Category Archives: Refugees

Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma

It is an organisation not without its problems. Conceived in the heat of idealism, and promoted as the vanguard of medical rescue and human rights advocacy, Médecins Sans Frontières has had its faults.  Its co-founder Bernard Kouchner went a bit awry when he turned such advocacy into full blown interventionism.  As Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign minister, his conversion to politicised interventionism in places of crisis went full circle.  He notably split from MSF to create Doctors of the World, where he felt imbued by the spirit of droit d’ingerence, subsequently given the gloss of “humanitarian intervention”. With its mischief making properties, such interventions have manifested, usually in the guise of wealthy Western states, from the Balkans to Africa.

MSF, at least in its operating protocols, is meant to be solidly neutral and diligently impartial.  But neutrality tends to be compromised before the spectacle of suffering.  Bearing witness disturbs the mood and narrows objective distance.  On June 17, 2016, by way of example, the organisation stated that it could not “accept funding from the EU or the Member States while at the same time treating the victims of their policies! It’s that simple.”  Central to this, as Katharine Weatherhead explained in an analysis of the organisation’s stance, is the “ethic of refusal” and témoignage, “the idea of being a witness to suffering.”

Australia’s gulag mimicry – a prison first, justice second mentality that governs boat arrivals – has done wonders to challenge any stance of distance humanitarian organisations might purport to have.  To see the suffering such policies cause is to make converts of the stony hearted.  What matters in this instance – the MSF condemnation of Australia’s innately brutal anti-refugee policy on Nauru – is its certitude.

The Australian government has taken the high, icy road and left the UN Refugee Convention in shambolic ruin; it insists, repeatedly, that refugees are to be discriminated against on the basis of how they arrive to the country; it also suggests, with a hypnotically disabling insistence that keeping people in open air prisons indefinitely is far better than letting them drown.  (We, the message goes, stopped the boats and saved lives!)

MSF, which had been working on the island since November 2017 primarily providing free psychological and psychiatric services, was given its marching orders by Nauru’s authorities last week.  Visas for the organisation’s workers were cancelled “to make it clear there was no intention of inviting us back,” explained MSF Australia director Paul McPhun.

A disagreement about what MSF was charged with doing developed.  The original memorandum of understanding with the Nauru government tends to put cold water on the suggestion by Australia’s Home Affairs Minister that MSF had not been involved in supplying medical services to the detainees on the island.  In dull wording, the agreement stated who the intended recipients of the project would be: “People suffering from various mental health issues, from moderate to severe, members of the various communities living in the Republic of Nauru, including Nauruan residents, expatriates, asylum seekers and refugees with no discrimination.”

It was obvious that the revelations would eventually become too much for either the authorities of Australia or Nauru to tolerate.  Having been entrusted with the task of healing the wounds of the mind, MSF’s brief was withdrawn after the organisation’s findings on the state of mental health of those in detention. “Five years of indefinite limbo has led to a radical deterioration of their medical health and wellbeing,” claimed McPhun in stark fashion to reporters in Sydney on Thursday.  “Separating families, holding men, women and children on a remote island indefinitely with no hope of protection except in the case of a medical emergency, is cruel and inhumane.”

Undertaking a journey from war torn environs and famine stricken lands might well inflict its own elements of emotional distortion and disturbance, but Australia’s policy of keeping people isolated, distant and grounded took it further.  It was penal vindictiveness, a form of needless brutal application.

In McPhun’s sharp assessment, “While many asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru experienced trauma in their countries of origin or during their journey, it is the Australian government’s policy of indefinite offshore detention that has destroyed their resilience, shattered all hope, and ultimately impacted their mental health.”

The organisation has made it clear that Canberra’s insistence that “offshore detention” remains somehow humanitarian is barely credible, there being “nothing humanitarian saving people from the sea only to leave them in an open air prison on Nauru.”

Such a cruel joke has turned the members of MSF into a decidedly militant outfit.  “Over the past 11 months on Nauru,” states psychiatrist Beth O’Connor, “I have seen an alarming number of suicide attempts and incidents of self-harm among the refugee and asylum seeker men, women and children we treat.”  Particularly shocking were the number of children enduring the effects of traumatic withdrawal syndrome “where their status deteriorated to the extent they were unable to eat, drink, or even to walk to the toilet.”

With such observations, there is little surprise that Nauru’s government, which was evidently seeking to find an ally and an alibi, felt slighted.  The doctors had to go.  “Although MSF claimed to be a partner to Nauru and the Nauruan people instead of working with us,” came the government justification, “they conspired against us.”  The government was no longer inclined “to accept the concocted lies told about us purely to advance political agendas.”

What the government statement also insisted upon was the comparative advantage the hosted refugees and asylum seekers had.  They had their own tissue of mendacity to proffer.  “The facilities, care, welfare and homely environment offered to refugees and asylum seekers are comparable or better than what other refugees and asylum seekers across the globe receive.”  For that to make any sense, a comparative study on suicides, psychological corrosion and trauma would have to be done across the world’s refugee camps.  In those terms, Nauru’s performance, aided and abetted by their Australian sponsors, has been ghoulishly stellar.

Where is the Hope?

Situated on a coastal location on the outskirts of Tripoli, with golden sands and an expansive view of the Mediterranean Sea, the Palestinian Refugee Camp of Nahr al-Bared could be a beautiful environment in which to raise a child… It isn’t.

Nahr al-Bared Beach location

The sense of despair is as dark as I have known it during these past three years of visiting and listening to camp residents. The US Government, under the Trump administration, has cut all UNWRA funding to Palestinian Refugee Camps. Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps in Lebanon are not allowed to work, own property or have Lebanese citizenship. It is only from being recognized as refugees and the international law of ‘right of return’ (resolution-194) that prevents them from being stateless. Although UNWRA funding keeps them trapped in a state of dependancy, it is also what keeps them alive. UNWRA heavily supports the funding required for medical, educational and social care. Without the contribution of the US, the over strained resources in the camps will reach breaking point. (We are already witnessing a slow, calculated genocide taking place in Gaza.) Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have offered to pick up the short fall left by the loss of the US contribution, but there are conditions…. conditions that are impossible for Palestinians to accept.

Youngsters in the Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Netanyahu is claiming that there are no longer any Palestinian refugees. It’s been stated by Israeli officials that only those Palestinians who were born and fled the 1948 NAKBA (Catastrophe) qualify as refugees. Under this edict the five generations of descendants born in dismal, impoverished refugee camps, would not, therefore, qualify as refugees. Trump, no doubt persuaded by deep state policy directives, would appear to agree.

‘Right of Return’ is enshrined in human rights law. This contrived political move to try to take the ’Right of Return’ away is not only a violation of international law, it makes a mockery of all that is decent and human. Although UNWRA is mandated to support refugees, without proper funding its services are calculated to collapse.

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Already medical services have been cut so that besides the limited availability of drugs and medical supplies, a single doctor is responsible for around 5,000 patients. In the UK the ratio is less than 400, and in other European countries the ratio is significantly lower. With poor nutrition and salty, undrinkable tap water the strain on doctors is likely to be even more demanding in Palestinian refugee camps.

As was stated by one of the Palestinian elders at Nahr al-Bared:

All this flies in the face of human rights. This is a fake deal made to bring about our destruction. They keep us busy just trying to survive so there is no time to plan around the crucial matters. Are we to become a non-people, who, by no fault of our own, are to be cast out of the human race without rights or the means to protect the lives of our children?

Rubble remaining from the 2007 attack by the terrorist group Fatah al Islam

UNWRA was never set up to be a permanent source of funding but with political intransigency with regard to the recognition of human rights law, Palestinians have been trapped in limbo for over seventy years. It’s only been the hope of returning to their homeland that has sustained them – (Awad Sumud – steadfastness). ‘Right of return’ is the corner stone of the Palestinian Struggle. The US in alliance with the UK and France, along with (Saudi Arabia aka Israel) and the Gulf States, are likely to herald any refusal on the part of Palestinians to give up ‘hope of return’ as a refusal to negotiate peace. The authors of this Machiavellian manoeuvre will know this to be a lie. With truth thrown into the  trash bin of fake news, the message of ‘the fault’ being placed on the Palestinians may ‘yet again’ be widely believed. The convenient label of Palestinian terrorists by subservient – cut and paste ‘mainstream’ journalism, allow those who actually do initiate terror to act with an impunity that defies credible belief. Any criticism by right thinking people that Israel is actually the aggressor here, is labelled as anti-semitic.

Palestinian leaders fear for the youth in the camp. Deprived of a future they are vulnerable to outside corruption or worse. “We are trapped by circumstances. We don’t want to be used to support anyone’s terrorism.”

Youngsters in Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp

The elders’ fears are fully justified. In 2007 the terrorist group Fatah Al Islam fled into Nahr al-Bared after robbing a bank and were pursued by the Lebanese Army. The resulting conflict resulted in a number of deaths and forced Palestinians to flee the camp. Their homes and what little they did possess were bombed to rubble. The evidence of the widespread bombing is still present today. At the time Seymour Hersh reported that the funding for the group had originated from the US through Saudi Arabia and had Lebanese connections through Saad Hariri.

Rubble from the 2007 terrorist attack

However, other sources consider that funding came from groups in Syria or Al Qaeda. Why they chose to flee to Nahr al-Bared does raise interesting questions. Nahr al-Bared was the refugee camp where the PLO financial centre was located. Whether the camp being situated on prime real estate has any relevance, one can only speculate. Whatever the truth behind Fatah Al Islam, Palestinians remain anxious about such groups ever gaining any kind of foothold in the camps among their dispossessed youth.

