The standard of civilization

November 30th, 2023


The Law of Nations (1758) by Emerich de Vattel IMAGE/Wikipedia

In 1929 lucien Febvre offered the first systematic reflection on the evolution of the meanings of the term ‘civilization’, from singular ideal, which he dated to the third quarter of the 18th century, to plural fact, which he placed at the close of the Napoleonic epoch. In 1944–45 he devoted his last lecture course to ‘Europe: genesis of a civilization’, and a year later added the word Civilisations to Économies et Sociétés in the title of the Annales journal itself. Just before he died, he penned a sharp note approving a colleague’s dismissal of Valéry’s famous dictum that this civilization had now realized it was mortal: ‘In fact, it is not civilizations that are mortal. The current of civilization persists across passing eclipses . . . Sober deflation of a windbag.’footnote1 A decade later, Fernand Braudel would concur: ‘When Paul Valéry declared “Civilizations, we know you to be mortal”, he was surely exaggerating. The seasons of history cause the flowers and the fruit to fall, but the tree remains. At the very least, it is much harder to kill.’footnote2

How far has Braudel’s confidence—that usage of the term in the singular was no longer of much significance—proved justified? One way of approaching this is to look at a body of thought and practice where ‘civilization’ was historically conspicuous, namely international law. There, we can start by noting what might appear a paradox. The contemporary notion of international law immediately evokes the idea of relations between sovereign states. In the West, these relations are generally held to have developed into something like a formal system for the first time with the Treaty of Westphalia, which in 1648 brought an end to the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. It would seem logical to assume that a developed body of thought about international law would have arisen around this turning-point. In fact, however, to pinpoint its origins we must go back to the 1530s. It was then that its history really started, in the writing of the Spanish theologian Francisco de Vitoria, whose concern was not with relations between the states of Europe, of which Spain was at that time much the most powerful, but with relations between Europeans—preeminently, of course, Spaniards—and the peoples of the newly discovered Americas.


Drawing on Roman notions of a ius gentium, or law of nations, Vitoria asked by what right Spain had recently come into possession of the larger part of the Western hemisphere. Was it because these lands were uninhabited, or because the Pope had allocated them to Spain, or because it was a duty to convert pagans to Christianity, if necessary by force? Vitoria rejected all such grounds for conquest of the New World. Did that mean it was therefore contrary to the law of nations? It did not, because when the Spaniards arrived in their lands, the savage inhabitants of the Americas had violated the universal ‘right of communication’—ius communicandi—that was an essential principle of the law of nations. What did such ‘communication’ mean? It meant freedom to travel and freedom to buy and sell, anywhere: in other words, freedom of trade and freedom to persuade, that is, to preach Christian truths to the Indians, as Spaniards called them. If Indians resisted these rights, the Spaniards were justified in defending themselves by force, building fortresses, seizing land and waging war against them in retribution. Should the Indians persist in their misdeeds, they were to be treated as treacherous foes, subject to plunder and enslavement.footnote3 The Conquests were therefore, after all, perfectly legitimate.

The first real building-block of what would, for another two hundred years, still be called the law of nations was thus constructed as a justification of Spanish imperialism. The second, still more influential, building-block came with the writing of Hugo Grotius in the early 17th century. Grotius is mainly remembered, and admired, today for his treatise on ‘The Law of War and Peace’—De iure belli ac pacis—of 1625. But his actual entry into international law, as we now understand it, began with a text that would come to be known as ‘On Booty’—De iure praedae—written twenty years earlier. In this document, Grotius set out a legal justification for the seizure by a captain of the Dutch East India Company, one of his cousins, of a Portuguese ship carrying copper, silk, porcelain and silver to the value of three million guilder, a figure comparable to the total annual revenue of England at the time—an act of plunder on an unprecedented scale, causing a sensation in Europe. In its fifteenth chapter, subsequently published as Mare Liberum, Grotius explained that the high seas should be regarded as a free zone for both states and armed private companies, and his cousin was well within his rights—so providing a legal brief for Dutch commercial imperialism, as Vitoria had for Spanish territorial imperialism.

