Book Review: What Gandhi Says About Nonviolence, Resistance and Courage

Norman Finkelstein’s What Gandhi Says

About Nonviolence, Resistance and Courage

OR Books, 2012, 100 pages

Norman Finkelstein was an assistant professor of Political Science at DePaul University, but because he exposed influential persons as frauds—such as the famous lawyer from the OJ Simpson trial and notable apologist for the state of Israel, Alan Dershowitz—he was denied full tenure in 2007.

I first learned of Mr. Finkelstein in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks. In May of 2002 I happened to catch Professor Noam Chomsky on CNN. Later that day I went out and bought his book 9-11. After quickly devouring the pamphlet-sized book I moved on to numerous others titles, including Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky. In the book is a chapter titled “The Fate of an Honest Intellectual,” in which Chomsky predicts Finkelstein’s fate: “I warned him, if you follow this, you’re going to get in trouble—because you’re going to expose the American intellectual community as a gang of frauds, and they are not going to like it, and they’re going to destroy you.”

In a recent interview with Tablet Magazine, a Jewish online daily, Finkelstein points out that:

I’ve been out of DePaul, it’s going on five years, right? There are a lot of academics who are politically sympathetic to me. Palestine’s not an unpopular cause anymore in academia. OK, so let’s ask the question: Has any professor worked to get me a job at any university? I want to be factual. Answer: No.

Has any professor worked to get me a guest lectureship for a year? Answer: No.

Has any professor worked to get me a lecture, even once? Answer: No.

It seems Chomsky was right.

But what Finkelstein’s career says about his moral character is also on display in his latest book, What Gandhi Says About Nonviolence, Resistance and Courage, recently published by OR Books.

Motivated by the Israel-Palestine conflict, Finkelstein began scrutinizing the one hundred volume set of Gandhi’s collected works for useful information. Finkelstein finds a man beset by seeming contradictions, who (in classic Finkelstein form) made “Olympian pronouncements and saccharine bromides such as nonviolence, buoyed by the intervention of God, being the most potent force in the world,” and who Finkelstein says “might fairly be said” to have “fostered a death cult” with his numerous appeals to others to lay down their lives for their causes. At the core Gandhi is a flawed man with valuable political instincts, and is dedicated to the principles of nonviolence resistance.

Through his exhaustive research, Finkelstein uncovers a man who saw nonviolence and resistance as inseparably intertwined. One uses nonviolence to resist oppression and injustice, not to be passive or apathetic. Nonviolence itself is a weapon of force, “the most potent force in the world,” as Gandhi proclaimed. And it takes more courage to fight with nonviolence than violence. To Gandhi, using nonviolence so as to run away from danger is “cowardice” and is more contemptible than using violence.

Though What Gandhi Says is partly biographical, the book’s main purpose is to have modern activists and organizers think more deeply and seriously about what nonviolence, resistance and courage mean. Indeed, the book is dedicated to the Occupy movement. As Finklestein writes, “The target audience of Gandhi’s campaigns was not the implacable opponents of reform but the actual potential supporters of it, whom he wanted to goad into action.”

Here a recent example of a campaign targeting an audience of “potential supporters” (not mentioned in Finkelstein’s book) is worth mentioning. In Troy, Michigan a local library was facing cuts due to budge woes. The local government proposed a 0.7% tax increase to keep the libraries adequately funded and staffed. Local Tea Party people hijacked the narrative and droned on about “taxes.” Rather than discussing the value of the libray and books to the community, discussion was centering around taxes, taxes, taxes. It was looking like the tax wouldn’t pass and the community would suffer for it. Then the library started a counter-campaign where they pretended to be a book burning party opposed to the tax increase. The tactic got people upset at the prospect of setting fire to books, which people love, and they were “goad[ed] into action.” The vote had a record turnout and the tax passed in a landslide.

While Norman writes in the introduction that he started his research on Gandhi “in order to think though a nonviolent strategy for ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands” he goes on to say that “the field for the application of Gandhi’s ideas has now been vastly expanded by the emergence of the Arab Spring and nonviolence resistance movements around the world.” Which we can see happening now where a very Gandhiesque hunger strike has swept through Palestine. The most recent case being that of Palestinian soccer player Mahmoud Sarsak, who was held without charge and just recently announced the end of his fast in light of Israeli authorities vowing to give him an early release.

Finkelstein has clearly been affected by the research that went into his writing of this book. It seems to center around a lesson Gandhi taught him. In What Gandhi Says, Finkelstein writes:

Were the “pro-life” half of the American population to converge on abortion clinics and pledge a collective fast unto the death until and unless the clinics ceased performing abortions, the “pro-choice” half would almost certainly not be converted by such a spectacle.

In other words, it is not suffering alone that touches but suffering in the pursuit of a legitimate goal. The public’s recognition of the legitimacy of such a goal presumes, however, a preexisting broad consensus, if only latent or incipient, according to which the victims justly deserve what they seek.

This passage underlines a big chunk of Finkelstein’s strained relationship with the BDS movement. Finkelstein argues that the movement needs to be clear and honest about its position on Israel, and whether or not they recognize the state’s right to exist in the pre-June 1967 borders. Failure to be clear on this is deceptive at best. And if BDS were to come out and say it does not accept or recognize such a right then, as Finkelstein put it in his recent debate with Phil Weiss at Mondoweiss: “how does it help to advocate political solutions that have zero traction, and zero possibility of gaining traction, among Americans, who will never support a settlement that—whatever euphemism you use and however you articulate it—entails Israel’s disappearance?”

Thus the need to temper our campaigns to what Finkelstein calls the “practical-political, not abstract-moral.” If social movements are to succeed there will have to be considerable more growth, and more people brought into the fold. This does not mean compromising principles, but recognizing we can only go so far at a particular moment. We might be for some anarchist utopian society in the “abstract.” But campaigns that are more likely to succeed are for living wages, tax justice, a serious jobs bill, and so on. And speaking tactically it makes sense to organize around those issues where a larger part of the population can be politicized and mobilized into action.

