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Avaaz: Manufacturing Consent for Wars Since 2011

Wall of Controversy

March 20, 2015

By James Boswell

 

 

Four years ago I received an email from the internet campaign group Avaaz which read:

“Together, we’ve sent 450,000 emails to the UN Security Council, “overwhelming” the Council President and helping to win targeted sanctions and a justice process for the Libyan people. Now, to stop the bloodshed, we need a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.” [Bold as in the original.]

Of course, that no-fly zone was Nato’s justification for a war – “no-fly zone” means war. So the bloodshed wasn’t about to be stopped, it was about to begin in earnest:

The foreign media has largely ceased to cover Libya because it rightly believes it is too dangerous for journalists to go there. Yet I remember a moment in the early summer of 2011 in the frontline south of Benghazi when there were more reporters and camera crews present than there were rebel militiamen. Cameramen used to ask fellow foreign journalists to move aside when they were filming so that this did not become too apparent. In reality, Gaddafi’s overthrow was very much Nato’s doing, with Libyan militiamen mopping up.

Executing regime change in Libya cost the lives of an estimated 20,000 people: but this was only the immediate death toll, and as a civil war rages on, the final figure keeps rising, indefinitely and seemingly inexorably. And the number of victims will go on rising for so long as there is lawlessness and chaos in a country now completely overrun with terrorists and warlords. So what was started with a “no-fly zone” is ending with a hell on earth: abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Given their unpardonable role in instigating this entirely avoidable human catastrophe, does it come as any surprise when, with “mission accomplished”, the media chose to turn its back on the carnage in Libya? Patrick Cockburn, who wrote the article from which the above quote is taken, has been a rare exception to the rule. A journalist who was not so quick to swallow the official line, he has since been committed to telling the bigger story, which includes the falsity of Nato’s original justifications for air strikes:

Human rights organisations have had a much better record in Libya than the media since the start of the uprising in 2011. They discovered that there was no evidence for several highly publicised atrocities supposedly carried out by Gaddafi’s forces that were used to fuel popular support for the air war in the US, Britain, France and elsewhere. These included the story of the mass rape of women by Gaddafi’s troops that Amnesty International exposed as being without foundation. The uniformed bodies of government soldiers were described by rebel spokesmen as being men shot because they were about to defect to the opposition. Video film showed the soldiers still alive as rebel prisoners so it must have been the rebels who had executed them and put the blame on the government.

So here is a pattern that repeats with uncanny consistency, and with the mainstream media’s failure to discover and report on the truth also recurring with near parallel regularity. We had the ‘Babies out of incubators’ story in Kuwait, and then those WMDs in Iraq that, as Bush Jnr joked, “have got to be here somewhere”, to offer just two very well-established prior instances of the kinds of lies that have taken us to war.

Patrick Cockburn continues:

Foreign governments and media alike have good reason to forget what they said and did in Libya in 2011, because the aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi has been so appalling. The extent of the calamity is made clear by two reports on the present state of the country, one by Amnesty International called “Libya: Rule of the gun – abductions, torture and other militia abuses in western Libya” and a second by Human Rights Watch, focusing on the east of the country, called “Libya: Assassinations May Be Crimes Against Humanity”.1

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article published last November.

But accusations do not stop even at the deplorable roles played by “foreign governments and media alike”, but apply to all of the various warmongering parties at that time, and one of the groups we must also point the finger to is Avaaz. For it was Avaaz, more than any other campaign group, who pushed alongside Nato in their call for the “no-fly zone” which got the whole war going. To reiterate, since it is vitally important that this is understood, a “no-fly zone” always and without exception means war:

Clearly a no-fly zone makes foreign intervention sound rather humanitarian – putting the emphasis on stopping bombing, even though it could well lead to an escalation of violence.

No wonder, too, that it is rapidly becoming a key call of hawks on both sides of the Atlantic. The military hierarchy, with their budgets threatened by government cuts, surely cannot believe their luck – those who usually oppose wars are openly campaigning for more military involvement.2

So wrote John Hilary in an excellent article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” published on the cusp of “intervention”.

In response, Ben Wikler, a campaign director at Avaaz, posted a comment that included the following remarks:

Would imposing a no-fly zone lead to a full-blown international war? No-fly zones can mean a range of different things.

Wikler is wrong and Hilary correct: “no-fly zones” always mean war. And as a consequence, those at Avaaz like Ben Wikler now have blood on their hands – and yet are unrepentant.

Yes, as with most others who were directly or indirectly culpable, “foreign governments and media alike”, it seems Avaaz too are suffering from collective amnesia. Not only have they forgotten the terrible consequences of imposing a “no-fly zone” on Libya, but they also seem to have forgotten their own deliberate efforts when it came to bolstering public support for that “bloody and calamitous” (to use Cockburn’s words) “foreign intervention” (to use the weasel euphemisms of Nato and the West). Because instead of reflecting upon the failings of Nato’s air campaign four years ago, and without offering the slightest murmur of apology for backing it (not that apologies help at all), Avaaz are now calling upon their supporters to forget our murderous blundering of the recent past, with calls for the same action all over again… this time in Syria.

It was yesterday when I received the latest email from Avaaz. Don’t worry, I’m not a supporter (although the simple fact I receive their emails means by their own definition, I am presumably counted one), but after Libya I chose to remain on their mailing list simply to keep an eye on what they were doing. And (not for the first or the second time) they are selling us on more war:

The Syrian air force just dropped chlorine gas bombs on children. Their little bodies gasped for air on hospital stretchers as medics held back tears, and watched as they suffocated to death.

But today there is a chance to stop these barrel bomb murders with a targeted No Fly Zone.

The US, Turkey, UK, France and others are right now seriously considering a safe zone in Northern Syria. Advisers close to President Obama support it, but he is worried he won’t have public support. That’s where we come in.

Let’s tell him we don’t want a world that just watches as a dictator drops chemical weapons on families in the night. We want action.

One humanitarian worker said ‘I wish the world could see what I have seen with my eyes. It breaks your heart forever.’ Let’s show that the world cares — sign to support a life-saving No Fly Zone

Obviously, I am not supplying the link for this latest call to arms: “a[nother] life-saving No Fly Zone”.

After Avaaz called for war against Libya back in 2011, I wrote a restrained article. But I was too polite. When they called for war again following the sarin gas attack on Ghouta, I hesitated again and looked into the facts. They didn’t stack up (as I explained at length in another post). But nor did I damn Avaaz on that occasion, as I ought to have done, when with Libya already ablaze they set up a campaign like this (sorry that it’s hard to read):

Since that time it has become evident to the world (at least the one outside the Avaaz office) that it has been Syrian forces who have most successfully fought back against Islamist extremists (al-Qaeda, but now more often called ISIS) who not only use poison gas to murder their enemies and spread fear, but methods so barbaric and depraved – public mass beheadings, crucifixions and even cannibalism – that you wonder which century we are living in. But Avaaz push the blame for all of this killing back on to the Assad regime, just as the West (whose close allies continue to back the so-called “rebels”) have also tried to do. And Avaaz are now saying (once again) that escalating the conflict is the way to save the people of Syria – so don’t worry if it spreads the infection now called ISIS – more love bombs are the preferred Avaaz solution for every complex political situation:

“Today, Gadhafi is dead, and the Libyan people have their first chance for democratic, accountable governance in decades…. American casualties were zero. Insurgent fighters and the vast majority of the population have cheered the victory as liberation, and courageous Syrians who face daily threats of death for standing up to their own repressive regime have taken comfort in Gadhafi’s fall. These accomplishments are no small feats for those who care about human dignity, democracy, and stability….

Progressives often demand action in the face of abject human suffering, but we know from recent history that in some situations moral condemnation, economic sanctions, or ex-post tribunals don’t save lives. Only force does.”

These are the self-congratulatory words of Tom Perriello, the co-founder of Avaaz, writing in late 2012. And he finishes the same piece:

We must realize that force is only one element of a coherent national security strategy and foreign policy. We must accept the reality—whether or not one accepts its merits—that other nations are more likely to perceive our motives to be self-interested than values-based. But in a world where egregious atrocities and grave threats exist, and where Kosovo and Libya have changed our sense of what’s now possible, the development of this next generation of power can be seen as a historically unique opportunity to reduce human suffering. 3

Independent investigative journalist, Cory Morningstar, who has probed very deeply into the organization says, “Make no mistake – this is the ideology at the helm of Avaaz.org.”

As she explains:

Tom Perriello is a long-time collaborator with Ricken Patel. Together, they co-founded Avaaz.org, Res Publica and FaithfulAmerica.org.

Perriello is a former U.S. Representative (represented the 5th District of Virginia from 2008 to 2010) and a founding member of the House Majority Leader’s National Security Working Group.

Perriello was also co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He worked for Reverend Dr. James Forbes on “prophetic justice” principles. Many of these organizations were created with the intent of creating a broad-based “religious left” movement. […]

Despite the carefully crafted language and images that tug at your emotions, such NGOs were created for and exist for one primary purpose – to protect and further American policy and interests, under the guise of philanthropy and humanitarianism.

As Cory Morningstar also points out:

In December 2011, Perriello disclosed that he served as special adviser to the international war crimes prosecutor and has spent extensive time in 2011 in Egypt and the Middle East researching the Arab Spring. Therefore, based on this disclosure alone, there can be no doubt that the deliberate strategy being advanced by Avaaz cannot be based upon any type of ignorance or naïveté. 4

“It breaks your heart forever.” That was the heading under which yesterday’s email arrived and the way it signed off went as follows: “With hope, John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest of the Avaaz team”. And this is how they come again with further ploys to prick your conscience. So do please remember before you click on their pastel-coloured links or forward those ‘messages’ to your own friends, how they beat the drums to war on two earlier occasions. In 2013, when they last called for the bombing of Syria (but the war party were halted in their mission), and in 2011 when they first aided Nato’s grand deception and helped to bring unremitting horrors to the innocent people of Libya. Keep in mind too, how lacking in guilt they have been in light of their own imploring role during the run up to the full “shock and awe” display over Tripoli.

Because John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest… are really not our friends. They are humanitarian hawks, who are in the business of manufacturing consent for every Nato “intervention”. Indeed, I would like to ask John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest, in good faith, just how do you sleep at night?

Click here to read a thorough examination of Avaaz put together by independent investigative journalist Cory Morningstar.

