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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

The End of the Arabs?

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In 2007 I read Peter W. Galbraith’s “The End of Iraq“, which suggests cutting Iraq into three mini-states, and then responded in two parts. The first part criticises Galbraith’s thesis, and the second part criticises the failures of Arabism. Both are merged below. More recently it has been revealed that Galbraith actually stood to gain financially from the dismantlement of Iraq.

explosion at Baghdad's Mutanabi Street book market

Peter W. Galbraith’s book ‘The End of Iraq’ argues the initially persuasive thesis that Iraqis have already divided themselves into three separate countries roughly corresponding to the Ottoman provinces of Basra (the Shii Arab south), Baghdad (the Sunni Arab centre) and Mosul (the Kurdish north), and that American attempts to keep the country unified are bound to fail. I agree wholeheartedly with Galbraith’s call for America to withdraw from Iraq – America is incapable of stopping the civil war, and is in fact exacerbating it. (update: I stick by this. The civil war has to some extent calmed because of internal Iraqi dynamics, not because of the US ’surge’ – the Sunni forces turned on al-Qaida, and also realised that they had lost the battle for Baghdad and national power. Some groups then allied with the US for a variety of reasons to do with self-preservation). The rest of Galbraith’s argument is much more debatable.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 27, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Visiting the Great Satan

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Notre Dame University

I’ve never before visited the USA. Like everybody else in the world, I’ve had it come to me. Its approach has been unstoppable, for good and for ill. For good first: the incredible achievement of American prose, which leaves British writing of the last century far behind. I am astounded by Faulkner, Bellow, Updike and Roth (when they’re good), Cheever, Scott Fitzgerald, and now Joshua Ferris. Formulaic Hollywood switches me off, but I can’t get enough Spike Lee or Martin Scorcese. I love Bob Dylan, Public Enemy and Miles Davis, just for starters. Jazz and particularly hip hop are American art forms which have travelled very well indeed. These two came originally from the black poor, and it’s the heterogeneity of America, and the possibility of marginalised genres and people being heard, which is so appealing. America is a continent-sized country of mixed-up Africans, Jews, Italians, Irish, Latinos, French, Wasps, and everyone else. It should be the most globally-minded and tolerant country in the world.

It isn’t of course. A narrow hyper-nationalism, the shaping of public discourse by corporations and lobbies, and a stupifying media and public education system have seen to that. Which brings us to the ill: America’s homogenising rage, which has ravaged first its own main streets (so Naomi Klein says in No Logo) and then the high streets of the world; its humourless TV gum; its advertising culture of false smiles and sugary platitudes; its racism, wars, military bases, aircraft carriers, support for dictators and apartheid regimes. These are the reasons why the US is known in some parts as the Great Satan, standing behind most of the little satans sitting on Asian and African thrones. In Muscat, Damascus, Shiraz and London I’ve met many people who have been made refugees by the USA.

America is the empire, admittedly in decline. In one sense, therefore, I haven’t needed to visit to know it. But last week I visited nevertheless, for a conference at Notre Dame University which I enjoyed very much.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 25, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Hope? – Obama, Abbas, Abunimah and Morrisons

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Bell on Obama

Steve Bell

The hope invested by many in Barack Obama has dissolved. Dare I sing ‘I told you so’? I do. The audacious hope of Obamamania was always faith-based, founded on the believer’s premise that the handsome candidate didn’t mean what he actually said, that we should read his words esoterically, as code for profound radicalism. Now reality bites, and we discover that his promises to AIPAC and the military were solid and literal.

It’s certainly something that a black man has become president of a country built by African slaves, although we must place this in the context of the fierce racist backlash since his election (would those guardians of the constitution raving about the tree of liberty being watered by the blood of tyrants be quite so eager to wear their guns on their sleeves if the president were white and not a jumped-up negro? I doubt it). But that’s the achievement of Obama’s skin colour, not his policy; in fact it’s the achievement of the people who voted for him. Another achievement is that – in the company of war criminals such as Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and Henry Kissinger – Obama has already won the Nobel peace prize. Hooray!

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 12, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Demonising Iran

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This was published in the Sunday Herald.