In his conclusion Finkelstein writes that, “If a criticism is to be leveled against Gandhi’s nonviolence, it is that he sets the bar of courage too high for most mortals to vault.” For Gandhi, we need to be willing to sacrifice not just our relationships with friends and families, or even a bit of jail time, but our lives. Who is willing to lay down their life to stop tyranny or an injustice without using force? This, according to Gandhi, is the ultimate test of courage.

We see this test frequently in books and movies. The hero lets someone put a gun or sword to their head or throat and uses their permission of death to not only startle the nerves of the belligerent and break their will, but assuming they do find death, arouse the public into action—so the principle is not alien to us. At the end of the 1998 Pixar film A Bug’s Life, the main hero, an ant named Flik, forfeits his life to stop the bad guys, a gang of grasshoppers who exploit and rob them each harvest season. Flik’s pending death is meant to set an example for the other ants to show courage, which it eventually does as the ants organize and defeat the grasshoppers, saving Flik.

And you can see why Finkelstein would dedicate the book to Occupy. Here in the belly of the Beast it is of the utmost importance that American activists learn to be as politically savvy as Gandhi was, and to pick and choose not only their battles, but their strategies and tactics as well. While “the challenge for the younger generation as it embarks on the struggle to remake the world is to see how far it can advance without having to use violence,” before we can answer that we need to know who is Occupy’s “target audience” (we already know: the so-called “99 percent”), and how does it plan to “goad [them] into action”? The latter part of that question is where you will find value in Norman Finkelstein’s book, What Gandhi Says About Nonviolence, Resistance and Courage.

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The ‘Parallels Between Syria and Balkans’ NYT Does Not See

On June 11, 2012 the New York Times published a piece by their journalist Paul Geitner titled “NATO Chief Sees Parallels Between Syria and Balkans,” and true to form for the “paper of record” the piece is missing such an alarming amount of context and information that what is presented is highly misleading propaganda in service to the American Empire.

The secretary general of the NATO alliance, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said on Monday that the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s illustrated what might befall Syria unless Russia and the West agreed on a  “unified, clear message” to the Syrian government to stop the violence.

It’s not that there are not parallels between the two conflicts—there is—but that the parallels worth drawing are not even raised. The parallel raised by Rasmussen  is the propaganda narrative that suits Western interests. It’s on “the Syrian government to stop the violence,” who is presented as the main threat, and not that of the Western-backed armed gangs, which are being used to destabilize and ultimately overthrow the government and replace it with a compliant regime (or at least have one less obstacle in its way of controlling the oil-rich region). Much like it was on the Serbian governments to “stop the violence,” and not armed gangs like the Kurdish Liberation Army (KLA).

Another interesting parallel is the involvement of al Qaeda, and being on the side of the U.S. While it is perhaps more common to know that the Islamic terrorist organization is fighting alongside rebels in Syria, and killing dozens of civilians, many may not remember that this is a lot like what happened in the Balkans as well.

As early as 1992 the U.S. was made aware of a growing al Qaeda presence in the Balkans to fight alongside the U.S.-backed KLA. What was not known by those supplying Washington with evidence was that Washington was fully aware and arming the KLA:

Intelligence services of the Nordic-Polish SFOR (previously IFOR) sector alerted the U.S. of their presence in 1992 while the number of mujahideen operating in Bosnia alone continued to grow from a few hundred to around 6,000 in 1995. Though the Clinton administration had been briefed extensively by the State Department in 1993 on the growing Islamist threat in former Yugoslavia, little was done to follow through.

By early 1998 the U.S. had already entered into its controversial relationship with the KLA to help fight off Serbian oppression of that province. While in February the U.S. gave into KLA demands to remove it from the State Department’s terrorism list, the gesture amounted to little. That summer the CIA and CIA-modernized Albanian intelligence (SHIK) were engaged in one of the largest seizures of Islamic Jihad cells operating in Kosovo.

Fearing terrorist reprisal from al Qaeda, the U.S. temporarily closed its embassy in Tirana and a trip to Albania by then Defense Secretary William Cohen was canceled out of fear of an assassination attempt. Meanwhile, Albanian separatism in Kosovo and Metohija was formally characterized as a “jihad” in October 1998 at an annual international Islamic conference in Pakistan.

Nonetheless, the 25,000 strong KLA continued to receive official NATO/U.S. arms and training support and, at the talks in Rambouillet, France, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright shook hands with “freedom fighter” Hashim Thaci, a KLA leader. As this was taking place, Europol (the European Police Organization based in The Hague) was preparing a scathing report on the connection between the KLA and international drug gangs. Even Robert Gelbard, America’s special envoy to Bosnia, officially described the KLA as Islamic terrorists.

Even The National Post covered it in the aftermath of September 11th terrorist attacks when they reported that,

Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network has been active in the Balkans for years, most recently helping Kosovo rebel’s battle for independence from Serbia with the financial and military backing of the United States and NATO.

Antiwar.com‘s Christopher Deliso also wrote of NATO’s involvement in the Balkans:

Last Summer, rumors of an unstated connection between NATO and the NLA persisted in Macedonia. Two occasions in particular drew attention. First, the Battle of Aracinovo, in which German and Macedonian sources alleged that 17 ‘advisors’ from MPRI took part on the Albanian side; Macedonian security sources claim that three Americans were among those killed. Second, was a mysterious airdrop by a US helicopter over the NLA stronghold of Sipkovice, filmed by a Macedonian television crew. They claimed that a ‘container,’ perhaps of weapons, was being given to the Albanians, for use against the Macedonian security forces.

