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Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
14-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza lived with her family a few miles north of the Iraqi town of Mahmoudiya.1 She told her mother that U.S. soldiers would leer at her and try to make passes at her when she had to pass by the checkpoint near their house. The soldiers knew where Abeer lived—they had visited the house. The Washington Post reported in a July 3 article that Abeer's mother was worried for her child's safety and arranged to have Abeer sent to a neighbor's house, where she hoped her daughter would be out of danger.
But this didn't keep Abeer safe.
According to an FBI affidavit posted at the website FindLaw.com, four U.S. soldiers had been planning and talking about what they would do to Abeer. According to a July 1 Associated Press article, they spent almost a week planning the assault. On March 12, 2006, these soldiers went drinking and then changed out of their uniforms into dark clothes. One soldier covered his face with a t-shirt. In the afternoon, they burst into Abeer's house, armed with AK-47s.
According to the affidavit, Steven Green, a private in the Army, took Abeer's family -- her mother, Fikhriya Taha; her father, Qassim Hamza; and her 5-year-old sister, Hadeel Qassim Hamza -- into a bedroom and killed them. He came out, blood on his clothes, bragging about what he'd just done. Then he and another soldier took turns raping Abeer. When they were done, they shot and killed her. Then they set fire to her body.
When they got back to the checkpoint, with bloody clothes, they told the soldier guarding the checkpoint to keep his mouth shut. They burned their clothes, and then went back to manning the checkpoint, where women and girls passed by every day.
The July 1 Associated Press article reported that the rape and murders had been blamed on sectarian infighting between various factions in Iraq. According to Sydney's Daily Telegraph, the truth began to come out more than two months later, after two of the soldiers in Green's unit were killed in an attack and other soldiers said they thought it might have been in response to the rape and murders in Mahmoudiya.
On July 3, Steven Green was charged with rape and murder, and could get the death penalty if convicted. Green is no longer in the military. Unrelated to the rape and murders, Green had been discharged for what the military calls a 'personality disorder'"
On July 9, the Associated Press reported that four other soldiers, all who are still on active duty, were charged with participating in the attack, and another was charged with knowing about the attack and failing to report it. It is not clear if any of those charged were Green's commanding officers.
The question is not whether this is the only rape or assault that U.S. soldiers have committed on Iraqi women or men, or female soldiers in the Army. The only question is—how many? And how many have been covered up?
Throughout the history of the United States, everywhere U.S. soldiers have waged wars or occupations, or been stationed, local women have been treated as the victims and spoils of war. From the bloody frontier wars that began this country, where U.S. soldiers made trophies and souvenirs from the mutilated body parts of Native American women,2 to the rings of brothels and strip clubs surrounding every U.S. overseas base, to the rapes of women in places like the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan, where U.S. soldiers are often immune from prosecution by those country's laws. And this ugly legacy of the U.S. military is alive and well today in Iraq.
Rape and sexual assault are not just openly tolerated in the U.S. occupation of Iraq—they are encouraged. Look at what happened in Abu Ghraib. Men being forced to masturbate and pose naked. The rapes and sexual assaults of women, men, and children. All captured on thousands of photos depicting smiling soldiers. Soldiers testified that they were doing these things to “soften up” the prisoners for interrogation.
In an environment where a woman has every reason not to report a rape, it is impossible to know how many women have been raped and abused by U.S. soldiers. Many times women are blamed, shamed and punished for being raped. Woman who are raped know that they could be accused of “staining the family honor” and severely punished, even killed, especially in areas that follow a strict interpretation of Islamic law. (Sharia, or a strict interpretation of the Koran, condemns women to death for being raped—for engaging in the crime of having “sex outside of marriage.”)
This is the fifth time in only two months that the murder of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops has come to light. Reuters news service published a timeline of 18 major incidents in three years: In March 2006, U.S. soldiers killed eight people, including a teenage boy, when they raided a home. In February 2006, a U.S. soldier killed an unarmed man in Ramadi and two other soldiers placed an AK-47 by the body, to make it seem that they had just shot an “insurgent” (a tactic taken straight from cops in the United States when they murder people and plant a “throw-down gun.”) National Public Radio reported on June 21 that seven U.S. soldiers killed a 52-year-old disabled man by dragging him into a ditch and shooting him, then throwing a shovel and an AK-47 by his body to make it seem he had been caught in the act of digging a roadside bomb. (See “Chronology: U.S. troops and civilian complaints in Iraq”).
And then, once again, even after five incidents reported in two months—the official chorus comes out like a sick refrain: “These were bad apples/isolated incidents/aberrations.”
But these crimes are NOT aberrations. They are a concentration of and reflect the very nature of the U.S. military and the U.S. occupation of Iraq: The constant fear of being killed at a wedding, or when walking down the street, or in your home. The sickening knowledge that your teenage daughter is being stalked by armed occupiers. The fear that you could be shot dead in an instant when driving through a checkpoint or whenever U.S. troops knock on your door. The daily humiliation of checkpoints and leering U.S. soldiers.
This is the nature of the U.S. occupation. And the unofficial policies of rape and murder are designed to break the spirit of the Iraqi people. The U.S. is enforcing a hated and brutal occupation on the people of Iraq. And an indispensable part of this is inculcating soldiers with a colonial mentality that treats the Iraqi people as subhuman and considers their lives worth nothing. Rapes, massacres, and brutal torture are inevitable when you have such a mentality, encouraged and backed from the highest levels of the military and up to the White House.
What does it mean when a senior official in the 4th Infantry Division of the Army says: “The only thing these sand niggers understand is force and I’m about to introduce them to it.” (From Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, quoted in Andrew Bacevich's review in the London Review of Books, June 6.) Or take the lyrics of a song called “Haji girl,” written by a U.S. Marine, which celebrates the killing of Iraqis:
“Then I hid behind the TV
And I locked and loaded my M-16
And I blew those little f*ckers to eternity.
They should have known they were f*ckin’ with a Marine.”
(Posted at a pro-U.S. military site: Neveryetmelted.com)
And what does it mean that Marines in training chant: “Blood makes the grass grow, Marines make the blood flow.”
Add the blood of 14-year-old Abeer. Add her family to the hundred thousand who have been killed by the U.S. occupation of Iraq.3 This is the true nature of the U.S. military.
How many more Abeers? How many more Abu Ghraibs, Ramadis and Hadithas?
This bloody war, this murderous occupation must be stopped.
2. See Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee; excerpt posted at lastoftheindependents.com/chivington.html.
3.See the British newspaper The Guardian, October 29, 2004: "About 100,000 Iraqi civilians - half of them women and children - have died in Iraq since the invasion, mostly as a result of airstrikes by coalition forces, according to the first reliable study of the death toll from Iraqi and US public health experts."
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
On July 5 the U.S. Army brought charges against First Lieutenant Ehren Watada for refusing to join in the on-going war crime in Iraq. Watada was charged with missing troop movement, conduct unbecoming an officer, and “contempt toward officials”—specifically President Bush. Lt. Watada is the first commissioned officer to refuse Iraq deployment. His Stryker Brigade unit left Ft. Lewis in Washington state for Iraq on June 22.
The military is seeking to punish Lt. Watada because of his courageous and timely public refusal to participate in a war he has called “morally wrong” and “manifestly illegal.” In a June 7 statement Watada said, “The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people with only limited accountability is not only a terrible moral injustice, but a contradiction to the Army’s own Law of Land Warfare. My participation would make me party to war crimes.”
Watada’s lead attorney Eric Seitz said, “The Army has made a very serious mistake by charging him with the content of the statement he has made, which are not only true with regard to the manner with which the war was initiated and conducted, but are not disrespectful or contemptuous as alleged.”
On June 27, according to the website thankyoult.org, thousands of people in 30 locations around the country came out to support Ehren Watada. 200 people rallied outside the gates of Ft. Lewis where he is stationed.
On June 16, 150 people came out to hear Watada speak at the University Lutheran Church in Seattle. They gave him a very warm welcome and much encouragement and support. There were many progressive vets and resisters from the Vietnam war and other eras present to stand with Watada, as well as people from Gold Star Military families, family and friends of Ehren’s, progressive church and peace and justice groups, and activists from Not in Our Name and World Can't Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime.
Watada started by saying he felt a certain amount of guilt and responsibility for the deaths of GI’s and the suffering of Iraqis because he “didn’t step up sooner.”
He said he had joined the military after 9/11 with a “deep sense of patriotism.” Facing deployment to Iraq, he felt a duty to learn as much as he could about the conflict and its history in order to lead soldiers he felt responsible for. What he learned by researching things was deeply shocking to him. He continued, “I felt I still had a duty. You’re not supposed to question, but you should know the truth. When I found out, I felt it violated what I believe as an American…. I was no longer willing to watch pain and suffering and the pain of the Iraqis, for a lie. Soldiers don’t have a voice, they’re supposed to be apolitical, but I didn’t believe that. I felt I had to speak out against the misconduct of the government.” He said he felt he had to make the soldiers question the legality of every order, and to look at the consequences.