Two manifestations of Iranian modernity

Two manifestations of Iranian modernity

The mainstream media narrative of events unfolding in Iran has been set out for us as clear as fairytale: an evil dictatorship has rigged elections and now violently suppresses its country’s democrats, hysterically blaming foreign saboteurs the while. But the Twitter generation is on the right side of history (in Obama’s words), and could bring Iran back within the regional circle of moderation. If only Iran becomes moderate, a whole set of regional conflicts will be solved.

I don’t mean to minimise the importance of the Iranian protests or the brutality of their suppression, but I take issue with the West’s selective blindness when it gazes at the Middle East. The ‘Iran narrative’ contains a dangerous set of simplicities which bode ill for Obama’s promised engagement, and which will be recognised beyond the West as rotten with hypocrisy. 

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 28, 2009 at 11:16 am

Ali Abunimah on Obama’s Lecture

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Palestinian Obama. Zan Studio

Palestinian Obama. Zan Studio

Personally, I found it unpleasant to see Obama lecturing the Arabs, and the handpicked audience clapping as ecstatically as trained apes whenever the President (rather like Napoleon in Cairo) made an Islamic allusion. No matter that he said ‘hajib’ intead of ‘hijab’. Most depressingly, Obama’s address was heavily influenced by the Bernard Lewis school of Orientalism – Arab and Muslim anger is caused by the cultural trauma of modernity and a “self-defeating focus on the past,” rather than by very present realities, such as the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the destabilisation of Pakistan and Somalia, the unwelcome military bases in the Muslim world, and the support of dictatorial regimes such as Mubarak’s. Obama’s assumptions repeated falsities, such as the notion that Arab regimes focus on Palestine to distract the people from their own failings. In fact the Arab regimes do everything they can to take the focus off Palestine, as the Palestinian tragedy is the key symbol of the bankruptcy of the client regimes. And Obama mocked violent resistance while not saying a word about the 1400 just killed in Gaza or the million slaughtered in Iraq.

The best response I’ve seen to the speech is by Ali Abunimah, who studies Obama’s phrases well: “Suffered in pursuit of a homeland? The pain of dislocation? They already had a homeland. They suffered from being ethnically cleansed and dispossessed of it and prevented from returning on the grounds that they are from the wrong ethno-national group. Why is that still so hard to say?” Ali goes on:

Once you strip away the mujamalat – the courtesies exchanged between guest and host – the substance of President Obama’s speech in Cairo indicates there is likely to be little real change in US policy. It is not necessary to divine Obama’s intentions – he may be utterly sincere and I believe he is. It is his analysis and prescriptions that in most regards maintain flawed American policies intact.

 

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 5, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Palestine, USA

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Against ‘Peace’ and ‘Moderation’

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unknown artistThe numbers of the dead don’t mean much any more. It was round about the five hundred mark when I realised the impact of death on my mind was lightening. There are pictures on the internet – burning half bodies, a head and torso screaming, corpses spilt in a marketplace like unruly apples, all the tens and tens of babies and children turned to outraged dust – but how many pictures can you keep in your heart? How much anguish can you feel? Enough anguish to mourn 500 human beings? And of what quality can your anguish be? Can it be as intense as the anguish a bystander to the murder would feel? As intense as that of a friend of a victim, or of a father? What about the fathers who have seen all their children burn?

I remember the days when I was outraged if ten were killed in one go. Ah, happy days! Ten in one go would be good. But of course, this is what the enemy wants: the enemy wants us to value Arab life as little as it does. It wants us to stay in our numbness, to descend deeper in. It wants us to forget.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 8, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Lebanon, Palestine, USA, Zionism

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Shoes and Bullets

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George Bush has had shoes thrown at him in Baghdad. As he threw the first, Muntadar az-Zaidi shouted, “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog.” As he threw the second, he added, “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq.” It was gratifying to see the Iraqi journalist’s human response to one of the destroyers of his country, even if it was woefully inadequate. In a just world, Bush would be imprisoned for the rest of his life (I oppose capital punishment even in the most deserving of cases).