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Additional:

Here is an open letter I constructed in Summer 2012, but then decided not to post:

Dear Ricken, Eli and the whole Avaaz team,

By your own rather loose definition, I have been a member of Avaaz now for several years. In other words I responded to one of your campaigns many moons ago, and have never subsequently withdrawn my name from your mailing list. I believe that under your own terms, I am thus one of the many millions of your ‘members’. You presume that all those like me who are ‘in the Avaaz community’ support your various campaigns simply because we are on your contact list, although in my own case, this is absolutely not the case. I have ceased to support any of the Avaaz campaigns since you pushed for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya, and from this time on, have kept up with your campaign messages simply to keep an eye on you. I vowed never again to sign any of your petitions on the grounds that I do not wish to be a supporter of any organisation that backs an aggressive and expansionist war.

The most common criticism of Avaaz, and other internet campaign groups, is that it encourages ‘slacktivism’, which is indeed a very valid concern:

Sites such as Avaaz, suggested Micah White in the Guardian last year, often only deal with middle-of-the-road causes, to the exclusion of niche interests: “They are the Walmart of activism . . . and silence underfunded radical voices.” More infamously, internet theorist Evgeny Morozov has called the likes of Avaaz “Slacktivists”, claiming that they encourage previously tenacious activists to become lazy and complacent.

There’s also the issue of breadth. Clicktivist websites often cover a range of issues that have little thematic or geographical relation to each other, which leaves them open to accusations of dilettantism.

Click here to read Patrick Kingsey’s full article in the Guardian.

Ricken Patel’s response to Kingsley is to point to their campaign against Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB:

“Our activism played a critical role in delaying the BskyB deal until the recent scandal was able to kill it,” Avaaz‘s founder, New York-based Ricken Patel, tells me via Skype. 5

So is this really the best example Avaaz has to offer? Since the BSkyB deal would undoubtedly have been stymied for all sorts of other reasons, not least of which were the various phone hacking scandals, and most shockingly, in the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone. This more than anything killed off the Murdoch bid for BSkyB.

We might also give a little grudging credit to Business Secretary Vince Cable, who in late 2010 revealed privately to undercover reporters that he was ‘declaring war’ on Rupert Murdoch. This caused such a storm that Tory leader David Cameron came out against Cable, describing his comments as “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”, whilst Labour leader Ed Miliband immediately followed suite saying that he would have gone further and sacked Cable 6. In any case, Murdoch was coming under attack from many fronts (including, as shown by Cable’s example, a maverick offensive from inside the government), and so there were already growing calls for a review of the BskyB deal. As it turns out, the deal itself was seriously compromised by a conflict of interests involving Ofcom Chairman Colette Bowe, not that this widely reported – I wrote a post on it just before the deal suddenly collapsed. In fact, I had tried in vain to get a number of politicians to look into this aspect of the case, but none at all even bothered to reply. The story the media were telling quickly moved on, and so the role of Ofcom remains more or less unscrutinised.

But I have a far bigger problem with Avaaz than simply the matter of its lack of effectiveness. Since even if Avaaz has achieved nothing concrete whatsoever, which might well be the case, its growing prominence as a campaign group is undoubtedly helping to frame the protest agenda. Picking and choosing what are and aren’t important issues is dilettantism, yes, and also, potentially at least, “the manufacturing of dissent”. Avaaz‘s defence is that it is an independent body – oh, really?

Co-founder and Director of Avaaz, Ricken Patel said in 2011 “We have no ideology per se. Our mission is to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. Idealists of the world unite!”

“No ideology per se”? So what then are we to make of your association with another organisation called Res Publica, of which Patel is a fellow, and Eli Pariser has also been a member of the Advisor Board.

Res Publica (US) is described by wikipedia as “a US organization promoting ‘good governance, civic virtue and deliberative democracy.’”, though there is no article on the group itself, and nor, for that matter, any entry on Ricken Patel himself. If I visit the Res Publica website, however, the link I immediately find takes me straight to George Soros’ Open Democracy group and also the International Crisis Group of which Soros is again a member of the Executive Committee. The International Crisis Group that gets such glowing endorsements from peace-loving individuals as (and here I quote directly from the website):

President Bill Clinton (‘in the most troubled corners of the world, the eyes, the ears and the conscience of the global community’); successive U.S. Secretaries of State (Condoleezza Rice: ‘a widely respected and influential organisation’, Colin Powell: ‘a mirror for the conscience of the world’ and Madeleine Albright: ‘a full-service conflict prevention organisation’); and former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke (‘a brilliant idea… beautifully implemented’ with reports like CrisisWatch ‘better than anything I saw in government’).

Whilst according to Res Publica‘s own website Ricken Patel has himself “consulted for the International Crisis Group, the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation…”

To cut to the quick then, Avaaz claims to independence are simply a sham. Whether foundation funded or not, you are undeniably foundation affiliated. Which brings me to your recent campaigns.

In a letter which I received on Wednesday 11th January, you wrote, typically vaingloriously, about the significance of Avaaz in bringing about and supporting the uprisings of Arab Spring:

Across the Arab world, people power has toppled dictator after dictator, and our amazing Avaaz community has been at the heart of these struggles for democracy, breaking the media blackouts imposed by corrupt leaders, empowering citizen journalists, providing vital emergency relief to communities under siege, and helping protect hundreds of activists and their families from regime thugs.

When all that I can actually recall is some jumping on the bandwagon and your support for the ‘shock and awe’ assault that we saw lighting up the skies over Tripoli. Gaddafi was ousted, of course, much as Saddam Hussein had been by the Bush administration, and likewise, the country remains in chaos. But does the removal of any dictator justify the killing of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people in the first months of the Libyan war – these figures according to Cherif Bassiouni, who led a U.N. Human Rights Council mission to Tripoli and rebel-held areas in late April. 7 Figures that officially rose to 25,000 people killed and 60,000 injured, after the attacks on Gaddafi’s besieged hometown of Sirte. 8 The true overall casualties of the Libyan war remain unknown, as they do in Iraq, although a conservative estimate is that around 30,000 people lost their lives. Avaaz, since you called for this, you must wash some of that blood from your own hands.

Now you are calling for ‘action’ against Syria, on the basis this time of your own report which finds that “crimes against humanity were committed by high-level members of the Assad regime”. Now, let me say that I do not in the least doubt that the Assad regime is involved in the secret detainment and torture of its opponents. The terrible truth is that such human rights abuses are routinely carried out all across the Middle East, and in many places on behalf or in collusion with Western security services such as the CIA. Back in September 2010, PolitiFact.com wrote about the Obama administration’s record on so-called “extraordinary renditions” [from wikipedia with footnote preserved]:

The administration has announced new procedural safeguards concerning individuals who are sent to foreign countries. President Obama also promised to shut down the CIA-run “black sites,” and there seems to be anecdotal evidence that extreme renditions are not happening, at least not as much as they did during the Bush administration. Still, human rights groups say that these safeguards are inadequate and that the DOJ Task Force recommendations still allow the U.S. to send individuals to foreign countries.[158]

Whilst back in April 2009, on the basis of what he had witnessed in Uzbekistan, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004, Craig Murray, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture”. In answers to questions, he explained to the committee how the UK government disguises its complicity and that he believed it has, in effect, helped to create “a market for torture”:

If I may refer to the documents on waterboarding and other torture techniques released recently in the United States on the orders of President Obama, if we are continuing to receive, as we are, all the intelligence reports put out by the CIA we are complicit in a huge amount of torture. I was seeing just a little corner in Uzbekistan. [p. 73]

I think the essence of the government’s position is that if you receive intelligence material from people who torture, be it CIA waterboarding, or torture by the Uzbek authorities or anywhere else, you can do so ad infinitum knowing that it may come from torture and you are still not complicit. [bottom p. 74]

Their position remains the one outlined by Sir Michael Wood, and it was put to me that if we receive intelligence from torture we were not complicit as long as we did not do the torture ourselves or encouraged it. I argue that we are creating a market for torture and that there were pay-offs to the Uzbeks for their intelligence co-operation and pay-offs to other countries for that torture. I think that a market for torture is a worthwhile concept in discussing the government’s attitude. [p. 75]

The government do not volunteer the fact that they very happily accept this information. I make it absolutely plain that I am talking of hundreds of pieces of intelligence every year that have come from hundreds of people who suffer the most vicious torture. We are talking about people screaming in agony in cells and our government’s willingness to accept the fruits of that in the form of hundreds of such reports every year. I want the Joint committee to be absolutely plain about that. [bot p.75] 9

Click here to watch all of parts of Craig Murray’s testimony.

Here is the introduction to Amnesty International‘s Report from last year:

Over 100 suspects in security-related offences were detained in 2010. The legal status and conditions of imprisonment of thousands of security detainees arrested in previous years, including prisoners of conscience, remained shrouded in secrecy. At least two detainees died in custody, possibly as a result of torture, and new information came to light about methods of torture and other ill-treatment used against security detainees. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, particularly flogging, continued to be imposed and carried out. Women and girls remained subject to discrimination and violence, with some cases receiving wide media attention. Both Christians and Muslims were arrested for expressing their religious beliefs.

But not for Syria – for Saudi Arabia report-2011.

And it continues:

Saudi Arabian forces involved in a conflict in northern Yemen carried out attacks that appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. Foreign migrant workers were exploited and abused by their employers. The authorities violated the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. At least 27 prisoners were executed, markedly fewer than in the two preceding years.

Further down we read that:

At least 140 prisoners were under sentence of death, including some sentenced for offences not involving violence, such as apostasy and sorcery.

Not that Amnesty‘s report on Syria report-2011 is any less deplorable:

The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody. The government failed to clarify the fate of 49 prisoners missing since a violent incident in 2008 at Saydnaya Military Prison, and took no steps to account for thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in earlier years. Women were subject to discrimination and gender-based violence; at least 22 people, mostly women, were victims of so-called honour killings. Members of the Kurdish minority continued to be denied equal access to economic, social and cultural rights. At least 17 people were executed, including a woman alleged to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse.

Please correct me, but so far as I’m aware, Avaaz have been entirely silent in their condemnation of the human rights violations of either Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia (two countries that maintain very close ties with the US). Silent too when Saudi forces brutally cracked down on the Arab Spring protests in neighbouring Bahrain. So one could be forgiven for thinking that when Avaaz picks and chooses its fights, those it takes up are, if not always in the geo-strategic interests of the United States, then certainly never against those interests.

Back to your call for action against Syria and the letter continues:

We all had hoped that the Arab League’s monitoring mission could stop the violence, but they have been compromised and discredited. Despite witnessing Assad’s snipers first-hand, the monitors have just extended their observation period without a call for urgent action. This is allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action, while the regime’s pathetic defense for its despicable acts has been that it is fighting a terrorist insurgency, not a peaceful democracy movement.

