Friday, October 10, 2014

(Wonder Why Newsmooth All Quiet On the Ukraine Front?) All Systems Go:  The Elite View of the New Iraq-Syria War (Blasting Bill Maher, Sam Harris and HBO for Promoting Ignorance/Blood Libel About Islam)

With Oil Prices in Freefall, Morgan Stanley Can’t Close on an Oil Deal

So we've suffered a temporary "corporatizing-the-planet fail?"

I've said from the beginning of this millions-of-dollars-paid-to-even-lowly-muckraking-personnel era that this is only necessary because they're preparing for the fall of the U.S. and know they'll need many millions of dollars in order to secure their locked, gated estates when the outraged citizenry rolls in (or they'll already be on their secret islands thousands of miles away).

But it's nice how all those ignorant foreigners caught onto the neoLibCon game so quickly, isn't it?

North Carolina is still having a very tough time understanding what they've done here. (And I should mention that Richard Petty just appeared tonight in a TV commercial touting Thom Tillis, the nightmare neoCon, for Governor. I hope Petty's fans quit buying his junk in protest.)

We do not read much about Ukraine lately, do we? With unseemly speed, among the most important developments of the last few years has fallen out of the paper. There is a reason for this:   Washington has sustained another, in this case very major, defeat. The policy failed. And we Americans cannot talk about defeat and failure if they are our own.

The moment of truth was the cease-fire accord the Kiev government, Moscow and the two republics declared in eastern Ukraine signed in Minsk on September 5. With that document, Vladimir Putin succeeded in putting a stop to the preposterous charade wherein Ukraine was supposed to swerve smoothly into the Euro-American camp, so rolling out the neoliberal agenda like linoleum straight up to Russia’s borders.

Nice try, Victoria Nuland and all other “new world order” idolators. Actually, it was a very horrific try, costing several thousand lives and wrecking cities and vast parts of eastern Ukraine’s productive infrastructure. All this for the sake of deregulated capital and “free markets.” Is there a widow in Donetsk who will one day explain, “Son, your father died because the Americans put people in charge who wanted corporations such as Chevron to profit from our resources while pushing our family into poverty?”

The Minsk protocol provides for a sanitized corridor nearly 20 miles wide between Kiev-controlled territory and the eastern sections of the country, where Russian is the first language and the seductions of free-market capitalism have not gone over so well. This is near-term common sense.

. . . We witness the federalization of Ukraine, in a word — the sensible way forward from the first, a perfectly good expression of the nation’s divisions, except that Russian leader Vladimir Putin advocated a federal Ukraine, so it could not be right.

From all one can make out, Putin shaped this deal in back-channel collaboration with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. This is significant, in my view, and I will return to the point further on.

It is difficult to call this outcome, assuming it stays on track, a success for the neoconservatives at the State Department, or the phony foundations State sponsors to advance the corporatization of the planet in the name of democracy. Too many casualties, too much wreckage, the new government in Kiev is already revealed as another crew of corrupt incompetents, and all that got done was the stimulation of animosities that ought to have been discouraged.

And since we can talk about neither success nor defeat nor failure, we talk about nothing.

I am quite pleased to see my country once again defeated, and pleased all over again to say so. Defeat and failure are precisely what we Americans need most in our conduct abroad and need most urgently to talk about.

The thought will be bitter to many, unthinkable to others. Still others will assert that the columnist is “anti-American” — the oldest chestnut around, a profoundly anti-American thought — or a shill for Putin. This stuff bores me nearly to tears at this point. When will the 1950s end, I often wonder.

I have written in this space before about the way optimism is sometimes buried in apparent pessimism. American foreign policy now is such a case and Ukraine Exhibit A.

The argument is simply stated:  This country, my country, can do better than it does. We are a better people than all our coups and anti-democratic subversions tell the world we are. This phrase I have mentioned a couple of times, author yet to be identified:  “Wherever in the world you find a mess, be certain the Americans have been there.” It is true, a source of shame and anger considering all the lost opportunity, but it does not have to be.

