Tag Archives: guardian

Helen Thomas and “the palestinian question”

TW: Holocaust/Shoa, Israeli occupation, Zionism, sexism

I have to be as brief as possible today, so I’ll recommend reading what I’ve already written on how the historically pivotal and intriguing journalist Helen Thomas is being remembered. In a nutshell, the way she created the news seems really inseparable from her gender, in spite of the flurry of obituaries that either don’t discuss her gender at all or do so in comparatively shallow way.

When I say “don’t discuss” it at all, I honestly do mean that. The Guardian’s Dan Kennedy seemed to do so in fascinating oblique way. Among the actually utterly bizarre sections of his piece I could pull out, here’s the two most striking. First, when establishing her as not merely critical of Israel but (as his piece intended to) as antisemitic, Kennedy quotes this confusing mess:

“Her comments – that Jews [specifically modern Jewish settlers] should ‘get the hell out of Palestine’ and ‘go home’ to Poland and Germany – brought Thomas’s 67-year career to an abrupt end. On Monday, she announced her retirement from the Hearst news service amid condemnation from the White House and her fellow reporters. ‘It’s hard to hear the words ‘the Jews of Germany and Poland’ and not think of anything but the millions and millions of Jews who were incarcerated, enslaved, tortured, starved and exterminated in the Holocaust,’ wrote Rachel Sklar at Mediaite, concluding: ‘Which means that, sad as I am, Helen Thomas can no longer be a hero to me.'”

Sklar better explains her point later in that article (most “couldn’t go back to where their families came from in Germany or Poland even if they wanted to, because entire villages were wiped out”), but there really isn’t much of a there there. Of course survivors of the Holocaust have every reason to want to leave Germany and Poland, but it seems a rather difficult length to go to where Thomas was saying they couldn’t leave those countries. Her statement was made within the context of the Israel-backed right of any Jewish settler to any Palestinian land they might want, free of charge, because it’s “theirs”. The need for many Holocaust survivors to leave the cites of that massacre doesn’t give them the right to any property they so choose, and the militant efforts to establish their ability to do so anyway is what has prompted many current residents of the region to tell the settlers to go elsewhere (including to Germany or Poland).

Kennedy shows how he’s willfully ignoring that entire context of forced land redistribution when he closes his article saying, “It would be unkind to suggest that Thomas, who was born in Kentucky, should ‘go home’ to Lebanon, from which her parents immigrated. But it would be in keeping with her own loathsome views.” For one, virtually none of the Holocaust survivors whom he and Sklar pointed to were born in Palestine as Thomas was in Kentucky. What’s more, unless the Thomas’ have an extensive yet well hidden criminal record, they didn’t take their home in Kentucky from a family which had been living there, but purchased one. His entire point collapses under this conflation of the survivors of the Holocaust and any Jewish person who is afforded citizenship rights and certain social privileges by Israel, as well as an astounding romanticization of the settlement process.

The second egregious flaw in Kennedy’s argument is much less illuminating and more utterly baffling. Having cycled through recent Thomas quotes up to the Israeli attack on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip in 2010, he wrote, “to assert, as Thomas did, that Israeli commandos landed on the deck of the Mavi Marmara with the express intent of shedding Muslim blood is to deny Israel’s very legitimacy as a state.” That is then explained as the “subtext” to her and other critics’ response to that action by the Israel Defense Forces. I honestly have no idea how he goes from one action of the state being illegal under international law to Israel itself being vaguely ‘illegitimate’ but it’s quite breathtaking. If that’s how international human rights standards work, then we should all prepare to live in anarchy while nearly every state on the planet is presumably dismantled for ‘illegitimacy’.

The only angle through which I can squeeze some modicum of sense through those statements is that Kennedy (and Michael Hirschorn) honestly believe that the attack on the flotilla was exaggerated or a set-up or some other bizarre conspiratorial situation or account, which was created for the use by the villainous Thomas and her ilk against the good (if perhaps flawed) state of Israel. There’s sadly no charitable way of putting how ludicrous that is, given that it was Israel that put out blatantly false evidence of the “threat” posed by the flotilla.


(This is one of the infamous pictures supposedly taken after raiding the flotilla of their “weapons”, the metadata of which suggested that the photos were taken years prior to the flotilla raid, from here.)

Ultimately, that’s what these issues (of the rights of Palestinians and other gentile groups within Israeli-controlled territory to basic dignity) boil down to. Thomas, although dead, seems to have coaxed Kennedy and those like him into making these same broken arguments, based on falsehoods or strange comparisons, with a fervor that betrays them. Even beyond the grave, she’s getting answers out of people that they don’t want to give.