Well, I’m not sure that anyone was expecting much from the Arab League, but can you really justify what you are saying here? That the violence now taking place in Syria is against an entirely “peaceful democracy movement” and that Syria is in no way facing a terrorist insurgency. Not that such an insurgency is entirely unjustified; after all one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But that both sides are involved in atrocities, since both sides are evidently armed and the rebels are undeniably backed by militant Islamist groups.

Making statements such as “allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action”, directly implies that these foreign powers are simply protecting their own selfish interests (which is, of course, true), whereas the US is intent only on defending freedom and human rights. Such a gross oversimplification and plain nonsense.

So far, I note, Avaaz have not called for direct ‘military intervention’ in Syria, unlike in the shameful case of Libya. But given the timing of this latest announcement and on the basis of past form, I’m expecting petitions for what amounts to war (such as the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya) will follow soon enough.

And so to your latest campaign, which I received by email on Tuesday 10th April. It begins:

Dear Friends,

Today is a big day for Avaaz. If you join in, Avaaz might just move from having a small team of 40 campaigners to having 40,000!!

Then goes on to explain how the reach of Avaaz will be broadened by encouraging everyone to write their own campaign petitions:

So, to unlock all the incredible potential of our community to change the world, we’ve developed our website tools and website to allow any Avaazer to instantly start their *own* online petitions, tell friends, and win campaigns.

The site just went live – will you give it a try? Think of a petition you’d like to start on any issue – something impacting your local community, some bad behaviour by a distant corporation, or a global cause that you think other Avaaz members would care about. If your petition takes off, it may become an Avaaz campaign – either to members in your area, or even to the whole world!

On the face of it, you are offering a way for everyone to be involved. But 40,000 petitions…? Is this really going to change the world? I have an idea that maybe just five or six might serve the purpose better – here are my suggestions for four:

  • a call for those responsible within the Bush administration and beyond to be charged with war crimes for deliberately leading us into an illegal war with Iraq
  • the criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity of George W Bush and others who have publicly admitted to their approval of the use of torture
  • the repeal of NDAA 2012 and the rolling back of the unconstitutional US Patriot and Homeland Security Acts
  • a criminal investigation into the rampant financial fraud that created the current global debt crisis

So consider me a member of the team once more. I’m putting those four campaigns out there. Or at least I would have before I’d read your ‘Terms of Use’. For it concerns me that “In order to further the mission of this site or the mission of Avaaz, we may use, copy, distribute or disclose this material to other parties” but you do not then go on to outline who those ‘other parties’ might be. And you say you will “Remove or refuse to post any User Contributions for any or no reason. This is a decision Avaaz will strive to make fairly, but ultimately it is a decision that is solely up to Avaaz to make.”

Since you reserve the right to “remove or refuse to post” without making a clear statement of your rules and without any commitment to providing justification for such censorship, I see little reason in bothering to try. Doubtless others will attempt to build campaigns on your platform for actions regarding the very serious issues I have outlined above, and should they achieve this, then I will try to lend support to those campaigns. Alternatively, should I fail to come across campaigns formed around these and related issues, I will presume, rightly or wrongly (this is “a decision that is solely up to me to make”), that Avaaz prefers not to support such initiatives. Either way, I will not holding my breath.

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1 From an article entitled “The West is silent as Libya falls into the abyss” written by Patrick Cockburn, published by The Independent on November 2, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-west-is-silent-as-libya-falls-into-the-abyss-9833489.html

2 From an article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” written by John Hillary, published in the Guardian on March 10, 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/10/internet-activists-libya-no-fly-zone

3 From an article entitled “Humanitarian Intervention: Recognizing When, and Why, It Can Succeed” written by Tom Perriello, published in Issue #23 Democracy Journal in Winter 2012. http://www.democracyjournal.org/23/humanitarian-intervention-recognizing-when-and-why-it-can-succeed.php?page=all

4 From an article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”, Part II, Section I, written by Cory Morningstar, published September 24, 2012. Another extract reads:

The 12 January 2012 RSVP event “Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring?” featured speakers from Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rosa Brooks of the New America Foundation, and none other than Tom Perriello, CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Perriello advanced his “ideology” during this lecture.

http://theartofannihilation.com/imperialist-pimps-of-militarism-protectors-of-the-oligarchy-trusted-facilitators-of-war-part-ii-section-i/

5 From an article entitled “Avaaz: activism or ‘slacktivism’?” written by Patrick Kingsley, published in the Guardian on July 20, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/20/avaaz-activism-slactivism-clicktivism

6 From an article entitled “Vince Cable to stay on as Business Secretary” published by BBC news on December 21, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12053656

7 From an article entitled “Up to 15,000 killed in Libya war: U.N. Right expert” reported by Reuters on June 9. 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/09/us-libya-un-deaths-idUSTRE7584UY20110609

8 From an article entitled “Residents flee Gaddafi hometown”, written by Rory Mulholland and Jay Deshmukh, published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 3, 2011. http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/residents-flee-gaddafi-hometown-20111003-1l49x.html

9 From the uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture” on April 28, 2009. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/152/152.pdf

Please note that when I originally posted the article the link was to a different version of the document, but it turns out that the old link (below) has now expired. For this reason I have altered the page references in accordance with the new document.

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:nogix7L1-kIJ:www.craigmurray.org.uk/Uncorrected%2520Transcript%252028%2520April%252009.doc+craig+murray+evidence+parliamentary+slect+commitee&hl=en&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjfCqyleDnk_maooZDF7iGJ5MC68Lb9zNDi5PCH8_9PwlwCybyXYiCD-A1E-O_j9Z5XgnOsKsvguvirw4jqJW9zjuor_secSn7aw_X1JIxHxjLw0CZON7vwOcfitFM1bB8MOsaO&sig=AHIEtbScxyI2eTh3HF2MA_yGyeAcyTsoiQ

[James Boswell was born in Shrewsbury in 1967. In 1986 he moved to London to study Physics at Imperial College, and then moved again in 1989, this time to Sheffield, where his research on comets culminated in a PhD awarded in 1994. Having been settled in Sheffield ever since, he is currently a Physics lecturer at the Sheffield International College.]

 

 

As Empire Froths at the Mouth, Avaaz Eyes Venezuela

March 5, 2015

RacistAvaazAd

Above: The Avaaz “Good Versus Evil” campaign for the June, 2012 Rio Summit. Above: A downloadable poster as found on the Avaaz Press Centre published in the Financial Times. Vilification: Note the dark cast/ugly sky behind the leaders Avaaz would wish you to believe are “evil,” versus the light and sun shining through over the Imperialist, obstructionist “leaders” that Avaaz is attempting to convince you are “good.” [Further reading: Rio Summit “Good Versus Evil” Advert Displays Blatant Racism and Imperialism at Core of Avaaz]

Via @Karol_en_Red: “As with Libya & Syria, Avaaz sets out for a massive campaign against Bolivarian Venezuela: 1st email circulating”

Twitter March 4 2015

Those at the helm of Avaaz (and Purpose Inc.) possess a deep understanding of the behavioural economics of hatred. They execute it brilliantly, albeit, cautiously:

Avaaz petition, February 12, 2015:

“Currently Venezuela has the highest rate of HIV infection and teenage pregnancy in South America. So health agencies are alarmed because condoms are needed to prevent these cases are triggered. While the President replied evasively, the local office of the World Health Organization (PAHO) can enact emergency and build international support for massively providing condoms and reasonably priced.”* [Read the full text here.]

Avaaz Screenshot Full March 5 2015

Note the framing/language: “while the president replied evasively“. President Maduro is anything but evasive. Evasive is the Avaaz petition itself which deliberately omits the economic warfare, economic sanctions, and an ongoing coup attempt waged upon the Maduro Government, all led by the United States.

Yet none of this is surprising considering Avaaz co-founder Tom Perriello is a pro-war former U.S. Representative under the Obama Administration. Nor is it surprising considering Avaaz’s role in the annihilation of Libya and their (failed) attempt to impose of a no-fly zone on Syria. Purpose Inc. (a public relations firm established by Avaaz co-founders) continues multiple campaigns intended to build acquiescence for a war on Syria. [Further reading: SYRIA: Avaaz, Purpose & the Art of Selling Hate for Empire | Wag the Dog: Campaigns of Purpose | Avaaz: the World’s Most Powerful NGO]

 January 20, 2015: Venezuelan Right-Wing Wants to “Make the Economy Scream”

“As Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro warns that the opposition’s economic war is part of the overall attempt to oust his government, teleSUR English interviews Dr Franciso Domiguez to look at the how this strategy has been previously used against progressive governments in Latin Ameirca in the past.”

 

Jan 24, 2015: Maduro cites ongoing economic coup d’état in Venezuela

“Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro affirmed that there is an ongoing economic coup d’etat in Venezuela orchestrated by the country’s radical right-wing opposition. Maduro called on the National Assembly of Venezuela to launch an investigation to bring those responsible for the economic destabilization offensive to justice.”

 

 

January 29, 2015: CELAC summit ends with declaration in support of Venezuela:

“The summit of the Community of Latin and American States (CELAC) concluded in Costa Rica today with a declaration in solidarity with Venezuela. Various Latin American presidents declared their support for the Venezuelan government in the face of destabilization efforts.”

 

 

March 4, 2015: Venezuela exposes opposition involvement in coup attempt

“Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro revealed new evidence concerning February’s failed coup. During his weekly television show on Tuesday. Maduro played audio recordings of a New York based Venezuelan opposition leader’s declaration to be read had the coup succeeded. Meanwhile, a delegation from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is scheduled to arrive in Caracas to mediate tensions between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. Participating in the delegation are representatives of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and UNASUR Secretary General Ernesto Samper.”

 

 

February 25, 2015: Why the CIA Won’t Give Up on Venezuela:

Interview with Eva Golinger

 

 

[*Original in Spanish: Actualmente Venezuela tiene la tasa más alta de infección por VIH y embarazo adolescente en Suramérica. Por eso las entidades de salud están alarmadas, pues se necesitan preservativos para evitar que estos casos se disparen. Mientras el Presidente responde con evasivas, la oficina local de la Organización Mundial de la Salud (PAHO) puede decretar la emergencia y conseguir apoyo internacional para proveer condones de forma masiva y a precios razonables.] Read the full text here.