Ehren recounted hearing a brother of a U.S. soldier who was being sent back to Iraq lamenting on the radio about why more people weren’t protesting as they did during Vietnam. Watada recalled, “I felt frustrated that no one was standing up. And then I thought, why rely on other people when I can do something myself. I told myself, I’m a person, and an officer. So I could do something so the soldiers can come back and be with their families.”
The audience jumped to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. People were clearly moved and deeply inspired by Watada’s calm but firm determination to act on principle no matter the consequences. In the question-and-answer period vets stood up to tell their own stories, how they had come to oppose U.S. wars, and others spoke of how they had resisted fighting in the military.
Support for Lt. Watada has come from other military resisters, and Watada’s family and supporters have also linked up with Sara Rich, the mother of military resister Suzanne Swift. Suzanne is being held at Ft. Lewis after she went AWOL rather than be redeployed to Iraq after being raped and sexually harassed by other soldiers in her first tour of duty. Sara Rich said, “May many more soldiers make the right and honorable choice to say no more killing and not allow themselves to be added to the daily increasing numbers of U.S. soldiers being wounded, damaged or killed.”
In Watada’s case, the military is expected to call an “article 32” hearing (to determine cause to proceed to court martial) in the next month or two. Friends and Family of Lt. Watada is calling for an international mobilization of support the day before he’s scheduled to be court marshaled—possibly sometime in September. They are calling for people to protest at military recruiting centers and public places and for a mass mobilization at Ft. Lewis, near Tacoma in Washington state.
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
As we pointed out in our last issue, the movie An Inconvenient Truth has erupted out of the theaters to become a question discussed and debated throughout society. Sitting in the darkened theater you hear from the gasps around you how deeply this is affecting people. People walk out of the theater and look at each other, and there is a sense that this must stop. This must end. This must HALT.
The film’s promoters build off this, calling on people in their ads and in the movie itself to tell their friends about it. And people SHOULD, in fact, see the movie and discuss it. An Inconvenient Truth has the potential to play a very important role in raising and broadening a debate that has to happen.
This debate is NOT whether global warming exists. Indeed, one of the most telling points in the movie is the FACT that while essentially every scientific study of the past decade or so has concluded that global warming is real, over half of all the stories in the media have claimed that somehow this question hasn’t been settled yet. No, the debate that we need has to be over this: given the dire consequences for humanity and for life on this planet posed by THE FACT of global warming, what must be done about it?
In this light, and as part of that debate, we have to go into the role of Al Gore—who is not only the narrator, but the central “character” or “protagonist” in the movie (it is through Gore’s experience and sentiments, as presented in the movie, that the audience is encouraged to “come at” the question). On one level, there is the program advanced by Gore in the movie, which we criticized last issue, and which we will return to later in the article. But on another related, and in many respects more dangerous level, there is Al Gore himself and the way in which he is positioning himself—and being positioned—off this movie in relation both to the outrage of the people against the Bush regime, and to the presidential elections of 2008 and even the congressional elections this year.
A major story in New York magazine echoed others throughout the media and on the Internet—Al Gore, because of this movie, along with the stands he took at one point against getting into the Iraq war and against Bush’s extraordinary fascistic moves in a speech last winter, is the only candidate with the “credibility” with the base of the Democratic Party to pose an alternative to Hillary Clinton. The movie itself makes the point implicitly. It begins with Gore making a joking introduction that “I used to be the ‘next president of the United States’”; then, later in the movie, after the audience has seen some of the damage done by Bush, there is a fuller treatment of the 2000 election, with Gore wistfully at the end saying that yes, he was disappointed, but the only thing he could do was to keep on telling people about global warming. And shortly before this part, there is a quote from Winston Churchill, in the late 1930s, at a time when he had been turned out of office, warning the British people that the time to “procrastinate” in the face of Naziism had passed. Much of the audience for this movie is familiar with the mythology that once Britain “awoke,” they then turned to Churchill to lead them against the Nazi menace.
This fits in with the program that Gore has been advancing for people who care about this, which focuses on writing to politicians, talking to family and neighbors, and trying to conserve energy on a personal basis. Doesn’t the enormity of what is presented in An Inconvenient Truth call for something much more radical than that? One valuable point made in the movie is that, in addition to the wanton destruction of whole species and environments, global warming puts scores of millions of people, all over the world, at risk for truly catastrophic flooding, and has already played a terrible role in the devastation of Africa.
So again—doesn’t this cry out for breaking with business as usual and taking very radical action, even as we dig deeper into what brought us to this horrific pass in the first place? Shouldn’t our actions match the urgency of the situation? Shouldn’t people come together in a radical opposition to this whole direction of things, including but going beyond the environment? Shouldn’t they do this, debating and discussing as they do, and building a real community of resistance in the process, which can provide the solidarity to act and the support to persevere? Such a movement could become an independent social force, one that truly represented the sentiments of the tens of millions who are fed up and viscerally disgusted with the direction of things, but who as yet have not been cohered into a strong political movement.
Rather than that, the actions proposed by Gore will lead people into the frustration and pointlessness of “working through the channels” and will set them up to turn to a Gore candidacy as the only thing that could work on a societal-wide level to turn things around.
Here’s another point to consider carefully: Last January, Gore gave a very heavy speech on Martin Luther King’s birthday accusing the Bush regime of torture, murder, and spying on “huge numbers” of people reminiscent of the FBI operation against Martin Luther King. (See “Al Gore’s Warning,” Revolution #32, January 29, 2006, posted at revcom.us.) The New York Times, which bills itself as “the newspaper of record,” normally reprints major speeches by people on Gore’s level. In this case the Times downplayed the speech and did not print a transcript. In the promotion of Al Gore around the issue of the environment, and in contrast to the burying of his January speech on the back pages of mainstream news, the forces that control such things are defining what is and what is not allowable discourse and debate on the direction of society and the world. These terms cannot be accepted.
In the last issue of our paper, we discussed how Gore’s proposed solutions to global warming are founded on what is for him a larger and over-riding value—the preservation of the system of imperialism and, in particular, the dominant role of the U.S. within that system. And we made a fairly thorough critique of how the political and economic system of imperialism CANNOT solve this problem, and how socialism could (see especially the article “Capitalism, the Environment, and Ecology Under Socialism” by Raymond Lotta).
For some time, and precisely because he was not seen as a major political player, Al Gore voiced a number of opinions that were supported by the base of the Democratic Party, but opposed by the top leadership. These included a speech which opposed launching the war in Iraq and a powerful indictment of the repressive moves of the Bush administration this past winter. Gore’s role up to now has been to keep people hoping that there is some force within the Democratic Party that is listening to them and that would actually go up against the Bush agenda. He has been a vehicle to deal with one of the key political facts in the U.S. today—the disconnect between the Democratic leadership, and the sentiments of those people whom it sees as its “base.” Now this gulf is growing, as figures like Hilary Clinton continue to insist on supporting the war, supporting the increased repression against the people, and conciliating with Christian fascist opposition to the rights of abortion and birth control, and the separation between church and state.
But who is this “base” that is so profoundly alienated? It is not just a few people. It is millions and tens of millions of people—people who are infuriated about the war and the whole unapologetic assertion of empire; people who are upset about the evisceration of certain fundamental rights that they had been taught to take for granted as part of the Constitution; who were outraged and sick at heart over Katrina—and Abu Ghraib; who refuse to tolerate or find common ground with the vicious and dangerous lunacy of the Falwells and Robertsons of the world; who, for many other utterly valid reasons, see in the Bush regime a dire threat to everything they hold dear.
People who feel this way—including the vast majority of you who are reading this paper and many of the people you interact with each day—face a big choice. It is NOT between voting or not voting. It is between whether you are going to put your hopes, your energies, and your resources into building the societal-wide movement that can actually drive out this regime and in so doing reverse the whole social direction; or whether instead you will allow those hopes, energies and resources to be channeled into Al Gore and what is represented by him.
For make no mistake about it. There may be variations in the script, but it will end up going something like this: Gore will increasingly be positioned as the non-candidate candidate, “the guy with integrity who went up against Bush and stands for something.” He will be “reluctantly drafted” into the fray, and he will draw people in. And then—depending on forces bigger than Al Gore—one of two things will happen. He will either go the way of Howard Dean, discarded once he has served his purpose, and given a platform only to tell his followers how important it is to now put their energies behind the Democratic candidate who does emerge. Or, if Gore is somehow chosen in this scenario, he will modify his agenda accordingly. (And in this regard note well Gore’s recent appearance on David Letterman where he made clear that while opposing the war initially, and still thinking that it was “mistaken,” he does not believe the US can withdraw from Iraq now.) He will come to see the “wisdom” of the measures he once opposed and will attempt to drag along millions of others to see things the same way. And even if he does not abandon some of those stands, even if—because of larger crises and struggle from below—Gore was not only elected but this time allowed to take office, then once in office he will shuck them off. There is plenty of historical precedent on this, going back to Lyndon Johnson who in 1964 pledged himself to prevent war (even as he secretly planned what would become the massive escalation of the war against Vietnam), up to Clinton and Gore themselves, whose policies of ending welfare, ferociously stepping up the imprisonment of minority youth, militarizing the border and so on were NOT what their base thought they were voting for. Again, the point here is not just, or mainly, the sincerity or lack thereof of Johnson, Clinton, Gore and all the rest—it is the role they have chosen to play, and what that role serves and what it requires of them.