The above paragraph seems angelic, surely. Let me try it another way for all the realpolitik people:   If we fail to do better, and soon, we are going to fare very badly in the new century.

The best way to justify a taste for conversations about defeat and failure is to note at the start the very intimate relationship between these two and change. What is this relationship? This is our question.

As many readers recognize, American policy abroad since 1945 is one long, looped story of doing the same thing again and again and coming up with the same result. This result may be undesirable to a lot of us but not to all of us. Our foreign policy cliques remain fixated on the extension and preservation of American power and prerogative. Little has changed in this respect since the Spanish-American War in 1898.

That is the object. And to preserve this objective it is essential to avoid any talk of defeat. We have one policy failure after another in front of us — it is an especially weedy garden at the moment — but an assessment of mistakes never issues from Washington. Tactics change, and most of the hubbub goes to them. Strategy never changes, and few even question it.

You know the point of this observation, surely:  If we can begin talking about defeat, failure, messes, stupidities, inhumanity, and loss, we can begin talking about change — and then, astonishing as the thought is, change policy and altogether the way we address the world.

There, in a sentence, is my optimism hiding in the pessimism. One loves to see American foreign policy failures — apart from all the unnecessary suffering, of course — because one dislikes the policy and thinks vastly better can be achieved once policy direction changes.

. . . Assistant Secretary Nuland may have stood next to a Chevron plaque when, in a speech recorded in a much noted YouTube clip, she described the $5 billion Washington and numerous corporations have spent in Ukraine since its independence in 1991. But the conceit was that all has been done to light the torch for democracy and freedom.

This reasoning (if that is the word) was long ago defeated, as even Washington’s closest allies understand, but no one in Washington will yet talk about this defeat. Ninety-seven years after Wilson’s famous speech, making the world safe for democracy remains the pretense. The result is inevitable failure, as Ukraine tells us.

Second is the neoliberal order and Washington’s ability to assert it
. The Washington Consensus of the post-Berlin Wall years was never a consensus outside the Beltway and died a death long ago. But anywhere they can, the ideological children of the Chicago School persist, insisting it is just the thing for everybody. Again, no capacity to recognize the error and learn from it.

Ukraine is interesting in this respect:  Those in the east who opposed Kiev’s westward tilt did so for many reasons — historical, cultural, political, familial — but among these was a recognition that exchanging a long-established, altogether organic relationship with Russia for life under an International Monetary Fund austerity plan was a bad, bad deal.

The German connection is important here. I and others have long argued that the rise of middle-income nations — India, China, Russia, Iran and many others — will produce a non-Western alternative to Atlantic primacy. It does not take genius to see this:  It takes an open mind, open eyes, a plane ticket and long walks at the other end of the flight. The evidence of things to come is everywhere.

The Christian Democratic Merkel is an odd messenger in this, but Germany may come to have a foot in this camp. The collaboration with Putin suggests it persuasively:  In my read, Merkel was instrumental in getting Kiev to swallow its ridiculous pretenses and, more implicitly, in overriding Washington. Germany’s muted but unmistakable resistance to Washington’s aggressive sanctions campaign against Russia makes the point more broadly.

These are defeats, the kind I favor without hesitation.

America’s day can come again, providing Americans choose the option by renovating or replacing the political system so that it reflects the popular will. But America’s day will have to go first, and this it is essential to accept.

@Boca Bill Where is the success? The UN says 3,660 people have died in East Ukraine since April, 330 since the ceasefire in September, the vast majority by indiscriminate bombing by the Ukrainian military. At least 63 innocents were burned and beaten to death by mobs of neo-fascists in Odessa, all of this senseless violence with US support and encouragement. Now it looks like Ukraine will end up with federalized regions in the East, which is what the separatists, and the Russians were calling for from the beginning. The sanctions against Russia have mostly succeeded in slowing down an economic recovery in Europe, producing a drag on the world economy. Yes, it may have been worse with McCain (who posed and gave speeches next to neo-Nazi Svoboda leaders) or Romney, but I'm hard-pressed to see any trace of a foreign policy success here.