Further reading:

February 23, 2015: Venezuelan Health Ministry to Distribute 18 Million Free Condoms: “The Venezuelan Health Ministry announced on Friday that the National Public Health System will distribute 18 million condoms for men and women free of charge over the course of 2015. The move comes amidst artificial scarcities of contraceptives generated by private producers and distributors as part of an economic war against the government of Nicolas Maduro.” http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/11226

February 17, 2015: What is Inexcusable is Venezuela’s Political Independence by John Pilger: “There are straightforward principles and dynamics at work here. Washington wants to get rid of the Venezuelan government because it is independent of U.S. designs for the region and because Venezuela has the greatest proven oil reserves in the world and uses its oil revenue to improve the quality of ordinary lives. Venezuela remains a source of inspiration for social reform in a continent ravaged by an historically rapacious U.S.”

March 3, 2015: What Is Happening in Venezuela? “Coups and countercoups. Crackdowns. Economic crackups. Seven cents for a tube of toothpaste and $755 for a box of condoms. Falling oil prices. The arrest of an opposition leader. Washington plots. Human Rights Watch tweets. South America rallies…. Greg Grandin talks to a panel of experts to find out what really is going on in Venezuela.” http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/11246

• Avaaz: Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War | Part I, Section I
• Avaaz: Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War | Part I, Section II
• Avaaz: Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War | Part I, Section III
• Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War | Part II, Section I
• Avaaz: Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War | Part II, Section II
Welcome to the Brave New World – Brought to You by Avaaz
• Avaaz: Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War | Part II, Section III
The Grotesque and Disturbing Ideology at the Helm of Avaaz

conformity-is-unity-3

Image courtesy of Mark Gould

 

The Virgin Fallacy: From the Famine Cotton Board to the Millennium Village Project

Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa (CIHA)

February 13, 2015

by Cilas Kemedjio

 

In this three-part series (we post Part One today), Cilas Kemedjio takes on the ongoing crusade to spread neoliberal dogma and “western values.”  Part Two addresses William Easterly’s call to governments and aid agencies to be “guardians of virtue,” while Part Three moves to the continued efforts of Jeffrey Sachs to create development nirvanas in African (and other) societies.

 

TOE

The cover story in The Economist (June 1997) was “Emerging Africa.” It was a classic display of the arrogant paternalism that has come to be the hallmark of the new humanitarianism. We are told that poor countries, referred to as “swallowers of endless charity,” will continue to make “legitimate demands on the conscience of the rich world.” In order to maximize the efficiency of aid programs, reforming corrupt models of governance should be the priority of donors: “If a country’s government is too venal or incompetent to spend the money as specified, it must be told to allow non-governmental organizations to step in or do without aid altogether” (The Economist 13-14). William Easterly makes the case for this neoliberal agenda in the language of virtue in his book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. Easterly, a believer in the “Invisible Hand” theorized by Adam Smith, advocates an orthodox laissez-faire capitalism, that, coupled with democratic institutions, is the golden path towards growth. Jeffrey Sachs, in an article (“The Limits of Convergence: Nature, nurture and growth”) published in the same issue, credits Adam Smith for understanding better than modern economists the curse of tropical geography, that is, the link between geography and poverty (or growth). Sachs contends that global capitalism is “the most promising institutional arrangement for worldwide prosperity that history has ever seen.” Sachs claims that market-based policies and “fiscal rectitude” can help mitigate the “disabilities of the tropics.” The Economist, Easterly and Sachs all agree that good governance constitute the most important factor in the march out of extreme poverty: “Good government is not just a moral concern, or a basis for social stability and political legitimacy. Corruption, government breach of contract, expropriation of property, and inefficiency in public administration are found to harm growth.” For Sachs western economic domination may have been built upon the West’s nearly exclusive hold on capitalism. In the era of globalization, he suggests that economic prosperity should become “common property.” Jeffrey Sachs, the humanitarian at the center of Nina Munk’s The Idealist Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty, and Easterly, the unapologetic advocate of globalization, do find another common ground: the virgin fallacy.

idealistThe concept of virginity is at the heart of the undertakings of European colonization, from slavery to humanitarianism without borders by way of colonization. The tabula rasa authorizes the colonial project with the attendant exploitation of human resources whose privileged modality is constituted of forced labor. The virginal state presupposes a certain laziness or morbidity of native residents, whence the exotic mythologies of the unused reserves of human energy that precede the enslavement of peoples expropriated from their virgin lands. Allen Isaacman and Richard Roberts, in Cotton, Colonialism, and Social History is Sub-Saharan Africa (1995), argue that programs of cotton colonialism were built upon the empirical observations and fantasies of European visitors, traders, missionaries, and administrators. Their view of Africa’s potential to produce cotton stemmed from the nineteenth-century romantic images of Africa as a beautiful tropical region through the prism of neo-mercantile policies. Most expectations rested on the assumption that African rural societies enjoyed abundant leisure that could be used to fuel the cotton industry. The colonial production scheme was also based on the presumption of an underutilized labor force, the consequence of Africans being “congenitally lazy.” Therefore, it was the divine duty of colonial nations to “heal” this malady by forcing Africans in the cotton fields.

Jean-Paul Sartre, in his much-celebrated preface to Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, writes that the invention of the native was a result of the reduction of “the inhabitants of the annexed country to the level of superior monkeys in order to justify the settler’s treatments of them as beasts of burden.” Starvation was only one of the modalities for achieving the complete breakdown of the humanity of the colonized. Isaacman argues that “Mozambican peasants underwrote the Portuguese textile industry with their labor and were forced to sacrifice their own food security” (Cotton is the Mother of Poverty 1996). The Famine Control Board, established by the Portuguese, could be said to represent a Humanitarian Mission at the heart of colonial exploitation.

If colonies were the grounds for the first Humanitarian missions of modern times, the battlegrounds of the Nigerian civil war, otherwise known as the Biafra war (1967-1970), became the theater of another experimentation: partisan humanitarianism. This new brand of humanitarian intervention, popularized by Doctors Without Borders, has recently become the cornerstone of the new ethical order world order. The Right to Protect, as it is known, institutionalizes the sovereignty of human rights over State sovereignty. Libya and Côte d’Ivoire have been, for better or for worse, targeted for this humanitarian experimentation. Jean Ping, the former President of the African Union Commission, laments how Libya is in chaos, after the NATO bombings that left the country in shambles and more than 50,000 deaths according to various estimates (Éclipse sur l’Afrique. Fallait-il tuer Kadhafi? 2014). Côte d’Ivoire has yet to recover from the disastrous French and United Nations military intervention following what amounted to be nothing more than a post-electoral dispute (Laurent Gbagbo selon François Mattei. Pour la Vérité et la Justice. Révélations sur un scandale français, 2014). I argue that this transformation of Africa as a ground where new experiments in international affairs are conducted proceeds from the Virgin Fallacy.

Easterly, in the name of fighting poverty, ends up casting Africa as a virgin land waiting to be molded by the conquistadores of morality and democracy, this time charged with the mission to protect the rights of the poor: “If you wonder what you can do about global poverty, here is virgin territory for action” (Easterly 34; emphasis added). The salvation of the poor, this theory surmises, will only come as a consequence of the spread of individual rights that are “Western values.” Sachs would probably agree with the assessment about the failure of development in Africa, but contends that it’s because foreign aid has been insufficient to generate satisfactory results. Sachs’s humanitarian approach to fight extreme poverty takes the form of the Millennium Villages Project while Easterly’s relies on the neoliberal dogma of free enterprise, globalization, and political freedom. Easterly is critical of Sachs’s philanthropic approach that seeks to create islands of successes in a sea of failure. Sachs’ humanitarianism is an experiment designed “to test his theories about ending poverty, and to demonstrate that his proposed series of interventions could be used on a grand scale to eradicate extreme poverty across Africa” (Munk 213). These theories, manufactured in Western laboratories, do not account for the complexities of African communities. The inability to learn from failures and successes that are written into the long history of fighting poverty in Africa calls into question this experiment that inevitably resurrects the tabula rasa mindset. In this sense, it does remain trapped within the paradigm of Africa as virgin territory.

 

[Cilas Kemedjio is Director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies at the University of Rochester and co-editor of the CIHA Blog.]

Western Intervention and The Colonial Mindset

conformity-is-unity-3
Poster courtesy of Mark Gould
January 20, 2015
By Prof. Tim Anderson
+++

In these times of ‘colour revolutions’ language has been turned on its head. Banks have become the guardians of the natural environment, sectarian fanatics are now ‘activists’ and the Empire protects the world from great crimes, rather than delivering them.

Colonisation of language is at work everywhere, amongst highly educated populations, but is peculiarly virulent in colonial culture. ‘The West’, that self-styled epitome of advanced civilisation, energetically reinvents its own history, to perpetuate the colonial mindset.

Writers such as Fanon and Freire pointed out that colonised peoples experience psychological damage and need to ‘decolonise’ their minds, so as to become less deferential to imperial culture and to affirm more the values of their own cultures. The other side to that is the colonial legacy on imperial cultures. Western peoples maintain their own culture as central, if not universal, and have difficulty listening to or learning from other cultures. Changing this requires some effort.

Powerful elites are well aware of this process and seek to co-opt critical forces within their own societies, colonising progressive language and trivialising the role of other peoples. For example, after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the idea that NATO forces were protecting Afghan women was promoted and gained popularity. Despite broad opposition to the invasion and occupation, this ‘humanitarian’ goal appealed to the missionary side of western culture. In 2012 Amnesty International put up posters saying ‘NATO: keep the progress going’, on women’s rights in Afghanistan, while the George W. Bush Institute collected money to promote Afghan women’s rights.

The unfortunate balance sheet of NATO’s 13-year occupation is not so encouraging. The UNDP’s 2013 report shows that only 5.8% of Afghan women have had some secondary schooling (7th lowest in the world), the average Afghan woman has 6 babies (equal 3rd highest rate in the world, and linked to low education), maternal mortality is at 470 (equal 19th highest in the world) and average life expectancy is 49.1 years (equal 6th lowest in the world). Not impressive ‘progress’.

In many ways the long ‘feminist war’ in Afghanistan drew on the British legacy in colonial India. As part of its great ‘civilising mission’ that empire claimed to be protecting Indian women from ‘sati’, the practise of widows throwing themselves (or being thrown) on their husband’s funeral pyre. In fact, colonial rule brought little change to this isolated practice. On the other hand, the wider empowerment of girls and women under the British Raj was a sorry joke. At independence adult literacy was only 12%, and that of women much less. While India still lags in many respects, educational progress was much faster after 1947.

