Revolution everywhere

September 21st, 2020

by JOEY AYOUB & LAUSAN COLLECTIVE

Martyrs’ Square, Beirut. PHOTO/Joey Ayoub.

Lausan Editor’s note: In 2019, simultaneous uprisings in Hong Kong and Lebanon led activists, organizers, and writers from these two locales to engage with and think about each other’s struggles. Lausan spoke to Lebanese activist, writer, and scholar Joey Ayoub about the ongoing protests, the resonances between our respective sites of struggle, and the possibilities for transnational solidarity.

This interview has been edited for structure and clarity. Read this article in Chinese.

‘The people want the downfall of the regime’: Lebanon in struggle 

Lausan Collective (LC): Can you tell us a bit about why the protests in Lebanon began?

Joey Ayoub (JA): In Lebanon, there exists a system of sectarianism, which is essentially a power-sharing agreement between sectarian elites. The example usually given is how the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim. This means that, unlike in Syria or Libya or Egypt or Tunisia, or indeed in Hong Kong, Lebanon has no dominant symbol of power. There’s no Assad, Gaddafi, Mubarak/Sisi or Ben Ali, and there’s no Xi Jinping and Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

What this means is that Lebanon is both stable and fragile at the same time. It has managed to withstand sectarian strife for the most part, even though conflicts have always existed; and people have never had an obvious, individual target to try to take down. And so when Egyptians, Syrians, Libyans, Tunisians and so on were calling for the downfall of the regimes in 2011, only a minority of people in Lebanon made the same demands.

In 2015, there was a brief period of mobilization during the “You Stink” protests in 2015, which was sparked by the closure of a major landfill and the piling up of trash on the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, and which was more broadly a protest against corruption in the political system.

But our moment really came in 2019, when years of widespread corruption and disastrous economic policies resulted in a severe and ongoing financial crisis, exacerbated by the nearby Syrian civil war. Finally, on October 17th, thousands of protesters gathered up the courage to chant: “The people want the downfall of the regime.” The movement remains ongoing to this day.

Between Hong Kong and Lebanon: Temporal angst and fears of ‘disappearance’

LC: What first prompted you to think of the connections between the October Uprising in Lebanon and the anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong?

JA: Immediately after the protesters started, we began to see Hong Kong protest tactics playing out in Lebanon. Protesters began to use high-powered lasers and blinding lights to distract and confuse security forces—something they had never done before. We also learned how to neutralize tear gas based on tactics from Hong Kong.

What’s curious is that the Lebanon–Hong Kong parallels aren’t really new. Before and during the civil war (1975-1990), comparisons between Beirut and Hong Kong or Hanoi were not unheard of: it was sometimes said that Lebanon was being faced with the choice of being Hong Kong or Hanoi. For some people back then, Hong Kong, as a colonial outpost, was synonymous with capitalism and imperialism, whereas Hanoi was synonymous with socialism and anti-imperialism. Although this binary was always too simplistic, it actually created space for a segment of Lebanese and Palestinian leftists in Lebanon to link up with struggles in Vietnam.

Toward Freedom for more

Israel ties that bind: What is the US giving Gulf Arab states?

September 21st, 2020

by CREEDE NEWTON

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, US president’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, and UAE’s National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan hold a meeting in Abu Dhabi PHOTO/Reuters

Analysts say normalisation deals between UAE, Bahrain, and Israel are unprecedented steps with unknown ramifications.

Representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel, and United States governments will converge in Washington, DC on Tuesday to sign historic normalisation accords between the Gulf nations and Israel. 

The UAE agreement, announced in August and since dubbed the “Abraham Accords” by White House officials, makes the UAE the third Arab country and first in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to agree to establish relations with Israel.

The agreement ends the UAE’s economic boycott of Israel and allows the possibility of advanced US weaponry sales to the Emirates. Blasted by Palestinians as a “betrayal“, a sentiment echoed by regional players Turkey and Iran, the deal will have lasting, unprecedented geopolitical ramifications, experts told Al Jazeera. 