Meanwhile the empire’s top criminals continue to spout self-justifying vomit. What do you say about a Condoleezza Rice? In an interview with the Wall Street Journal she says her regime removed the Taliban, but doesn’t say that America helped bring the Taliban to power in the first place, nor that the new Taliban is now winning against the occupation and its warlord/ druglord Afghan allies. She doesn’t say that Pakistan’s previously peaceful borderlands are controlled by the Pakistani Taliban, that hundreds of thousands have been displaced from these areas, that there are regular bomb attacks in Pakistan’s major cities, or that Pakistan faces the real possibility of collapse.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 15, 2008 at 11:52 am

Posted in afghanistan, imperialism, Iraq, USA

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A Plague on Both their Houses

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The great thing about the forthcoming American presidential election is that Hillary Clinton won’t be the winner. The lamentable thing is that either Barack Obama or John McCain will be.

I have detested Hillary Clinton since she led a New York demonstration against ‘Arab terror’ in the first days of the second Intifada. This was before the Intifada became militarised, when it still centred around stone-throwing crowds and peaceful demonstrations, and when the zionist occupation was murdering dozens of Palestinians every day. This year her campaign website stated: “Hillary Clinton believes that Israel’s right to exist in safety as a Jewish state, with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, secure from violence and terrorism, must never be questioned.” Just run your eyes over that again. Hillary Clinton doesn’t just believe that the citizens of Israel should be safe, but that Israel “as a Jewish state”, as an apartheid state for Jews only, not for its citizens or for those it has driven out, should be safe. She believes that illegally occupied and illegally colonised east Jerusalem, an ancient Arab city originally built by Canaanite Jebusites, should remain under eternal zionist occupation. And she believes not only that her immoral and stupid positions are right, but that they should never be questioned. Such is the weight of zionism on American political life – as heavy a taboo as God is in the east.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 1, 2008 at 1:49 am

Terrorists Strike Syria

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P1071110America has already killed a Syrian border guard during its disastrous occupation of Iraq. And now it has sent four helicopter gunships eight kilometres into Syrian territory and killed at least eight Syrian citizens.

A reader of Syriacomment sent in this post, which is the best information I’ve heard yet on the raid itself:

I just spoke on the phone with a doctor in ABou Kamal- He confirmed that the attack happened around sunset. The 4 helicopters came from the East of the township, he saw them coming. The soldiers debarked and shot people who were working in a building under construction on the periphery of the township. 9 people were pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital- Two more are severely wounded and are being operated on right now [he does not expect them to survive]- He has not read the papers (there are none to read at this time of the night) nor listened to the news and there is no internet there….His report was completely spontaneous. I was not able to get the details on the ages of the injured but he described them as poor simple people (Masakeen)from the town.”

And this is from the Guardian:

Intriguingly, Farhan al-Mahalawi, mayor of the nearby Iraqi border town of Qaim, told the Reuters news agency that the targeted village had been surrounded by Syrian troops.”

It isn’t clear if those killed were a farming family, a family of smugglers, or labourers on a construction site. The Americans, having had a day in which to work out their story, claim that an al-Qa’ida militant was targetted. The sentence from the Guardian (although one wonders how the mayor of al-Qaim would know) suggests the Syrians may have been aware of a militant presence in the area and were keeping their own eye on it. It doesn’t necessarily suggest the people killed were the same militants. (As one would expect, most of the western media have taken American claims more seriously than Syrian reports. In fact, the US military’s description of the attack as “a warning to Syria” was anticipated by western headline writers by 24 hours.)

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 29, 2008 at 12:57 am

Posted in Iraq, Syria, Travel, USA

Bomb in Damascus

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P1071119This morning a car bomb exploded in Mahlak street, Damascus, at a junction with the airport road and not far from Sitt Zainab. Seventeen are dead and 14 injured. That sounds like a powerful bomb, killing more than it maims.