In his article “America used Islamists to arm the Bosnian Muslims,” the Guardian UK’s Richard J Aldrich wrote of

a vast secret conduit of weapons smuggling through Croatia. This was arranged by the clandestine agencies of the US, Turkey and Iran, together with a range of radical Islamist groups, including Afghan mojahedin and the pro-Iranian Hizbullah.

While on trial at The Hague, former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević blamed the violence on “terrorists,” much like Syria’s president does today. And when drilled by the presiding judge Milošević produced what was said to be a FBI document showing the support to the “terrorists”:

Presiding Judge Richard May asked Milosevic where he was getting his information and the defendant waved a document he said was produced by the FBI last December documenting al-Qaeda and mujahedin activity in Kosovo.

The document was entered into evidence but no details were discussed.

Considering how the Wikileaks release of Stratfor emails written in December of 2011 show that “SOF teams (presumably from US, UK, France, Jordan, Turkey) are already on the ground focused on recce missions and training opposition forces,” the parallels are even more significant. And while the U.S. “distanced themselves” from a bombing campaign because “Syrian air defenses are a lot more robust and are much denser, esp around Damascus and on the borders with Israel” it was noted that the plan “is to commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within.” Though, again, the Times’ Gietner has nothing to say about this.

Wikileaks has already shown that the U.S. has been supporting the opposition forces in Syria since before Obama took office, and the U.S. has only been pushing for “the Syrian government to stop the violence” while ignoring the violence and war crimes of the opposition forces.

This makes Rasmussen’s comment that, “If we are to facilitate a peaceful solution in Syria I think it’s of utmost importance that the international community stands united and sends a unified, clear message to the Assad regime that it must live up to its international obligations and stop the crackdowns on the civilian population, and accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” all the more empty and cynical. Talking about the desire for a peaceful solution—while knowing full well that the U.S. is implementing a plan of supporting armed gangs “to commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within,” and saying nothing about how if we are serious about peace that ending such a program is an absolute necessity—is a bunch of hot air.

One last unmentioned parallel worth noting is how the West exploits the victimization of the Syrian people (while simultaneously attacking them via armed gangs they support) in order to facilitate its imperial adventures. This too was true for NATO’s intervention in the Balkans, where the plight of Kosovar Albanians received considerable coverage and concern yet the welfare of hundreds of thousands of Serbians who were ethncially cleansed in Croatia (e.g. Operation Storm) didn’t receive comparable attention or care. But as admitted in his eyewitness account Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo , John Norris—a senior Clinton official who was party to the tripartite negotiations led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott—wrote that, “It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform—not the plight of Kosovar Albanians—that best explains NATO’s war.”

Like the Balkans, the West is implementing its special brand of humanitarian imperialism in Syria. It looks for any claim, whether true or not, to demonize the insubordinate Syrian regime so that it can justify its programs of destabilization and regime change. At the same time Western leaders and officials are not only quiet on the crimes of those armed elements it backs, but have the audacity to cry crocodile tears over the welfare of others. The faux-appeal to human rights and “peaceful solutions,” a common choice of rhetoric among tyrants, gets no rebuke from the Free Press. It’s hard to imagine Geitner and the New York Times do not get this. The much more likely explanation is pretty well established by now: the Times is a propaganda outlet spreading disinformation to the public.

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NYT says Charles Taylor Conviction is ‘a watershed case for modern human rights law’

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Charles Taylor in court at his war crimes trial in The Hague. Photograph: Reuters

On the front page of today’s New York Times is a story about how former Liberian President Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years of prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity which he committed in the Sierra Leone civil war that lasted from 1991-2002, and which resulted in the deaths of around 50,000 people.

The article, “Ex-Liberian Leader Gets 50 Years for War Crimes,” written by Marlise Simons and J. David Goodman, says the conviction was “a watershed case for modern human rights law,” and that “Mr. Taylor was the first former head of state convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials in Germany after World War II.”

The article even quotes a Sierra Leone politician, Ibrahim Sorie, who was present at the sentencing, as saying, “It restores our faith in the rule of law, and we see that impunity is ending for top people.”

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to not have “faith in the rule of law,” or to believe “that impunity is ending for top people.” Because all you have to do is look and see if criminal leaders from other sides of the Sierra Leone conflict are being held accountable. Sort of, but not really. Those who the West backed, like the government forces, were never indicted or tried, even though they too committed serious crimes.

Furthermore, the trial revealed that, starting in the 1980s, Charles Taylor worked for the CIA. This gets confirmed by the U.S. when, in the trials proceedings, Taylor tells his life story. He talked about how he fled to the U.S. in the mid-1980s, and how the CIA helped him break out of jail, where he then went back to Liberia to start a war. Simons’ and Goodman’s article make no mention of this fact—even though Simons reported on this in 2009. So while Taylor was busy starting a much deadlier war in Liberia, which killed around 200,000 people, those crimes were never prosecuted.

This is much like Saddam Hussein. A former ally of the United States, he is supported through the worst of his crimes. When he attacked Iran in 1980, the U.S. provided military and political support. But when his usefulness was worn out, he quickly became the epitome of evil and had to be brought to justice. And much like Taylor, Saddam’s trial was carefully crafted to avoid embarrassments. A memo to former Iraqi Prime Minister al-Jafari which was published in Foreign Policy magazine in July of 2005 states, “The special tribunal is full of legal holes and is tainted by American influence,” and that,

Erase the American Footprint: There is no denying that the IST is an American creation. The now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority established the tribunal in consultation with the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. Its statute allows the appointment of foreign judges to the tribunal and mandates the presence of international observers. No foreign judges have yet been appointed, but the possibility is being seriously considered. The possibility itself is an insult to Iraqis. Even in Europe, which is increasingly bound together legally and culturally, it would be unacceptable to have, for example, a French judge on the bench for a German criminal trial.

