Category Archives: France

Fantasies of Humanity: The Christchurch Pledge and a Regulated Internet

It had to come.  A massacre, broadcast in real time and then shared with viral automatism; the inevitable shock, and the counter from the authorities.  The Christchurch shootings, inflicting fifty-one deaths upon worshippers at two mosques in quiet New Zealand on March 15 this year, have spurred Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.  Laws have been passed regulating guns in her country.  Interest has increased in monitoring white nationalist groups.  But Ardern was never keen keeping the matter local.

In Paris, the NZ Prime Minister, meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, brought other leaders and US tech giants to make a global pledge to “eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.”  The cheer squad feel behind the “Christchurch Call to Action” was unmistakable.  Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the “deadly consequences” of “hateful content online” and his enthusiasm behind the project. “Together, we can create a world where all people – no matter their faith, where they live, or where they are from – are safe and secure both on and offline.”  Stirring stuff.

The opening of the pledge starts with a description: “On 15 March 2019, people looked on in horror as, for 17 minutes, a terrorist attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was live streamed.”  The emphasis is significant here: not merely the atrocity itself but the means of its dissemination.  Stress falls upon the fact that “the live stream was viewed some 4,000 times before being removed.”

The premise of the call is exaggerated and forced: that the events were caused by online content the way a child’s violence can be caused by gormless hours of glued-to-screen viewing. Ignore the tingling motivating factors of the shooter in question, a view that was nurtured in the atmosphere of acceptable intolerance.  Ignore, as well, the contested, troubled literature on the “contagion” thesis behind mass shootings and killings.  The shooter becomes less significant than the act of streaming his exploits, or sharing unsavoury matter with chatty dolts on certain chat forums. “The attack was livestreamed, went viral and remains available on the web despite the measures taken to remove it.”

The call is framed is a clunky exercise pillowed by the language of openness, only to then flatten it.  It articulates “the conviction that a free, open and secure internet offers extraordinary benefits to society.  Respect for freedom of expression is fundamental.”  But there is an unqualified injunction: “no one has the right to create and share terrorist and violent extremist content online.”

It seems fluffy, the stuff of head-in-the-cloud enthusiasm, but lodged in such calls is a desperate, confused message with sinister implications.  Commitments, outlined by Trudeau’s office, include “building more inclusive, resilient communities to counter violent radicalisation” and “enforcing rules laws that stop the production and dissemination of terrorist and extremist content online.” Media outlets would also be told “to apply rules when reporting on terrorist events” to avoid amplification of the content.  This is ignorance as antidote, not reason as solution.

Online providers, in turn, are urged to, “Take transparent, specific measures seeking to prevent the upload of terrorist and violent extremist content and to prevent its dissemination on social media and similar content-sharing services”.  The qualifying point is that such measures are “consistent with human rights and fundamental freedoms.”  Transparent processes would include “publishing the consequences of sharing terrorist and violent extremist content”.

Live streaming is the true bugbear here, with the need to implement “immediate, effective measures to mitigate the specific risk that terrorist and violent extremist content is disseminated”. Algorithms that might magnify the spread of material should also be reviewed.

A more “humane” internet is central to Ardern’s vision which, read another way, is one more regulated and policed of its content and uses.  This lies more in the realm of social engineering than it does in free self-correction, the call for presbyters of cyberspace to cull and remove what states, or the tech enforcers, deem inappropriate.  Given that “extremism” and “terrorism” remain very much in the eye of the censoring beholder, the dangers of this should be apparent.  Dissidents, contrarians and commentators are bound to fall foul of the project.

The regulatory attitude outlined in the pledge has been twinned with a business object.  Silicon Valley, to remain in clover, has been convinced to make overtures and moves dealing with the sharing of “terrorist” and “extremist” content.  Having become a punching bag for anxious regulators, Facebook announced that Facebook Live would be barred to those who, in the words of company official Guy Rosen, “have broken certain rules… including our Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy”.  A “one strike” policy would be introduced.  Technical advances to combat “adversarial media manipulation” and improved “image and video analysis technology” were needed.

With such high minded calls for regulation and control from government voices, a seminal warning is necessary.  John Perry Barlow, in A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, began his call quite differently.  Traditional states were the problem.  “Governments of the Industrial world, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us.  You have no sovereignty where we gather.”

Such governments, with efforts to bring in the behemoths of Silicon Valley, have stated their clear purpose: to intrude upon Barlow’s world of the cyber mind and clip any sovereign pretext that might have ever existed.  The internet, for them, remains a vigilante playground, difficult to police with its bursts of anarchic sentiment and primeval insensibilities.  While Ardern’s sentiments are probably genuine enough, their authenticity hardly matters before the dangers such initiatives will create.  Symptoms have been confused, if not totally muddled, with causes; technology has been marked as the great threat.

France and the EU: Recognizing Yet Supporting Apartheid Reality in Palestine

A recent statement made by the outgoing French Ambassador to the US regarding the nature of Israeli apartheid accentuates a larger ailment that has afflicted the European Union foreign policy.

The EU is simply gutless when it comes to confronting Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

Ambassador Gerard Araud was, of course, right when he told the US magazine, The Atlantic, that Israel is already an apartheid state.

Noting the “disproportion of power” between Israel and the Palestinians, Araud said, “The strongest (meaning Israel) may conclude that they have no interest to make concessions.”

And since Israel “won’t make (Palestinians) citizens of Israel  … they will have to make it official, which we know the situation, which is apartheid.” Araud added, “There will be officially an apartheid state. They are in fact already.”

The fact that Araud has only divulged such obvious truths at the end of his five-year diplomatic assignment is expressive of the nature of politics, in general, and European politics, in particular.

The unpleasant truth is that the EU has served as an American lackey in the Middle East and has consistently operated within Washington’s acceptable margins. EU diplomacy rarely ventures away from this maxim. The fact that Araud dared to speak out is the exception, not the rule.

But Araud’s revelations are unlikely to translate into anything substantive. Moreover, they will not inspire a serious rethink in the EU’s position regarding the Israeli occupation or the US’ blind support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s militant and racist policies towards the Palestinians.

Some had hoped that the advent of an erratic and abrasive president in the White House could jolt the Europeans into action. They were encouraged by the January 2017 Paris Middle East summit that took place, despite American protests.

More than 70 countries added their voices to that of their French host, declaring their opposition to the illegal Jewish settlements and calling for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as “the only way” to achieving peace.

The summit’s final statement urged Israel and the Palestinians to “officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution.” Then-French President, François Hollande, explained that his country’s motive was to merely ensure the ‘two-state solution’ is the frame of reference for future negotiations.

But what good did that do? Israel and the US ignored the summit as if it never took place. Tel Aviv continued to pursue its Apartheid policies, crowning these efforts with the Nation-state Law in July, which declared Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”.

Trump, too, ignored the French and the EU altogether. On December 15, 2016, he selected an ardent Israeli supporter, David Friedman, to be his Ambassador to Israel. Friedman opposes the two-state solution and still refers to the Occupied Palestinian Territories in some ancient biblical designations, Judea and Samaria.

Nor did Trump consider the French position when he moved his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last May.

How did the EU respond to the concrete, albeit illegal, American actions? With more redundant statements that merely emphasized its political position but lacked any mechanism for serious action.

Last December, eight EU ambassadors, including that of France, issued a statement at the UN that was clearly aimed at the US. “We, the European Union members of the (UN Security) Council, would like to reiterate once more and emphasize the EU’s strong continued commitment to the internationally agreed parameters for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, based on international law, relevant UN resolutions and previous agreements,” the statement read, in part.

Again, words and no action. The same pattern was repeated after Trump took it upon himself to grant the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights to Israel, defying the UN, the EU and, needless to say, the aspirations of millions of Arabs.

The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, countered with another statement, on behalf of 28 EU states that Europe “does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.”

So what? While the US defies international law with concrete steps, the EU settles for mere words, emphasizing a status quo that, even when it was embraced by Washington itself, wrought nothing but misery for Palestinians.

EU ineptness is only matched by its hypocrisy. Israel still enjoys advantageous trade privileges with Europe, and diplomatic ties between Israel and most EU member countries are at an all times high.

The only collective European initiative that seemed to matter at the time was in 2013, when the EU requested that Israeli products made in illegal Jewish settlements be labeled as such. After years of haggling, the EU admitted that monitoring Israeli trade practices as far as labeling is concerned has proven “impossible”.