Today the camp is slowly being re-built and around two-thirds of the population have been able to return. Compared to many of the other camps the roads are wide, the sky is visible and fresh air is able to enter. However it was pointed out that the roads are wide so that tanks can enter. Not withstanding the impact of visual space there is in reality little room for family expansion. Families are not permitted to built beyond four floors and moving out horizontally is also prohibited. Some of the bombed buildings of 2007 have yet to be cleared. With families moving into their fifth and sometimes the sixth generation, crowding is a serious problem. This has been compounded in part by a section of the camp being allocated to Palestinian refugees fleeing terror groups in Syria.

Section of Nahr al-Bared where Palestinian refugees from Syria are housed

Security around entry into the camp is high. For foreigners, passports have to be submitted well in advance so that the intelligence services can check out anyone who wishes to enter. Does this make Palestinians safer? It’s debatable. While it might keep the likes of terror groups like ‘Fatah Al Islam’ out, it also keeps  Palestinians in a ‘prison camp’  like environment. One only has to remember how Israeli forces surrounded the entrances to Sabra and Shatilla in September 1982 and sanctioned the Christian Phalange massacre of over 3,000 undefended Palestinians to feel a chill at the thought of not being totally free to pass though the entrance unchecked

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Palestinians cannot achieve justice alone. It will require a huge awakening on the part of all people everywhere to recognize that injustice for one is injustice for all. To be silent is to be complicit.

• All photos by Heather Stroud

Where is the Hope?

Situated on a coastal location on the outskirts of Tripoli, with golden sands and an expansive view of the Mediterranean Sea, the Palestinian Refugee Camp of Nahr al-Bared could be a beautiful environment in which to raise a child… It isn’t.

Nahr al-Bared Beach location

The sense of despair is as dark as I have known it during these past three years of visiting and listening to camp residents. The US Government, under the Trump administration, has cut all UNWRA funding to Palestinian Refugee Camps. Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps in Lebanon are not allowed to work, own property or have Lebanese citizenship. It is only from being recognized as refugees and the international law of ‘right of return’ (resolution-194) that prevents them from being stateless. Although UNWRA funding keeps them trapped in a state of dependancy, it is also what keeps them alive. UNWRA heavily supports the funding required for medical, educational and social care. Without the contribution of the US, the over strained resources in the camps will reach breaking point. (We are already witnessing a slow, calculated genocide taking place in Gaza.) Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have offered to pick up the short fall left by the loss of the US contribution, but there are conditions…. conditions that are impossible for Palestinians to accept.

Youngsters in the Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Netanyahu is claiming that there are no longer any Palestinian refugees. It’s been stated by Israeli officials that only those Palestinians who were born and fled the 1948 NAKBA (Catastrophe) qualify as refugees. Under this edict the five generations of descendants born in dismal, impoverished refugee camps, would not, therefore, qualify as refugees. Trump, no doubt persuaded by deep state policy directives, would appear to agree.

‘Right of Return’ is enshrined in human rights law. This contrived political move to try to take the ’Right of Return’ away is not only a violation of international law, it makes a mockery of all that is decent and human. Although UNWRA is mandated to support refugees, without proper funding its services are calculated to collapse.

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Already medical services have been cut so that besides the limited availability of drugs and medical supplies, a single doctor is responsible for around 5,000 patients. In the UK the ratio is less than 400, and in other European countries the ratio is significantly lower. With poor nutrition and salty, undrinkable tap water the strain on doctors is likely to be even more demanding in Palestinian refugee camps.

As was stated by one of the Palestinian elders at Nahr al-Bared:

All this flies in the face of human rights. This is a fake deal made to bring about our destruction. They keep us busy just trying to survive so there is no time to plan around the crucial matters. Are we to become a non-people, who, by no fault of our own, are to be cast out of the human race without rights or the means to protect the lives of our children?

Rubble remaining from the 2007 attack by the terrorist group Fatah al Islam

UNWRA was never set up to be a permanent source of funding but with political intransigency with regard to the recognition of human rights law, Palestinians have been trapped in limbo for over seventy years. It’s only been the hope of returning to their homeland that has sustained them – (Awad Sumud – steadfastness). ‘Right of return’ is the corner stone of the Palestinian Struggle. The US in alliance with the UK and France, along with (Saudi Arabia aka Israel) and the Gulf States, are likely to herald any refusal on the part of Palestinians to give up ‘hope of return’ as a refusal to negotiate peace. The authors of this Machiavellian manoeuvre will know this to be a lie. With truth thrown into the  trash bin of fake news, the message of ‘the fault’ being placed on the Palestinians may ‘yet again’ be widely believed. The convenient label of Palestinian terrorists by subservient – cut and paste ‘mainstream’ journalism, allow those who actually do initiate terror to act with an impunity that defies credible belief. Any criticism by right thinking people that Israel is actually the aggressor here, is labelled as anti-semitic.

Palestinian leaders fear for the youth in the camp. Deprived of a future they are vulnerable to outside corruption or worse. “We are trapped by circumstances. We don’t want to be used to support anyone’s terrorism.”

Youngsters in Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp

The elders’ fears are fully justified. In 2007 the terrorist group Fatah Al Islam fled into Nahr al-Bared after robbing a bank and were pursued by the Lebanese Army. The resulting conflict resulted in a number of deaths and forced Palestinians to flee the camp. Their homes and what little they did possess were bombed to rubble. The evidence of the widespread bombing is still present today. At the time Seymour Hersh reported that the funding for the group had originated from the US through Saudi Arabia and had Lebanese connections through Saad Hariri.

Rubble from the 2007 terrorist attack

However, other sources consider that funding came from groups in Syria or Al Qaeda. Why they chose to flee to Nahr al-Bared does raise interesting questions. Nahr al-Bared was the refugee camp where the PLO financial centre was located. Whether the camp being situated on prime real estate has any relevance, one can only speculate. Whatever the truth behind Fatah Al Islam, Palestinians remain anxious about such groups ever gaining any kind of foothold in the camps among their dispossessed youth.

Today the camp is slowly being re-built and around two-thirds of the population have been able to return. Compared to many of the other camps the roads are wide, the sky is visible and fresh air is able to enter. However it was pointed out that the roads are wide so that tanks can enter. Not withstanding the impact of visual space there is in reality little room for family expansion. Families are not permitted to built beyond four floors and moving out horizontally is also prohibited. Some of the bombed buildings of 2007 have yet to be cleared. With families moving into their fifth and sometimes the sixth generation, crowding is a serious problem. This has been compounded in part by a section of the camp being allocated to Palestinian refugees fleeing terror groups in Syria.

Section of Nahr al-Bared where Palestinian refugees from Syria are housed

Security around entry into the camp is high. For foreigners, passports have to be submitted well in advance so that the intelligence services can check out anyone who wishes to enter. Does this make Palestinians safer? It’s debatable. While it might keep the likes of terror groups like ‘Fatah Al Islam’ out, it also keeps  Palestinians in a ‘prison camp’  like environment. One only has to remember how Israeli forces surrounded the entrances to Sabra and Shatilla in September 1982 and sanctioned the Christian Phalange massacre of over 3,000 undefended Palestinians to feel a chill at the thought of not being totally free to pass though the entrance unchecked

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Palestinians cannot achieve justice alone. It will require a huge awakening on the part of all people everywhere to recognize that injustice for one is injustice for all. To be silent is to be complicit.

• All photos by Heather Stroud

The Real Reasons behind Washington’s War on UNRWA

The US government’s decision to slash funds provided to the United Nations agency that cares for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, is part of a new American-Israeli strategy aimed at redefining the rules of the game altogether.

As a result, UNRWA is experiencing its worst financial crisis. The gap in its budget is estimated at around $217 million, and is rapidly increasing. Aside from future catastrophic events that would result in discontinuing services and urgent humanitarian aid to five million refugees registered with UNRWA, the impact of the US callous decision is already reverberating in many refugee camps across the region. Currently, UNRWA has downgraded many of its services: laying off many teachers, reducing staff and working hours at various clinics.

Nearly 40 percent of all Palestinian refugees live in Jordan, a country that is already overwhelmed by a million Syrian refugees who sought shelter there because of the grinding and deadly war in their own country.

Aware of Jordan’s vulnerability, American emissaries attempted to barter with the country to heed the US demand of revoking the status of the two million Palestinian refugees. Instead of funding UNRWA, Washington offered to re-channel the funds directly to the Jordanian government. Thus, the US hopes that the Palestinian refugee status would no longer be applicable. Unsurprisingly, Jordan refused the American offer.

News of this failed barter resurfaced last August. It was reported that US President Donald Trump’s special envoy, Jared Kushner, tried to sway the Jordanian government during his visit to Amman in June.

Washington and Israel are seeking to simply remove the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees, as enshrined in international law, from the political agenda altogether.

Coupled with Washington’s strategy to “remove Jerusalem from the table,” the American strategy is neither random nor impulsive.

“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner wrote to the US Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, in an email last January. The email, among others, was later leaked to Foreign Policy magazine. “This (agency) perpetuates a status quo,” he also wrote, referring to UNRWA as “corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”

This notion that UNRWA sustains the status quo – meaning the political rights of Palestinians refugees – is the main reason behind the American war on the Organization, a fact that is confirmed through statements made by top Israeli officials, too.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, echoed the American sentiment. UNRWA “has proven itself an impediment to resolving the conflict by keeping the Palestinians in perpetual refugee status,” he said.

Certainly, the US cutting of funds to UNRWA coincides with the defunding of all programs that provide any kind of aid to the Palestinian people. But the targeting of UNRWA is mostly concerned with the status of Palestinian refugees, a status that has irked Tel Aviv for 70 years.

Why does Israel want to place Palestinian refugees in a status-less category?

The refugee status is already a precarious one. To be a Palestinian refugee means living perpetually in limbo – unable to reclaim what has been lost, and unable to fashion an alternative future and a life of freedom and dignity.