The tribunals statute was drafted in English and modeled on the American adversarial legal system. The U.S. government provided $75 million and dispatched teams of prosecutors and investigators to help the tribunal prepare for the trials of senior regime officials. These American officials are dedicated, but they know little about Iraqs legal traditions. The tribunals provenance and the presence of American personnel have fostered the view that it serves U.S. rather than Iraqi interests.

And even if you go back to Times articles about the Liberian civil war at the time you see a differential treatment towards Taylor. When he was still a CIA asset.

In the article “Strategic Interests Tie U.S. to Liberia,” which was published on June 13, 1990, the NYT notes that, “even as American officials privately voice criticism of the nation’s embattled President [Doe],” Washington was finding it difficult to cut ties because “strategic interests tie Washington to the Liberian crisis” in the form of “landing and refueling rights for military aircraft and ships on 24-hour notice, the only nation in sub-Saharan Africa that accords Washington such rights,” as well as “a navigational station that emits low-frequency signals that guide ships and aircraft in the Atlantic.”

On one hand the U.S. is backing both sides of the conflict. President Doe was provided “$500 million worth of military and economic aid between 1980 and 1985,” but the relationship was becoming strained. So as rebel forces led by Taylor make ground we begin to see attitudes quickly change at the “paper of record.”

In “Rebel Forces in Liberia Surround the Capital and Begin an Attack,” which was published on July 3, 1990, it is reported that, “Mr. Taylor, who has accused General Doe’s Government of brutality and large-scale corruption, has promised a thorough political house-cleaning but has equivocated about his intention to hold national elections.”

For Washington insiders this is music to their ears. Again, a CIA asset is deriding the government of “brutality and large-scale corruption” while promising “to hold national elections” if only he can get in power.

Then on August 21 of the same year the Times publishes the article “Some Liberians Accuse the U.S. of Betrayal,” which notes that the Bush administration “has made clear it will not intervene militarily to end the civil war” even while “daily fighting between the factions led by Mr. Taylor and by Prince Johnson and the forces loyal to President Doe has resulted in massacres of thousands of civilians.”

It is not until Charles Taylor gets on the wrong side of conflicts that he becomes a criminal who must be brought to justice. When Taylor’s forces go to Sierra Leone and fight against the Western-backed government it is much like Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. A line was crossed. Now that Taylor is our enemy Simons and Goodman inform us about “a secret bonding ritual in Liberia during which [an aide who testified to the court that] he and others joined Mr. Taylor in eating a human heart.”

The differential treatment also shows in the trial of Taylor, who got a fifty-year sentence. While Simons and Goodman report that “the tribunal is to be shut down,” it’s worth noting that not one government official was indicted or tried, despite the fact that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created before the the Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up, and in their findings they note that, “All factions specifically targeted civilians.” It wasn’t just those who weren’t on the West’s side, like Charles Taylor. Even the Western-backed government forces were found to be “responsible for systematically plundering and looting” and “for either authorising or instigating human rights violations against civilians.”

This is the “watershed case for modern human rights law” which is supposed to have restored “our faith in the rule of law,” and where “we see that impunity is ending for top people”: only those not allied with the West are tried. This is not an exception. This is the norm. To date, not one ally of the U.S. has been indicted at the ICC. Not one. And certainly not leaders from the U.S. itself.

NYT calls Rwanda’s Paul Kagame ‘Darling Dictator of the Day’

May 30, 2012 1 comment
Most opposition political parties were barred from registering for Rwanda’s 2010 presidential election, in which Paul Kagame won 93 percent of the vote. Photo: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters

That the New York Times published an op-ed by Marc Sommers calling Rwanda’s Paul Kagame “The Darling Dictator of the Day” is significant. As is the comment that “he does not merit his reputation as a visionary modernizer” because, “The reason is simple: his state is all about force.”

Sommers, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, wastes no time in pointing out that, “There’s no question who’s in charge in Rwanda.” Sommers stresses that, “The government’s commanding presence in Rwandan lives is aggressively maintained by Kagame and a clique of other former Tutsi refugees from Uganda.” He even notes that, Kagame’s government asserted its power in the run-up to the 2010 presidential elections, when authorities barred most opposition political parties from registering for elections, closed down many independent newspapers, and witnessed the flight into exile of several prominent government officials who said they “feared for their lives.”

There were also three suspicious pre-election shootings. One of the exiled officials, Kagame’s former chief of staff, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, was shot in the stomach in South Africa after openly criticizing the Rwandan government. A Rwandan journalist, Jean Léonard Rugambage, was killed shortly after his article, which pointed to government complicity, was published. The deputy leader of the Green Party, which was among those unable to register, was found not only dead but with his head partly severed.

Probably most important is the comment that, “Soon after the election [where “Kagame garnered 93 percent of the vote”], an exhaustively researched United Nations ‘mapping exercise’ report led the veteran Rwanda expert Filip Reyntjens to state that ‘there is overwhelming evidence of responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity’ against Kagame. A foreign expert (who asked not to be named) also reported the disappearance of ‘a large number’ of Rwandan civil society members in 2007.” That the Times published a piece which referenced not only the UN mapping report and Kagame’s complicity is significant. The conflicts in Democratic Republic of Congo, which have been steadily going on for nearly twenty years, have been the most bloody since World War Two—with around ten million killed. Noting Kagame’s “overwhelming evidence of responsibility” is an important fact to publish.

This could well signal the end of Paul Kagame’s love affair with America. Like Saddam Hussen, Suharto, Mobutu Sese Seko, and other dictators who lost favor with the American Empire, the media did not begin to acknowledge the skeletons in their closets until after they had become the boogeyman—which was often long after the worst of their crimes and human rights abuses had been committed, and which often had Western complicity in their tyranny sanitized from the record.