The French position on trade with the illegal settlements was particularly disgraceful. While the Irish Senate had voted on December 5 to end the import of settlement-produced goods, in October 2018 the French did the exact opposite by suspending the special labeling rules.

In truth, the ineffectiveness of EU policies is nothing new, nor can it be blamed on Trump’s unilateral measures, either.  In fact, the words of French Ambassador Araud are consistent with the frustration felt by other EU diplomats throughout the years.

In February 2013, a report issued by EU diplomats described illegal Jewish settlements as “the biggest single threat to the two-state solution”, calling on Brussels to take decisive measures to stop Israel’s “deliberate and provocative” settlement enterprise.

It has been over six years since the report was issued. The EU did nothing to stop the illegal settlements, which have grown in leaps and bounds since then.

Worse, in the latest elections won by Netanyahu, he promised to annex the illegal Jewish settlements into Israel.

Considering the unconditional American support regarding Israel’s previous illegal annexations of Jerusalem and the Golan, this, too, could be a tangible reality in the near future. After all, the Jewish Nation-state law recognized Jewish settlements as “national value” and the state “will labor to encourage and promote (their) establishment and development.”

In the face of the US backing of Israel, EU foreign policy is inconsistent, weak and, ultimately, a failure. Alas, the idea which gained momentum during the early months of Trump’s presidency that the EU can develop a truly independent foreign policy position on Israel and Palestine has proven wrong.

To change all of that, EU members should heed the words of the French Ambassador, recognize the apartheid reality in Palestine and act against it as forcefully as the world acted against South African apartheid, which led to its final, irreversible collapse in 1994.

Debunking Myths of ‘Red-Brown’ Alliances

Recently, a certain political concept has been resurrected that warrants interrogation. The notion of a ‘red-brown’ alliance has been thrown around so ubiquitously as a form of political slander that any substantive meaning to the term has been evacuated. Rather than accurately designating any associations that may exist between the left and far right, the idea of a ‘red-brown’ coalition, or ‘querfront’ (cross-front in German), is a generic abstraction cited to mischaracterize a perceived convergence of political opposites. In many respects, it is a stand-in for a similar hypothesis used by liberals — that of ‘horseshoe theory’, or the impression that the far left and far right intersect at both ends of the ideological spectrum — so as to be permitted diction for self-identified leftists. The application of the ‘red-brown’ smear produces the same result in that it situates politics from a centrist vantage point and likens the actual left to fascism. It disappears the anti-fascism of the left and anti-communism of the right while leaving the moderate center at a comfortable distance from the right-wing of which it is the more frequent collaborator.

The ‘red-brown’ character assassinations make analogies about the present day based on a counterfeit history of World War II. No analysis of the mythos would be complete without the inclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, one of the most misunderstood and historically falsified events of the war. During the 1930s, the USSR tried to maintain its autonomy during a period of rapid industrialization that accomplished in a decade what the British needed a century to achieve. In self defense, Moscow was forced to exploit the contradictions between the ‘democratic’ imperial nations and the authoritarian Axis powers when it came under dual threat. If war could not be avoided, the USSR certainly did not wish to take on the Wehrmacht alone. Stalin made diplomatic attempts in the lead up to the war at aligning with Britain and France, who were as keen on the idea of putting an end to the Soviet Union as Germany, which were rebuffed. In reply, the British and the French did everything within their power to try to push the Hitlerites into a war with the Soviets by signing the Munich Agreement with Germany and Italy in 1938.

More than an appeasement, the Munich Betrayal essentially handed over Czechoslovakia to Hitler as a deposit to try to persuade Germany to begin his ‘Master Plan for the East’ where the West would be in a position to play peacemaker. Meanwhile, Poland, Turkey and the Baltic states all signed treaties with Hitler as well, but for obvious reasons history only chooses to remember the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression agreement which followed a year later. Stalin knew Germany would eventually ‘drive to the East’ but needed time if the USSR was to withstand a Wehrmacht invasion and the agreement thwarted the West’s plans of using Hitler to weaken Moscow. After the treaty was signed in 1939, The New York Times declared that “Hitler is brown communism, Stalinism is red fascism” and to this day the cult followers of Trotsky are repeating this lie.

If it isn’t the distortion of the Hitler-Stalin pact, the infamous 1934 Night of the Long Knives in Germany is adduced to illustrate the historical instance of a supposed red-brown coalescence and its inevitable results, when the so-called ‘left wing’ of the Nazi Party led by Gregor Strasser and his supporters were murdered in Hitler’s Röhm purge. While the Strasserites may have self-identified as ‘socialists’, they were just as steeped in anti-semitism and were anything but left — much less ‘red.’ Strasser made his brand of pseudo-socialism discernibly anti-Marxist when he distinguished it as free of a “soulless Jewish-materialist outlook” while addressing the Reichstag in 1925. Once Hitler was finished using the Strasserites in his cynical and cunning scheme, they were liquidated in order to appease his real backers in big business and the German ruling class. Hitler did the bidding of monopoly capital while directing the machinery of government to repress any of his supporters who had been credulous enough to anticipate anti-capitalist policies from the Third Reich. No, the Nazis were not socialist despite their unabbreviated name, nor does chocolate milk come from brown cows.

History has been tampered with to blame the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) for the rise of the Nazis and those weaponizing the red-brown mythology are perpetuating this falsehood. Germany’s economic depression destabilized the country while various political tendencies vied for power against the Weimar government and while the Nazis ultimately emerged on top, there was no ‘collaboration’ between what were mortal enemies. Furthermore, it is assumed that if not for the KPD’s policy towards the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) as ‘social fascists’, things would have turned out different. To the contrary, in 1932 it was the Social Democrats who rebuffed Ernst Thälmann and the KPD’s repeated pleas to form a coalition once the German Reich’s other conservative parties joined forces with Hitler and his seizure of power appeared imminent. To be sure, the Nazis benefited from the left’s infighting due to this repudiation. After the SPD refused to form a popular front or organize a general strike, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany and the rest was history. It was the rejections of the appeals for a united front by the anti-revolutionary Social Democrats, not the KPD, which ensured the power grab. There is a reason it was the communists who became the most heavily persecuted political group following the consolidation of power after the Nazi-engineered Reichstag fire ‘false flag’ operation was blamed on them.

The Third Reich was a reaction of the ruling class to the rising militancy of German workers and their increasing revolutionary readiness amidst the Weimar Republic’s collapse, not any strategic failure on the part of the heroes who were murdered by the Hitlerite regime. To propagate this fable is to spit on the graves of those who perished. Nazi authoritarianism became the weapon of choice once the duplicitous arm of Social Democracy became ineffective in deflecting workers away from revolution, as it had done following the end of WWI to put down the Spartacist uprising. The KPD had no choice but to regard the Social Democrats as ‘fascism’s twin brother’ considering the SPD leadership had sided with Kaiser Wilhelm, who killed as many Namibians as Hitler killed Jews in the Herero genocide, against the revolutionaries. Ten years later during the 1929 May Day demonstrations, Social Democratic Interior Minister Carl Severing oversaw the Blutmai massacre where many workers and communists were gunned down by Berlin police. Nothing had changed between the failed 1919 German Revolution put down by the Freikorps which took the life of Rosa Luxemburg and the Bloody May Day in 1929.

Underlying the ‘red-brown’ concept is essentially a false equivalency between the Soviet Union and fascism. One of the other primary sources of this big lie pertains to the doctored history of the Spanish Civil War, a conflict that ended exactly 80 years ago last month. Like Hitler in Germany, General Francisco Franco became the Caudillo of Spain while there was a schism on its political left and since history is written by the winners, decades of anti-Soviet propaganda have placed the blame on those who tried to save the Spanish Republic in 1939 for his rise to power. In reality, the loyalists were defeated not just because of extrinsic reinforcement by Germany and Italy but the debilitation of the Republican forces by the Trotskyite POUM who have since been championed as heroes by those suffering from ultra-left misapprehensions.

During the 1930s while fascism was ascendant, Spain was in a deep political crisis with a monarchist right-wing government. In reaction, the Spanish left mobilized and formed a Popular Front coalition of communists, anarchists and socialists in 1936 to win the Spanish elections. When Franco and his alliance began their insurrection and military coup, the Republican government was refused assistance by the Western imperial nations and the Soviet Union stepped in to provide the anti-fascist resistance political and military aid. They also received reinforcements from Mexico as well as militias from the International Brigades which included the Abraham Lincoln Battalion consisting of American volunteers, the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Meanwhile, Franco became the recipient of external support from the strongest military power in the world at the time in Nazi Germany.