In 1997 I found myself walking over what appeared to be blood and oil stains in the Victoria area of the city. There were soldiers gathering shards of glass and hosing the street down. Bystanders were subdued, not meeting your eye. I asked someone what had happened and he mumbled something about a gas leak. In fact a bus had been blown up minutes after leaving the old station at Baramkeh, and nine people had been killed. Afterwards there were whispers about Lebanese Maronites (the Lebanese Sunnis still supported Syria) being behind it, and of course Israel was a suspect. But the whole thing was kept as quiet as possible. The deal the regime has made with the people is: allow us corruption and thuggishness if we give you in return a foreign policy which doesn’t shame you and, most fundamentally, a guarantee of security. Exploding buses are a message from whoever sends them to the Syrian people, and the literal translation of the message is: the regime can’t protect you.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 27, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Posted in Lebanon, Syria, USA, Wahhabism, Zionism

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Fracturing Authority

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I had great sympathy for Chechnya when it was twice destroyed by Russian forces. The Chechens have been fighting for their independence for more than a hundred and fifty years. But Prime Minister Gordon Brown had no sympathy for Chechnya because, he says, Chechnya is officially part of Russia. The Chechen issue is a matter of Russian ‘territorial integrity.’ I admit that Brown’s position here makes sense. However brutal Russia’s treatment of Chechnya, it isn’t Britain’s business. (It may be the business of concerned British people, but that’s something else).

I don’t have much sympathy for Georgia, however, and none at all for the bleatings of the US, Britain and Germany, including Brown’s ridiculous bleatings in the Guardian. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia relinquished its control of eastern Europe and allowed independence to Caucasian and Central Asian nations. But instead of independence several of these countries became absorbed into the American empire. The fear that some of them had of their huge neighbour was understandable and deeply rooted (though not in Georgia, which had participated in Soviet rule from the Georgian Stalin to the Georgian Shevardnadze). The real fault was the West’s, to so stupidly exploit this fear, and to extend, by hubris, NATO membership and American missiles right to Russia’s borders. Russia in 1991 was too weak to do anything but let power slip, but its tolerance of Western expansion also showed a naivety, an overly-optimistic trust in Western capitalism. The very memory of that naivety is a humiliation to Russians.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 1, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Posted in imperialism, UK, USA

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Flooding the Swamp

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The metaphor most commonly used to describe terrorism and its backdrop is the one of the mosquitoes and the swamp, in which the mosquitoes are the bombers and the swamp is the much wider public which sympathises with and supports the terrorists, and from which the terrorists recruit. The metaphor is entirely accurate. It is not wishy-washy liberalism but cold logic to state that the only feasible method of defeating anti-Western Islamist terror in the medium to long term is to ‘drain the swamp’, by removing the grievances which inflame hundreds of millions of otherwise reasonable and tolerant Muslims against the West.

This does not mean surrendering Western values to an Islamist agenda but implementing common sense ‘do as you would be done by’ principles. Westerners too would be infuriated by foreign powers which occupied them, or which peppered their land with unwanted military bases, or laid siege to their elected governments, or propped up dictators who abused them.

If the West stopped violently interfering in the Muslim world, the Muslim world would stop violently replying. Certainly, a tiny hardcore of mosquitoes would continue to desire conquest of the infidels, but with their swamp dry, they would soon die off.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 27, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Imperialism Resurgent

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In “The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st Century Britain”, Arun Kundnani writes, “Racisms are no longer domestically driven but take their impetus from the attempt to legitimise a deeply divided global order. They are the necessary products of an empire in denial.”

Steve-BellGordon Brown says, “The days of Britain having to apologise for the British Empire are over. We should celebrate!” Sarkozy urges France to be “proud of its history,” meaning its imperial history.

European empires did sometimes construct railways and drainage systems in the conquered lands. They did build law courts and disseminate a certain kind of cuture. But these questionable achievements must be understood against the larger ugly backdrop. Economies under imperial rule stagnated at best. Huge swathes of Africa were transformed from subsistence agricultural land to cashcrop plantations. When the value of the crop plummetted, or when the crop was grown more cheaply elsewhere, local people were left hungry and unskilled on exhausted soil. Africa has still not recovered from this deliberate underdevelopment. During British misrule, preventable famines killed tens of millions of Indians. Elsewhere in the empire, hundreds of thousands were forced into concentration camps, and torture was institutionalised. There were the genocides of indigenous Australians and Americans, by massacre and land theft as well as by disease. There was the little matter of the transatlantic slave trade.