Such facts have not stopped historians like Niall Ferguson and Lawrence James attempting to sanitise British colonial history, not least to defend the more recent interventions. It might appear difficult to justify colonialism, but the argument seems to have a better chance amongst peoples with a colonial past seeking some vindication from within their own history and culture.

North American language is a bit different, as the United States of America claims never to have been a colonial power. The fact that US declarations of freedom and equality were written by slave-owners and ethnic-cleansers (the US Declaration of Independence famously attacks the British for imposing limits on the seizure of Native American land) has not dimmed enthusiasm for those fine ideals. That skilful tradition certainly influences the presentation of Washington’s recent interventions.

After the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq we saw a change in approach, with the big powers enlisting sectarian fanatics against the independent states of the region. Even the new Iraqi state, emerging from the post-2003 rubble, was attacked by these fanatics. An ‘Arab Spring’ saw Libya trampled by a pseudo-revolution backed by NATO bombing, then delivered to a bunch of squabbling al Qaeda groups and western collaborators. The little country that once had the highest living standards in Africa went backwards decades.

Next came brave Syria, which has resisted at terrible cost; but the propaganda war runs thick. Few in the west seem to be able to penetrate it. The western left shares illusions with the western right. What was at first said to be a nationalist and secular ‘revolution’ – an uprising against a ‘dictator’ who was killing his own people – is now led by ‘moderate rebels’ or ‘moderate Islamists’. The extremist Islamists, who repeatedly publicise their own atrocities, are said to be a different species, against whom Washington finally decided to fight. Much of this might sound ridiculous to the average educated Arab or Latin American, but it retains some appeal in the west.

One reason for the difference is that nation and state mean something different in the west. The western left has always seen the state as monolithic and nationalism as something akin to fascism; yet in the former colonies some hope remains with the nation-state. Western populations have never had their own Ho Chi Minh, Nelson Mandela, Salvador Allende, Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro. One consequence of this is, as much as western thinkers might criticise their own states, they are reluctant to defend others. Many who criticise Washington or Israel will not defend Cuba or Syria .

All this makes proxy wars more marketable in the west. We could even say they have been a relatively successful tactic of imperial intervention, from the contra war on Nicaragua to the proxy armies of Islamists in Libya and Syria. So long as the big power is not seen to be directly involved, western audiences can find quite attractive the idea that they are helping another people rise up and gain their ‘freedom’.

Even Noam Chomsky, author of many books on US imperialism and western propaganda, adopts many of the western apologetics for the intervention in Syria. In a 2013 interview with a Syrian opposition paper he claimed the foreign-backed, Islamist insurrection was a repressed ‘protest movement’ that had been forced to militarise and that America and Israel had no interest in bringing down the Syrian Government. He admitted he was ‘excited’ by Syria’s uprising, but rejected the idea of a ‘responsibility to protect’ and opposed direct US intervention without a UN mandate. Nevertheless, he joined cause with those who want to ‘force’ the Syrian Government to resign, saying ‘nothing can justify Hezbollah’s involvement’ in Syria, after the Lebanese resistance group worked with the Syrian Army to turn the tide against the NATO-backed jihadists.

How do western anti-imperialists come to similar conclusions to those of the White House? First there is the anarchist or ultra-left idea of opposing all state power. This leads to attacks on imperial power yet, at the same time, indifference or opposition to independent states. Many western leftists even express enthusiasm at the idea of toppling an independent state, despite knowing the alternatives, as in Libya, will be sectarianism, bitter division and the destruction of important national institutions.

Second, reliance on western media sources has led many to believe that the civilian massacres in Syria were the work of the Syrian Government. Nothing could be further from the truth. A careful reading of the evidence will show that almost all the civilian massacres in Syria (Houla, Daraya, Aqrab, Aleppo University, East Ghouta) were carried out by sectarian Islamist groups, and sometimes falsely blamed on the government, in attempts to attract greater ‘humanitarian intervention’.

The third element which distorts western anti-imperial ideas is the constrained and self-referential nature of discussions. The parameters are policed by corporate gatekeepers, but also reinforced by broader western illusions of their own civilising influence.

A few western journalists have reported in sufficient detail to help illustrate the Syrian conflict, but their perspectives are almost always conditioned by the western ‘liberal’ and humanitarian narratives. Indeed, the most aggressive advocacy of ‘humanitarian intervention’ in recent years has come from liberal media outlets like the UK Guardian and corporate-NGOs such as Avaaz, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Those few journalists who maintain an independent perspective, like Arab-American Sharmine Narwani, publish mostly outside the better-known corporate media channels.

Imperial culture also conditions the humanitarian aid industry. Ideological pressure comes not just from the development banks but also the NGO sector, which maintains a powerful sense of mission, even a ‘saviour complex’ about its relations with the rest of the world. While ‘development cooperation’ may have once included ideas of compensation for colonial rule, or assistance during a transition to independence, today it has become a $100 billion a year industry, with decision making firmly in the hands of western financial agencies.

Quite apart from the dysfunction of many aid programs, this industry is deeply undemocratic, with powerful colonial overtones. Yet many western aid workers really believe they can ‘save’ the poor peoples of the world. That cultural impact is deep. Aid agencies not only seek to determine economic policy, they often intervene in political and even constitutional processes. This is done in the name of ‘good governance’, anti-corruption or ‘democracy strengthening’. Regardless of the problems of local bodies, it is rarely admitted that foreign aid agencies are the least democratic players of all.

For example, at the turn of this century, as Timor Leste gained its independence, aid bodies used their financial muscle to prevent the development of public institutions in agriculture and food security, and pushed that new country into creating competitive political parties, away from a national unity government. Seeking an upper hand amongst the ‘donor community’, Australia then aggravated the subsequent political division and crisis of 2006. With ongoing disputes over maritime boundaries and petroleum resources, Australian academics and advisers were quick to seize on that moment of weakness to urge that Timor Leste’s main party be ‘reformed’, that its national army be sidelined or abolished and that the country adopt English as a national language. Although all these pressures were resisted, it seemed in that moment that many Australian ‘friends’ of Timor Leste imagined they had ‘inherited’ the little country from the previous colonial rulers. This can be the peculiar western sense of ‘solidarity’.

Imperial cultures have created a great variety of nice-sounding pretexts for intervention in the former colonies and newly independent countries. These pretexts include protecting the rights of women, ensuring good governance and helping promote ‘revolutions’. The level of double-speak is substantial.

Those interventions create problems for all sides. Independent peoples have to learn new forms of resistance. Those of good will in the imperial cultures might like to reflect on the need to decolonise the western mind.

Such a process, I suggest would require consideration of (a) the historically different views of the nation-state, (b) the important, particular functions of post-colonial states, (c) the continued relevance and importance of the principle of self-determination, (d) the need to bypass a systematically deceitful corporate media and (e) the challenge of confronting fond illusions over the supposed western civilising influence. All these seem to form part of a neo-colonial mindset, and may help explain the extraordinary western blindness to the damage done by intervention.

 

 

References

Tim Anderson (2006) ‘Timor Leste: the Second Australian Intervention’, Journal of Australian Political Economy, No 58, December, pp.62-93

Tony Cartalucci (2012) ‘Amnesty International is US State Department propaganda’, Global research, 22 August, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/amnesty-international-is-us-state-department-propaganda/32444

Ann Wright and Coleen Rowley (2012) ‘Ann Wright and Coleen Rowley’, Consortium News, June 18, online: https://consortiumnews.com/2012/06/18/amnestys-shilling-for-us-wars/

Noam Chomsky (2013) ‘Noam Chomsky: The Arab World And The Supernatural Power of the United States’, Information Clearing House, 16 June, online: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article35527.htm

Bush Centre (2015) ‘Afghan Women’s Project’, George W, Bush Centre, online: http://www.bushcenter.org/womens-initiative/afghan-womens-project

Some detail of Syria’s ‘false flag’ massacres can be seen in the following articles:

Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh (2013) ‘Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack’, MINT PRESS, August 29, online:http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/

Rainer Hermann (2012) ‘Abermals Massaker in Syrien’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 7 June, online: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/neue-erkenntnisse-zu-getoeteten-von-hula-abermals-massaker-in-syrien-11776496.html

Stephen Lendman (2012) Insurgents Named Responsible for Syrian Massacres’, ICH, 11 June: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article31544.htm

Richard Lloyd and Theodore A. Postol (2014) ‘Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013’, MIT, January 14, Washington DC, online:https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1006045-possible-implications-of-bad-intelligence.html#storylink=relast

Marinella Correggia, Alfredo Embid, Ronda Hauben, Adam Larson (2013) ‘Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity for the Syrian Houla Massacre of May 2012’, CIWCL,May 15, online: http://ciwclibya.org/reports/realtruthhoula.html

ISTEAMS (2013) ‘Independent Investigation of Syria Chemical Attack Videos and Child Abductions’, 15 September, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/STUDY_THE_VIDEOS_THAT_SPEAKS_ABOUT_CHEMICALS_BETA_VERSION.pdf

Seymour Hersh (2013) ‘Whose Sarin?’, LRB, 19 December, online: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

Souad Mekhennet (2014) ‘The terrorists fighting us now? We just finished training them’, Washington Post, August 18, online: http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/08/18/the-terrorists-fighting-us-now-we-just-finished-training-them/

Marat Musin (2012b) ‘THE HOULA MASSACRE: Opposition Terrorists “Killed Families Loyal to the Government’, Global research, 1 June, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-houla-massacre-opposition-terrorists-killed-families-loyal-to-the-government/31184?print=1

Sharmine Narwani (2014) ‘Syria: the hidden massacre’, RT, 7 May, online: http://rt.com/op-edge/157412-syria-hidden-massacre-2011/

Sharmine Narwani (2014) ‘Joe Biden’s latest foot in mouth’, Veterans News Now, October 3, online: http://www.veteransnewsnow.com/2014/10/03/510328joe-bidens-latest-foot-in-mouth/

Truth Syria (2012) ‘Syria – Daraa revolution was armed to the teeth from the very beginning’, BBC interview with Anwar Al-Eshki,YouTube, 7 November, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoGmrWWJ77w

A List of Liberals & Leftists Who Supported the Bombing of Libya

Rouge Nation

November 11, 2014

by David Mizner

libya-before-and-after-1

I was struck by how many prominent liberal and leftist pundits and journos took no position, at least none than I could find. (I’d argue that not speaking out against intervention — a euphemism for what was clearly a war of aggression from the outset — is a failing only slightly smaller than supporting it.) There were also people like Spencer Ackerman who opposed intervention, then said they were wrong for doing so when it appeared (to them) to be a success. Chris Hayes opposed intervention then said he was wrong to have done so then said he was right to have done so.