The Luftwaffe began its intervention with the aerial bombardment of the Republican-held Basque town of Guernica, inspiring one of Pablo Picasso’s most famous paintings. Seeing as this was no time for games with the very real danger of ultra-nationalism taking power, the Spanish communists mustered together a resistance army that was repeatedly sabotaged by the POUM’s lack of discipline and intrigue. As a result, their unworldly tactics and opposition to any practical alliance with a broader left ultimately led to their expulsion from the Republican government and the Popular Front. Following their banishment, the POUM quislings continued their factionalist disruption and along with the CNT anarchists attempted to overthrow the Republican government, on the basis that a ‘Stalinist regime’ was as undesirable an outcome as fascism. Although the putsch failed, ultimately Franco benefited from this strife which weakened the Comintern-backed forces and the military strongman would advance to become dictator of Spain for the next four decades following the Republican defeat.

Much of the disinformation pulled from this period stems from George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, which is unfortunately the sole account most people will ever read of the Spanish Civil War. Its reliability is even doubted by Western historians in its demonization of the loyalist cause and Orwell himself admitted its many inaccuracies while regretting the passages that appeared to actually welcome a Franco victory over the Republicans. The avowed “democratic socialist” based the work on his own experiences as a volunteer for the Republican cause fighting alongside the POUM before fleeing the country in 1937. Like his other writings, Homage to Catalonia became weaponized during the Cold War by the political establishment in order to push the anti-communist Western left toward liberal democracy and away from Soviet sympathies. The great Michael Parenti wrote of Orwell and his descendants in Blackshirts and Reds:

A prototypic Red-basher who pretended to be on the Left was George Orwell. In the middle of World War II, as the Soviet Union was fighting for its life against the Nazi invaders at Stalingrad, Orwell announced that a “willingness to criticize Russia and Stalin is the test of intellectual honesty. It is the only thing that from a literary intellectual’s point of view is really dangerous.” Safely ensconced within a virulently anticommunist society, Orwell (with Orwellian doublethink) characterized the condemnation of communism as a lonely courageous act of defiance. Today, his ideological progeny are still at it, offering themselves as intrepid left critics of the Left, waging a valiant struggle against imaginary Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist hordes.

Parenti isn’t exaggerating in his representation. Although little known by his casual admirers, one year before his death in 1950 at the dawn of the Cold War, Orwell secretly provided the British Foreign Office’s anti-Soviet propaganda branch known as the Information Research Department a list of people he believed to be “crypto-communists, fellow-travellers or inclined that way and should not be trusted as propagandists” for MI6’s information warfare. Orwell’s role as an informant for the British secret services and the existence of the list, which included everyone from Charlie Chaplin to foreign correspondents for major newspapers, was not revealed until 1996 and only became public in 2002. He based the list on a longer, unofficial version contained in a personal notebook which even slandered legendary black actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson as a “very anti-white Henry Wallace supporter.” Unlike Hollywood filmmaker Elia Kazan’s shameful testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1952, Orwell’s blacklist was provided voluntarily to the assistant of anti-Soviet historian Robert Conquest, then working for the UK Foreign Office, after she asked him to lend a hand picking out communist sympathizers.

Orwell’s disillusion with the Spanish communists backed by the Comintern and allegiance to the POUM and CNT anarchists was solidified during the 1937 Barcelona May Days where the opposing factions clashed and the Republican government ultimately regained control. In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell heavily criticized a journalist working under the pen name Frank Pitcairn of The Daily Worker, official newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and now known as The Morning Star, and challenged his coverage of the events. It turns out that ‘Frank Pitcairn’ was the pseudonym of none other than Claud Cockburn, father of legendary journalist Alexander Cockburn who co-founded Counterpunch newsletter in the mid-90s. The younger Cockburn ruthlessly denounced Orwell when “St. George’s List” became public knowledge, no doubt feeling vindication for the defamation of his father’s work by the English essayist.

For many years, the formerly prestigious Counterpunch edited by Alexander Cockburn until his death in 2012 was a sanctuary of high quality left-wing journalism and commentary. Under his successors, however, the website has gradually declined in its caliber, especially after it became mired in controversy following the 2016 U.S. presidential election when it was included in an investigation in The Washington Post for having publishing articles of a pseudonymous writer working under the false name ‘Alice Donovan’ supposedly on behalf of the Russian government that was tracked by the FBI. The website was then listed among a host of other anti-war pages as promoting a ‘pro-Russian and anti-Clinton’ agenda to influence the outcome of the election on the neo-McCarthyist PropOrNot blacklist. Evidently, Cockburn’s substitutes were too embarrassed to speculate as to whether or not Donovan’s stories could have been submitted by the FBI itself as a pretext for the subsequent widespread censorship of alternative media by big tech giants under the phony banner of stopping the spread of “fake news.” It was only after an in-house investigation by the editors themselves that Donovan was also discovered to be a serial plagiarist, a significant detail that went unnoticed in The Washington Post story. What if the mystery literary thief was a g-man?

Rather than digging in their heels and standing by what they published, Counterpunch has since embarked on an embarrassing quest for bourgeois respectability with the purging of popular contributors while smearing them as part of an imaginary “Sputnik left.” Shortly after the Alice Donovan affair, several of the remaining core authors for Counterpunch published hit pieces condemning progressive journalist Caitlin Johnstone for advocating a ‘cross ideological collaboration’ in the name of an essential policy based anti-war movement transcending the left-right paradigm. While Johnstone’s suggestion gave an admittedly poor and naive example in far right social media personality Mike Cernovich for cooperation — hardly the type of conservative to be taken seriously compared to committed anti-militarist libertarians — her recommendation was well-intentioned and harmless. Nevertheless, they seized the opportunity and pounced on her, but not for the stated reason of stopping an attempt to forge a ‘red-brown fascist alliance.’ Johnstone’s real crime was possessing the rare ability to disseminate subversive ideas to a wide range of people, a serious threat to the livelihood of the professional gatekeepers at Counterpunch.

Yet Johnstone’s opinions were hardly inconsistent with the newsletter’s own history as a longtime host of far-reaching anti-establishment views, nor with Alexander Cockburn himself. In a 2000 article entitled “25 Years After Vietnam: Beyond Left and Right“, Cockburn wrote of exactly such a scenario after receiving criticism for speaking at an anti-war conference that included conservatives Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan:

I got an invitation to speak a couple of months ago from an outfit called antiwar.com, which is run by a young fellow called Justin Raimundo. “Antiwar.com is having its second annual national conference March 24 & 25, and we’d like you to be the luncheon speaker,” Raimundo wrote. “The conference will be held at the Villa Hotel, in San Mateo (near the airport). The theme of the conference is ‘Beyond Left & Right: The New Face of the Antiwar Movement.’ We have invited a number of speakers spanning the political spectrum. Confirmed so far: Patrick J. Buchanan, Tom Fleming (of Chronicles magazine), Justin Raimondo (Antiwar.com), Kathy Kelly (Iraq Aid), Alan Bock (Orange County Register), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), representatives of the Serbian Unity Congress, and a host of others.”

Raimundo seasoned his invite with a burnt offering, in the form of flattery, always pleasing to the nostrils: “All of us here at Antiwar.com are big fans of your writing: we met, once, at a meeting during the Kosovo war where you bravely took up the fight for the united front left-right alliance against imperialist war. We can promise you a small honorarium, a lunch, free admission to all conference events — and a good time.” As a seasoned analyst of such communications, my eye of course fell sadly upon the words “small honorarium” ? a phrase that in my case usually means somewhere between $l50 and $350. I’d already noted that even though our task was to transcend the tired categories of left and right, I was the only leftist mentioned, with the possible exception of Kathy Kelly, from that splendid organization, Voices in the Wilderness, which campaigns to lift the UN sanctions on Iraq.

Being a libertarian Justin had boldly added the prospect of a “good time”. Leftist invitations rarely admit this possibility in formal political communications, even in the distant days when the left supposedly had a lock on drugs and sex. I said I’d be happy to join in such an enterprise, and in due course got some angry e-mails from lefties who seem to feel that any contiguity with Buchanan is a crime, even if the subject was gardening and Dutch tulipomania in the seventeenth century.

