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Stranger Than Fiction: How to Keep an Antiwar Movement Down

by Emma Quangel

May 9, 2016

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Imagine, if you will, the year 2016. It is a year of war. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ukraine, Turkey – just a handful in a long list – are under attack. Covert operations angling at “regime change” take place in the Caribbean, Central and South America. The African continent is engulfed in conflict, the threat of “regime change” knocking against even South Africa’s door. The BRICs are threatened, destabilizing. Thousands drown every year in the Mediterranean while millions more flood Europe, desperate for refuge from the violence and poverty that plagues their homelands. The right is on the rise across Europe, the US, Canada and Australia. The global economy is sagging under the weight of its own contradictions.

The United States government, that acts as the hired guns of a global class of jet-setting billionaires, imprisons 2.3 million of its own people. 3.2 per cent of its citizens are under correctional control. The descendants of those once kidnapped and enslaved are particularly tormented – one in three black males in the USA will spend some time in prison. 12,000 children in Flint, Michigan are poisoned by lead in the water. 60,000 people in New York City are homeless. Nearly 1,000 people were killed by the police in the United States last year. Thousands more are tortured – even boiled alive – in US prisons. In the state of Louisiana, black men in chains pick cotton for slave wages while overseers toting shotguns monitor them from horseback. The electoral system is rigged, disenfranchises millions, and offers the same solution, year after year: submit or be crushed.

Imagine, if you will, the year 2016 without a revolutionary movement against such conditions.

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The Black Panther Party was possibly the highwater mark for American revolution in the 20th century because it existed in concert with, and gave guidance to, a broad-based antiwar movement. While the labor struggles of the working class at the turn of the century were integral in improving the lives of millions of Americans and providing a platform for revolutionary socialism, it wasn’t until the radical labor movement started to speak out against the First World War that they were persecuted in full by the government, lynched, deported and imprisoned. Likewise, the Black Panthers were most heavily targeted when they developed a line that connected the suffering of the American people to the suffering inflicted on others by the United States abroad. In both instances, the culprit was imperialism, capitalism made flesh in the form of guns and planes that could stamp out challenges to its hegemony.

That the Black Panther Party even existed should one of the greatest points of pride among radicals in the United States. Indeed, Black Panthers are still on the run from the FBI or languishing in prisons, sometimes for decades under solitary confinement. They were able to serve the people while educating them about the world we lived in. To the Black Panthers, to anyone who would call themselves a dialectical materialist, the idea that the United States Government is an institution that can be reformed is simply absurd. The United States Government, to Marxists, does not exist as a faulty waiter failing to bring free health care and universal housing with the check, but rather, to mediate class conflict in favor of the bourgeoisie – not just in the United States, but worldwide. The Black Panthers saw this, and declared themselves in solidarity with the victims of imperialism. They toured the world, meeting with revolutionaries from North Korea to Vietnam. And this, along with organizing among poor black communities in the United States, is what brought down the wrath of the state on their heads.

It is possible to say that a revolutionary movement in the United States can only exist when there is praxis that recognizes the relationship between oppression in the US and imperialism. I would further venture to say that there can be no praxis without the two elements being present concurrently, and that no honest effort at building a revolutionary movement in the US can be made without recognizing that there must be an antiwar movement to join, and that this antiwar movement must be anti-imperialist.

After all, the wars of today differ greatly from the wars of the early 20th century, the wars that threw Emma Goldman and Big Bill Haywood in jail. We no longer have the draft – the popular rage over Vietnam saw an end to that – and the US spends more time launching air strikes from unmanned drones than digging trenches or preparing for bayonet combat. Likewise, imperialism doesn’t always take place at the end of a gun. The IMF and World Bank, created at the end of World War II, helped to exert influence over economies and governments where a heavier, more direct hand was once required. The creation of NATO and the Cold War made imperialism seem a war of ideologies, rather than the ham-fisted grab at resources that it was. Now, it seems that while American bombs and bullets murder so many worldwide, we are encouraged to side with imperialism as socialists. We are expected to take on the reasoning of George W. Bush and Samantha Power so long as it is dressed up and marketed in a way that pleases us, even if we consider ourselves “Left” leaning politically. Like soda and smartphones, we are exhorted to find identity in our positions, to represent ourselves by our consumer choices.