By the time Grotius came to write his general treatise on the laws of war and peace, two decades later, the Dutch had become interested in colonies on land too, soon seizing parts of Brazil from Portugal, and Grotius now argued that Europeans had the right to wage war on any peoples, even if they were not attacked by them, whose customs they regarded as barbarous, as retribution for their crimes against nature. This was ius gladii—the right of the sword, or of punishment. He wrote: ‘Kings, and those who are invested with a power equal to kings, have a right to exact punishments not only for injuries committed against themselves, or their Subjects, but likewise, for those which do not peculiarly concern them, but are, in any persons whatsoever, grievous violations of the Law of Nature or Nations.’footnote4 In other words, Grotius offered licence to attack, conquer and kill whosoever stood in the way of European expansion.

To these two cornerstones of early modern international law, ius communicandi and ius gladii, were added two more justifications for colonization of the world beyond Europe. Thomas Hobbes proposed an argument from demography: there were too many people at home, and so few people overseas that European settlers in hunter-gatherer lands had the right, not to ‘exterminate those they find there; but constrain them to inhabit closer together, and not range a great deal of ground, to snatch what they find’footnote5—a straightforward programme for the reservations into which the native inhabitants of North America would eventually be driven. Obviously, if lands could simply be deemed unoccupied, even this would be unnecessary. To that widely held view, John Locke added the further argument that if there were local inhabitants on the spot, but they failed to make the best use of the land available to them, then Europeans had every legal right to deprive them of it, since they would fulfill God’s purpose for it by increasing the productivity of the soil.footnote6 With this, the repertoire of justifications for European imperial expansion was, by the end of the 17th century, complete; the rights of communication, of punishment, of occupation and of production all warranted seizure of the rest of the planet.

Limited to the civilized

New Left Review for more

Fracking eyeballs

November 30th, 2023


Figure 4: The Female Gaze, plotted and quantified

How an alliance between psychologists and advertisers at the turn of the 20th century taught us how to measure (and monetize) human attention.

Our eyes are worth money. We know that, now. It has become a commonplace that our “attention economy” is functionally an eyeball economy. But how did eyeballs come to look like dollar signs? Let’s dig into what we might think of as the original Faustian Bargain by which the sciences of human perception (with their sophisticated technologies of precision monitoring and measurement) cut a deal with those who move the money around. And I propose that we start here:

Figure 1: The face that wants to be seen (and to watch)

The face that wants to be seen (and to watch)

This puzzling totem face (with its adjacent mini-me) greeted pedestrians on 125th street in Harlem back in the summer of 1925. The curious who meandered over to the shop window for a closer look were, quite without their knowledge, lab rats in an elaborate experiment being conducted by one Howard K. Nixon, a recent Ph.D. in psychology at Columbia University and a pioneer in the new field of “attention science” — specifically as it could be applied to the business of advertising. 1

Indeed, depending on the day, it might be Howard K. Nixon himself peering out from behind the opaque cloth that constituted the nose, which was in fact a mask for what we might think of as the original “old school” surveillance capitalism. Here’s what was going on behind the scene: 

Figure 2: Behind those eyes — the psychologist’s booth

Behind those eyes — the psychologist’s booth

What we are looking at is the hidden booth where the experimenter sat watching the pedestrians. But not just watching. Also “baiting,” since Nixon had developed various techniques for luring pedestrians to take a closer look at his little “trap window” (bracket these for now; they were goofy). When someone approached the window, the operator threw a lever that dropped a pair of magazine ads into place as the “eyes” in the “face.” Then a recording protocol went into effect, with the observer keeping track, by means of switches in a modified teletype device, of which advertisement held the eyes, and for how long. 

There is much to observe about this experimental set-up, and the series of investigations Nixon and his collaborators undertook with it. For instance, his use of the term “bait” to describe his efforts to get passersby to approach his experiment testifies to the crossing lines of ad-world tactics and behaviorist animal testing. It is impossible not to be struck — at least, if one happens to be a historian of the behavioral sciences — by the similarity between his recording apparatus (a vibrating “time reed,” continuously dipping in and out of a dish of mercury) and the core “kit” developed in Leipzig by Wilhelm Wundt, the progenitor of laboratory psychology in the late nineteenth century. 

At the same time, it is uncanny and odd that Nixon would build the front-facing display to look like a face and place the ads he wished to see people see in the position of the eyes. Nixon manifestly grapples, in laying out his experimental ambitions, with the awkward proximity of his science to the actual low-brow business of trying to advertise new products to a generally indifferent populace. 