It’s not always clear what constitutes support for intervention. For example, Laurie Penny cheered the No Fly Zone, then changed her mind shortly after. That is, she supported the UN No Fly Zone but opposed the US-NATO intervention. As did — to my surprise — Noam Chomsky. Yet a No Fly Zone necessitates bombing, and the UN intervention led to the second and, perhaps more to the point, the UN intervention was driven by the US and NATO. So, yes, both Chomsky and Penny make the list.

You’ll likely quibble with my classifications. Is Robert Pape really a liberal? No, probably not, more of realist, but he’s generally seen as anti-intervention, so. And while I generally didn’t include government officials, I cited AM Slaughter, who worked State at the time, because I felt that any list of cruise missile liberals would be incomplete without her.

Very few of those listed below have written much, if at all, about Libya since Qaddafi’s death. Juan Cole is a notable exception.

*scroll down

Gilbert Achcar

Jonathan Alter

Ben Armbruster

Aaron Bady

Peter Beinart

Zack Beauchamp

Michael Berube

Bob Cesca

Jonathan Chait

Noam Chomsky

Juan Cole

Howard Dean

EJ Dionne

Kevin Drum

David Graeber*

Max Fisher

Imani Gandy

Shadi Hamid

Tom Hayden

Christopher Hitchens

Murtaza Hussain

John Judis

Fred Kaplan

Nick Kristoff

Marc Lynch

Tom Malinowski

Michael O’Hanlon


George Packer


Robert Pape


Laurie Penny

Bill Press

Joy Reid

Ed Schultz

Eugene Robinson

AM Slaughter

The New Republic

Michael Tomasky

James Traub

Tom Watson

Philip Weiss

Ian Willians

Paul Woodward

Robin Yassin Kassab

CONFORMITY IS UNITY [DOWNLOAD the POSTER]

September 26, 2014

 

conformity-is-unity-LG

Poster courtesy of Mark Gould

conformity-is-unity2

Civil Society, NGOs, and Saving the Needy: Imperial Neoliberalism

Zero Anthropology

August 28, 2014

by Maximilian Forte


The following is an extract from my chapter, “Imperial Abduction Lore and Humanitarian Seduction,” which serves as the introduction to Good Intentions: Norms and Practices of Imperial Humanitarianism (Montreal: Alert Press, 2014), pp. 1-34:


Outsourcing Empire, Privatizing State Functions: NGOs

First, we need to get a sense of the size and scope of the spread of just those NGOs that work on an international plane, or INGOs, many of which are officially associated with, though not part of, the UN. Estimates of the number of INGOs (such as Care, Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières) vary greatly depending on the source, the definition of INGOs used, and the methods used to locate and count them. In broad terms, INGOs numbered roughly 28,000 by the mid-1990s, which represented a 500% increase from the 1970s; other estimates suggest that by the early years of this century they numbered 40,000, while some put the number at around 30,000, which is still nearly double the number of INGOs in 1990, and some figures are lower at 20,000 by 2005 (Anheier & Themudo, 2005, p. 106; Bloodgood & Schmitz, 2012, p. 10; Boli, 2006, p. 334; Makoba, 2002, p. 54). While the sources differ in their estimates, all of them agree that there has been a substantial rise in the number of INGOs over the past two decades.

Second, there is also evidence that INGOs and local NGOs are taking on a much larger role in international development assistance than ever before. The UK’s Overseas Development Institute reported in 1996 that, by then, between 10% and 15% of all aid to developing countries was channeled through NGOs, accounting for a total amount of $6 billion US. Other sources report that “about a fifth of all reported official and private aid to developing countries has been provided or managed by NGOs and public-private partnerships” (International Development Association [IDA], 2007, p. 31). It has also been reported that, “from 1970 to 1985 total development aid disbursed by international NGOs increased ten-fold,” while in 1992 INGOs, “channeled over $7.6 billion of aid to developing countries”.1 In 2004, INGOs “employed the full time equivalent of 140,000 staff—probably larger than the total staff of all bilateral and multilateral donors combined—and generated revenues for US$13 billion from philanthropy (36%), government contributions (35%) and fees (29%)” (IDA, 2007, p. 31). The budgets of the larger INGOs “have surpassed those of some Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) donor countries” (Morton, n.d., p. 325). For its part, the US government “gave more than twice the amount of aid assistance in 2000 ($4 billion) through nongovernmental organizations than was given directly to foreign governments (est. $1.9 billion)” (Kinney, 2006, p. 3).

The military is one arm of the imperialist order, and the other arm is made up of NGOs (though often these two arms are interlocked, as even Colin Powell says in the introductory quote in this chapter). The political-economic program of neoliberalism is, as Hanieh (2006, p. 168) argues, the economic logic of the current imperialist drive. This agenda involves, among other policies, cutbacks to state services and social spending by governments in order to open up local economies to private and non-governmental interests. Indeed, the meteoric rise of NGOs, and the great increase in their numbers, came at a particular time in history: “the conservative governments of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher made support for the voluntary sector a central part of their strategies to reduce government social spending” (Salamon, 1994). By more or less direct means, sometimes diffuse and other times well-coordinated, the interests of the US and its allies can thus be pursued under the cover of humanitarian “aid,” “charity,” and “development assistance”.

In his extensive critique of neoliberalism, David Harvey (2005) credits the explosive growth of the NGO sector under neoliberalism with the rise of, “the belief that opposition mobilized outside the state apparatus and within some separate entity called ‘civil society’ is the powerhouse of oppositional politics and social transformation” (p. 78). Yet many of these NGOs are commanded by unelected and elite actors, who are accountable primarily to their chief sources of funds, which may include governments and usually includes corporate donors and private foundations. The broader point of importance is that this rise of NGOs under neoliberalism is also the period in which the concept of “civil society” has become central not just to the formulation of oppositional politics, as Harvey (2005, p. 78) argues, but also central to the modes of covert intervention and destabilization openly adopted by the US around the world. More on this just below, but first we need to pause and focus on this emergence of “civil society” as a topic in the new imperialism.

The “Civil Society” of the New Imperialism: Neoliberal Solutions to Problems Created by Neoliberalism

There has been a growing popularization of “civil society,” that James Ferguson, an anthropologist, even calls a “fad”. Part of the growing popularity of this concept is tied to some social scientists’ attraction to democratization, social movements and NGOs, and even some anthropologists have been inspired to recoup the local under the heading of “civil society” (Ferguson, 2007, p. 383). The very notion of “civil society” comes from 18th-century European liberal thought of the Enlightenment, as something that stood between the state and the family. “Civil society” has been universalized, with “little regard for historical context or critical genealogy”:

“this new conception (of ‘civil society’ as the road to democracy) not only met the political needs of the Eastern European struggle against communist statism, it also found a ready export market—both in the First World (where it was appropriated by conservative Reagan/Thatcher projects for ‘rolling back the state’) and in the Third World…”. (Ferguson, 2007, p. 384)

Today “civil society” has been reconceived as the road to democratization and freedom, and is explicitly promoted as such by the US State Department. Whether from the western left or right which have both appropriated the concern for “civil society,” Ferguson argues that the concept helps to legitimate a profoundly anti-democratic politics (2007, p. 385).

The African state, once held high as the chief engine of development, is now treated as the enemy of development and nation-building (especially by western elites), constructed as too bureaucratic, stagnant and corrupt. Now “civil society” is celebrated as the hero of liberatory change, and the aim is to get the state to become more aligned with civil society (Ferguson, 2007, p. 387). Not only that, the aim is to standardize state practices, so as to lessen or remove barriers to foreign penetration and to increase predictability of political outcomes and investment decisions (see Obama, 2013/7/1).

In practice, most writers conceive of contemporary “civil society” as composed of small, voluntary, grassroots organizations (which opens the door, conceptually, to the focus on NGOs). As Ferguson notes, civil society is largely made up of international organizations:

“For indeed, the local voluntary organizations in Africa, so beloved of ‘civil society’ theorists, very often, upon inspection, turn out to be integrally linked with national and transnational-level entities. One might think, for instance, of the myriad South African ‘community organizations’ that are bankrolled by USAID or European church groups; or of the profusion of ‘local’ Christian development NGOs in Zimbabwe, which may be conceived equally well as the most local, ‘grassroots’ expressions of civil society, or as parts of the vast international bureaucratic organizations that organize and sustain their deletion. When such organizations begin to take over the most basic functions and powers of the state, it becomes only too clear that ‘NGOs’ are not as ‘NG’ as they might wish us to believe. Indeed, the World Bank baldly refers to what they call BONGOs (Bank-organized NGOs) and now even GONGOs (Government-organized NGOs)”. (Ferguson, 2007, p. 391).

That NGOs serve the purpose of privatizing state functions, is also demonstrated by Schuller (2009) with reference to Haiti. NGOs provide legitimacy to neoliberal globalization by filling in the “gaps” in the state’s social services created by structural adjustment programs (Schuller, 2009, p. 85)—a neoliberal solution to a problem first created by neoliberalism itself. Moreover, in providing high-paying jobs to an educated middle class, NGOs serve to reproduce the global inequalities created by, and required by, neoliberal globalization (Schuller, 2009, p. 85). NGOs also work as “buffers between elites and impoverished masses” and can thus erect or reinforce “institutional barriers against local participation and priority setting” (Schuller, 2009, p. 85).

Thanks to neoliberal structural adjustment, INGOs and other international organizations (such as the UN, IMF, and World Bank) are “eroding the power of African states (and usurping their sovereignty),” and are busy making “end runs around these states” by “directly sponsoring their own programs or interventions via NGOs in a wide range of areas” (Ferguson, 2007, p. 391). INGOs and some local NGOs thus also serve the purposes of neoliberal interventionism.