But the extent of these ramifications remains to be seen. 

Arms sales

William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Program at the DC-based Center for International Policy, told Al Jazeera arms sales were an “important factor” in the agreements.

The UAE has long wanted F-35 fighter jets, Hartung said, and larger drones, which the US was unable to sell because of its commitment to Israel’s military advantage.

But Trump often touts arms sales and was likely to view the UAE as another client as a positive, Hartung said.

The US ramped up its arms sales by 42 percent globally in 2019, an increase of almost $70bn, according to figures from the Forum on the Arms Trade (FAT) from the US Foreign Military Sales programme. 

But the Middle East and North Africa region far outpaced the global growth rate, going from $11.8bn in 2018 to more than $25bn in 2019, or a 118 percent increase. Morocco leads the pack in purchasing US arms, with almost $12bn sold to Rabat.

Nations in the GCC accounted for much of the rest. The UAE spent more than $4.7bn on US arms in 2019, FAT recorded, with Bahrain spending $3.37bn, Qatar spending about $3bn and Saudi Arabia at roughly $2.7bn.

Hartung said Bahrain may have agreed to normalisation to access to advanced weaponry and the Saudis could potentially follow.

Al Jazeera for more

‘These Chains Will Be Broken’: Delving into the heart of Palestinian resistance

September 21st, 2020

What if the story of Palestine was retold, this time by Palestinian prisoners? Ramzy Baroud’s latest book, “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” attempts to answer that question. These powerful, yet vulnerable, men and women will take you on a journey – of stories that go beyond the limits of human endurance. Watch this compelling video, share it, and obtain the book. There is a whole new Palestine waiting to be told. Appearance order: Nael al-Barghouti Dima Ismail al-Wawi Khalida Jarrar Wafa Ibrahim Samir al-Bis Khadija Ahmad Ibrahim Khweis Mohammed Khalil al-Halabi Israa’ Riyad Ja’abis Dareen Tatour Music: “Homeroad” by Kai Engel Art: Book Cover by Dalia Alkayyali Footage: Dark Cell Window / Edy Varde Sunset /Darshak Pandya Khiam Prison Lebanon / www.discoverlebanon.com Cat in Window / Maria von Usslar

You Tube for more

Weekend Edition

September 18th, 2020

Barr’s crappy defense of his shitty boss

September 18th, 2020

by B. R. GOWANI

CARTOON/Agenda Twenty Twenty/Duck Duck Go

Trump has a large posse of loyal henchmen/women

they are always on their toes to defend his every outrageousness

this time, it is William Barr who defended President Trump

Barr is the US Attorney General but works like Trump’s personal lawyer

talking to Chicago Tribune, he puked this nonsense

“You know liberals project.” “You know the president is going to stay in office and seize power and all that s**t? I’ve never heard of that crap. I mean, I’m the attorney general. I would think I would have heard about it.”

either Barr is ignorant and illiterate like his Big Boss

or has the visual and hearing problem of immense magnitude

one just has to glance at Trump‘s tweets/statements/interviews

it is impossible to miss his clear intention of not leaving power

in 2016, Trump had openly boasted

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

then Barr had the audacity to defend himself by telling the reporter

“As an attorney general, I’m not supposed to get into politics.” “But…I think we are getting into a position where we’re going to find ourselves irrevocably committed to a socialist path. And I think if Trump loses this election – that will be the case.”

this “socialist path” is total crap and he knows it

over 200,000 people have died due to Trump’s immoral negligence

but his opponent Joe Biden refuses to have universal healthcare for all

free healthcare would have been the first step towards the socialist path

that’s another lie from the crappy Bill Barr

Stay tuned and be vigilant for more crap

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

Faiz, India, and protest

September 18th, 2020

by JENNIFER DUBROW

From Iqbal Bano singing it to a charged crowd in Lahore in 1986, to students reciting its verses on campus protests across India late last year, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Hum Dekhenge’ has continued to inspire activists for decades. Why do the leftist poet’s words continue to resonate beyond their original context?

