The world’s most dangerous divide

April 17th, 2019

by JOHN FEFFER

Hindu nationalists rally in Calcutta PHOTO/Shutterstock

If nuclear war comes, it will happen because of a calculation or miscalculation by India or Pakistan.

In the beautiful and terrifying novel The City of Devi, communal hatreds escalate in India and Pakistan until the two countries feel compelled to threaten each other with nuclear weapons. At least, it starts out as a threat. Pakistan vows to take out Mumbai, and India will level Karachi. But everyone involved knows that nuclear war doesn’t really work that way.

“Nuclear bombs are like potato chips,” the author Manil Suri writes, “nobody can stop at just one. Every scenario predicts that a country under attack will launch all its weapons at once to avoid losing them.”

The populations of the two cities panic. A great exodus takes place as residents flee by car, by train, even by foot, and the wealthy try to snag the last berths on the outgoing ships. A woman and a man traverse this chaos in search of the object of their affections: it’s love in the soon-to-be-ruins. They hope against hope that the bombs won’t fall. And then an accident happens, as they so often do, and Pakistan mistakenly launches one missile at Mumbai. And India retaliates with four strikes on Karachi.

One of the characters in the novel, Mr. Cheerio, assesses the damage from some faraway perch via short-wave radio:

You might think me cold-blooded, but this is one of the best possible outcomes in terms of human cost. Only one or two cities struck, and that too almost empty — can you imagine the miniscule probability? There was bound to be an exchange, either now or in the future — things had gone too far. Every war-game simulation I’ve ever seen predicted results more final, more unthinkable, than how this seems to have played out.

Manil Suri is a mathematician, as well as a novelist, so he knows about probabilities. The devastation wrought by the nuclear exchange in The City of Devi is terrible — the incineration, the radiation, the environmental damage. But a roll of the nuclear dice could have produced much worse.

Those worse-case scenarios are what India and Pakistan — and the rest of the world — have been recently currently contemplating. After all, the most likely locus of nuclear war is not on the Korean peninsula. It’s not across the old Cold War divide in Europe. It won’t involve Israel’s secret cache of H-bombs.

If nuclear war comes, it will happen because of a calculation or miscalculation by India or Pakistan. There are fanatics on both sides who care only about vanquishing their rival by any means necessary.

Unlike in a novel, however, a catastrophic denouement to the current conflict is not inevitable.

Tit for Tat

India and Pakistan have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the territory of Kashmir since the very separation of the two countries that followed independence in 1947. China, too, has gone to war with India over its portion of the territory. Kashmir is the only place in the world where three nuclear powers have a border dispute.

In the most conflict-ridden part of the region, the Jammu and Kashmir region of northern India, a separatist movement inspired by Islamic radicalism squares off against about a half a million Indian troops. Three wars between India and Pakistan, plus the skirmishes that have taken place in between, have claimed around 70,000 lives.

Foreign Policy In Focus for more

Boeing’s homicides will give way to safety reforms if flyers organize

April 17th, 2019

by RALPH NADER

Wreckage lies at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed shortly after take-off on March 10, 2019 PHOTO/Press TV/Duck Duck Go

To understand the enormity of the Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes (Lion Air 610 and Ethiopian Airlines 302) that took a combined total of 346 lives, it is useful to look at past events and anticipate future possible problems.

In 2011, Boeing executives wanted to start a “clean sheet” new narrow body air passenger plane to replace its old 737 design from the nineteen sixties. Shortly thereafter, Boeing’s bosses panicked when American Airlines put in a large order for the competitive Airbus A320neo.  Boeing shelved the new design and rushed to put out the 737 Max that, in Business Week’s words, was “pushing an ageing design past its limits.” The company raised the 737 Max landing gear and attached larger, slightly more fuel efficient engines angled higher and more forward on the wings. Such a configuration changed the aerodynamics and made the plane more prone to stall (see attached article: https://www.aviationcv.com/aviation-blog/2019/boeing-canceling-737-max).

This put Boeing’s management in a quandary. Their sales pitch to the airlines was that the 737 Max only received an “amended” certification from the FAA. That it did not have to be included in more pilot training, simulators, and detailed in the flight manuals. The airlines could save money and would be more likely to buy the Boeing 737 Max.