How are Palestinians to reconstruct their identity that has been shattered by decades of exile, when Israel has constantly hinged its own existence as a ‘Jewish state’ on opposing the return and repatriation of Palestinian refugees? Per Israel’s logic, the mere Palestinian demand for the implementation of the internationally-sanctioned Right of Return is equivalent to a call for “genocide”. According to that same faulty logic, the fact that the Palestinian people live and multiply is a “demographic threat” to Israel.

Much can be said about the circumstances behind the creation of UNRWA by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1949 – its operations, efficiency and the effectiveness of its work. But for most Palestinians, UNRWA is not a relief organization, per se; being registered as a refugee with UNRWA provides Palestinians with a temporary identity, the same identity that allowed four generations of refugees to navigate decades of exile.

UNRWA’s stamp of “refugee” on every certificate that millions of Palestinians possess – birth, death and everything else in between – has served as a compass, pointing back to the places those refugees come from – not the refugee camps scattered in Palestine and across the region, but the 600 towns and villages that were destroyed during the Zionist assault on Palestine.

These villages may have been erased, as a whole new country was established upon their ruins, but the Palestinian refugee remained – subsisted, resisted and plotted her return home. The UNRWA refugee status is the international recognition of this inalienable right.

Therefore, the current US-Israeli war does not target UNRWA as a UN body, but as an organization that allows millions of Palestinians to maintain their identity as refugees with non-negotiable rights until their return to their ancestral homeland. Nearly 70 years after its founding, UNRWA remains essential and irreplaceable.

The founders of Israel envisioned a future where Palestinian refugees would eventually disappear into the larger population of the Middle East. Seventy years on, the Israelis still entertain that same illusion.

Now, with the help of the Trump administration, they are orchestrating yet more sinister campaigns to make Palestinian refugees vanish, wished away through the destruction of UNRWA and the redefining of the refugee status of millions of Palestinians.

The fate of Palestinian refugees seems to be of no relevance to Trump, Kushner and other US officials. The Americans are now hoping that their strategy will finally bring Palestinians to their knees so that they will ultimately submit to the Israeli government’s dictates.

The latest US-Israeli folly will prove futile. Successive US administrations have done everything in their power to support Israel and to punish the supposedly intransigent Palestinians. The Right of Return, however, remained the driving force behind Palestinian resistance, as the Gaza Great March of Return, ongoing since March, continues to demonstrate.

The truth is that all the money in Washington’s coffers will not reverse what is now a deeply embedded belief in the hearts and minds of millions of refugees throughout Palestine, the Middle East and the world.

The Dalai Lama’s Remarks on Migrants follow a CIA, Nazi and Slavery-linked History

This past week the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibet’s 83-year old self-declared spiritual leader in exile, made controversial remarks at a press conference in Malmö recognizing the 80th anniversary of the founding of Individual Humanitarian Aid, a Swedish development and philanthropic assistance program that took in Buddhist refugees after the Chinese annexed Tibet in 1959. His comments came as he addressed the European migrant crisis and his choice of words immediately sparked criticism because they seemed to express an attitude typically shared by the European Union’s far right. With the exception of his detractors, the views he expressed to most were unexpected coming from a monk known for preaching enlightenment and inner peace around the globe. “His Holiness”, AKA Tenzin Gyatso, stated:

Recently large numbers of refugees, many from the Middle East, have fled to Europe in fear for their lives. They have been given shelter and support, but the long-term solution should include providing training and education, particularly for their children, so they can return to rebuild their own countries when peace has been restored.

I think Europe belongs to the Europeans. … Receive them, help them, educate them … but ultimately they should develop their own country.

The comments occurred in Sweden on the heels of the country’s own shocking general election results which saw an impressive 18% performance made by the anti-immigrant and right-wing populist party, Sweden Democrats. Their third-place finish took place in the midst of a surge of far right nationalist political gains trending across the EU. Sweden, itself, has taken in tens of thousands of refugees during the influx of immigration in the last few years, a number which the Sweden Democrats have declared they want to halve and 60% of the public in polls wish to see lowered. Unlike far rightists in Eastern Europe or Greece’s Golden Dawn, the Sweden Democrats are part of a slick and optical re-branding of ultra nationalism that emphasizes Islamophobia over anti-Semitism, with other examples such as Ukip and France’s Front National. This pragmatic approach has not gone unpunished, however, as Viktor Orban of Hungary just saw his country slapped with sanctions by the European Parliament for enacting measures restricting immigration as the clash between anti-globalists and neo-liberal ‘inclusive capitalists’ appears to be escalating.

The remarks upset many of the Dalai Lama’s adoring fans as he knowingly or unwittingly appeared to be dog-whistling to their supporters. Still, this isn’t the first time the Tibetan leader has expressed such views. Along with singing praises for India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in 2016 he stated that Germany had “too many refugees” during an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In addition to demonstrating an oblivious lack of understanding about the migrant crisis, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner’s statements shocked many of his admirers, especially considering his own status as a refugee residing in India for more than 50 years. To his critics they served as further testimony to a hidden history largely unknown to his naive followers and a summation of his actual nationalist views —after all despite his refugee status, his entire political history has been based around returning to power in Tibet. In the West, he has been given the persona of a ‘simple Buddhist monk’ by the political establishment and Hollywood, cloaking his own past as a theocratic despot who speaks for a dominant class within Tibet that has collaborated with the interests of imperialism against China for more than fifty years.

The political author and critic Michael Parenti has written at length about the oppressive social system that existed in Tibet prior to the Chinese liberation in his 2003 essay “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth“. The Dalai (“ocean” in Mongolian) Lamas are believed to be reincarnations of the Buddha of Compassion, or manifestations in a lineage of the Bodhisattva (“enlightenment being”). It was the Mongol invasion of Tibet in the 13th century during the Yuan dynasty where Tibetan Buddhism first spread throughout Asia and for the next six centuries was the state religion of both the Ming and Qing dynasties. Following the disintegration of China’s last imperial dynasty, from 1912-1933 Tibet was an absolute monarchy under his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama.

During his brief tenure as the head of state until he was a mere 24 years old, the 14th Dalai Lama was not a democratically-elected leader but selected by a committee of elite lamas (priests of Tibetan Buddhism) following an extensive search guided by their religious beliefs just like those which preceded him. Under his brief but ultra-wealthy reign, Tibet was a remotely isolated and poor country for the vast majority of its population which mostly consisted of illiterate slaves and serfs who were treated like rental cars by overlords, resembling a Buddhist version of the Gulf State kingdoms more than any peaceful paradise. While presiding over a brutal caste system, the Dalai Lama lived in a 1000-room estate with a personal army at his disposal to hunt down deserters. Parenti writes:

The theocracy’s religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as a karmic atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve in their next lifetime. The rich and powerful treated their good fortune as a reward for, and tangible evidence of, virtue in past and present lives.

The Tibetan serfs were something more than superstitious victims, blind to their own oppression. As we have seen, some ran away; others openly resisted, sometimes suffering dire consequences. In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation — including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation — were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or resistant serfs.

During the Cold War, interest in Tibetan Buddhism worldwide grew dramatically and so did a mainstream version of it in the West. This was supplied by an idealized and exoticized utopian portrayal of the Himalayas and the country akin to the imaginary ‘Shangri-La’ from the novel Lost Horizon, while Western media agencies promoted the ‘Free Tibet’ cause promoted by movie stars and popular musicians. Buddhism’s appealing teachings have led to the perception by many that it is exempt from the ugly history attributed to other major religions, but as we can see with modern examples such as the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar this is untrue— it has been used to justify various forms of oppression (including slavery) throughout its history just like other organized religions. Western buddhism became popularized after the establishment of teaching centers during the New Age movement of the 1970s but most of what people in the West know about Tibet is through its depiction in Hollywood, where he has been courted in the silver screen community by everyone from Martin Scorsese to Richard Gere. At the same time, the source of where Hollywood has pulled its superficial understanding of Tibet is from the 1952 book Seven Years in Tibet authored by Austrian mountain climber Heinrich Harrer which aggrandized the feudal government.

It turns out that Harrer wasn’t just any mountaineer but a member of the Sturmabteilung Nazi paramilitary and an SS officer, even meeting with Adolf Hitler after his expedition team successfully climbed the Eiger North Face in the Swiss Alps. In 1939, Harrer traveled in an expedition to the Himalayas to climb the Nanga Parbat peak, one of the world’s ten highest mountains but he was subsequently interned in India by British troops when the European theatre of WWII broke out. Harrer managed to escape to nearby Tibet where his knowledge of the native language led to a salaried employment in the Tibetan government and role as the Dalai Lama’s personal English tutor — in other words, Kundun’s introduction to the Western-world was through a member of Hitler’s Storm Detachment. After the communist Chinese took over, Harrer returned to Europe to write about his experiences and the book became an international best-seller. In 1997, Hollywood made a film version of his account starring Brad Pitt.