The ethnic-sectarian tensions and political backwardness of much of the third world have roots in imperial power games. For instance, when the 1857 Indian uprising against the British was put down, the British developed a policy of excluding Muslims from education and economic power. A divide and rule strategy to exacerbate pre-existent Hindu-Muslim tensions was implemented precisely because the revolution had shown a remarkable degree of Indian national unity. And, as usual, traitors were rewarded. The twenty two families that rule what is now Pakistan (staffing the military high command and both major political parties) are the landowning families that ‘acquired’ their land in return for loyalty to the occupiers during the colonial period, especially in 1857.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 18, 2007 at 8:56 am

Democracy

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Response to Creative Syria’s discussion of Syrian regional alliances (see previous post) was dominated by arguments about democracy between an Israeli poster and others. The Israeli accused anybody who supported any aspect of Syrian government policy of being an apologist for dictatorship, and there, unfortunately, the debate stuck. If you agree with an undemocratic regime, he implied, you are not worth listening to. Here I will write a little against the propagandist uses and religious idealisation of the word ‘democracy,’ a word considered as little and used as injudiciously as the word ‘terrorism.’

First there is the irony of a Zionist lecturing us about democracy. We often hear the preposterous claim that Israel should be defended because it is ‘the only democracy in the Middle East,’ when in fact it is an ethno-democracy or an apartheid democracy. Israeli state apparatus rules over a population equally split between Jews and Arabs. The ‘Arab Israelis’ are at best second class citizens, disadvantaged and under threat of transfer. (There are 20 laws which discriminate against the Arab Israeli minority. For more information visit Adalah . The oppressed Arabs of the occupied West Bank and Gaza only have voting rights in a non-existent state. And this vaunted state of human freedom is possible because most of the indigenous inhabitants of Israel-Palestine have been driven into exile. Establishing a state for the Jews in an Arab country and then calling it a democracy has been one of the blackest jokes of modern history.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 26, 2007 at 8:14 am

Posted in USA

Osama bin Laden

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by Steve Bell
by Steve Bell

Osama bin Laden squeezed his face back onto our screens at the start of Ramadan. This time, probably advised by his American follower Adam Gadahn, he tailored his discourse to a Western audience, and tainted by association the good names of Noam Chomsky and the anti-globalisation movement. Before Ramadan ends, let me talk briefly about bin Laden and those associated with him.

Still when bin Laden’s name is mentioned in many parts of the Arab world, although less so than a couple of years ago, a cheer goes up. Let’s hope that Martin Amis never reads this; he would see it as proof of his thesis that all Muslims are Wahhabi-nihilists. But cheering for bin Laden is like waving a flag or, more accurately, waving two fingers. It doesn’t mean that the cheering people would like to be ruled by bin Laden or that they subscribe to his programme, as they admit when questioned. Many of these ‘supporters’ would be killed if bin Laden could get his hands on them, either for being ‘heretics’ – like my Ibadhi Muslim students here in Oman – or for being ‘apostates’ – like the men in a bar in Aleppo in the following anecdote. These drinkers were well into their third or fourth bottle of araq when bin Laden came on the TV screen. “I swear by almighty God,” said Osama, his finger wagging, “that the Americans will not sleep soundly in their beds until the children of Palestine sleep soundly in theirs!” Immediately the men surged to their feet and held their glasses towards the TV image. “Kassak!” they roared – which means “Your glass!” or “Cheers!”

This story says it all. Beyond the tiny hardcore of Wahhabi-nihilists, bin Laden won sympathy in the Arab world because the Arabs will support anyone who talks tough against America and Israel. This is a symptom of the frustration and impotence felt by the Arabs, and the utter failure of their leaders to stand against Zionist and imperialist oppression in the region. Cheering for bin Laden is the equivalent of the protest vote. And inasmuch as al-Qa’ida targets America, the victim does not behave in a way designed to win sympathy. Before they had time to consider the implications of the September 11th attacks, many Arabs were impressed that this superpower which routinely trashed Muslim cities could be so dramatically humiliated. Central New York looked like Baghdad or Gaza, and to many that was an understandable cause for celebration. People in China and Latin America also celebrated September 11th. I’ve even heard – from a friend who was living in California at the time – that some Black and Hispanic Americans were gleeful about the attacks.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 11, 2007 at 6:58 pm