If you don’t believe that, then let's look at Gore's actual position on global warming when he was in the White House and had a chance to implement his program. He was, after all, vice president for eight years.
Joshua Frank, writing in the May 31 Counterpunch.org, goes into a host of examples where the Clinton-Gore administration made decisions that had grave environmental consequences—from NAFTA, which drastically increased pollution along the U.S.-Mexico border and within Mexico itself, to the destruction of wetlands in Florida and forests in the northwest, to relaxing controls on pesticides in food. All these (and more) came, as Frank shows, at the behest of one or another major capitalist interest.
As for the Kyoto Protocol, Gore said at the signing of it, "Signing the Protocol, while an important step forward, imposes no obligations on the United States. The Protocol becomes binding only with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. As we have said before, we will not submit the Protocol for ratification without the meaningful participation of key developing countries in efforts to address climate change." In other words, Gore, the “great opponent of global warming,” says that the U.S. (which consumes a way disproportionate amount of global resources and which produces 20% of the greenhouse gases planetwide that contribute to global warming) shouldn’t even consider ratifying the Protocol until India, China and other oppressed but rapidly industrializing nations do, lest U.S. industries lose advantage. Gore is fond of saying that the “invisible hand” of capitalism has a green thumb, but it is in fact a butcher’s thumb, weighing on the scales of every political decision. Gore at one point in the movie ridicules the notion that one must choose between wealth and the planet—but the fact is that at point after point where the demands of capital have run up against preserving the environment, Gore has chosen for capital.
Again, Gore’s professed intentions are beside the point. Once you take high office—once you even enter the realm of major political player in the U.S. system—you cannot work against the overall needs of capital. The capitalist economic “game” has certain rules, and the political system arose to protect and reinforce those rules. Those at the top may have different ideas on how best to do that, but whether to do that cannot be questioned. If it were—if measures were undertaken that somehow defied the basic rules of capitalist accumulation—production would grind to a halt, and those who do control the selection of the leaders and the terms of debate would quickly move to change the situation.
This is another inconvenient truth—and one that has to be fully confronted if we are truly going to have a chance to reverse the direction of things, including the headlong destruction of the environment and the people in it.
Hoping in Al Gore is a lose-lose scenario. You are persuaded to give your money, your time, your energies and, above all, your hopes and real demands into something that you may be skeptical and suspicious of, and you turn away from the one thing that could actually make a difference—a mass movement, society-wide, taking independent historical action—and so you lose that. And then, whether the candidate gets in or not, the ideals that originally drove you are so betrayed that you lose there too—even if your candidate should win!
We need a different scenario. We need one where people DO dare to confront the reality and DO dare to bring about the only thing that can deal with this incredibly heavy situation—the building of the kind of movement described above. There ARE millions and tens of millions; the response to the global warming movie shows a slice of that potential, and provides a real opportunity to jump into the discussion and push it higher and further. Such a movement, coming from “below,” creates a whole different dynamic and sets whole new terms of debate; this happened in the recent past with the Black liberation movement and other minority movements, with the struggle for women’s emancipation, and with the struggle against the Vietnam War back in the 1960s. For example, the terms of debate very broadly in society went from “should Black people be allowed to integrate,” to what would it really take to do away with Black oppression—and this was entirely due to the profound emancipatory push for freedom coming from the Black masses and those who sympathized with them throughout society, and NOT due to the politicians who found themselves forced to scramble to catch up to, intercept, and misdirect the movement.
And while not its aim or purpose per se, part of what such a mass movement would do would be to force the ruling class politicians to respond to its terms, it would open up divisions at the top and in so doing create even more opportunities for mass political action from below. It is only through that dynamic that the Bush regime can be stopped—and the whole direction that it has pushed in can be radically reversed.
Anything less is a betrayal of the planet, and the people on it.
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
The Kyoto Protocol calls for the industrialized countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012. The U.S., of course—the largest producer of greenhouse gases, producing 20% of the world’s total—isn’t even part of it.
There seem to be two main problems with Kyoto.
1) Even if successful it is nowhere near what’s really necessary to significantly alter and turn around the growing danger of global warming. According to Greenpeace, the greenhouse gases already pumped into the atmosphere mean that a 2.2-4 degree F temperature rise is already unavoidable. Gases cause effects over decades, highlighting the need for massive cuts and quickly (which Kyoto doesn’t do).
To get a basic sense of the kind of emissions cuts that are required—a statement by the Union of Concerned Scientists says, “To have a fighting chance to keep global warming within safe levels, countries like the U.S. must reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050—and we must begin to make those reductions right away.” Instead, by 2003, U.S. carbon emissions had climbed 18% over 1990 levels—despite pledges made by Clinton (while Gore was vice president) in the 1990s to cut emissions. This is being exacerbated by the Bush regime. The Energy Information Administrations International Energy Outlook 2002 projected U.S. emissions will grow by 33-46% over next two decades.
2) It’s very questionable whether Kyoto will succeed in cutting emissions 5.2% or even that emissions (by the ratifiers) won’t actually increase. Kyoto relies on a carbon emissions trading scheme—whereby big producers of greenhouse gases can buy “credits” so they don’t have to themselves reduce emissions, by paying for other companies or countries to reduce emissions through technology upgrades (for instance from burning coal to burning natural gas), by funding “carbon capture” projects, etc.
The notion that this type of profit-driven scheme (as opposed to what’s needed—massive changes to reduce overall burning of fossil fuels, mobilizing the masses to carry out technology shifts that aren’t predicated on producing profit, infrastructural revolutions, etc.) will actually succeed seems very unlikely.
And meanwhile, whether countries will even bother to try to meet goals isn’t clear. For instance, according to a BBC news article, Canada has no clear plan for reaching its emissions cuts, which have increased 20% since 1990. There is also speculation that especially without U.S. participation, but maybe anyway, the whole scheme could fall apart—or at least not be extended after 2012.
From A World to Win News Service
July 3 2006. A World to Win News Service. Ten months after evacuating the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army is back. Their message is: submit or die.
Their chief moves have been directed at the civilian population. In the first of nightly raids, Israeli aircraft destroyed Gaza’s only power plant. A week later, while all six transformers were still smouldering, they bombed the access roads, so that there is no chance of repairs for months to come. This leaves half of Gaza’s 1.4 million people without electricity. The other half are dependent on power from Israel. No electricity means water cannot be pumped or purified. Pumps are essential because the water tables are already low, in part because of the lavish use of water by Israeli settlers over decades. Without electricity, sewage can’t be pumped either. There is a grave danger of epidemic diseases.
The Israeli army has also alternated between completely blockading and tightly restricting the flow of food, cooking gas and other supplies into Gaza. The point is to make it unmistakably clear to Palestinians that Israel holds the Strip’s lifelines in its hands—and can squeeze.
In the first hours of the offensive, Israeli jets also pounded key bridges, leaving north-south highways impassable. Every night fighters repeatedly flew low over populated areas at supersonic speed so that the explosive noise would shatter windows, sleep and nerves. Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets warning Gaza residents that their life will be in danger if and when massed Israeli ground troops move into the north. In another aspect of this terror campaign, Israeli commandos, sometimes disguised as Palestinian fighters, snuck into northern Gaza at night and rounded up families at gunpoint to drive them out. Perhaps Israel is preparing to declare the border area a free-fire zone.
Where are the people supposed to go? They are prisoners, surrounded by Israel, the sea, and a wall behind which lies a US-controlled Egypt. They can’t even take refuge with their families in the West Bank, which Israel has completely cut off from Gaza.
Collective punishment of the population and attacking facilities indispensable for the survival of civilians are explicitly forbidden by the Geneva Conventions (the 1977 Additional Protocol 1). So is the use of “disproportionate force” that may harm civilians and has no military purpose. This means that legally the Israeli government and armed forces leaders are committing war crimes for which they could be tried in an international court. But George Bush’s spokesman declared, “Israel has the right to defend itself and its citizens.” The European Union took the same stand.
“Defend itself” against what? Against the capture of a single soldier? Not even much of the Israeli press believes that. Israel has broad political goals for which the grabbing of Israeli army corporal Gilad Shalit is simply a pretext.