Boeing engineers were worried. They knew better. But the managers ordered software to address the stall problem without even telling the pilots or most of the airlines. Using only one operating sensor (Airbus A320neo has three sensors), an optional warning light and indicator, Boeing set the stage for misfiring sensors that overcame pilot efforts to control the planes from their nose-down death dive.

These fixes or patches would not have been used were the new 737’s aerodynamics the same as the previous 737 models. Step by step, Boeing’s criminal negligence, driven by a race to make profits, worsened. Before and after the fatal crashes, Boeing did not reveal, did not warn, did not train, and did not address the basic defective aerodynamic design. It gagged everyone that it could.  Boeing still insists that the 737 Max is safe and is building two a day, while pushing to end the grounding.

Reacting to all these documented derelictions, a flurry of investigations is underway. The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General, Calvin L. Scovel III, is investigating the hapless, captive FAA that has delegated to Boeing important FAA statutory and regulatory duties. The Justice Department and FBI have opened a criminal probe, with an active grand jury. The National Transportation Safety Board, long the hair shirt of the FAA, is investigating. As are two Senate and House Committees. Foreign governments are investigating, as surely are the giant insurance companies who are on the hook. This all sounds encouraging, but we’ve seen such initiatives pull back before.

This time, however, the outrageous corner-cutting and suppression of engineering dissent, within both Boeing and the FAA (there were reported “heated discussions”) produced a worst case scenario. So, Boeing is working overtime with its legions of Washington lobbyists, its New York P.R. firm, its continued campaign contributions to some 330 Members of Congress. The airlines and pilots’ union chiefs (but not some angry pilots) are staying mum, scared into silence due to contracts and jobs, waiting for the Boeing 737 Max planes to fly again.

BUT THE BOEING 737 MAX MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO FLY AGAIN. Pushing new software that will allow Boeing to blame the pilots is a dangerous maneuver. Saying that U.S. pilots, many of whom are ex-Air Force, are more experienced in reacting to a sudden wildly gyrating aircraft (consider the F-16 diving and swooping) than many foreign airline pilots only trained by civil aviation, opens a can of worms from cancellation of 737 Max orders  to indignation from foreign airlines and pilots. It also displays an aversion to human-factors engineering with a vast number of avoidable failure modes not properly envisioned by Boeing’s software patches.

The overriding problem is the basic unstable design of the 737 Max. An aircraft has to be stall proof not stall prone. An aircraft manufacturer like Boeing, notwithstanding its past safety record, is not entitled to more aircraft disasters that are preventable by following long-established aeronautical engineering practices and standards.

With 5,000 Max orders at stake, the unfolding criminal investigation may move the case from criminal negligence to evidence of knowing and willful behavior amounting to corporate homicide involving Boeing officials. Boeing better cut its losses by going back to the drawing boards. That would mean scrapping the 737 Max 8 designs, with its risk of more software time bombs, safely upgrading the existing 737-800 with amenities and discounts for its airline carrier customers and moving ahead with its early decision to design a new plane to compete with Airbus’s model, which does not have the 737 Max’s design problem.

Meanwhile, airline passengers should pay attention to Senator Richard Blumenthal’s interest in forthcoming legislation to bring the regulatory power back into the FAA. Senator Blumenthal also intends to reintroduce his legislation to criminalize business concealment of imminent risks that their products and services pose to innocent consumers and workers (the “Hide No Harm Act”).

What of the near future? Airline passengers should organize a consumer boycott of the Boeing 737 Max 8 to avoid having to fly on these planes in the coming decade. Once Boeing realizes that this brand has a deep marketing stigma, it may move more quickly to the drawing boards, so as to not alienate airline carriers.

Much more information will come out in the coming months. Much more. The NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), which receives incident reports from pilots, air traffic controllers, dispatchers, cabin crew, maintenance technicians, and others, is buzzing, as is the FlyersRights.org website. Other countries, such as France, have tougher criminal statutes for such corporate crime than the U.S. does. The increasing emergence of whistle-blowers from Boeing, the FAA and, other institutions is inevitable.

Not to mention, the information that will come out of the civil litigation against this killer mass tort disaster. And of course the relentless reporting of newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and AP, among others will continue to shed light on Boeings misdeeds and the FAA’s deficiencies.