Harrer’s experiences weren’t the only instance of historical encounters between the Nazis and Tibet. During the 1930s, along with the occult, European fascists had a bizarre fascination with Asian mysticism. They admired the Tibetan Kingdom with its feudal pecking order and wide-ranging use of torture, mutilation, and the death penalty. In 1938, the Germans led a scientific expedition headed by animal biologist and SS officer Ernst Schafer under the patronage of Heinrich Himmler’s Nazi think tank, the SS Ancestral Heritage Society, which promoted racist pseudo-scientific research. While the voyage happened under the pretext of strategic military purposes against the British, it was also intended to validate Himmler’s racial theory that Aryans of unmixed ancestry had previously settled in the Himalayas. During their investigation, the Germans conducted cranial measurements of human skulls and bones obtained from Tibetan graves with the intent to find evidence supporting Himmler’s ideas that they would be of German ancestry. The Nazi Party’s appropriation of the swastika, a symbol connected to the caste system of Ancient India, was also based on this false idea. Schafer returned with his ‘findings’ just a month prior to the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

One of the Dalai Lama’s biggest talking points has been his supposed “commitment to non-violence.” This apparently does not apply to his own practices, where for years during the Cold War he participated in a covert program of the CIA which personally gave him an annual salary of $180,000 as it promoted the Tibetan independence movement, authorized by the same committee which green-lighted the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Not only did the CIA aid his escape to India, but the program also involved subsidizing a Tibetan guerilla movement based in Nepal waging a violent campaign against the Chinese. The program only ended in 1972 when the Nixon administration opted for détente with China under the foreign policy direction of Henry Kissinger. The Dalai Lama regretfully admitted to this decision in his auto-biography Freedom in Exile, but claimed he didn’t initially know of the agreement made with the CIA that was approved by his brothers . However, he avoided mentioning his presence on the CIA payroll proven by declassified documents and his representatives have denied awareness of it since. The Chinese have long claimed that the Tibetan independence movement was a cause under the influence of foreign powers and it appears by his own admission this is true.

China’s so-called ‘occupation’ of Tibet, while certainly not free of flaws (especially during the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward), nevertheless ended a brutal feudal and theocratic system and began a process of industrialization that continues to this day. Prior to 1959, much of Tibet did not even have running water or electricity, much less modern housing or healthcare. The introduction of non-religious education, reformation of the previous severe tax system, and abolishment of slavery and serfdom has lifted much of Tibet out of deep impoverishment and raised its standard of living. Even if one feels that the Chinese need to be more tolerant of its traditional culture or recognize its right to self-determination, the idea that this process should involve returning absolute authority to the Dalai Lama is self-appointed and not the wishes of most Tibetans. The Chinese to their credit since have given greater autonomy to Tibetans after reforms in the 1970s and to this day Buddhism is still practiced widely by its people and tolerated by the authorities. In fact, each year on March 28 Tibetans widely celebrate a Serfs Emancipation Day holiday to commemorate their liberation from theocracy. Tibet had been unified with China for many centuries and was not an independent state for the majority of its history — not only did the PRC free a slave kingdom from social injustice but from its influence under colonial powers who had used it as a chess piece to undermine China.

The architect of the Cold War, the U.S. diplomat and historian George F. Kennan, exposed the orientalist goals of imperialism towards China in his infamous PPS23 Memo when addressing the Far East:

We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.

Coincidentally, the migrant crisis has occurred alongside the modern equivalent of Kennan’s theory of containment in Obama’s failed “pivot to East Asia” regional strategy. Foreign policy toward East Asia under Obama saw the U.S. accelerate its military presence with aircraft carriers in forward deployment, increased presence of combat troops and naval access surrounding China. The U.S. is desperately trying to halt the rise of China on the global stage with its booming economy — journalist and filmmaker John Pilger’s The Coming War on China is an excellent documentary and cinematic exploration of this topic in what appears to be an increasing drive towards WWIII with Beijing. Just as it did throughout the Cold War with Tibet, U.S. media is also stepping up its propaganda campaign by exaggerating the plight of the Uyghur Muslim Turkic minority by falsely claiming they are being interned in concentration camps by the Chinese government.

The Dalai Lama’s comments have provoked a predictable reaction from the very liberals who have championed his cause as an instance of betrayal of their shared cosmetic values. This is emblematic of the entire political climate since the 2008 financial crash which preceded the migrant crisis that the centrist political establishment has done everything within its power to downplay its inseparable connection. The financial collapse is what opened up political space for new, radical ideas and that included a surge of interest in both far left and far right political organizations which spoke directly to the working class, from Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party. Liberals continue to express faux-outrage at developments of which their failed policies are responsible, while at the same time offering no alternative or solution except doubling-down on the same empty strategies.

While the Stop the War co-founder Jeremy Corbyn has become the leader of the UK’s Labour Party, democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the United States, and the disappointing SYRIZA coalition was elected in Greece, it is the far right which has made the greatest gains in response to the failures of capitalism. In 2016, it saw both the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. who campaigned pledging to build a wall on the Southern border and 17 million Brits voting to leave the European Union. Sadly, it is inevitable that their attempts to save capitalism from itself by restricting immigration and imposing tariffs will prove to be ineffectual as Keynesian economics. The real problem lies not with immigration or the demise of the nation state by globalism, but with increasing global inequality and the free market’s relentless drive to extract wealth and resources through imperial conquest of smaller nations, the actual cause of the migrant crisis.

The political establishment is now fighting for its life as it outright denies the interdependence of failing global markets with the crisis, all the while fear-mongering the public in its efforts to reform capitalism under the phony banner of ‘inclusivity’, even as its very policies fuel the increase in xenophobia scapegoating the immigrants it claims to want to protect. These policies not only include the implementation of economic austerity, but military intervention abroad with support for jihadist-dominated uprisings and its failed ‘War on Terror’ in the Middle East which destabilized the region and fueled the wave of migrants seeking asylum in the EU. Much has been written about the contribution of migration and endless war to the Roman Empire’s collapse — it seems the same cards are in the deck for the United States and its hegemony.

Our Broken System has no “Moderate” Devotees

Western politics is tearing itself apart, polarising into two camps – or at least, it is in the official narrative we are being fed by our corporate media. The warring camps are presented as “moderate centrists”, on one side, and the “extreme right”, on the other. The question is framed as a choice about where one stands in relation to this fundamental political divide. But what if none of this is true? What if this isn’t a feud between two opposed ideological camps but rather two differing – and irrational – reactions to the breakdown of late-stage capitalism as an economic model, a system that can no longer offer plausible solutions to the problems of our age?

Neighbouring news headlines this week offered a neat illustration of the media’s framing of the current situation. Representing the “moderates”, German chancellor Angela Merkel made a “passionate address” in which she denounced the outbreak of far-right protests in east Germany and reports of the “hunting down” of “foreigners” – asylum seekers and immigrants.

She observed:

There is no excuse or explanation for rabble-rousing, in some cases the use of violence, Nazi slogans, hostility towards people who look different, to the owner of a Jewish restaurant, attacking police.

Ostensibly pitted against Merkel is Viktor Orban, Hungary’s “extreme right” prime minister. Hungary risks being stripped of its voting rights in the European Union because of Orban’s “rabble-rousing” policies and his anti-migrant agenda.

Shortly before the European parliament voted against Hungary, accusing its government of posing a “systematic threat” to democracy and the rule of law, Orban argued that his country was being targeted for preferring not to be “a country of migrants”.

He is far from an outlier. Several other EU states, from Italy to Poland, are close behind Orban in pursuing populist, anti-immigrant agendas.

Family feud

But does this civil war in Europe really reflect a divide between good and bad politics, between moderates and extremists? Are we not witnessing something else: the internal contradictions brought to the fore by a turbo-charged neoliberalism that is now so ideologically entrenched that no one dares question its suitability, let alone its morality?

In truth, the row between Merkel and Orban is a family feud, between sister and brother wedded to the same self-destructive ideology but in profound disagreement about which placebo should be administered to make them feel better.

What do I mean?

Merkel and the mainstream neoliberal elite are committed to an ever-more deregulated world because that is imperative for a globalised economic elite searching to accrue ever more wealth and power. That elite needs open borders and a lack of significant regulation so that it can plunder unrestricted the Earth’s resources – human and material – while dumping the toxic waste byproducts wherever is most profitable and convenient.

In practice, that means creating maximum damage in places and against life-forms that have the least capacity to defend themselves: the poorest countries, the animal kingdom, the forests and oceans, the weather system – and, of course, against future generations that have no voice. There is a reason why the deepest seabeds are now awash with our plastic debris, poisoning and killing marine life for decades, maybe centuries, to come.

Interestingly, this global elite makes a few exceptions to its policy of entirely open borders and sweeping deregulation. Through its pawns in the world’s leading capitals – the people we mistakenly think of as our political representatives – it has created small islands of opacity in which it can stash away its wealth. These “offshore tax havens” are highly regulated so we cannot see what goes on inside them. While the elite wants borders erased and the free movement of workers to set one against the other, the borders of these offshore “safe deposit boxes” are stringently preserved to protect the elite’s wealth.

International order

Meanwhile, the global elite has created international or trans-national structures and institutions precisely to remove the power of nation-states to regulate and dominate the business environment. The political class in the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Mexico or Brazil do not control the corporations. These corporations control even the biggest states. The banks are too big to fail, the arms manufacturers too committed to permanent war to rein in, the largely uniform narratives of the corporate media too powerful to dissent from.

Instead, global or trans-national institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary, the European Union, NATO, BRICS and many others, remake our world to promote the globalised profits of the corporations.

The United Nations – a rival international project – is more problematic. It was created immediately after the Second World War with the aim of imposing a law-based international order, premised on respect for human rights, to prevent future large-scale wars and genocide. In practice, however, it chiefly serves the interests of the dominant western states through their capture of the Security Council, effectively the UN’s executive.

A few UN institutions – those in charge of human rights and prosecuting war crimes – that have the potential to restrain the power of the global elite find themselves ever more marginalised and undermined. Both the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court have been under sustained assault from US officials, both before and after Donald Trump became president.

Towards the abyss

The internal contradictions of this globalised system – between the unfettered enrichment of the elite and the endless resource depletion of the Earth and its weakest inhabitants – are becoming ever more apparent. Historically, the toxic waste from this system was inflicted on the poorest regions first, like puddles forming in depressions in the ground during a rainstorm.