An alarming trend is on the rise in the United States and in the English-speaking world more generally: the ubiquitous Op-Ed. What was once relegated to just one page of the newspaper (the term Op-Ed meaning something that ran on the page opposite to Editorial) now makes up large sections of online news media. I imagine it is cheaper to pay a freelancer $250 (optimistic!) for their opinion than finance a foreign bureau. Whole TV networks run on an audio-visual version of the Op-Ed. It is a form of news that directly tells its reader how to think about the current events. Many gain their information on a topic simply from reading Op-eds. Today’s columnist and pundit is a TV show, someone that we can tune into on a regular basis for entertainment and flattery. If one show is boring, if you don’t like what they’re saying – simply switch the channel. It doesn’t matter, as all are trying to sell you a ruling class agenda. And, above all else, in our 24 hour news cycle, we are never allowed to present news in a boring way. The VICE lifestyle brand turned global news channel, with its correspondents pulled from content marketing’s central casting, is a prime example of the desire to “sex-up” news by letting opinions lead coverage. It is a way to engage the youth, as it boasts openly, to not only consume brands, but also official narratives, with enthusiasm.

A narrative example from the Op-ed world of news could be as follows: In Syria, democratic protesters are fighting against a brutal regime that slaughters them with impunity. These democratic protesters, now called rebels, are always at risk of being annihilated by state violence and torture because the Western Left has “failed” them.We must all support these rebels and pressure our government to do the right thing,whatever that might be.

Some articles might be run in conjunction, many that might contradict this narrative. We might learn from respected journalists with years of experience and lauded professional histories that things aren’t so simple. We might learn from State Department press transcripts that these brave rebels take quite a lot of money from the US Government. But it doesn’t matter if half of the paper contradicts the other half. When we are told how to read the news, through the eyes of these pundits, we are happily oblivious of whatever facts might contradict our chosen authority. After all, Thomas Friedman is far more influential and famous than some no-name stringer for The Times. Anyone who might disagree with the official narrative, even if they are respected journalists, scholars or activists, are now called conspiracy theorists, “hacks” or worse.

But while journalists are still nominally held to professional standards, the pundit owes no such thing to her audience. After all, this is just her opinion, and she is not expected to have thoroughly researched differing narratives – nor is she obligated to present opposing views, or to present anything evenly – when publishing her Op-ed. This is not unexpected, nor is it dishonest to the job description of a “pundit”. It’s up to the publication to decide how much of its material is news, and how much of it is entertainment packaged as Op-eds.

Yet, there is danger when a pundit or entertainer decides to call herself a journalist without having been subjected to the same standards we would expect from the NYT stringer. Facts are not checked and sources are not vetted. So-called journalists, such as Michael Weiss or Molly Crabapple, rely heavily on anonymous sources who slip them scintillating information or photographs. And yet, I am unsure who these sources are, who has vetted them, and how they did so. Indeed, as this new generation straddles the line between journalist and pundit, the means by which they communicate are themselves in question. My own WhatsApp number is from Iraq, though I have not lived there since October 2015. So, I think it’s natural to ask how these sources are processed, especially if the Op-ed writers posing as journalists are writing whole books based on their testimony, appearing on talk shows as experts, and building careers off promoting wars. While the content may be biased and one-sided, laden with marketing copy and convenient omissions, we should be incredibly wary on how we define, protect, but also how we verify the “source”. Indeed, I wouldask how these pundits find, vet and receive information, but as many already tried to have me fired from my last job for asking such questions, it’s pointless to attempt from my position – though I welcome corrections and inputs from editorial.

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As it stands, The Guardian admitted last week that it had been fed stories on Syria by the UK Home Office operating from behind a PR firm that was operating a Syrian advocacy campaign. Breakthrough Media joins its American agency Purpose (via The Syria Campaign) in pushing advocacy for pro-intervention narratives on the Syria conflict. What is left out of the discussion of whether or not public funds are being used to propagandize war to the tax-paying public is the disclosure of who the freelance “journalists” are that are being paid or otherwise lobbied to write on Syria. We would expect that journalists taking money or in kind contributions from campaign staff disclose such information when writing on the election – why not the same expectation from those who write on foreign policy matters? Perhaps it is because, in the long run, such issues are far weightier than whatever new jab a candidate throws on social media or a cable news talk show. One of the more chilling revelations from The Guardian, one seemingly lifted straight from my book, is that some of the journalists reported they were unaware that they were being utilized in this way.