There is hope that the American world capitalist hegemony can be smashed to pieces and people like Kerry and McCain will disappear. But they might go down violently and expensively. The question has to be answered:   Is the United States capable of functioning without war?  Is constant foreign aggression necessary to avoid civil war within the US?

Since the United States is now an economy with football and no longer a whole society; the answers are probably 'no'.

And on the non-quiet western front?

All Systems Go:  The Elite View of the New Iraq-Syria War

Written by Chris Floyd

06 October 2014

And so a new war has begun. Or rather, a new front is opened (and an old one re-opened) in an ongoing, ever-expanding war. For the new war is of course our old friend, the War on Terror. (Although it should more accurately be termed “the War on Terror Spawned by the War on Terror.”)
The casus belli being offered up seem even more specious and shifting than usual. The vicious civil war we have fomented in Syria has spawned an extremist militia that is using the weapons we poured into Syria to attack the corrupt sectarian regime we installed in Iraq with our illegal invasion there earlier, which gave rise to a vicious civil war that has continued to this day, with both sides using our weapons.

But is “war” really the right word? “War” implies a discrete event; it has a beginning, some kind of trajectory, some kind of an end. But the fiery miasma of slaughter and profiteering that is the Terror War has no such form. It has no trajectory — and no end, as we have been told over and over by our bipartisan Terror Barons. For the imperial American state (and its various satellites, servants and satraps), the Terror War has become a state of nature — even THE state of nature. It is no longer an event in reality; it is the very form of reality itself. It must go on because it can’t NOT go on.

To our ruling classes, and their lackeys and abettors and worshippers across the commanding heights of Western society, the very idea of any alternative to ceaseless conflict is unimaginable

Hey, it’s what we do. It’s what we are. As our latest temporary manager, Obama, said the other day, it’s how we roll. We exist solely to assert our dominance by violent force anywhere and anyhow we see fit. It is in blood and domination that we live and move and have our being. It doesn’t matter in the end who we are fighting against, or with, or if we change partners in the middle of the battle. It doesn’t matter if we fight an enemy here and arm him over there, or if our allies share the same extremism we are ostensibly trying to quell. It doesn’t matter what we say to justify the killing and profiteering we want to do, or that we change these justifications from day to day, even from hour to hour.

And it certainly doesn’t matter what “legal” basis we offer for our lawless and arbitrary actions. We are more than happy to spout some meaningless jargon, to torture and degrade the language, to openly mock the very notion of reason and law — as long as it keeps the editorial writers and think-tank quacks happy in their shallow fantasies of “serious” policy, as long as the public in whose name we are destabilizing and devouring the earth (including their own decaying communities) can keep believing that what we are doing with our killing and looting is keeping them safe from “psychopaths” and demonic beasts.

As long as they can keep believing that they are being governed by a benevolent elite, whose ultimate aim — however badly and ineptly they sometimes pursue it — is to secure peace, freedom and prosperity for their own people, and for the world.

And thus we watch with wry bemusement how earnestly the opinion-makers and commentators — especially on the liberal side — debate the “issues” around our brutal and arbitrary actions (which they, sweet naifs, call “policies”). How they puzzle and puzzle til their puzzlers are sore, to make our policies better.

Oh, if only we could make our leaders see that their policies are counterproductive, that they are failing to produce the outcomes they are seeking. Oh, if only our leaders could be smarter, cleverer, more insightful — like us! But they just keep making the same mistakes, with the same bad outcomes, which just makes it harder for them to achieve their noble goals!”

It’s even more amusing when they get all scornful and sarcastic, when they smirk about what incompetent fools our elites are, how they’re so stupid that they can’t even see that they’re shooting ourselves in the foot over and over, how they couldn’t find their own ass with both hands even if both hands were stapled to their ass. (Was that Maher? Stewart? One of those media millionaires with the cutesy, soundbite smarm that passes for “dissent.”)

