Category Archives: Migration

The Origins of Violence? Slavery, Extractivism and War

And the land, hitherto a common possession like the light of the sun and the breezes, the careful surveyor now marked out with long-drawn boundary lines. Not only were corn and needful foods demanded of the rich soil, but men bored into the bowels of the earth, and the wealth she had hidden and covered with Stygian darkness was dug up, an incentive to evil. And now noxious iron and gold more noxious still were produced: and these produced war – for wars are fought with both – and rattling weapons were hurled by bloodstained hands.

(Ovid, written around 8 AD which laments humanity’s loss of its original Golden condition [Ovid Metamorphoses, Book 1, The Iron Age]). 1

The privatisation of property, extractivism, the necessity for food-producing slaves and a warrior class to sustain and further extend the aims of the elites are all neatly summed up in this quote from Ovid. What is noticeable and notable is that over the millennia very little has changed in substance. We still have today wage slaves, standing armies, extractivism and industrialised agriculture that is oriented and controlled according to the aims and agendas of a warmongering elite. However, it seems that things were not always thus.

The coming of the Kurgan peoples across Europe from c. 4000 to 1000 BC is believed to have been a tumultuous and disastrous time for the peoples of Old Europe. The Old European culture is believed to have centred around a nature-based ideology that was gradually replaced by an anti-nature, patriarchal, warrior society. According to the archeologist and anthropologist, Marija Gimbutas:

Agricultural peoples’ beliefs concerning sterility and fertility, the fragility of life and the constant threat of destruction, and the periodic need to renew the generative processes of nature are among the most enduring. They live on in the present, as do very archaic aspects of the prehistoric Goddess, in spite of the continuous process of erosion in the historic era. Passed on  by the grandmothers and mothers of the European family, the ancient beliefs survived the superimposition of the Indo-European and finally the Christian myths. The Goddess-centred religion existed for a very long time, much longer than the Indo-European and the Christian (which represent a relatively short period of human history), leaving behind an indelible imprint on the Western psyche.2

​The Goddess Timeline
A chronological record of archaeological images of women and goddesses on a uniform time scale from 30,000 BCE to the present.
Copyright © 2012 Constance Tippett

Gimbutas notes that it was at this time that a relatively homogeneous pre-Indo-European Neolithic culture in southeastern Europe was “invaded and destroyed by horse-riding pastoral nomads from the Pontic-Caspian steppe (the “Kurgan culture”) who brought with them violence, patriarchy, and Indo-European languages”. While this model has been disputed over the years recent research has broadened and deepened our understanding of these movements.

In 2015 an international team of researchers conducted a genetic study which backs the Kurgan hypothesis, that “a massive migration of herders from the Yamna culture of the North Pontic steppe (Russia, Ukraine and Moldavia) towards Europe which would have favoured the expansion of at least a few of these Indo-European languages throughout the continent.”

Another disputed aspect of the hypothesis is the ‘how’- whether “the indigenous cultures were peacefully amalgamated or violently displaced.”  However, the representations of weapons engraved in stone, stelae, or rocks appear after the Kurgan invasions as well as “the earliest known visual images of Indo-European warrior gods”.3  The beginning of slavery is also seen to be linked to these armed invasions.

According to Riane Eisler, archeological evidence “indicate that in some Kurgan camps the bulk of the female population was not Kurgan, but rather of the Neolithic Old European population. What this suggests is that the Kurgans massacred most of the local men and children but spared some of the women who they took for themselves as concubines, wives, or slaves.”3 Gimbutas believed that the pre-Kurgan society of Old Europe was a “gylanic [sexes were equal], peaceful, sedentary culture with highly developed agriculture and with great archtectural, sculptural, and ceramic traditions” which was then replaced by patriarchy; patrilineality; small scale agriculture and animal husbandry”, the domestication of the horse and the importance of armaments (bow and arrow, spear and dagger).4

Not so th’ Golden Age, who fed on fruit,
Nor durst with bloody meals their mouths pollute.
Then birds in airy space might safely move,
And tim’rous hares on heaths securely rove:
Nor needed fish the guileful hooks to fear,
For all was peaceful; and that peace sincere.
Whoever was the wretch, (and curs’d be he
That envy’d first our food’s simplicity!)
Th’ essay of bloody feasts on brutes began,
And after forg’d the sword to murder man.

— Ovid Metamorphoses Book 14

The idea of a fall, the end of a Golden Age is a common theme in many ancient cultures around the world. Richard Heinberg, in Memories and Visions of Paradise, examines various myths from around the world and finds common themes such as sacred trees, rivers and mountains, wise peoples who were moral and unselfish, and in harmony with nature and described heavenly and earthly paradises.

In another book, The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of a New Era, Steve Taylor takes a psychological approach to the concept of the Fall examining what he calls the new human psyche and the Ego Explosion (which created a lack of empathy between human beings) and resulted in our alienation from nature while making us both self and globally destructive.

However, James DeMeo takes a more radical approach in his book, Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence in the Deserts of the Old World. He believes that climatic changes caused drought, desertification and famine in North Africa, the Near East, and Central Asia (collectively Saharasia) and this trauma caused the development of patriarchal, authoritarian and violent characteristics.

God creates Man
“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”(Gen 2:7)
Author unknown, Creation of Adam, Byzantine mosaic in Monreale, 12th century.

The arrival of violent, enslaving tribes and of a supreme male deity led to the eventual demise of the female deities through demotion or destruction of temples and statues.5 Over time, the many traditions of pre-patriarchal nature worship were destroyed (such as cutting down sacred trees) or eventually assimilated into the new patriarchal religions (see my Christmas article). Thus many of the nature-based ideas of matriarchal religion were turned on their head as the male deity creates man and Adam gives birth to Eve. According to Barbara Walker, in The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, “usurpation of the feminine power of birth-giving seems to have been the distinguishing mark of the earliest gods.” She lists the many ways the male deities ‘gave birth’; e.g., from the mouth (Prajapati), from the head or thigh (Zeus), from the penis (Atum), or from the stomach (Kun) in the section ‘Birth-Giving, Male’.

Adam ‘gives birth’ to Eve
“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man”(1 Corinthians 11:8)
From: Master Bertram, Grabow Altarpiece, 1379-1383

In Christianity the rulers had a religion that assured their objectives. The warring adventurism of the new rulers needed soldiers for their campaigns and slaves to produce their food and mine their metals for their armaments and wealth. Thus, Christ was portrayed as Martyr and Master. In his own crucifixion as Martyr he provided a brave example to the soldiers and as Master he would reward or punish the slaves according to how well they had behaved.

Christ as Martyr and Master
Jan van Eyck (before c. 1390 – 9 July 1441)
Crucifixion and Last Judgement
diptych, c. 1430–1440.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Christianity, according to Helen Ellerbe:

has distanced humanity from nature. As people came to perceive God as a singular supremacy detached from the physical world, they lost their reverence for nature. In Christian eyes, the physical world became the realm of the devil. A society that had once celebrated nature through seasonal festivals began to commemorate biblical events bearing no connection to the earth. Holidays lost much of their celebratory spirit and took on a tone of penance and sorrow. Time, once thought to be cyclical like the seasons, was now perceived to be linear. In their rejection of the cyclical nature of life, orthodox Christians came to focus more upon death than upon life.6

​Pagan festivals chart: [From The Dark Side of Christian History, Helen Ellerbe]

Christian eschatology (study concerned with the ultimate destiny of the individual soul and the entire created order) and the idea of linear time took over from the people’s strong connection with nature and the ever-changing seasons. Although, in early medieval times, according to David Ewing Duncan in The Calendar, the peasants still lived and died “in a continuous cycle of days and years that to them had no discernible past or future.”7 Different seasonal festivals such as the solstice, the Nativity, Saturnalia, Yuletide, the Easter hare and Easter eggs etc. all had pre-Christian connections but old habits died hard and left the church no choice but to incorporate some aspects of them into their own traditions over time.

Feminism vs class

While some aspects of the culture of prehistory are still with us today, interpretation of the artifacts from archeological digs has always been open to controversy. For example, Cynthia Eller in her book The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why An Invented Past Will Not Give Women a
Future
believes that the theory of a prehistoric matriarchy (female rulership) was “developed in 19th century scholarship and was taken up by 1970s second-wave feminism following Marija Gimbutas.” However, the feminist historian Max Dashu notes that Eller “makes no distinction between scholarly studies in a wide range of fields and expressions of the burgeoning Goddess movement, including novels, guided tours, market-driven enterprises. All are conflated all into one monolithic ‘myth’ devoid of any historical foundation.”

The important point here is that ideas of matriarchal prehistory have been used in feminist theory to blame men for war and violence today (ignoring Thatcher and May). Sure, men have been dominant in the warring elites but many, many more men were caught up in the enslaved soldiers, miners and farmers classes. And as it was violence that was used to enslave them in the first place historically, then surely it would be no surprise if violence is used by them in the fight back against their slavery (class struggle).

The reappraisal of our ancient past and our relationship with nature has become an urgent necessity as climate chaos occupies more and more of our time and energy. It is not too late to learn from the myths of the Golden Age and Ovid’s ancient complaints to create a better future.

This let me further add, that Nature knows
No steadfast station, but, or ebbs, or flows:
Ever in motion; she destroys her old,
And casts new figures in another mould.

— Ovid, Metamorphoses Book 15

  1. From Memories and Visions of Paradise: Exploring the Universal Myth of a Lost Golden Age by Richard Heinberg (1989).
  2. The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization, by Marija Gimbutas/Joseph Campbell (2001), p. xvii.
  3. The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler (1998) p 49.
  4. The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization, by Marija Gimbutas/Joseph Campbell (2001), p. xx.
  5. See: When God Was a Woman, Merlin Stone (1978)  pp. 66-67.
  6. The Dark Side of Christian History, Helen Ellerbe (1995) p. 139.
  7. The Calendar: The 5000-year Struggle to Align the Clock and the Heavens – and What Happened to the Missing Ten Days, David Ewing Duncan (2011) p. 137.

If This Happened in Alabama There Would Be Uproar: In Israel, it’s the Norm

How would you describe a white town in a southern state in the United States that froze the tender for plots of land in a new neighbourhood because it risked allowing blacks to move in? As racist?

What would you think of the town’s mayor for claiming the decision was taken in the interests of preserving the “white character” of his community? That he was a bigot?

And how would you characterise the policy of the state in which this town was located if it enforced almost complete segregation between whites and blacks, ghettoising the black population? As apartheid, or maybe Jim Crow?

And yet, replace the word “white” with “Jewish” and this describes what has just happened in Kfar Vradim, a small town of 6,000 residents in the Galilee, in Israel’s north. More disturbing still, Vradim’s policy cannot be judged in isolation. It is a reflection of how Israeli society has been intentionally structured for decades.

Segregation as the norm

Residential segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens is the norm in Israel. In fact, it is such an established fact of life that it is barely ever commented on. There are many hundreds of rural communities controlling almost all of Israel’s land that are exclusively Jewish and have been so since Israel was created 70 years ago.

So one could almost commiserate with Vradim’s mayor, Sivan Yechiel, after he provoked condemnation last week for his decision to freeze construction of a new neighbourhood of more than 2,000 homes, intended to double the size of his town. It emerged that in the first round of tenders, more than half the highest bids for plots of land were placed by Palestinian citizens, not Jews.

Israel’s Palestinian minority, a fifth of its population, are the remnants of the Palestinian people who were mostly expelled in 1948 from their homeland during what Palestinians call the Nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe”.

According to Israel and its supporters, Palestinian citizens enjoy full and equal rights with Jewish citizens, unlike Palestinians in the occupied territories, who live under military rule. But the reality – one carefully concealed from outsiders – is very different.

Vradim’s decision briefly illuminates the ugly reality of what a Jewish state means. It provides the context for understanding Land Day, whose anniversary falls this week, marking the day in 1976 when Israeli security forces killed six unarmed Palestinian citizens as the minority held a general strike to protest against the continuing confiscation of their lands.

Vradim and dozens of other Jewish communities were created in response to Land Day – explicitly to “Judaise the Galilee”. The tradition of racism that inspired Vradim’s establishment is simply being honoured and preserved today by Yechiel.

That is why Adalah, a legal group for Israel’s Palestinian minority, accused the mayor of being “motivated by racism”. And why Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, lamented Vradim’s “apartheid” policy.

Liberal and ‘racist’

That said, Vradim is far from the illiberal, intolerant community one might imagine from these criticisms. Three-quarters of its residents voted for left and centre-left parties in Israel’s last election. It has decisively bucked the ultra-nationalist trend that has kept Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right in power for nearly a decade.

Nonetheless, in a Facebook debate among Vradim residents about the tender, many expressed concern. A local real estate broker, Nati Sheinfeld, warned that it was time to “wake up” to the threat of Palestinians taking over the community.

Yechiel defended the decision to freeze the new neighbourhood on the grounds that he was entrusted to keep Vradim “Zionist and Jewish”. In a further clarification, he said he would lobby the government to provide his community with housing solutions that did not disturb its current “demographic balances” – in other words, solutions that would keep out Palestinian citizens.

No Arabs as neighbours

In fact, Vradim mayor’s response was entirely typical. There have a spate of similar stories in recent years. Towns close by in the Galilee like Nazareth Ilit, Karmiel, Afula, Nofit, Tzfat and Nahariya have all been battling to bar entry to Palestinian citizens with varying degrees of success.

In recent surveys, half of Israeli Jews confess that they do not want “Arabs” as neighbours. The reality, as Vradim illustrates, is that far more feel this way in practice. As Haaretz commentator David Rosenberg observed, almost certainly many respondents “were too embarrassed to tell the pollster what they really think”.