Boeing executives should reject the advice from the reassuring, monetized minds of Wall Street stock analysts saying you can easily absorb the $2 billion cost and move on. Boeing, let your engineers and scientists be free to exert their “professional options for revisions” to save your company from the ruinous road you are presently upon.

Respect those who perished at your hand and their grieving families.

Ralph Nader for more

Bulldozing mosques: The latest tactic in China’s war against Uighur culture

April 17th, 2019

by RACHEL HARRIS




A mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, China
. PHOTO/Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The levelling of ancient sites in Xinjiang, alongside mass detention, is part of an attempt to destroy an entire society

Ten years ago, I started researching Islam among the Uighurs. I spent my summers travelling around the Xinjiang region in western China. I took long bus journeys through the desert to Kashgar, Yarkand and Kucha, slept on brick beds in family homes in remote villages, stopped off at Sufi shrines, and visited many, many mosques. My husband was working with me, and we dragged our kids along for the ride. The kids were quite small and not at all interested in our boring interviews with imams, and I bribed them with treats. I have a lot of photos of them sitting in the dust outside mosques, faces smeared with ice-cream, playing on their iPads.

It was an incredible time for mosque building in Xinjiang. After the Cultural Revolution, Uighur and Kazakh Muslims began to reconnect with their faith. They resumed the traditional practices of pilgrimage and festivals at the shrines that lie deep in the Taklamakan desert. They began to learn about Islam in the wider world; people who could afford it travelled to Mecca for the hajj, and they began to rebuild their mosques. As local communities grew richer they invested in bigger and more beautiful mosques; people crowded into them for Friday prayers, and they served as living symbols of community identity and pride.

I was reminded of all this by an image posted on Twitter last week. Shawn Zhang, who did pioneering work revealing the existence of the massive network of detention camps for Muslims in Xinjiang, posted “before and after” satellite images of Keriya mosque in the southern region of Hotan. This towering architectural monument, thought to date back to 1237 and extensively renovated in the 1980s and 1990s, was photographed on a festival day in 2016 with thousands of worshippers spilling out on to the streets. By 2018 the site where it had stood was a smooth patch of earth.

Observers have called China’s actions in Xinjiang the work of a “bulldozer state”. It is an apt way to describe the ongoing work of destruction and remodelling of the region’s landscape and its people. Mosques such as the one in Keriya were an early target of the campaign against “religious extremism”. A reporter visited the eastern region of Qumul in 2017 and learned from local officials that over 200 of the region’s 800 mosques had already been destroyed, with over 500 scheduled for demolition in 2018. Residents said that their local mosques had disappeared overnight, levelled without warning.

Mosques are not the only targets. Whole cities are being redesigned to facilitate maximum security and surveillance of the local population. Sites of architectural interest such as the ancient city of Kashgar have been demolished and rebuilt to suit the needs of what the government proclaims will be a flourishing tourism industry in Xinjiang. And it’s not just the built heritage that is being destroyed. The bulldozer is also at work on communities, culture and people’s lives. Everyday religious practice in Xinjiang has been effectively banned. People are plagued by tech surveillance technology – checkpoints, facial recognition software, mobile phone scanners – and intrusive visits to family homes identify individuals as “prone to extremism”. An official list of signs of extremism includes things such as refusing cigarettes and alcohol, not watching television and contacting people abroad.

The Guardian for more

France’s failure of diplomacy

April 16th, 2019

by SERGE HALIMI


“What [US President Donald] Trump’s Hands Were Really Trying to Tell [French President] Emmanuel Macron” PHOTO/Vanity Fair

French diplomacy now recalls the lines from King Lear, ‘The worst is not / So long as we can say “This is the worst”.’ By the end of François Hollande’s presidential term, it felt as though we had reached rock bottom ; there were those who even predicted the return of some sense of pride. With the US showing supreme contempt towards European capitals and wanting to reduce its NATO obligations, why not seize the moment and quit NATO, drop the policy of sanctions against Russia and re-imagine the European cooperation ‘from the Atlantic to the Urals’ that de Gaulle dreamed of 60 years ago? Oh, to be grown up and finally free of US tutelage!

France, in backing Juan Guaidó’s self-declaration as Venezuela’s interim head of state on the pretext of an imaginary power vacuum, has instead hitched its wagon to the US again and lent its support to an attempted coup. The situation in Venezuela is serious: hyperinflation, food shortages, corruption, sanctions and violence.