After all, mostly, the busy people walking up and down 125th street (about 18 per minute, on average) did not stop to look at his puzzling window display, and hence did not stop to be experimented on. Nixon was reduced to sticking that rather absurd manikin in the window (it can be discerned in the lower right of the first image, its face a scale reduction of that of the window display itself). “This mannikin held a placard which announced in very small type that this was ‘The Mystery Man,’ with some ambiguous remarks as to the purpose of the display,” Nixon explained in his publication on the experiments.

Upshot: being an advertising experimentalist required learning to advertise for your experimentalism. And that could be a rather demoralizing business. Nixon eventually even tried putting a picture of the Polish silent-screen bombshell Pola Negri in the window. Even so, most people still hustled past. And while the small number of folks who did stop and look did tend to get a bit more interested when the hidden experimenter threw the lever and dropped into view the two ads to be tested, this led Nixon to other worries: yes, testing people in a lab meant they knew they were being tested, but doing street-corner window displays with unusual changing placards probably left many of the onlookers thinking, as Nixon put it, “this is just another advertising stunt.”

Asterisk Magazine for more

Newfound hybrid brain cells send signals like neurons do

November 30th, 2023


Astrocytes, a type of glial cell IMAGE/Thom Leach/Science Source

Some astrocytes, thought to play only a supportive role in the brain, can communicate with neurons

Our thoughts and feelings arise from networks of neurons, brain cells that send signals using chemicals called neurotransmitters. But neurons aren’t alone. They’re supported by other cells called glia (Greek for “glue”), which were once thought to hold nerve tissue together. Today glia are known to help regulate metabolism, protect neurons and clean up cellular waste—critical but unglamorous roles.

Now, however, neuroscientists have discovered a type of “hybrid” glia that sends signals using glutamate, the brain’s most common neurotransmitter. These findings, published in Nature, breach the rigid divide between signaling neurons and supportive glia.

“I hope it’s a boost for the field to move forward, to maybe begin studying why certain [brain] circuits have this input and others don’t,” says study co-author Andrea Volterra, a neuroscientist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Around 30 years ago researchers began reporting that star-shaped glia called astrocytes could communicate with neurons. The idea was controversial, and further research produced contradictory results. To resolve the debate, Volterra and his team analyzed existing data from mouse brains. These data were gathered using a technique called single-cell RNA sequencing, which lets researchers catalog individual cells’ molecular profiles instead of averaging them in a bulk tissue sample. Of nine types of astrocytes they found in the hippocampus—a key memory region—one had the cellular machinery required to send glutamate signals.

The small numbers of these cells, present only in certain regions, may explain why earlier research missed them. “It’s quite convincing,” says neuroscientist Nicola Hamilton-Whitaker of King’s College London, who was not involved in the study. “The reason some people may not have seen these specialized functions is they were studying different astrocytes.”

Using a technique that visualizes glutamate, the researchers observed the cells in action in live mice. They found that blocking their signaling impaired the mice’s memory performance. Further mouse experiments suggested these cells might play a role in epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. Analysis of human RNA databases indicates the same cells may exist in us, but they have not been directly observed.

“People modeling brain circuits never consider these other cells,” Hamilton-Whitaker says. “Now we’ll all have to agree they’re part of the circuit and need to be included to understand how circuits work.”

Scientific American for more

Rape, ISIS, Mein Kampf and other lies: How Israel lost all credibility

November 29th, 2023


IMAGE/Carlos Latuff – Israel Propaganda Machine/Wikimedia

On Saturday, November 11, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari claimed in a press conference that Israel had killed a “terrorist” who had prevented 1,000 civilians from escaping the Shifa Hospital. 

The allegations made little sense. Even by the standards of Israeli propaganda, falsifying such a piece of information while providing no context and no evidence, further contributes to the deteriorating credibility of Israel in international media and image worldwide.

Just one day earlier, an unnamed US official was cited by CNN as saying, in a diplomatic cable, “we are losing badly on the messaging battlespace”. 

The diplomat was referring to American reputation in the Middle East – in fact, worldwide – which now lies in tatters due to blind American support for Israel.

Roles Reversed 

This credibility deficit can be witnessed in Israel itself. Not only is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu losing credibility among Israelis, according to various public opinion  polls, but the entire Israeli political establishment seems to be losing the trust of ordinary Israelis as well.