Thus, it was common to condemn former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein for “gassing his own people,” but references to how the U.S. government supplied the dictator with chemical weapons, or initially blamed Iran for the Halabja massacre, and so on were not facts the media was prone to point out. In the preface to After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology, the second volume of “The Political Economy of Human Rights” series, writers Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman wrote that, “The Free Press has fulfilled its primary obligations to the state by averting Western eyes from the carnage of the war and effacing U.S. responsibility.”

For now, the New York Times continues to avert “Western eyes from the carnage of the war and effacing U.S. responsibility” in regards to Rwanda. Sommers continues to reinforce certain lies. Chief among them deal with the Rwandan war and genocide. Sommers writes that Kagame led “a remarkable recovery from war and genocide in the heart of Africa,” and that his “government is renowned for reducing corruption, expanding security, addressing genocidal crimes and increasing women’s rights.” Sommers even says that, “Kagame is no Idi Amin or Charles G. Taylor.” But neither of the two men ever amassed the record for murder and genocide like Paul Kagame.

The truth of the matter is that Kagame is the instigator of the war and genocide in Rwandan and Democratic Republic of Congo. It was the army he led, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) that invaded Rwanda in 1990 and carried out extensive acts of terrorism and sabotage; who routinely violated ceasefire agreements; and who assassinated President Habyarimana in 1994 and within two hours conducted a massive military offensive that swept across the country in one hundreds days of genocidal violence. Not to mention the “overwhelming evidence of responsibility” of Kagame’s crimes in Congo, where, again, an estimated ten million have died.

As Sommers notes, “The government’s commanding presence in Rwandan lives is aggressively maintained by Kagame and a clique of other former Tutsi refugees from Uganda.” Here, Sommers is referring to the political and military leaders of the RPF. These men were part of the Ugandan national army, and the RPF was an arm of the Ugandan military. They wore Ugandan military uniforms. And it was this event, the 1990 invasion, that is integral to understanding all of what is transpiring. That, and the subordination to the U.S.—who is not only the main backer of the Museveni regime in Uganda, but Kagame in Rwanda.

When Uganda invaded Rwanda, its goal was to destabilize the government, and then overthrow it. This is what Museveni did in Uganda. And from October 1990 to April 1994 that is precisely what happened in Rwanda via the RPF. This is also what happened in Democratic Republic of Congo, when Museveni and Kagame invaded and overthrew President Mobutu, and conducted some of the most brutal crimes that were committed.

The second-in-command for United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, Col. Luc Marchal told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR): “From my experience, my conclusion is that the RPF had one goal, seizing power by force and keeping it to themselves.” Marchal also stated that, “Not once, never have I sensed the desire to make concessions, to smooth rough edges, to reach a consensus.” He told the court that, “It was almost a daily struggle, and I received remarks because of the violations of the agreement”, and that, “All these elements led me to the conclusion that their goal was certainly not to concretize the peace process.” Marchal believes it was Kagame who assassinated President Habyarimana.
He is not alone in this regards.

There is also James Lyons, an FBI agent who came to the same conclusion.

Another UN investigation headed by Michael Hourigan, came to the conclusion as well. It’s report buried.

And former Rwandan genocide prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, who was removed from her ICTR duties after she insisted on prosecuting Kagame for the assassination and various other war crimes.

Robert Gersony, an American consultant hired by the UN, concluded that Kagame’s RPF committed genocide. He reported a “scene of systematic and sustained killing and persecution of civilian Hutu populations” by Kagame’s forces. Like Hourigan, his report was buried.

It was during this time, and acting on Gersony’s report, that UN forces were blocking refugees from returning. This was reported in the New York Times in late September of 1994:

the United Nations has stopped encouraging Rwandan refugees to return and is refusing even to assist those who wish to go home because of a report that the new, Tutsi-dominated Government in Rwanda has killed thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group.

The timing of this is important because earlier that month George Moose, a State Department official, sent a memo to Secretary of State Christopher Warren in which it was noted that the “RPA and Tutsi civilian surrogates had killed 10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month, with the RPA accounting for 95% of the killing.”

Spanish and French courts have even ruled on various matters related to the Rwandan and Congo conflicts (more so for the Spanish court), and both found the RPF responsible for the assassination of President Habyarimana, and the genocide that followed. And issued warrants.

It is for these reasons, and more, that it is unfathomable for Sommers to claim that Kagame is “addressing genocidal crimes” when Kagame’s crimes, and that of the RPF he commands, have gone unpunished. And it is cynical beyond belief for Sommers to imply that punishing the victims of the RPF—the government Kagame overthrew and those accused of “genocide”—makes the case. But not once has any RPF soldier been indicted at the ICTR or ICC. As noted, Carla del Ponte made an attempt to do so, but was systematically removed.

The ICTR has yet to find a plan to commit genocide in Rwanda. After nearly twenty years they have not uncovered a conspiracy to commit genocide. They have also refused to consider a RPF conspiracy, which there is significant evidence of.

And if you look at their biggest trial of top military personnel—Bagosora, et al—the ruling is revealing. For one, all were acquitted on conspiracy to commit genocide, the gravest charge.

The court acknowledged that “a cycle of ethnic violence against Tutsi civilians has often followed attacks by the RPF,” and that “[f]ollowing the October 1990 RPF invasion, there were mass arrests as well as localised killings at the time and in subsequent years in several northern communes,” and the court ruled that “the alternative explanations for the events have added relevant context to a few allegations against the Accused.”

The ICTR judges admit that the military preparations by the Rwandan government were “consistent with preparations for a political or military power struggle,” and that “in the context of the ongoing war with the RPF, this evidence does not invariably show that the purpose of arming and training these civilians or the preparation of lists was to kill Tutsi civilians,” and that “in the context of the immediate aftermath of the RPF’s violation of the cease fire agreement, it does not necessarily show an intention to use the forces to commit genocide.” What it shows is an intention to use the forces to stop the RPF’s efforts of overthrowing the government by military force—i.e. defend Rwanda against RPF aggression.