Israel’s declared target is the Palestinian organization Hamas that has run the Palestinian Authority government since the elections last January. Israel held all of Hamas responsible when Palestinian fighters tunnelled into Israel, hit an outpost and captured the soldier 25 June, offering to free him in return for the freedom of Palestinian women and children prisoners. In retaliation, Israeli troops in the West Bank grabbed the deputy prime minister and 63 other Palestinian cabinet officials and members of parliament. The Israeli government hypocritically proclaims that the issue is “kidnapping” and “extortion,” but it is holding hostages itself. “They want the prisoners released?” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly exclaimed to a closed cabinet meeting. “We’ll release these detainees [the Hamas officials] in exchange for Shalit.” (Haaretz, 30 June). When Israeli missiles set fire to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya’s Gaza offices, Israeli officials said this was meant to underscore that they can assassinate Haniya and other Hamas leaders whenever they decide to do so.
The story Israel would like the world to believe began with the snatching of Corporal Shalit goes back much further. Even the immediate political situation can’t be understood without going back at least a few weeks. How can anyone with a heart forget the slaughter of the seven members of the Gahlia family by an Israeli artillery shell on Beith Lahia beach 8 June? Four days later, as the world still cringed at a photo showing a little girl screaming at the sight of the torn corpses of her whole family, Israel killed at least seven more civilians, including two children, in a pair of staggered missile strikes in the crowded Zeitoun district of Gaza City. Three of the dead were medical workers who rushed to help after the first explosion. On 20 June, another Israeli missile on a refugee camp killed three children, ages 5, 6 and 16.
In the space of a few months, Israel fired 6,000 artillery shells and many missiles on Gaza, killing some 50 people and injuring 200 more. This was said to be in response to the firing of about 140 homemade rockets from Gaza at the Israeli border city of Sderot—with no causalities. The Palestinian Islamic forces have no strategy or vision of defeating Israel militarily. When they use violence, their goal is to pressure Israel to accept their demands. Israel’s violence also serves political goals. They want to show that when it comes to pressure, violent or otherwise, only they can win.
After these three massacres in June, perhaps Hamas felt that that it could not continue to enjoy much popular support without a gesture of military resistance. But Israel’s attitude is like that of any prison administration: no matter what the provocation, prisoners have no right to raise their hands against their jailers. In more concrete terms, any Palestinians who want to come to terms with Israel have to do more than accept what Hamas likes to call “reality”—Israeli (and ultimately US) power. They have to accept Israel politically and ideologically, to not just objectively act but talk and think like subjugated people. They have to give up even any pretence of clinging to the ideal of Palestinian liberation.
The fact is that for years Israel (and the US) built up the leadership of Hamas. Following the 1973 war, when Israel took over the Gaza Strip, they released future Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who had been imprisoned by the Egyptian government that had run the Strip. For years Israel financed the Islamic movement to counter Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. In his book Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan Books, 2005), Robert Dreyfuss quotes a senior CIA analyst: “We saw Israel cultivate Islam as a counterweight to Palestinian nationalism.” As for Israeli claims that it does not “negotiate with terrorists,” this is simply not true. To cite just one example, in 1992, having once again arrested Yassin, they freed him in exchange for two Israeli agents caught in Lebanon. As much as Israel may hate people like Yassin—later they assassinated him—the Islamic forces are an enemy Israel welcomes. Not only do the Zionists and Islamic fundamentalists resemble each other in terms of their religious ideology and “identity politics”; but also Israel fears them less than secular forces.
As they were building up Hamas, Israel—also with the help and approval of the US—did everything they could to tear down Arafat and the secular PLO. Although initially more radical, Arafat and the PLO eventually signed a treaty accepting the existence of Israel and the “Roadmap” plan proposed by the US, Europe and Russia for a Palestinian mini-state side by side with Israel. Nevertheless, Israeli troops kept Arafat a prisoner in his compound in the West Bank for the last two and a half years of his life. Israel also refused to negotiate with his successor Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO government he led. The PLO, they claimed, was neither a “peace partner” nor a real representative of the Palestinian people. Then, when Palestinians discarded the discredited PLO government and elected Hamas, Israel and the US suddenly found Abbas useful, and encouraged the PLO to grab power, even through civil war. They also shut down almost all funds going into the West Bank and especially Gaza in an effort to let the Palestinian people know who was really in control.
So much for the “democracy” the US and Israel claim to uphold.
Like the PLO, Hamas has also sought to come to an accommodation with Israel. It instituted a unilateral cease-fire even before it was elected to run the Palestinian Authority. Its leadership repeatedly announced their willingness to declare a “temporary” 60-year truce and accept the existence of the Zionist state for the practical future. Its representatives signed the so-called Prisoners’ Document issued by members of all the Palestinian organizations in Israeli jails, where more than 9,000 are being held captive. The document calls for a Palestinian state within the borders established by Israel’s 1967 war of conquest, implicitly giving up the demand for Palestinians to get back all of Palestine. It provides for the entry of Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO, whose charter officially recognizes the state of Israel (the PLO is a coalition whose leading organization is Arafat’s Fatah). It also calls for the formation of a national unity government including both Hamas and Fatah, an end to attacks on Israel and to the fighting between Palestinian organizations.
Although this document was signed 18 May by the prisoners, the Hamas government itself did not formally accept it until just after the Israeli corporal’s capture—and just after Israel’s move against Gaza.
Some analysts speculate that forces in Hamas opposed to the agreement were behind the cross-border Palestinian military operation in order to sabotage it. But it’s hard to believe that anyone could predict in advance that the Israel troops would be caught off guard and one captured. It seems reasonable to speculate that the Hamas leadership, knowing that it was about to sign an agreement that many Palestinians would consider an historic back-off or even a betrayal, decided to precede it with a military action that would enable it to keep its militant reputation and its head high—to assert that its capitulation to Israel was from a position of strength. In that sense, the conflict has as much to do with the tone as the terms of a compromise between Israel and the Palestinian government.
Actually, it seems that Hamas was quite consciously agreeing to implicitly accept the Roadmap that Israel claimed to accept itself. But there are two very related problems with that.
First, Israel has no intention of withdrawing to its pre-1967 borders, as the Roadmap calls for. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is continuing his predecessor Ariel Sharon’s policy of consolidating Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Instead of giving them up, Israel plans to annex them. They are to form two fists thrusting deep into the West Bank, dividing it into three parts. The purpose is to make sure that even this small part of the original Palestine never become a geographically, economically and politically integrated entity. This also means keeping all of Jerusalem and driving out non-Jewish inhabitants. Making Jerusalem a Jewish city after thousands of years is a central ideological goal of Zionism.
In terms of the Roadmap, it is true that Israel withdrew its small settlements from Gaza. But for the Zionists, the Strip’s main importance is as a place to keep Palestinians who used to live in what is now Israel. It is simply a long, thin desert detention camp. Its residents have little way to earn a living and literally no way out. (Average annual income is $600 a year, half of that in the West Bank and 40 times less than in Israel.) The often highly ideologically-motivated Israeli settlers withdrawn from Gaza were needed to build up the Israeli population, armed strength and Zionist spirit in the West Bank.
Second, Israel has no intention of letting the Palestinians keep their self-respect. They might be able to live with the Hamas government, just as they had no strategic problem with the PLO in its last years, in terms of what agreements might be made. But what they don’t like now is the Hamas attitude—the Hamas leadership’s declarations that they can accept Israel as “a fact” without giving it their “approval.” More than that, the deeper target is the attitude of the people themselves, which Hamas tries to appeal to. The Palestinian people, no matter how often kicked and scorned, have refused to give up their dignity and their resistance. Israel won’t tolerate even those forces who talk too much about resistance.
Israel’s attack on Gaza has a political purpose: to impose a “peace” on the Palestinians that suits Zionist interests, to bend or break Palestinian organizations and above all to humiliate the people so that they will accept whatever Israel offers them—on Israel’s terms and no other.
The greatest danger to the Zionist project would come from revolutionary forces who recognize and base their strategy on the link between the interests of the Palestinians and those of the people of the world and world revolution. Once again Israel is proving that no matter how difficult it may be for the Palestinians to continue struggling for their rights as a people, which means the eventual replacement of Israel with a multi-national, secular state, any other road is definitely an illusion.
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
Seymour Hersh On Iran:
Seymour Hersh has written another revealing article (“Last Stand—The military’s problem with the President’s Iran policy,” The New Yorker, July 10, 2006) based on inside sources, detailing a fierce debate between elements of the U.S. military and the core of the Bush regime (Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld in particular) over plans for attacking Iran, including whether to use nuclear weapons.
“There is a war about the war going on inside the building,” one Pentagon consultant told Hersh. “Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President’s plans,” Hersh reports. “The generals and admirals .... have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States.” On Democracy Now (July 6), Hersh added, “Here, you have a military man warning the White House about the political economic consequences of bombing Iran. This is not something that happens every day.”