A common joke among Palestinians these days is that Israeli leaders are emulating Arab leaders in previous Arab-Israeli wars, in terms of language, phony victories and unsubstantiated gains on the military front.

For example, while Israel was quickly pushing Arab militaries back on all fronts in June 1967, with full US-Western backing, of course, the leadership of Arab armies were declaring through radio that they had arrived at the ‘gates of Tel Aviv’.

Fortunes seem to have been reversed. Abu Obeida and Abu Hamza, military spokesmen for the Al-Qassam Brigades and the Al-Quds Brigades respectively, provide very careful accounts of the nature of the battle and the losses of advancing Israeli military forces in their regular, much-anticipated statements.

The Israeli military, on the other hand, speaks of impending victories, killing of unnamed ‘terrorists’ and destruction of countless tunnels, while rarely providing any evidence. The only ‘evidence’ provided is the intentional targeting of hospitals, schools and civilian homes. 

And, while Abu Obeida’s statements are almost always followed by well-produced videos, documenting the systematic destruction of Israeli tanks, no such documentation substantiates Israeli military claims.

Beyond the Battlefield 

But the issue of Israeli credibility, or rather, the lack of credibility, is not only taking place on the battlefield. 

From the first day of the war, Palestinian doctors, civil defense workers, journalists, bloggers and even ordinary people filmed or recorded every Israeli war crime anywhere and everywhere in the besieged Strip. And, despite the continuous shutting down of the internet and electricity in Gaza by the Israeli military, somehow, Palestinians kept track of every aspect of the ongoing Israeli genocide. 

The precision of the Palestinian narrative even forced US officials, who initially doubted Palestinian numbers, to finally admit that Palestinians were telling the truth, after all.

Barbara Leaf, assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, told a US House panel on November 9 that those killed by Israel in the war are likely “higher than is being cited.”

Indeed, every day, Israel loses credibility to the point that the initial Israeli lies of what had taken place on October 7, eventually proved disastrous to Israel’s overall image and credibility on the international stage. 

Rape, ISIS and Mein Kampf

In the euphoria of demonizing the Palestinian Resistance – as a way to justify Israel’s forthcoming genocide in Gaza – the Israeli government and military, then journalists and even ordinary people, were all recruited in an unprecedented hasbara campaign aimed at painting Palestinians as “human animals” – per the words of Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Within hours of the events and, before any investigation was conducted, Netanyahu spoke of “decapitated babies”, supposedly mutilated at the hands of the Resistance; Gallant claimed that “young girls were raped violently”; even former military chief rabbi, Israel Weiss, said he had “seen a pregnant woman with her belly torn open and the baby cut out.”

Even the supposedly ‘moderate’ Israeli President Isaac Herzog made ludicrous statements on the BBC on November 12. When asked about Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, Herzog claimed that the book Mein Kampf, written by Adolf Hitler in 1925, was found “in a children’s living room” in northern Gaza.

And, of course, there were the repeated references to the ISIS flags that, for some reason, were carried by Hamas fighters as they entered southern Israel on October 7, among other fairy tales. 

The fact that ISIS is a sworn enemy of Hamas and that the Palestinian Movement has done everything in its power to eradicate any possibility for ISIS to extend its roots in the besieged Gaza Strip seemed irrelevant to Israel’s unhinged propaganda. 

Expectedly, Israeli, US and European media repeated the claim of the Hamas-ISIS connection, with no rational discussion or the minimally-required fact-checking. 

But, with time, Israeli lies were no longer able to withstand the pressure of the truth emanating from Gaza, documenting every atrocity and every battle, and obfuscating any drummed-up Israeli allegations.

Perhaps, the turning point of the relentless series of Israeli lies was the attack on the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City on October 17. Though many adopted, and still, sadly, defend the Israeli lie – that a Resistance rocket fell on the hospital – the sheer bloodiness of that massacre, which killed hundreds, was, for many, a wake-up call.

One of the many questions that arose following the Baptist Hospital massacre is: If Israel was, indeed, honest about its version of events regarding what took place at the hospital, why did it bomb every other hospital in Gaza and continues to do so for weeks?

Israeli Hasbara Canceled 

There are reasons why Israeli propaganda is no longer able to effectively influence public opinion even though mainstream media continues to side with Israel, even when the latter is committing a genocide. 