As the planet has warmed, crops have failed, the poor have gone hungry, wars have broken out. All of this has been an entirely predictable outcome of the current economics of endless, carbon-based growth, coupled with resource theft. But unlike puddles, the human collateral damage of this economic system can get up and move elsewhere. We have seen massive population displacements caused by famines and wars, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. These migrations are not about to stop. They are going to intensify as neoliberalism hurtles us towards the economic and climate abyss.

The political class in the west are now experiencing profound cognitive dissonance. Merkel and the “moderates” want endless growth and a world without borders that is bringing gradual ruination on their economies and their privileges. They have no answers for the “extremists” on the right, who acknowledge this ruination and say something needs to be done urgently about it.

Orban and the far-right want to fiercely resurrect the borders that globalisation erased, to build barriers that will stop the puddles merging and inundating their higher ground. This is why the right is resurgent. They, far more than the moderates, can describe our current predicament – even if they offer solutions that are positively harmful. They want solid walls, national sovereignty, blocks on immigrants, as well as racism and violence against the “foreigners” already inside their borders.

The system is broken

We have to stop thinking of these political debates as between the good “moderates” and the nasty “extreme right”. This is a fundamental misconception.

The deluded “moderates” want to continue with a highly unsustainable form of capitalism premised on an impossible endless growth. It should be obvious that a planet with finite resources cannot sustain infinite growth, and that the toxic waste of our ever-greater consumption will poison the well we all depend on.

The west’s deluded far-right, on the other hand, believe that they can stand guard and protect their small pile of privilege against the rising tide of migrants and warming oceans caused by western policies of resource theft, labour exploitation and climate destruction. The far-right’s views are no more grounded in reality than King Canute’s.

Both sides are failing to grasp the central problem: that the western-imposed global economic system is broken. It is gradually being destroyed from within by its own contradictions. The “moderates” are doubly blind: they refuse to acknowledge either the symptoms or the cause of the disease. The “extremists” are as oblivious to the causes of the illness besetting their societies as the “moderates”, but they do at least recognise the symptoms as a sign of malaise, even if their solutions are entirely self-serving.

Squaring the circle

This can be seen in stark fashion in the deep divide over Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, so-called Brexit, which has cut across the usual left-right agendas.

The Remain crowd, who want to stay in Europe, believe Britain’s future lies in upholding the failed status quo: of a turbo-charged neoliberalism, of diminishing borders and the free movement of labour, of distant, faceless technocrats making decisions in their name.

Like a child pulling up the blanket to her chin in the hope it will protect her from the monsters lurking in the darkness of the bedroom, the “moderates” assume European bureaucrats will protect them from economic collapse and climate breakdown. The reality, however, is that the EU is one of the trans-national institutions whose chief rationale is accelerating our rush to the abyss.

Meanwhile, the Brexit crowd think that, once out of the EU, a small island adrift in a globalised world will be able to reclaim its sovereignty and greatness. They too are going to find reality a terrifying disappointment. Alone, Britain will not be stronger. It will simply be easier prey for the US-headquartered global elite. Britain will be jumping out of the EU frying pan into the flames of the Atlanticists’ stove.

What is needed is not the “moderates” or the “extreme right”, not Brexit or Remain, but an entirely new kind of politics, which is prepared to shift the paradigm.

The new paradigm must accept that we live in a world that requires global solutions and regulations to prevent climate breakdown. But it must also understand that people are rightly distrustful of distant, unaccountable institutions that are easily captured by the most powerful and the most pitiless. People want to feel part of communities they know, to have a degree of control over their lives and decisions, to find common bonds and to work collaboratively from the bottom-up.

The challenge ahead is to discard our current self-destructive illusions and urgently find a way to solve this conundrum – to square the circle.

The Israel Lobby’s Non-stop Attacks on Corbyn will Backfire

Back in the 1950s, the US intelligence community coined a term: “blowback”. It referred to the unintended consequences of a covert operation that ended up damaging one’s own cause.

There are mounting indications that the intensifying campaign by the Israel lobby in the UK against Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the parliamentary opposition, is starting to have precisely such self-harming repercussions.

A campaign of smears

In the three years since he was elected to lead the Labour party, Corbyn has faced non-stop accusations that his party has an endemic “anti-Semitism problem”, despite all evidence to the contrary. Of late, Corbyn himself has become the chief target of such allegations.

Last month the Daily Mail led a media mauling of Corbyn over disparaging comments he made in 2013 about a small group of pro-Israel zealots who had come to disrupt a Palestinian solidarity meeting. His reference to them as “Zionists”, it was claimed, served as code for “Jews” and was therefore anti-Semitic.

Mounting evidence in both the UK and the US, where there has been a similar escalation of attacks on pro-Palestinian activists, often related to the international boycott movement (BDS), suggests that the Israeli government is taking a significant, if covert, role in coordinating and directing such efforts to sully the reputation of prominent critics.

Corbyn’s supporters have argued instead that he is being subjected to a campaign of smears to oust him from the leadership because of his very public championing over many decades of the Palestinian cause.

Israel lobbyists

Al-Jazeera has produced two separate undercover documentary series on Israel lobbyists’ efforts in the UK and US to interfere in each country’s politics – probably in violation of local laws. Only the UK series has been aired so far.

It showed an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, both plotting to “take down” a Conservative government minister seen as too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and helping to create an anti-Corbyn front organisation in the Labour party.

Masot worked closely with two key pro-Israel groups in Labour, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel. The latter includes some 80 Labour MPs.

Under apparent pressure from the Israel lobby in the US, the series on the US lobby was suppressed.

Last week Alain Gresh, the former editor of Le Monde diplomatique, published significant quotes from that censored documentary after viewing it secretly in Dubai. The US lobby’s aims and practices, as reported by Gresh, closely echo what has happened in the UK to Corbyn, as he has faced relentless allegations of anti-Semitism.

The US documentary reportedly shows that Israel’s strategic affairs ministry has taken a leading role in directing the US lobby’s efforts. According to Gresh, senior members of the lobby are caught on camera admitting that they have built up a network of spies to gather information on prominent critics of Israel.

In Gresh’s transcripted excerpts, Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, a group of organisations fighting BDS, states: “When I got here a few years ago, the budget was $3,000. Today it’s like a million and a half [dollars], or more. … It’s a massive budget.”

“It’s psychological warfare,” he adds, noting how the smears damage the targeted groups: “They either shut down, or they spend time investigating [the accusations against them] instead of attacking Israel. It’s extremely effective.”

David Hazony, a senior member of another lobby group, The Israel Project, explains that a pressing aim is to curb political speech critical of Israel:

What’s a bigger problem is the Democratic Party, the Bernie Sanders people, bringing all the anti-Israel people into the Democratic Party. Then being pro-Israel becomes less a bipartisan issue, and then every time the White House changes, the policies towards Israel change. That becomes a dangerous thing for Israel.

No discussion

These reported quotes confirm much of what was already suspected. More than a decade ago scholars John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt wrote a book examining the composition and role of the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US.

But until the broadcasting of the Al-Jazeera documentary last year no comparable effort had been made to shine a light on the situation in the UK. In fact, there was almost no discussion or even acknowledgment of the role of an Israel lobby in British public and political life.

That is changing rapidly. Through its constant attacks on Corbyn, British activists are looking less like disparate individuals sympathetic to Israel and more recognisably like a US-style lobby – highly organised, on-message and all too ready to throw their weight around.

The lobby was always there, of course. And, as in the US, it embraces a much wider body of support than right-wing Jewish leadership organisations like the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, or hardline lobbyists such as the Community Security Trust and BICOM.

The earliest Zionists

That should not surprise us. The earliest Zionists were not Jews but fundamentalist Christians. In the US, the largest group of Zionists by far are Christian evangelicals who believe that the return of Jews to the Promised Land is the key to unlocking the second coming of the Messiah and an apocalyptic end-times. Though embraced by Israel, many of these Christian fundamentalists hold anti-Semitic views.

In Britain, there is an unacknowledged legacy of anti-Semitic Christian support for Zionism. Lord Balfour, a devout Christian who regularly voiced bigotry towards Jews, was also the man who committed the British government in 1917 to create a home for Jews in Palestine. That set in motion today’s conflict between Israel and the native Palestinian population.

In addition, many British gentiles, like other Europeans, live with understandable guilt about the Holocaust.

One of the largest and most effective groups in Corbyn’s parliamentary party is Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), most of whose members are not Jewish. LFI takes some of the party’s most senior politicians on all-expenses-paid trips to Israel to wine and dine them as they are subjected to Israeli propaganda.

Dozens of Labour MPs have remained loyal to LFI even as the organisation has repeatedly refused to criticise Israel over undeniable war crimes.

When Israeli snipers executed dozens of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza in May, the LFI took to Twitter to blame Hamas for the deaths, not Israel. After facing a massive backlash online, the LFI simply deleted the tweet.

A double whammy

Historically the Israel lobby could remain relatively low-profile in the UK because it faced few challenges. Its role was chiefly to enforce a political orthodoxy about Israel in line with Britain’s role as Washington’s foreign policy junior partner. No British leader looked likely to step far from the Washington consensus.

Until Corbyn.

The Israel lobby in the UK now faces a double whammy.

First, since Donald Trump entered the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dropped any pretence that Israel is willing to concede a Palestinian state, whatever the Palestinians do. Instead, Israel has isolated the Palestinian leadership diplomatically while seeking to terrorise the Palestinian population into absolute submission.

That was all too clear over the summer when those Israeli snipers picked off demonstrators each week in Gaza. As a result, the Israel lobby stands more exposed than ever. It can no longer buy time for Israeli expansionism by credibly claiming, as it once did, that Israel seeks peace.

Second, Israel’s partisans in the UK were caught off-guard by the unexpected rise of Corbyn to a place that puts him in sight of being the next prime minister. The use of social media by his supporters, meanwhile, has provided a counter-weight to the vilification campaign being amplified by the British media.