Le Monde Diplomatique for more

And from Kassav’ was born the Zouk!

April 16th, 2019

by BENJAMIN KöNIG

IMAGE/The New York Times

Forty years ago, three friends founded a group that would change the face of Caribbean culture and create a new musical genre, the only one invented in France since the post-war period: the zouk. This was in 1979, a time when the affirmation of Creole identity was not self-evident.

At the end of the 1970s, in the French West Indies: as elsewhere in the Caribbean, the music scene is in turmoil. Influenced by the traditions inherited from the descendants of African slaves, but also by jazz and then by black American funk, great orchestras scour the local scenes, starting with those popular balls that Martiniquais and then Guadeloupe dubbed “zouk”. These big bands are the pride of the West Indies: the Aiglons, the Leopards of Saint-Pierre, Expérience 7, the Grammacks, Malavoi or the Perfecta, which released in 1979 an unforgettable title: “La Divinité”.

But this is not zouk. It’s compass (or kompa), fashionable music from Haiti, with its flagship group Tabou Combo, cadence, jazz, biguine, Latin-Cuban rhythms like salsa, American disco that is hitting the world, sometimes reggae or Jamaican ska.

“The term zouk, which means dance party, ball, or surprise party, has been used in Martinique since the 1960s, before arriving in Guadeloupe via the musicians who played on both islands,” recalls the singer from Kassav’, Jocelyne Béroard (1). A zouk, that’s where we’ll dance, have fun on weekend evenings, forget the status of women and men living in a dominated and colonized land.

But the “root music”, that of Creolity, is the Guadeloupian gwoka (and the Martinican bèlè), punctuated by the drum (a ka) and emblem of the carnival, heritage of the African and then African-American resistance. The cultural boiling-up accompanies another, political one: independence movements and parties also speak of the rebirth of creolity and antillanity. It is in this cultural broth that a certain Pierre-Édouard Decimus, with his friend Jacob Desvarieux, met in Paris, has a brilliant idea: to renew the gwoka, and adapt the sound to the technological revolution that then affects music production on a global scale – the arrival of synthesizers and drum machines. And above all, to awaken the West Indian identity: “In the midst of independence and identity movements, it was a real intellectual and political process,” Jacob Desvarieux (2) states, with hindsight. Decimus has been a member of the Vikings of Guadeloupe since 1974, who travel throughout the Caribbean and sometimes the metropolis, where the Caribbean diaspora is growing in number.

Since 1963, there have been the famous Bumidom years, the Office for the Development of Migration in the Overseas Departments, responsible for organising the labour emigration of inhabitants to the metropolis. Many are employed in public services, the Post Office, RATP or factories, and experience discrimination and contempt for the Caribbean identity.

In 1979, Decimus and Desvarieux, accompanied by singer Freddy Marshall, founded the group, recruited bassist Georges Decimus, Pierre-Édouard’s brother, and released a first album of four songs, whose name sounded like a manifesto: “Love and Ka Danse”. Love and dance under the sign of ka, with this English-Creole mix that symbolizes American influence: love, the emblem of disco, which will give the United States another music whose name comes from the place where it is danced: in the house, also black and political music. In the West Indies and Chicago, we are witnessing the emergence of a “music that draws on socio-cultural factors and sublimates the popular styles of the time,” writes Hugo Mendez, DJ and director of the London label Sofrito, specialized in Afro-Caribbean music (3).

It was the beginning of a great adventure that would not only upset the West Indies but also spread to the four corners of the globe, a musical, cultural and political movement of global scope, the Zouk, with its flagship group: Kassav’. For, this is how its founders, soon joined by singers Jocelyne Béroard, Patrick Saint-Eloi and Jean-Philippe Marthély, as well as keyboardist Jean-Claude Naimro and drummer Claude Vamur, decided to name themselves. During his years with the Vikings, Pierre-Édouard Decimus had heard this remark more often than in his turn: why is it that a Guadeloupian group does not perform under a Guadeloupian name but borrows from abroad and from the colonial language? “Decimus realizes that these remarks reveal a problem of identity,” writes ethnomusicologist Jocelyne Guilbaut (4), and adds a requirement: that Caribbean music be more precise and technically modern, to appeal to everyone.