Firstly, is that Palestinians and their supporters have managed to ‘cancel’ Israel using social media which, for the first time, overwhelmed the organized propaganda campaigns often engineered on behalf of Israel in corporate media. 

An analysis of online content on popular social media platforms was conducted by the Israeli influencer marketing platform, Humanz. The study, published in November, admitted that “while 7.39 billion posts with pro-Israeli tags were published on Instagram and TikTok last month, in the same period 109.61 billion posts with pro-Palestinian tags were published on the platforms.” This, according to the company, means that pro-Palestinian views are 15 times more popular than pro-Israeli views. 

Secondly, independent media, Palestinian and others, offered alternatives to those seeking a different version of events to what is taking place in Gaza. 

A single Palestinian freelance journalist in Gaza, Motaz Azaiza, has managed to acquire more than 14 million followers on Instagram over the course of a single month because of his reporting from the ground.

Thirdly, the ‘surprise attack’ of October 7 has deprived Israel of the initiative, not only regarding the war itself, but also the justification for the war. Indeed, their genocidal war on Gaza has no specific objectives, but also has no precise media campaign to defend or rationalize these unspecified objectives. Therefore, the Israeli media narrative appears disconnected, haphazard and, at times, even self-damaging. 

And, finally, the sheer brutality of the Israeli genocide in Gaza. If one is to juxtapose Israeli media lies with the horrific Israeli crimes committed in Gaza, one would find no plausible logic that could convincingly justify mass murder, displacement, starvation and genocide of a defenseless population. 

Never has Israeli propaganda failed so astoundingly and never has the mainstream media failed to shield Israel from the global anger – in fact, seething hatred – for Israel’s ugly apartheid regime. 

The repercussions of all of this will most certainly impact the way that history will remember the Israeli war on Gaza, which has, so far, killed, and wounded tens of thousands of innocent civilians. 

A whole generation, if not more, has already built a perception of Israel as a genocidal regime and no number of future lies, Hollywood movies or Maxim Magazine spreads will ever lessen that in any way.

More importantly, this new perception is likely to compel people, not only to re-examine their views of Israel’s present and future, but of the past as well – the very foundation of the Zionist regime, itself predicated on nothing but lies. 

Z Network for more articles

Latin America still has a long way to go to eliminate gender violence

November 29th, 2023


“He who loves does not kill, does not humiliate or mistreat” reads a poster carried in a protest against violence against women in Lima, the capital of Peru, which is part of a slogan repeated in demonstrations against femicides and other forms of sexist violence in Latin America. IMAGE/Mariela Jara/IPS

“The Latin American and Caribbean region has made many advances in the fight against gender violence, but now we are facing reactions that show that our rights are never secure and that we must always be on the alert to defend them,” said Susana Chiarotti, a member of Mesecvi’s Committee of Experts.

The Committee of Experts is the technical body of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Mesecvi), known as the Convention of Belem do Para, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary in force in the countries of the region in 2024. The committee is made up of independent experts appointed by each state party.

Chiarotti summed up the regional situation of progress and setbacks in a conversation with IPS from her home in the Argentine city of Rosario, ahead of the United Nations’ Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, commemorated on Saturday, Nov. 25.

Gender violence violates the human rights of one in four women in this region with an estimated female population of 332 million, 51 percent of the total, and escalates to the extreme level of femicide – gender-based murders – which cost 4050 lives in 2022, according to figures confirmed Friday, Nov. 24 by the Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Likewise, UN Women‘s regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean, María Noel Vaeza, told IPS from Panama City that the emblematic date seeks to draw the attention of countries to the urgent need to put an end to violence against women once and for all by adopting public policies for prevention and investing in programs to eliminate it.

She pointed out that Nov. 25 is the first of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, which run through Dec. 10, Human Rights Day.

Vaeza said that less than 40 percent of women who suffer violence seek some kind of help, which clearly shows that they do not find guarantees in the prevention and institutional response system and therefore do not report incidents.

“This has serious consequences for their lives and those of other women, as the perpetrators do not face justice and impunity and violence continue unchecked,” she said.