This clash within the ruling class is not over the unjustness of their overarching goals of regional and global hegemony; it is over how to best advance those objectives. It reveals both the seriousness and immediacy of U.S. military planning against Iran (and the Bush regime’s lies and hypocrisy about its objectives), and most significantly the enormity of the stakes for the U.S. rulers and the unpredictable consequences of a military assault—for the U.S. rulers themselves. The horrendous murder and devastation which would be inflicted on Iranians is not, tellingly, at the heart of this debate. This latest internecine battle is an example of how many different contradictions are sharpening as the Bush juggernaut rolls—or attempts to roll—forward, and the potential for many more to erupt in unexpected ways in the not-distant future.
Hersh Confirms Bush Lies and War Plans
Hersh’s reporting confirms, from new angles, that the Bush regime’s claim that Iran could soon be a nuclear menace and that Bush and company are trying to prevent this through diplomacy—is a lie.
For starters, Hersh’s military sources admit the U.S. has no proof whatsoever that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. On Democracy Now, Hersh summed up, “The intelligence services of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and even Israel, have been unable to come up with any specific evidence of what’s known as a parallel or secret weapons program inside Iran.” Hersh reports in The New Yorker that a former senior intelligence official bluntly said, “People in the Pentagon were asking, ‘What’s the evidence? We’ve got a million tentacles out there, overt and covert, and these guys’—the Iranians—‘have been working on this for eighteen years, and we have nothing? We’re coming up with jack shit.’”
Second, the U.S. negotiating posture is not designed to resolve Iran’s nuclear status without war; it is designed to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and prepare the ground for possible military strikes in the service of the Bush goal of a regime change. The deal presented to Tehran on June 6 by the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China offered various incentives and multilateral talks in exchange for Iran temporarily halting its nuclear enrichment program and allowing international inspections. Bush threatened, "If Iran's leaders reject our offer, it will result in action before the (UN) Security Council, further isolation from the world, and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions.”
As Hersh notes in The New Yorker, "Iran...was being asked to concede the main point of the negotiations [i.e., whether it has the right to enrich uranium to produce nuclear power] before they started," as well as effectively acknowledge that it had been doing something wrong, even though there is no evidence that Iran has violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. And the U.S. has pointedly refused to discuss Iran’s main concern: a “security” agreement that the U.S. would not seek to overthrow the Islamic Republic. If Bush’s main concern is really Iran’s nuclear program, why isn't the U.S. negotiating controls on it in exchange for a non-aggression pact?
The U.S. and its allies arrogantly demanded that Iran give an answer by July 12. Iran’s leadership has called for "a just and equal dialogue with no preconditions,” and said it needed until late August in order to conduct a “comprehensive and accurate study of the package,” at which time it would make a counter-offer.
The Bush regime’s gangster intent is clear: its arbitrary deadline is aimed at creating a crisis atmosphere and accelerating its offensive; then if Iran refuses the U.S. offer, Bush can claim that Iran has something to hide and isn’t negotiating in good faith, therefore tougher action is needed, perhaps beginning with sanctions, but possibly quickly leading to military attacks.
All this is being driven, not by an immediate concern over Iran’s nuclear program (Iran is at least 10 years away from being able to build a nuclear weapon), but by the Bush regime’s goal of gaining radically greater control of the Middle East as a crucial step in its overarching agenda of unchallenged and unchallengeable global hegemony. A U.S. stranglehold on the Middle East is inconceivable without firm control of Iran – because of its size, strategic location, regional influence, and because it has the world’s second-largest proven reserves of conventional crude oil and the second-largest reserves of natural gas. Thus, the U.S. goal remains regime change—whether through war or a U.S.-sparked internal upheaval or collapse.
While diplomacy goes on publicly, U.S. military preparations are secretly accelerating. Hersh reports in The New Yorker that “the U.S. Strategic Command…has been drawing up plans, at the President’s direction, for a major bombing campaign in Iran,” including air strikes of “overwhelming force,” possibly against 1,000 targets. According to one think tank study (cited in “Under the Olive Trees—Waiting for the war in Iran,” Harpers, July 2006), the air assault could range from hitting Iran’s nuclear sites and air defense, to more extensive strikes at its military infrastructure and bases, to massive destruction of its civilian infrastructure, an assault which could “cripple Iran’s ability to function as a nation.”
The Cauldron of Contradictions and the Worried Generals
The Bush administration's very efforts to push forward its sweeping, unprecedented global agenda, and its attempts to bully and bludgeon all in its path, both achieve certain results (such as the fall of Iraq's Hussein regime), but also call forth a host of new problems and difficulties—contradictions—at the same time. The result is a roiling cauldron of contradictions, any number of which could spin off in unexpected directions with unintended consequences, which in turn could explode events beyond the Bush regime's ability to control them, and perhaps even lead to the unraveling of its main strategic objectives.
The worries expressed by Pentagon insiders reflect the intensification of this “cauldron of contradictions,” and their sense that things could indeed “get out of their control.” The brass interviewed by Hersh weren’t upset about the horrific toll any U.S. attack would take on the people of Iran (or that it would constitute a war crime); they were worried that it wouldn’t work, and/or could backfire.
Officials Hersh talked to were concerned that “the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran’s nuclear program,” that the “target array” is huge, but it’s amorphous,” that unlike Iraq, Iran is not largely flat and its geography would “complicate an air war,” and that the Navy could not take out the “more than seven hundred undeclared dock and port facilities [Iran has] along its Persian Gulf coast,” which could be used to mount attacks on shipping.
Then, what about Iran’s response, in Iraq and the region? “What if one hundred thousand Iranian volunteers came across the border?” one retired Army Major General William Nash asked Hersh. Hersh adds (Democracy Now), “All of the oil and gas production facilities in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar…[are] unprotected. Iran could simply lob a few missiles into some of those facilities and cause horrific consequences for us. We would go dark… Gasoline would go up to enormous prices.”
Then there are political consequences. Maj. Gen. Nash told Hersh that an American bombing “would be seen not only as an attack on Shiites but as an attack on all Muslims. Throughout the Middle East, it would likely be seen as another example of American imperialism. It would probably cause the war to spread.”
Other bourgeois analysts have raised a variety of other concerns, including that any attack could strengthen Iran’s clerics (as was the case in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war), at a time when they’re widely hated; that Russia will end up being the main beneficiary of U.S. moves; or that the current U.S. coalition against Iran will collapse. Chillingly, one study by Britain’s Oxford Research Group predicted that “a military operation against Iran would not, therefore, be a short-term matter but would set in motion a complex and long-lasting confrontation.” (Harpers, July 2006)
The Bush Regime’s Answer and the Nuclear Option
This Bush regime is not unaware of these various concerns. But its view is that delay and equivocation will only make matters worse and give openings to the U.S.’s regional and global rivals, and that it could lose the whole game if it doesn’t maintain the momentum in the so-called “war on terror,” and aggressively move forward.
This spring, UN Ambassador John Bolton declared (in clear reference to military attacks possibly including nuclear weapons), “The longer we wait to confront the threat Iran poses, the harder and more intractable it will become to solve… We must be prepared to rely on comprehensive solutions and use all the tools at our disposal to stop the threat that the Iranian regime poses.” (Cited in AWTW News Service, “Iran—the threat of another war, part 4: The US plan and its contradictions,” 19 June 2006).
Overall the orientation of the hardcore at the center of U.S. power is to push ahead, more aggressively and viciously if need be. A consultant with ties in the Pentagon told Hersh, “Rumsfeld and Cheney are the pushers on [attacking Iran]—they don’t want to repeat the mistake of doing too little. The lesson they took from Iraq is that there should have been more troops on the ground,” which Hersh calls an impossibility in Iran due to the over-extension of U.S. forces in Iraq, “so the air war in Iran will be one of overwhelming force.” (The New Yorker)
This is not to say they are incapable of making tactical adjustments, as they have in their recent diplomatic offensive and, according to Hersh, in taking the nuclear option off the table (at least for now). Hersh reports, “In late April, the military leadership, headed by General Pace, achieved a major victory when the White House dropped its insistence that the plan for a bombing campaign include the possible use of a nuclear device to destroy Iran’s uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz.” According to Hersh, the nuclear option was “politically untenable,” including because it would “vent fatal radiation for miles,” and provoke an international “outcry over what would be the first use of a nuclear weapon in a conflict since Nagasaki.” (The New Yorker)
But several points need to be made about this apparent turn of events. First, it shows that the nuclear option was indeed on the table: “Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning,” a former senior intelligence official told Hersh.
Second, the Air Force’s response was not to back off of the objective of destroying Iran’s Nantz facility; according to Hersh it “came up with a new bombing plan, using advanced guidance systems to deliver a series of large bunker-busters—conventional bombs filled with high explosives—on the same target, in swift succession. The Air Force argued that the impact would generate sufficient concussive force to accomplish what a tactical nuclear warhead would achieve…”
Finally, the nuclear option is, strategically, still on the table. As an article on Antiwar.com (“Nuking Iran Is Not Off the Table” by Jorge Hirsch, July 6, 2006) notes, “The president has not publicly taken it off, after confirming on April 18 that it is among the options being considered.” More importantly, “According to the Nuclear Posture Review of 2001, nuclear weapons are envisioned in response to ‘surprising military developments.’” And the concerns the generals raised to Hersh would certainly constitute “surprising military developments.”