Cockburn received similar flack in the mid-90s for commending a right-wing Patriot rally opposing gun control in Michigan in a column for The Nation similarly titled “Who’s Left? Who’s Right?” So it’s one thing for the inner circle at CP to attack others with the red-brown libel, but entirely another to rewrite history and speak on behalf of the deceased Cockburn to claim their sectarian attacks on leftist colleagues who are in spirit with his vision. Worst of all, the Counterpunch contingent has maligned the recently kidnapped Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as a ‘crypto-fascist’ while continuing to use his endorsement of the magazine in advertising to raise money for its annual fund drive as he languishes in prison.

Most of those targeted like Johnstone are anti-war leftists willing to defend Russia and Syria beyond merely protesting U.S. military aggression but challenging the propaganda narratives villainizing such countries used to justify it. The war in Syria has even been compared to the Spanish Civil War where the chasm between those defending the Syrian government against Western-backed jihadists is seen as a repeat of the discord in the 1930s, with presumably the ‘libertarian socialist’ Kurds playing the role of the POUM. It is actually not such a bad analogy, considering the YPG are as objectively a U.S. proxy army as the POUM were Franco’s fifth columnists.

Russophobes on the left use a different line of reasoning to push the same agenda as the Washington war duopoly while Moscow is in the gun-sights of U.S. imperialism. The ‘brown’ component is said to be the reactionary philosopher Alexander Dugin whose alleged Svengali-like influence on the Kremlin is inflated, as is the prevalent misconception that he is the founder of Putin’s ‘Eurasianism.’ As a matter of fact, the initial author of a Eurasian union was the anti-Soviet liberal human rights dissident Andrei Sakharov back in the 1980s during perestroika who was beloved in the Western sphere. Meanwhile, the actual threat of right-wing extremism in Russia emanating from the U.S.-backed opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who seeks the secession of the Caucasus while comparing its Muslim inhabitants to cockroaches and insects, is of little concern to those making Putin out to be the enemy. In fact, it is the instigator against Moscow in NATO that has for decades incubated fascism, from Operation Gladio’s stay-behind networks of right-wing paramilitaries carrying out ‘false flag’ operations in NATO member states to Ukraine’s 2014 Banderite junta. Furthermore, the anti-Russia hysteria is a successful diversion from the actual source of foreign influence nurturing the current tide of nationalism that is traceable to Jerusalem, not the Kremlin.

The red-brown aspersion isn’t relegated to the periphery of leftist newsletters or historical debates about WWII but has even manifested in more mainstream discourse, from the smear campaign against journalist Angela Nagle for her brilliant “The Left Case Against Open Borders” article exploring the complexities of the immigration issue to Bernie Sanders’ willingness to do a town hall hosted by Fox News. Journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Max Blumenthal, Michael Tracey, and Nagle herself have all been denigrated as ‘red-brown collaborators’ for their willingness to make appearances on Tucker Carlson’s weeknight talk show. There is even an incomprehensible multi-axis political compass making the rounds on social media said to visually represent the red-brown or neo-“Strasserite” phenomena.

Carlson, like Ann Coulter, is a right-wing media figure who made his name as a neo-con during the Bush years who has successfully rebranded himself in the Trump era as an ‘anti-establishment’ conservative, even espousing anti-interventionism on occasion. Of course, the entire point of engaging the millions of viewers who watch such a cartoon propaganda outlet is missed by those who insist that to do so is to legitimate the channel or Carlson’s views. Would not solely attending the likes of so-called ‘respectable’ media like CNN or MSNBC, which sell U.S. wars every bit as much as Rupert Murdoch’s network, be an endorsement of their self-proclamations to be arbiters of truth?

Last month, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the U.S. voted to dissolve itself after a period of a factionalism and infighting. The ISO was the American branch of the UK-based Socialist Workers Party (SWP) founded by Tony Cliff, which once included Orwell admirer and Trot-turned-neocon author Christopher Hitchens in its ranks during his youth. This was welcome news to anyone rightly disgusted by such an objectively pro-interventionist group that was one of the biggest mudslingers against those who have defended Russia and Syria from imperialism as ‘red-brown fascists’ during the past decade. Unsurprisingly, it was revealed that the ISO received a significant amount of its subsidies from the Soros-funded Tides Foundation and other Democratic Party-affiliated philanthropies. Hopefully its dissolution is a sign that the tide is turning against such groups that smuggle pro-imperial positions to be planted into a left that should unconditionally oppose them.

Notre Dame: Glory or Shame?

Paris, 15 April 2019 — The heart of France is on fire. An inferno rocked France. Notre Dame, cultural icon of France and UNESCO declared World Heritage, was burning. The flames devastated the wooden roof and the spire. They caused, at first sight, only light damage on the 12th century cathedral’s structure and historic treasures, as most of the latter were either removed for the ongoing renovation, or were removed just in time by firefighters. Some damage to religious artifacts may have been caused by the enormous amounts of water used by the 500 firemen who dozed the blaze which took about 12 to extinguish. Given the circumstances – a bone-dry wooden roof and spire, largely unprotected from fire hazards – the 850-year-old gothic master piece was lucky for having been saved at all.

While it is not clear yet, at least not publicly, what caused the blaze, fire safety protection measures were insufficient. First, the burnability of hundreds of years old solid oak was underestimated. Second, according to Benjamin Mouton, the architect who oversaw the fire protections, and as reported by the NYT, “The system was based on the assumption that if the cathedral ever caught fire, the ancient oak timbers in the attic would burn slowly, leaving ample time to fight the flames.” He added, “The fire alarms in Notre-Dame did not notify fire dispatchers right away. Instead, a guard at the cathedral first had to climb a steep set of stairs to the attic — a trip that would take a “fit” person six minutes.” Therefore, there was already a built-in delay of about 20 minutes for the firemen starting to fight the flames, an important time span at the beginning of a fire.

This is an significant detail, considering the speed with which the flames spread through the wooden roof and the spire. Some islamophobes already point their fingers to a terror attack, especially on a Christian house of worship in the week before Easter, resurrection of Christ, the Christians holiest celebration.

The socially most disturbing factor is the speed with which the French billionaires – later they were joined by international oligarchs – pledged their (tax-deductible) donation to fix the cathedral. Within just a couple of days, more than a billion euros in donation were pledged by the richest of the rich French billionaires.

First estimates of damage came in as between € 500 and € 700 million. Once the pledges were in, nobody talked about cost estimates anymore. It will be interesting to see, who gets the excess money.  Maybe the poor Frenchmen, who have to survive on €500 a month, live in the street, or in tent cities on the periphery of Paris, and whose children go hungry to bed – if they have a bed – every night. Though, I don’t think it was the intention of the billionaires that ‘left-overs’ should go to the poor.

Macron, with gleaming eyes went on TV – his moment to detract from his fierce opponents, the Yellow Vests – promising that “we will rebuild this monument even more beautiful than it was before”. He called for an international bidding process to assure that the best architects will work on the reconstruction of this world renown icon.

Macron even postponed ‘indefinitely’ talking about the reform measures he was planning after the three months of ‘debate’ intended to end the weekly Yellow Vest protests. But he didn’t. And even if he would have made loads of concessions, the protests would not go away, short of Macron resigning. That’s the level of trust he has left. Protests are fiercer than ever, because people are to see that the rich have no problem donating hundreds of millions, in sort of a contest of one-upmanship, ‘I’ll outdo you’ type of corporate propaganda, while paying no or very little taxes.

If they were to pay their due in taxes, the Yellow Vests rightly argue, there would be no need for donations. The cultural restauration and rehabilitation fund would have plenty of money, and, in addition, there would be no justification for increasing taxes for the lower-earning echelons of society – exactly what Macron was doing and continues doing, taxing the poor into the ground. On Saturday 20 April, the day before Easter, 28,000 Yellow Vests rallied in Paris against the oligarchs spending generously and egocentrically for showmanship, but resist paying their taxes so that all of Frenchmen and Frenchwomen could live a decent life.

The Yellow Vest protesters passed by the blackened ruins of Notre Dame to pay their homage to the monument – showing that their demonstrations had nothing to do with rebuilding the church, but had much to do with how the impunity of shuffling money – and ever more money – from the lower strata of society to the billionaires, has reached a point of no-more-tolerance. It’s a catastrophe, and the Yellow Vests will not end their outcry for justice, unless Macron resigns and a direct democracy is installed. That’s what they are fighting for – and have been fighting precisely six months already. They are poised not to give up, no matter how Notre Dame is going to be rebuilt.