Inter Press Service for more

The two Milan Kunderas

November 29th, 2023


Milan Kundera IMAGE/The Paris Review

There have for a while now been two Milan Kunderas, characters so different as to suggest Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There is Kundera the good European, celebrated as an eminent writer, a defender of freedom of speech, a voice of remembering against the politics of forgetting, and a spokesman for a mythical entity called Central Europe which could yet save the West from decline – if only the Westerners would heed its call to return to their values. If the good Kundera has any blemish, it might be his representations of women – but for every repulsive Helena, Irena or Laura, his defenders will say, you get a fascinating Sabina, Tamina or Agnes, so the man could surely not be a complete misogynist. Then there is the other, darker Kundera, a libertine and philanderer for whom misogyny has not been much of an issue because he has greater sins to hide – at the very least he is viewed with suspicion ‘back home’ as the great mythmaker who made his name on the back of elegant but less than truthful simplifications of the reality of communism, as well as fibs about his own past.

The good Kundera – the best-known twentieth century Czech writer – has been ubiquitous, his work available in many languages. Meanwhile, the darker Kundera – a constant presence on the Czech scene, the Kundera of Laughable Loves and The Joke who later sold out – has mostly skulked in the background, among the people of whom we know nothing, muttering in their incomprehensible Czech. This Kundera-in-hiding might make an occasional appearance in the writing of Western critics, but mostly tonly o be dismissed as a spectre without substance, the creation of those left behind (sometimes also called dissidents) who, filled with envy, cannot but consider the willing and successful emigrant as a traitor to the mother country. Imagine, he even dared to switch his writing language from Czech to French! And he chose not to return home after 1989! The bad faith of these Czech begrudgers would be inferred from their attempts to smear Kundera’s good name with baseless accusations, for example that he was a police informer. (For a dismissal much like this, see Jean-Dominique Brierre’s 2019 biography Milan Kundera, Une vie d’écrivain.)

There has been some limited rapprochement between the two figures thanks to the increased flow of people and information between the West and the former East after 1989. In the West, there have been writers and scholars willing to probe Kundera’s pronouncements and not just accept them uncritically, such as Joan Smith in Misogynies (1993), Michelle Woods in Translating Milan Kundera (2006) or Charles Sabatos in an article about the shifting contents of Kundera’s ‘Central Europe’ (2011). But it is only recently, and on the Czech side, following the publication in 2020 of Jan Novák’s controversial biography (in Czech) of the first half of Kundera’s life (1929-1975), that the two Kunderas have been confronted one with the other. The polemic that ensued made one thing clear: the good Kundera is an idol with feet of clay whose demolition is long overdue.

Novák’s biography should be required reading for everyone interested in Kundera or his work. He has managed to avoid the Stockholm syndrome that so often turns critics and biographers into Kundera’s willing captives, reduced to quoting or paraphrasing the master’s words. Whatever reservations one might have about some of his facts and interpretations, he has assembled an incredible amount of relevant material – from extant secret police files to invaluable testimonies by friends, lovers, colleagues and more casual acquaintances – and skilfully used it to come up with the first even remotely convincing portrait of Kundera, unrivalled in detail and informativeness. Crucially, Novák has succeeded in placing Kundera’s habitual responses to events and topics in the appropriate context, in a way that illuminates the difficult times as well as the author’s choices. There is now a better chance than ever that a new Kundera might emerge: one who is less of an idol, more of a fallible human being; a writer whose words are to be examined (rather than rehearsed) to get a better measure of his ideas and images of humanity.

Dublin Review of Books for more

The dangers only multiply

November 28th, 2023


Buy the book

Could Israel’s War on Gaza Go Nuclear?

Israel’s robust military, the fourth-strongest in the world, is ravaging Gaza and, along with armed settlers, terrorizing Palestinians in the West Bank following the brutal Hamas massacres of October 7th. Like so many other colonial projects, Israel was born of terror and has necessitated the use of violence to occupy Arab territory and segregate Palestinians ever since. The realization that its existence was dependent on a superior military in an unfriendly region also encouraged Israel to pursue a nuclear weapons program shortly after the state’s founding in 1948.

Even though Israel was a young nation, by the mid-1950s, with the aid of France, it had secretly begun the construction of a large nuclear reactor. That two allies had teamed up to launch a nuclear weapons program without the knowledge of the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower turned out to be a colossal (and embarrassing) American intelligence failure.

Not until June 1960, the final year of Eisenhower’s presidency, did U.S. officials catch wind of what was already known as the Dimona project. Daniel Kimhi, an Israeli oil magnate, having undoubtedly had one too many cocktails at a late-night party at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, confessed to American diplomats that Israel was indeed constructing a large “power reactor” in the Negev desert — a startling revelation.