As for the name, it will be Kassav’, which in Creole means a manioc cake. Why cassava? “First, because it is a vegetable consumed by half a billion men living in the countryside of Africa, America, Asia, the West Indies… On the other hand, because of the symbolism: to be eaten, cassava must be purified. For Pierre-Édouard, removing what poisoned our music and prevented it from being exportable was the first thought. The cassava, cassava in English, was very much in line with the group’s idea. “(1) For Jocelyne Guilbaut, “Kassav’ poses the whole problem: by which music and which value system is defined in the West Indies” (4). And especially towards the metropolis, which looks down on this “exotic” music with condescension.

Because, in 1979 and for decades, the French authorities have been very reluctant to accept any attempt at political and cultural emancipation, starting with the teaching of Creole in schools – which is simply prohibited – or its use on the radio. Moreover, at the time, there was only one radio station: RFO (under the aegis of the Société de radiodiffusion et de télévision française pour l’outre-mer, RFO was created in 1982). There is little local music played there. The arrival of free radio stations will change the cultural landscape: Tropic FM, Radio Latina or Radio Caraïbes.

Creole cultural bubbling also included many other fields: art, literature, politics. Pierre-Édouard Decimus never hid from it: he was strongly influenced by Édouard Glissant’s speeches and writings on antillanity.

Humanity for more

WWE: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

April 16th, 2019

Why Hannah Arendt is the philosopher for now

April 15th, 2019

by LYNDSEY STONEBRIDGE

Arendt’s political philosophy, formed under Nazi persecution, is having a resurgence in our troubled age. 

When Hannah Arendt was herded into Gurs, a detention camp in south-west France in May 1940, she did one of the most sensible things you can do when you are trapped in a real-life nightmare: she read – Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, Clausewitz’s On War and, compulsively, the detective stories of Georges Simenon. Today people are reading Arendt to understand our own grimly bewildering predicament.

Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Arendt’s 1951 masterpiece The Origins of Totalitarianism entered the US bestseller lists. Tweet-size nuggets of her warnings about post-truth political life have swirled through social media ever since. Arendt, the one time “illegal emigrant” (her words), historian of totalitarianism, analyst of the banality of administrative evil and advocate for new political beginnings, is currently the go-to political thinker for the second age of fascist brutality.

It is not just the opponents of far-right nationalism who are rediscovering her work. Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has attempted to garnish its claims to serious research with a half-quotation from Arendt. The AfD’s intellectual mission, in case you hadn’t guessed, is to create “clarity and transparency” in public discourse. They warn us sagely that power, according to Arendt, “becomes dangerous exactly where the public ends”. Power, Arendt also said, becomes dangerous when the capitalist elite align with the mob, when racism is allowed to take over the institutions of state, and when the aching loneliness of living in a fact-free atomised society sends people running towards whatever tawdry myth will keep them company.

It is true that Arendt loved the public space of politics for the robust clarity it gave to the business of living together. It is also true that she argued for a political republic based on common interest. These are both reasons why we should be reading her today. But her commitment to plurality is not an invitation to nationalism. Arendt wanted politics dragged into the light so that we might see each other for what we are. But that didn’t mean we had to accept what was evidently ruinous to politics itself, merely that we had to acknowledge that what we find most repellent actually exists – and then resist it.

And if there is one thing we have learned over the past two years it is that our political reality is not what we thought it was and still less what we would like it to be. Because the times she lived in were also dark, violent and unpredictable, and because she was smart, diligent and hardworking, Arendt was good at thinking quickly and accurately about the politically and morally unprecedented. She distrusted easy analogies, thought historical precedents were a poor way of grasping the unexpected, and practised instead what she called “thinking without a bannister”. It is less as a Cassandra from an earlier chapter of history that she has lessons for us today than as a political thinker of the uncomfortable and difficult.

New Statesman for more

Russiagate implodes, pleasing Trump but leaving the left in the cold

April 15th, 2019

by GLEN FORD

The “Deep State” escalated a dispute within the U.S. corporate electoral duopoly into a geopolitical crisis, an “attack on America”

“Russia and Wikileaks were framed in a media show trial.”

Robert Mueller has finally put a plug in the noxious fart that has oozed for almost three years from the conjoined bowels of the Democratic Party and the national security state — but the stain remains, and may yet be lethal to us all. 