If we knew that Fred Hampton or Emma Goldman were taking money from public relations firms (who may or may not have been receiving marching orders from governments) when speaking or writing on the wars they opposed, wouldn’t that change the way we see their positions? And certainly, if we were to discover that some of our favorite, cherished personalities who regularly tell us how to read the news were taking money from PR firms, to confuse, mislead, attack or threaten activists who might otherwise try and build a case against the US government’s wars abroad and at home, wouldn’t that be a scandal?

There may be no antiwar movement today because we live in a media environment that seeks to destroy it in its nascence. Andrew Bacevich, in his recent instructive essay for Harper’s called “American Imperium”, makes the case that:

The trivializing din of what passes for news drowns out the antiwar critique. One consequence of remaining perpetually at war is that the political landscape in America does not include a peace party.

Indeed, before there can be a peace party, there must be an antiwar critique. And the “trivializing din” that Bacevich speaks of is not simply drowning out antiwar critique, it is merciless in seeking to destroy and discredit ideas such as the fact that the United States enjoys unprecedented military, economic, ideological and strategic domination over the entire world. Such ideas, when voiced publicly, are met with derision and laughter. As if, with dozens of bases and tens of thousands of soldiers surrounding Russia, one could seriously argue that Russia is imperialist, or an equal threat to world peace as the US. There are no Russian bases and no Russian soldiers garrisoned on our borders. We cannot even know, as the numbers are not publicly available, how many US soldiers and bases are currently in the Middle East – indeed, how many are currently in Iraq and Syria, where much conflict is currently taking place. Whereas before, reliable journalists and their supportive editors might have been successful in discovering such figures, they are now too focused on revenue and survival. This opens wide the door for propagandists who wish to deride and discredit any remaining “Left” antiwar sentiment in the US. Until this is resolved, building an anti-imperialist antiwar movement will remain an uphill battle, even among smaller groups, as subjectivity and sophistry continues to be taught and promoted over objectivity, materialism, serious study and clear thinking.

 

[“Emma Quangel is the woman who bravely contributed to the outing of Nazi murderer/”Last Rhodesian” Dylann Storm Roof’s blog, which probably spoiled Roof’s chances at the inexorably successful—for white supremacists—insanity defense.  After Quangel, an insanity verdict for Roof would be an insanity verdict for the U.S. white supremacist system: which is to say, in lieu of Aristotelian-bourgeois justice, Artaudian ritual magic, a self-reparative exorcism.”]

British Collusion with Death Squads in the Muslim World

Counterpunch

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The British state has long been adept at cultivating fascistic forces in oppressed countries, the most infamous examples of this collaboration being the British open support for the misnamed Mujahideen (‘warriors of the faith’) in Afghanistan during the 1980s and also the British state’s role backing Loyalist sectarian death squads in the occupied six countries in the period of the ‘Troubles’. What was perhaps a slow trickle of events a decade ago has in more recent years turned into a tsunami of revelations alluding to Britain’s seemingly deep and extensive role in supporting death squads in the Muslim world. Having learnt lessons from its experiences in collusion in Afghanistan and Ireland, the British state appears to be applying a more complex and sophisticated strategy towards the current death squads in the Muslim world, some of whom are known more popularly as ‘Al Qaeda’, ‘Jabhat Nusra’, and ‘Isis’/’IS’/’Isil’/’Islamic State’.

The British state’s fundamental role in the bringing to prominence a violent sectarian ideology, which perverts and uses and abuses Islam and Muslims, is well known and goes back centuries when Britain’s was the midwife and senior ally to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. British colonialism backed the vicious religious sectarianism of Ibn Wahhab and the Saud family and brought them to power in the Arabian peninsula, a process which saw tens of thousands of people in that country massacred as part of this supremacist project.

