Nettime -- Hamid Dabashi -- Left is wrong on Iran
Al Ahram Weekly
16 - 22 July 2009
Left is wrong on Iran
Who are and who promoted these leftist intellectuals who question the
social uprising of the people in Iran, asks Hamid Dabashi*
When a political groundswell like the Iranian presidential
election of June 2009 and its aftermath happen, the excitement and
drama of the moment expose not just our highest hopes but also our
deepest fault lines, most troubling moral flaws, and the dangerous
political precipice we face.
Over the decades I have learned not to expect much from what
passes for "the left" in North America and/or Western Europe when it
comes to the politics of what their colonial ancestry has called "the
Middle East". But I do expect much more when it comes to our own
progressive intellectuals -- Arabs, Muslims, South Asians, Africans
and Latin Americans. This is not a racial bifurcation, but a regional
typology along the colonial divide.
By and large this expectation is apt and more often than not met.
The best case in point is the comparison between what Azmi Bishara has
offered about the recent uprising in Iran and what Slavoj Zizek felt
obligated to write. Whereas Bishara's piece (with aspects of which I
have had reason to disagree) is predicated on a detailed awareness of
the Iranian scene, accumulated over the last 30 years of the Islamic
Republic and even before, Zizek's (the conclusion of which I
completely disagree with) is entirely spontaneous and impressionistic,
predicated on as much knowledge about Iran as I have about the mineral
composition of the planet Jupiter.
The examples can be multiplied by many, when we add to what Azmi
Bishara has written pieces by Mustafa El-Labbad and Galal Nassar, for
example, and compare them to the confounded blindness of Paul Craig
Roberts, Anthony DiMaggio, Michael Veiluva, James Petras, Jeremy
Hammond, Eric Margolis, and many others. While people closest to the
Iranian scene write from a position of critical intimacy, and with a
healthy dose of disagreement, those farthest from it write with an
almost unanimous exposure of their constitutional ignorance, not
having the foggiest idea what has happened in that country over the
last 30 years, let alone the last 200 years, and then having the
barefaced chutzpah to pontificate one thing or another -- or worse, to
take more than 70 million human beings as stooges of the CIA and
puppets of the Saudis.
Let me begin by stating categorically that in principle I share
the fundamental political premise of the left, its weariness of US
imperial machination, of major North American and Western European
media (but by no means all of them) by and large missing the point on
what is happening around the globe, or even worse seeing things from
the vantage point of their governmental cues, which they scarcely
question. It has been but a few months since we have come out of the
nightmare of the Bush presidency, or the combined chicaneries of Dick
Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and John Ashcroft, or of the
continued calamities of the "war on terror". Iran is still under the
threat of a military strike by Israel, or at least more severe
economic sanctions, similar to those that are responsible for the
death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis during the Clinton
administration. Iraq and Afghanistan are burning, Gaza is in utter
desolation, Northern Pakistan is in deep humanitarian crisis, and
Israel is stealing more Palestinian lands every day. With all his
promises and pomp and ceremonies, President Obama is yet to show in
any significant and tangible way his change of course in the region
from that of the previous administration.
The US Congress, prompted by AIPAC (the American Israel Political
Affairs Committee), pro-war vigilantes lurking in the halls of power
in Washington DC, and Israeli warlords and their propaganda machinery
in the US, are all excited about the events in Iran and are doing
their damnedest to turn them to their advantage. The left, indeed, has
reason to worry. But having principled positions on geopolitics is one
thing, being blind and deaf to a massive social movement is something
entirely different, as being impervious to the flagrant charlatanism
of an upstart demagogue like Ahmadinejad. The sign and the task of a
progressive and agile intelligence is to hold on to core principles
and seek to incorporate mass social uprising into its modus operandi.
My concern here is not with that retrograde strand in the North
American or Western European left that is siding with Ahmadinejad and
against the masses of millions of Iranians daring the draconian
security apparatus of the Islamic Republic. They are a lost cause, and
frankly no one could care less what they think of the world. What does
concern me is when an Arab intellectual like Asad AbuKhalil opts to go
public with his assessment of this movement -- and what he says so
vertiginously smacks of recalcitrant fanaticism, steadfastly insisting
on a belligerent ignorance.
Rene -- Is Texas Harboring a Torture Decider?
The Buck Stops Where It Began
Is Texas Harboring a Torture Decider?