This is backed by what a couple of American analysts who closely studied the conflict found. In their piece “What Really Happened in Rwanda?” Christian Davenport and Allan Stam write that,

Perhaps the most shocking result of our combination of information on troop locations involved the invasion itself: The killings in the zone controlled by the FAR seemed to escalate as the RPF moved into the country and acquired more territory. When the RPF advanced, large-scale killings escalated. When the RPF stopped, large-scale killings largely decreased. The data revealed in our maps was consistent with FAR claims that it would have stopped much of the killing if the RPF had simply called a halt to its invasion. This conclusion runs counter to the Kagame administration’s claims that the RPF continued its invasion to bring a halt to the killings.

Furthermore, the statement that Kagame is “increasing women’s rights” is disputable in one name: Victoire Ingabire. Here is a Rwandan woman who ended her exile by coming back to be a political opponent and fight for national reconciliation and democracy. A mother, she now sits in jail awaiting the conclusion of a kangaroo court trial that will surely convict her of Rwanda’s so-called “genocide ideology laws” that Human Rights Watch has warned is “a broad and ill-defined offense [which is used] as a tool to silence independent opinion and criticism.”

While there is a lot of important details missing from Sommers op-ed, and not all of his comments pan out, it still is an extraordinary development at the “paper of record” that Paul Kagame would be called the “Darling Dictator of the Day” who is clamping down on dissent at home while committing serious crimes in Democratic Republic of Congo. But again it could be a sign of the Darling’s day having ended, and if this is indeed the case, it is important to not only hold Kagame to account, but also U.S. officials who have facilitated him, backed him, and quite possibly directed him.

The NYT Makes Excuses for Rwanda’s Genocide in Congo

Companies who “do business” in Democratic Republic of Congo

On page eight of the New York Times May 29, 2012 edition is a story about a leaked United Nations report which shows Rwandans were recruited by the Rwandan government to go fight in Democratic Republic of Congo, or the D.R.C.

Josh Kron’s article “U.N. Report Says Rwandans Recruited to Fight in Congo” reports that “rebel soldiers who have defected told United Nations officials that they were Rwandans who had been sent across the border to fight in a mutiny in eastern Congo that has displaced tens of thousands of civilians.”

Kron also reports that “Rwandan authorities have been seemingly complicit in recruiting soldiers for the new Congolese rebel leader, Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

It is rare to read this level of criticism of the Rwandan government in the New York Times. Rwanda is an important U.S. ally in Africa, and the “paper of record” often complements U.S. interests by providing differential treatment towards allies and foes.

So it comes as no surprise to see Kron makes excuse for Rwanda’s genocidal involvement in D.R.C.—a resource-rich African country which has suffered considerably and continuously since the late 1800s ever since colonial powers discovered the country’s wealth—and get a number of other issues wrong in the process.

For Kron, the reason Rwanda is even in D.R.C. is for self defense.

Tensions [between Rwanda and D.R.C.] began soon after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were killed by Hutus. Many organizers of the genocide fled across the border and later established a Hutu rebel group in eastern Congo bent on overturning the Rwandan government. Various militias supported by neighboring countries have been organized in Congo over the years. Rwanda in particular was accused of supporting Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese rebel who is also an ethnic Tutsi, and his movement, known as the National Congress for the People’s Defense, or the C.N.D.P., which in 2008 threatened to overturn the Congolese government.

There are quite a few things wrong with this statement. For starters, “800,000 ethnic Tutsis” is 200,000 more Tutsis than there were in the 1991 census. And with a reported 300,000 survivors that leaves the figure half-a-million high. Of the roughly one million killed in the Rwandan genocide, the majority were Hutu’s. The significance of this exposes a gaping hole in the official version of the Rwandan genocide: If the majority of the killed were Hutu, then who killed them and why?

Rwanda’s dominant politicay party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (R.P.F.), which is headed by the country’s President Paul Kagame, has its roots in Uganda. The R.P.F. was an official arm of the Ugandan military, and consisted largely of Rwandan exiles that were a part of the U.S.-backed National Resistance Army, which was led by now Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni. Paul Kagame was the head of military intelligence for the N.R.A., which was an armed militia whose goal was to seize power in Uganda. After they successfully did so in the mid-1980s, the R.P.F. was created to carry out a similar plan in Rwanda. And on October 1, 1990 the R.P.F. invaded Rwanda from Uganda. And for nearly four years the R.P.F. conducted a plan to destabilize and overthrow the government, which came to a crescendo on April 6, 1994 when the R.P.F. assassinated President Habyarimana, and carried out a massive military offensive.

A couple of American analysts, Christian Davenport and Alan Stam, who studied the conflict closely noted in their article “What Really Happened in Rwanda?” that,

Perhaps the most shocking result of our combination of information on troop locations involved the invasion itself: The killings in the zone controlled by the FAR seemed to escalate as the RPF moved into the country and acquired more territory. When the RPF advanced, large-scale killings escalated. When the RPF stopped, large-scale killings largely decreased. The data revealed in our maps was consistent with FAR claims that it would have stopped much of the killing if the RPF had simply called a halt to its invasion. This conclusion runs counter to the Kagame administration’s claims that the RPF continued its invasion to bring a halt to the killings.

It was the R.P.F. who was the main antagonist in the conflict, and who largely outgunned the Rwandan military—which explains how they were able to overthrow an entire government in less than 100 days, and send their military forces fleeing to neighboring countries.

And this pattern, which occurred in Uganda, and repeated in Rwanda, was again carried out in Democratic Republic of Congo when Uganda and Rwanda invaded, overthrew the government of President Mobutu, and began butchering people. This was facilitated through men like General Ntaganda, who Kron describes as once having “military ties to [Paul Kagame’s] government.”