The media have been only too willing to assist in the smearing of the Labour leader because they have their own separate interests in seeing Corbyn gone. He is a threat to the corporate business interests they represent.

But not only has the messenger – the Israel lobby – now come under proper scrutiny for the first time, so has its message.

Lack of irony

The success of the lobby had depended not only on it remaining largely out of view. It also expected to shore up a largely pro-Israel environment without drawing attention to what was being advocated, beyond unquestioned soundbites. In doing so, it was able to entirely ignore those who had paid the price for Israel’s diplomatic impunity – the Palestinians.

The campaign against Corbyn has not only forced the lobby to come out into the open, but the backlash to its campaign has forced the lobby to articulate for the first time what exactly it believes and what is at stake.

The latest furore over Corbyn concerns a Youtube video of him speaking at a pro-Palestinian meeting in 2013, two years before he became Labour leader. He has been widely denounced in the media for making disparaging remarks about a small group of hardline pro-Israel partisans well-known for disrupting such meetings.

He referred to them as “Zionists” and suggested that the reaction of this particular hardline group to a speech by the Palestinian ambassador had betrayed their lack of appreciation of “English irony”.

Israel’s lobby, echoed by many liberal journalists, has suggested that Corbyn was using “Zionist” as code word for “Jew”, and that he had implied that all Jews – not the handful of pro-Israel zealots in attendance – lacked traits of Englishness.

This, they say, was yet further evidence of his anti-semitism.

Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s former chief rabbi, told the New Statesman last week that Corbyn’s comment was “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech”. In that notorious speech, the right-wing politician sought to incite race hatred of immigrants.

Calling Corbyn an “anti-Semite”, Sacks added: “It undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”

Treacherous words

In a now familiar pattern to lobby claims, Sacks relied on the false premise that all Jews are Zionists. He conflated a religious or ethnic category with a political ideology. The Labour leader has held his ground on this occasion, pointing out that he was using the term “in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people”.

Others have noted that his accusers – many of them senior journalists – are the ones lacking a sense of irony. Corbyn was not “otherising” Jews, he was highlighting a paradox not confirming a prejudice: that a small group of Britons were so immersed in their partisan cause, Israel, that it had blinded them to the “English irony” employed by a foreigner, the Palestinian ambassador.

However, the terms “anti-Semitism” and “Zionism” are likely to prove more treacherous to weaponise against Corbyn than the lobby thinks. As the anti-Semitism controversy is constantly reignited, a much clearer picture of the lobby’s implied logic is emerging, as illustrated by the hyperbolic, verging on delusional, language of Rabbi Sacks.

The argument goes something like this:

Israel is the only safe haven for Jews in times of trouble – and the only thing that stands between them and a future Holocaust. The movement that created Israel was the Zionist movement. Today most Jews are Zionists and believe Israel is at the core of their identity. Therefore, if you are too critical of Israel or Zionism, you must wish bad things for the Jewish people. That makes you an anti-Semite.

Problematic premises

It probably doesn’t require a logician to understand that there are several highly problematic premises propping up this argument. Let’s concentrate on two. The first is that it depends on a worldview in which the non-Jew is assumed to be anti-Semite until proven otherwise. For that reason Jews need to be eternally vigilant and distrustful of those outside their “tribe”.

If that sounds improbable, it shouldn’t. That is exactly the lesson of the Holocaust taught to children in Israel from kindergarten onwards.

Israel derives no universal message from the Holocaust. Its schools do not teach that we must avoid stigmatising others, and discourage sectarian and tribal indentifications that fuel prejudice and bigotry. How could it? After all, Israel’s core ideology, political Zionism, is premised on the idea of tribal and sectarian exclusivity – the “ingathering of exiles” to create a Jewish state.

In Israel, the Holocaust supplies a different lesson. It teaches that Jews are under permanent threat from non-Jews, and that their only defence is to seek collective protection in a highly militarised state, armed with nuclear weapons.

This idea was encapsulated in the famous saying by the late Israeli general Moshe Dayan: “Israel must be seen as a mad dog; too dangerous to bother.”

A ‘globalised virus’

Israel’s ugly, self-serving tribal reading of history has been slowly spreading to Jews in Europe and the US.

Fifteen years ago, a US scholar, Daniel J Goldhagen, published an influential essay in the Jewish weekly Forward titled “The Globalisation of anti-Semitism”. In it, he argued that anti-Semitism was a virus that could lie dormant for periods but would always find new ways to reinfect its hosts.

“Globalized anti-Semitism has become part of the substructure of prejudice in the world,” he wrote. “It is relentlessly international in its focus on Israel at the center of the most conflict-ridden region today.”

This theory is also known as the “new anti-Semitism”, a form of Jew hatred much harder to identify than the right-wing anti-Semitism of old. Through mutation, the new anti-Semitism had concealed its hatred of Jews by appearing to focus on Israel and dressing itself up in left-wing garb.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given his latest comments about Corbyn, that is also an approximation of the argument made by Rabbi Sacks in a 2016 essay in which he writes: “Anti-Semitism is a virus that survives by mutating.”

In a sign of how this kind of paranoia is becoming slowly normalised in Europe too, the Guardian published a commentary by a British journalist last month explaining her decision, Israel-style, to teach her three-year-old daughter about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. That, she hoped, would prepare her child for eventualities such as Corbyn becoming prime minister.

But the increasing adoption of Israel’s tribalist doctrine among sections of the British Jewish community – and the related weaponisation of anti-Semitism – is likely to shed further light on what kind of a state hardline Zionists uphold as at the core of their identity.

Paradoxically, the new anti-Semitism turns the tables by legitimising – in fact, necessitating – Jewish racism towards gentiles. Rather than Corbyn stigmatising Jews – except in some feverish imaginations – it is the pro-Israel lobby stigmatising non-Jews, by claiming that they are all tainted by Jew hatred, whether they know it or not.

The more the lobby kicks up a hysteria about Corbyn’s supposed anti-Semitism, the clearer it becomes that the lobby regards much of the non-Jewish public as suspect too.

Palestinians made invisible

The other obvious lacuna in the lobby’s logic is that it only works if we completely remove the Palestinians from the story of Zionism and Israel. The idea of a harm-free Zionism might have been credible had it been possible to establish a Jewish state on an empty piece of land, as the early Zionists claimed Palestine to be. In reality there was a large native population who had to be displaced first.

Israel’s creation as a Jewish state in 1948 was possible only if the Zionist movement undertook two steps that violate modern conceptions of human rights and liberal democratic practice. First, Israel had to carry out large-scale ethnic cleansing, forcing more than 80 per cent of the native Palestinian population outside the new borders of the Jewish state it created on the Palestinians’ homeland.

Then, it needed to deny the small surviving community of Palestinians inside Israel the same rights as Israeli Jews, to ghettoise them and stop them from bringing their expelled relatives back to their homes.

These weren’t poor choices made by flawed Israeli politicians. They were absolutely essential to the success of a Zionist project to create and maintain a Jewish state. The ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the structural racism of the Jewish state were unmentionable topics in “legitimate” public debates about Israel until very recently.

That has been changing, in part because it has become much harder to conceal what kind of state Israel is. Its self-harming behaviour includes its recent decision to make explicit the state’s institutionalised racism with the passage in July of the Nation-State Basic Law. That law gives constitutional weight to the denial of equal rights to a fifth of Israel’s population, those who are Palestinian.

The backlash against Corbyn and other Palestinian solidarity activists is evidence of the lobby’s fears that they can no longer hold the line against a growing realisation by western publics that there was a cost to Zionism’s success.

That price was paid by Palestinians, and there has yet been no historical reckoning over their suffering. By veiling the historical record, Israel and the Zionist movement have avoided the kind of truth and reconciliation process that led to the ending of apartheid in South Africa. The lobby prefers that Israel’s version of apartheid continues.

Loss of moral compass

If there is one individual who personifies the loss of a moral compass in the weaponisation of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and Israel’s critics, it is Rabbi Sacks.

Asked by the New Statesman what he thinks of the new Nation-State Basic Law, the normally erudite Sacks suddenly becomes lost for words. He asks a friend, or in his case his brother, for the answer: “I’m not an expert on this. My brother is, I’m not. He’s a lawyer in Jerusalem. He tells me that there’s absolutely nothing apartheid about this, it’s just correcting a lacuna… As far as I understand, it’s a technical process that has none of the implications that have been levelled at it.”

Sacks, it seems, cannot identify apartheid when it is staring him the face, as long as it is disguised as “Jewish”. Similarly, he is blind to the history of Zionism and the mass dispossession of Palestinians in the 1948 Nakba.

He tells the New Statesman: “Jews did not wish to come back to their land [Palestine] to make any other people [Palestinians] suffer, and that goes very deep in the Jewish heart.” Not so deep, it seems, that Sacks can even identify who had to suffer to make possible that Jewish “return”.

In a critique of Sacks’ lengthy 2016 essay on anti-Semitism, a liberal Jewish commentator Peter Beinart noted that the rabbi had mentioned the “Palestinians” by name only once.

He berated Sacks for equating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism:

By denying that [Palestinians] might have any reason besides bigotry to dislike Zionism, it denies their historical experience and turns them into mere vessels for Jew-hatred. Thus, it does to Palestinians what anti-Semitism does to Jews. It dehumanizes them.

Topsy-turvy world

In a world that was not topsy-turvy, it would be Sacks and the Israel lobby that were being publicly upbraided for their racism. Instead Corbyn is being vilified by a wide spectrum of supposedly informed opinion in the UK – Jewish and non-Jewish alike – for standing in solidarity with Palestinians.