By RAY McGOVERN
Editor’s Note: Prior to giving a series of talks in Texas later this week, the author offered the following op-ed to the Dallas Morning News and the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram. Both newspapers in George W. Bush’s home state turned it down.
Seldom does a crime scene have so clear a smoking gun. A two-page presidential memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, leaves no room for uncertainty regarding the “decider” on torture. His broad-stroke signature made torture official policy.
This should come as no surprise. You see, the Feb. 7, 2002, memorandum has been posted on the Web since June 22, 2004, when then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales mistakenly released it, along with other White House memoranda.
The title seemed innocent enough – “Humane Treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees” – but in the body of the memo President George W. Bush authorized his senior aides to withhold Geneva Convention protections from suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees.
Like Shakespeare, the media seem harshest on the lawyers, including Texans Gonzales and William J. Haynes II (Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s lawyer), who later outdid themselves trying to make torture legal.
What gets lost in the woodwork is this: Banal as their ex-post-facto “justification” for torture was, the lawyers were not the deciders.
After the decider-in-chief, the key decision makers were the eight addressees of the Feb. 7 memorandum: Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House chief of staff Andrew Card, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security aide Condoleezza Rice, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers.
During the Q & A after a recent Myers talk in Washington, I asked him what he did after he had read the President’s memo on ignoring Geneva. The tone of his non-answer was this: If the President wanted to dismiss Geneva, what was a mere Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to do?
In his memoir, Eyes on the Horizon, he tries to blame the lawyers: “By relying so heavily on just the lawyers, the President did not get the broader advice on these matters that he needed.”
Myers and the other seven addressees might these days be called derivative deciders — or, more simply, accomplices. There is not a shred of evidence that any of the Gang of Eight gave the slightest consideration to resigning, rather than carry out the President’s decision.
They elected to “just follow orders,” a defense dismissed out of hand at the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal on war crimes. Together with the lawyer-advisers, the derivative deciders provide abundant proof that the “banality of evil” did not die with Adolf Eichmann and other functionaries of the Third Reich.
But the buck stops — actually, in this case, it began — with President Bush. Senate Armed Services Committee leaders Carl Levin and John McCain on Dec. 11, 2008, released the executive summary of a report, approved by the full committee without dissent, concluding that Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, memorandum “opened the door to considering aggressive techniques.”
Rene -- After the Honduran Coup
Latin America Asks: Are the Gorillas Back?
After the Honduran Coup
By JOHN ROSS
The June 28th coup d'etat in Honduras that toppled leftist president Mel Zelaya sends us back to the bad old days of the "gorillas" - generals and strongmen who overthrew each other with reckless abandon and the tacit complicity of Washington.
Perched on a hillside in the Mexican outback, we would tune in to these "golpes de estado", as they are termed in Latin America, on our Zenith Transoceanic short wave. First, a harried announcer would report rumors of troop movement and the imposition of a "toque de queda" (curfew.) Hours of dead air (and probably dead announcers) would follow and then the martial music would strike up, endless tape loops of military marches and national anthems. Within a few days, the stations would be back up as if nothing had happened. Only the names of the generals who ruled the roost had changed.
Guatemala was the Central American republic par excelencia for such "golpes." Perhaps the most memorable was the overthrow of General Jacobo Arbenz by Alan Dulles's CIA in 1954 after Arbenz sought to expropriate and distribute unused United Fruit land. Like Mel Zelaya, the general was shaken rudely awake by soldiers and booted out of the country in his underwear.
Coups in Guatemala continued unabated throughout the 1970s and '80s. General Efrain Rios Montt, the first Evangelical dictator in Latin America, who had come to power in a coup himself, was overthrown in 1983 by the equally bloodthirsty Romeo Lucas, a much-decorated general. In 1993, the Guatemalan military brought down civilian president Jorge Elias Serrano, the last gasp of the Gorillas until Zelaya was deposed last week. It has been 15 years since the generals had risen in arms in Central America.
Zelaya's overthrow has stimulated generalized revulsion throughout the world. The Organization of American States, the General Assembly of the United Nations, the European Union, virtually every regional organization in the Western Hemisphere, and the presidents of 33 Latin American republics have condemned the Honduran Gorillas - yet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can't quite get her plumped-up lips around the word "coup", preferring to describe the low-jinx in Tegucigalpa as an "interruption of democracy" or some such euphemistic flapdoodle.