Kron goes on to write that, “Although [Ntaganda] was accused of orchestrating a massacre in eastern Congo as a rebel in 2008, General Ntaganda became a senior officer in the Congolese Army, working alongside the United Nations as well as Rwanda to subdue the Hutu rebels.”

This is very misleading, especially the word “although.” It is inaccurate to give the impression that Ntaganda’s record as a war criminal is an aberration in regards to his relationship with Kagame’s Rwanda. The leaked report and a previous U.N. report show that the Rwandan government is deeply involved in human rights abuses in the neighboring country. According to the U.N. Mapping report, which describes “The systematic attacks, in particular killings and massacres perpetrated against members of the Hutu ethnic group”:

These attacks resulted in a very large number of victims, probably tens of thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group, all nationalities combined. In the vast majority of cases reported, it was not a question of people killed unintentionally in the course of combat, but people targeted primarily by AFDL/APR/FAB forces and executed in their hundreds, often with edged weapons. The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who posed no threat to the attacking forces. Numerous serious attacks on the physical or pyschological integrity of members of the group were also committed, with a very high number of Hutus shot, raped, burnt or beaten. Very large numbers of victims were forced to flee and travel long distances to escape their pursuers, who were trying to kill them. The hunt lasted for months, resulting in the deaths of an unknown number of people subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading living conditions, without access to food or medication. On several occasions, the humanitarian aid intended for them was deliberately blocked …

And unlike Kron’s article, the mapping report also deals considerably with mineral exploitation. Democratic Republic of Congo is a very wealthy country, and the report states that, “A growing number of foreign actors became directly involved in exploiting the D.R.C.’s natural resources.” The report then names Rwanda and Uganda as doing so “either through the intermediary of their Congolese partners [writers note: e.g. Ntaganda] or connections or by directly occupying a part of the country.” In sum, the report stresses that, “Given the weakness and corruption of the central government, the D.R.C.’s wealth was within the grasp of any group violent and determined enough to impose its control by force.”

Another misleading aspect of Kron’s excuse for Rwanda’s involvement is the comment about “organizers of the [Rwandan] genocide fled across the border” to D.R.C. It is worth pointing out here that there are no “organizers,” at least as long as we keep to the official version which claims a Hutu conspiracy. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (I.C.T.R.) has not convicted one person for the conspiracy or planning of genocide. The largest trial to date, that of Colonel Théoneste Bagosora and a few other former high-ranking Rwandan military officials, ended with an acquittal on charges of planning a genocide. The inability to uncover a plot to commit genocide, however, is largely due to the court’s unwillingness to consider or prosecute an R.P.F. conspiracy—where evidence is abound.

Furthermore, Rwanda was targeting a lot more than so-called “organizers of the genocide” in their effort “to subdue the Hutu rebels.” Australian soldiers doing United Nations peacekeeping work bore witness to the carnage of Rwandan forces against unarmed civilians. As reported in Australia’s Herald Sun:

By early 1995, the displaced persons’ camp at Kibeho was the biggest in Rwanda, sprawling for 9sq km and containing 80,000 to 100,000 people.

The 32 Australian soldiers and medical officers arrived there as part of the UN peacekeeping force on April 18, 1995.

There were daily random killings by the Rwandan soldiers, but the slaughter exploded out of control soon after 10am on April 22. The Australians had a grandstand view of the nightmare from the Zambian compound.

The RPA soldiers murdered women and children right up to the UN wire. Bodies were everywhere. For the Diggers behind the wire, the next few hours were agonising.

For the refugees, there was nowhere to run.

As the Australians collected the wounded from among the piles of dead, the crisis began to escalate as panic-stricken Hutus overran the Zambian compound, driven forward by machete-and rifle wielding militia.

Hundreds were killed in the crush and the Australians were forced to repel at bayonet point the terrified victims they were supposed to be protecting, pushing them back into the RPA killing zone.

The RPA went wild and cut loose with another hail of fire on the panicking crowd.

All of this, and more, goes a long way to explaining why, as Kron put it, “The relationship between Rwanda and Congo has long been considered crucial to the stability in one of Africa’s least stable regions, an area laid waste by militias over the last two decades.” This is partially accurate. The problem here is that Rwanda is not at the top of the political pyramid. While the Times will publish Kron acknowledging that Rwanda is recruiting forces for militias in D.R.C., what is inconspicuously missing from the article is that the destabilization of Congo—which has seen around ten million killed and millions more displaced since the Rwandan and Ugandan invasion in 1996—is part of a U.S. imperial project to control and exploit the wealth of the Great Lakes region.

The unwillingness to identify Rwanda as a subordinate of the United States (in fact the U.S. and U.S. businesses are completely missing in the article), or a major component of the “conflict mineral” wars, or to provide accurate information on the Rwandan genocide (which is absurdly used to explain why Rwandan forces are in D.R.C.), and such, leaves the article void of any means for readers to understand what is really going on.

The impression that is given, that Rwanda is merely involved to protect itself from “a Hutu rebel group in eastern Congo bent on overturning the Rwandan government” and thus supporting criminals like Ntaganda (who have gone astray from their noble purpose), is simply not true. Not only is the R.P.F. a considerably more powerful military force than the Hutu forces, as the events of the last 20 years show, but the narrative is a total distraction from what really happened and is happening, and why.

Breaking Lies: German Police Join Blockupy Protest????

Yesterday Occupy Canada caused a stir by posting the bottom picture with the claim that police in Frankfurt, Germany have taken off their riot helmets and joined the protesters. It was billed as a revolutionary moment.

At first, I too assumed it was true, but was skeptical in its revolutionary value. My question was: What if the protesters were to move from protesting to resistance? That is to say, would the cops join them in taking direct action to bring down the governments, or challenge the banks, and so on? Or, would they use force to stop them?

