Monday, July 28, 2014

Realism Vs. Utopianism

While reading Alfie Kohn's No Contest: The Case Against Competition I came across these two interesting quotes:

We should not be afraid of the Utopian in our thinking, for it is only belief in the possibility of what has not yet been attained which makes progress even conceivable. A willingness to rethink all of our aims and to throw the whole system into question will prevent our painting the walls when we ought to be getting rid of the termites and strengthening the foundations. 
– Hazel Barnes, An Existentialist Ethics 

What is ‘practical’ and what is ‘utopian’? Does not utopian mean merely: whatever acknowledges other values as relevant and possibly even as sovereign? But in truth, are not those who in the name of realism act like crackpots, are they not the Utopians? Are we not now in a situation in which the only practical, realistic down-to-earth thinking and acting is just what these crackpot realists call ‘utopian’?

– C. Wright Mills, Power, Politics, and People

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Are the Palestinians Israel's Native Americans?

As I looked at the map posted on Juan Cole's The Map: A Palestinian Nation Thwarted & Speaking Truth to Power I was reminded of the infamous 1996 statement by Netanyahu’s spokesperson David Bar-Illan; when asked if Israel was opposed to a Palestinian state he replied: "Semantics don’t matter. If Palestinian sovereignty is limited enough so that we feel safe, call it fried chicken." Indeed, as of 2000, the state of the occupied territories, particularly the West Bank, has started to resemble scattered pieces of flesh on the ground. Here is the map chronicling the Palestinian loss of land from 1946 to 2000:

My guess is that today, 14 years later, the pieces may look even smaller – fried quail perhaps? In addition to Bar-Illan's comment I was also reminded of a picture I purchased many years ago when I visited Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Similarly to the map above, the picture shows a timeline of the conquest of Native American land by European settlers:

The last map (1890) looks very similar to the 2000 map of Palestinian land: scattered pieces of small enclaves.

A few months ago I wrote a post titled The Problem With BDS where I argued that the comparison of Israel with with South Africa may not be appropriate and perhaps counterproductive to the interests of the Palestinians. My position in not an original one and is primarily derived from Chomsky's assessment of the circumstances. Since then, Chomsky has published an essay in The Nation explaining his position in detail. Predictably, Chomsky's essay has been selectively quoted by the likes of Fred Lazin who, in a recent appearance on CrossTalk, conveniently omitted the fact that Chomsky's criticism of the analogy between Israel and South Africa is due to the fact that, in his view, "the road ahead is not toward South Africa, as commonly alleged, but toward something much worse."

The "much worse" is the slow and steady elimination, as Chomsky puts it, of Israel's "Palestinian burden." As he explains, unlike South Africa – where the black population was the white's workforce –  Israel doesn't need the Palestinians. It is for this reason that, in my opinion, the genocide of Native Americans by European settlers seems a more apt comparison. If so, the belief of some that the Israeli government will eventually have to reckon with the Palestinian burden – as Miko Peled stated in the same episode of CrossTalk – may also be misplaced less some major geopolitical shift.

Of course the analogy between Palestinians and Native Americans is not new. In fact, as I was pondering such parallel I came across an essay by Ron Jacobs discussing this very notion. In US and Israeli Exceptionalism Jacobs writes that

Although the founder of Zionism Theodor Herzl considered his philosophy to be a secular one, there has always been a religious element. Indeed, Israel’s “Declaration of Independence,” opens with the declaration “Eretz Israel [Hebrew: The Land of Israel] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.” In making this claim, the founders of Israel linked their nation to the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition. Further on in the same document, those founders refer to the British colonial mandate Balfour Declaration to establish their legal right to the land they were stealing. By acknowledging the biblical land of Israel and the colonial mandate for Palestine, Israel’s founders made clear their allegiance to the western colonialist tradition. More importantly, and disastrously, they paved the way for their ongoing occupation of Palestine and the neverending war against its people. 
Israel’s founding documents (and the utterings of many of its politicians during its earlier years) insist on the nation’s allegiance to principles of freedom and fairness for all of its inhabitants. Likewise, a call for peace and cooperation with its neighbors was issued. However, a nation founded by the theft of others’ lands, homes and places of worship is bound to find adhering to those principles to be impossible. This will certainly be the case if actions of the new nation display little intention to follow its stated principles. Like the young nation called the United States, the nation of Israel was founded by stealing land and the spilling of blood. Also, like the young United States, Israel quickly proved that its lofty principles of its founding documents applied only to certain inhabitants of the newly created nation.