“This project has been described to [Kimhi] as a gas-cooled power reactor capable of producing approximately 60 megawatts of electric power,” read an embassy dispatch addressed to the State Department in August 1960. “[Kimhi] said he thought work had been underway for about two years and that a completion date was still about two years off.”

The Dimona reactor wasn’t, however, being built to deal with the country’s growing energy needs. As the U.S. would later discover, it was designed (with input from the French) to produce plutonium for a budding Israeli nuclear weapons program. In December 1960, as American officials grew more worried about the very idea of Israel’s nuclear aspirations, French Foreign Minister Maurice Couve de Murville admitted to U.S. Secretary of State Christian Herter that France had, in fact, helped Israel get the project off the ground and would also provide the raw materials like uranium the reactor needed. As a result, it would get a share of any plutonium Dimona produced.

Israeli and French officials assured Eisenhower that Dimona was being built solely for peaceful purposes. Trying to further deflect attention, Israeli officials put forward several cover stories to back up that claim, asserting Dimona would become anything from a textile plant to a meteorological installation — anything but a nuclear reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

Atomic Denials

In December 1960, after being tipped off by a British nuclear scientist concerned that Israel was constructing a dirty (that is, extremely radioactive) nuke, reporter Chapman Pincher wrote in London’s Daily Express: “British and American intelligence authorities believe that the Israelis are well on the way to building their first experimental nuclear bomb.”

Israeli officials issued a terse dispatch from their London embassy: “Israel is not building an atom bomb and has no intention of doing so.”

With Arab countries increasingly worried that Washington was aiding Israel’s nuclear endeavors, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission John McCone leaked a classified CIA document to John Finney of the New York Times, claiming that the U.S. had evidence Israel, with the help of France, was building a nuclear reactor — proof that Washington was none too pleased with that country’s nuclear aspirations.

President Eisenhower was stunned. Not only had his administration been left in the dark, but his officials feared a future nuclear-armed Israel would only further destabilize an already topsy-turvy region. “Reports from Arab countries confirm [the] gravity with which many view this possibility [of nuclear weapons in Israel],” read a State Department telegram sent to its Paris embassy in January 1961.

Tom Dispatch for more

Jashn-e-Rekhta London in photos: A celebration of Urdu that transcends borders

November 28th, 2023


IMAGE/Ashraf Nehal

The inaugural display of Jashn-e-Rekhta at London’s Westminster Chapel was attended by several diaspora luminaries.

The Bombay High Court’s dismissal of a petition last monthseeking a ban on Pakistani artistes in India rightly emphasised the importance of embracing activities that foster peace, harmony, and tranquillity across the borders that separate the two neighbours.This sentiment recently found resonance in the form of Jashn-e-Rekhta London, an unprecedentedgathering that brought together luminaries, artists, scholars, and enthusiasts from India, Pakistan, and the UK.

IMAGE/Ashraf Nehal

At a time when geopolitical tensions tend to overshadow cultural connectivity, Jashn-e-Rekhta festivalwas aimed at transcending borders celebrating the Urdu language and culture.

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Cartoons that kill: The art and imagery of genocide

November 28th, 2023


Injured children are seen at a hospital amid Israeli attacks in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza on November 7, 2023. IMAGE/Belal Khaled/Anadolu via Getty Images

Why did The Washington Post publish a caricature dehumanising Palestinians amid Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza?

Genocide is not an event; you don’t simply wake up one morning and begin exterminating an entire people out of the blue. Genocide is a process; you have to work your way up to it.

And like all processes, genocide has its stages – 10 stages in all if we are to refer to the list prepared by Dr Gregory Stanton, founding president and chairman of Genocide Watch, an organisation that does exactly what its name implies.

One of those stages is dehumanisation. This is an important one because committing genocide is not easy; murdering men, women and children in thousands tends to take a toll on the psyche, causing one to perhaps face all kinds of uncomfortable questions, to counter all manners of unwelcome thoughts that intrude into even the most closed of minds like single spies sneaking into a well-guarded fortress.