Opposition to having Palestinians as neighbours is not founded on security or economic concerns. Palestinian citizens have proved to be a largely peaceable, if highly marginalised, minority. And those able to afford to move into Jewish communities – especially Vradim, one of the wealthiest in the country – are the most successful among the Palestinian minority. They are business people and professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects.

Rooted in Zionism

So why is Vradim dead-set against allowing them in? The answer requires a historical analysis of how Israel has structured and organised itself as a Jewish state. In fact, Vradim’s policy is deeply rooted in an ideology, Zionism, whose values are unquestioned by almost all Israeli Jews.

The founders of Israel, men like David Ben Gurion, were East Europeans who viewed themselves as communists or socialists. Before Israel’s creation, under British patronage, they established pioneer farming collectives like the kibbutz and moshav.

But in the spirit of Zionism, they made sure these communities were all exclusively Jewish. They were there to “Judaise” the land through “Hebrew labour”. Zionism’s leaders firmly believed that, through physical toil, Jews could transform both the land, “making the desert bloom”, and themselves, becoming a strong, self-reliant “Volk” or people.

But there was an important corollary. Judaisation would strip the native Palestinian people of the land they depended on as farmers, while Hebrew labour would deny them alternative employment in what would become an exclusively Jewish economy. It was a form of aggressive settler-colonialism.

Land nationalised for Jews

After the Nakba and the expulsion of most of the Palestinian population, the new state of Israel did not abandon these policies and adopt an inclusive, civic notion of citizenship, the basis of liberal democracy. Instead, it expanded and intensified the Judaisation project.

Foreign observers were often charmed by the idea of the socialist kibbutz and the progressive and transformative type of politics it supposedly embodied. They overlooked the fact that all of this was being built on the racist exclusion of native Palestinians.

The lands of the Palestinian refugees were expropriated, as was most of the land belonging to the minority of Palestinians who managed to remain in Israel and eventually received citizenship – the trigger for the Land Day events being commemorated this week.

Israel then “nationalised” almost all of its territory – 93 per cent – holding it collectively in trust for the Jewish people around the world, not Israeli citizens.

As a result, Palestinian citizens were hemmed into some 120 Palestinian communities, on little more than 2 per cent of Israeli territory. These Palestinian communities languish at the very bottom of Israel’s socio-economic tables.

Trapped in ghettoes

In recent decades, Palestinian communities have become massively overcrowded because Israel has refused to free up land for their expansion and has not created a single new Palestinian community since 1948.

Many thousands of Palestinian families have been forced to build homes illegally as a result, and now live with the permanent threat of demolition hanging over their heads.

This is not just about neglect. Israeli officials had a methodology and a goal in mind, little different from the those being applied close by in the occupied territories.

The aim was to make the Palestinian minority poor and internally divided: like children playing a game of musical chairs, they would have to fight over ever-diminishing resources.

In desperation, some would opt to collaborate or turn informer, in return for partial relief from their distress. A weak, dependent society like this would be incapable of organisation to demand its rights. And ultimately, Israeli officials hoped, Palestinian citizens would grow hopeless and emigrate.

Vetting committees

But there was a danger too that wealthier, more successful Palestinians might flee their ghettoes not by leaving Israel but by seeking homes in Jewish communities and trying to integrate. That violated the deepest impulses of a Zionist-Jewish state.

It was not hard to slam shut the door of most communities. The hundreds of rural villages controlling most of Israel’s “national lands” established admissions committees. Their job was to vet applicants and keep out Palestinian citizens. That was integral to their “Judaisation” mission.

To this day, hundreds of collective communities bar access, arguing that Palestinian citizens are “socially unsuitable”. The flimsy logic – echoed now by the mayor of Vradim – has been that it is vital for these communities to preserve a Jewish, Zionist character.

But it was trickier to use such legal chicanery to exclude Palestinian citizens from towns and cities.

A few cities in Israel are misleadingly termed “mixed”, where small numbers of Palestinian families survived the ethnic cleansing of 1948. They usually live in separate neighbourhoods, marginalised from the main Jewish city. Segregation in these areas has taken a different form.

But in ordinary as well as mixed cities, Israel could not easily argue that admissions committees were needed to stop integration and protect the special Jewish character of the city’s life. Doing so risked looking a little too obviously like apartheid South Africa.

Liberation from land shortages

For most of Israel’s history, segregation and exclusion were maintained in the towns and cities, nonetheless. Free-market economics and careful planning was enough to keep Palestinians at bay.

The vast majority of Israeli Jews are raised as ardent Zionists, and hold “Judaisation” – making territory Jewish – as a supreme value. There were no signs saying “No Arabs”, but few were willing to sell their homes to Palestinian citizens, especially when they could find a Jewish buyer.

And few Palestinian citizens could afford homes in Jewish towns anyway. In addition, there were no schools teaching in Arabic for their children, jobs were scarce, and prejudice rife. It was a prospect few Palestinian citizens contemplated. Until recently.

The land shortages in Israel’s Palestinian communities have only intensified since the events of Land Day, as have the overcrowding, the lack of services and infrastructure, the absence of green spaces, and the poor quality of government schools for the Palestinian minority.

Meanwhile, in an increasingly globalised world, Palestinian citizens are much less willing to continue living in their segregated communities. They have aspirations for a better quality of life for their children, and are increasingly “westernised” – they value personal independence over the protection offered by living close to the extended family.

All of these factors have combined to drive those with good jobs and high salaries to liberate themselves from their Palestinian ghettoes and seek housing solutions in Jewish communities.

On the front line

The front line of this battle for housing rights is the Galilee, where Palestinian citizens comprise half the population. For this reason, in the state’s early years Ben Gurion prioritised an official campaign to “Judaise the Galilee”, building Jewish communities on lands confiscated from Palestinians to contain them and deprive them of room for future expansion.

Vradim itself was established in 1984 on part of the lands of the neighbouring Palestinian town of Tarshiha. As in other Jewish communities, many of its residents believe – in line with Ben Gurion’s philosophy – that they are the main bulwark against an “Arab takeover” of the Galilee.

But Vradim has found itself defenceless against a first wave of Palestinian professionals expecting to live the dream they see their Jewish neighbours enjoying at their expense. Already a handful of Palestinian families have managed to move in. Yechiel and other residents are worried that this could soon turn into a flood as it seeks to expand.

Vradim lacks an admissions committee that would have solved its problem. And recent rulings from the Israeli courts have further tied its hands: in most cases, towns and cities are required to include all citizens in the tendering process for new housing projects.

Stopping an Arab influx

At the moment the numbers of Palestinian families that can afford and want to move into Jewish towns is small. But it is growing, and even these small numbers are too many for most Jewish communities.

Yechiel may balk at the solutions adopted by some neighbouring Jewish towns.

For example, Nazareth Ilit, which was built on the lands of Nazareth, the largest Palestinian city in Israel, has tried to halt the influx of Palestinians by planning a large Jewish ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood.

The courts have made an exception that allows for restrictive tenders in the case of religious Jews so that they can live in self-contained communities. Nazareth Ilit’s leaders appear to be hoping that, with high birth rates and intolerant attitudes, a strong ultra-Orthodox presence may dissuade more Palestinians from moving in.

But this approach is likely to be considered a step too far for Vradim’s very secular and wealthy residents.

Yechiel may hope instead that he can rely on a legal remedy. In 2016 a district court ruled in favour of the municipality of Afula after it blocked 48 Palestinian families who had won housing tenders. Palestinian legislators called the court decision “shameful” and “racist”.

Hunt for permanent solutions

But Vradim’s mayor is also appealing to the government to help devise a more permanent solution. He may not be disappointed.

The World Zionist Organisation, an international organisation that enjoys quasi-governmental status in Israel, announced last summer it was reviving Ben Gurion’s Judaisation campaign. It is preparing to establish several new, exclusively Jewish communities.

And this month an Israeli parliamentary committee approved the final draft of new legislation – the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish people. It will give constitutional backing to the creation of communities “composed of people of the same faith or nationality to maintain an exclusive community”. In practice, this measure is designed only to help the Jewish faith and nationality.

These moves come as Israel prepares to demolish next month Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in the Negev, so it can be replaced with an exclusively Jewish community, Hiran. The bylaws of Hiran entitle it to admit as residents only those “who observe the Torah and commandments according to Orthodox Jewish values”.

Vradim’s wealthy, liberal residents are no aberration in wanting to keep out their Palestinian fellow citizens. They are the authentic inheritors of a Zionist tradition that has entrenched an apartheid system of rule in Israel over 70 years.

Ben Gurion and Israel’s founders would be proud indeed of Kfar Vradim.

• First published in Middle East Eye

More Than a Fight over Couscous

As soon as Virgin Atlantic Airlines introduced a couscous-style salad “inspired by the flavours of Palestine”, a controversy ensued. Israel’s supporters ignited a social media storm and sent many complaints to the company, obliging the airline to remove the reference to Palestine.

In the Zionist narrative, Palestine does not exist – nor is it allowed to exist – even if merely as a cultural conception.

The sad irony is that, while Israel appropriated Palestinian-Arabic couscous (the Palestinian dish, in particular, is known as ‘maftoul‘), branding and marketing it in western countries as ‘Israeli couscous’, its supporters go to every extent possible to erase any reference that may validate Palestinian Arab culture, whether Muslim or Christian.

This is an old habit, an endemic practice that dates back to the destruction of nearly 600 Palestinian villages and localities in 1947-48. Palestinians refer to these earth-shattering events as the ‘Nakba’, or catastrophe. Tellingly, Israel outlaws the use of the term or the commemoration of the tragic event in any way.

From claiming Palestinian Arab culinary culture as their own, to ‘Judaized’ Arabic street names to rewriting history, Israel and its supporters are relentless.

Israel fears a Palestinian narrative because the Israeli government understands, and rightly so, that it is the collective Palestinian narrative that has compelled resistance, in all of its forms, for over 70 years.

All attempts have failed, until recently.

The 1993 Oslo Accord is a critical juncture that shattered the cohesiveness of Palestinian discourse and weakened and divided the Palestinian people. However, it is not too late to remedy this through decisive and concentrated efforts that overcome the challenge of a Palestinian political viewpoint beholden to self-seeking political aspirations and competing factions.

In the absence of a Palestinian leadership populated by the Palestinian people themselves, intellectuals must safeguard and present the Palestinian story to the world with authenticity and balance. The clarity and integrity of the Palestinian story has been damaged and divided by Palestinian Authority (PA) tactics which remove Palestinian refugees’ right of return from their political platform.

Essentially, the story of Palestine is the story of the Palestinian people, for they are the victims of oppression and the main channel of Resistance, starting with the creation of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian villages. If Palestinians had not resisted, their story would have concluded right there and then and they, too, would have disappeared.

Those who admonish Palestinian Resistance, armed or otherwise, have little understanding of the psychological ramifications of resistance, such as a sense of collective empowerment and hope amongst the people. In his introduction to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre describes violent resistance as a process through which “a man is re-creating himself”.

And for seven decades, Palestinians have embarked on this journey of the recreation of the “self”. They have resisted, and their resistance in all forms has moulded a sense of collective unity, despite the numerous divisions that have been erected amongst them.

Relentless resistance, a notion now embodied in the very fabric of Palestinian society, denied the oppressor the opportunity to emasculate Palestinians, or to reduce them to helpless victims and hapless refugees. The collective memory of the Palestinian people must focus on what it means to be Palestinian, defining the Palestinian people, what they stand for as a nation, and why they have resisted for years.

A new articulation of the Palestinian narrative is necessary, now more than ever before. The elitist interpretation of Palestine has failed, and is as worthless as the Oslo Accords. It is no more than a tired exercise in empty clichés, aimed at sustaining American political dominance in Palestine as well as in the rest of the Middle East.

The peace process is dead, but the Palestinian people are still resisting; unsurprisingly, the people are mightier than a group of self-centred individuals. Grassroots resistance is not constrained by the frivolous politicking of PA leader, Mahmoud Abbas, or any other actors.

Abbas and his men have not only muzzled the political will of the Palestinian people and falsely claimed to represent all Palestinians, they have also robbed Palestinians of their narrative, one that actually unites the ‘fellahin’ (peasants) and the refugees, the occupied and the ‘shattat’ (diaspora), into one distinct nation.

It is only when the Palestinian intellectual is able to repossess that collective narrative that the confines placed on the Palestinian voice can be finally broken. Only then can Palestinians truly confront the Israeli Hasbara and US-Western corporate media propaganda and, at long last, speak unhindered.

But there are obstacles, leading amongst them is the ruthless attempt by Zionist historians and institutions to replace the Palestinian historical narrative with their own. The story of the Palestinian cuisine on an airline menu may appear trivial in the greater scheme of things but it is significant, nonetheless.

In the Zionist Israeli narrative, Palestinians, if relevant at all, are depicted as drifting nomads, without a culture or tradition of their own, an inconvenience that hinders the path of progress – a duplicate narrative to the one that defined the relationship between every western colonial power and the resisting natives, always.

From the Zionist point of view, Palestinian existence is an inconvenience that was meant to be only temporary. “We must expel Arabs and take their places,” wrote Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

Assigning the Palestinian people the role of dislocated, disinherited and nomadic people without caring about the ethical and political implications of such false representations has erroneously presented Palestinians as a docile and submissive collective, to be wiped out by those more powerful.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and Palestinian resistance is the unremitting example of the strength and resilience of the Palestinian people. Palestinian culture is rooted, like the olive trees and mountains of Galilee.

Yes, the fight has been an arduous one. Between the rock of Israeli occupation and Hasbara and the hard place of Palestinian leadership acquiescence and failure, Palestine, Palestinians and their story have been trapped and misconstrued.

It is time for us to step up. We, as Palestinian writers, historians and journalists, assume the responsibility of reinterpreting Palestinian history and internalizing and communicating Palestinian voices, so that the rest of the world can, for once, appreciate the story as told by wounded, but tenacious, victors.