It is, remember, the Palestinian people who have been the victims of more than a century of collusion between European colonialism and Zionism, and today are still being oppressed by an anachronistic ethnic state, Israel, determined to privilege its Jewishness at all costs.

The lobby and its supporters are not just seeking to silence Corbyn. They also intend to silence the Palestinians and the growing ranks of people who choose to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. But while the lobby may be winning on its own limited terms in harming Corbyn in mainstream discourse, deeper processes are exposing and weakening the lobby. It is overplaying its hand.

A strong lobby is one that is largely invisible, one that – like the financial and arms industries – has no need to flex its muscles. In making so much noise to damage Corbyn, the Israel lobby is also for the first time being forced to bring out into the open the racist premises that always underpinned its arguments.

Over time, that exposure is going to harm, not benefit, the apologists for Israel.

• First published in Middle East Eye

There is a Deeper, Darker Agenda Afoot as the US cuts UNRWA Funding

The Trump administration’s decision to scrap all future aid payments to the main agency helping Palestinian refugees marks a new – and most likely disastrous – chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The US State Department said on Friday it would no longer continue its $360 million annual contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), depriving it of a third of its budget. US officials described the organisation as “irredeemably flawed”.

The move follows an announcement last week that Washington had slashed $200 million from other aid programmes for the Palestinians.

About five million Palestinians – many languishing for decades in refugee camps across the Middle East – rely on the agency for essential food, healthcare and education.

Other states in the Middle East have reason to be fearful. Jordan’s foreign minster, Ayman Safadi, warned on Saturday that the denial of aid would “only consolidate an environment of despair that would ultimately create fertile grounds for further tension”.

Jordan, which hosts two million Palestinian refugees, has called a meeting at the UN later this month, along with Japan, the European Union, Sweden and Turkey, to “rally political and financial support” for UNRWA.

Traditional American and European backing for the UN agency could be viewed as reparations for their complicity in helping to create a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. That act of dispossession turned the Palestinians into the world’s largest stateless population.

Except there are few signs of guilt.

The handouts provided via the UN have served more like “hush money”, designed to keep the Palestinians dependent and quiet as western states manage a crisis they apparently have no intention of solving.

That was why the European Union hurriedly promised to seek alternative funds for UNRWA. It noted that the agency was “vital for stability and security in the region” – a stability that has enabled Israel to disappear the Palestinians, uninterrupted, for seven decades.

The Trump administration, by contrast, is more brazen about the new way it wishes to weaponise aid.

US officials have not concealed the fact that they want leverage over the Palestinians to force them to submit to Donald Trump’s long-promised “deal of the century” peace plan.

But there is a deeper and darker agenda afoot than simply reviving failed negotiations or pandering to the Trump administration’s well-known antipathy towards international institutions.

Over the past 25 years, peace talks have provided cover for Israel’s incremental takeover of what was supposed to be a future Palestinian state. In the words of Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi, while Israel and the Palestinians were discussing how to divide the pizza, Israel ate it all.

So Mr Trump’s team has, in effect, reverse-engineered a “peace process” based on the reality on the ground Israel has created.

If Israel won’t compromise, Mr Trump will settle the final-status issues – borders, Jerusalem and the refugees – in the stronger party’s favour. The only hurdle is finding a way to bully the Palestinians into acceptance.

In an indication of how sychronised Washington and Israel’s approaches now are, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, made almost identical speeches last week.

In an address to American Jewish leaders, Mr Friedman noted that a “different way of thinking” prevailed in the Middle East. “You can’t talk your way, you just have to be strong,” he said.

The next day, Mr Netanyahu reiterated that message. He tweeted: “The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.”

That sounded uncomfortably like a prescription for the Palestinians’ future.

Israel has already carved out its borders through the ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1948 and 1967. Since then, it has mobilised the settlers and its military to take over almost all of the remnants of historic Palestine. A few slivers of territory in the West Bank and the tiny coastal ghetto of Gaza are all that is left for the Palestinians.

A nod from the White House and Israel will formalise this arrangement by gradually annexing the West Bank.

As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Mr Trump recognised it as Israel’s capital by moving the US embassy there in May. Now, even if it can be born, a Palestinian state will lack a meaningful capital and a viable economy.

The final loose end are the refugees.

Some time ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas surrendered their right – sanctioned in international law – to return to their former lands in what is now Israel.

Instead, the question was whether Israel would allow the refugees encamped in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to move to the West Bank and Gaza and become citizens of a Palestinian state.

But if Israel refuses to concede a Palestinian state, even that minimal ambition is doomed.

Israel and the US have an alternative solution. They prefer to dismantle UNRWA and disappear the Palestinians in the swelling tide of refugees spawned by recent western interventions in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. On Sunday Mr Netanyahu welcomed what he called a US move to “abolish the refugee institution, to take the funds and really help rehabilitate the refugees”.

The US and Israel want the Palestinian refugees to fall under the responsibility of the UNHCR, the UN’s umbrella refugee agency – or better still, their host countries.

In a leaked email reported by Foreign Policy magazine this month, Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, wrote that it was time to “disrupt UNRWA”. He added that “sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there”.

Central to that disruption is stripping millions of Palestinians of their status as refugees. The Trump administration is due to publish a report later this month, according to Israeli media, that will propose capping the Palestinian refugee population at 500,000 – a tenth of the current number.

Mr Kushner has reportedly been leaning on Jordan to revoke the status of its two million Palestinian refugees, presumably in return for US compensation.

When UNRWA’s mandate comes up for renewal in two years’ time, it seems assured Washington will block it.

If there is no UNRWA, there is no Palestinian refugee problem. And if there are no refugees, then there is no need for a right of return – and even less pressure for a Palestinian state.

Israel and the US are close to their goal: transforming a political conflict governed by international law that favours the Palestinians into an economic problem overseen by an array of donors that favours Israel.

• First published in The National

Jordan: Staunch Western Ally, Angry and Confused

Where precisely, is Jordan now? Is it with the West, or with the Arab world? How independent is it, really, and what future lies ahead?

Recently, in the middle of the capital city – Amman – several sleek 5-star hotel towers grew towards the sky, including the trendy “W” and Rotana. Dressed to kill women from the Gulf, wearing high heels and suggestive make up, are now sipping cappuccinos in various cafes at the posh new pedestrian area called The Boulevard. Saudi men can be seen downing pints of beer and carafes of wine. It is a scene not unlike that commonly observed in Bahrain. The Gulf now comes to Amman to escape strict regulations, to play, to be careless, to enjoy life. Some people travel here for medical treatment, staying in overpriced private hospitals which resemble 4-star hotels more than medical facilities.

Built with money from the Gulf

But predominately, here in Amman, it is all about fashion, about food and drinks, about showing off and being seen – the entire area doesn’t have one single decent bookstore (there is only a tiny kiosk at the entrance to the Abdali Mall), art cinema or a concert hall.

Unlike Beirut, with its vibrant international art scene and thirst for knowledge, Amman’s affluent residents and visitors are obsessed with consumerism. With half-closed eyes, The Boulevard could be located in some smaller city of Texas or Georgia.

*****

Just a few kilometers away, at Al-Basheer Hospital (the biggest public medical facility in the country), doctors are on strike. They are exhausted, underpaid and depressed. Only emergency cases get treated. Blood is on the floor, patients look resigned.

 

I get pushed away as the Health Minister makes his visit with his entourage.

Ambulances keep howling, bringing casualties.

“Quality of public medical services in this country is appalling,” I am told by one of the patients.

Syrian ladies and child — refugees

I talk to two Syrian ladies who are waiting here with a sick boy. One of them laments:

We had to travel here all the way from Al-Azraq. We are not insured in this country, and even UNHCR does not help us, when we are facing medical emergencies. We went to a private clinic where a simple series of tests cost us 300 JD (US$428). We are here now. It is uncertain whether we will be treated at all. We are totally desperate.

Soon after, a plain-clothed cop begins interrogating me. “Do I have a permit to ask questions at the hospital?” I don’t. After I leave, two police officers try to intercept me. Pretending that I don’t understand, I smile like an idiot and they let me go.

*****

In Jordan, people are afraid to talk. To be precise, they do talk inside their homes and cars, or in the backrooms of their offices, but not in public. They hardly ever give their full names.

Jordanian soldiers just a few meters from River Jordan and Israeli controlled POT

In 2018, Jordan ‘exploded’ on various occasions. In February, riots broke in the city of Al-Salt, over the proposed 60% price hike of bread, but also over the increase of electricity and fuel prices as well as the cutting of subsidies for basic goods and services.

The infamous and brutal IMF structural adjustment had been gradually implemented in Jordan, which was suffering from a stagnating economy and bizarre misappropriation of funds. In 2017, Jordan’s recorded government debt stood at $32 billion, equivalent to 95.6% of the country’s GDP.

In June, massive protests shook the capital, Amman. Protesters were demanding the change of the government. They were outraged by planned tax hikes and the rapidly declining standard of living. They also called for the end of endemic corruption among government officials.

Scores of people were arrested.

In July, the government resigned, and King Abdullah asked Omar al-Razzaz, a former World Bank economist, to form a new government.

People dispersed. They were told that they had won, but almost nothing changed.

“Let me explain: before they were, for instance, threatening to introduce a 15% tax on cars,” my driver in Amman explained. “Now what they will do is introduce a tax hike of 5% this year and 10% in 2019. Everything is the same.”

In a desperate settlement, Kufrain Village, near the River Jordan and Dead Sea, a baker at Alihsan Bakery was much more outspoken:

We don’t trust the government: new or old. They are all the same bullshitters.

The riots? Change of government? Don’t make me laugh: so-called ‘riots’ were organized and led by intelligence officers and by the government itself. They manipulated people. This government does precisely the same things as the previous one, but with the new alphabetic order.