On December 17, 2019, a student protest at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT-K) was held in solidarity with students at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia who had been brutally attacked by police on December 15. The protest included a recitation of an Urdu poem, commonly known as Hum Dekhenge (literally, ‘We Shall See’), by leftist poet and revolutionary Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984). In a video posted on Twitter, a student recites the poem, which he reads from his cell phone, to a crowd of listeners, some of whom mill about and some of whom listen attentively, with the crowd applauding at certain lines. This recitation of the poem soon became the centre of a controversy, when a post-doctoral faculty member at IIT lodged a complaint against the poem and its performance, claiming that its lines aroused communal sentiment. IIT-K responded by establishing a committee to investigate the complaint. A public debate in the media ensued, as prominent poets, a former Indian Supreme Court judge, and journalists and intellectuals discussed the poem and its meaning.

First composed in 1979, Faiz’s ‘Hum Dekhenge’ has become a rallying cry for protests both throughout India and around the world against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed by India’s Parliament on December 19, 2019. The CAA proposes a religious basis for citizenship for refugees who have entered India from the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Under the new amendment, refugees who are Hindu, Jain, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or Parsi, even if they do not possess identification papers, may receive Indian citizenship within six years. Notably missing from this list are Muslims, who, according to the 2011 Census of India, make up 14.2 percent of the population, for a total of 172 million people. According to a more recent estimate, India’s Muslims, at 195 million people in 2020, comprise the third-largest Muslim population in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.

Dawn for more

Chadwick Boseman (1976–2020): A talented actor, now hailed as a “king”

September 18th, 2020

by CARLOS DELGADO

Josh Gad, Chadwick Boseman and Sterling K. Brown in Marshall (2017)

On August 28, Chadwick Boseman, star of such films as Get On Up, 42, Marshall, Da 5 Bloods, and others, died after a four-year battle with colon cancer. He was 43 years old.

The news of his death came as a shock to his fans, who had every reason to expect to continue seeing him for years to come. Boseman had not publicly disclosed his illness, and several of his recent films, including Marshall, Da 5 Bloods and the forthcoming Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (based on an August Wilson play), were completed while he was undergoing treatments and surgeries for the disease.

His death is a tragedy, both for his being stricken with such a terrible disease at a young age and for the loss of his remarkable talent. He was outstanding in several of his roles, particularly those where he was tasked with bringing to life figures from the 20th century: baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson (42), legendary singer James Brown (Get On Up) and civil rights lawyer and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall (Marshall). At his best, Boseman had a talent for capturing something of the essence of historical figures without resorting to superficial imitations, and he could imbue his characters with an inner fire of conviction and purpose.

Of course, he also performed in a number of brainless and mediocre works as well, such as the cartoonish fantasy Gods of Egypt and the violent police thriller 21 Bridges. The low point of his career was the miserable Black Panther, a militarist, pro-CIA comic book superhero film steeped in racial politics.

The expressions of sadness from admirers and the public at large have been accompanied by a deluge of exaggerated tributes from the media and numerous figures in the financial-political elite. Democratic Party politicians such as former president Barack Obama and presidential and vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris released statements praising Boseman, as did wealthy media moguls Bob Iger and Oprah Winfrey. Obituaries referred to his death as “devastating” and “unbelievable” (Variety) and painted his loss as a major blow for the black population as a whole.

On the Sunday following the news of his death, ABC television aired a showing of Black Panther without advertisements (what a sacrifice!) followed by a special program titled Chadwick Boseman—A Tribute for a King, in which Boseman was raised to near-mythic status and praised as an “icon” and a “generation-defining actor.” Invariably, the media commentary has sidelined his better work in order to hold up Black Panther, by far his weakest film, as the pinnacle of his career. Countless media commentaries have referred to Boseman as a “superhero” and a “king,” referencing the actor’s Black Panther character King T’Challa.