Genuine Progress Index Be Damned! Grow, Displace, Submit!!

Rapacious. “They got theirs, so I better get mine. Yes, things change, and, sure this sleepy town is about to boom but that’s the way of the world…. Might as well be part of the winning team – that money making side of things. That’s all you can do.”

I just finished talking to white guy in his late forties, gassing up excavators and huge dump trucks. We’re near the Estacada High School, and he tells me the scrapping is to make room for more ball fields. The school already has fields and a football stadium. This is a town with 3,000.

The day before on the very same spot I was walking with Canada geese lighting on the marshy part of the tract of land. I was with flickers, robins, raptors, and bee catches and swallows and maybe 15 other species of birds, including hummers.

The crows were squawking their disapproval of all the rumbling trucks and blades sawing up plywood and siding for the new crop of homes coming to fruition near the spit of land. These few acres with a creek running through them were their paradise, their wintering quarters.

Foreboding, those corvids rallying their ranks in the sunny bluster, really, for me, living in a county with no native American signs, tributes, museums, nothing, left on the surface, just the name, Clackamas River in Clackamas County. There are 99 percent whites here, and many cruise with American flags and Confederate ones as big as trampolines fluttering behind their jacked up Jeeps and pick-ups.

The California invasion is lamented daily, with now sputtering-to-a-stop superhighway commutes, and the constant building and the housing and rental stock vanished into thin banker’s air.

I’ve had someone recently tell me to stop whining about the cost of housing in Portland . . . . “Try San Francisco out, buddy boy.” Yep, I never whine, and the “buddy boy” is to me like a Harvey Weinstein glowering at his secretary.

In calm terms, the stupidity of his statement is torn apart. First, I am with clients as a social worker who are straddled because of the long-arm of injustice pinching them for Driving While Black or Dealing While Latino or Walking While Young. My client load is trying to do something with their lives and get off the endless hamster wheel and rat pipe of addiction, and many are old, and some are very young.

The young are told to go to community college or rip-off trade schools; go get some shitty warehouse job for $12 an hour; and then admonished to find a dozen other Homies and get a two-bedroom crib for the lot of them, anywhere, somewhere and shut the fuck up.

Mr. and Mrs. California, oh, baby, many are leaving their Orange County haunts because they HATE the brown people, the crowds, the traffic, and the cost of living there. Again, the white hoards are the destroyers of entire civilizations (Spain and Inca and Aztec), or the slavers of Puritanical Puerile needs, the entire project of White Hegemony, the white hope for the rest of human kind five hundred years ago, 300, 30 and now.

“Try the roads in LA. You want to see real bad traffic!”

These are cancerous times in a deadening world of people that see barely an inch beyond their noses. I have a graduate degree in urban planning and there is no way in hell I could get a job in that field, one that really doesn’t mean much in the scheme of radical planning, radical design, regional and biological planning. Each entity is vying for those workers, those big ass companies to site in their municipalities or counties, those tax dodgers like Nike, Intel, Apple, Uber, Amazon, you name ‘em, the next big half empty convention center, or how about a casino on every corner . . . . Towns are haphazard, and draining our lives with the noise, the traffic, the same-same sameness.

Back to Estacada and my mind-clearing walk, near a blackberry-plagued stretch of land adjacent to the tract home I live in, in the planned development, HOA included, in a town named after a place in Texas, Spanish of all things, in a county that hosts lots of immigrants from Mexico pounding nails, landscaping and flipping gorditas, but a county where many in the white population support sending “all of ’em” back a la Trump-Obama ICE expressway.

Llano Estacado (staked plain or palisaded plain) is a region in the Southwestern United States that encompasses parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. This ain’t the Southwest, where I spent many years cutting my teeth as reporter, college teacher, writer, and itinerant environmentalist and novelist.

The old acreage to my north is now graded-over for a whopping 350 homes – times 2.5 people per house and you have 875 people, and, well, that’s 875 more vehicles, plus the motor-homes, ATV’s, boats, and 4×4’s.

The white guys grading and paving and setting it up for the next phase of wasps coming in for the footings and framing – Mexicans mostly – they seem slap happy gleeful. One side of mouth, “I hate those Cally-forn-i-cation-ers,” and then other side of mouth, “Man oh man, keep on coming and show me the money.”

My mind clearing is tied to the fascism of our times – I just got sacked (yet again) for my mouth, but this time it was nothing, really, but again, non-profits are all living hell these days, and social workers like myself (former teacher, real journalist and urban planner of sorts) are in high demand but with low regard, and the turnover rates are terrible. Read here, and here about that part of my life.

I’m trying to collect unemployment, and I am busy applying for jobs – employment opportunities all over the map: executive director for a non-profit giving free med services to pets; development director for a street newspaper; tutor at the local community college; and plenty of social worker jobs, too. Even a job with the Center for Biological Diversity on a renewable energy campaign tied to population and sustainability. My chances are a snowball’s chance in the Arctic . . . Hell!

Hitting the streets at 60 years of age is both surreal and bile-drenching – my grandparents from Scotland and Germany never would have thought this great country (neither sets of grandparents really thought of USA as a great country, but we’ll pretend . . . .) would dish it out this hard to one of its own.

No retirement, man, as each billionaire laughs harder and harder at the idea of retirement for the masses at age 65, let alone 70. Health care cut off at the knees three days after getting the AX.

I talk to this fellow grading the land, and he’s paunchy in his forties, the tell-tale signs of engorging beer and whiskey sessions on his face. The big fellow running the excavator is fifty and has a belly and shirt size that could tarp a family of 12 in Haiti. The 25-year-old pushing the gearshift of the huge dump truck is surly looking. These are big times for these fellows — $35 to $75 an hour, easy. They have blood relatives and high school friends and in-laws working with them in this locked-up market.

Sitting on their fat asses (except for the young guy grinding gears) making twice as much an hour or more than that over what I was making running ragged helping homeless and addicts find some pathway out of that shit (many of my homeless addicts were once in the trades, in construction, welding and excavation!) is one aspect of the insanity of wage inequity, wage unfairness, and what the market should bear!

Here, a little ditty on Estacada from some web site:

Estacada’s History has been a wild road of ups and downs some might say is a reflection of the roaring rapids of the adjacent Clackamas River. In the mid 1800’s small communities of pioneers popped up in the foothills of Mount Hood wiping out the Native Clackamas Indians with disease. Then railroad tracks serving the dam builders of the early 20th century pushed through the foot hills up the mountain creating dams that still power Portland to this day. As the building slowed, the workers left and the work camps turned in to a small tourism community that became Portland’s play ground known as Estacada Oregon.

Imagine, “settlers popping up wiping out the Native Clackamas Indians with disease” as the one liner in America’s great forgetting, great amnesia. We walk the land in a daily forgetting!

Imagine, this anti-Mexican-Muslim-Person of Color hysteria stoked up in the flames of the dying white race, the dying capitalist race, and then think hard about the constant lies the youth and the old hold about the land of theft, US of America/Israel. Genocide!

Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, wrote to Colonel Henry Bouquet at Fort Pitt: “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians [with smallpox] by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method, that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”

A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct.
– California Governor Peter H. Burnett, 1851

In 1949, however, the U.S. government took a step back towards 19th century bigotry, as the Hoover Commission urged the assimilation of the Natives, “The basis for historic Indian culture has been swept away. Traditional tribal organization was smashed a generation ago .… Assimilation must be the dominant goal of public policy.”

I talk with the manager of the True Value Hardware store, and his store’s been at it for more than 30 years here, but the council and chamber and economic developers approve of a National Dollar General Store opening up right in the middle of downtown.

The anchor now of the town that was trying to look funky, post logging years. Out in the bushes and the hills there were once progressive back-to-earthers, hippies, and a few shops in town sell artisan stuff, but now the Dollar General is the cancer in downtown Estacada.

The planners and the tax men and the elected officials, again, incapable of looking beyond their noses. True Value Hardware, locally owned, now looking to compete with a shit store with a shit CEO with shit values and shit for brains and shit worker rights and shit locales to store offshore profits.

In the old days, no out-of-towner with Tennessee and NASCAR roots would ever have been accepted, but hell, just hitting Wikipedia, here, the low hanging goods on the company trading $80.50 on NYSE:

Financial irregularities

On April 30, 2001, Dollar General Corp was liable for making false statements or failing to disclose adverse facts about the company’s financial results, and paid $162 million for settlement.

On April 30, 2001, Dollar General announced to restate its earnings for the past three fiscal years, due to accounting irregularities including allegations of fraudulent behavior.

On March 3, 2005, Dollar General announced to restate its results for 2000 through 2003, due to a clarification of lease-accounting matters issued by the SEC.

OSHA 2014 and 2016 fines

In November 2014, Dollar General was fined $51,700 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) following an inspection of a Brooklyn, MS branch of the store. The statement from OSHA notes that Dollar General has had repeated health and safety violations: “Since 2009, OSHA has conducted 72 inspections of Dollar General nationwide. Of those inspections, 39 have resulted in citations.” In April 2016, OSHA reported that further citations had been given to the store for exposing employees to the risk of electrical hazards due to missing face plates on electrical outlets. The store was fined $107,620.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, unlike many tribes does not have a central reservation, but consists of eight tribal communities in Mississippi. Those communities are on land held in trust by the U.S. Government for the benefit of the tribe.

Beginning in 2000, Dollar General has had a lease from the tribe to operate a store on tribal land, and obtained a business license from the tribe. In 2003, a 13-year-old tribal member, identified as John Doe in court documents, was working at the store as part of a joint tribal-Dollar General internship program. Doe alleged that the store manager sexually abused him in 2003[5] causing “severe mental trauma.” The tribe took action to legally exclude the manager from tribal lands, but the United States Attorney did not criminally prosecute him.

Tribal and District Courts

In 2005, Doe sued the store manager and Dollar General in the tribal court. The defendants tried to get the case dismissed, claiming that the tribal court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over non-Indians. The tribal court refused to dismiss the lawsuit, and the Choctaw Supreme Court affirmed, noting the case of Montana v. United States allowed tribes to exercise civil, as opposed to criminal, jurisdiction over non-Indians on tribal land when the non-Indians had entered into a voluntary relationship with the tribe.

The store manager and Dollar General then sued the Tribe in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, seeking to stop the suit in tribal court. The manager was dropped from the case by the district court but Dollar General was held to have been in a consensual relationship and subject to the tribe’s jurisdiction.

Court of Appeals

The defendants then appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which affirmed the decision of the district court. The case was heard by a three-judge panel consisting of Judges Jerry Edwin Smith, Catharina Haynes, and James E. Graves Jr. Judge Graves delivered the opinion of the Court, finding that the facts in the case met the first exception noted in Montana, allowing the tribal court to exercise jurisdiction of Dollar General.

“Unexpected/untamed/unforgettable” is the City of Estacada’s motto, 2017, and the state of the world is in a microcosm, anywhere I go. I have been able to peddle my theses easily since the entire mess of capitalism is tied to the leech, the tick, the parasites, the slimy octopus of hostile takeovers and forced arbitration and tax havens and lobbying.

Could have been a Walmart or Costco — Amazon Fresh — Anything to make a city or township beholding to the transnationals, their blood soaked dollars yanked from the bellies of the rest of us. A town that gets this big cancer in downtown, one giant footprint, and you have to wonder at the lack of creativity, thinking and slight understanding of the history of bad economics. Box Stores. The whole nine yards.

The California Land Rush has been on for a decade up here, reaching into Hillsboro, Estacada, Gresham, Hood River, Wilsonville, Beaverton, up to Vancouver and Longview, WA. They come in with hard real estate cash, and buy up homes – three or four to a family. They do their house flipping and rental hording. These people are California, in every way.

Trucks in a constant black smoke snake, in a Valley already deemed ripe for the taking; and the mythology states that the native tribes called this the Valley of Death, Willamette, but indeed, now, maybe, the “death valley” was meant for when the white man and woman came in with diseases, diseased values, diseased honor, diseased treaties:

In remembrance of the Kalapuyan and Clackamas (lower Columbia Chinook) indians who lived and died here, and in honor of those who still live here; please stop saying “no one lived here.” Please stop saying that Willamette means “the valley of sickness and death.” Please know that if the natives later referred to this valley as one of “sickness and death,” it came from the biological genocide inflicted on the natives by this civilization. Please go to the library, or better yet find a living native, and learn the real history of this place.

This sorry thing called unlimited growth, this Diaspora of whites going back and forth looking for some place to set down roots, this constant fear the white race has of the wild, of undammed rivers, of grizzlies and open plains, and trees and forest fires.

The microcosm I see in El Paso and in Las Cruces, Albuquerque, in Tucson in Phoenix in Spokane in Seattle in Vancouver — every place now that the roiling white race in a constant flurry away from something, away from any place while landing in a new land where the same leeching machines and excavators roam the land like monster metal ungulates.

Earth movers, earth eaters, earth desiccators.

Imagine a city council and rotary club and an American Legion and school board and citizens groups and county agencies and big-players like OHSU and Nike throwing in — those scraped and raped acres turned into some of the most sustainable and strong growing fields. Food . . . . And young and old learning how to grow it and sell it and package it. Imagine a town investing in deep ecology and permacultue. Imagine this little town turning all those old farmsteads and hay operations and wolf-grass filled plots of land into interconnected mushroom farms, cat-fish farms, bonsai centers, kale-broccoli-bean fields. Imagine a city that brings native healers and native educators to their land — cultural centers, and places of social concern. Imagine this town named after the Spanish “stake plain” turned into a going concern, where people come to study real rural and small-town design. Imagine sustainable low impact centers for aging, centers for teaching youth with autism how to live. Among those gardens and fields, all those flickers and stellar jays and black-black crows, alive, yappy, the angels of Native cultures past, a chorus singing about Homo Sapiens  finally doing something right for the now, for the future, for the past.