There is an even more nefarious angle to this – and other monuments. Hundreds of years of French exploitation of her colonies in Africa, of enslaving, raping, ravaging, killing and plundering Africa’s resources, has allowed France and many other European nations to amass insane amounts of stolen assets – with which they built and now boast about their monuments, castles, churches, with which they maintained their empires and today maintain their kingdoms. Theft and plunder are the basis for the rich culture and famous shrines the brave and wise Europeans conceived and built.

Notre Dame – a house of Christ – is one of those monuments that would possibly not exist, if France would not have had the illegally begotten resources from wars and pillaging the African Continent – something which France’s neocolonialism continues doing today, through the Banque de France’s controlled “former” West and Central African French colonies. Another shameful and ongoing occurrence, nobody dares talk about it – which allows France to rob untold billions from poor African countries – making sure that their development is stunted. It works, as long as they keep puppet dictators in power.

Today it’s NATO – with its swift wars and killing sprees that keeps colonialism alive, keeps the resources flowing from south to north, impoverishing the south, dividing the south by creating chaos for better control – and especially for guaranteeing the continuation of elite-enriching theft.  May Notre Dame – the House of God – her reconstruction, remind us that France’s oligarchs still benefit from the atrocious and illegal economic resources drain from Africa and the Middle East; that such injustice must to stop.

• First published at New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Notre Dame of Gaza: Our Mosques and Churches are Also Burning

As the 300-foot spire of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris tragically came tumbling down on live television, my thoughts ventured to Nuseirat Refugee Camp, my childhood home in the Gaza Strip.

Then, also on television, I watched as a small bulldozer hopelessly clawed through the rubble of my neighborhood mosque. I grew up around that mosque. I spent many hours there with my grandfather, Mohammed, a refugee from historic Palestine. Before grandpa became a refugee, he was a young Imam in a small mosque in his long-destroyed village of Beit Daras.

Mohammed and many in his generation took solace in erecting their own mosque in the refugee camp as soon as they arrived to the Gaza Strip in late 1948. The new mosque was first made of hardened mud, but was eventually remade with bricks, and later concrete. He spent much of his time there, and when he died, his old, frail body was taken to the same mosque for a final prayer, before being buried in the adjacent Martyrs Graveyard. When I was still a child, he used to hold my hand as we walked together to the mosque during prayer times. When he aged, and could barely walk, I, in turn, held his hand.

But Al-Masjid al-Kabir – the Great Mosque, later renamed Al-Qassam Mosque – was completely pulverized by Israeli missiles during the summer war on Gaza, starting July 8, 2014.

Hundreds of Palestinian houses of worship were targeted by the Israeli military in previous wars, most notably in 2008-9 and 2012. But the 2014 war was the most brutal and most destructive yet. Thousands were killed and more injured. Nothing was immune to Israeli bombs. According to Palestine Liberation Organization records, 63 mosques were completely destroyed and 150 damaged in that war alone, oftentimes with people seeking shelter inside. In the case of my mosque, two bodies were recovered after a long, agonizing search. They had no chance of being rescued. If they survived the deadly explosives, they were crushed by the massive slabs of concrete.

In truth, concrete, cements, bricks and physical structures don’t carry much meaning on their own. We give them meaning. Our collective experiences, our pains, joys, hopes and faith make a house of worship what it is.

Many generations of French Catholics have assigned the Notre Dame Cathedral with its layered meanings and symbolism since the 12th century.

While the fire consumed the oak roof and much of the structure, French citizens and many around the world watched in awe. It is as if the memories, prayers and hopes of a nation that is rooted in time were suddenly revealed, rising, all at once, with the pillars of smoke and fire.

But the very media that covered the news of the Notre Dame fire seemed oblivious to the obliteration of everything we hold sacred in Palestine as, day after day, Israeli war machinery continues to blow up, bulldoze and desecrate.

It is as if our religions are not worthy of respect, despite the fact that Christianity was born in Palestine. It was there that Jesus roamed the hills and valleys of our historic homeland teaching people about peace, love and justice. Palestine is also central to Islam. Haram al-Sharif, where al-Aqsa Mosque and The Dome of the Rock are kept, is the third holiest site for Muslims everywhere. Yet Christian and Muslim holy sites are besieged, often raided and shut down per military diktats. Moreover, the Israeli army-protected messianic Jewish extremists who want to demolish Al-Aqsa and the Israeli government has been digging underneath its foundation for many years.

Although none of this is done in secret; international outrage remains muted. In fact, many find Israel’s actions justified. Some have bought into the ridiculous explanation offered by the Israeli military that bombing mosques is a necessary security measure. Others are motivated by dark religious prophecies of their own.

Palestine, though, is only a microcosm of the whole region. Many of us are familiar with the horrific destruction carried out by fringe militant groups against world cultural heritage in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Most memorable among these are the destruction of Palmyra in Syria, Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan and the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul.

Nothing, however, can possibly be compared to what the invading US army has done to Iraq. Not only did the invaders desecrate a sovereign country and brutalize her people, they also devastated her culture that goes back to the start of human civilization. Just the immediate aftermath of the invasion alone resulted in the looting of over 15,000 Iraqi antiquities, including the Lady of Warka, also known as the Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia, a Sumerian artifact whose history goes back to 3100 BC.

I had the privilege of seeing many of these artifacts in a visit to the Iraq Museum only a few years before it was looted by US soldiers. At the time, Iraqi curators had all precious pieces hidden in a fortified basement in anticipation of a US bombing campaign. But nothing could prepare the museum for the savagery unleashed by the ground invasion. Since then, Iraqi culture has largely been reduced to items on the black market of the very western invaders that have torn that country apart. The valiant work of Iraqi cultural warriors and their colleagues around the world has managed to restore some of that stolen dignity, but it will take many years for the cradle of human civilization to redeem its vanquished honor.

Every mosque, every church, every graveyard, every piece of art and every artifact is significant because it is laden with meaning, the meaning bestowed on them by those who have built or sought in them an escape, a moment of solace, hope, faith and peace.

On August 2, 2014 the Israeli army bombed the historic Al-Omari Mosque in northern Gaza. The ancient mosque dates back to the 7th century and has since served as a symbol of resilience and faith for the people of Gaza.

As Notre Dame burned, I thought of Al-Omari too. While the fire at the French cathedral was likely accidental, destroyed Palestinian houses of worship were intentionally targeted. The Israeli culprits are yet to be held accountable.

I also thought of my grandfather, Mohammed, the kindly Imam with the handsome, small white beard. His mosque served as his only escape from a difficult existence, an exile that only ended with his own death.

Let it burn

I admit to feeling a slight sense of sadness watching the images of flames soaring from the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral, but once it was reported that no one had been seriously hurt, my slight sense of sadness quickly gave way to a feeling of pleasure. My slight sadness was because part of me appreciates the considerable amount of quality craftsmanship that went into constructing the thing, and it saddens me to see some of that beautiful work destroyed. But when weighed against the symbolism of a major institution of oppression engulfed in fire, it’s hard not to feel happy.

One of the most well-known critiques of religion – any religion – is Karl Marx’s famous quote that “It [religion] is the opium of the people”. It’s arguably one of the most important things Marx said, because religion controls the lives of billions of people around the world. Even in supposedly secular western countries religion still exerts considerable influence. The most obvious proofs of this fact are fairly numerous. Take, for example, the fact that large numbers of supposedly enlightened westerners still feel the need for religious ceremonies at the most important events in their lives – births, marriages and deaths. So for Marx to point out that this important necessity to the lives of so many people is no more than an artificial relaxant is every bit as revolutionary as anything else he said – and every bit as true.

Of course Marx, was not the only great thinker to realise the illusion of religion. About sixty years before Marx penned his famous quote, the great Tom Paine, for example, observed that,

Al national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.1

Paine’s great book Age of Reason totally destroys the credibility of religion generally, and the Christian bible in particular. With his usual perfect clarity of vision and expression he strikes at the very heart of the phenomenon of religion, and explains why such an utterly irrational and largely deceitful belief system has been allowed to thrive for so long – a human invention “to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit”.

Adam Smith, the supposed “father of capitalism”, noted the deep cynicism of religion being used in pursuit of profit even earlier than Paine. Writing in the middle of the eighteenth century about the looting by the Spanish of the Americas, he observed:

… the council of Castile determined to take possession of countries of which the inhabitants were plainly incapable of defending themselves. The pious purpose of converting them to Christianity sanctified the injustice of the project.2

The most successful revolutions against religion occurred in communist countries, such as Russia and China where religion was strongly discouraged. But many other revolutions, such as the French Revolution and Spanish Civil War, also recognised the essential role played by the clergy in maintaining the grotesque oppressions against which they were rebelling. The logic of revolutionary reasoning is convincing, and is basically the same point that Smith and Paine both made: the rich and powerful use religion to justify the massive crimes they carry out in order to stay rich and powerful.