In the late 19th century going into the 20th century, Britain instituted a number of reactionary forces in the Middle East that used and abused Islam as a cover for their monarchical and pro-colonial dictatorships, such as that in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the many monarchical mini-states in the Persian Gulf. The development of such political forces and states was at the same time a strategy against the growing pro-independence, nationalist, left nationalist and socialist struggles and countries gripping the region. Britain’s primary allies in the region are the most sectarian and oppressive regimes, and allying with them supports their common fight against any movements for independence of the people and countries of the region. Most recently, this unholy alliance has been leveled against pro-independence countries of the Libyan Jamahirya and Baathist Syria and also against the leading country in the ‘Resistance Axis’, Iran. Relatedly, the UK, USA and France, Britain’s major allies, are also in direct alliance with similar death squad forces. Mark Curtis in his book Secret Affairs (2010) has thoroughly documented and proven that Britain’s so-called global war on terrorism is predicated on allying with the very states in the Muslim world that are widely seen as propping up these same death squads, which makes the ‘war on terrorism’ more like a neo-colonial war of terrorism against people of Africa and Asia.

The apparent British role in directly fostering sectarianism and terrorism sometimes comes to light, such as during the SAS debacle in Basra in September, 2005. This was when the British undercover SAS dressed as Arabs with heavy weaponry were arrested by the Iraqi police and then forcibly and illegally taken back by the British army. Unfortunately, there was next to no investigative journalism and deeper probing conducted into this incident.

Then we have the case of the so-called Arab Spring in Libya whereby Britain teamed up openly with death squads, such as the ‘Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’. The group’s leader, Hakim Belhaj, was a primary ally for the British and the USA on the ground in Libya during 2011. It was reported recently in the media, and confirmed to me by Libyan journalists, political leaders and analysts that Belhaj’s organization is tied to ‘Isis’ in Libya. The SAS were also caught out in covert operations near Benghazi in Libya during early 2011. None of these issues has seen any serious investigation by British-based analysts and journalists.

Eyebrows were raised when former British Guantanamo and Bagram detainee Moazzam Begg traveled first to Libya and met Hakim Belhaj in 2012, and then went openly and illegally into Aleppo, Syria to openly support a death squad by the name of Katiba Muhijareen, which in its modus operandi and ideology is very similar to other more infamous armed gangs in Syria. Begg’s trial earlier this year collapsed as MI5 convinced the judge to drop the case when it came out that Begg’s visit to Syria was green-lighted in at least one secret meeting with MI5:

“In a subsequent blog [now deleted online – SC] “Begg said […] he had been approached by an MI5 officer “who said they wanted to talk to me about my views on the situation in Syria”.

““I told them that they must be aware that I was investigating several leads regarding British and American complicity in rendition and torture in Syria. They called back after consulting with their lawyers and said they understood that and would still like to meet. I agreed to speak to them and meet at a hotel in East London. Both MI5 and me had our lawyers present.”

“In the meeting Begg said MI5 were concerned about “the possibility of Britons in Syria being radicalised and returning to pose a potential threat to national security. I told them that Britain had nothing to worry about, especially since British foreign policy, at the time, seemed in favour of the rebels.”

“Begg then says he was “assured by MI5” that he could return to Syria and continue his work “unhindered””. (Guardian, 02/10/2014)

This seems to indicate that the British state is more than willing to facilitate even well-known public political figures in Britain to support their common aims in places like Syria. More indirect and circumstantial evidence points to possible British collusion, connected to Begg’s organization ‘Cage’, with one of their former clients, the so-called ‘Jihadi John’ (AKA Mohammed Emwazi), who before disappearing and apparently reappearing as an infamous ‘Isis’ butcher and propagandist complained of many instances of harassment and meetings with MI5. In addition to MI5’s outreach to Emwazi, MI5 has also admitted to trying to recruit the killer of Lee Rigby Michael Adebalajo.