Imagine.

Postscript: Vortex I was held in Estacada at the state’s expense, where in 1970 100,000 came to a rock concert after the Governor of Oregon, Tom McCall, believed the lies of the FBI saying 50,000 anti-war activists were going to march against the American Legion’s supposed 25,000 attending their convocation in downtown Portland.

Note: Ecological FootprintEcosocialism;   Carrying Capacity; Radical Urban Planning; Marxist Urban Planning;  Redefining Progress

The Rising of Britain’s “New Politics”

As the Tories plot to get rid of Prime Minister Theresa May, John Pilger analyses the alternative Labour Party, specifically its foreign policy, which may not be what it seems.

*****

Delegates to the recent Labour Party conference in the English seaside town of Brighton seemed not to notice a video playing in the main entrance.  The world’s third biggest arms manufacturer, BAe Systems, supplier to Saudi Arabia, was promoting its guns, bombs, missiles, naval ships and fighter aircraft.

It seemed a perfidious symbol of a party in which millions of Britons now invest their political hopes. Once the preserve of Tony Blair, it is led today by Jeremy Corbyn, whose career has been very different from Blair’s and is rare in British establishment politics.

Addressing the Labour conference, the campaigner Naomi Klein described the rise of Corbyn as “part of a global phenomenon. We saw it in Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign in the US primaries, powered by millennials who know that safe centrist politics offers them no kind of safe future.”

In fact, at the end of the US primary elections last year, Sanders led his followers into the arms of Hillary Clinton, a liberal warmonger from a long tradition in the Democratic Party.

As President Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton presided over the invasion of Libya in 2011, which led to a stampede of refugees to Europe. She gloated notoriously at the gruesome murder of Libya’s president. Two years earlier, she signed off on a coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras. That she has been invited to Wales on 14 October to be given an honorary doctorate by the University of Swansea because she is “synonymous with human rights” is unfathomable.

Like Clinton, Sanders is a cold-warrior and an “anti-communist” obsessive with a proprietorial view of the world beyond the United States. He supported Bill Clinton’s and Tony Blair’s illegal assault on Yugoslavia in 1998 and the invasions of Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, as well as Barack Obama’s campaign of terrorism by drone. He backs the provocation of Russia and agrees that the whistleblower Edward Snowden should stand trial. He has called the late Hugo Chavez – a social democrat who won multiple elections – “a dead communist dictator”.

While Sanders is a familiar liberal politician, Corbyn may well be a phenomenon, with his indefatigable support for the victims of American and British imperial adventures and for popular resistance movements.

For example, in the 1960s and 70s, the Chagos islanders were expelled from their homeland, a British colony in the Indian Ocean, by a Labour government. An entire population was kidnapped. The aim was to make way for a US military base on the main island of Diego Garcia: a secret deal for which the British were “compensated” with a discount of $14 million off the price of a Polaris nuclear submarine.

I have had much to do with the Chagos islanders and have filmed them in exile in Mauritius and the Seychelles, where they suffered and grieved and some of them “died from sadness”, as I was told. They found a political champion in a Labour Member of Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn.

So did the Palestinians. So did Iraqis terrorised by a Labour prime minister’s invasion of their country in 2003. So did others struggling to break free from the designs of western power. Corbyn supported the likes of Hugo Chavez, who brought more than hope to societies subverted by the US behemoth.

And yet, now that Corbyn is closer to power than he might have ever imagined, his foreign policy remains a secret.

By secret, I mean there has been rhetoric and little else. “We must put our values at the heart of our foreign policy,” said Corbyn at the Labour conference.  But what are these “values”?

Since 1945, like the Tories, British Labour has been an imperial party, obsequious to Washington and with a record exemplified by the crime in the Chagos islands.

What has changed? Is Jeremy Corbyn saying Labour will uncouple itself from the US war machine, and the US spying apparatus and US economic blockades that scar humanity?

His shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, says a Corbyn government “will put human rights back at the heart of Britain’s foreign policy”. But human rights have never been at the heart of British foreign policy — only “interests”, as Lord Palmerston declared in the 19th century: the interests of those at the apex of British society.

Thornberry quoted the late Robin Cook who, as Tony Blair’s first Foreign Secretary in 1997, pledged an “ethical foreign policy” that would “make Britain once again a force for good in the world”.

History is not kind to imperial nostalgia. The recently commemorated division of India by a Labour government in 1947 – with a border hurriedly drawn up by a London barrister, Gordon Radcliffe, who had never been to India and never returned – led to blood-letting on a genocidal scale.

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep the assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

— W.H. Auden, ‘Partition’.

It was the same Labour government (1945–51), led by Prime Minister Clement Attlee – “radical” by today’s standards — that dispatched General Douglas Gracey’s British imperial army to Saigon with orders to re-arm the defeated Japanese in order to prevent Vietnamese nationalists from liberating their own country. Thus, the longest war of the century was ignited.

It was a Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, whose policy of “mutuality” and “partnership” with some of the world’s most vicious despots, especially in the Middle East, forged relationships that endure today, often sidelining and crushing the human rights of whole communities and societies. The cause was British “interests” – oil, power, wealth.

In the “radical” 1960s, Labour’s Defence Secretary, Denis Healey, set up the Defence Sales Organisation (DSO) specifically to boost the arms trade and make money from selling lethal weapons to the world. Healey told Parliament, “While we attach the highest importance to making progress in the field of arms control and disarmament, we must also take what practical steps we can to ensure that this country does not fail to secure its rightful share of this valuable market.”

The double-think was quintessentially Labour.

When I later asked Healey about this “valuable market”, he claimed his decision made no difference to the volume of military exports. In fact, it led to an almost doubling of Britain’s share of the arms market. Today, Britain is the second biggest arms dealer on earth, selling arms and fighter planes, machine guns and “riot control” vehicles, to 22 of the 30 countries on the British Government’s own list of human rights violators.

Will this cease under a Corbyn government? The preferred model – Robin Cook’s “ethical foreign policy” – is revealing. Like Jeremy Corbyn, Cook made his name as a backbencher and critic of the arms trade. “Wherever weapons are sold,” wrote Cook, “there is a tacit conspiracy to conceal the reality of war” and “it is a truism that every war for the past two decades has been fought by poor countries with weapons supplied by rich countries”.

Cook singled out the sale of British Hawk fighters to Indonesia as “particularly disturbing”. Indonesia “is not only repressive but actually at war on two fronts: in East Timor, where perhaps a sixth of the population has been slaughtered … and in West Papua, where it confronts an indigenous liberation movement”.

As Foreign Secretary, Cook promised “a thorough review of arms sales”. The then Nobel Peace Laureate, Bishop Carlos Belo of East Timor, appealed directly to Cook: “Please, I beg you, do not sustain any longer a conflict which without these arms sales could never have been pursued in the first place and not for so very long.” He was referring to Indonesia’s bombing of East Timor with British Hawks and the slaughter of his people with British machine guns. He received no reply.

The following week Cook called journalists to the Foreign Office to announce his “mission statement” for “human rights in a new century”. This PR event included the usual private briefings for selected journalists, including the BBC, in which Foreign Office officials lied that there was “no evidence” that British Hawk aircraft were deployed in East Timor.

A few days later, the Foreign Office issued the results of Cook’s “thorough review” of arms sales policy. “It was not realistic or practical,” wrote Cook, “to revoke licences which were valid and in force at the time of Labour’s election victory”. Suharto’s Minister for Defence, Edi Sudradjat, said that talks were already under way with Britain for the purchase of 18 more Hawk fighters. “The political change in Britain will not affect our negotiations,” he said. He was right.

Today, replace Indonesia with Saudi Arabia and East Timor with Yemen. British military aircraft – sold with the approval of both Tory and Labour governments and built by the firm whose promotional video had pride of place at the Labour Party conference – are bombing the life out of Yemen, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, where half the children are malnourished and there is the greatest cholera epidemic in modern times.

Hospitals and schools, weddings and funerals have been attacked. In Ryadh, British military personnel are reported to be training the Saudis in selecting targets.

In Labour’s 2017 manifesto, Jeremy Corbyn and his party colleagues promised that “Labour will demand a comprehensive, independent, UN-led investigation into alleged violations … in Yemen, including air strikes on civilians by the Saudi-led coalition. We will immediately suspend any further arms sales for use in the conflict until that investigation is concluded.”

But the evidence of Saudi Arabia’s crimes in Yemen is already documented by Amnesty and others, notably by the courageous reporting of the British journalist Iona Craig. The dossier is voluminous.

Labour does not promise to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia. It does not say Britain will withdraw its support for governments responsible for the export of Islamist jihadism. There is no commitment to dismantle the arms trade.

The manifesto describes a “special relationship [with the US] based on shared values … When the current Trump administration chooses to ignore them … we will not be afraid to disagree”.

As Jeremy Corbyn knows, dealing with the US is not about merely “disagreeing”. The US is a rapacious, rogue power that ought not to be regarded as a natural ally of any state championing human rights, irrespective of whether Trump or anyone else is President.

When Emily Thornberry linked Venezuela with the Philippines as “increasingly autocratic regimes” – slogans bereft of contextual truth and ignoring the subversive US role in Venezuela — she was consciously playing to the enemy: a tactic with which Jeremy Corbyn will be familiar.

A Corbyn government will allow the Chagos islanders the right of return. But Labour says nothing about renegotiating the 50-year renewal agreement that Britain has just signed with the US allowing it to use the base on Diego Garcia from which it has bombed Afghanistan and Iraq.

A Corbyn government will “immediately recognise the state of Palestine”. But it is silent on whether Britain will continue to arm Israel, continue to acquiesce in the illegal trade in Israel’s illegal “settlements” and continue to treat Israel merely as a warring party, rather than as an historic oppressor given immunity by Washington and London.

On Britain’s support for Nato’s current war preparations, Labour boasts that the “last Labour government spent above the benchmark of 2 per cent of GDP” on Nato. It says, “Conservative spending cuts have put Britain’s security at risk” and promises to boost Britain’s military “obligations”.

In fact, most of the £40 billion Britain currently spends on the military is not for territorial defence of the UK but for offensive purposes to enhance British “interests” as defined by those who have tried to smear Jeremy Corbyn as unpatriotic.

If the polls are reliable, most Britons are well ahead of their politicians, Tory and Labour. They would accept higher taxes to pay for public services; they want the National Health Service restored to full health. They want decent jobs and wages and housing and schools; they do not hate foreigners but resent exploitative labour. They have no fond memory of an empire on which the sun never set.

They oppose the invasion of other countries and regard Blair as a liar.  The rise of Donald Trump has reminded them what a menace the United States can be, especially with their own country in tow.

The Labour Party is the beneficiary of this mood, but many of its pledges – certainly in foreign policy – are qualified and compromised, suggesting, for many Britons, more of the same.

Jeremy Corbyn is widely and properly recognised for his integrity; he opposes the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons; the Labour Party supports it. But he has given shadow cabinet positions to pro-war MPs who support Blairism, and tried to get rid of him and abused him as “unelectable”.

“We are the political mainstream now,” says Corbyn.  Yes, but at what price?

Climate Change: The Catastrophic Impact on Developing Countries

The Paris Agreement on climate change, signed in November 2016, was the first time all the world’s nations (except Nicaragua and Syria) signed up to reduce emissions and cap man-made global warming.

Amongst a number of positive pledges made by governments a key agreement was the goal to limit the increase in the average global temperature to well below 2°C (above pre-industrial levels) and to aim for 1.5°C. The probability is that neither of these goals will be met; in fact, a recent study conducted by the University of Washington, estimates there is a mere 5% chance of meeting the 2°C target, and states that, “The likely range of global temperature increase [up to 2100] is 2.0–4.9 °C.”

Another Trump Mistake

An important part of the Paris Agreement was a commitment to assist developing countries as they try to prepare for and mitigate the impact of rising global temperatures caused by greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere by industrialized countries.

In a somewhat optimistic statement after the Paris accord, UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa and Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar said, “Humanity will look back on November 4, 2016, as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster.” They went on to say that: “The Agreement is undoubtedly a turning point in the history of common human endeavor, capturing the combined political, economic and social will of governments, cities, regions, citizens, business and investors to overcome the existential threat of unchecked climate change.”

A step of huge significance then, not just in our approach to climate change, but in the development of a global sense of unity. And whilst little of substance has been done since the accord, it represented a major shift away from isolationism, nationalism and ideology towards collective responsibility and cooperative action.

The decision by President Trump not to implement the Paris Agreement violates this unifying act and is a massive mistake, one of many. It reveals how out of touch his administration and certain sections of US business are with the mood of the times and the majority of people around the world. His violent, irresponsible and ignorant action further isolates the US, and reinforces international feelings of anger and dismay at successive US governments’ approach to global affairs and the destructive values espoused and exported by the Neo-Liberal ideologues that determine American government policy.

Michael Brune, from the US environmental group, the Sierra Club, expressed the view of many when he said that: “Donald Trump has made a historic mistake which our grandchildren will look back on with stunned dismay at how a world leader could be so divorced from reality and morality.” Trump has “shamelessly disregarded the safety of our families just to let the fossil fuel industry eke out a few more dollars in profits.” America is a significant source of financial and technological support for developing countries: this is also jeopardized by the decision to withdraw. The ambitions of many countries to reduce emissions are dependent on receiving international support, and lack of funds will impact on their ability to meet agreed targets.

By this decision the US, which is responsible for 15% of all carbon emissions, has made it more difficult to reach the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement and intensified the risks resulting from climate change. The results could well be devastating for the whole World (including America), in particular those countries in the front line of climate change, many of which constitute the poorest nations on Earth, are not the principle polluters, have little or no resources – socially, technologically or financially – to cope with the impact of increases in global temperatures and need the support of wealthier countries.