Trojan Horses: NGOs, Human Rights, and Intervention to “Save” the “Needy”

David Harvey argues that “the rise of advocacy groups and NGOs has, like rights discourses more generally, accompanied the neoliberal turn and increased spectacularly since 1980 or so” (2005, p. 177). NGOs have been called forth, and have been abundantly provisioned as we saw above, in a situation where neoliberal programs have forced the withdrawal of the state away from social welfare. As Harvey puts it, “this amounts to privatization by NGO” (2005, p. 177). NGOs function as the Trojan Horses of global neoliberalism. Following Chandler (2002, p. 89), those NGOs that are oriented toward human rights issues and humanitarian assistance find support “in the growing consensus of support for Western involvement in the internal affairs of the developing world since the 1970s”. Moreover, as Horace Campbell explained,

“During the nineties military journals such as Parameters honed the discussion of the planning for the increased engagement of international NGO’s and by the end of the 20th century the big international NGO’s [like] Care, Catholic Relief Services, Save The Children, World Vision, and Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) were acting like major international corporations doing subcontracting work for the US military”. (Campbell (2014/5/2)

Private military contractors in the US, many of them part of Fortune 500 companies, are indispensable to the US military—and in some cases there are “clear linkages between the ‘development ‘agencies and Wall Street” as perhaps best exemplified by Casals & Associates, Inc., a subsidiary of Dyncorp, a private military contractor that was itself purchased by Cerberus Capital Management for $1.5 billion in 2010, and which received financing commitments from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Barclays, and Deutsche Bank (Campbell (2014/5/2). Casals declares that its work is about “international development,” “democracy and governance,” and various humanitarian aid initiatives, in over 25 countries, in some instances working in partnership with USAID and the State Department’s Office of Transition Initiatives (Campbell (2014/5/2).

In order for NGOs to intervene and take on a more prominent role, something else is required for their work to be carried out, in addition to gaining visibility, attracting funding and support from powerful institutions, and being well placed to capitalize on the opportunities created by neoliberal structural adjustment. They require a “need” for their work. In other words, to have humanitarian action, one must have a needy subject. As Andria Timmer (2010) explains, NGOs overemphasize poverty and stories of discrimination, in order to construct a “needy subject”—a population constructed as a “problem” in need of a “solution”. The needs identified by NGOs may not correspond to the actual needs of the people in question, but need, nonetheless, is the dominant discourse by which those people come to be defined as a “humanitarian project”. To attract funding, and to gain visibility by claiming that its work is necessary, a NGO must have “tales that inspire pathos and encourage people to act” (Timmer, 2010, p. 268). However, in constantly producing images of poverty, despair, hopelessness, and helplessness, NGOs reinforce “an Orientialist dialectic,” especially when these images are loaded with markers of ethnic otherness (Timmer, 2010, p. 269). Entire peoples then come to be known through their poverty, particularly by audiences in the global North who only see particular peoples “through the lens of aid and need” (Timmer, 2010, p. 269). In the process what is also (re)created is the anthropological myth of the helpless object, one devoid of any agency at all, one cast as a void, as a barely animate object through which we define our special subjecthood. By constructing the needy as the effectively empty, we thus monopolize not only agency but we also corner the market on “humanity”.

References

Anheier, H. K., & Themudo, N. (2005). The Internationalization of the Nonprofit Sector. In R. D. Herman (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, 2nd ed. (pp. 102–127). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Bloodgood, E., & Schmitz, H. P. (2012). Researching INGOs: Innovations in Data Collection and Methods of Analysis. Paper presented at the International Studies Association Annual Convention, March 31, San Diego, CA.
http://faculty.maxwell.syr.edu/hpschmitz/papers/researchingingos_february6.pdf

Boli, J. (2006). International Nongovernmental Organizations. In W. W. Powell & R. Steinberg (Eds.), The Nonprofit Sector (pp. 333–351). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Campbell, H. C. (2014/5/2). Understanding the US Policy of Diplomacy, Development, and Defense: The Office of Transition Initiatives and the Subversion of Societies. CounterPunch.
http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/05/02/the-office-of-transition-initiatives-and-the-subversion-of-societies/

Chandler, D. (2002). From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention. London, UK: Pluto Press.

Ferguson, J. (2007). Power Topographies. In D. Nugent & J. Vincent (Eds.), A Companion to the Anthropology of Politics (pp. 383–399). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Hanieh, A. (2006). Praising Empire: Neoliberalism under Pax Americana. In C. Mooers (Ed.), The New Imperialists: Ideologies of Empire (pp. 167–198). Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications.

Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

International Development Association (IDA). (2007). Aid Architecture: An Overview of the Main Trends in Official Development Assistance Flows. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
http://www.worldbank.org/ida/papers/IDA15_Replenishment/Aidarchitecture.pdf

Kinney, N. T. (2006). The Political Dimensions of Donor Nation Support for Humanitarian INGOs. Paper presented at the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR) Conference, July 11, Bangkok, Thailand.
http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.istr.org/resource/resmgr/working_papers_bangkok/kinney.nancy.pdf

Makoba, J. W. (2002). Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) and Third World Development: An Alternative Approach to Development. Journal of Third World Studies, 19(1), 53–63.

Morton, B. (n.d.). An Overview of International NGOs in Development Cooperation. United Nations Development Program.
http://www.undp.org/content/dam/china/docs/Publications/UNDP-CH11%20An%20Overview%20of%20International%20NGOs%20in%20Development%20Cooperation.pdf

Obama, B. (2013/7/1). Remarks by President Obama at Business Leaders Forum. Washington, DC: The White House, Office of the Press Secretary.
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/07/01/remarks-president-obama-business-leaders-forum

Salamon, L. M. (1994). The Rise of the Nonprofit Sector. Foreign Affairs, July-August.
http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/50105/lester-m-salamon/the-rise-of-the-nonprofit-sector

Schuller, M. (2009). Gluing Globalization: NGOs as Intermediaries in Haiti. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 32(1), 84–104.

Timmer, A. D. (2010). Constructing the “Needy Subject”: NGO Discourses of Roma Need. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 33(2), 264–281.

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GOOD INTENTIONSGOOD INTENTIONS

Norms and Practices of Imperial Humanitarianism

Edited by Maximilian C. Forte

Montreal, QC: Alert Press, 2014

Hard Cover ISBN 978-0-9868021-5-7
Paperback ISBN 978-0-9868021-4-0


The Weaponized Naked Girl

manyfesto

July 15, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 11.18.04 PM

The 1976 film Network is the story of a failing television channel and its scheme to improve ratings by putting a crazy man on television. Howard Beale is driven out of his mind after he’s laid off to shield the bottom line. He is a widower, no real friends – a victim of the economic rearrangement of the 1970s. Promising to blow his brains out on live TV, Beale is suddenly the savior of the network as the ratings are higher than ever as a result of this outburst. He appears on television and delivers emotive appeals to his audience, reasoning that while he doesn’t know what do to fix the situation, he at least encourages everyone to “get mad”. But no mass movement erupts. Once his shares start to dip, the network assassinates him to pull their ratings out of the fire.

This is the usual synopsis you’ll receive. Network’s other story lines, the ones about Faye Dunaway’s sexually aggressive yet sexually vacuous character, the cynical manipulation of Black Power politics, are usually ignored. Everyone loves a story about a maniac street preacher. But Network is also about how the media is manufactured, how our pain and frustrations regarding the state of the world are manipulated for ratings, and how legitimate grievances are monetized under capitalism.

It’s a shame we miss out on that, because the media we consume today is just as cynically manipulated. It’s just as weaponized against the population as the media of a hundred years ago, but has now adopted new marketing techniques to sell, promote, and defend imperialism and capitalism. This is not to say that older techniques are not still used – some corruption is still as blatant as taking money or gifts – but other techniques have not been as examined, as thoroughly condemned. While sex and race are just as common as ever in the media’s worship of imperialism and capitalism, the new neoliberal strategies of atomization and the cult of the individual gives the old tropes of manipulation a fresh coat of paint:

We live in an era of flux. The old model of a creator or creative type—a person who does one thing well, and depends on institutions for support—is falling by the wayside. The creator of the future is a super-connected trans-disciplinary mutant: engaged and intellectually rebellious. Molly Crabapple has created everything from Occupy Wall Street posters and arts journalism of collapsing countries to murals on the walls of the world’s most exclusive nightclubs.  On stage, she delivers an energizing, take-no-prisoners talk on how creators—how everyone—can create a life of their own design, without asking permission. (Emphasis mine, from Lanvin Agency)

Atomization is the isolation of a person from their “institutions of support”, meaning, essentially, not just their fellow human being, but also the traditional ways of reading and perceiving knowledge, though history or dialectical reasoning. The atomized individual is “intellectually rebellious”, cut off from the ability to reason correctly and confused by constantly shifting parameters – relying on their own atomized and manipulated environment in order to successfully parse reality. A strategy as old as time is to successfully make the person feel like they came up with the idea to oppress themselves. The fresh coat of paint here is to make everyone relate to their own oppression in an intimate, ego-shaping way. The individual’s decision – once they choose oppression, of course – is a sacred decision; their reasoning and their motivations are private and autonomous. The oppressed are oppressed whether they choose to be or not – but the propaganda encourages the oppressed to accept it anyway, because it makes things easier for domination and atomizes society faster.

Imperialism, too, wants invitations for military advisors, trade agreements, and foreign direct investment. Wars and battles can be disagreeable. Usually it’s preferable both morally and logistically when the oppressed ask for their own subjugation, argue for it themselves. Likewise, patriarchy seeks to subjugate by invitation. Women are told that patriarchy really does have nothing but the best intentions, that she can cleverly twist patriarchy on her own to make it “work for her”. In this way, we can compare the woman who feels violent pornography is empowering to the country which feels monoculture depending on the imperial markets is empowering. Under this paradigm, we the audience, must believe that if they are asking for it, we must respect their agency. Systems of oppression, however, do not simply disappear because they are somehow passively (or actively!) accepted by the oppressed. Indeed, systems prefer the acquiescence of the oppressed to conflict. This is why it is so important for us to be told that women love being prostitutes and how much happier developing countries are under capitalism. In many cases, this functions as a sort of shield for oppression – it’s their choice, after all! And we must respect that. And if not their choice, well then, certainly NATO has their best interests as individuals at heart. An argument about imperialism successfully becomes an argument about agency.

All of this is not just a successful tool for atomization, it is also a savvy marketing strategy for oppression. For this essay, I am going to write mainly on how imperialist-marketing techniques specifically corrupts feminism. While women who stand against oppression and imperialism are often excluded from public platform, or labeled as “crazy” otherwise, when standing for imperialism, misogyny, racism, and capitalism, women are seen as strong and independent-minded. When their representations of the aforementioned are attacked, these otherwise “modern” women simply melt back into stereotypical gender roles, and are posited as victims. I will present three case studies for this phenomenon that will seek to make this connection between feminism, traditional gender roles, agency and imperial aggression.