Given such similarity, one is left to wonder if the Palestinians will meet a destiny similar to that of Native Americans. The maps above speak clearly: that is indeed the direction and, most likely, the goal of the Israeli government. Some Israeli politicians say just as much: Ayelet Shaked, for example, recently declared on her Facebook that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy ... including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”

Having stated the problem, the pressing question is: how can the people of the world stop yet another neocolonial land grab by one of Washington's client states resulting in the immense suffering and likely erasure of an entire people from their native land? The proponents of BDS say: boycott and divest (BD) from Israel (as Chomsky rightfully points out in his essay, there haven't been any credible calls for international sanctions). Yet, given the acquiescence of Western media to the Israeli narrative – with the notable exception of Jon Snow and a few others – it doesn't seem likely that people in the West will have the type of awareness required for demanding any kind of meaningful condemnation of Israeli policy from their own governments.

This is not surprising since these governments, and the media which are owned by the corporate interests which shape public policy, are the very colonial powers who participated in the genocide of American indigenous populations and after which Israel is modeling itself. In addition, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out some time ago, it would be hypocritical in the least for Obama to criticize Israel for doing exactly what his administration has been doing all over the world for some time; namely, assassinating people extrajudicially. Finally, Western military contractors are making a lot of money selling weapons to the Israeli government and thus they don't want the billions of dollars in subsidies that Israel's military machine receives from US taxpayers to stop.

Given that for the most part Israel doesn't move a finger without Washington saying so, regardless of the occasional theatrics, it follows that the latter is the real obstacle to peace in the Middle East. This, incidentally, is clearly understood by the people in the region. A recent poll, for example, found that most Arabs "believe that the United States is not even-handed in its approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace-making" and "have very little confidence that the United States is committed to an independent Palestinian state." This truism is also understood by the Israeli elites and their counterparts in the US, who devote considerable resources in order to shape public opinion in the US in favor of Israel.

Ultimately, the only way to avert the erasure of the Palestinians and their heritage is by diminishing the hegemony of the world's sole superpower. It is perhaps for this reason that the BRICS countries have finally established a New Development Bank as an alternative to the World Bank and the IMF. The recent effort of Washington to impose sanctions on Russia because of the Ukrainian crisis has also backfired as it helped seal a $400 billion gas deal between Russia and China. In addition, Washington's European partners have been reluctant to impose any serious sanctions on Russia despite the boisterous claims to the contrary by Obama and Kerry. Predictably, the more the USE (United States Empire) tightens its hegemonic grip on the world, the more countries will slip through its fingers:

Thus, while this may seem counterintuitive, it is in the weakening of "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," the US government, that the best hope of ending the multi-decade suffering of the Palestinians resides.

In a recent column, Danny Schechter asked: Is It Time To “Boycott” The USA?  Apparently, many are starting to believe so. In his column Schechter cites examples such as the fact that "international technology companies, angered at NSA spying and attempts to manipulate the internet are refusing to do business with their American counterparts" and that "Russia is spearheading an anti-dollar alliance built around the BRICS States." And while it may take some time for Washington's hegemony to recede from the foreground, these are signs that the process is well on its way and will continue unless Washington chooses a more cooperative approach in its dealings with the rest of the world. When that happens, the state of Israel will no longer have the world's big bully to hide behind and will also have to choose a more cooperative path with the Palestinians.

Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi once wrote that “everybody is somebody’s Jew and today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis." In light of this essay, a more appropriate analogy may be that today the Palestinians are the Native Americans of the Israelis.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Rancid Hypocritical Honeytrap

These days it is hard to wade across the morass of the virtual political world. There are radical activists, those who are trying to make a difference in the world for the better – whatever their flaws – and there are those who aggrandize themselves by trying to tear down such activists while posing as the pure "marginalized" left. One such poser is someone going by the internet name of @RancidTarzie. While also a blogger – The Rancid Honeytrap, hence the title of this post – with 90K+ tweets under his belt he primarily trolls the tweetersphere attacking what he sees as the inconsistencies of various leftist figures: from Noam Chomsky, to Amy Goodman, to David Graeber, to Glenn Greenwald. The latter perhaps being Tarzie's favorite target as it would be difficult on any given day not to find a tweet by Tarzie attacking Glenn. In fact, the tenacity with which Tarzie stalks Greenwald is perhaps indicative of a certain level of homophobia on Tarzie's part (more on this later).

While it is not my intention to fight fire with fire, I think it is important to understand why would any self-proclaimed leftist spend his waking time in such a manner. The main reason for this post is thus to expose Tarzie's own hypocrisy, which perhaps is due to ego-projection on his part – something which may help explain the vitriol he exudes as he goes after his targets. As I will try to show, he is either a phony – someone who poses as a leftist while doing the dirty work of the power structure – or a self-deluded and self-destructive nihilist. While I do not claim to have an answer – only he perhaps knows – either possibility is something that needs to be kept in mind when one sees the level of hatred that flows from this person's fingers. In the end, whatever his motives, it is clear that Tarzie has internalized the very hypermascunilist patriarchal mores that he pretends to be fighting against and thus he is ultimately a victim of the very system which he professes to abhor.

Whatever the reasons behind it, the important issue is that ultimately he acts as a splinter – or, as a source of faux friendly flak, as we shall see – within leftist political discourse and, if only for this reason, I believe he must be outed. And while, unlike his, it is not my intention to suppress criticism, I believe it is important to point out that not all criticism is meant as constructive. In fact, as I am trying to show, there are good reasons to believe that Tarzie's stance is geared toward destructive ends. Specifically, whether conscious or not, his criticism seems aimed at preventing the coalescing of a unified radical left based on convergence and commonality within difference rather than on a self-proclaimed, and ultimately illusory, ideological purity. This is not to say that we should refrain from criticizing sacred cows. I, for example, have my own reservations with Greenwald's partnership with Pierre Omidyar and, in this respect, I appreciate people like Chris Floyd keeping Glenn's feet to the fire. As another example, I personally criticized Democracy Now! (i.e. Amy Goodman) for participating in the censoring of John Pilger's film The War You Don’t See initiated by the Lannan Foundation (Chris Hedges's was included because of his unwillingness to stick his neck out for Pilger):

Yet, in the case of Tarzie, what stands out is the relentless attack on anyone on the radical left who is actually getting something done, with whatever limitations, without offering any type of alternative vision in return. In fact, when confronted with this Tarzie's lame answer was: "Critics aren’t required to provide a vision." I guess he can't walk and chew gum either. Which goes to show that in his mind, criticism and movement building seem to be mutually exclusive.

And so, the main purpose of this essay is to show that Tarzie is a hypocrite who exhibits the very flaws he criticizes others for and who in the end, whether willingly or not, is doing the dirty work of the establishment in trying to discredit the radical left by injecting strife, division, cynicism and ultimately apathy. I will use one case in point, which is the way I came across him in the first place, the second part of a logorrheic two-part essay titled Passing Noam on My Way Out, Part 2: Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz. The original essay can be found here. In the essay, Tarzie takes Chomsky to task for supposedly minimizing the ordeal suffered by Aaron Swartz. In addition, Tarzie argues that Chomsky is a defender of American exceptionalism because he believes that the United States people enjoy a certain degree of freedom. And so Tarzie's main argument is that Chomsky is unable to apply his own propaganda model to himself. This latter criticism sounded to me particularly bizarre and so I decided to post a comment in order to voice my disagreement:

While I understand your point, your analysis doesn’t really stand the test of reality on the ground. Just look at the recent sentencing of 500+ people to death in Egypt. That is something that would simply not be possible in the US, not at this level. So, Chomsky is correct, there is a quantitative and qualitative difference. By not acknowledging this difference, in the name of ideological purity, you are nullifying the efforts of millions of activists who in the past two centuries have spent their life toimprove people’s lives.