A World Bank report (Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty) states that climate change “threatens the objective of sustainably eradicating poverty”, and unless substantial worldwide efforts are made, more than 100 million people could be pushed back into poverty by 2030. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, home to the poorest of the poor, are the regions that will be hit the hardest. Studies by the Bank show that climate change in these regions will result in increased agricultural prices and could threaten food security: it’s the same old story, the poor always suffer most, no matter what the threat is.

Over the next ten years, according to The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “it is predicted that billions of people, particularly those in developing countries, [will] face shortages of water and food and greater risks to health and life as a result of climate change.” Concerted global action – not withdrawal from international agreements – is needed they state: “To enable developing countries to adapt to the effects of climate change that are happening now and will worsen in the future.”

The poor live in a state of perpetual uncertainty; one natural disaster can take away what little they have, destroying homes and livestock, bringing death and disease. Based on three reports, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast that a global temperature increase within the lowest targets agreed at Paris, of between 1.5ºC and 2ºC will have a devastating impact: reduced crop yields in tropical areas fueling hunger, the spread of malaria and diarrhoea, and the risk of extinction of 20 – 30 per cent of all plant and animal species. By 2020, “Up to 250 million people in Africa could be exposed to greater risk of water stress,” and over the course of the century millions of people around the Himalayas and Andes will be at risk of bouts of flooding and drought as glaciers retreat or disappear.

Migration and agricultural degradation

Environmental changes have always fed global migration, but the impact of climate change on communities in developing countries could lead to the displacement of unprecedented numbers of people. This will impact on countries in neighbouring regions and the wider world and in turn affect the surrounding ecosystems.

The key cause of mass displacement due to climate change will come from sea-level rises — a rise of 17 – 19 cm in the next 40 years is likely, with many scientists projecting a one meter rise by the end of the century. In addition to small island states, Egypt, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India and China are countries most at risk, all have large populations and productive agricultural land in low-lying coastal areas. Higher temperatures (affecting agriculture), disruption of water cycles and increased intensity of storms are the other key factors that are set to drive people from their homes.

The Global Military Advisory Council on climate change states, somewhat alarmingly, that climate change could trigger a refugee crisis of “unimaginable scale”, and that mass migration will become the “new normal”. Major General Munir Muniruzzaman, a former general in the Bangladesh army and chairman of the military Council has told The Guardian that, “one meter of sea level rise will flood 20% of his nation. “We’re going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people.” This view was echoed by former US Secretary of State John Kerry when, in 2015 (and nothing has changed since then) he warned that with increased food insecurity and shortages of water, violent conflicts between tribal groups fighting for survival would erupt and mass migration would follow. Far from being fantastical or apocalyptic, the early signs of this vision are upon us: In Pakistan, for example, – one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, floods during 2010 destroyed crops and forced 14 million people from their homes. But according to research conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute floods are not the biggest threat, it’s hot weather, ‘heat stress’, as it’s called, that drive more people from their homes, as it severely impacts on crop yields.

Climate change is upon us, is increasingly affecting weather patterns around the world, and if the World Bank report is correct, in the short-term – between now and 2030 – there is little that can be done to reduce them; the only option for developing countries over the next 15 years or so they say, is to “reduce vulnerability through both targeted adaptation investments and improved socioeconomic conditions.”

There is an alternative way to ‘reduce vulnerability’ for the poorest people in the world, and that is by the rich nations sharing what they have, and what the Earth provides more equitably amongst everyone. Building sharing into the socio-economic model that determines peoples lives; sharing the food and water, the knowledge, skills, information and materials, technology and ideas, so that those with nothing do not suffer the most as a result of our collective poisoning of the world; contamination by the industrialized nations of the world, which has caused the greatest crisis humanity has faced and is already tearing at the lives of millions of the most disadvantaged.

The Tragedy of Forced Displacement

It constitutes the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War affecting huge numbers of people and demanding all that is best in us. Yet instead of compassion, understanding and unity, all too often intolerance, ignorance and suspicion characterise the response to the needs of refugees and migrants.

There are now unprecedented numbers of displaced people in our world, with children making up a disproportionate percentage of the total. Figures from UNHCR are detailed and shocking and demand our attention: At 65.3 million, “the global population of forcibly displaced people today is larger than the entire population of the UK.” Of this total, almost 25 million are refugees (half are children, many of them unaccompanied) – 3.2 million of whom are in developed countries awaiting asylum decisions. The rest, 41 million, are displaced within their own countries, Syria, Columbia, Yemen and Iraq making up the lion’s share.

The movement of large groups of people is most commonly the result of wars of one kind or another. This is reflected in the fact that over half the world’s refugees come from just three countries: Syria (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million). People are also fleeing conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Nigeria and Sudan, and the UN recognises a further five armed conflicts in Africa alone – this does not include Ethiopia, where there is civil unrest, or Eritrea. Add to this list nations ruled by repressive regimes, other countries where economic opportunities are scarce and the magnitude of the migrant crisis begins to surface. It’s worth noting that the overwhelming majority of refugees (people fleeing violence), 90%, are not crowding the cities of industrialised nations, as some duplicitous politicians infer,.  They are in refugee camps in poor countries close to their own, living uncomfortable lives of uncertainty and misery.

Mass Vulnerability

Most people don’t leave their homeland because they want too. They move because either their town or city is a war zone; they are being persecuted and are in danger; or they cannot find work to support themselves. Given the same circumstances wouldn’t we do the same? And yet in countries throughout the world migrants have become the scapegoat for all manner of social-economic ills. Often publicly vilified and treated like criminals by heavy-handed officials and security personnel, herded into holding camps, processing units and detention centres – which in many cases are worse than prison. ‘Migrant’ in some bigoted quarters has become a dirty word, synonymous with criminality and extremism. Described as a potential threat to ‘national security’ or as ‘Islamic terrorists’ by those on the very fringes of sanity – flag-waving fanatics who call themselves politicians, but employ the rhetoric of intolerance and fear to ignite tribal instincts that should have been jettisoned in favour of mutual understanding, tolerance and universal brotherhood decades ago.

Migrants are not criminals. They are human beings trying to survive in a hostile, unjust world: A world in which violent conflicts – that lead to the mass movement of people ­– are engineered by the powerful to sustain an insatiable arms industry (worth $1.7 trillion or 3% of global GDP) and maintain geo-political control. A world based on wrong conclusions, where the commercialisation of all areas of life has lead to the commodification of everything, including persons – including children. In this world of money and fear the most vulnerable are traded and sold; vulnerability grows out of poverty, and allows for exploitation: there are few human beings more vulnerable and defenceless than migrants, particularly migrant children.

For most people fleeing conflict or economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa (North and Sub-Saharan) the primary destination is Europe. In 2016, 363,348 people arrived at one or another Mediterranean port, roughly a third being children, 90% of whom were unaccompanied. Most people cross the sea to Italy or Greece, departing from Libya, of whom 5,078 are estimated to have drowned making the 300-mile crossing during 2016 alone.

Since the ill-judged US-led assault on Libya in 2011, the country has become a chaotic dysfunctional state racked with terrorism, political instability and crime. In this lawless land Human Rights Watch (HRW) records that hundreds of thousands of innocent migrants (including children), experience torture, sexual assault and forced labour at the hands of “prison guards, members of the Coast Guard forces and smugglers.” Recent investigations by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) found that migrants in Libya are being openly bought and sold as slaves by Libyans; young men from poor families, mainly from Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia and Senegal, are targeted. They pay traffickers hundreds of US$ to get them to Libya, and once they arrive, IOM reports, they are handed over to smugglers for sale. In other cases migrant boys/men are kidnapped, held for ransom and then auctioned off to the highest bidder. Women and girls are “bought by private [Libyan] individuals and brought to homes where they were [are] forced to be sex slaves.” It’s thought that up to 800,000 migrants are currently congregated in Libya.

When those who survive the horrors of Libya make it to Europe, the nightmare for some is far from over. Save the Children reports that thousands of migrants are trafficked in Europe every year; the majority are women/girls, mainly from Nigeria and Romania, who are forced into prostitution, “made to rent sidewalk space to sell sex, ”amid voodoo rituals and violent threats against their families back home. Some are as young as 13. Boys are also victims: “social networking sites like Facebook” are used “to lure boys with the promise of a better life.” The reality is slave labour in Rome or Milan. As the number of unaccompanied children arriving on Europe’s shores doubles year on year, the risks of exploitation and human suffering increase. Europol believes as many as 10,000 “unaccompanied child refugees have gone missing after arriving in Europe.”

Victims of Circumstance

The numbers are huge and the demands on countries to meet the needs of millions of displaced people are intense and complex. But as Pope Francis, who is increasingly the voice of reason and common sense, rightly stated, “we must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation…in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”

When migrants arrive at their destination, knowing nobody, not speaking the language and with no understanding of the culture, they are faced with the mammoth task of re-building their lives. All depends on the support and welcome offered. In the US, despite Trump’s antagonistic rhetoric, the attitude amongst most Americans is largely positive. According to a Pew research survey, 63% of US adults think immigrants strengthen the country, with only 27% believing migrants take jobs, housing and health care. In Europe however, the picture was less encouraging; in eight out of 10 European nations surveyed 50% or more of adults questioned said they thought refugees increased the likelihood of terrorism, and in none of the 10 countries did a majority believe diversity was positive.

It is essential, and morally just, that all displaced people should be treated kindly, shown understanding and trust. Destination countries should be welcoming, Government policies supportive and inclusive, refugees integrated – for as Pope Francis said, “a refugee must not only be welcomed, but also integrated…and if a country is only able to integrate 20, let’s say, then it should only accept that many. If another is able to do more, let them do more.”

Displaced people (refugees or economic migrants) sitting in a refugee camp or sheltering in an abandoned building, waiting to hear the result of an asylum application or in transit somewhere in the world, are victims of circumstance. They are not the ones orchestrating or carrying out the violent conflicts around the world, nor are they responsible for the economic conditions in their native countries. They are victims of a divided world, fragmented by religion, ethnicity, ideology and economics; and with the intensification of these causes the effects increase – displacement of people is one such effect.

The solutions to this major crisis, and indeed many of our problems, would naturally flow from the recognition of the fact that we are brothers and sisters of one humanity. In such an understanding, hostile divisions based on nationalism and ethnicity begin to fade, whilst the diversity of differing views and cultural traditions enriches and adds to the tapestry of society. This single shift in thinking – simple yet enormous – would facilitate changes in all areas of society; sharing, co-operation and tolerance of others would begin to shape the socio-economic systems, totally changing their nature, allowing social justice to develop, trust to grow and peace to gently settle upon our troubled world.

Muslim Diaspora

Mohamud (Tarzan) Nur

US policy in Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan from 1979 on helped reduce all three countries to failed states. It created massive refugee populations from all three. This was not intended nor foreseen, and has been a headache for the West ever since. Also unintended and unforeseen, this brought millions of Muslims to the West, undermining “Judeo-Christian civilization”, which is really just a pseudonym for imperialism, with little sign of anything ‘Jewish’ or ‘Christian’. These Muslims are by definition anti-imperialist and are forcing the West to deal with Islam, now an integral part of western society.

There are more than one million Somali refugees, spread from Sweden to the US, and Somalis abroad are forced to downplay the clan system, though it still exists where enough of one clan can form a community. But the second generation exiles are not interested. Andrew Harding, author of The Mayor of Mogadishu: A story of chaos and redemption in the ruins of Somalia (2016), was told by an interviewee that Somali exiles are almost like a new set of clans. The American Somalis are “a bit more outgoing, they like to push things harder.” The Scandinavian Somalis are the opposite, “endlessly trying to bring everyone on board.” The British are somewhere in between.

New kinds of foreign aid

They are also remitting billions of dollars to relatives in the devastated countries, doing far more good than bureaucratic official aid, much of which is embezzled and otherwise used as the West sees fit, rather than as the locals would like and need. This in turn is pushing westerners who really want to help, to restructure aid programs to meet local needs (microloans, cell phone banking, hands-on local infrastructure using traditional techniques tweeked by modern technology, just giving a ‘basic income’ to penniless peasants).

Imperialism is greedy, cruel, selfish, but all people living under the system are not, and this peoples’ diplomacy is slowly gaining momentum. The jury’s still out on the final outcome of the imperial saga. The dreams of socialism are more or less dashed, but for Somalis and Afghanis old enough to remember, their days of socialism in the 1970s are fond memories, before the lure of empire (Somalia) and secularism (Afghanistan) took over, masterfully manipulated by the US.

A bright spot in Somalia’s recent history is the subject of Andrew Harding’s biography of Mohamud (Tarzan) Nur, The Mayor of Mogadishu: A story of chaos and redemption in the ruins of Somalia (2016). Nur is the son of a shepherd, born in 1956 in what is now Ethiopia. He and brother Yusuf were sent to Mogadishu by his widowed mother, and he grew up in the famous orphanage there that produced many of Somalia’s future political leaders. He gained his nickname as a fighter and basketball star. When Barre invaded Ogaden, Nur saw the light, and escaped certain personal disaster via Djibouti. His journey over the next 16 years is a testimony to resourcefulness, forged passports, visa violations, and lots of hard work, earning enough money in Saudi Arabia to help him bring his wife and six sons to London in 1993.

Somalia was then ruled by warlords, awash with lethal western arms. The famous ‘Black Hawk down’ incident, when the US attempted a mini-invasion in Mogadishu, took place in 1992. The same warlord scenario was playing out in Afghanistan in the 1990s as well. The same reaction — rural, devout Islamists filling the power vacuum — arose. The people of both countries embraced a strict Muslim ‘student’ movement; in Afghanistan, the Taleban, in Somalia al-Shabab, who disarmed the clans and instituted a strict but fair sharia legal and economic system, governed by the Quran. Both were sympathetic to al-Qaeda, which had abandoned its flirtation with the US in the 1980s, and was now America’s implacable enemy.

