise, Obama maintains his “shrine” to the “special white people in his life.” This shrine is adorned with pictures of people like Shimon Peres, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom who has lived a life “nothing short of extraordinary.” For instance, it was “nothing short of extraordinary” when Peres followed in the footsteps of Israeli Prime Minister Manachem Begin and upheld the idea that Israel had a “biblically endorsed right of possession” to the West Bank. On the territorial status of the West Bank Peres proclaimed “There is no argument in Israel about our historic rights in the land of Israel. The past is immutable and the Bible is the decisive document in determining the fate of our land.” Perhaps if Peres was an extremist of the Islamic variety who insisted that the Holy Qur’an was the “decisive document in determining the fate our land,” he would have been exiled from President Obama’s hallowed pantheon of “special white people” but this isn’t the case, therefore Washington’s incarnation of Uncle Ruckus is free to hail him as a “true founding father,” to ample applause.

It’s therefore little wonder that Obama was able to boycott the Durban Conference Against Racism under the pretext that the UN was unfairly “singling out” Israel. Apparently, Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv’s “great white man”, also must be protected.  Apart from Israeli criminals, another luminary in Obama’s sacred shrine is George W. Bush, who exercised “incredible strength and resolve … as he stood amid the rubble and the ruins of Ground Zero, promising to deliver justice to those who had sought to destroy our way of life.” Incidentally, Bush’s position in the shrine may be more elevated than that of Peres since Obama has not only honored him in word, but, more significantly, in deed, primarily through his continuation of the crimes for which his predecessor should have been punished, facts easy to perceive in the President’s recent colloquialism about violating the Geneva Conventions (“We tortured some folks”).

Underlying this enthusiastic embrace of empire and colonialism is a deeply dehumanizing portrait of those on the other side of the gun, in this case Palestinians. Unless these simplistic and racist conceptions are abandoned, these foundational myths will persist as will the intense efforts to excise from historical memory narratives which give voice to the profound suffering and loss of those living under occupation. The indignity and cruelty of occupation make necessary an honest reckoning with these imperial revisions of history and those who stubbornly ignore reality in favor of fairy tales, whether they come in the form of humanitarian killers dedicated to principles of “peace” or an ultra-violent terrorist state “scratched” into existence from a singular rock.

Sources:

The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk

North American Indians: An Anthropological Perspective by William W. Newcomb, Jr.

Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians by Noam Chomsky

Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse and Abuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History by Norman G. Finkelstein

Drinking the Sea at Gaza by Amira Hass

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/09/opinion/president-obama-thomas-l-friedman-iraq-and-world-affairs.html?_r=0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiV22pJYG7M

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/06/14/president-obama-honors-israeli-president-shimon-peres

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/04/25/obama-heaps-praise-on-bush/