For example, in a recent TV documentary about the legendary songwriter Woody Guthrie, an old newsreel showed a scene from the 1930s where some of the desperate people made homeless from the drought-stricken American prairies were attending a church service. The camera panned slowly over the haggard, care-worn, emaciated faces of the congregation whilst the voice of the preacher could be heard saying how their troubles were “because of how we live”. Their fault in other words, not the fault of a pitiless government that had not long since largely completed its genocide of their own native populations, or of a ruthless banking system where people’s lives were irrelevant compared with profit.

About a century earlier, when thousands of Scottish Highlanders were being savagely evicted from lands they had worked for centuries, the preachers were there colluding with the super-rich as they always have to ensure the grotesque Highland Clearances, cynically known at the time as “Improvement”, would not be resisted by the people:

With a few noble exceptions, the ministers chose the side of the landlords, who built them new manses, made carriage roads to their doors, and invited them to share in the new prosperity now and then with the grant of a few acres of sheep pasturage. In return the churchmen gave God’s authority to Improvement, and threatened the more truculent of the evicted with damnation.3

It’s no coincidence that even today the biggest church congregations invariably comprise poor oppressed people seeking answers for their suffering. Once again they’re told that their misery is all part of some mysterious cosmic plan, controlled by some invisible, all-powerful super-natural being. No doubt many are still being told their suffering is their own fault, and the best they can do is go to church more often, and donate even more of the little they have to church funds.

But the hard inescapable fact about all of the main religions is that none of them can prove the very existence of the god or gods in whom they compel their followers to believe. It’s widely believed by Jews and Christians alike, for example, that their god created man in the image of their god (Genesis 1:27) and that believers were therefore the most supreme of beings with a right to complete dominion over the Earth and everything and everyone on it (Gen 1:28). This teaching has been used to morally justify the vast destruction of our planet and countless billions of other people and other living species. Yet there is no evidence to support the existence of this god that supposedly approves of all this. So it’s far more accurate to believe that god did not create man in his image, but that man created god in his image instead.

So when I watched pictures of flames licking hungrily from the roof of Notre Dame I felt more pleasure than sadness, and I make no apology for that. Let it, and all the others like it burn – unless they be permanently closed down, their priests made redundant, and the space used instead for useful, purely secular, community centres, quiet places where anarchists and communists, for example, could meet up and teach to others the myth of religion, and teach reason instead to the poor and oppressed, that no supernatural being has ordained their suffering, and will certainly not be coming to relieve them of it. They are on their own, and the sooner they realise that the sooner they might decide to combine to do something about it.

  1. Age of Reason, Tom Paine, p. 22.
  2. Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, p. 711.
  3. The Highland Clearances, John Prebble, p. 63.

Burning Gothic: Reflections on Notre-Dame de Paris

But no matter the destruction, the spirit of what it means to be a cathedral can and does survive such catastrophes.

— Becky Clark, Church of England director of cathedrals and church buildings, April 17, 2019

The destruction of the sacred will engender moving responses.  But the scope, and the particularity of that response varies.  The conflagration affecting Notre-Dame de Paris, located on the Île de la Cité, has become a twenty-four-hour saturation phenomenon.  Thirteen million annual visitors, a geographical pride of place at the centre of Paris, and vast repository of France in all matters religious, cultural and political, would have ensured that.

The attention given to other sites of sacred worth tends to be limited.  It is unlikely, for instance, that pledges of up to $113 million, promised by François-Henri Pinault to assist in the rebuilding project, are going to be heading the way of the more obscure sites of desecrated or damaged history.  A south Louisiana parish, for instance, is desperate for funding in rebuilding three Black churches of historic significance burned down in “suspicious’ circumstances. “There is clearly something happening in this community,” suggested State Fire Marshal H. Browning. The funding target for the GoFundMe campaign is $1.8 million.  To date, $1.5 million has been secured.

Notre-Dame will do that to the millionaire and billionaire set: draw attention from the well-heeled and a chance for celebrity posterity in the premier culture league.  (Even wineries such as the Château Mouton Rothschild are re-directing money from auctions to the cause.)  While the idea of purchasing a place of heaven is not as popular as it once was, it still exerts some hold in the secular world through the idea of enduring reputation.  Such gestures of financial promise have also stirred the pot of misplaced empathy for the cultural artefacts of a former colonial power.

People, in short, are not permitted their own singular ways of commemorating or grieving over a damaged or lost icon: they are to be scolded into appropriate acknowledgments and qualifications.  A fine, and slightly perverse example of this came in responses to a remark by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who was rebuked for suggesting that Notre-Dame might be considered in the same breath as “art and architecture”.  Former congressman Joe Walsh fulminated.  “It was a house of worship.  A Catholic Cathedral.  It wouldn’t have been difficult for you to acknowledge that.”

Looking at such structures are also exercises of mutual and mass deception.  Gothic architecture did not always share the enchanting mystery that has made structures such as Notre-Dame de Paris the subject of gooey adoration.  Having lapsed into a mysterious, almost barbaric prior life before the preferences towards Romanesque and the Classicist, such architecture was redeemed by the calls of Romanticism.  Victor Hugo’s pen praised the Gothic form for its freedom, its daring, “encouraging license and dissent from authority,” asserts John Sturrock in his introduction to the 1978 translation of Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), commonly known in Anglophone circles as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Hugo’s pen, in making the cathedral the protagonist, did the trick: interest in restoring the weathered, damaged structure was stimulated, halting the till then relentless drive towards tearing down Gothic Paris.

The fire that went through the Cathedral has been described variously as catastrophic and disastrous, but the nature of such creations is their permanent vulnerability and susceptibility to change.  A scene from Hugo’s own masterpiece is worth retelling, describing flames as the hunchbacked bellringer Quasimodo attacks the Truands in an effort to save Esmerelda.  “All eyes were raised to the top of the church.  They beheld there an extraordinary sight.  On the crest of the highest gallery, higher than the central rose window, there was a great flame rising between the two towers with whirlwinds of sparks, a vast, disordered, and furious flame, a tongue of which was borne into the smoke by the wind, from time to time.”

The building is all (well mostly, now) points, sharpness.  It is jagged, skyscraper coherence.  But to suggest that its body and shell was pure in its medieval form is to fall for a common deception perpetuated from the nineteenth century.  The Gothic restoration mania of the period had the effect of turning Notre-Dame into a modern mutilation.

Eugène Emmanuelle Viollet-le-Duc, aided by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus, tended towards heavy restoration between 1845 and 1864 on the grounds that the original Gothic idea of the cathedral needed fuller realisation.  They knew better.  Being somehow in touch with those spirits, they went to work, warned by archaeological preservationist Prosper Mérimée about the dangers of overly keen touching up.  “A restoration may be more disastrous for a monument than the ravages of centuries.”  Hugo, in the same spirit, observed “the countless defacements and mutilations to which men and time have subjected that venerable monument.”

The now destroyed barbed spire of wood and lead (la flèche) was itself was an addition. Viollet-le-Duc also added a new pulpit; original statues were removed from their resting places of centuries; spectacular gargoyles became a feature; and the south façade’s rose window received undue attention.  Paris-born photographer Danie Aubry aptly observed that the Gothic-mad restorer “should have worked for Disney.”  Ironically enough, Monday’s fire is being “potentially linked” to the $6.8 million renovation work that was already underway.

The visceral and rapid response from French President Emmanuel Macron was one of rebuilding.  Cathedral spokesman André Finot spoke of the structure having suffered “colossal damage”, with the frame obliterated.  Not so, countered an optimistic Macron, taking on board the inspirational guise of Viollet-le-Duc.  The rebuilding project would be grand and hurried.  Forget decades; the President wants the structure to be finished in time for re-opening for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.  “We will rebuild Notre-Dame even more beautifully, and I want it to be completed in five years.”  To that end, an international design competition to rebuild parts of the building has been announced.

The Gothic concept was itself an act of daring on the part of Abbot Suger, who embraced lightness and light in his 1137 design for Saint-Denis.  Platonism, Christianity and religious architecture were wed.  The reconstruction of Notre-Dame might dare to be something different, but many expect a simulacrum of the original.