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Defections don’t always mean the same thing

TW: Syrian civil war, military targeting of civilians

In light of the news of how much of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s cabinet has resigned against the backdrop of a presidential power grab and mass protests, it might be tempting to compare it to another government in the eastern Mediterranean – that of Syria. Much like the government of Egypt, the increasingly impotent Syrian regime has seen quite a few defections as well, which have also been concentrated among executive functionaries.

But unfortunately the comparison more or less ends there.

Time Magazine cover with President Morsi labeled as 'The Most Important Man in the Middle East'
(The most important man in the middle east? He can’t even hold on to a cabinet! From here.)

Al Jazeera’s rather detailed reporting makes a few things immediately clear about the situation in Syria. The majority of defections are not from the presidential cabinet (as Morsi’s government’s have), but from high-ranking military officials, the security establishment, and occasionally the assorted diplomats from Assad’s regime. The defections are just as political as the resignations, but they seem informed by protocol more than policy. In nearly ever public defection, the official declared that they couldn’t abide working for a regime that violently targeted its only civilians preemptively and without qualification. The politically-active intelligentsia have more or less joined the anti-Assad revolution in light of its violations of political standards, rather than in opposition to its conception of government.

In stark contrast, the resignations from Morsi’s government have been primarily the actions of highly visible cabinet members. Likewise, while almost every non-Islamist has left their position, significant numbers of Islamists, particularly from the now defunct al-Nour party, also left. To a certain extent, the growing list of presidential powers has been the same sort of lightning rod for opposition to Morsi, as one al-Nour spokesman made clear in saying, “our programmes and views on managing the state are different”.

There’s something a contrast between former members of the government from Islamist parties who are opposed to Morsi’s police actions and the various other former members who are opposed to the police actions necessitated by almost any Salafist government. One need look no further than the twitter of Ayman al-Sayyad, a former cabinet member who was an independent, who passed along a Guardian article that alleged that the Salafist movements in Egypt, whether aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood or opposed as al-Nour is, pose a threat to democratization of the country. That’s a far cry from the various defections from the Syrian government who have almost categorically stated that the existing regime needs to fall.

In short, Egypt has multiple oppositions that are no less opposed to each other than to Morsi’s government. Syria has a regime so violent that such multiple oppositions have prioritized its replacement over their various and at times violent disagreements. The defections and resignations are just that, in radically different contexts.

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When ‘feminists’ take up the masters’ tools…

TW: cissexism, sexism, suicide

In case you missed the quite heated discussion over, well, the validity of transgender identities in the UK in the past week, and want to understand what set it off better than simply staring at the Guardian’s unconvincing and poorly written apology, Jezebel’s Lindy West has a rather excellent summary of the events leading up to Julie Burchill’s opinion piece rant as well as some of the choicest quotes from it.

West begins with Suzanne Moore’s cissexist comment that women must deal with beauty standards purportedly matched only by “Brazilian transsexuals.” While breaking down the various ways this harms and devalues the lives and experiences of transgender women, her third point seemed particularly insightful, which noted,  “It is extremely othering and exclusionary to hold up trans women as a counterexample to ‘real’ women.”

Part of the horrifying nature of that process is that women themselves are already held up as the counterexample to “real” people, the men, so to be among not only those who are exiled from humanity to some extent, but also be rejected by your fellow women who don’t want to include you within their dehumanized ranks, is a terrible thing to have to face. Which might explain why so many transgender women, even comparatively successful ones, contemplate suicide.


(Lana Wachowski after speaking about her suicide attempt while accepting her Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign, from here.)

Of course, while it’s quite clear how transgender women are being discussed as if unreal in Moore’s and Burchill’s screeds,  it’s something that’s sometimes harder to see how women, both cisgender and transgender, are treated as distractions from what is real. But it’s an argument nearly as embedded in so many statements and actions as the invalidity assigned to trans people. It’s in the fact that killers only have gender if they’re female. It’s even buried in a valid point the Onion recently made about the ironclad focus on wealthy and famous Americans over the realities of those who are neither, which might not occur to you until I ask you to find a woman in the pictures we’re implicitly asked to care about more and a man mentioned in the statements we’re seemingly requested to care about less.

West wisely recognized that the way Burchill and Moore spoke about transgender women was “the kind of language that misogynist trolls use against [all women], to trivialize and derail and silence feminist discourse, every day” but in using it against transgender women, it was the same hostility but “coming from inside the house.” It’s the recreation of the same violence used against them, but redirected towards a specific group of those delegitimized alongside them that conveniently they don’t belong to.

