Archive for June, 2012

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.‘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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