We love these guys. We watch their shows. We pass around their best lines at the conference table. You can’t buy that kind of propaganda, that kind of reinforcement for the status quo. No one believes more in the system than these savvy snarkmasters. “The people in power now simply don’t know how to achieve their goals. They’re ruining the system! We need to get some better people in office to run the system. Then things will all right.”

But of course the truth is that the system works very well. It does what it intends to do, and pursues its goals with admirable, ruthless efficiency. Nothing deters the system:   not facts, not law, not truth, not consequences, not appeals to reason or conscience, not concern for future — and certainly not snark from the chattering classes.

The system can’t “fail” in its goals, because there are no “goals,” no endpoints. There is only the process — the endless, churning process of violent domination, and the power and profits this produces for those who join (or are born to) the elite. If one front in the Terror War produces what our naifs call a “policy failure” — the invasion of Iraq, say - so what? You just keep churning and fighting and profiteering on a dozen other fronts, while your “policy failure” ripens into a catastrophic societal breakdown, producing more excuses to “step back in” and resume the conflict there again.

So where is the “failure”? The violent, profitable process of empire — the shark that must keep eating or else it dies — has not skipped a beat. It just keeps expanding its range — and, as in Iraq now, it can always come back to an old killing field. As long as the system keeps killing and grinding and churning, it can’t fail, whatever may happen on this or that patch of ground at any particular time. The process — not the seriously analyzed “outcome” of an operation — is the whole point.

There must be blood, there must be loot, there must be expansion. When you’ve killed all the Indians, you go kill the gooks. If the Commies quit the field, you kill Muslims instead. This is what the system is. This is what the system does. And whoever seeks to control the system — whoever fights and claws their way into the cockpit of this monstrous machine, to give themselves and their courtiers a few years at the wheel — is a willing, eager part of the system.

For example, there is now a great deal of liberal handwringing about the “tragedy” of Barack Obama being “sucked back” into the morass of Iraq. “He wanted change, he wanted to lead us away from this kind of thing, but now look! Despite his best intentions, here we are again.” In most of these cases, Obama’s predecessor gets the blame — “Bush made a mess of Iraq, and now Obama has to clean it up.”

(I don’t recall seeing any commentary along these lines noting that Bill Clinton — the husband of the next president of the United States — also did yeoman service in making a mess of Iraq, having killed some 500,000 children with his pointless, punitive sanctions. He killed those children because Saddam wouldn’t give up his WMD — you know, the WMD he didn’t have.
O, how we rightfully scorned Bush for ‘going to war over false pretenses” about that phantom WMD; but the good old Big Dawg killed half a million children for the same knowing lie, and left Iraqi society in chaos.)

Anyway, we are now told that thanks to Bush, Obama is between a rock and a hard place, trying his dee-diddly-darndest to deal with those extremist beheaders of ISIS (with the help of the extremist beheaders of Saudi Arabia) without putting “boots on the ground.” He wanted to change the system — but it looks like the “Deep State” was too much for him. What a tragedy for him — and for us.

Can we dispense briefly but decisively with this oleaginous bullshit by making a single observation? A man who hand-picked George Bush’s Secretary of Defense to serve as his own Master of War knew exactly what the system is — and did not have the slightest intention of changing it. In fact, Obama has been phenomenally successful in expanding the system of violence and domination, extending it new areas, with new tools (Oval Office death squads! Assassinating innocent teenagers!) — and bringing it all back home with hi-tech surveillance, whistleblower persecution and journalist prosecutions his predecessor could only dream of.

And so we are at war again. But we are never not at war anymore. That’s what we do. That’s what we are.


  • Wolfenotes
    I thought the faux innocence argument was over after Nieburh's "The Irony of American History".

    Important point on the premises of the snarking classes.