China and Macron’s U-Turn

Less than a week ago, President Macron was lambasting Italy for signing agreements with China in the context of their New Silk Road, alias President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in the same breath he was criticizing China for attempting to undermine Europe with new trade individual country deals under the pretext of BRI. However, Italy, also scolded by Brussels for her single-handed deals with China, was, in fact, the first G7 country for signing a number of contracts with China to use Italian ports under the BRI, making Italy also the first official EU partner of China’s BRI.

In his zeal of becoming Europe’s new king, Macron also called on all EU members not to go their own way with China, but to jointly negotiate with China “new deals” under the BRI. A joint EU to be strong and equal to the economic and trade behemoth, China. Indeed, solidarity is always ‘good’, but Europe is the last bit of Mother Earth’s territory that has ever shown any solidarity and cohesion among her neighbors and co-members of this illustrious non-union club, called the European Union.

Yet, surprise-surprise! On President Xi’s next stop, Paris, coming from Italy, Macron rolled out the red carpet for the Chinese President and, according to RT, went on to sign billions worth of new contracts with the Asian leader. If this looked like a Macron U-turn, it was a Macron U-turn. As an afterthought he invited German Chancellor, Madame Merkel and EU President Junker to Paris for a photo-Op under the Arc de Triomphe just to make sure his about-face was not to be misinterpreted.

President Xi also signed a multi-billion-euro deal – may be as much as € 30billion – for some 300 passenger jets from Airbus. Though Airbus is a European venture, its main manufacturing plants are in France. This is an especially hard blow to Boeing, after the company’s 737 MAX disasters. Weakening Boeing is also weakening an important US military contractor.

As was to be expected, Washington didn’t like Italy’s moving closer to the East by signing several BRI contracts, and even less so, while the EU, represented by Jean-Claude Juncker, Angela Merkel, Germany and Emmanuel Macron, France, were welcoming President Xi today in Paris. Showing a little sympathy to friend Trump, Merkel observed to Reuters, “We, as Europeans, want to play an active part and that must lead to certain reciprocity and we are still wrangling over that a bit.”  Showing Washington that not all is lost will surely give the empire a grain of hope.

Exactly 6 years ago, President Xi Jinping launched the BRI, the most ambitious and largest economic development project in recent history. On President Xi’s second state visit to Germany in March 2014, he specifically offered Madame Merkel to become (at that time) the western most link for the BRI. But Madame Merkel just snubbed at the proposal and let it go. She was too close to Washington, and, who knows, maybe received marching orders from Obama and his handlers, to leave her fingers from tightening relations with China.

As the Chinese are not pushy, Mr. Xi went home and pursued this massive project further. Within the next 30 years at least, it will build multi-trillions of Chinese Yuans-worth of infrastructure, interconnected research and education centers, industrial development, facilitate cultural exchange – it will build bridges among people. The BRI is so important that the Chinese National Assembly decided in 2017 to incorporate it into the Chinese Constitution.

Today BRI spans the globe with some six land and maritime routes. More are under preparation. BRI is not to invade and take over the world, as the west would like you to believe. The New Silk Road is instead promoting a multi-polar world. It will pave the way towards a new world order, but not the one the Rothschilds and Co. are dreaming about, but one that promotes equal partnership and solidarity among countries.

It is amazing.  The west was a sleep for 6 years, or didn’t want to see. Maybe the Washington-driven war machine simply thought it will go away. But it didn’t and doesn’t. China has the world’s strongest economy according to Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) indicators (that’s all that really counts), surpassing the US in 2017. With the BRI, and an ever-stronger currency, the Yuan, due to a stable and steadily growing distributive economy, and in a military and strategic alliance with Russia, China is literally unbeatable. Hence, as basically a last-ditch effort, Washington’s multiple attempts at trade wars. It’s a publicity stunt, to make the world believe the US is still calling the shots. In reality, the New Silk Road is most likely the vehicle to drive the United States warrior arrogance into the ground. Good riddens!

And let’s not forget, BRI is intimately linked with Russia, not only physically as in transport infrastructure, but also strategically for purposes of economic development of henceforth forgotten and neglected countries and regions. So far the esperando west has not even reacted to this “imminent threat”, as perceived by Washington, the Russian haters. If they would add Russia and China together as the new Silk Road front, they would pee in their pants – as they may realize their days of never-ending treachery and lies would soon end. Therefore, better that the Ostrich pulls only one eye out of the sand, blinking at China. Lying to themselves, and, of course, to their people, is just one more nail in the coffin of the west.

We may not be there yet, as war threats, and attempts at regime change from the neofascist Trump team are still very much “on the table”. But with Russia’s far superiority in military power, and the Chinese economic masters, this table may soon be symbolically blown apart, meaning, will the commanding and reigning elite living a lush and ego-centric lifestyle really want to run the risk of being out-nuked?  Because a new war will not just be played out in Europe, like the last two WWs; nor will New Zealand offer a safe haven for those elite and super rich, who have already secured their properties in this far-away land.  Don’t think so. They, the dark state elite, who pull the strings, rather live in a safe world and enjoy their bounties stolen over hundreds of years, as long as they last, even under a Russia-China and multipolar SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) sponsorship.

When that recognition dawns on western minds, that all that counts is economics – economics that may bring more equality, a better life and harmony among nations, and more prosperity for more people on this planet earth.

Did Mr. Macron and his European counterparts just see the light? Did he realize that being the king of vassal Europe is really meaningless and that it’s high time to jump the sinking boat? Only the near future will tell.

Another scenario is that China has long realized the futurelessness of the EU, and instead of banking their trade agreements with a potentially dead body, they approach country by country, Greece, Italy, France, Germany – who is next? Because, even with the collapse of the European Union, the 28 countries must and will survive. So, trade agreements with each one of them individually have an infinitely higher value than signing up with a block of unsolidary, uncoordinated, even in some cases hostile-to-each-other nations with a fiat currency that is doomed, as it will never survive in such a non-union constellation without even a Constitution pointing to a common vision.

Why the Europeans can’t see that for themselves, and run away from this disaster called Brussels, is a miracle for me. If a Martian would watch the human behavior on our Mother Earth from outer space, he, she or it would laugh no end at our abject schizophrenic behavior but at the same time with tears of sadness, as humanity is hell-bent to self-destruct.

Well, Roi Macron will not let go, he is not (yet) allowed to let go. His paymasters, those that put him there, the Rothschild financial clan and Co. have not gotten enough out of him yet, in terms of milking Europe to the bones. How much more can Macron’s naïve pathological egocentricity still give? By launching the military, the first time since 1948, with live ammunition against harmless, unarmed protesters, the Yellow Vests, his French co-patriots (although he is an Über-French, he is a wannabe European king), is maybe the last nail in Macron’s coffin – figurately speaking.

As Tom Luongo so aptly describes:

There are few people in this world more odious than French President Emmanuel Macron after his behavior this week. I’m sure there are child molesters who are worse. But as a man who is pivotal in the future of hundreds of millions of people, his decision to order the French military to quell the Yellow Vests protests with live ammunition is simply vile. Macron outed himself as the very symbol of what animates the globalist elite he represents. Disdain.

Those black-hooded “protesters”, who plant the violence, burn down bank entrances, break windows and loot shops, are nothing less than paid agents-provocateur. You may have noticed, in the hundreds of demo-videos circulating on internet, the police leave them pretty much alone – orders from the Macron regime. Will the military be loyal to deceitful, despicable Macron, or to the nation; i.e. to the people? That remains the question, as fissures within the military are already noticeable.

So, Macron’s about-face, or U-Turn, after having scolded Italy for going it alone, instead of ’collectively’ with the EU, may be by orders of the financial monarchs who forced him with millions of false propaganda into the French Presidency and who may now also see the light: Europe is no longer a viable bet.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook NEO

Canada and 70th Anniversary of NATO

The first installment in this series discussed how NATO was set up partly to blunt the European Left. The other major factor driving the creation of NATO was a desire to bolster colonial authority and bring the world under a US geopolitical umbrella.

From the outset Canadian officials had an incredibly expansive definition of NATO’s supposed defensive character, which says an “attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies.” As part of the Parliamentary debate over NATO external minister Lester Pearson said: “There is no better way of ensuring the security of the Pacific Ocean at this particular moment than by working out, between the great democratic powers, a security arrangement the effects of which will be felt all over the world, including the Pacific area.” Two years later he said: “The defence of the Middle East is vital to the successful defence of Europe and north Atlantic area.” In 1953 Pearson went even further: “There is now only a relatively small [5000 kilometre] geographical gap between southeast Asia and the area covered by the North Atlantic treaty, which goes to the eastern boundaries of Turkey.”