It is not an insult to Boseman’s memory to point out the dishonest and manipulative character of this effort to canonize him. Far from honoring Boseman’s life, the media campaign around his death demeans his work and serves reactionary political ends.

Boseman was born in 1976 in Anderson, South Carolina. His mother was a nurse, and his father worked at a textile factory and managed a small upholstery business. Boseman became interested in the performing arts when he wrote his first play as a junior in high school, in response to the shooting death of a classmate.

World Socialist Web Site for more

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

September 17th, 2020
VIDEO/Last Week Tonight/You Tube

White privilege and class. A reply to Chris Bertram by Kenan Malik

September 17th, 2020

by CHRIS BERTRAM

VIDEO/Oslo Freedom Forum/You Tube

Chris Bertram published two posts on Crooked Timber last week, the first1 challenging critiques of the concept of “white privilege”, the second2 arguing that certain claims about race and class are irrational. As one of the targets of these articles (Chris linked to one of my posts as exemplifying the problem, and we had previously debated the issue on Twitter), this is a response. Chris’ two posts are not directly linked, but they clearly deal with linked issues, and it is worth looking at them in tandem.

In the first post, Chris argues that “the ‘white privilege’ claim sits best with a certain sort of metaphysics of the person, such that individuals have a range of characteristics, some of which are more natural and others more social, that confer a competitive advantage or disadvantage in a given environment, where that environment is constituted by a range of elements, including demographics, institutions, cultural practices, individual attitudes, and so forth.”

But he also acknowledges that “I’m not establishing that, as a matter of fact, “white privilege” in the form I describe is a real thing, although I believe that it is”. It is difficult to see, though, how one can have a debate about whether “white privilege” is a meaningful category without have first established whether it is “a real thing”. It is possible to have an abstract debate about whether such a phenomenon could exist, but not to critique those who challenge the concept as inchoate in reality. Chris, in common with many proponents of the “white privilege” thesis, takes as given that which has to be demonstrated.

Underlying the “white privilege” thesis are two basic claims. First, that being “white” is a useful category in which to put everyone from the CEOs of multinational corporations to the cleaners in an Amazon warehouse. And, second, that being in such a category imbues people with privileges denied to those not in that category. Are either of these claims true?

The idea of whiteness as a “certain sort of metaphysics of the person” derives, of course, from racial thinking. In recent years it has found an important expression in the notion of “white identity” – the idea that all those deemed white have a common identity and set of interests which may conflict with those of non-whites. Most anti-racists (and, I assume, Chris, too) reject such a claim. We recognize that all whites do not have a common identity, that the interests of white factory workers or shelf-stackers are not the same as those of white bankers or business owners, but are far more similar to those of black factory workers or Asian shelf-stackers.

Why, then, do we ignore this when it comes to the question of “white privilege”? Because, proponents of the white privilege thesis argue, white people do not suffer the kinds of discrimination suffered by non-whites by virtue of their skin colour. At one level this is true. “Racism” refers to the practice of discrimination against, and bigotry towards, certain social groups; there may be many reasons for such discrimination and bigotry, but one is clearly that those who are non-white are often treated unequally. Viewing the issue in terms of “white privilege” is, however, deeply flawed for a number of reasons.

Crooked Timber for more

On an objection to the idea of “white privilege”

by CHRIS BERTRAM

The term “white privilege” has been getting a lot of play and a lot of pushback recently, for example, from Kenan Malik in this piece and there are some parallels in the writing of people like Adolph Reed who want to stress class-based solidarity over race. Often it isn’t clear what the basic objection from “class” leftists to the concept of “white privilege” is. Sometimes the objection seems to be a factual one: that no such thing exists or that insofar as there is something, then it is completely captured by claims about racism, so that the term “white privilege” is redundant. Alternatively, the objection is occasionally strategic or pragmatic: the fight for social justice requires an alliance that crosses racial and other identity boundaries and terms like “white privilege” sow division and make that struggle more difficult. These objections are, though, logically independent of one another: “white privilege” could be real, but invoking it could be damaging to the struggle; or it could be pragmatically useful for justice even if somewhat nebulous and explanatorily empty.