Those who pull the trigger on children, those who drop bombs on schools and hospitals, are after all presumably as humans as the ones they murder. How then, one wonders, do they sleep at night? How do they not see the blood on their hands every waking moment, like Lady Macbeth wandering the halls of the Dunsinane castle?

The answer is simple; you live with it by convincing yourself that those being killed are not in fact human, or at the very least not as human as you are. If you do that right and repeatedly, you will successfully convince yourself that murder is not murder; it’s pest control.

Dehumanisation has to be an ongoing process, running concurrently with the actual extermination because, you see, it is not just your own public you have to convince, it is also the governments and publics of the countries that are arming, aiding, abetting and, in some cases, cheering you on while you go about your bloody but necessary business. This gets harder to do as eviscerated babies pile up in the courtyards of besieged hospitals, as body bags choke the streets, and as the world livestreams the apocalypse on smartphones.

It’s in this context that last week’s infamous Washington Post cartoon must be viewed.

On November 6, as Israel continued its deliberate and direct targeting of civilians in Gaza in bakeries, hospitals and homes, while clearly announcing its intention to eradicate the Palestinians, The Washington Post published a caricature titled “Human Shields”.

The caricature depicts a man with bestial features in a dark, striped suit, which has Hamas in bold white letters emblazoned on it. His comically large nose is jutting out from beneath sunken eyes crowned by bushy eyebrows. He has several children and a typically helpless-looking abaya-clad Arab woman tied to his body. To his left is a Palestinian flag and to his right a partial image of Al-Aqsa and, of course, an oil lamp. Just in case the symbolism was not clear enough. The cartoon ticks many boxes. In his landmark study on dehumanisation, scholar Nick Haslam writes that among the categories of dehumanisation by imagery are depictions of the enemy as a barbarian, a criminal and a harasser of women and children.

The outrage was immediate and effective; having removed the cartoon, the editor of the editorial page, David Shipley, wrote in a note to readers that while he saw the drawing purely as a “caricature” of a “specific Hamas spokesman”, the outrage convinced him that he had “missed something profound, and divisive”.

Al Jazeera for more

Time & Future is behind

November 27th, 2023

I’ve researched time for 15 years – here’s how my perception of it has changed



Time is one of those things that most of us take for granted. We spend our lives portioning it into work-time, family-time and me-time. Rarely do we sit and think about how and why we choreograph our lives through this strange medium. A lot of people only appreciate time when they have an experience that makes them realise how limited it is.

My own interest in time grew from one of those “time is running out” experiences. Eighteen years ago, while at university, I was driving down a country lane when another vehicle strayed onto my side of the road and collided with my car. I can still vividly remember the way in which time slowed down, grinding to a near halt, in the moments before my car impacted with the oncoming vehicle. Time literally seemed to stand still. The elasticity of time and its ability to wax and wane in different situations shone out like never before. From that moment I was hooked.

I have spent the last 15 years trying to answer questions such as: Why does time slow down in near death situations? Does time really pass more quickly as you get older? How do our brains process time?

My attempts to answer these questions often involve putting people into extreme situations to explore how their experience of time is affected. Some of the participants in my experiments have been given electric shocks to induce pain , others have traversed 100-metre-high crumbling bridges (albeit in virtual reality), some have even spent 12 months in isolation on Antarctica. At the heart of this work is an attempt to understand how our interaction with our environment shapes our experience of time.

The Conversation for more

Is the future behind you?


I magine the future. Where is it for you? Do you see yourself striding towards it? Perhaps it’s behind you. Maybe it’s even above you.

And what about the past? Do you imagine looking over your shoulder to see it?

How you answer these questions will depend on who you are and where you come from. The way we picture the future is influenced by the culture we grow up in and the languages we are exposed to.

For many people who grew up in the UK, the US and much of Europe, the future is in front of them, and the past is behind them. People in these cultures typically perceive time as linear. They see themselves as continually moving towards the future because they cannot go back to the past.

In some other cultures, however, the location of the past and the future are inverted. The Aymara, a South American Indigenous group of people living in the Andes, conceptualise the future as behind them and the past in front of them.

Scientists discovered this by studying the gestures of the Aymara people during discussions of topics such as ancestors and traditions. The researchers noticed that when Aymara spoke about their ancestors, they were likely to gesture in front of themselves, indicating that the past was in front. However, when they were asked about a future event, their gesture seemed to indicate that the future was perceived as behind.

Look to the future

Dawn for more