Russiagate began as a lame excuse for Hillary Clinton’s spectacular failure to defeat her supposedly ideal opponent, a “deplorable” straw man who could easily be knocked down by the supremely “qualified” corporate battle axe. As Wikileaks revealed, Clinton campaign chief John Podesta urged Democrats and cooperative media to make Donald Trump a “Pied Piper ” of Republicans in the belief that a Democratic landslide would result. Corporate media came through for the Democrats, bestowing a total of $5 billion in free air time  on the Trump campaign –more than Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio combined. Thus, the Democrats and Democrat-friendly corporate media gave us the Trump presidency – with decisive help from Black voter suppression  in the GOP in Midwestern “swing” states.

However, Russiagate would never have exploded into a screaming marathon of madness were it not for the machinations of the national security state — the CIA, FBI and spooks like former national intelligence director James Clapper, the man that swore to the U.S. Congress that the government was not “wittingly ” spying on hundreds of millions of Americans. Appalled at Trump’s campaign rhetoric against U.S. “regime change” and “nation-building” policies and his snipes at NATOthe spies, disinformers and militarists moved en mass into Hillary’s “Big Tent.” Without their decisive collaboration, “Russiagate” would have soon passed into history as merely a case of electoral losers’ sour grapes. The “Deep State” escalated a dispute within the U.S. corporate electoral duopoly into a geopolitical crisis, an “attack on America” and a new “Pearl Harbor.”

“The Democrats and Democrat-friendly corporate media gave us the Trump presidency.”

Simply put, the real rulers of the U.S. empire could not depend on Donald Trump to maintain the momentum of the U.S. military offensive that had begun with Barack Obama’s attack on Libya in 2011 and continued with the jihadist proxy war against Syria, the coup that toppled the elected, Russia-friendly government in Ukraine, and the “pivot” against China. It doesn’t take an algorithm to figure out that the U.S. is rapidly being eclipsed by the rising powers of the east: China and its geopolitical partner, Russia. At this late stage in the imperial game, the only strong cards Washington holds, are military. Hillary Clinton was “all in” with the global military offensive, including a willingness to play “chicken” with Russia in Syria and Ukraine. The fate of empire could not be left in Donald Trump’s erratic little hands, so he was to be hobbled by Russiagate from day one of his presidency. The main objective, however, was not to knock Trump off — which was always a dangerous long shot — but to control him, and to keep the war hysteria going.

In that sense, and from the standpoint of the National Security State, Russiagate has been a success. Under Trump, relations with Russia and China have been firmly re-set on State of Permanent Near-War, and Washington has escalated its economic aggressions against Venezuela and Iran to levels that are nearly indistinguishable from military assault. 

“The fate of empire could not be left in Donald Trump’s erratic little hands, so he was to be hobbled by Russiagate.”

Thanks to Russiagate, the Democratic Party stepped forward to fill the imperial void that was temporarily created in the corporate duopoly by Trump’s takeover of the GOP. The Democrats became the most aggressive wing of the War Party — as if, for foreign policy purposes, Clinton had not really lost the election, at all. Democrats overwhelmingly supported  both of Donald Trump’s record-breaking war budgets — including majorities of the Congressional Black Caucus. Congresswoman Maxine Waters strutted around the Capitol waving an American flag and blabbering about how Vladimir Putin was  “continuing to advance into Korea ” – apparently confusing that country with Crimea. Ostensible “Black Lives Matter” activists like Shaun King identified fully with former FBI director Robert Mueller and felt “betrayed” by Trump’s distrust of U.S. intelligence agencies– as if Cointelpro never happened, the FBI isn’t out to frame “Black Identity Extremists,” and the CIA doesn’t tell lies for a living.

Black Agenda Report for more

When it comes to Islamophobia, we need to name names

April 15th, 2019

by HAMID DABASHI

Bill Maher PHOTO/Reuters

The world should know the name of the Christchurch terrorist and the names of those who inspired anti-Muslim terror.

“You will never hear me mention his name,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the New Zealand parliament soon after a mass murderer went on a rampage slaughtering 50 Muslims in two mosques in Christchurch.

“He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist,” she went on, “but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing – not even his name.”