One particular type of argument is to deny that some white people enjoy privilege on the basis of noticing that some groups of white people suffer outcomes that are as bad or worse than non-white people on average or some non-white groups in particular. The claim is then that it is nonsensical to think of these white people as enjoying “white privilege”, or, indeed, any kind of privilege at all. But whatever the truth turns out to be about the explanatory usefulness of “white privilege”, I think these outcome-oriented assessments, sometimes based on slicing and dicing within racial or ethnic groups in ways that create artificial entities out of assemblages of demographic characteristics (white+rural+poor, for example), don’t ground a valid objection because they misconstrue what the privilege claim is about.

As I understand it, the “white privilege” claim sits best with a certain sort of metaphysics of the person, such that individuals have a range of characteristics, some of which are more natural and others more social, that confer a competitive advantage or disadvantage in a given environment, where that environment is constituted by a range of elements, including demographics, institutions, cultural practices, individual attitudes, and so forth. The claim is then that perceived whiteness confers a relative advantage on its bearer in a society where some combination of other facts holds true, where those other facts may include (and each to varying degrees) overt racism towards non-white people, or a perception of perceived phenotypical “whiteness” as the norm, or institutions that end up discriminating against non-white people because they reproduce existing patterns of advantage, etc.

If we understand “white privilege” in this frame, then it is easy to see that its possession (or lack) is entirely consistent with some non-white groups doing better than some white groups. So, take, for example, a group of non-white people of recent immigrant origin, which possesses a strong culture of parental ambition for children and set them alongside the demographicaly constructed assemblage of poor+white+rural, which perhaps turns out to be statistically associated with low levels of parental ambition for children. It may very well be that members of the first group do better, on average, than members of the second group. But is may also be the case that if we select a member from each group and make sure that they are identical on the full range of other characteristics (height, physical strength, gender, educational attainment, job experience), then the member of the white group will have an advantage in a job or college application over the non-white group.

Crooked Timber for more

Genetics steps in to help tell the story of human origins

September 17th, 2020

by KATARINA ZIMMER

It’s not unusual for geochronologist Rainer Grün to bring human bones back with him when he returns home to Australia from excursions in Europe or Asia. Jawbones from extinct hominins in Indonesia, Neanderthal teeth from Israel, and ancient human finger bones unearthed in Saudi Arabia have all at one point spent time in his lab at Australian National University before being returned home. Grün specializes in developing methods to discern the age of such specimens. In 2016, he carried with him a particularly precious piece of cargo: a tiny sliver of fossilized bone covered in bubble wrap inside a box. 

The bone fragment had come from a skull—still stored at the Natural History Museum in London—with a heavy brow ridge and a large face. It looked so primitive that the miner who had discovered it in 1921 at a lead mine in the Zambian town of Kabwe, then in the British territory of Rhodesia, first thought it had belonged to a gorilla. But later that year, museum paleontologist Arthur Smith Woodward noticed what he interpreted as typically human features, such as the skull’s thin and relatively large braincase, that motivated him to designate the specimen as its own hominin species. 

In the 1980s, however, museum paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer took another look at the skull and classified it as belonging to the species Homo heidelbergensis, an ancient hominin thought to be a human ancestor. Based on its primitiveness, Stringer says, most researchers guessed it was an early individual who lived around half a million years ago, some 200,000 years before the earliest Homo sapiens were starting to emerge. But nobody knew exactly how old the skull was. For decades, no dating method existed that could identify the fossil’s age without the destructive process of grinding up bits of bone for analysis. But Grün was determined to find a solution.

Grün is one of very few geochronologists proficient in a laser technique that extracts and reduces a barely visible grain of bone—smaller than the bone’s natural pores—to atoms, he says. The laser is coupled with a mass spectrometer, which measures the concentrations of uranium isotopes that undergo radioactive decay at a specific rate over time. 

Scientist for more