A day earlier, I had heard precisely the same lament from an upper-class Jordanian lady whom I met on the bank of the Jordan River, while visiting the Bethany Beyond Jordan Site (great opportunity to photograph fortified border with Israeli occupied Palestine (OPT).

She explained, cynically and in perfect English:

Jordanian people had enough; this time they were ready to overthrow the regime in Amman. The elites knew it. They organized riots, made them look real but relatively orderly, then changed a few political players at the top, while saving the system. People felt that they won, but, in fact, nothing changed, whatsoever.

Jordan is a staunch ally of the West. Its ‘Elites’ are unconditionally pro-US.

The country has been, for decades, betting on collaboration with NATO.

It hosts several deadly military and air force bases of various Western countries, the most lethal being Al-Azraq, where part of the war planes that were previously situated at the Turkish airbase Incerlik, have recently been re-located.

British and US Special Forces have been, for years, invading the Syrian state, from Jordanian territory.

Slums at the outskirts of Amman

Functioning as a service station of the West, it has been securing the main income of the country and to its ‘elites’, but not necessarily to its people. Very little or nothing has been invested into science, research or production. It is all about the military bases, malls for the expats, medical tourism for the rich Gulf citizens, few maquiladoras, and, of course, the main privately owned component of the local economy – tourism (some 14% of the GDP and growing).

By the Dead Sea – for the very rich and tourists

Tourism primarily benefits the big Western hotel chains and is consistently ruining the fragile ecosystem of the Dead Sea and lately, the Gulf of Aqaba. At the same time, the Al-Azraq air force base is destroying and draining the precious water reserves of the desert oases.

Official unemployment in Jordan now stands around 18% but is in reality much higher.

The border with Syria remains closed, so cheap goods cannot come in (relatively poor Jordan is periodically ranked as the most expensive country to live in the Arab world).

Azraq refugee camp

The country is presently ‘hosting’ 670,000 Syrian refugees, although some are now determined to return home. The refugees (many of them live in despicable conditions and face various types of discrimination) are yet another source of foreign funding for Jordan, but on the streets of Amman, people keep complaining that ‘Syrians take jobs from the local people’. That does not prevent Jordanians from importing cheap labor from poor countries like the Philippines and Kenya. No matter how stretched and impoverished, Jordanians are not ready to do ‘dirty jobs’.

*****

I spoke to a curator at the modest Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. There, a surreal and post-modernist installation called “Factory” was trying to shock by avant-garde forms and, it appeared to me, by very little substance.

The National Gallery was desperately empty; people were most likely somewhere else, in cafes, malls or pubs.

I asked the curator whether she was planning to show some artwork depicting the recent riots, or to get to the core of what triggered the recent wave of desperation.

She looked at me, horrified:

“No, why? Of course not!”

I asked whether there is at least one gallery in Amman, that is reacting to the events?

“No,” she almost shouted at me. She was very angry. I was trying to understand, why.

It never pays to be a Western colony, in the Arab world or anywhere else. Some individuals or a group of people may get filthy rich, but the rest of the population will struggle. It will become ‘irrelevant’.

While neighboring Syria is winning its epic battle against the terrorists implanted there by the West and its allies, Jordan is living the sad reality of some Central American semi-colony of the United States.

Here, almost all ideology had been neutralized. Not even dreams of pan-Arab socialist unity that had been shaping, for decades, both Syria and Iraq, could be traced here.

Nobody in Jordan appears to be happy. Some complain, some don’t, but there are no concrete proposals on how to change the pro-Western regime.

In the meantime, the posh Boulevard area is ‘protected’ by metal detectors and guards, uniformed and plain-clothed. Hotels are turning into fortresses. Now even to enter some cafes at the Boulevard, one has to go through a second stage of security, including robust metal detectors. Amman is an extremely safe city. I wonder:

Is it in order to stop terrorism? Or, perhaps, is it to prevent poor and desperate people from entering and seeing with their own eyes that the foreign interests and local collaborators are robbing them of their own country?

I ask aloud. My local friend does not reply. In Jordan, there are some questions that should never be asked.

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Compassion is So Out of Fashion

On 24 July 2018, a young woman single-handedly prevented the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker out of Sweden by buying a ticket for his flight and refusing to sit down so that the airplane could take off. Her noble and courageous act brought tears to my eyes after the recent months’ terrible developments in the insane, obsessive, surreal European conflict over refugees and immigration.

Like my adopted country Germany, Sweden is allowing far-right racists and xenophobic nationalists and neo-Nazis to drive its agenda on immigration and asylum law. Once a country with a noble policy of providing safety to refugees fleeing persecution and human rights atrocities, Sweden’s government – like that of Germany – is now running scared as far-right anti-immigration parties grow ever stronger. And the older established parties are running not away from the wall-builder vote, but straight toward it and into the open arms of the nationalists, islamophobes, and incipient fascists. The “centrist” strategy for preventing racists and panic-stricken right-wingers from taking control of Europe: to adopt the same policies the governing self-described centrists claim to oppose.

And it is not only right-wingers and nationalists who have decided that the Global North must ratchet up its wall-building, who are falling prey to the flood of anecdotal and hysterical reports of rapes and murders carried out by refugees and immigrants. A great many of those refugees and immigrants – just coincidentally, of course – happen to be Muslims, and islamophobia is now a socially-acceptable form of discrimination among many who once flew the flag of tolerance. While there have been a handful of such actual crimes committed by immigrants, this small number of horrific acts is receiving the laser-focus treatment in the national mainstream press here in Germany, in stark contrast to the amount of attention given to the vast number of attacks on immigrants and refugees committed by racist neo-Nazi thugs and their sympathizers. Those anti-immigrant crimes are mentioned by the presstitutes occasionally in a dry, statistical manner. But the same government and corporate media that devote much of their feverish coverage to the growth of racist political parties which are deemed a “danger to democracy” are far less interested in talking about such violence committed by Germans, and I suspect that in Sweden the same thing is happening.

In recent weeks I have parted cyber-company with several people who consider themselves “progressive” or part of the Left, who nonetheless cannot find it in their hearts to come to terms with the personal circumstances of desperate people who are fleeing violence at home, the circumstances of people who see no future in their native lands, who risk drowning and imprisonment and subject themselves to racist discriminatory contempt, often with their children in tow, in the attempt to have better lives or to simply survive. It has become clear to most of us that all of the noble words about “fighting the causes of migration”, posited as an alternative to allowing a steady influx of refugees from violence and starvation and No-Future-Disease into the Global North from now on, are mostly fantasy. Even if the political will to truly make major changes in the Global South existed on a broad scale in the USA and Europe – which it does not, it is confined to the small and shrinking part of those populations which is willing to view refugees and migrants as people with just as much right to a decent life as those born here in the privileged part of the planet – the obstacles to any such effective programs are huge and probably insurmountable in the amount of time we have left before major collapse renders all of these debates utterly obsolete.

And most of us know that, at least instinctively. That causes fear among the vast majority of those of us who are comfortable, whether we are more or less politically conscious. Thus the growing fondness on wide swathes of the self-identified Left for nation-states and strongly-policed borders. For many of us, the mass-immigration scenario is where compassion ends. We may accept the fact that planetary doom is a done deal, but most of us appear to be determined to go down with our privileges intact.

In my life this is one-third of the Triple Whammy, although all three parts are, in fact, intimately related.

Although a slew of new scientific reports on rapidly accelerating global warming, on the already mind-blowing extent of plastic- and microplastics pollution in oceans, soils, the food chain and living creatures, on ocean acidification, and more speak an unmistakable language of No Future, most of us cannot get our minds around that, or we find it just too terrifying to contemplate. Instead, we push that highly probable reality out of our minds as “alarmism”, “gloom and doom”, “negativism” or whatever. However, those of us who see the issue as pretty much settled cannot do that. And every single day, many of us in that latter category are stunned once again to observe the fact that most of our fellow humans appear to intend to live out humanity’s end in the pretense that it is not even happening. I cannot possibly make it clear to you how that dichotomy stuns and numbs me and tears my insides out right through my brain.

Simultaneously (second part of the Triple Whammy), we are forced to watch as much of the worldwide attention that should be dedicated to our omnicidal self-destruction – whether one thinks it can be prevented, or agrees with me that it is now too late — is lavished on various “enemies” in classic manipulative programs of Us-Versus-Them distraction to support the mad and murderous strategies of those same deadly entities who have already made a ruin of half the Middle East and much of the Hindu Kush and North Africa and Ukraine, entities who earlier sabotaged the USSR’s economy in a targeted program carried out over a century, but continue to cast its largest remnant, the nation which saved us all from Hitler, as the Mother of All Evils. It is a spectacle worthy of Josef Goebbels, and untold millions who once seemed at least reasonably intelligent have swallowed the bait.

We are not allowed the dubious luxury of properly mourning life on Earth as it is wiped out before our eyes.

Instead, we are forced to watch as most of humanity denies the existence of this end-time with increasingly inhumane, paranoid, angst-ridden behavior which makes a mockery of all that we claim to value and believe in. Which brings us to Whammy Three: the Death of Compassion.

Those among us who would wish for a spiritual and awakened consciousness of all the things we are losing, even if it may possibly be our grandchildren who first experience the full force of that loss and destruction, are apparently doomed to bitter and fatal disappointment.

Unless benevolent extraterrestrial aliens show up right on cue a la “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to show us the error of our ways and save us from ourselves, it seems that humanity and much of life on this planet will slowly, gradually meet its end in a frenzy of Demonization of the Other, of war and brutality and scapegoating of the weakest and most defenseless among us. Other scenarios are possible; a number of things whether natural or nuclear might speed up the process radically.

But we can pretty much rule out the Happy Ending.