Drive Out the Bush Regime
This situation is developing rapidly, and it’s not yet clear exactly how it will unfold. Iran has not, so far, officially answered Bush’s proposal. Its rulers understand that the U.S. has great military superiority and at this point, there are indications that the mullahs would rather cut a deal than have a head-on confrontation. But they also understand that they could lose everything if they cave in—either as a result of a military attack or internal political collapse and/or upheaval. So they may be forced to stand up to the Bush regime in some fashion.
What is clear is that Bush and his regime are hell-bent on global domination by any means necessary, no matter what people want. Hersh’s article sheds light on this, as well as the fact that there’s currently no coherent force in the U.S. ruling class capable of stopping the Bush hardcore.
Hersh reports that “several current and former officials I spoke to expressed doubt that President Bush would settle for a negotiated resolution,” and that Bush is contemptuous of opinion polls. “My friends increasingly see [Bush] as messianic, in terms of his desire, at some point, to do something about Iran.” (Democracy Now)
In The New Yorker article, Hersh quotes a Pentagon consultant saying that Vice President Cheney “is not a renegade. He represents the conventional wisdom in all of this. He appeals to the strategic-bombing lobby in the Air Force—who think that carpet bombing is the solution to all problems,” and that he operates in near-total secrecy.
The Democrats appear nowhere in Hersh’s article, even in terms of joining in the military’s objections to Bush’s plans on a tactical level. And Hersh himself feels the coming mid-term elections will have little if any impact on U.S. war planning: “If you ask me what I really think, the time to be frightened is when [Bush is] a lame duck after the November elections, whether the Democrats grab the House or Senate or not.” (Democracy Now)
Isn’t all this yet further proof that nothing good will come from the current situation unless and until people understand that there will be no ruling class saviors, and that it’s on all of us to take responsibility to drive the Bush regime from power, whatever the hardship and sacrifice involved? The hour is very, very late.
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
|Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953),
Black And Tanned Your Whipped Wind of Change Howled
Low Blowing Itself-Ha-Smack into the Middle of
Ellington's Orchestra Billie Heard It Too & Cried
Strange Fruit Tears , 1995-96,
Color coupler print with sandblasted text on frame
Collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, Image courtesy Solomon Fine Art.
The “peculiar institution.” This smugly ironic term has long been used to describe that chapter of the “American pageant” marked by people actually owning and enslaving tens of millions of other human beings.
How thoroughly did the barbarous American system of slavery shape every aspect of the history and consciousness of this country, from the earliest years right up to today? Check out some scorching evidence currently on-view at an art exhibition at the New York Historical Society Museum: LEGACIES: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery.
The neck. Kerry James Marshall’s three bright white canvases (Heirlooms and Accessories) showcase massive and gaudily grotesque necklaces with hanging lockets featuring grainy photos of white women staring out lovelessly. Weird. Slowly, the ghosted background comes into focus: it is the infamous photo of an Indiana lynching. Two Black men hang by their necks from trees. The women are part of the mob.
A few feet away in the museum another necklace is on display—this one listed as a “slave collar.” Engraved in wedding script on a small silver plaque located right under the chin is “J. Davis No. 101”—the name is that of the wearer’s owner. The item is part of a complex installation (Liberté/Liberty) which features two plaster-white busts of George Washington; on their backsides hang rusted-out slave leg chains and “shackles worn by a Georgia slave.” A bust of Napoleon gets paired with a portrait of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of a slave revolt that drove out the French colonialists in Haiti. Standing before the assemblage is a wooden tobacco store statue of a Black man, holding in his hand the crimson “Phrygian” or “Liberty Cap,” first worn by emancipated slaves in ancient Rome. The artist, Fred Wilson, is famous for “mining” museums and re-assembling objects to reveal the actual social relations routinely obscured in the falsified history told by the exploiting class.
On one wall, mirror-image indigo-blue photographs of two unconquered African women in their own stunning necklaces and headdresses are looking at each other, seemingly from across oceans. Emblazoned towards the bottom of the two photos: “FROM HERE I SAW WHAT HAPPENED…AND I CRIED.” This piece by Carrie Mae Weems has haunted me for years. You can never un-know what you learn here about what the institution of slavery in the “New World” meant for those in Africa whose husbands and wives and children were ripped away.
Between the two women, Weems has placed a red and black duotone version of the well-known U.S. War Department photo of “freed slave Peter” entitled “Overseer Artayou Carrier whipped me.” Capturing the dialectic of this cruel history with precision and poetry, the artist prints across Peter’s lacerated back the legend: “BLACK AND TANNED YOUR WHIPPED WIND OF CHANGE HOWLED LOW BLOWING ITSELF—HA—SMACK INTO THE MIDDLE OF ELLINGTON’S ORCHESTRA BILLIE HEARD IT TOO & CRIED STRANGE FRUIT TEARS.”
The hands. How would it actually feel to grow up with the certain knowledge that you—and every female relative and friend—is subject to rape by any white man, or boy, who decides to afford himself that inalienable “right”? Ten minutes standing in front of the video at the center of the Mammy/Daddy installation, created by Jacqueline Terry and Brad McCallum, opens a portal to this unimaginably toxic place. Picture this: A dark, high-ceilinged ballroom, dramatically lit by the moon. Two people, one a nattily dressed white planter, the other a Black woman slave, are harnessed, back to back and head to feet, onto a rotating contraption spinning them round and round, Ferris-wheel-like. As the man emerges upright, cutting the air with an imperious hand gesture, the woman is thrust upside down. When the woman rotates into view, a look of defiant anguish on her face, her hands clutch her face and belly, then reach up as if to fly or swim her way out. Never happens. Next scene is a close-up of white hands grabbing her torso as the languorous music flows on in tempo with the endlessly revolving machine. In the background, an occasional thunderclap erupts, or a man’s cackle. Turning away, one confronts a disturbing set of objects: the actual garments, hers and his, white and black, laid out in a long glass vitrine, feet to feet. A blood-red mound of silk billows between them. Hovering above are life-sized casts—in color—of the owner and slave.
The torment awaiting runaway slaves fills one entire room in the exhibition. In The Loophole of Retreat, Ellen Driscoll dangles a line of rotting white pillars, sinister replicas from a planter’s mansion. They hang along one side of a rough-hewn wooden space-capsule-like shelter. Walk inside and shut the door and you find yourself in a pitch-black cavern, a simulation of the claustrophobic attic space in North Carolina inhabited for seven years by Harriet Jacobs, a runaway slave escaping a sexually marauding slave master. As the eyes adjust, a slow stream of images (a window casing, a child’s hand…) appear on a floating circular disc—projections from revolving objects hung above this structure which turns out to be a gigantic camera obscura, the beam of light the only lifeline to the world outside. Harriet eventually made it to the north and survived to tell her story in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
Resistance runs through LEGACIES—manifested in the courageous and unpredictable ways enslaved people fought to get free and claim their humanity. It is worth a visit to the exhibition just to stand before Faith Ringgold’s Slave Rape Story Quilt, a patchwork of brilliantly colored batik surrounding a stark drawing of bodies and bones and a hand-written chronicle of a girl-baby, Beata, born on the deck of a slave ship who lives on to defy her captors.
Lorenzo Pace’s minefield-garden of memories (hemmed in by a white picket fence) is conceived around the original iron padlock and key which at one time shackled his great-grandfather, Steve Pace. Nothing can prepare you to look upon this ominous piece of hardware worn by an actual person whose family you have come to know. The lock and key, which the artist inherited from his uncle, are also the inspiration for Pace’s mammoth black stone monument commemorating slaves in America (Triumph of the Human Spirit) that was erected a few years ago in lower Manhattan near the recently unearthed African Burial Ground.
One notable piece in the show (Leader) by Betye Saar takes you from slave days right into the future. On a vintage washboard (actual brand name: “Leader”), the artist attaches a painted metal “Mammy” figure, on whose long white apron is written: “Oh these cold white hands manipulating they broke us like limbs from trees and carved Europe upon our African masks and made puppets.” (Henry Dumas)
Largely the work of Black artists, the exhibition (which runs through January 2007 and may travel to other cities) was curated by Lowery Stokes Sims of the Studio Museum of Harlem. This is the Historical Society’s first-ever contemporary art show, and it is a brave one. New York Times critic Holland Cotter wrote in his favorable review: “American slavery—what it did, what it is still doing—remains an incendiary topic…[and this show] keeps you looking, thinking and rethinking.”
LEGACIES connects with two earlier shows organized by the New-York Historical Society: Slavery in New York, and Civil Wars: New York and Slavery 1815-1870. The shocking “postcard show,” Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, was also exhibited at this museum a few years ago.
In 1867, Marx sardonically remarked in Capital: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.”
