international relations, politics

Daily Solution: The UN

Mikhial Slayton has reminded me that it is vital for me to post an actual solution to something every day.

So, here’s one: Help the UN do peacekeeping.

As this article notes, the UN is presently doing massive peacekeeping in Somalia.

That has had a tremendous effect: Mogadishu is seeing actual culture emerge, while violence against children has plummeted.

Yet in this country, the UN is demonized. And, sure, the UN does arguably have some serious operational problems. That sounds like the kind of thing that US military advisers could do something about.

But even US admirals have admitted that the US has itself often made things far worse (as in Somalia) and that “Sometimes in the United States we spend more time beating the United Nations up than we do figuring out how we can influence it and make it a more capable organization”.

Or we could let Russia illegally bomb groups fighting ISIS while giving them free propaganda.

If we improved the situation in the Congo or Somalia, if our forces were leading targeted peacekeeping missions under international auspices led by people from the region who actually knew what was going on, does anyone really believe we’d see more terrorism?


Response to Glenn Beck

(A response to Glenn Beck’s Facebook page:

The fact that these events are what led Glenn Beck to give up, instead of the war in Iraq or mass inequality or police brutality or the Trayvon Martin decision, is pretty illustrative of how much conservatives insist on their exact world and their exact preferences or they will quit and cry. We on the Left have battled for decades, being called Communists and suspected as traitors, and this is what he thinks makes America beyond salvation? What a quitter.

#1 cites one event. To call this an “outlier” would be charitable.

#2 is a deeply partisan and idiotic formulation of what just happened. It ignores Iran’s concessions, it ignores the threat we pose to Iran, it ignores the entire history of the Middle East, and it ignores a wide bipartisan agreement by experts that this is the best compromise.

#3 refers to what is almost undoubtedly a hoax or a video taken out of context, which Beck repeats because his idea of journalistic honesty was apparently learned from a Crackerjack box. But even within his worldview, the LEGAL things that Planned Parenthood are doing makes some people disturbed, so they are trying to make it… more comfortable for other people? Icky things are a part of medicine. Tough choices are a part of life. The anti-PP crowd are showing absolutely zero moral fortitude. Funny from people who then insist that we need to make tough choices about bombing countries.

#4 indicates that there is something deeply wrong with the military and the occupation of Afghanistan. Beck supports both those things and so does FOX virtually without exception. So he is a liar trying to win political points, and I’d be willing to bet that that soldier might be perfectly willing to punch Beck too.

#5 has nothing to do with America, except for what he rightly points out as America’s lack of interest in justice and the hypocrisy of American churches. Will this lead him to actually truly criticize those churches, or try to create a foreign policy that has a realistic chance of changing that? Of course not. Because he’s a liar.

#6 pretends that the worst thing that’s happening in the world is ISIS, when Beck himself lists how something awful is happening in Afghanistan because of our money. If Beck had the slightest moral integrity, he’d worry about how to stop atrocities we could easily stop, instead of talking about monsters we happen not to support. Worse, Beck pretends to have some kind of deep wisdom for anticipating that invading Iraq would lead to chaos and Islamist nutjobs running around… in 2010. Gee, I seem to recall that I and everyone else who could see clearly said that in 2003.

#7 indicates that our immigration and asylum policy is completely fucked. Will he begin to push for a more just immigration policy to allow people fleeing poverty and tyrannical regimes to come here? Of course not. Because Glenn Beck don’t give a fuck.

And all of this reinforces a totally false idea that it is Muslims who are threatening Christians and that Christians are in the most peril globally. That is simply not true. So Beck’s list is all dishonest and all implies policy trajectories he rejects for absolutely no reason, but it’s also incomplete. A lot of other tragedies could go onto that list, including a lot of atrocities we directly cause. If he were honest, for example, he might admit that ISIS was an outcome of our invading a country illegally and backing a Shia-dominated government. But he won’t do that because he doesn’t give a shit about any of these things, no matter how many crocodile tears he cries.

The fact is, I do recognize this country. Moral paucity in this country is nothing new. So if Beck and others are aware of it now, all I can say is “Welcome to the club”. Like the Tea Partiers who woke up to the idea that big government might be scary after PATRIOT, Iraq, Afghanistan, Snowden, CIA and military torture…

When we keep wondering why we don’t make a positive difference, good people do soul-searching. Bad people blame everyone else. Glenn Beck is the deepest, truest example of a hypocrite, up there with the Kentucky clerk he undoubtedly supports.

activism, culture, history

Tamerlane’s Whipping and State Brutality

The recent, terrible side of Islam we’ve been seeing has made me want to show some of the aspects of it that are truly laudable.

The Sufi tradition in Islam, the mystical tradition, has historically had immensely impressive wisdom within it. The Sufis were to me rather like the Taoists: Funny, irreverent, deeply motivated and loving. The Sufis wrote erotic poems.

The Nasruddin Hodja tradition of stories is a shining example of religious wisdom. Like with many other great teachers, Nasruddin Hodja (whose exact identity we are still not entirely sure of) used humor to teach moral and spiritual ideas. Over time, the format of these stories was used to add new concepts and teach new philosophies.

The Hodja was a trickster. Himself often foolish or dull, he (much like Socrates) exposed the ignorance and hypocrisy of others. I imagine the real man was probably a true genius who struggled with his humility and so told stories that made fun of himself, the same way Abraham Lincoln disguised a cunning intellect under self-deprecation. The famous joke about the drunk under the streetlight searching for his keys is actually a Hodja story (though I suspect that that joke has a much older pedigree).

Islam today is associated with brutal punishment. In that vein, let me offer a story I modified slightly at the end to match another version I saw elsewhere:

One day, the wise fool Mullah Nasruddin happened to be present in the court of Tamerlane, the shah, when a drunken soldier was brought before the imperial presence. The soldiers who brought the drunkard asked what they should do with him.
The shah, who was occupied with thoughts of his treasury, waved them away and said carelessly, “Oh, just give him 300 lashes.”
Nasruddin started laughing uproariously.
The shah was incensed by Nasruddin’s hilarious outbreak, and yelled at him: “What are you laughing at? Are you laughing at me? You should be ashamed!”
Nasruddin managed to stifle himself and respond, “I am laughing because either you don’t know how to count, or you have never been whipped”.

This is a funny joke. But it’s also a brutal satire.

And its relevance goes beyond today’s Islam, which seems to have forgotten that even one lash is so horrifying that it should never be dispensed casually, let alone thousands.

Tamerlane was one of the most powerful people in the world at the time. He was estimated to have killed about five million of the world’s populations. But he wrapped it up in righteousness.

Yet here, whether in actual fact or in our tales, was a true man of God to tell him to his face with a laugh
that he was a small and foolish soul.

It’s not just Tamerlane who dispenses brutality ensconced in the cloak of justice.
How many of our Senators and legislators spend any time in the jails that they authorize funding for and create the laws to send people to?

How many of the people in both civilian and military command structures authorize the use of force against people they’ve never met and lands they’ve never visited?

What the Hodja was reminding us is that our leaders (assuming we should have them at all, which I as an anarchist do not agree with) should understand the magnitude of what they do. They should themselves have tasted the bite of the lash.

A cop friend of mine was required as part of his training to be hit with pepper spray. He talked about how it didn’t just burn for a few seconds, or even a few minutes, but that his skin was inflamed and in pain for days. He was also tased.

Soon, I’m going to comment on the way that Americans have justly lost the credibility to intervene against ISIS/ISOL because of our past failure to restrain our government and our usage of force. But for now, think about how many people, from politicians to pundits, are going to be counseling violence whose consequences they cannot possibly comprehend.

See, Tamerlane could have chosen to have himself whipped.

But we can’t meaningfully have our politicians have their houses bombed, their children killed, their veins filled with poison.