One wonders what descriptives Hillary would have deployed if she and Bill had been aroused from a deep snooze in the White House master bedroom on a Sunday morning by gun-toting troops and put on the first plane for Ottawa in their pajamas?
Why is Clinton so reluctant to label the Honduran military coup a coup? Because such nomenclature automatically triggers a U.S. aid cut-off through which Washington subsidizes the very same Honduran gorillas who facilitated Zelaya's overthrow - $66 million of U.S. taxpayers' money is programmed for 2010 to this end. Unlike Washington, both the World Bank and the InterAmerican Development Bank have suspended payouts to the coup plotters.
The U.S. works in cozy cahoots with the Honduran military. Honduras sent a contingent to Iraq as part of George Bush's Coalition of the Willing. Coup leader Romeo Orlando Vazquez and at least two other officers who participated in Zelaya's overthrow are School of Americas' graduates - according to School of Americas' Watch, the "coup school", as it is called by opponents, once produced two generals who returned to Honduras and overthrew each other. Nearly a thousand Honduran officers were trained in the U.S. under the IMET program in 2005-06, the last year for which numbers are available. The Pentagon calculates that the camaraderie between U.S. and Honduran military officers developed during such training enlists valuable collaborators for a generation. In fact, these U.S.-trained assets threatened to scramble U.S. super light F5 fighter jets to prevent Zelaya from landing in Tegucigalpa a week after the coup.
In collaboration with the gorillas, Washington maintains an advance airbase in the country at Soto Cano (formerly Palmarola) with 500 troops under the direction of the U.S. South Command on the ground at all times on the pretext of fighting the War on Drugs and Terrorism.
LRB -- Zizek -- Berlusconi in Tehran
For those who were interested in the first article posted here. This is the revised version.
Berlusconi in Tehran
When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, but before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture often takes place. All of a sudden, people know the game is up: they simply cease to be afraid. It isn’t just that the regime loses its legitimacy: its exercise of power is now perceived as a panic reaction, a gesture of impotence. Ryszard Kapuściński, in Shah of Shahs, his account of the Khomeini revolution, located the precise moment of this rupture: at a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman withdrew. Within a couple of hours, all Tehran had heard about the incident, and although the streetfighting carried on for weeks, everyone somehow knew it was all over. Is something similar happening now?
There are many versions of last month’s events in Tehran. Some see in the protests the culmination of the pro-Western ‘reform movement’, something along the lines of the colour-coded revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. They support the protests as a secular reaction to the Khomeini revolution, as the first step towards a new liberal-democratic Iran freed from Muslim fundamentalism. They are countered by sceptics who think that Ahmadinejad actually won, that he is the voice of the majority, while Mousavi’s support comes from the middle classes and their gilded youth. Let’s face facts, they say: in Ahmadinejad, Iran has the president it deserves. Then there are those who dismiss Mousavi as a member of the clerical establishment whose differences from Ahmadinejad are merely cosmetic. He too wants to continue with the atomic energy programme, is against recognising Israel, and when he was prime minister in the repressive years of the war with Iraq enjoyed the full support of Khomeini.
Finally, and saddest of all, are the leftist supporters of Ahmadinejad. What is at stake for them is Iranian freedom from imperialism. Ahmadinejad won because he stood up for the country’s independence, exposed corruption among the elite and used Iran’s oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority. This, we are told, is the true Ahmadinejad: the Holocaust-denying fanatic is a creation of the Western media. In this view, what’s been happening in Iran is a repetition of the 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh – a coup, financed by the West, against the legitimate premier. This not only ignores the facts (the high electoral turnout, up from the usual 55 to 85 per cent, can be explained only as a protest vote), it also assumes, patronisingly, that Ahmadinejad is good enough for the backward Iranians: they aren’t yet sufficiently mature to be ruled by a secular left.
Opposed to one another though they are, all these versions read the Iranian protests as a conflict between Islamic hardliners and pro-Western liberal reformists. That is why they find it so difficult to locate Mousavi: is he a Western-backed reformer who wants to increase people’s freedom and introduce a market economy, or a member of the clerical establishment whose victory wouldn’t significantly change the nature of the regime? Either way, the true nature of the protests is being missed.