This may perhaps appear smart, an apt punitive twist, to deny the racist mass murderer the notoriety he craved. But if like me you have a Muslim name, you may pause and wonder.

For decades now our names have been made icons of terror and suspicion at United States and European airports and borders. The addition of a few names like Brenton or Anders or Bill or Donald or Benjamin or Daniel on the terrorist list would be more than just poetic justice here.

Naming names

Not naming Adolf Hitler will not bring back six million Jews slaughtered in Europe. Not naming Leopold II of Belgium will not undo the genocide he committed in Congo, in which between five and 10 million people died.

When Jews, Africans, Native Americans, Asians, Latinx, and now Muslims are slaughtered, we need to know and spell out the names of their mass murderers. It is good for the posterity. It might teach humility to white colonialists in North America, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and of course, Israel. The plague of racist white supremacy has already wreaked havoc around the globe.

In a piece for the Financial Times titled The power in depriving someone of their name, Sam Leith, a literary editor and author, argues that: “Ms. Ardern’s determination not to give the killer his name – now followed, apparently, by other outlets including the BBC – is a smartly intelligible response to the question of how one should respond, rhetorically, to a terror attack.”

That is indeed a lovely little literary thesis. But I wonder; where were these literary speculations when names like Mohammad, Ahmad, Osama, Ayman and Abu Bakr were turned into synonyms of terror and barbarity in every European language? 

Now that a head of state of a “Western country”, as their colonial geography would have it, finally called a spade a spade and this mass murderer a terrorist, not naming his name denies the racialised origins of his crime. He is an Australian terrorist, a white terrorist, a Christian terrorist. Not naming him is like saying “This is not New Zealand” when referring to the mass slaughter of scores of Muslims. This might be all fine and dandy for the white ruling elite in denial in New Zealand, but certainly not for those who are on the receiving end of their institutionalised racism. 

A few dumb and many smart Islamophobes 

Naming and shaming is what we must do not just to mass murderers like Brenton Tarrant, Anders Breivik, Robert Gregory Bowers, Dylann Roof or Timothy McVeigh, who actually pulled triggers, but also to those who have consistently sown the seeds of white supremacy and produced the very vocabulary of hate that enabled and agitated the infested minds of these Islamophobes, anti-Semites and anti-black racists. 

In an excellent piece for Foreign policy, Sasha Polakow-Suransky and Sarah Wildman demonstrate how the inspiration for the mass murder in New Zealand came from France, particularly from the work of a certain far-right ideologue named Renaud Camus.

The world needs to know that this Camus and his ilk spread hatred of Muslims in France, and an Australian racist picks it up and goes to New Zealand to kill Muslims. We are not in a position to take this Camus character to any court of law. But we are in a position to scandalise him.

I am sure every European country has a Camus of its own, churning racist writings to the delight of millions of Europeans. In the US we also have our share of racist Islamophobes. The world must also know their ignoble names and their terrorising ideologies.

Brenton Tarrant is a dumb Islamophobe. Bill Maher, a chief Islamophobe, on the other hand, is so smart in his Islamophobia that he has actually made a lucrative career out of it. He has a well-paid job at HBO spreading his racist, Islamophobic drivel. 

Every bleeding-heart liberal is now rushing to condemn the massacre of Muslims in Christchurch New Zealand. But come next Friday evening, they will all sit in front of their flat screen TVs and laugh out loud at Bill Maher’s “jokes” demonising Muslims as collectively violent terrorists.

Islamophobe par excellence

You may think President Donald Trump or his evangelical crusaders like Steve Bannon or Mike Pompeo or that homophobic brute, Mike Pence are the notorious Islamophobes we must mark and investigate. But they are not. They are universally detested by liberal Americans. But talk show host Bill Maher is not.

He is actually loved by liberal Americans. They crawl over each other to be at his recording studio to laugh and clap and cheer at his “jokes”. Bill Maher is far more dangerous than Trump, Pence or Bannon – he is a liberal institution who has been around long before Trump and Trumpism and will outlast him and his calamities. His visceral hatred of Islam and Muslims is something to behold. 

Who said this, Bill Maher or Brenton Tarrant? “[Islam is] the only religion that acts like the mafia that will f****** kill you if you say the wrong thing.”

Al-Jazeera for more

Weekend Edition

April 12th, 2019