  • "As our latest temporary manager, Obama, said the other day, it’s how we roll."...I think that viewing the POTUS as a manager, and a temporary one at that, is an important distinction. In capitalism, it is the manager's job to keep subordinates in line and productive as well as to provide a buffer between workers and upper management/executives. The POTUS is a managerial position designed to shield the American elite from scrutiny as the general public wrings it's hands over the age old question...Dems or Reps. As long as we keep flailing at branches, the roots are safe.

    • Job #1 of all US presidents is to make the world safe for corrupt, crony, predatory, monopolistic capitalism while destroying all alternatives at every opportunity... that, and expanding upon the crimes of their predecessors. As such, Obama has been successful beyond all comprehension...

  • All lamentably true. I love the bit re "when they smirk about what incompetent fools our elites are, how they’re so stupid that they can’t even see that they’re shooting ourselves in the foot over and over" ... that's so much what passes for dissent:  the presumption of noble intent and innocence. Over and over again, it is demonstrated that the govt's actions produce further violence and terrorism and this is taken (always) as incompetence rather than intent.

    • They're like Little Red Riding Hood — "O grandmother, what big data collection centers you have! O grandmother, what indiscriminate drone strikes you have!"
      The difference being that Little Red Riding Hood was actually fooled by the wolf, not just getting paid to pretend she was.

  • Obama has driven the hegemonic, self slavery applauding, empathy collapse, fear frenzy, mass murder/torture expanding and WW 3 kindling index to absurd levels that leaves no doubt about our short term future, and who Obama really is and what he stands for.
    Sure he is a manager in some ways, but no manager gets hundreds of millions of self lying cowardly imbeciles to vote and cheer themselves to economic, political and social ruin. That takes a special kind of agent to work from an underling base already in existence in most of the people as self harming, self deluding, self destructive and self annihilating, no political memory dimwits, who seemingly endlessly repeat the horror of their errors as soon as the next commercial break has ended. Free to then deny and reject everything needed for us to be relatively free ( I'm a realist ) from the evil elites worst implementation of their wicked dominance. Oops I guess that the short term future I mentioned.

  • "The system can’t “fail” in its goals, because there are no “goals,” no endpoints. There is only the process..."
    Bingo... a self perpetuating, self replicating paradigm which is very successful at what it does....

  • So far, this new and old war on terr...IS, or just TerrIS, has been mostly war crimes, failure and propaganda ( khorasan ), Syrian gas plant and grain silos destruction ( although collective suffering and death to root out some IS guys is war crime policy in the open) and now this:
    Those Killer Clowns in the skies just keep proving their evil incompetence.
    As an Aussie, this bootlicking government here, will obviously be receiving the same ' what targets to strike ' intel ' by the US, that has already been a sure fire war crime festival. I'm sure the bargain with the murderously corrupt Shia dominated Iraqi government, gave the immunity green light for ongoing atrocities, which was the final negotiation to start the slaughter show called ' rivers of sinew and blood'.
    As well as an obviously clear signal that Iraq is broken up for realziez, since the corrupt Shia dominated governments green light for atrocities against Sunnis, is now acceptable and sought after through foreign powers, targeting whole swathes of Sunni area's which is the perfect IS recruiting tool for resisting the US empire. The killer clown show is the propaganda IS wants desperately. As well as since the Shia government couldn't achieve oppression by themselves. If you're an innocent Sunni living in these parts of Iraq and Syria, what are you supposed to do and think.

  • "We" are not at war. That is not what "we" do, unless we are active participants in it. "They" do war, and "they" have no need to listen to "us."
    The masters of war must be even happier when the lowly nobody opposition intuits some form of massive guilt by association, as if "we" are the ones being consulted, or that "we" are the ones with the social capital to decide upon genocide or ice cream. I'll plead guilty, if the charge is futility, but let the other label of war-monger or hedge fund criminal or horrible human being apply to those who so richly earn the distinction.