This significant art exhibition looks at a piece of this history, refracted through the eyes of artists who dare to depict, in excruciating and unforgettable ways, this cold truth: slavery lies at the center of what America was—and is today. As someone wrote in the museum visitor’s book on July 4, 2006: “Slavery was the basis of the building of America… Let this be taught as it was…”
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
Or Further Thoughts on “What to the Slave Is Your Fourth of July”
Think this country was founded on “freedom and justice for all,” or anything like that? Check out Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution, by Alfred W. Blumrosen and Ruth G. Blumrosen. This book makes a compelling argument that the moves to independence by the colonies that ultimately formed the United States of America were in principal part led by the landed aristocracy of Virginia, motivated by an important court ruling in England in June 1772 that threatened their whole slave set-up. That decision, along with laws passed by the British Parliament in 1766 stating that it had an unabridged right to be the ultimate decider of the colonials’ fate (including their rights to slave ownership), impelled the elite of Virginia to call for the formation of intercolonnial committees of correspondence in early 1773, and then to propose the First Continental Congress a year later in the face of further hostile moves by England.
As Slave Nation points out, it was at this Congress that the key agreement among colonial leaders in preparation for a united resistance to English rule was negotiated with John Adams—that of preserving and protecting chattel slavery. Adams then went on to bury various bills in the Massachusetts legislature that would have abolished slavery in his state. This agreement solidified the colonials into organized, collective opposition and ultimately made the revolution of 1776 possible. An anti-colonial struggle it was. But Slave Nation makes the point:“The agreement to preserve slavery in the colonies, negotiated at the First Continental Congress in 1774 with John Adams, was kept in the Declaration of Independence. Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, reviewing the history of slavery in Virginia and several other states, concluded: ‘From the perspective of the black masses, the Revolution merely assured the plantation owners of their right to continue the legal tyranny of slavery.’”
The central role of preserving slavery in the U.S. war of independence from England sheds light on why four out of the first five Presidents of this “homeland of freedom and democracy”—Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe—were from Virginia, and were all slave owners. The phrasing of the Declaration of Independence itself was deliberately left vague—”the pursuit of happiness” was used to signify and at the same time obscure the “right” to hold slaves as property. But as admitted by its participants, the questions that consumed the Constitutional Convention centered on the continuation of slavery.
Slave Nation offers important exposure of the true origins and nature of democracy as it has developed and is understood in the United States.
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
World Can’t Wait
With only three months until the October 5 day of mass resistance, the World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime is going all-out to shake society up this summer, including by launching a national bus tour on July 4 in New Orleans. The schedule of the bus tour is online at worldcantwait.org.
We interviewed several World Can’t Wait organizers who are participating in the bus tour. Here are some excerpts.
Debra Sweet, World Can’t Wait National Coordinator:
Q: The World Can’t Wait Steering Committee’s “Enough Bush Crimes—Bring This to a Halt” statement (6/15/06) identified many outrageous crimes the Bush regime has committed in the last few months. While millions of people hate all this, there’s still too much paralysis. Could you talk about what WCW is doing to transform that, including with the Drive Out the Bush Regime bus tour that was just launched?
Debra Sweet: There is something people can do now to resist these outrages. The point of this Bus Tour is to go to the people to make a public battle over what this society will look like.
Look at just the last six months, the increasing speed of the outrages that you mentioned. And then there is a pattern that has been established where there will be a minute and a half of shock and “outrage” by the Democrats, and then Congress will come together and change the laws to legitimize the very things people were so outraged by. Just last week, after the Supreme Court made their decision against military tribunals conducted by executive order for Guantanamo detainees, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer came out and said, “Had they come to Congress a few years ago on this issue, my guess is they would have gotten most of what they wanted.” This is why the world can’t WAIT and why we must drive out this regime!
We are calling on people to join us on this bus tour! Specifically, come to Mississippi to ride out to meet the anti-abortion theocrats trying to shut down the last abortion clinic there. If you can’t make it, send a message and a financial contribution. Or, get some friends, hop in a car, and be part of the “spin-off” tours that we want to see crop up all across the country. There are outrages and battle lines being drawn all across the country: things like the hearings on immigration, the recent unveiling of a “Statue of Liberty” holding a Bible in Memphis. These things should be countered, and they can be by people everywhere with signs saying, “The World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime. October 5th: Bring this to a HALT!”
Be bold, get in the news. Find people wondering what to do, and challenge those who have been fooled, or think maybe there is nothing that can be done.
Prachi Noor, World Can’t Wait Steering Committee member:
Q: Why, at this moment in history, is World Can’t Wait sending activists to some of the “red states” and other areas in Middle America, as a central part of its summer plans?
Prachi Noor: The bus tour is going to the areas in the so-called red states, areas that the Bush regime calls its own. We are going into these contested areas that are sharp battlegrounds over what society will be like in the future if the agenda of the Bush regime goes unchallenged. These are areas where there is a lot of sentiment against the Bush regime. There are millions in these states that oppose this and they need to know they are not alone. Women’s right to choose, gay rights, the battle over evolution in schools are all issues that fuel and feed the forces that openly dictate directions to the Bush regime. As we speak, whole states are being transformed into theocratic base areas for the extreme right. We will bring with us the analysis that theocracy, unending wars around the world, the repression of science, attacks on women, immigrants and gay people—all of this is part and parcel of the Bush agenda that is a harbinger of fascism. People throughout the country need to understand this and take a side.
Q: Could you share some of the thinking on how the various stops on the tour were decided on?
Prachi Noor: Each stop on the bus tour draws attention to an area where the Bush regime is setting out to remake society. Appropriately, the bus tour began in New Orleans, a city with a rich African-American history, a city that has been left to rot, and plans of privatization are a means for ethnic cleansing and provide a glimpse of the horrific future represented in the Bush program. The horror has not ended. People have been kept from returning to their homes and bodies continue to surface in the 9th Ward. Meanwhile officials like the representative from Baton Rouge, Republican Richard Baker, claim that “God cleaned up” the public housing for them in New Orleans.
The next stop is in Jackson, Mississippi, where Operation Save America, an anti-abortion, anti-Muslim group, is bringing in people across the country to attack the last abortion clinic there. We are working with the National Organization for Women chapter in Jackson, who are calling on people to do week-long actions in the area around the town, so this anti-abortion agenda does not go unopposed.
Some of the stops are also some of our big chapters like Chicago and Minneapolis, where we will have evening events to talk about the experiences of the Bus Tour and build for October 5.
Elaine Brower, a WCW organizer whose son is currently deployed in Iraq, is joining the bus tour at Fort Polk military base in Louisiana July 8-9
Q: Activists going right to military bases with the message that the war in Iraq is wrong is not something you see all that often these days. What compelled you to do this, and to do it as part of the WCW Bus Tour?
Elaine Brower: Back in March I went to 29 Palms Marine Corps base in California, where my son was leaving for Iraq, and I decided then that the antiwar movement needed to reach out to the troops because the polls that were being taken of the troops were saying that 72% of troops wanted to get out [of Iraq] now. The second thing that motivated me was that I lived through the 60s, and there was a lot of troop dissent and I thought, “There’s probably the same thing today, but they’re afraid to express that.” So we protested by 29 Palms and it turned out that it was successful. It was scary at first cause we didn’t know what to expect, but I was willing to take that chance.
Q: Could you paint a picture of the kind of resistance that would be needed in this country in order to actually drive out the Bush regime?
Elaine Brower: Well, my picture is millions of people out on the streets, refusing to work, refusing to shop, refusing to buy into this government. You’re gonna need millions of people finally putting their foot down to say “enough.” Constant struggle in society, not just in New York City, but all over the country. Until you get to the point where there’s societal unrest that interferes with large corporate interests and the government, you’re never gonna have change. If you look back in history, the only thing that has affected was a massive uproar.
Check online at worldcantwait.org for updates and contact information about the WCW bus tour.
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
We can collectively remember watching the news coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Residents stranded on their roofs. Masses of people outside of the Superdome and Convention Center with no food or water and in sweltering heat. People navigating boats through flood waters to rescue their neighbors. While these images may be seared in our collective memory, it is all to easy to forget the pain and suffering of those displaced residents as the cameras move on to the next story. It is for this very reason that we should understand the importance of The World Can’t Wait starting its bus tour in New Orleans.
On July 4th, the Survivor’s Village held a day of unity, protest and a rally that was located right outside of the St. Bernard Housing Development. Many residents are demanding a Right to Return which goes directly against the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which plans to raze not only the St. Bernard development, but the B.W. Cooper, C.J. Peete and Lafitte developments as well. A tent city has been set up directly across the street from the St. Bernard Development. To be more accurate, the tents, set up in the median, have become the Survivor’s Village. The hope and determination of these displaced residents of New Orleans is inspiring while at the same time, the Right to Return struggle remains contentious with the government set out to destroy the same homes that residents are determined to take back…
It has become apparent that New Orleans is being remade into a city where its historic cultural value, heavily influenced by African Americans, will be diminished in favor of a vision set up by those who are in power. There has been a long class struggle taking place in New Orleans, especially around public housing, and class, in this country, often intersects with race. When HUD secretary, Alphonse Jackson, said that, “New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again,” we must understand that these statements are not some Bush regime official flying off the handle, but an admission that shows the direction this regime is hell-bent on taking society.