More recently there has been a stunning public admission by Abu Muntasir stating he was a senior, if not the most senior, British-based recruiting sergeant for death squads in Chechnya, Kashmir, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Myanmar for some 20 years with de facto impunity from the British state: “I came back [from war] and opened the door and the trickle turned to a flood. I inspired and recruited, I raised funds and bought weapons, not just a one-off but for 15 to 20 years. Why I have never been arrested I don’t know.”” (Guardian, 13/06/2015)

While there is a growing number of articles recently, including in the British mainstream media, exploring possible USA state and government collusion with these death squads, there is in still little to no work digging into the nature and breadth of British collusion. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps one of the central reasons is that sections of and leading personalities in the British left have been and remain in open alliance with organisations and individuals in Britain who supportthese death squads, in some cases even giving them leadership platforms and positions in anti-war and other progressive organisations.

Three more factors complicate the issue: 1, the same sections of the British left have also themselves supported directly and in some cases indirectly these same death squads as ‘rebel’ or even ‘revolutionary’ forces in the ‘Arab Spring’. This seems to have pushed back on any possibility for certain people to make self criticisms and develop their position in light of the growing and overwhelming evidence that these armed gangs are not pro-people in anyway way but are depraved and profoundly sectarian and are in an overt and covert relationship with Western states in a common project to divide and ruin regions of Africa and the Middle East and Asia.

The final complicating factor is borne out of fear of not falling into anti-Muslim racism and prejudice or Islamophobia when engaging critically with these issues. It is of utmost importance that one exercises cigilance as to not to fall into the Western imperialist trap of internalizing anti-Muslim prejudice in countering collusion. There are a number of forces on what one can say is broadly on the left who have fallen into this trap and have fallen victims to the ruling classes strategy of Islamophobia. However, those who are mistakenly thinking they are supporting Muslims by backing  death squads perhaps fail to appreciate that these death squad forces and British state collusion with them is designed exactly against Muslims who are, in terms of being targeted and in a quantitative sense the overwhelming victims of this joint enterprise between leading Nato countries, reactionary states and sectarian armed gangs. It is an integral part of British racist policy to on the one hand punish all Muslims for a situation of the British state’s making in allying with the very regimes who are espousing basically the same ideology as Al Qaeda and ‘Isis’; ensuring over the decades that Saudi Arabia is in control of most of teaching in mosques in Britain and oppose and overthrow all tolerant forces in Islam that are tied to different levels of independence struggles against imperialism. Having developed this grand neo-colonial entrapment strategy towards Muslims, the British state deceitfully blames Muslims for extremism, when the British state itself is by far the biggest culprit in developing this extremism but white washes this situation and instead hides its own covert and overt strategies in this field and engages in the promotion and inculcation of anti-Muslim racism amongst peoples of all communities but focused especially on white communities. If one looks back to the history of the Loyalist paramilitaries, like with the death squads in the Muslim world, both these forces were on the surface in contention with the British state, however similarly in both these situations having spats here and there with these death squads only hides and befuddles the actual relationship between them.

In the West increasing numbers of people, writers and analysts are uncovering the USA’s role in collusion with death squads in the Muslim world it is only amount of time before the levee breaks as it were on this issue and people who live in Britain will be asking more questions and demanding accountability and justice. However, we are nearly into the fifth year after Britain openly teamed up death squad forces in Libya, the very forces it has been saying it has been opposing in the ‘war on terror’, and for all this time there has been a great amount of resistance and avoidance of this growing scandal. For the few who have been trying to raise these issues, the response has too often been at best avoidance or more often attempts at shutting down any mention of the subject.

As our comrades in the Irish freedom struggle said in relation to the British state’s covert and not so covert operations in supporting the Loyalist gangs: “collusion is no illusion, it is state murder”. The Irish people’s demands and struggles were listened to and acted upon by leading sections of the British left, and the latter supported and continue to support the Irish struggle in their on-going campaigns against collusion. It is high time that the British left similarly listened to the people of Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia, Mali and many other places and campaign to end this sordid relationship which is collapsing whole countries and regions into veritable living nightmares borne out of the policies of imperialism in an increasingly desperate and barbaric crisis mode.

[Sukant Chandan is a London-based decolonial anti-imperialist activist and analyst. He advocated justice for Libyans in visiting Libya three times during the Nato onslaught in 2011 and reports frequently on English-language news channels based in Russia, Iran, China and Lebanon on which he discusses issues pertaining to the challenges of the struggle to end neo-colonialism. He can be contacted at sukant.chandan@gmail.com.]