    • Yea I caught that too, the word "we", and wondered if it was the right word to use. It's conventional speech of course to refer to the U.S. government as "we", a government of the people hahaha (I sometimes don't even like to refer to the war machine as the "U.S. government" but rather to refer to it as the U.S. military. YMMV on that one, but I'm not going to blame some government clerk in the social security administration for it).
      However, as far as our Diebold voting machines (still some paper ballots some places though seldom in swing states) and the polls tell us someone is voting for these people, very badly set up electoral system that it is. Though it is not me, it could easily be a full decade since I've voted any duopoly person (though I don't mind it as a strategy to throw existing bums out and replace them with new bums). I don't even vote for them! And yet endless war whether we want it or not.

  • "Until that very moment when she was killed I believed we had still a chance of getting away," he said. "All through the night and morning that we sailed across the sea from Capri to Salerno, we talked of escape. We were full of hope, and it clung about us to the end, hope for the life together we should lead, out of it all, out of the battle and struggle, the wild and empty passions, the empty arbitrary 'thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not' of the world. We were uplifted, as though our quest was a holy thing, as though love for another was a mission . . . . (from A Dream of Armageddon, by H.G.Wells)

  • I don't think Obama 'hand-picked' anyone that anything to do with "national security." Gates and Panetta, for example, are players and part of the permanent gov't. Obama, should not be demonized, he is as was noted by Jeff, a manager, hired to do a job and making policy is not one of the jobs he was hired for, as far as I can tell. Obama ha(s) the decency to drag his feet--and this is pissing off some in the power-structure.
    We have to see Washington as an interlocking series of plots and plots within plots as well as long-term conspiracies and cliques clashing over turf and booty. The situation is very complex and not easily dumbed down to "good vs. evil."

  • I requested, I wished; I lost.
    2014 January 1; a day of choices of what to bring forward, leave behind as memories, what is possible to start and what to discard and not even as a memory; if that is possible.
    My choice of what to bring forward always is: Love; the love of the Creator, even if there is no or little belief here; it matters not because, we, as part of the Creator, if we care for our own selves the feelings become a conundrum. Family and friends are here and neighbors, with the world as neighbors.
    Leave behind hate, desire; these 2 are what is behind whatever strife is in a family, and up to and including races and nation states, Why? Because it is always about things.
    Since it is not here- yet… PEACE: So much could be accomplished: Gaia could be saved, and just think of sooo many other possibilities.
    Discard: in one word, war.
    For all who read this; make your choices wisely.
    Sandy and Tony

I used to think the world of Sam Harris (and Christopher Hitchens) but my gaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhd.

I mean when I saw the meanasma of Bill Maher and Sam (and the either ignorant or blindly intolerant attacking of Ben Affleck's pleading, adjudicating presence) the other night . . . aaaaarrrrrgggghhhh!

Juan Cole addresses the important points in this argument, although no one should believe him when he talks about "liberals," especially "9/11 liberals," who believe Islam is a violent religion and even worse of a religion than all others. These are not liberals - they are delusionists.

Fantasy is something we all have to deal with when listening to religionists go on and on on a daily basis, and separating them into groups is almost a valueless activity except when the group dropping drones on innocents wants you to believe that the ones below are the most violent.

Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s Muslim Problem

By Juan Cole

Oct. 7, 2014

Bravo to Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristoff for telling Bill Maher off about his chronic case of Muslim-hating bigotry. (He would say he doesn’t hate Muslims, only their religion, but then those who hate gays say much the same sort of thing).

Maher and Sam Harris like to demonize Islam and by association Muslims. Ben Affleck de-demonized them by appealing to the banalities of everyday life. Most Muslims, he said, just want to have a sandwich and get through their lives. This is true.

Addressing the arguments of Maher and Harris is like nailing jello to the wall. They shift between cultural practices that are now objectionable in the US (but some of which were common here until recently) and an assertion that Muslims are unusually violent. But this latter is not true. As for Islamic law, it clearly forbids terrorism.

See Terrorism and the Other Religions  and here .

Maher’s and Harris’s charges against Muslims in general are ridiculous. Neither one has ever lived in a Muslim-majority society or knows the languages or cultures. They just retail invidious calumnies second-hand. Almost anything polemicists like Sam Harris say of Muslims can be said of others; i.e. they are just describing the human condition, unfortunate as it often is.