If we as human beings remembered that, maybe we’d think more before we shot up offices of satirists and killed police officers. Maybe we’d stop grabbing guns and bombs and start talking.

Because as much as it sucks to talk to the other guy who makes you angry, it’s preferable to being whipped.


September 11th: Thirteen Retrospectives

There’s going to be a lot of September 11th retrospectives today. I’ve already read two that were deeply moving. It’s a galvanizing moment in our history.

But I’ve always felt that our national reaction to September 11th ended up galvanizing us rather the wrong way. We ended up pursuing a path of violence instead of peace. We ended up tearing apart law instead of supporting it. And we didn’t question our nominal leaders.

One thing that has always has to be remembered on these anniversaries is “the other September 11th”: Pinochet’s coup d’etat in 1973, bombing the Presidential palace of Allende and leading to a bloody coup. The two events are of course not entirely analogous. The number of people who actually died on the specific date of 1973 was lower than September 11th, but the best estimates of Pinochet’s death toll are much higher. September 11th was unique in that the guns were pointed from the colonized world to the colonizing world. And while September 11th was a major atrocity, it didn’t plunge a whole society into chaos or change a regime.

Most importantly, the second September 11th was an extraordinary event, while the first was standard operating practice for American empire.

I usually try to be the sanguine and optimistic voice in the room. But sometimes people want to embrace the easy over the difficult. So I think it’s time for a review of what has transpired in the last thirteen years.

It is true that we have seen the US get out of Iraq… but we got ourselves into it. And it’s important to remember that we allowed ourselves to invade a sovereign nation (yes with an evil dictator, one who we had backed and to a large extent even installed) under fraudulent pretenses, and pretenses that were even at the time clearly fraudulent. Despite immense protest, the American people allowed a great crime and act of evil to occur. The invasion of Iraq under Nuremberg should have led to the execution of Bush and many of his cronies.

The Taliban no longer run a country… but they’re still around, and threatening Pakistani stability. Worse, Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt countries on the planet according to Transparency International, with rampant cronyism. Both Iraq and Afghanistan had at best a mixed record thanks to US intervention.

There was some democratization since the invasion of Iraq… but most scholars find that the 2008 recession had quite a lot more to do with that wave of democracy than anything the US did. Worse, we’re seeing that the efforts to democratize in Egypt and Libya are struggling. And we’re seeing that the United States has at best an ambiguous and mixed response when it comes to countries like Egypt in their efforts to democratize (remember: the Mubarak regime was a US client).

ISIS is now a serious threat. We moved from having terror cells operating mostly covertly (with some notable exceptions like the Taliban) to suicide bombing in Iraq and “insurgents” (read: people defending a nation from an illegal invasion) to what seems to be a growing army. ISIS is so brutal that al-Zawahiri has disowned them. ISIS now has tens of thousands of operatives, and it seems that al-Qaeda’s representatives in the region, al-Nusra, has joined ISIS.
The perpetual crisis in Israel and Palestine still continues to trundle along, instead of actually seeing any kind of resolution.

There’s an even greater tragedy, though.

Instead of taking the opportunity to build connections with the world and join the international community more fully, we raised ourselves above it.

Instead of developing empathy and compassion, we allowed extreme neo-conservatives to run many of our institutions for eight years. That lack of empathy and compassion led us to endure a colossal recession. (A recession that, had we not spent so much on the military, we might have had public funds to be able to mitigate or avert).
Instead of learning how to walk the Earth as brother and sisters, we used the very planes and submarines that Dr. King found so unimpressive to kill and maim.

I intend to write an article soon about how the United States has discredited itself so fully that now it is difficult for good-hearted people here to get our military to successfully intervene against ISIS or Russia or any other potential threats.

Global warming is continuing and the world seems to be less safe in many ways than it was thirteen years ago.

It’s incumbent upon us to learn real lessons from September 11th: Violence is not a solution to problems, on the schoolyard or in life; truly being heroic and intervening to aid others requires respect for their autonomy and true love; and our blindness to the pain of others can have immense and catastrophic results.