This is why it is so important that the bus tour started in New Orleans where residents and their supporters are joining together, saying no to demolition, no to racial and class cleansing and demanding that citizens of New Orleans be allowed to return to their homes…
[Read the entire report online at worldcantwait.org]
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
In cities across the U.S., hundreds of thousands of people took part in gay pride parades and festivals in late June. This year's gay pride events took place at a time of an intensifying onslaught of anti-gay vengeance and moves to impose a repressive morality, led from the highest levels of government. In two major speeches, George Bush backed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as “the union of a man and a woman.” The amendment did not move out of the Senate in this round, but for the first time more Senators voted for the amendment than against it, and a key proponent of the amendment declared the vote a “significant milestone” in the anti-gay campaign. All this has unleashed new waves of vicious lies and ugly prejudice from Christian fascist forces. And on July 6, the New York Court of Appeals and the Georgia Supreme Court issued decisions against gay marriage.
An important part of the mix in this year's gay pride events was the participation of World Can't Wait, bringing to the people the message about the urgency of driving out the Bush regime and the call for a day of mass resistance on October 5. A report on the World Can't Wait website from San Francisco said in part:
“SUNDAY JUNE 25TH was the 36th annual LGBT Pride 2006 Parade in San Francisco, said to be the 2nd largest gathering in the US after the Rose Bowl. People come from all over the world to celebrate Pride Day and to see the spectacle—everything from the 500 Dykes on Bikes to gay families with strollers…
“This year the World Can’t Wait had a float. We realized that pictures of torture would not fit in with the party mood. So we went for the theme of Bush and Pat Robertson behind bars, under a sign saying 'The Real Terrorists'… Over the parade route of a mile, the crowd of 500,000-1,000,000 was electrified. Observers reported that many contingents were warmly received with applause, but the waves of rising excitement from the sidewalks as our contingent passed were extra-high and amazing.
“Did I mention we won a Pride parade prize? Well we did!! A rainbow ribbon that said 'Absolutely fabulous theme contingent'…”
The full report from San Francisco and reports from other cities are available online at worldcantwait.org.
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
A major, very serious, and significant right-wing assault has been unleashed against the New York Times, a key pillar of the liberal imperialist establishment, and a frequent critic of Bush Administration policies.
This fascistic firestorm was unleashed after the Times published, against the Bush Administration’s wishes, a June 22 story revealing a secret government program, nicknamed Swift, which gave U.S. officials “access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States.” According to the Times, the Bush administration claimed that the program was limited to “tracing transactions of people suspected of ties to Al Qaeda,” the same claim it made before it was revealed the Bush regime was monitoring tens of millions of U.S. phone calls. As the Times also pointed out, this program, like other Bush spying programs, “doesn’t seem to have any specific Congressional approval or formal authorization.”
President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Republican officials and a whole slew of right-wing pundits have singled out the NY Times for criticism.
Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning called for a treason investigation against The Times. Rightwing radio host Glenn Beck claimed the Times was "fighting for the same thing that al-Qaida wants." Rush Limbaugh proclaimed the Times was "trying to help the jihadists." Newt Gingrich said of the paper, "They hate George W. Bush so much that they would be prepared to cripple America in order to go after the president."
On June 30, the Wall Street Journal editorialized, “On issue after issue, it has become clear that the Times believes the U.S. is not really at war, and in any case the Bush Administration lacks the legitimacy to wage it.” NY Times columnist Frank Rich (“All the News That’s Fit to Bully,” July 9, 2006) reported that California radio talk-show host Melanie Morgan said the Times was guilty of treason and called for its editor, Bill Keller, to be sent to the gas chamber.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman considers this right-wing assault part and parcel of the Bush regime’s drive to crush any and all opposition and create and “authoritarian” state. In “The Treason Card” (July 7, 2006), Krugman wrote:
“Over the last few months a series of revelations have confirmed what should have been obvious a long time ago: the Bush administration and the movement it leads have been engaged in an authoritarian project, an effort to remove all the checks and balances that have heretofore constrained the executive branch.
“Much of this project involves the assertion of unprecedented executive authority—the right to imprison people indefinitely without charges (and torture them if the administration feels like it), the right to wiretap American citizens without court authorization, the right to declare, when signing laws passed by Congress, that the laws don’t really mean what they say.
“But an almost equally important aspect of the project has been the attempt to create a political environment in which nobody dares to criticize the administration or reveal inconvenient facts about its actions. And that attempt has relied, from the beginning, on ascribing treasonous motives to those who refuse to toe the line.”
Krugman notes that the attack on the Times “seems to have startled many people in the news media,” and that “somehow, nobody seems to find calls to send Bill Keller to the gas chamber funny.” He notes growing public anger and distrust of Bush and company, and hopes that “while the White House clearly believes that attacking The Times is a winning political move, it doesn’t have to turn out that way—not if enough people realize what’s at stake.”
Indeed, people should realize the seriousness of what is taking place. As the World Can’t Wait call states: “The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come.”
We must act now. The future is in the balance.
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
Chicago’s South Side
We received this correspondence from a reader.
The other day I was talking with a friend who was telling me how she was deeply moved, even to tears, by the story in Revolution about the Memoir program in Watts: “In the Heart of Watts: Celebration and Reading of Bob Avakian’s Memoir” (Revolution #52). I thought back to May and a program of readings from the Memoir in the heart of Chicago’s South Side. People came away from the program inspired and resonating with the urgency to take every possible opportunity to spread the word about Bob Avakian. This letter is a belated effort to tell a few things about the Chicago event that will add to the Watts story and will encourage further study and thought about all that is in the Watts article.
The venue for the program here was the large Woodson Regional Library, part of the Chicago Public Library system. The library has a distinguished history as a center for Black culture, and is alive with books and people reading books and programs that discuss and debate them.
The Woodson seemed a particularly appropriate setting for readings from a Memoir that tells of this extraordinary journey from mainstream America to revolutionary Communist. This journey is rooted in and attuned to Black history and culture, and expresses a life shaped by a love of books and an unquenchable thirst to know.
There were ten readers: A reverend from the South Side who is a leader in community and educational circles; a former resident of Cabrini Green and present “student of the revolution”; a former member of the Illinois Black Panther Party who discovered the science of Marxism more than 30 years ago; a professor from Morocco; an Iranian activist who had participated in the March 2006 European Great March Against Anti-Women Legislation in Iran; an immigrant from El Salvador; a college student; a young political activist; a social science professor; a follower of Bob Avakian who is a long-time supporter of the RCP and an activist from the South Side.
All these different voices, coming from so many different backgrounds and personal histories, all in their own way reading with great feeling and respect, gave a living expression to what Ben Valentin said at Watts: “Avakian is able to interact with so many different kinds of people without getting hung up in their complexion or their gender or what neighborhood they’re from or what junior high school they are from.”
One reader, Jaafar Aksikas, is a young Moroccan professor of Cultural Studies. He chose to read from the chapter “Building the Party” about the need to continually distinguish different lines and programs, to “draw basic dividing lines, and sharply distinguish what will really lead to revolution from what will lead away from it.” (p. 289)
Aksikas had participated in a previous program but said this experience meant more to him because he had done further studying in the works of the author. But also because he was inspired and taken by Hank Brown’s reading at the end of the program. That there couldn’t be anything more important that your life could be about than contributing to putting an end to this system and the suffering and oppression it embodies and enforces throughout the world. Contributing to this “is the most important and the most uplifting thing you could possible do.” (p. 445)
Abbie Arbus, the college student who read put the experience together this way: “Each of the readers had their own particular and fascinating approach to the book. At the same time, Avakian drew all of us toward a shared view and a yearning for a radically different world.”
Avakian’s internationalism particularly touched Tito, the reader from El Salvador. He read from the section where Avakian goes into exile in France and had to leave family and friends and even his dog. Tito said he could identify because he too had to leave his family and friends and even his bicycle because of the repression in El Salvador.
“We are all human beings,” he said reflecting on the event in a later conversation. “Avakian has in his understanding what is in the interests of humanity as a whole. He looks at the world in its totality. His books need to be spread throughout Central America, especially El Salvador and Nicaragua. We know about Lenin. We know about Mao. But they don’t know about Avakian. He must become visible to them.”
Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
Akil Bomani was, for a certain period of time, part of the Revolutionary Communist Tour as a member of the Chicago Revolutionary Writer's and Artists Collective. However, after a certain point it became clear that Akil Bomani actually has very significant disagreements with the viewpoint and aims of the Tour and of the RCP, and since early October 2005, he has no longer been a part of the Tour and has had no political association with the Tour or with the RCP or Revolution newspaper, nor does the Tour or the RCP have anything to do with any artistic or other endeavors Akil Bomani may have undertaken.