In the 1990s an ABC poll showed that 10% of Americans sympathized with far right wing white supremacist groups like the Michigan Militia. My recollection is that polling showed that a significant proportion of Chinese sympathized with the 9/11 attacks and to this day only a third think al-Qaeda committed them (i.e. it wasn’t viewed as a fundamentalist act but as an anti-imperialist one [this point of view is execrable; I'm just reporting it]). Note that in this last instance, the attitudes have nothing to do with religion but rather with nationalism/ imperialism, a binary pair that explains the world much better than religion/atheism. The same statistics, if glibly given by Maher or Harris for Muslims, would damn the latter and their tradition; but what about the Chinese? Is Communist-Capitalism or the Confucianist heritage to blame here?

via Real Clear Politics:

The dispute decided me to reprint my essay on Maher and Muslims from a couple of years ago, below:

Comedian Bill Maher puts himself in the company of “9/11 liberals” who believe that Islam as a religion is different and decidedly worse than all other religions. He said Friday that ‘at least half of all Muslims believe it is all right to kill someone who insults ‘the Prophet.’ His bad faith is immediately apparent in the reference to 9/11, not the work of mainstream Muslims but of a political cult whose members often spent their time in strip clubs.

Now, it may be objected that Maher has made a career of attacking all religions, and promoting irreverence toward them. So Islam is just one more target for him. But that tack wouldn’t entirely be true. He explicitly singles Islam out as more, much more homocidal than the other religions. He is personally unpleasant to his Muslim guests, such as Keith Ellison. His reaction to the youth of the Arab Spring gathering to try to overthrow their American-backed dictators was “the Arabs are revolting.” Try substituting “Jews” to see how objectionable that is.

Maher ironically has de facto joined an Islamophobic network that is funded by the Mellon Scaife Foundation and other philanthropies tied to the American Enterprise Institute, etc. which is mainly made up of evangelical Christians, bigoted American Jews who would vote for the Likud Party if they could, and cynical Republican businessmen and politicians casting about for something with which to frighten working class Americans into voting for them.

Maher is a consistent liberal and donated $1 million to the Obama campaign, so he is in odd company in targeting Muslims this way. So what explains this animus against Muslims in particular? The only thing he has in common with the Islamophobic Right is his somewhat bloodthirsty form of militant Zionism. He strongly supported the Israeli attack on helpless little Lebanon in 2006, in which the Israelis dropped a million cluster bombs on the farms of the south of that country. He talks about how the besieged Palestinians of Gaza deserve to be “nuked.” His interviews with Likudnik Israeli officials are typically fawning, unlike his combative style with other right wing guests.

In short, Maher is in part reacting as a nationalist to Muslims as a rival national group, and his palpable hatred for them is rooted not in religion but in national self-conception. It is a key tactic of militant Zionism to attempt to demonize and delegitimize Muslims; you don’t have to apologize for colonizing or imposing Apartheid on Palestinians, after all, if they aren’t really human beings.

In addition, like many Americans, Maher sees the United States, Europe and Israel as ‘the West’ locked in a rivalry with an alien, Islamic civilization that is intrinsically fanatical and backward (his fellow-traveller on this issue, Pamela Geller, uses the word ‘savage.’) Maher is aware of the history of Christian bloodthirstiness, of course, but he often speaks of it as being in the past. He seems to see contemporary Muslims as having the same sorts of flaws (Inquisition, Crusades) as medieval Christianity.

Maher is not important, but his thesis is widely put forward, and it matters in real people’s lives. There is a nation-wide campaign by religious bigots (most of them sadly evangelical Christians) to prevent American Muslims from building mosques in their communities, and one of the reasons often given is ‘fear’ that the Muslims are homicidal and so the mosque is a conspiracy to commit murder waiting to happen. Maher’s singling out of Muslim as different willy-nilly encourages people to treat them as different, i.e., to discriminate against them.