It was then that I was inundated with a barrage of insults interspersed with a flimsy rebuttal. (The entire exchange can be found here, at the very bottom; my handle is PJ). At the end of the brief exchange, apparently unhappy that I wasn't biting into his flame, he first threatened, and then proceeded to delete the entire exchange from the blog with the exception of my first comment. I was aghast. Here was a person who was taking Chomsky to task for not applying the propaganda model to himself (however incongruous that may be) while engaging in the very sort of top-down institutional censoring of radical criticism that Hermann and Chomsky had worked to uncover. In typical propagandistic fashion, he had made me literally disappear while leaving a small trace of the exchange as if to show that his comment section was open to criticism. It was clear that he had studied the propaganda model and was applying it to his blog in order manipulate the perception of unaware visitors and followers. Paraphrasing Chomsky, Tarzie keeps the level of dissent within narrow, pre-determined boundaries, in a manner strikingly similar to the practices of the establishment media. All this coming from someone who pretends to be part of the "extreme left" (per the title of his blog). (The very use of the term "extreme left," commonly used in a derogatory manner by the establishment to stigmatized those to the left of the neoliberal mainstream, should also give a warning of possible duplicitousness on his part). Fortunately, I was able to save the exchange before the cleansing happened, and  it now stands as a record of Tarzie's manipulatory tactics. The question that instinctively arises is: how often and in which ways does Tarzie manipulate the comments on his blog? While we may never know for sure, what is sure is that he does it and that, for this reason, he shouldn't be taken seriously. In fact, he is a perfect case of the pot calling the kettle black.

When I pointed out his hypocritical and authoritarian behavior on Twitter, he responded with the predictable barrage of insults. Again, amidst the insults, the lame excuse for deleting the thread was that my comments were "boring" and that we were supposedly "going in circles." I guess those are important reasons for deletion in Tarzieworld. Here is a sample:

That is to say: comments are carefully manipulated in order to show how most people agree with him while giving the false impression that he is open to criticism. In regard to the insults, the first giveaway to Tarzie's authoritarian personality, I will spare you the experience which you are always free to partake in by looking at his feed. Suffices to say that he has been singled out by Greenwald as

In this regard, as I mentioned in one of my comments on his blog, Tarzie's aggressiveness denotes a deep internalization of the logic of the hypermasculinist Hobbesian capitalistic logic of all against all. In typical totalitarian and narcissistic fashion, he sees any critic as a threat to his integrity that must be destroyed at all costs, as if his own survival depended on it. His behavior, in a way, is thus not so dissimilar to the torturing of Chelsea Manning by the Obama administration, or to that of Prosecutor Carmen Ortiz whose aggressive tactics, it could be argued, ultimately led to the death of Aaron Swartz. And while Tarzie obviously does not have the power to inflict such punishments on his critics, it is not unreasonable to believe that, given the chance, he would behave in similar ways, as he cleary exhibits personality traits that are very similar to those exhibited by those who serve the very system of power he proclaims to be fighting against. This type of hypermasculinist aggressiveness can perhaps also help explain Tarzie's latent homophobia toward Glenn Greenwald.

Further proof of Tarzie's authoritarian nature was offered by Tarzie himself this very morning. Having been caught red-handed censoring his blog and clearly not wanting people to judge for themselves, he has been repeatedly pleading with Scribd and Wordpress (the service which hosts the PDF of our exchange) to remove the document:

As I have stated in the summary of the post in question, I believe that my posting constitutes fair use as it is meant to highlight a clear of case of political censorship. Yet, Tarzie's  internalized controlling patriarchal behavior shows that he is obviously struggling with the inability to control discourse and, not content with censoring me on his blog, he is now trying to use the rentier system of monopoly intellectual property rights in order to impose censorship beyond his sphere of control. If Tarzie was not such a low level servant of power  acting as a flaker while posing as a marginalized extreme leftist, I may actually be tempted to send the pdf to Jokes aside, the point still remains that Tarzie is, similarly to the NSA, clearly trying to cover his tracks after being exposed for the fraud that he is. Hopefully this post will help in setting the record straight.