US diktat

The US was against both, given their animosity to the US and support for al-Qaeda, newly labelled “terrorist”, and undermined the legitimate power base in both countries. Afghanistan suffered full scale invasion in 2001. The West pushed to establish a (western-backed) Transitional National Government (TNG) in Somalia in 2000, but without ‘troops on the ground’, had no credibility. After six years without any national government, a genuine alternative coalesced in 2006 —  the Islamic Courts Union, a coalition of Islamists, but still including Shabab.

Nur returned to Somalia in 2006, hopeful that Somalia had succeeded to walk the tightrope of US ire and clan warfare, where Afghanistan had failed. “The ICU are the right people to make peace in Somalia. No more clan rubbish.” Like Karzai in Afghanistan in the 1990s, he was willing to work with ICU and their ‘student’ allies, despite their radical Salafism, and hoped to be a bridge with the West, where he had established himself and his family.

But the US nixed any support for the ICU because of Shabab. Instead, they convinced Somalia’s enemy Ethiopia to invade Somalia in 2007, and, when that failed, to have African Union peacekeepers occupy, and help the newly formed Somali army crush the ICU.  Nur went back to London, actively organizing protests against the US support for the Ethiopian invasion, but otherwise, biding his time. Like Karzai, Nur passed the US litmus test, and when the new western-backed coalition government was set up in 2009, Nur was invited to return as mayor of Mogadishu from 2010 to 2014.

The first year and a half were harrowing, with warlords controlling half of Mogadishu, and constant phone threats to kill him, but Nur was unfazed. His family was safely in London. His younger brother Yusuf told Harding, “fatalism is misunderstood in the West. In Islam, you do all you can to stay alive. You do your best. But after that, you don’t worry.” Harding’s admiring biography of Nur is full of near-miss assassination attempts and attacks. Particularly tragic was the attack on a modest street festival in 2011 celebrating peace and reconstruction, where four civilians (including the brass band leader) were gunned down. Nur was the target, but had left the festivities minutes before.

Phoenix from the ashes

Finally, possibly because of the worsening famine, or just ashamed at their pointless, unpopular attacks on innocent civilians, the warlords packed up and left Mogadishu two months after the festival debacle, and Nur was able to rebuild the power grid, pave roads, build schools, create a modest night life for Somalia’s capital. Nur was not as corrupt as Karzai (jokingly referred to as the ‘mayor of Kabul’), was not handicapped by US invaders, and his success as mayor is heart-warming.

In 2014, Somali confronted insurgent-held pockets in the countryside. The insurgency at home and in the Ogaden continue in 2017, but compared to Afghanistan, Somalia has hope.

Nur had/has every intention of becoming president some day, but that is unlikely. While well-liked and capable, he has no chance given the complex clan system, his boot-strap education and British passport. Somalis like the remittances from relatives abroad, but they also resent the fact that these emigres lived a relatively easy life when most Somalis were suffering at home. Nur understands this, and is probably just grateful that he and his family are alive, well and well-educated.

The story of the mayor of Mogadishu, Nur’s cheerful resourcefulness, love of family (six sons), unscathed by the decade of collapsing Somalia, and the subsequent two decades of the nightmare as a failed-state. The Mayor of Mogadishu gives a much needed corrective to the image of Muslims and Africa in disarray, of Somalia caricatured as a land of terrorists, starving children, and refugees fed to us in the mass media.

• Read Part One here

• First published in Crescent International

Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About the “Ecology of War”

Dr. Gus Abu-Sitta

Dr. Gus Abu-Sitta is the head of the Plastic Surgery Department at the AUB Medical Center in Lebanon. He specializes in: reconstructive surgery. What it means in this part of the world is clear: they bring you people from the war zones, torn to pieces, missing faces, burned beyond recognition, and you have to try to give them their life back.

Dr. Abu-Sitta is also a thinker. A Palestinian born in Kuwait, he studied and lived in the UK, and worked in various war zones of the Middle East, as well as in Asia, before accepting his present position at the AUB Medical Center in Beirut, Lebanon.

We were brought together by peculiar circumstances. Several months ago I burned my foot on red-hot sand, in Southeast Asia. It was healing slowly, but it was healing. Until I went to Afghanistan where at one of the checkpoints in Herat I had to take my shoes off, and the wound got badly infected. Passing through London, I visited a hospital there, and was treated by one of Abu-Sitta’s former professors. When I said that among other places I work in Lebanon, he recommended that I visit one of his “best students who now works in Beirut”.

I did. During that time, a pan-Arab television channel, Al-Mayadeen, was broadcasting in English, with Arabic subtitles, a long two-part interview with me, about my latest political/revolutionary novel “Aurora” and about the state of the global south, and the upsurge of the Western imperialism. To my surprise, Dr. Abu-Sitta and his colleagues were following my work and political discourses. To these hardened surgeons, my foot ‘issue’ was just a tiny insignificant scratch. What mattered was the US attack against Syria, the Palestine, and the provocations against North Korea.

My ‘injury’ healed well, and Dr. Abu-Sitta and I became good friends. Unfortunately I have to leave Beirut for Southeast Asia, before a huge conference, which he and his colleagues are launching on the May 15, 2017, a conference on the “Ecology of War”.

I believe that the topic is thoroughly fascinating and essential for our humanity, even for its survival. It combines philosophy, medicine and science.

What happens to people in war zones? And what is a war zone, really? We arrived at some common conclusions, as both of us were working with the same topic but looking at it from two different angles: “The misery is war. The destruction of the strong state leads to conflict. A great number of people on our Planet actually live in some conflict or war, without even realizing it: in slums, in refugee camps, in thoroughly collapsed states, or in refugee camps.”

We talked a lot: about fear, which is engulfing countries like the UK, about the new wave of individualism and selfishness, which has its roots in frustration. At one point he said: “In most parts of the world “freedom” is synonymous with the independence struggle for our countries. In such places as the UK, it mainly means more individualism, selfishness and personal liberties.”

We talked about imperialism, medicine and the suffering of the Middle East.

Then we decided to publish this dialogue, shedding some light on the “Ecology of War” – this essential new discipline in both philosophy and medicine.

Ecology of War

(The discussion took place in Beirut, Lebanon, in Cafe Younes, on April 25, 2017)

Broken Social Contract In The Arab World, Even In Europe

GA-S: In the South, medicine and the provision of health were critical parts of the post-colonial state. And the post-colonial state built medical systems such as we had in Iraq, Egypt and in Syria as part of the social contract. They became an intrinsic part of the creation of those states. And it was a realization that the state has to exercise its power both coercively, (which we know the state is capable of exercising, by putting you in prison, and even exercising violence), but above all non-coercively: it needs to house you, educate you, and give you health, all of those things. And that non-coercive power that the states exercise is a critical part of the legitimizing process of the state. We saw it evolve in 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. So as a digression, if you want to look at how the state was dismantled: the aim of the sanctions against Iraq was not to weaken the Makhabarat or the army; the aim of the sanctions was to rob the Iraqi state of its non-coercive power; its ability to give life, to give education, and that’s why after 12 years, the state has totally collapsed internally – not because its coercive powers have weakened, but because it was robbed of all its non-coercive powers, of all its abilities to guarantee life to its citizens.

AV: So in a way the contract between the state and the people was broken.

GA-S: Absolutely! And you had that contract existing in the majority of post-colonialist states. With the introduction of the IMF and World Bank-led policies that viewed health and the provision of health as a business opportunity for the ruling elites and for corporations, and viewed free healthcare as a burden on the state, you began to have an erosion in certain countries like Egypt, like Jordan, of the non-coercive powers of the state, leading to the gradual weakening of its legitimacy. Once again, the aim of the IMF and World Bank was to turn health into a commodity, which could be sold back to people as a service; sold back to those who could afford it.

AV: So, the US model, but in much more brutal form, as the wages in most of those countries were incomparably lower.

GA-S: Absolutely! And the way you do that in these countries: you create a two-tier system where the government tier is so under-funded, that people choose to go to the private sector. And then in the private sector you basically have the flourishing of all aspects of private healthcare: from health insurance to provision of health care, to pharmaceuticals.

AV: Paradoxically this scenario is also taking place in the UK right now.

GA-S: We see it in the UK and we’ll see it in many other European countries. But it has already happened in this region, in the Arab world. Here, the provision of health was so critical to creation of the states. It was critical to the legitimacy of the state.

AV: The scenario has been extremely cynical: while the private health system was imposed on the Arab region and on many other parts of the world, in the West itself, except in the United States, medical care remains public and basically free. We are talking about state medical care in Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

GA-S: Yes. In Europe as part of the welfare state that came out of the Second World War, the provision of healthcare was part of the social contract. As the welfare state with the advent of Thatcherism and Reagan-ism was being dismantled, it became important to undergo a similar process as elsewhere. The difference is that in the UK, and also in countries like Germany, it was politically very dangerous. It could lead to election losses. So the second plan was to erode the health system, by a thousand blows, kill it gradually. What you ended up in the UK is the piece-by-piece privatization of the health sector. And the people don’t know, they don’t notice that the system is becoming private. Or in Germany where actually the government does not pay for healthcare – the government subsidizes the insurance companies that profit from the private provision of healthcare.

AV: Before we began recording this discussion, we were speaking about the philosophical dilemmas that are now besieging or at least should be besieging the medical profession. Even the social medical care in Europe: isn’t it to some extent a cynical arrangement? European countries are now all part of the imperialist block, together with the United States, and they are all plundering the rest of the world – the Middle East, Africa, parts of Asia – and they are actually subsidizing their social system from that plunder. That’s one thing. But also, the doctors and nurses working for instance in the UK or Germany are often ‘imported’ from much poorer countries, where they have often received free education. Instead of helping their own, needy people, they are actually now serving the ageing and by all international comparisons, unreasonably spoiled and demanding population in Europe, which often uses medical facilities as if they were some ‘social club’.

GA-S: I think what has happened, particularly in Europe, is that there is a gradual erosion of all aspects of the welfare state. Politically it was not yet possible to get rid of free healthcare. The problem that you can certainly see in the United Kingdom is that health is the final consequence of social and economic factors that people live in. So if you have chronic unemployment, second and third generation unemployment problem, these have health consequences. If you have the destruction of both pensions and the cushion of a social umbrella for the unemployed, that has consequences… Poor housing has health consequences. Mass unemployment has health consequences. Politically it was easy to get rid of all other aspects of the welfare state, but they were stuck with a healthcare problem. And so the losing battle that the health systems in the West are fighting is that they are being expected to cater to the poor consequences of the brutal capitalist system as a non-profit endeavor. But we know that once these lifestyle changes are affecting people’s health, it’s too late in terms of cure or prevention. And so what the European health systems do, they try to patch people and to get them out of the system and back on the street. So if you have children with chronic asthma, you treat the asthma but not the dump housing in which these children are living in. If you have violent assaults and trauma related to violence, you treat the trauma, the physical manifestation, and not the breakdown of youth unemployment, or racism that creates this. So in order to sustain this anomaly, as you said, you need an inflated health system, because you make people sick and then you try to fix them, rather than stopping them from being sick. Hence that brain drains that have basically happened, where you have more Ghanaian doctors in New York than you have in Ghana.

AV: And you have an entire army of Philippine nurses in the UK, while there is suddenly a shortage of qualified nurses in Manila.

GA-S: Absolutely! This is the result of the fact that actually people’s health ‘happens’ outside the health system. Because you cannot get rid of the health system, you end up having a bloated health system, and try to fix the ailments that are coming through the door.

Collapse Of The Health Care In The Middle East

AV: You worked in this entire region. You worked in Iraq, and in Gaza… both you and I worked in Shifa Hospital in Gaza… You worked in Southern Lebanon during the war. How brutal is the healthcare situation in the Middle East? How badly has been, for instance, the Iraqi peoples’ suffering, compared to Western patients? How cruel is the situation in Gaza?

GA-S: If you look at places like Iraq: Iraq in the 80’s probably had one of the most advanced health systems in the region. Then you went through the first war against Iraq, followed by 12 years of sanctions in which that health system was totally dismantled; not just in terms of hospitals and medication and the forced exile of doctors and health professionals, but also in terms of other aspects of health, which are the sewage and water and electricity plants, all of those parts of the infrastructure that directly impact on people’s lives.

AV: Then came depleted uranium…

GA-S: And then you add to the mix that 2003 War and then the complete destruction and dismantling of the state, and the migration of some 50% of Iraq’s doctors.

AV: Where did they migrate?

GA-S: Everywhere: to the Gulf and to the West; to North America, Europe… So what you have in Iraq is a system that is not only broken, but that has lost the components that are required to rebuild it. You can’t train a new generation of doctors in Iraq, because your trainers have all left the country. You can’t create a health system in Iraq, because you have created a government infrastructure that is intrinsically unstable and based on a multi-polarity of the centers of power which all are fighting for control of the pie of the state… and so Iraqis sub-contract their health at hospital level to India and to Turkey and Lebanon, or Jordan, because they are in this vicious loop.

AV: But this is only for those who can afford it?

GA-S: Yes, for those who can, but even in those times when the government had cash it could not build the system anymore. So it would sub-contract health provisions outside, because the system was so broken that money couldn’t fix it.

AV: Is it the same in other countries of the region?

GA-S: The same is happening in Libya and the same is happening in Syria, with regards of the migration of their doctors. Syria will undergo something similar to Iraq at the end of the war, if the Syrian state is destroyed.

AV: But it is still standing.

GA-S: It still stands and it is still providing healthcare to the overwhelming majority of the population even to those who live in the rebel-controlled areas. They are travelling to Damascus and other cities for their cardiac services or for their oncological services.