In one sense the popular portrayal of NATO as a defensive arrangement was apt. After Europe’s second Great War the colonial powers were economically weak while anti-colonial movements could increasingly garner outside support. The Soviets and Mao’s China, for instance, aided the Vietnamese. Similarly, Egypt supported Algerian nationalists and Angola benefited from highly altruistic Cuban backing. The international balance of forces had swung away from the colonial powers.

To maintain their colonies European powers increasingly depended on North American diplomatic and financial assistance. NATO passed numerous resolutions supporting European colonial authority. In the fall of 1951 Pearson responded to moves in Iran and Egypt to weaken British influence by telling Parliament: “The Middle East is strategically far too important to the defence of the North Atlantic area to allow it to become a power vacuum or to pass into unfriendly hands.” The next year Ottawa recognized the colonies of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos as “associated states” of France, according to an internal report, “to assist a NATO colleague, sorely tried by foreign and domestic problems.” More significantly, Canada gave France hundreds of millions of dollars in military equipment through NATO’s Mutual Assistance Program. These weapons were mostly used to suppress the Vietnamese and Algerian independence movements.

In 1953 Pearson told the House: “The assistance we have given to France as a member of the NATO association may have helped her recently in the discharge of some of her obligations in Indo-China.” Similarly, Canadian and US aid was used by the Dutch to maintain their dominance over Indonesia and West Papua New Guinea, by the Belgians in the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, by the Portuguese in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau and by the British in numerous places. Between 1950 and 1958 Ottawa donated a whopping $1,526,956,000 ($8 billion today) in ammunition, fighter jets, military training, etc. to European countries through the NATO Mutual Assistance Program.

The role NATO played in North American/European subjugation of the Global South made Asians and Africans wary of the organization. The Nigerian Labour Party’s 1964 pamphlet The NATO Conspiracy in Africa documents that organization’s military involvement on the continent from bases to naval agreements. In 1956 NATO established a Committee for Africa and in June 1959 NATO’s North Atlantic Council, the organization’s main political decision-making body, warned that the communists would take advantage of African independence to the detriment of Western political and economic interests.

The north Atlantic alliance was designed to maintain unity among the historic colonial powers — and the US — in the midst of a de-colonizing world. It was also meant to strengthen US influence around the world. In a history of the 1950-53 US-led Korean war David Bercuson writes that Canada’s external minister “agreed with [President] Truman, [Secretary of State] Dean Acheson, and other American leaders that the Korean conflict was NATO’s first true test, even if it was taking place half a world away.”

Designed to maintain internal unity among the leading capitalist powers, NATO was the military alliance of the post-WWII US-centered multilateral order, which included the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, International Trade Organization (ITO) and the United Nations. (For its first two decades the UN was little more than an arm of the State Department.)

A growing capitalist power, Canada was well placed to benefit from US-centered multilateral imperialism. The Canadian elite’s business, cultural, familial and racial ties with their US counterparts meant their position and profits were likely to expand alongside Washington’s global position.

NATO bolstered colonial authority and helped bring the world under the US geopolitical umbrella, from which the Canadian elite hoped to benefit.

Once Again, the UN has failed to Name Firms that Profit from Israel’s Illegal Settlements

The United Nations postponed last week for the third time the publication of a blacklist of Israeli and international firms that profit directly from Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

The international body had come under enormous pressure to keep the database under wraps after lobbying behind the scenes from Israel, the United States and many of the 200-plus companies that were about to be named.

UN officials have suggested they may go public with the list in a few months.

But with no progress since the UN’s Human Rights Council requested the database back in early 2016, Palestinian leaders are increasingly fearful that it has been permanently shelved.

That was exactly what Israel hoped for. When efforts were first made to publish the list in 2017, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, warned: “We will do everything we can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day.”

He added that penalising the settlements was “an expression of modern antisemitism”.

Both Israel and the US pulled out of the Human Rights Council last year, claiming that Israel was being singled out.

Israel has good reason to fear greater transparency. Bad publicity would most likely drive many of these firms, a few of them household names, out of the settlements under threat of a consumer backlash and a withdrawal of investments by religious organisations and pension funds.

The UN has reportedly already warned Coca-Cola, Teva Pharmaceuticals, the defence electronics company Elbit Systems and Africa Israel Investments of their likely inclusion. Israeli telecoms and utility companies are particularly exposed because grids serving the settlements are integrated with those in Israel.

There is an added danger that the firms might be vulnerable to prosecutions, should the International Criminal Court at The Hague eventually open an investigation into whether the settlements constitute a war crime, as the Palestinian leadership has demanded.

The exodus of these firms from the West Bank would, in turn, make it much harder for Israel to sustain its colonies on stolen Palestinian land. As a result, efforts to advance a Palestinian state would be strengthened.

Many of the settlements – contrary to widely held impressions of them – have grown into large towns. Their inhabitants expect all the comforts of modern life, from local bank branches to fast-food restaurants and high-street clothing chains.

Nowadays, a significant proportion of Israel’s 750,000 settlers barely understand that their communities violate international law.

The settlements are also gradually being integrated into the global economy, as was highlighted by a row late last year when Airbnb, an accommodation-bookings website, announced a plan to de-list properties in West Bank settlements.

The company was possibly seeking to avoid inclusion on the database, but instead it faced a severe backlash from Israel’s supporters.

This month the US state of Texas approved a ban on all contracts with Airbnb, arguing that the online company’s action was “antisemitic”.

As both sides understand, a lot hangs on the blacklist being made public.

If Israel and the US succeed, and western corporations are left free to ignore the Palestinians’ dispossession and suffering, the settlements will sink their roots even deeper into the West Bank. Israel’s occupation will become ever more irreversible, and the prospect of a Palestinian state ever more distant.

A 2013 report on the ties between big business and the settlements noted the impact on the rights of Palestinians was “pervasive and devastating”.

Sadly, the UN leadership’s cowardice on what should be a straightforward matter – the settlements violate international law, and firms should not assist in such criminal enterprises – is part of a pattern.

Repeatedly, Israel has exerted great pressure on the UN to keep its army off a “shame list” of serious violators of children’s rights. Israel even avoided a listing in 2015 following its 50-day attack on Gaza the previous year, which left more than 500 Palestinian children dead. Dozens of armies and militias are named each year.

The Hague court has also been dragging its feet for years over whether to open a proper war crimes investigation into Israel’s actions in Gaza, as well as the settlements.

The battle to hold Israel to account is likely to rage again this year, after the publication last month of a damning report by UN legal experts into the killing of Palestinian protesters at Gaza’s perimeter fence by Israeli snipers.

Conditions for Gaza’s two million Palestinians have grown dire since Israel imposed a blockade, preventing movement of goods and people, more than a decade ago.

The UN report found that nearly all of those killed by the snipers – 154 out of 183 – were unarmed. Some 35 Palestinian children were among the dead, and of the 6,000 wounded more than 900 were minors. Other casualties included journalists, medical personnel and people with disabilities.

The legal experts concluded that there was evidence of war crimes. Any identifiable commanders and snipers, it added, should face arrest if they visited UN member states.

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, dismissed the report as “lies” born out of “an obsessive hatred of Israel”.

Certainly, it has caused few ripples in western capitals. Britain’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn was a lone voice in calling for an arms embargo on Israel in response.

It is this Israeli exceptionalism that is so striking. The more violent Israel becomes towards the Palestinians and the more intransigent in rejecting peace, the less pressure is exerted upon it.

Not only does Israel continue to enjoy generous financial, military and diplomatic support from the US and Europe, both are working ever harder to silence criticisms of its actions by their own citizens.

As the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement grows larger, western capitals have casually thrown aside commitments to free speech in a bid to crush it.

France has already criminalised support for a boycott of Israel, and its president Emmanuel Macron recently proposed making it illegal to criticise Zionism, the ideology that underpins Israel’s rule over Palestinians.

More than two dozen US states have passed anti-BDS legislation, denying companies and individual contractors dealing with the government of that particular state the right to boycott Israel. In every case, Israel is the only country protected by these laws. Last month, the US Senate passed a bill that adds federal weight to this state-level campaign of intimidation.

The hypocrisy of these states – urging peace in the region while doing their best to subvert it – is clear. Now the danger is that UN leaders will join them.

• First published in The National