But, the questions were rendered moot when it was quickly pointed out that they were not joining the protesters, but escorting them, and that the police were busy containing the crowds, and arresting anyone who went beyond the acceptable and ineffectual protest.

All cops may be bastards, as the phrase goes, but one thing is for certain: Frankfurt cops have proved to be much less the bastards as America’s police force. Ergo, Oakland, New York and Chicago, where cops have been busy punching faces, caving in heads with batons, shooting unarmed protesters in the head with tear gas cannisters or firing rubber bullets at them, destroying camps, running over legal observers with motorcycles, harassing journalists, and much, much more.

Here is a video from this week in Chicago:

Of all the bloodied faces and bruised and broken bodies, it would be interested to know the extent of injuries the police endured, and whether those injuries were the direct occurence of protesters.

Furthemore, and as far as I can tell, nothing like this happened in Germany. Not even close.




riot police

Categories: Activism, occupy, police, violence

Waltzing in Chicago: Protests versus Resistance

May 23, 2012 6 comments

I know some folks won’t like this, but I am unapologetic. It is what it is. Love it or hate it. I am tired of the absence of the working class in the Left. I am tired of the faux-revolutionary vanguardism, the posturing, and the delusions. I am tired of every single capitalist and imperialist event being greeted with a protest that never stands a chance of achieving a goddamn thing, and all the pride in getting beat up and arrested. All these protests are a waste of time. There, I said it. It really is just a rite of passage for a lot of folks. It’s all about them and their egos, and not about building a social movement to actually win. That is really how I feel about it, and it saddens me. Am I wrong? Am I over-generalizing? Maybe. But I honestly don’t think so.

• • •

In a lot of ways the modern protest has become a dance.

A ball is announced.

The police show up early in full riot gear, ready to shoot tear gas, beat batons over skulls, and arrest as many protesters as they can.

The protesters show up ready for said treatment.

The two groups embrace, and twirl around a downtown landscape. They look affectionately in each other’s eyes, and run through the familiar courting traditions that are expected of them: The police stand in a line, and like the game “Red Rover,” the protesters try to break through the line of cops.

They never do.

The ball ends, and everyone goes home—or to jail.

And very shortly a new ball is announced, and the whole affair is repeated yet again.

Chicago, Miami, New York City, Oakland, and other places.

Red Rover, Red Rover, let Philly come over.

It becomes a rite of passage; a coming of age.


There is a huge difference between protests and resistance.



The latter involves some organization and plan to achieve a goal. Like, stopping a NATO summit, or stopping home foreclosures, or toppling a government, or occupying Wall Street, or carrying out revolutionary transformation of a society’s political and economic institutions and practices.
Good strategists will build up strength, and pick their battles. And when the time comes, they take action.
Protests just involves people congregating and letting their disapproval known—ergo, The Waltz.
Organizing is not getting a permit for a march, or a demonstration that gets advertised with Facebook events with which you invite your “friends” to.

It’s not about being able to post a picture of your bleeding skull, or bragging about getting arrested.


Look Ma, I got a busted skull! Ain’t I revolutionary?

 It involves building some kind of workplace or communal “organization” that people join and dedicate to winning certain goals.

Rushing into loosely-planned and organized protests at every single imperial and capitalist event is a spectacle (i.e. a dance). It is more for participants to feel as if they are doing something radical, than actually achieving a goal.

It doesn’t leave us any stronger, or them any weaker.

But it is a very cathartic process; a release of tension. And maybe that is where the truth lies. If and when things get so bad that resistance is inevitable, there will be no need to get a “permit,” and there will be no dance. It will be real.
So rather then letting the tension out with frequent (ineffectual) “peaceful” protests perhaps folks should be more serious about organizing, growing, and choosing battles they can win.

Every so often I look at the Occupy Wall Street page on Facebook and it’s very interesting. There are frequent criticisms of people saying they get and agree with their grievances, but don’t see their tactics as being successful. And then those who reflexively—and almost dogmatically—attack them and dismiss them.

One commenter I saw posted the remark, “You can think us later for liberating you.” No one seemed to notice the disturbing sense of vanguardism impregnated in the comment. But the initial persons comment was a fair critique that should be listened to. I think it reflects revolutionary potential. Folks are saying camping out in parks and protesting is ineffective. It’s not enough.

And when people say “Get a Job!” there is something to that. Working class people, not professional college students, don’t have the ability to miss work for weeks at a time to live in a tent at a city park. They have a mortgage to pay, mouths to feed, and so on. They don’t relate to the protesters. They don’t see they share the same interests. They are removed from their activities, and go on with their life, and try to get by. One day at a time. Anyone who can dedicate that much time to pointlessly getting arrested and beat up must not have a job. They must have some privilge.

Most people can’t risk their jobs getting arrested for protesting a NATO summit, especially when they don’t see a benefit that exceeds the costs. Does anyone really think NATO is going to be stopped? That Wall Street is going to be occupied? That the wars will end? That the system will be changed?

I am not talking about what is possible, but what is probable. To turn what is possible into what is probable will take time and dedication.

Not all of the dismissals and criticisms of Occupy/NATO protesters are valid, for sure. But unless activists and organizers on the Left take the time to actually consider them and reflect on them, I don’t see much room for improvement. It’s a lot like what the late Howard Zinn was fond of saying, “The cry of the poor is is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

And that’s part of the problem. The working class in America is un-organized. Organized labor has been largely defeated by decades of corporate and state assaults. But at the same time, the existing political movements are, to a large degree, ignoring labor—even while talking about it (leaving hints of vanguardism). The student movements have their value. But they cannot do it alone. And it’s not as if the working class in America is right-wing. That’s very far from the truth. It’s that the existing movements are largely made up of college kids who are organizing college kids. The Left desperately needs to organize the working class. In fact, it is imperative.

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