In short, what these statements call into question are Burchill’s and Moore’s ultimate goal. Do they really want a more egalitarian society, or simply one that will stop its hostility against them? The personal may be political, but if your motivations end there, can you really claim to be intending to create equality?

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Greenwald and Hagel

There’s many different critical responses that could be and in some cases have been launched against Glenn Greenwald’s recent article on how former Senator Hagel would be an acceptable Secretary of Defense because he says nice things about Palestinians (never mind doing anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and even if he’s part of the “Washington Consensus” so are all Democrats everywhere. Which is interesting because the evidence for how Hagel’s a part of that Washington Consensus suggests it’s more of a Republican Consensus which he’s been part of. As Greenwald discusses it, the consensus he disagrees with is “America’s posture of endless war and militarism, and ceasing our antagonizing of the entire Muslim world (and large parts of the rest of the world)”.

He ties this repeatedly to the carte blanche often awarded to Israel in wars of aggression with other nations that are predominantly Muslim, implying that Hagel has opposed such things. This of course overlooks Hagel’s controversial support of a 1998 Senate bill which protested UN examinations of violence against Palestinian people experienced with the support or permission of the Israeli state (and referred to such investigations as “inequality” faced by Israel, seriously). If you look at the break down on that controversial bill (which passed by a single vote, say, Hagel’s), it was overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and overwhelmingly opposed by Democrats. Some bipartisan consensus, eh?

And that was the major vote on Israel during Hagel’s tenure – an act of support for precisely what Greenwald is convinced he’s against. This isn’t a single comment about a potential ambassador being “militantly” gay that everyone can pretend wasn’t actually a big deal. This is Hagel’s legislative record that Greenwald has essentially denied as being what it patently is.

Of course, if we look at slightly more recent national security votes instead of those Greenwald purportedly found convincing, you look at early post-9/11 votes on national security issues, there sure does seem to be a bipartisan consensus that civil liberties need to be scaled back to fight the islamist menace and while we’re at it we should just bomb a few countries because we felt like it. “Moderate” Republicans like Hagel, the fire breathers, and Democrats all agreed with one voice to be the horrifying militarists that Gleenwald thinks they still all are.


(Behold the damning vote on our right to invade Afghanistan, as tabulated here.)

Of course, not only was this bipartisan consensus unrelated to Hagel’s apparent exception on Israel that Greenwald’s hallucinated, it didn’t last. Only slightly more than a year later, as the Senate debated showing support for a preemptive invasion of Iraq, the Democrats split and the Republicans forged ahead. The result was the passage of the bill, but with clear Democratic distaste for it:

A few years even later still, the Senate was forced to vote on whether we should explicitly work to avoid using cluster munitions, especially in fighting near urban areas densely populated with civilians. This was clearly of import to how we would wage the war in Iraq which was on-going and growing more heated in many Iraqi cities. It failed but with a significant minority of Democrats (and not a single Republican) supporting it:

One year later than that, the Senate would vote on whether we should begin drawing down troops in Iraq, spurred by the new Democratic majority in the House that it might be possible to end the war by voting in large enough majorities that President Bush wouldn’t or couldn’t veto the bill. They thought they could count on the support of “moderate” Republicans like Hagel. They thought wrong, and the bill failed in the Senate by two votes with clear party preferences on it:

Hagel voted in favor of actually all of the previous bills, except for the more mindful use of cluster munitions, which he voted against. He voted with his party every single time, defining in many of these crucial votes how the US would wage the “War on Terror” both at home and abroad for most of the Bush years. Yes, the Democrats are terrible people that caved in the aftermath of 9/11 and still cave a little too much – but many of them have been voting against the “DC consensus” as Greenwald calls it for years now, but he just knows in his heart of hearts, “they hug policies of militarism far more eagerly and unquestioningly than Chuck Hagel ever would”.

Of course, these comparisons might be groundless since we have many new faces in the legislature and a new president at that. Likewise, Hagel is no longer present to provide a voting record. That being said, the death of the consensus lives on, with the Senate Democrats trying to ban things like indefinite detentions of US citizens, and having a few too many of their party cross over to the other side and a few too few of the “moderate” Republicans come over to theirs. Still, to say there’s no difference means having some strange inability to understand the percentages of support for and against the bill:

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The Rohingya World is on fire too

TW: ethnic cleansing, genocide, nativism, class warfare, erasure

Amy Chua’s World on Fire, first published in 2002, quickly captured the imagination of a wide swathe of the media and has continued to be a subtle force in political analysis since then. From the almost establishment liberal press to the moderate and internationalist conservatives, a consensus emerged that for all its faults, the book was quite an insightful examination of the trials many developing countries faced. With economic globalization, the prior decade had seen something of a race to the bottom as markets “reformed” or “opened” around the world. As post-Cold War democratization began to speed up and seemed poised to accelerate given Bush’s lofty language of a plan to democratize the Middle East, ethnic competition within electoral contexts had increased. Her idea that the class war and ethnic electoral competition in many places could collapse into a single, potentially very violent struggle seemed not particularly unreasonable, even if she presumed a certain model of a given less developed country.