The green colours adopted by the Mousavi supporters and the cries of ‘Allahu akbar!’ that resonated from the roofs of Tehran in the evening darkness suggested that the protesters saw themselves as returning to the roots of the 1979 Khomeini revolution, and cancelling out the corruption that followed it. This was evident in the way the crowds behaved: the emphatic unity of the people, their creative self-organisation and improvised forms of protest, the unique mixture of spontaneity and discipline. Picture the march: thousands of men and women demonstrating in complete silence. This was a genuine popular uprising on the part of the deceived partisans of the Khomeini revolution. We should contrast the events in Iran with the US intervention in Iraq: an assertion of popular will on the one hand, a foreign imposition of democracy on the other. The events in Iran can also be read as a comment on the platitudes of Obama’s Cairo speech, which focused on the dialogue between religions: no, we don’t need a dialogue between religions (or civilisations), we need a bond of political solidarity between those who struggle for justice in Muslim countries and those who participate in the same struggle elsewhere.
Two crucial observations follow. First, Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a corrupt Islamofascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi whose mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is causing unease even among the ayatollahs. His demagogic distribution of crumbs to the poor shouldn’t deceive us: he has the backing not only of the organs of police repression and a very Westernised PR apparatus. He is also supported by a powerful new class of Iranians who have become rich thanks to the regime’s corruption – the Revolutionary Guard is not a working-class militia, but a mega-corporation, the most powerful centre of wealth in the country.
Second, we have to draw a clear distinction between the two main candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi. Karroubi is, effectively, a reformist, a proponent of an Iranian version of identity politics, promising favours to particular groups of every kind. Mousavi is something entirely different: he stands for the resuscitation of the popular dream that sustained the Khomeini revolution. It was a utopian dream, but one can’t deny the genuinely utopian aspect of what was so much more than a hardline Islamist takeover. Now is the time to remember the effervescence that followed the revolution, the explosion of political and social creativity, organisational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. That this explosion had to be stifled demonstrates that the revolution was an authentic political event, an opening that unleashed altogether new forces of social transformation: a moment in which ‘everything seemed possible.’ What followed was a gradual closing-down of possibilities as the Islamic establishment took political control. To put it in Freudian terms, today’s protest movement is the ‘return of the repressed’ of the Khomeini revolution.
What all this means is that there is a genuinely liberatory potential in Islam: we don’t have to go back to the tenth century to find a ‘good’ Islam, we have it right here, in front of us. The future is uncertain – the popular explosion has been contained, and the regime will regain ground. However, it will no longer be seen the same way: it will be just one more corrupt authoritarian government. Ayatollah Khamenei will lose whatever remained of his status as a principled spiritual leader elevated above the fray and appear as what he is – one opportunistic politician among many. But whatever the outcome, it is vital to keep in mind that we have witnessed a great emancipatory event which doesn’t fit within the frame of a struggle between pro-Western liberals and anti-Western fundamentalists. If we don’t see this, if as a consequence of our cynical pragmatism, we have lost the capacity to recognise the promise of emancipation, we in the West will have entered a post-democratic era, ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.
Rene -- Honduran Coup Shines Spotlight on Controversial U.S. Military Training School
Honduran Coup Shines Spotlight on Controversial U.S. Military Training
Published on Wednesday, July 1, 2009 by Facing South
by Chris Kromm
Before the torture debates about Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, there
was the School of Americas -- a U.S. military training school in Fort
Benning, Georgia, which has trained some of the worst human rights
abusers in Latin America.
A soldier stands guard in a desolated street in the surroundings of
the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa. An increasingly isolated
Honduras braced for more protests with authorities threatening to
immediately arrest ousted President Manuel Zelaya if he dares to
return. (AFP/Jose Cabezas)As Facing South reported yesterday, two of
the leaders of the Honduran coup -- General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez,
leader of the armed forces, and Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, head of
the Air Force which transported the president to Costa Rica -- were
trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,
formerly known as the School of the Americas.
The Honduran coup leaders are just two of over 60,000 Latin American
graduates of the school, which since 1984 has been headquartered at
Fort Benning, Georgia. The SOA Watch database lists 3,566 graduates of
the school from Honduras alone.
As watchdog groups like School of Americas Watch have documented, many
of the school's trainees have been directly linked to death squads,
killings of clergy and other aid workers, kidnappings and other gross
violations of human rights.
The School of Americas/WHISC has also been linked to torture. In 1996,
Dana Priest of The Washington Post broke the story about use of
training manuals at the school that taught students many controversial