For the first case study, let’s take a look at a so-called feminist, modern group of women: FEMEN. The marketing strategy of this Ukrainian group is pretty simple to grasp. A photo of any FEMEN action usually includes a half naked blonde woman, political slogans scrawled across her breasts, her face contorted in pain and fear as a police officer or soldier, generally a man, attempts to tackle and arrest her. Here we have a twofold approach: one strategy is that instead of holding placards, these women use their bare breasts as “weapons” (their word, not mine) to trick an otherwise apathetic and disinterested male population into buying whatever it is they’re selling, while courageously doing this as wielders of their own agency, allegedly wielding it in the name of atomized feminism (what I call elsewhere “postfeminism“). This is greatly analogous to marketing strategies which seek to utilize female sexuality – we can see examples of this on any convention showroom floor.  They are simultaneously empowered by using their sexuality to sell their politics, while at the same time cynically bowing to traditional gender roles. The second part of the marketing strategy is to usually include the police. Their groping hands put these lovely blonde ladies in danger. They roughly claw at their exposed flesh. Like King Kong, these women are generally presented as helpless against their attackers, suspended in midair by the ruddy paws of the enemy who seeks to destroy us all. We are winked at by the titillating vision of half-naked attractive white women, offering their politics on their breasts as a way of appealing to the so-called essential nature of of piggish men, appreciative of their strong choices, angry that a man would stand in their way. 

Unmasking the “Good Intentions” of Canadian NGOs

Tlaxcala

May 30, 2014

by Fernanda Sánchez Jaramillo

Interview with Nik Barry-Shaw, coauthor, with Dru Oja Jay, of Paved with Good Intentions, Canada´s Development NGOs from Idealism to Imperialism

Fernanda Sánchez Jaramillo: What is the contribution of your book to the understanding of Canadian Foreign Policy?

Nik Barry-Shaw: Canada’s participation in the 29 February 2004 coup d’état against Haiti’s democratically-elected government was what really woke up many people on the left (including Dru and I) to the reality of Canadian imperialism. Several of us involved in Haiti solidarity work began studying the history of Canadian foreign policy, and concluded that Canada was not simply being pushed around by the U.S.; it was an advanced capitalist power that had its own economic interests in the Global South that it sought to advance, through violence if necessary. Left nationalist analyses of Canada as a “rich dependency” under the thumb of the U.S. simply did not do justice to the high levels of initiative and involvement demonstrated by the Canadian state in orchestrating the Haitian coup, and many other instances. So one thing our book is trying to do is to debunk widely-held perceptions of Canada’s foreign policy as that of a uniquely benevolent “peacekeeper” nation.
The principle aim of our book is to dispel the notion that development non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are independent organizations driven solely by altruism. Instead, we demonstrate the heavy (and increasing) financial dependence of these organizations on funding from the Canadian government and the political effects this relationship has on NGOs. We then trace out historically how development NGOs, these nominally independent and nominally non-governmental agencies, have become ever more closely intertwined with the Canadian government’s foreign policy, and thus adjuncts to a policy that has nothing to do with fighting poverty or promoting social justice and everything to do with advancing corporate interests.
Again, Haiti was crucial in the formation of our ideas. Canadian NGOs – even self-styled progressive organizations close to the anti-globalization movement like Alternatives and Développement et Paix – were integrally involved in the coup, by training and financing anti-government groups and demonizing the elected government before the coup, and then working with the unelected, Canada-backed regime of Gerard Latortue (2004-2006) that took power afterward.
These Canadian NGOs and their Haitian partner organizations provided cover for the coup government’s violent repression of Haiti’s popular movement, lobbied the Brazilian government on its behalf and even blocked Montreal’s anti-war coalition from taking a stand against the coup. There were so many leaders of Haitian NGOs (nearly all of which received funding from Canadian NGOs) who took positions as ministers in the Latortue government that the regime was dubbed a “non-governmental government.” Analyzing how the NGO system functioned became a pressing task for those of us involved in Haiti solidarity activism. Haiti, known as “The Republic of NGOs”, was an extreme but far from exceptional case, as we found in the course of researching the book.

London, 1st of May 2012: Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike campaigners gather outside the British Red Cross offices, to protest alleged theft of money donated for humanitarian relief and of failing to alleviate the suffering of Haitians. Photo P Nutt

Aren´t Canadian NGOs hypocritical in claiming to help rebuild democracy and bring health care in Africa while oppressing First Nations and cutting health care services for Canadian citizens and refugees, including those from Africa?

Humanitarian Imperialism in Libya: Review of Slouching Towards Sirte by Damir Mirkovic

Zero Anthropology

March 13, 2014

by Damir Mirkovic

libyabanner

Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa
Maximilian Forte
Montreal, Baraka Books, 2012
341 pp, $17.95 (paper), ISBN 978 -1 -926824-52 -9

The post-WW II anti-colonialism is now reversed with a neocolonial thrust to Middle-East and Africa. The case of recent attack on Libya by NATO powers in support of the rebels against the Gaddafi’s regime is the essence of Forte’s critical and scholarly treatment of this contemporary problem.

Several writers – notably, Sartre  (1968), Dedijer ( 1962 and 1968), Markusen (1987 ) Mirkovic ( 2000 ), Lifton (2011 ) – have intimated that modern wars are genocidal. A careful reading of Maximilian Forte’s new book leaves little doubt that the attacks by NATO on Libya in 2011 are a good illustration of this point. When a targeted group or society is of a different culture, race or religion and is not in a position to defend itself adequately, due to a huge difference in military power, the most essential characteristics of genocide are present. Slouching Towards Sirte is a scholarly and well-documented account that gives reader the impression that “humanitarian missions” and the so-called “Responsibility to Protect” are just an ideological facade and smokescreen used to mask the raw imposition of power and punishment on the nations whose leaders dare to oppose the “new world order” of liberal democracy.

Maximilian Forte is Associate Professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, and his speciality is political anthropology. The six chapters of this book deal with what the title implies: In its support of rebel forces against Gaddafi’s government, NATO forces attacked a sovereign country and a member of UN, inflicting a huge devastation, and all this under the pretext of promoting human rights and “the responsibility to protect”. Moreover, we learn from Forte’s book that NATO helped, and in fact made possible, the mass killing of black Africans (Libyans and guest workers from the south). Protection of civilians from Gaddafi’s forces sounds hollow in view of the fact that such statements and media reports were never substantiated. “Foreign military intervention did, however, enable the actual genocidal violence that was routinely sidelined in the mass media and was discussed at the UN only once regime change either had occurred fully, or was close to doing so. That was a horrific violence against black African migrants and black Libyans, singled out solely on the basis of their skin colour, and persecuted as such, which fits the definition of genocide much better than violence against protesters.” (p. 240-241).

Forte’s main thesis is the claim that the attack on Libya was not about human rights, neither entirely about oil, but about the destruction of Gaddafi’s pan-African initiative, with the objective of counteracting western neo-colonialism. This – in addition to Gaddafi’s antagonizing of the Arab world – activated the Pentagon Africa Command (AFRICOM) to plan and launch the campaign against African countries to ensure neo-colonial submission to western powers. This is no doubt an original and realistic claim, which the author supports by the facts and analysis he provides throughout the book. In arguing his point Forte does not omit the clear calculation by the US to eliminate from African soil competitors such as Russia and China. Moreover, Forte shows to what extent the (false) claims of human rights violations by Libya government were based on sheer rumours and wishful thinking that justified the NATO air bombardment.

The almost total destruction of Libya’s new capital city Sirte by the rebel forces and NATO air strikes is simply mind-boggling. To illustrate this, it suffices to quote two sentences from Chapter 1: “While observing the destruction of Sirte throughout the course of NATO’s intervention, and particularly in the period from late August to late October 2011, or when visiting the aftermath of the catastrophic shattering of this small city (varyingly described as containing between 70,000 and 150,000 inhabitants), journalists repeatedly noted just how far from grace Sirte has been taken down. … That the slaughter in Sirte should have barely raised an eyebrow among the kinds of Western audiences and opinion leaders who just a few months before clamoured for “humanitarian intervention,” is thus the more striking.” (p. 41). Additionally, many humanitarian organizations, such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, including AVAAZ and the leftist groups in the West, including Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the UN, have acquiesced in raw aggression and even supported it. If we give credence to the facts and evidence presented by the author, we are left with the impression of western powers not evolving and departing from their old racist-colonial attitudes of subjugation and domination, followed by identity-difference and concomitant deference, which are all conducive to genocide. Thus the new reign of terror imposed by the winning side, with the help of the NATO’s air power, is also reminiscent of the worst cases of fascism in twentieth-century Europe. If Forte is right, similar war crimes (against peace and humanity), for which the Nazi leaders were accused and convicted in Nuremberg, were recently perpetrated by the NATO leaders and with impunity.

On the other hand were the cases of strong condemnation of the intervention in Libya by prominent leaders and diplomats from Arica. Among others, the most prominent were Jacob Zuma, the South African President; former South African President Thabo Mbeki; Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni; Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Ugandan permanent representative to the UN; and Dr. Chris Landsberg, Head of the Department of Politics at the University of Johannesburg. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela also condemned the attack, while Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe maintained friendly relations with Gaddafi.

The sources and data on which this book is based are varied and include published documents, press releases and journalistic accounts, reports of private intelligence firms, reports by human rights organizations, some NATO documents, first-hand reports of some of the foreign supporters of the Libyan government, UN documents and resolutions, and as a key sources, the U.S. Embassy cables published by WikiLeaks. The book has extensive references and a short Index. Numerous small photos are also included.

In the Preface, the author explains his understanding of the ethnographic requirement of “being there”, i.e. doing field research. He says that his focus is on the ideological smoke-screen raised across the world by the West. Therefore to him “being there” applies to all of us, because the “there” in question is “composed of our militaries, our ideologies, our fantasies of control, our preferred self-image” (p. 11). As Forte delineates his objective: “This book intends to sketch out this context, while providing a critique of the political culture of late imperialist societies in the West, the kind of morality that is refashioned for mass consumption, and the vision of humanity that is imbedded within NATO and U.S. foreign policy narratives.” (p. 11). Undoubtedly, the author has accomplished this objective successfully and by publishing this book has laid the ground-work for critical anthropology. On the whole, the book is a powerful argument against the humanitarian myth promoted by western powers to mask the imposition of their dominance on other societies. Unfortunately, this fact is ignored by many, who ostrich-like prefer to put their heads in sand.

Damir Mirkovic
Professor Emeritus, Sociology
Brandon University

 


SLOUCHING TOWARDS SIRTE

 

Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa
Maximilian Forte
Paperback and E-book: 352 pages
Publisher: Baraka Books (November 28, 2012)

 

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