AV: So no questions asked; you are sick, you get treated?

GA-S: Even from the ISIS-controlled areas people can travel and get treated, because this is part of the job of the state.

AV: The same thing is happening with the education there; Syria still provides all basic services in that area.

GA-S: Absolutely! But in Libya, because the state has totally disappeared or has disintegrated, all this is gone.

AV: Libya is not even one country, anymore…

Intifada Gaza

GA-S: There is not a unified country and there is definitely no health system. In Gaza and the Palestine, the occupation and the siege, ensure that there is no normal development of the health system and in case of Gaza as the Israelis say “every few years you come and you mown the lawn”; you kill as many people in these brutal and intense wars, so you can ensure that the people for the next few years will be trying to survive the damage that you have caused.

AV: Is there any help from Israeli physicians?

GA-S: Oh yes! Very few individuals, but there is…

But the Israeli medical establishment is actually an intrinsic part of the Israeli establishment, and the Israeli academic medical establishment is also part of the Israeli establishment. And the Israeli Medical Association refused to condemn the fact that Israeli doctors examine Palestinian political prisoners for what they call “fitness for interrogation”. Which is basically… you get seen by a doctor who decides how much torture you can take before you die.

Gaza Shifa Hospital – wounded by Israeli soldiers

AV: This actually reminds me of what I was told in 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa, where I was invited to participate as a speaker at the International Conference of the Psychologists for Peace. Several US psychologists reported that during the interrogation and torture of alleged terrorists, there were professional psychologists and even clinical psychiatrists standing by, often assisting the interrogators.

GA-S: Yes, there are actually 2-3 well-known American psychologists who designed the CIA interrogation system – its process.

AV: What you have described that is happening in Palestine is apparently part of a very pervasive system. I was told in the Indian-controlled Kashmir that Israeli intelligence officers are sharing their methods of interrogation and torture with their Indian counterparts. And. of course, the US is involved there as well.

Conflict Medicine

GA-S: War surgery grew out of the Napoleonic Wars. During these wars, two armies met; they usually met at the frontline. They attacked each other, shot at each other or stabbed each other. Most of injured were combatants, and they got treated in military hospitals. You had an evolution of war surgery. What we have in this region, we believe, is that the intensity and the prolonged nature of these wars or these conflicts are not temporal-like battles, they don’t start and finish. And they are sufficiently prolonged that they change the biological ecology, the ecology in which people live. They create the ecology of war. That ecology maintains itself well beyond of what we know is the shooting, because they alter the living environment of people. The wounds are physical, psychological and social wounds; the environment is altered as to become hostile; both to the able-bodied and more hostile to the wounded. And as in the cases of these multi-drug-resistant organisms, which are now a big issue in the world like the multi-drug-resistant bacteria, 85% of Iraqi war wounded have multi-drug-resistant bacteria, 70% of Syrian war wounded have it…

So we say: this ecology, this bio-sphere that the conflicts create is even altered at the basic DNA of the bacteria. We have several theories about it; partly it’s the role of the heavy metals in modern ordnance, which can trigger mutation in these bacteria that makes them resistant to antibiotics. So your bio-sphere, your bubble, your ecological bubble in which you live in, is permanently changed. And it doesn’t disappear the day the bombs disappear. It has to be dismantled, and in order to dismantle it you have to understand the dynamics of the ecology of war. That’s why our program was set up at the university, which had basically been the major tertiary teaching center during the civil war and the 1982 Israeli invasion. And then as the war in Iraq and Syria developed, we started to get patients from these countries and treat them here. We found out that we have to understand the dynamics of conflict medicine and to understand the ecology of war; how the physical, biological, psychological and social manifestations of war wounding happen, and how this ecology of war is created; everything from bacteria to the way water and the water cycle changes, to the toxic reminisce of war, to how people’s body reacts… Many of my Iraqi patients that I see have multiple members of their families injured.

AV: Is the AUB Medical Center now the pioneer in this research: the ecology of war?

GA-S: Yes, because of the legacy of the civil war… of regional wars.

AV: Nothing less than a regional perpetual conflict…

GA-S: Perpetual conflict, yes; first homegrown, and then regional. We are the referral center for the Iraqi Ministry of Health, referral center for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, so we act as a regional center, and the aim of our program is to dedicate more time and space and energy to the understanding of how this ecology of war comes about.

AV: In my writing and in my films, I often draw the parallel between the war and extreme poverty. I have been working in some of the worst slums on Earth, those in Africa, Central America and Caribbean, South Asia, the Philippines and elsewhere. I concluded that many societies that are in theory living in peace are in reality living in prolonged or even perpetual wars. Extreme misery is a form of war, although there is no ‘declaration of war’, and there is no defined frontline. I covered both countless wars and countless places of extreme misery, and the parallel, especially the physical, psychological and social impact on human beings, appears to be striking. Would you agree, based on your research? Do you see extreme misery as a type of war?

GA-S: Absolutely. Yes. At the core of it is the ‘dehumanization’ of people. Extreme poverty is a form of violence. The more extreme this poverty becomes, the closer it comes to the physical nature of violence. War is the accelerated degradation of people’s life to reaching that extreme poverty. But that extreme poverty can be reached by a more gradual process. War only gets them there faster.

AV: A perpetual state of extreme poverty is in a way similar to a perpetual state of conflict, of a war.

GA-S: Definitely. And it is a war mainly against those who are forced to live in these circumstances. It’s the war against the poor and the South. It’s the war against the poor in the inner-cities of the West.

AV: When you are defining the ecology of war, are you also taking what we are now discussing into consideration? Are you researching the impact of extreme poverty on human bodies and human lives? In this region, extreme poverty can often be found in the enormous refugee camps, while in other parts of the world it dwells in countless slums.

GA-S: This extreme poverty is part of the ecology that we are discussing. One of the constituents of the ecology is when you take a wounded body and you place it in a harsh physical environment and you see how this body is re-wounded and re-wounded again, and this harsh environment becomes a continuation of that battleground, because what you see is a process of re-wounding. Not because you are still in the frontline somewhere in Syria, but because your kids are now living in a tent with 8 other people and they are in danger of becoming the victims of the epidemic of child burns that we now have in the refugee camps, because of poor and unsafe housing.

Let’s look at it from a different angle: what constitutes a war wound, or a conflict-related injury? Your most basic conflict-related injury is a gunshot wound and a blast injury from shrapnel. But what happens when you take that wounded body and throw it into a tent? What are the complications for this wounded body living in a harsh environment; does this constitute a war-related injury? When you impoverish the population to the point that you have children suffering from the kind of injuries that we know are the results of poor and unsafe housing, is that a conflict-related injury? Or you have children now who have work-related injuries, because they have to go and become the main breadwinners for the home, working as car mechanics or porters or whatever. Or do you also consider a fact that if you come from a country where a given disease used to be treatable there, but due to the destruction of a health system, that ailment is not treatable anymore, because the hospitals are gone or because doctors had to leave, does that constitute a conflict-related injury? So, we have to look at the entire ecology: beyond a bullet and shrapnel – things that get headlines in the first 20 seconds.

AV: Your research seems to be relevant to most parts of the world.

GA-S: Absolutely. Because we know that these humanitarian crises only exist in the imagination of the media and the UN agencies. There are no crises.

AV: It is perpetual state, again.

GA-S: Exactly, it is perpetual. It does not stop. It is there all the time. Therefore there is no concept of ‘temporality of crises’, one thing we are arguing against. There is no referee who blows the whistle at the end of the crises. When the cameras go off, the media and then the world, decides that the crises are over. But you know that people in Laos, for instance, still have one of the highest amputation rates in the world.

AV: I know. I worked there in the Plain of Jars, which is an enormous minefield even to this day.

GA-S: Or Vietnam, with the greatest child facial deformities in the world as a result of Agent Orange.

AV: You worked in these countries.

GA-S: Yes.

AV: Me too; and I used to live in Vietnam. That entire region is still suffering from what used to be known as the “Secret War”. In Laos, the poverty is so rampant that people are forced to sell unexploded US bombs for scrap. They periodically explode. In Cambodia, even between Seam Reap and the Thai border, there are villages where people are still dying or losing limbs.

GA-S: Now many things depend on how we define them. It is often a game of words.

AV: India is a war zone, from Kashmir to the Northeast, Bihar and slums of Mumbai.

GA-S: If you take the crudest way of measuring conflict, which is the number of people killed by weapons, Guatemala and Salvador have now more people slaughtered than they had during the war. But because the nature in which violence is exhibited changed, because it doesn’t carry a political tag now, it is not discussed. But actually, it is by the same people against the same people.

AV: I wrote about and filmed in Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, on several occasions. The extreme violence there is a direct result of the conflict implanted, triggered by the West, particularly by the United States. The same could be said about such places like Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Haiti. It has led to almost absolute social collapse.

GA-S: Yes, in Jamaica, the CIA played a great role in the 70’s.

AV: In that part of the world we are not talking just about poverty…

GA-S: No, no. We are talking AK-47’s!

AV: Exactly. Once I filmed in San Salvador, in a gangland… A friend, a local liberation theology priest kindly drove me around. We made two loops. The first loop was fine. On the second one they opened fire at our Land Cruiser, with some heavy stuff. The side of our car was full of bullet holes, and they blew two tires. We got away just on our rims. In the villages, maras simply come and plunder and rape. They take what they want. It is a war.

GA-S: ICRC, they train surgeons in these countries. So the ICRC introduced war surgery into the medical curriculum of the medical schools in Colombia and Honduras. Because effectively, these countries are in a war, so you have to train surgeons, so they know what to do when they receive 4-5 patients every day, with gunshot wounds.

Med Experiments in Haiti

AV: Let me tell you what I witnessed in Haiti, just to illustrate your point. Years ago I was working in Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They say it is the most dangerous ‘neighborhood’ or slum on Earth. The local wisdom goes: “you can enter, but you will never leave alive”. I went there with a truck, with two armed guards, but they were so scared that they just abandoned me there, with my big cameras and everything, standing in the middle of the road. I continued working; I had no choice. At one point I saw a long line in front of some walled compound. I went in. What I was suddenly facing was thoroughly shocking: several local people on some wooden tables, blood everywhere, and numerous US military medics and doctors performing surgeries under the open sky. It was hot, flies and dirt everywhere… A man told me his wife had a huge tumor. Without even checking what it was, the medics put her on a table, gave her “local” and began removing the stuff. After the surgery was over, a husband and wife walked slowly to a bus stop and went home. A couple of kilometers from there I found a well-equipped and clean US medical facility, but only for US troops and staff. I asked the doctors what they were really doing in Haiti and they were quiet open about it; they replied: “we are training for combat scenario… This is as close to a war that we can get.” They were experimenting on human beings, of course; learning how to operate during the combat…

GA-S: So, the distinction is only in definitions.

AV: As a surgeon who has worked all over the Middle East but also in many other parts of the world, how would you compare the conflict here to the conflicts in Asia, the Great Lakes of Africa and elsewhere?

GA-S: In the Middle East, you still have people remembering when they had hospitals. Iraqis who come to my clinic remember the 80’s. They know that life was different and could have been different. And they are health-literate. The other issue is that in 2014 alone, some 30,000 Iraqis were injured. The numbers are astounding. We don’t have a grasp of the numbers in Libya, the amount of ethnic cleansing and killing that is happening in Libya. In terms of numbers, they are profound, but in terms of the effect, we are at the beginning of the phase of de-medicalization. So it wasn’t that these medical systems did not develop. They are being de-developed. They are going backwards.

AV: Are you blaming Western imperialism for the situation?

GA-S: If you look at the sanctions and what they did to their health system, of course! If you look at Libya, of course! The idea that these states disintegrated is a falsehood. We know what the dynamics of the sanctions were in Iraq, and what happened in Iraq after 2003. We know what happened in Libya.

AV: Or in Afghanistan…

GA-S: The first thing that the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan or the Nicaraguan Contras were told to do was to attack the clinics. The Americans have always understood that you destroy the state by preventing it from providing these non-coercive powers that I spoke about.

Afghan kid – is he at peace?.

AV: Do you see this part of the world as the most effected, most damaged?

GA-S: At this moment and time certainly. And the statistics show it. I think around 60% of those dying from wars are killed in this region…

AV: And how do you define this region geographically?

GA-S: From Afghanistan to Mauritania. And that includes the Algerian-Mali border. The Libyan border… The catastrophe of the division of Sudan, what’s happening in South Sudan, what’s happening in Somalia, Libya, Egypt, the Sinai Desert, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, even Pakistan including people who are killed there by drones…

AV: But then we also have around 10 million people who have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo, since the 1995 Rwandan invasion…

GA-S: Now that is a little bit different. That is the ‘more advanced phase’: when you’ve completely taken away the state… In the Arab world Libya is the closest to that scenario. There the oil companies have taken over the country. The mining companies are occupying DRC. And they run the wars directly, rather than through the Western armies. You erode the state, completely, until it disappears and then the corporations, directly, as they did in the colonialist phase during the East Indian Company, and the Dutch companies, become the main players again.

AV: What is the goal of your research, the enormous project called the “Ecology of War”?

GA-S: One of the things that we insist on is this holistic approach. The compartmentalization is part of the censorship process. “You are a microbiologist then only look what is happening with the bacteria… You are an orthopedic surgeon, so you only have to look at the blast injuries, bombs, landmine injuries…” So that compartmentalization prevents bringing together people who are able to see the whole picture. Therefore we are insisting that this program also has social scientists, political scientists, anthropologists, microbiologists, surgeons… Otherwise we’d just see the small science. We are trying to put the sciences together to see the bigger picture. We try to put the pieces of puzzle together, and to see the bigger picture.

AV: And now you have a big conference. On the 15th of May…

GA-S: Now we have a big conference; basically the first congress that will look at all these aspects of conflict and health; from the surgical, to the reconstruction of damaged bodies, to the issues of medical resistance of bacteria, infectious diseases, to some absolutely basic issues. Like, before the war there were 30,000 kidney-failure patients in Yemen. Most dialysis patients are 2 weeks away from dying if they don’t get dialysis. So, there is a session looking at how you provide dialysis in the middle of these conflicts? What do you do, because dialysis services are so centralized? The movement of patients is not easy, and the sanctions… One topic will be ‘cancer and war’… So this conference will be as holistic as possible, of the relationship between the conflict and health.

We expect over 300 delegates, and we will have speakers from India, Yemen, Palestine, Syria, from the UK, we have people coming from the humanitarian sector, from ICRC, people who worked in Africa and the Middle East, we have people who worked in previous wars and are now working in current wars, so we have a mix of people from different fields.

AV: What is the ultimate goal of the program?

GA-S: We have to imagine the health of the region beyond the state. On the conceptual level, we need to try to figure out what is happening. We can already see certain patterns. One of them is the regionalization of healthcare. The fact that Libyans get treated in Tunisia, Iraqis and Syrians get treated in Beirut, Yemenis get treated in Jordan. So you already have the disintegration of these states and the migration of people to the regional centers. The state is no longer a major player, because the state was basically destroyed. We feel that this is a disease of the near future, medium future and long-term future. Therefore we have to understand it, in order to better treat it, we have to put mechanisms in place that this knowledge transfers into the medical education system, which will produce medical professionals who are better equipped to deal with this health system. We have to make sure that people are aware of many nuances of the conflict, beyond the shrapnel and beyond the bullet. The more research we put into this area of the conflict and health, the more transferable technologies we develop – the better healthcare we’d be allowed to deliver in these situations, the better training our students and graduates would receive, and better work they will perform in this region for the next 10 or 15 years.

AV: And hopefully more lives would be saved…

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Immigration: No Easy Answers

The cross border flood of millions of immigrants provokes profound political divisions, violence and the rise of mass movements challenging the unity of the European Union (EU) and the survival of the dominant political parties in the US and Europe.

Both the progressive pro-immigrant and right-wing anti-immigration parties and movements propose easy answers and attack their adversaries with political invective.

Both left and right engage in a losing war, based on historical omissions, abstract and muddle-headed assumptions and destructive proposals.

I will proceed by outlining a framework to understand the political, economic and security implications, which form the centerpiece for confronting immigration.

The Past and the Present

A serious discussion of immigration begins by focusing on the centrality of time and place, encouraging the flow and absorption of immigrants.

In the past, immigration flourished during periods when countries experienced: (1) rapid productive growth; (2)increasing labor demand; (3) trade unions and organizations capable of integrating new (immigrant) workers and protecting the on-going wage rates and conditions for all; (4) cross sectoral labor co-operation and solidarity lowering conflict between immigrant and native workers; (5) inclusive, equitable welfare programs; (6) local, not global wars and (7) violence confined outside of the US and the EU. During these periods, most immigration was confined within Europe and North America or between them.

These conditions could not eliminate competition and conflict but they limited its nature and time frame and allowed for successful integration.

If these conditions formed the basis for relatively peaceful immigration, their absence has intensified conflict amidst an increased flow of immigrants. This process has produced deep political problems. Progressives, who cite past ‘Ellis-Island’ type immigration experience and ignore the unfavorable current socio-economic conditions, are in denial. They dismiss the vast socio-economic and political changes, which have occurred and which make the absorption of new waves of immigrants extremely difficult.

Mass Immigration and Imperial Wars

The vast majority of refugees today are on the move because of Western wars. These wars are ‘total’ wars, designed to obliterate civilian, as well as military institutions and structures. In the last two decades, the US and EU have launched seven wars devastating the lives of once-cohesive and productive families, their homes and farms, jobs, institutions and security. Millions have been driven into exile.

The vast majority of new immigrants are refugees from countries targeted by the US-EU and their suffering has no visible end. During and after the Second World War, refugees suffered greatly, but were generally absorbed or repatriated and integrated into re-constructing their homes and societies. These favorable transitions were aided by an acute post-war labor shortage (over 40 million, mostly men, were killed in WWII) and the economic demands of post-war reconstruction. Western peace movements in the post-WWII past were effective and succeeded in limiting the scope and length of wars. Such peace movements no longer exist. Wars today are designed to be endless and total – in terms of the destruction of civilian infrastructure and national institutions.

Over the past 2 decades, the peace movements have disappeared. This is largely because the US and EU increasingly rely on the use of devastating bombing campaigns by their air and naval forces, which sharply limit Western casualties. Most anti-war movements were sustained by domestic anger at their own soldiers returning in ‘body bags’.

Current domestic economic conditions have sharply deteriorated. Capitalist regimes have imposed brutal economic policies increasing unemployment and low paying temporary job. Joblessness approaches 50% among young workers in Southern Europe – regions flooded with desperate refugees.

Moreover imperial policies have shifted steadily to increased military spending for wars while imposing austerity measures, slashing social programs at home.

In this context, new immigrants, especially refugees from imperial wars, compete for diminishing public resources and drastically reduced wages. Their competition effectively drives down the wages for all workers – sharply increasing the conditions for brutal exploitation.

The intense competition over jobs between native workers and immigrants is the result of capitalist wars and deliberate domestic economic policies to pay for these wars. This creates greater insecurity and hastens the downward mobility experienced by workers and the lower middle class.

In the past, such pressures and conditions led to workers protest, resistance and class conflict.

Today, trade unions cease to unify old and new workers into a strong organized force to confront the worst excesses of capital. Trade union membership has declined precipitously. The union bosses have exchanged militancy and independence for self-serving alliances with capitalist politicians. Trade unions do not protect the basic interests of workers and their families – they follow the lead of the ‘progressive’ pro-immigrant parties which are an arm of the militarist capitalist ruling class.

The workers are not racist when they resist further deterioration in their income and living standards: They are trying to protect their jobs, benefits and social programs for their families – in an environment of increasing insecurity and capitalist exploitation.

In the recent past, workers could rely on stable jobs and increasing wages because of the strong manufacturing domestic economy. These same workers, who are now labelled as ‘racist’, generally accepted immigrant workers at their plants and in their neighborhoods and schools. But this was in the decades before droves of refugees and destitute immigrants fleeing US-EU wars and destruction came to be viewed as threats to their livelihoods and children’s future.

Unlike the past, when international capital brought extracted raw materials back to the imperial country to be processed by local manufacturers, today US and EU multi-nationals have relocated their industries to overseas low wage countries, undermining jobs and living standards at home.

Commercial importers and retailers, like Wal-Mart, re-employ the displaced workers with offers of minimum pay, no benefits and contingent work.

‘Free Trade’ is not really ‘trade: Rather it is the easy outflow of investment and jobs and the retention of profits overseas in tax-havens.

US government-subsidized, high-tech corporate agro-exports have decimated ‘Third World’ farmers, forcing mass immigration of displaced peasants who then form a base to compete with domestic workers and lower the wages in the US and EU.

Progressives falsely argue, ‘ex post facto’, that migrant have merely taken the poorly-paid, unpleasant jobs that local workers rejected. The reality is more complex: In a previous era, most immigrants quickly moved into decently-paid jobs and were generally accepted by US workers.

Once, US meat packers were well-paid workers supported by militant unions. Over time, the unions lost key labor struggles and capitalists reduced wages, in some cases by fifty percent. What had once been well regulated and strictly protected workplaces deteriorated dramatically. This decline was accompanied by the influx and hiring of low wage immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Today, the meat packing industry is among the most dangerous work environment where even immigrant children are employed. The same pattern of deteriorating wages and conditions and replacement by immigrant labor has occurred in landscaping, construction, the garment industry, transport, retailing, plumbing etc.

What has most recently pushed millions of young workers to migrate from their homes are the series of destructive imperial wars. These devastated the domestic security situation, erasing any functional national military and police structures as well as the possibilities for jobs and a stable future for young people. Former military commanders and soldiers, whose families have been torn apart by imperial US-EU wars and stripped of all dignity, have little choice but to join resistance fighters, such as ISIS in Iraq, or join the waves of refugees.

The US and EU invasion forces and puppet regimes have systematically destroyed any secular, democratic, nationalist or socialist parties and movements in the targeted countries, in their drive to divide once cohesive nations into tribal client states. In their place, violent Islamist and ethnic resistance movements have sprung up to fight the invaders and their puppets. This is the natural and predictable result of the imperial policy of destroying modern states on a massive scale.

Since multiple imperial wars in contiguous countries have destroyed all hope for refuge and new lives within the war-torn region, the new violent Islamist movements have adopted their own ‘international strategy’. Since the imperial wars were launched from distant imperial capitals in Washington, London and Paris, using bombs and missiles, the Islamists have little alternative but to base their military and terrorist strategies within civilian populations, leading to massive casualties.

The violent jihadi attacks against civilian targets in the West are not specifically religious or directed at capturing economic resources or power. The objective is to gain political influence among the growing and marginalized immigrant population in Europe and to undermine the capacity and willingness of the EU and US to continue these endless wars.

In the neglected immigrant neighborhood, there will be growing numbers of sympathizers for the ‘attackers’. This will increase demands by angry and frightened citizens in the West who have increasingly accepted the nationalist political solution of ‘draining the lake’ (immigrants) to catch the ‘fish’ (terrorists). Anti-immigrant politics and anti-terrorist police activities become inter-mingled with growing domestic economic insecurity and the sense of cultural and national displacement experienced by traditional homogeneous working class communities adjacent to large enclaves of immigrants. Increasingly severe ‘austerity’ policies, imposed by neo-liberal governments, greatly inflame the situation.

The so-called, liberal pro-immigration parties and movements ignore the fragile socio-cultural fabric of the local communities. They have done little to protect vulnerable communities from capitalist policies of literally dumping immigrants into areas and regions which cannot support or absorb them. The political leaders of pro-immigrant parties are generally far from these communities and immune to growing competition for scarce jobs and resources. For many politicians, bureaucrats and even NGO administrators, ‘their immigrants’ are domestic workers, cooks, baby sitters, gardeners, who directly serve the most comfortable strata of society. In contrast, the masses of uprooted refugees and immigrants live close to local workers, compete for jobs and share crowded clinics, social services and schools – under conditions of increasing scarcity.

The ruling class collaborates with highly domesticated trade union officials and certain ‘coopted’ second generation immigrant leaders to ‘pacify’ this domestic discontent through multi-cultural programs and mandatory diversity training sessions for workers and neighborhoods, without ever having to actually confront the class issues of deteriorating living standards and the loss of future job prospects for the children of local workers.

Working and lower middle class communities will naturally close ranks on ethnic, regional and religious bases, because they lack principled class leaders. They are susceptible to the appeals of nationalist-populist or anti-immigrant leaders and politicians, despite these parties long association with the hard right. With the notable exception of French leader, Marine Le Pen, who skillfully combines a deep understanding of French socio-economic trends with her restrictive immigration policies, the majority of Western populist and anti-immigrant politicians channel the widespread resentment over downward mobility among native workers to blaming ‘the immigrants’.

The virulent media attacks and charges of ‘racism’ made by liberal politicians and intellectuals against the downwardly mobile workers, who have been devastated by neo-liberal policies and the broad consequences of imperial wars, do nothing to combat imperialism and class exploitation. They certainly do not help the immigrants. Denunciations of the marginalized American workers and rural citizens, who voted for US President Donald Trump, by the middle class intellectuals, living in the more comfortable and urbanized coastal states, show a deep misunderstanding of the fundamental changes occurring in the country. In Europe and the US, employees and activists, connected to liberal NGOs, flock to immigrants like carrion birds, carving out their own little careers ‘educating’ immigrants and entreating the local residents of deteriorated neighborhoods to join in ‘sharing’ the dominant ruling class-directed celebrations of ‘diversity’ ( or the ‘multi-culturalism of suffering’).

Conclusion

Immigration in the 21st century is significantly different from past waves of migrants. It is highly manipulative to compare the current displacement of millions of war refugees with ‘Ellis Island’ in the US or the post-WWII situation of massive reconstruction in Europe. Immigration today is a direct product of imperial wars, where murder, injury, terror and deliberate shredding of social institutions have forcibly displaced tens of millions of people – the immigrants.

Meanwhile, in the imperial countries, crass capitalist exploitation, the export of capital and jobs, and austerity have aroused the anger of workers and lower middle class employees, whose living standards have sustained significant losses. The forced merger of two enormous waves – the millions of dispossessed refugees and migrants and the marginalized and increasingly threatened workers and citizens in the West has become the key focus of the deepening conflicts of capitalists and workers in the US and the EU. Progressives and reactionaries alike obfuscate the fundamental class issues by diverting public attention to the issue of ‘racism’ and ‘immigrants’.

In the long run, the West must face this dangerous phenomenon by organizing broad and militant anti-imperial peace movements to prevent the wars that produce these waves of desperate migrants. Trade unions, co-operatives and local or national social movements must organize the under-employed, unemployed and underpaid workers to combat the loss of jobs, the pillage of national wealth, massive capitalist tax evasion and the de-industrialization of the national economy. Banks must be nationalized, and education and health care should be publically funded and replace the current massive public budgets for war. Immigrants, who decide to settle in their new countries, should seek to fully integrate, reject dual citizenship and dual loyalties and denounce organizations that act as “fifth columns” for overseas ethno-religious states of all persuasions.

Uprooted people must ultimately choose to remain and fight over flight. They must engage in resistance to imperial occupations in their homelands instead of choosing abject submission and indignities abroad. The role of citizens in the West is to support these struggles by opposing the militarists among their own political leaders.

There are no easy answers for mass migration but there are clear causes and proposals for the future.