The Guardian hailed that conception of the world’s poorer nations, actually, as it noted-

“Her starting point is that in many developing countries a small – often very small – ethnic minority enjoys hugely disproportionate economic power. As she points out, this is not true in the west: on the contrary, we are accustomed to small ethnic minorities occupying exactly the opposite situation, a very disadvantaged economic position.”

If you accustom yourself with those other countries, primarily defined by what they aren’t (in this case, “Western”), you’ll quickly realize the illusion at play here. The assumption is that demographically large ethnic groups are typically impoverished, which is unsurprising given that we’re talking about less wealthy countries. Likewise, small ethnic minorities may install themselves as a type of local elite, which isn’t terribly surprising given many of the examples Chua turns to are either former colonizers (as the Whites of Latin America and much of Southern Africa are) or colonial-era managerial classes who were empowered by colonial rule. Missing from the mental diagram however are those who are both outnumbered and impoverished. That’s apparently a concern exclusive to the “West”.

Al Jazeera for quite some time has been among the few international news outlets to pay much attention to one particular set of events in Myanmar. As others, including this blog, focused on the geopolitical ramifications of Myanmar’s warming relations with the US and complex relationship with China or the possibility of democratization, Al Jazeera has covered the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority, mainly isolated in the coastal western districts of Myanmar, along its border with Bangladesh. They have been effectively stripped of their legal rights and branded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many were born in Myanmar, and had ancestors living in Myanmar prior to colonization even. Bangladesh similarly denies them citizenship, leaving them essentially a stateless people. Without a political entity to appeal to, they have been recently subject to campaigns of violence, which left many of them homeless, if not injured or killed. A few experts on the issue have started using the word “genocide” as local authorities have started implementing punitive measures for every birth in the community.


(Remains of Rohingya villages burned down during anti-Rohingya riots in October. From here.)

Apparently the struggles of groups like the Rohingya are invisible to Chua’s analysis. They don’t have the demographic numbers to swing a national election in Myanmar, assuming they were even granted suffrage. But that isn’t compensated for the kind of opulence displayed in the mansions that Chua visits through the course of her book. Instead, they have neither political nor economic power, so they apparently don’t even register for her and her many fans. Yet, for the moment at least, they still exist.

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Recommended sources?

One thing I’ve noticed is that not only do I tend to write more about the US (because I live there), but I also tend to cover events or issues in the Middle East and North Africa more frequently than those in other world regions. While I think there’s a lot of different issues driving this, I suspect it’s because many of the news sources I favor focus there. France24 prides itself on excellently covering that neighboring region as well as domestic French issues. Similarly, producing good local coverage is obviously a point of pride for the UAE-based Al Jazeera, the Egypt Independent, the Jerusalem Post and Cairo-based Ahram Online. There’s even a few higher quality partisan media outlets like the unabashedly Israeli Haaretz, the noticeably pro-Saudi Al-Arabiya, and the quite anti-Zionist Israel-based 972 Mag.

The sources I know of are just rarer once you step outside of that corner of the world. For the whole of Latin America, I look to NTN24. For the more than billion people of India, I rely on The Hindu which is not above the occasional bout of navel-gazing. For the entirety of Russia, I read the sometimes dubious Russia Today. Outside of the Middle East and Western Europe, where I can always turn to familiar (but frustrating) standbys like Le Monde, the Guardian, or der Spiegel, those are  the few bright lights in the dark. In the coming weeks I’m going to try and highlight at least a few important events or issues that have happened outside of the US, but not necessarily related to the Middle East (which you’re probably sick of hearing about anyway, with another war breaking out there).

So, if you can help me during my current campaign to broaden my horizons, please do so! Let me know if you know of a great news source for Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, or the rest of Asia (you know, where all those billions of people live?) in the comments. And if you’re just as in the dark on that issue as me, that’s fine – I’ve got a link to share with you. While everyone’s been dropping coverage of Syria’s civil war to focus on Israel and Gaza, Al Jazeera quietly put out an interesting look at the difficult situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

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