It is significant that Maher tries to pin the label ‘murderer’ on the Muslims (or half of them?) Because one of the centerpieces of classical Western hatred of Jews was the blood libel, the allegation that they stole the babies of Christians and sacrificed them in secret rituals. It is hard to see what the difference is between that and arguing that some 3 million American Muslims are walking around like a grenade with the pin pulled out. Both blood libels configure a non-Christian group as homicidal, and locate the impulse for their alleged killing sprees in secret religious beliefs opaque to the normal Christian.

Refuting Maher would be tedious and, as others have noted, like nailing jello to the wall, since he doesn’t have a cogent set of testable theses about Muslims, he just despises them. For what it is worth, it is fairly easy to show that Maher’s specific assertions about Muslims, and more especially about American Muslims, are simply not true. Most reject militant groups, and nearly 80% want a two-state solution on Israel and Palestine, i.e. they accept Israel assuming Palestinian statelessness is ended.

Crowd politics is different in various parts of the world and it is certainly true that riots can be provoked in each culture by different things. It is a straw man to say Muslims “would” kill people for insulting Muhammad. How many such killings happen each year? where? And it stacks the deck against them to single out their motive from other possible impetuses to violence. Is the complaint that they are more violent than other people (not in evidence)? Or that their motives for violence are peculiar (depends on how you classify them)? In the United States, the police beating of Rodney King resulted in 3000 shops being burned down in Los Angeles. Race seems to be the thing that sets off riots in the US. Rioting over race relations is so common that major such incidents, as in Cincinnati, often do not even get national press.

The touchiness of Muslims about assaults on the Prophet Muhammad is in part rooted in centuries of Western colonialism and neo-colonialism during which their religion was routinely denounced as barbaric by the people ruling and lording it over them. That is, defending the Prophet and defending the post-colonial nation are for the most part indistinguishable, and being touchy over slights to national identity (and yes, Muslimness is a kind of national identity in today’s world) is hardly confined to Muslims.

In India, dozens of Christians have sometimes been killed by rioting Hindus angry over allegations of missionary work. Killing people because you think they tried to convert members of your religion to another religion? Isn’t it because such a conversion is an insult to your gods?

In Myanmar, angry Buddhists have attacked the hapless Muslim minority, sometimes alleging they were avenging an instance of the rape of a Buddhist girl (i.e. these are like lynchings in the Jim Crow South).

Or then there have been Sri Lanka Buddhist attacks on Tamil Christians. In fact, Sri Lanka Buddhists have erected a nasty police state and shown a propensity for violence against the Tamil minority, some elements of which have had revolutionary or separatist aspirations (not everybody in the group deserves to be punished for that).

And, militant Israeli Jews have set fire to Muslim mosques in Palestine and recently tried to “lynch” three Palestinians in Jerusalem. If Maher thinks only Muslims are thin-skinned, he should try publicly criticizing Israeli policy in America and see what happens to him.

Since Iraq didn’t have ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and wasn’t connected to 9/11, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that 300 million Americans brutally attacked and militarily occupied that country for 8 1/2 years, resulting in the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the wounding of millions, and the displacement of millions more, mainly because Iraq’s leader had talked dirty about America. Now that is touchy.

Americans tut-tutting over riots in the Arab world appear to have led sheltered lives. In most of the world, crowd actions are common over all kinds of issues, beyond the ones of race, class and college sports teams that routinely provoke them here. When I was living in India there were always items in the newspaper about a bus driver accidentally running over a pedestrian, and then an angry mob forming that killed the bus driver. Neighborhood nationalism. The same sort of crowds gather when a blaspheming author drives his discourse into the sanctity of their neighborhood. It is appalling, but I’m not sure what exactly you would do about that sort of thing. It certainly isn’t confined to Muslims

Maher is using his position as a comedic gadfly to promote hatred of one-sixth of humankind, and that is wrong, any way you look at it.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 12.18.52 AM

No comments: