Category Archives: Anti-War

America’s Right Wing: YES to Quran-burning, NO to Flag-Burning

Originally posted to Islamaphobia Today, May 14, 2011

 

 

When LSU graduate student Benjamin Haas planned to burn the U.S. flag to protest the clamping down of civil liberties and the right of due process for “students and suspected terrorists alike”, an angry mob of over 1,000 people came out to stop him.  Haas “sustained physical and verbal taunting”and in fact received numerous death threats.  Had the police not been there to protect him, Haas might have been seriously hurt.  (Haas backed down from burning the flag.)

 

Here’s a video of the despicable mob (hint: any time you see Americans wrapped in the flag chanting “USA! USA! USA!” more often than not they are war-mongers):

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Atlanta Georgia: Rally to Defend Dissent, Support Julian Assange & Celebrate WikiLeaks

Activists in Georgia stand up for the right to dissent, while challenging the stereotype that Southerners are politically passive and reactionary.

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George Galloway prevented from Entering U.S., addresses Louisianians via Skype

 
 
 

By hastenawait, December 14, 2010

 

The Muslim Legal Fund of America is a non-profit organization which has existed since 2001. It supports legal cases across the country which impact civil rights, freedoms, liberties and principles of justice in America, particularly where Muslims are concerned. The organization focuses on important cases which affect the Muslim community and public policy. Their decisions about which cases to take up, therefore, are strategic.

Last night the MLFA hosted a benefit dinner in Kenner, Louisiana . Kenner is a smaller city that borders New Orleans. The benefit was intended to raise funds for the organization’s work and to raise awareness about ongoing injustices facing Muslims in the United States. Around 100 people attended, with the majority being Louisiana Muslim community members. A handful of non-Muslims were there as well.

Speakers included Adulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-born New Orleans businessman who has achieved a degree of fame because he rode out hurricane Katrina and then went around rescuing people in his canoe. For his good work he was arrested, labeled a terrorist and imprisoned for 23 days.

The daughter of Shukri Abu Baker also spoke. Baker was the president of the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States. In the aftermath of September 11, the Bush regime charged the organization with supporting Hamas in Palestine. The organization was subsequently shut down and Baker is now serving a 65-year prison sentence, essentially for providing charitable aid to victims of the ongoing genocide in Palestine. All of the speakers gave powerful and moving presentations.

The keynote speaker was former U.K.-parliamentarian and long-time activist, George Galloway. Galloway is known for his activist work in support of Palestine. He is a founding member of a charitable organization called Viva Palestina, whose mission is to break the blockade of the Gaza strip by bringing badly-needed aid. For these activities, he was denied entry into Canada from March of 2009 until October 2010. He has not, however, been officially blocked from entering the United States.

You can imagine the surprise of the audience last night when it was announced that Galloway would not be speaking with them in person, as he had been denied entry into the United States over the weekend. He was supposed to be traveling the country for a multi-city speaking tour, but was told by airline officials that he would not be able to enter the U.S. because there were problems with his visa.

Undeterred, Galloway instead addressed the crowd in Kenner via the computer program Skype. A laptop was hooked up to a projector, and a live video could be seen on two large screens in a convention room of the Crown Plaza hotel, where the event was held. During his talk Galloway stated that it is not clear whether his being denied entry was the result of a technical or bureaucratic glitch, or whether it was a political measure carried out in secrecy. He explained that efforts were made to resolve the situation throughout the weekend, but that nothing came of it.

 
 
 

Galloway addressing audience in Kenner, Louisiana

 

The main body of his talk concerned human rights violations carried out by the U.S. government against Muslims worldwide, and particularly the grave humanitarian situation in Palestine, which has resulted from Israeli-U.S. imperialist settler policies.

Because his being denied entry to the U.S. may be an instance of political repression (and we know that this is not unlikely) he reiterated his resolve to not be silenced. He said boldly : “Nothing will stop me. Not the government of what they call Israel; not the government of Canada or the U.S.” He continued: “I cannot be silenced…I hope the U.S. government understands that. We live in the age of Skype, YouTube and Facebook. There will always be a way for me to speak.”

He went on to describe his speaking visit to New Orleans last year. He said that New Orleans is a city which he loves deeply, and that he has every intention of visiting it again, and speaking to New Orleanians again. He vowed that he would fight to get back into the United States and that this event would be rescheduled.

When speaking about the Muslims, solidarity activists and charitable workers who have been the target of political repression in the United States since 9/11, he argued: “Anyone of you as I look around this hall could be the next one to hear the knock on the door, to be unjustly accused…even because you’re doing charitable work for a country that has been wiped off the map.” He was referring to Palestine.

Galloway’s provocative statement that he “cannot be silenced” because “we live in the age of Skype, YouTube and Facebook” is particularly pertinent at this time. People have been talking about the political implications of the digital revolution since it began, just as people in other eras discussed the political implications of other media and technological shifts. But in the wake of the WikiLeaks revelations and other events this year (such as FBI raids on anti-war activists) the contradictions implicit in this social revolution are perhaps clearer than ever – and they are certainly heightened. These contradictions are increasingly characterizing the contemporary world, and, broadly speaking, they boil down to this: the new digital media open up the way for new democratic transformations and unprecedented levels of openness in public institutions on the one hand; on the other, they open up possibilities for frightening forms of surveillance, opacity and authoritarianism. A resume of U.S. government activities since the Bush administration should leave no doubt about the latter tendency.

At one level these contradictions are overdetermined by another prevailing social contradiction which is inherent to capitalism, and that is the contradiction between massively-socialized production and economic life generally, on the one hand, and private ownership on the other. (The struggles over intellectual property, file sharing etc. all take place within the trajectory of this contradiction.) At its base, this contradiction is about who has power in society and who does not.

It is increasingly clear that the new digital technologies make governments, corporations and other powerful entities newly powerful but at the same time newly vulnerable (just look at the attacks on the websites of Visa and MasterCard by “hacktivists” following the latest round of leaks by WikiLeaks). The same is true of the people who are resisting the powerful. For example, these technologies make it easier for governments to spy on activists, but they also provide the means of organization for those activists. It should be noted, in regard to the 2010 FBI raids on anti-war activists, that because of social networking sites like Facebook, an organized response was beginning the very day that the raids were taking place. Within hours there were videos on YouTube. Press conferences, demonstrations and the like were all in the works.

Galloway’s appearance via Skype last night highlights the liberatory dimension opened up by these technologies. Whether the U.S. government is in fact preventing him from entering the country, or whether there was a technical glitch does not change this. The fact is that his lack of physical presence did not prevent him from addressing Louisiana community members. He was not prevented from speaking.

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The Mosque Controversy and Tolerance

By KurtFF8

I originally posted this on an Alternet Blog I created the other day:

There has been quite a bit of controversy over the proposed community center/mosque that is “right by ground zero” in the media lately, it’s gotten to the point where after Barack Obama decided to come out and defend the right to build a Mosque in the location, the White House had to come out and defend the fact that Obama is a Christian and prays daily.  The White House continues to be on the defensive against the far-right of America (their apparent favorite group to try to appease).  Although the far-right is gaining steam with more and more conspiracy theories introduced to the main stream by folks like Beck (a recent poll suggests that 46% of the GOP thinks that Obama is a Muslim)

So this controversy has made it “to the top” and has turned from a local issue for one city to a national debate.  However, the framework of this debate is a sad site to see.  Top Democrats (Howard Dean, Reid, etc.) have come out in opposition to this community center in an apparent attempt to continue the Democrats turn to the right.  Even those Democrats like Pelosi and Obama who have supported the right for it to be built, have also made it clear that they don’t want to comment “on whether they support it being built or not specifically” but just that they support “the right” for it to be built (this emphasis is theirs).

Those who have come out to support it, do so for reasons that are just as ideologically loaded as the bigots who want “no more mosques” in America.  The common line is that we should be preaching “tolerance” in the US.  We want to demonstrate that “we’re better” than intolerant nations like Saudi Arabia, goes the line of the tolerance promoters (which to me reeks of American Exceptionalism).  But is promoting tolerance problematic?

Absolutely.  The idea that we should just “tolerate” groups like Muslim-Americans or “Illegal Immigrants” contains in it the idea that there is something uneasy about these groups, yet we are going to “put up with” them to achieve a moral high ground.  Such idealism doesn’t come from a genuine attempt to help to change the status of the most marginalized of this society to become less marginalized, but instead is the notion that we should treat “the Other” well.  This doesn’t challenge their position in society in the least.  This “anti-tolerance” stance, of course, comes mainly from the Slovenian philosopher (and intellectual “rock star”) Slajov Zizek, who has written extensively on the problems of “liberal tolerance.”

Perhaps we should try to promote tolerance to those who are the most “intolerant” in society: the far-right.  Their intolerance is obviously quite problematic: based on xenophobia, bigotry, etc.  But does that mean that we want to promote the idea of “we should tolerate the ‘Other’ groups of society” in general?

This kind of logic leads to comments like Howard Dean’s on Muslim Americans:

There’s a growing number of American Muslims. I think most of those Muslims are moderate. I hope that they’ll have an influence on Islam throughout the world, because Islam is really back in the twelfth century in some of these countries, like Iran and Afghanistan, where they’re stoning people to death.

This is based on the idea that “we can promote an Islam that fits American culture throughout the world” which is just as imperialistic as the overt hawks who are trying to promote war in places like Iran.

Instead of preaching the idea that we should tolerate groups that are considered by some to not be “mainstream,” perhaps we should be building real solidarity with the most marginalized of society.  After all, those are the groups that need to be on board to build a real alternative to the insane system we currently live under.

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Facebook has disabled the account of one of Leftists in the U.S. South’s FB group administrators

The account of Josh Sykes, one of the admins of Leftists in the U.S. South, has been disabled as part of a recent crackdown on Leftist activity. For some background, read this article in the Guardian which discusses the thoroughly reactionary character of the people and forces behind Facebook.  

Join now: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=136562699701718

In a move to censor the voices of solidarity and human rights, Facebook shut down the “Free Ricardo Palmera!” page on June 30th, claiming it violates their terms of use. On July 7th, the profiles of the three administrators of that group, Josh Sykes, Angela Denio, and Tom Burke, were disabled by facebook with no reason given.

The June 30th Facebook message stated, “The group ‘Free Ricardo Palmera!’ has been removed because it violated our Terms of Use. Among other things, groups that are hateful, threatening or obscene are not allowed. We also take down groups that attack an individual or group, or advertise a product or service. Continued misuse of Facebook’s features could result in your account being disabled.”

Tom Burke, spokesperson of the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera responded to the attack, saying, “By shutting us down, Facebook is taking the side of the death squads in Colombia. We will not be silenced – not by death threats from Colombian intelligence agents and not by Facebook. We will use every means available to express support for Professor Palmera and his just struggle for freedom. We reject Facebook’s claim that a campaign for human rights, for prisoners’ rights, and against the U.S. government’s violation of the sovereignty of the Colombian people is somehow anything other than peaceful.”

The “Free Ricardo Palmera!” group, with more than 700 members from all over the world, but especially Latin America and the U.S., existed for many months prior to the abrupt shutdown. The “Free Ricardo Palmera!” page was a valuable and important resource for getting the word out about the injustices done to the Colombian revolutionary Ricardo Palmera and the continuing U.S. attacks on the Colombian people.

Tom Burke said, “We, the administrators of the group “Free Ricardo Palmera,” never ‘attacked’ anyone. Our protests made a mockery of the U.S. Justice Department’s trials and railroading of Ricardo Palmera. The U.S. State Department is upset that their plans to criminalize Professor Palmera and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia failed. It is Ricardo Palmera and the Colombian people who are under attack here. The U.S. war in Colombia, known as Plan Colombia, has displaced over 4 million Colombians – made them landless and homeless. Every week Colombian government death squads murder a trade unionist. Now the U.S. government is building and ‘refurbishing’ seven new military bases in Colombia.”

Burke continues, “We never posted anything hateful or threatening. It is Facebook that is revealing itself to be hateful towards and practicing censorship towards groups organizing for progressive social change. This is a political attack, it is meant to silence social justice in every way. This is an attack on Professor Palmera, a Colombian political prisoner extradited to the U.S., who suffers 23- hour solitary lockdown in Colorado’s Supermax Prison, the threat of electric shock torture and the forced kidnapping from his country by the U.S. It is obscene.”

The censorship of the “Free Ricardo Palmera!” page and the disabling of the accounts of Josh Sykes, Angela Denio, and Tom Burke, follows a series of recent attacks by Facebook on activist groups, including shutting down a group in solidarity with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the 800,000 member Boycott BP page. After a campaign opposing it, the Boycott BP has been reinstated. Apparently the U.S. government and big corporations have great influence over Facebook policies and decisions.

Tell Facebook that you are outraged:

Call Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, at (650) 543-4800

Tell him to
Stop the Assault on Progressive Causes!
Reinstate the group “Free Ricardo Palmera!” Now!
Reinstate the profiles of Josh Sykes, Angela Denio, and Tom Burke Now!
For more info on Palmera see here: http://www.fightbacknews.org/2010/6/22/prisoner-us-empire-colombian-revolutionary-ricardo-palmera

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Cultural Politics and Resignification: The Case of July 4th

By hastenawait

A couple of years ago when July 4th rolled around, I began thinking about the contradiction between my celebration of the holiday and my leftist politics. Those who oppose racism, imperialism, genocide (e.g. the slaughter of the indigenous population of North America) and other forms of oppression perpetrated by the United States have many reasons to be critical of the holiday.(1) Despite the more manifest meaning of the holiday (the celebration of values like freedom, liberty and so forth), for many it has come to represent oppression, and there are ample reasons for that; like other social phenomena, it is contradictory. At the immediate, personal level, I was faced with the question: Should I opt out of my family’s holiday celebration, one of the few times during the year when we all get together to enjoy one another’s company? Ultimately I decided not to opt out, and here’s why.

The celebration of a holiday is a cultural practice, which can be analyzed as a performance (or rather collection of performances) which bear meaning. To say that a holiday has inherent meanings which cannot be changed is essentialist and ahistorical. A holiday, like any other cultural practice, can be submitted to a process of resignification. Todd Holden describes resignification as follows.

As its name implies, resignification is a semiotic process—meaning that it involves the creation of meaning from signs. However, resignification is a particular kind of semiosis: one where new sign elements (signifiers, signifieds, signs, significations) are lifted from their original contexts and inserted into other semiotic sequences, though not always (indeed seldom) in the position they occupied in their prior incarnation.

Two aspects are most salient about resignification: first, strung together in unrelenting sequence, such recycling amounts to a phenomenon of sociological import. Most especially, because, procedurally, resignification both reflects and assists cultural mutation. [Italics added by the present author.](2)

In other words, the concept of resignification – an extension of the concept of signification – has been developed to indicate that not only is meaning dependent upon the social context, but that meaning changes over time. The social radically conditions the ability of individual actors (or even groups of actors) to create meaning, but agency is also involved in the production of meaning. Critical intervention is always possible. Despite his emphasis on the determining power of social structure (particularly the economic base) Marx still said that “History does nothing; it does not possess immense riches, it does not fight battles. It is men [sic.], real, living, who do all this.”

In terms of holidays, the history of Christianity offers an instructive example of successful resignification. It is well known that as the influence of the Catholic Church spread across Europe, many indigenous traditions, including holidays, were transformed into Christian traditions (but at the same time the emerging “Christianity” was also modified by the absorption). An uneven, dialectical synthesis took place, in which Christianity was the dominant force. That the early Church was able to do this was an important factor in its ability to transform the European continent after its own image, in other words, to establish a hegemony which lasted over 2,000 years. Whatever we think about it today, Christianity was certainly a successful revolutionary force that changed the course of world history.

When I was thinking about the 4th of July a few years ago, I wrote

…it’s undeniable that this country has a lot going for it, things that are worth celebrating. War hawks often say, with a sense of deep satisfaction, that the freedoms and stability we enjoy were won through blood and sacrifice. They’re right, but not in the sense that they intend. They usually say such things to defend an imperialist foreign policy and the military industrial complex, things which I believe have done nothing but curtail freedom and stability around the world. But there are altogether different struggles and sacrifices that have given us something to be proud of.

…That we have anything close to a system with a human face, in other words democracy, is absolutely the result of popular struggle. Democracy doesn’t come from anywhere else.

I’m talking about the struggles to end slavery, racism, exploitation and sexism. I’m talking about struggles for peace and equality. I’m talking about the movement for LGBT rights. The list goes on.

…For all these reasons I’m celebrating the Forth of July this year. I’m celebrating the democratic rights that we have, and the people who fought to make them a reality. I am celebrating to embolden myself for the future, because the fight for democracy, really, is just beginning; what we have now is just a taste of what we can achieve if we put forth the collective effort. The Right doesn’t own this holiday any more than they own this country. In fact, let me say something that will infuriate right-wing patriots: It is Left-wing and progressive forces that have made the United States live up to its promises of freedom and democracy [to the limited extent that it has], and we’re the ones who should be celebrating; it’s our victory.

In other words, I was suggesting that we could celebrate the 4th of July in a radically different way. We could resignify it. I ask: Would the Catholic Church have been as successful in its efforts to conqueor Europe if it hadn’t transformed some existing cultural practices, instead of simply trying to wipe them out? Would the process have gone less smoothly if they had taken the latter course?

I honestly don’t think that it will do for the left to simply tell working people that their holiday is racist and imperialist. It is a deeply embedded cultural institution, in which people of various classes, nationalities, genders, sexualities, and more, have made powerful libidinal investments. In fact, most of the African Americans that I know here in southern Louisiana celebrate the holiday very enthusiastically, and wouldn’t be too impressed if I told them that they should give it up in the name of struggle. Communists and other progressives should realize that many of the traditions which have developed around the holiday are the expressions of oppressed and working people (contradictory though they are), and should not, therefore, be dismissed in a heavy-handed or patronizing way.

Let me juxtapose two hypothetical cultural activist interventions in regard to this holiday.

Imagine a leftist group on a street corner, protesting the 4th of July, chanting angrily and holding up provocative signs. Then, imagine a leftist group throwing a big 4th of July celebration in a major park, in which the workers’ movement, the civil rights movement, the American Indian movement, the LGBTQI movement, the immigrant’s rights movement, the women’s movement, etc. were celebrated. Imagine an event which popularized the history of struggle in this country, brought attention to those who have really worked to bring about the modicum of freedom and equality that we enjoy. What if we held up banners with the faces of great U.S. Americans like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, John Brown and Cesar Chavez?

I ask: Which of these interventions would be more alienating to working people raised in a culture of patriotism? Which of these is more patronizing? Conversely, which of these is more subversive? Which would help to win more people over to the side of radical social transformation, i.e., revolution?

(1) Check out Frederick Douglass’ Independence Day Speech at Rochester, 1841.

(2) http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0104/japtele.php

In addition to the works of Ferdinand de Saussare and Roland Barthes(semiotics), Judith Butler (performativity) and Mao Zedong (the mass line), I am also influenced in my thinking on this matter by Alain Badiou’s insistence that we remember that, in the process of revolutionary dialectics, it is not enough to negate an existing condition, but also to affirm or create something new. All too often this is a weak point on the left, whether reformist or revolutionary. See, for example, his lecture, Destruction, Negation and Subtraction, which you can watch on YouTube.

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Upcoming: Pro-Palestinian/Anti-Zionist demonstration in Birmingham Alabama on August 21st

There will be a demonstration held in Birmingham Alabama at Five Points South on Sat. August 21st, 2010 in front of Highlands United Methodist Church, 1045 20th Street South Birmingham, AL 35205-2623. It will be held from 5:00PM until 6:30PM. Demonstrators will be responsible for bringing their own sign, banner or flag. For any further details contact Dustin Getz at birminghamsds@gmail.com.

Demonstration hosted by Students For A Democratic Society, Fight Imperialism Stand Together, Birmingham Peace Project and Mas Youth.

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