September 27, 2011

The Ignorance of Imperialism

When I was in junior high, I read the Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov. It laid out a vision of the rise and fall of empires that had a profound impact on my understanding of macro-history. Reading Andre Gunder-Frank’s ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age in college provided me factual underpinnings for my understanding of the hubris of military might and Eurocentrism.

You could say I implicitly understand the limits of imperialism. The unifying principle in any empire is the belief that your way of life is superior and must be spread. Empires are built many ways – by conquering people’s beliefs by imposing religious beliefs through superior weaponry; by conquering people’s lands by introducing diseases that kill the majority of the population; and by the economic tyranny of “free-trade” capitalism. The macro-historical view I began to see in college was crystallized by reading Chalmers Johnson and Naomi Klein.

I fundamentally believe in pluralism and self-determination. Simultaneously, I believe in universal human rights.

It is on this backdrop that I entered anti-war activism. My focus remained corporate personhood and the root causes of war long after the U.S. put boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. I reasoned that other people were in the streets fighting against these wars and it was important for me to take the long view of history. Eleven years into that strategy, I realized that unless you relate your fundamental beliefs to current events, you'll be hard-pressed for attention among progressives, let alone The Media. And that's about the point when I joined the CODEPINK national team.

The ignorance of imperialism is writ large in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American Empire Project published Peter Van Buren’s book today, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. He was interviewed today by Dave Davies of Fresh Air.

Over the weekend, I facilitated a teleconference with Dr. Rashad Zaydan, founder of the Knowledge for Iraqi Women Society. I was frankly surprised to hear how strongly she denounced the veracity of the article "Fight for Women's Rights Begins All Over Again," by Rebecca Murray on the Inter Press Service site. Dr. Zaydan challenged us to see Iraqi women's rights in the context of human rights. She reminded us of the many economic and social rights enjoyed by Iraqis prior to the U.S. invasion — the Iraqi government ensured all citizens had basic food stuffs, free education for both genders, free medical care, and housing. After the occupation, none of those things have been guaranteed, and the killing of many Iraqi men has created an expanding population of widows without means to provide for their families. Additionally, the war and occupation have destroyed Iraq's electrical grid, leaving most people without access to continuous electricity. She reminded us that there must be justice and peace. It is not acceptable that occupying soldiers rape and murder with seeming impunity, further exacerbating the failed state created by the initial invasion. Dr. Zaydan recommends completely withdrawing all troops and war-profiteering-contractors by the end of the year and allowing Iraqis time and space to re-develop their country.

You can listen to our complete conversation with Dr. Zaydan by calling (661) 673-8609, entering access code 780252# and then entering reference number 1 when prompted.

Unfortunately, the situation in Afghanistan is no better than in Iraq. International human rights lawyer Tzili Mor spoke with CODEPINK LA on International Peace Day. She served eight months as the Gender Justice Adviser based in Kabul for the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) primarily on the establishment of special violence against women prosecution units and related issues around access to justice for women. According to Ms. Mor, there are laws in Afghanistan that protect women's rights, but the process of implementation is slow and many layers of work must be done. While women have returned to the Afghan legal field as prosecutors and judges, people of all genders can allow their personal biases to affect their job performance. For example, a female prosecutor might suggest to a man that his wife be imprisoned for misbehaving when the wife reports that she was the victim of domestic violence. Additionally, cultural norms can have the force of law - on some roads, police pull women off buses, claiming they have broken a law by traveling without their husband or father. No such law currently exists in Afghanistan, but in some areas women serve 5 year prison sentences for this "offense," though sentences vary widely. Despite these disturbing anecdotes, there are many areas of Afghanistan where women are respected, equal members of society. It is vitally important to continue supporting women's participation in Afghan society, politically, legally, and culturally. As Laura King pointed out in the LA Times, Afghans know the presence of Westerners makes targets of everyone nearby.

In the coming weeks, we will continue to demand an immediate end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of Occupy Wall Street, the encampment at Freedom Plaza, and throughout the country. Additionally, on October 7, a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan will be speaking at Pasadena Community College, and the event will be video streamed on the Afghan Women's Mission website. And if you're near San Diego, attend an in-person Conversation with Dr. Rashad Zaydan at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre on October 13.

I hope you will join us in challenging empire. Between the U.S. diplomats based in the Middle East who can’t speak Arabic and the soldiers tasked with killing people one hour and helping rebuild the schools destroyed by the U.S. military the next, it’s a wonder that the U.S. empire hasn’t already collapsed under the weight of its hubris. I remain hopeful because progressives are gathering in the streets to demand fundamental change, to demand Make Jobs, Not War.

cross-posted with the CODEPINK blog.

Posted by cj at 2:45 PM | Comments (0)

December 3, 2009

US to Escalate Destabilization of Afghanistan


Tuesday night was a turning point in the Obama presidency. All weekend, details of his "plan" leaked out in the political media. So I had plenty of advanced warning that like many foolish presidents before him, Obama thinks he can save the world by occupying it with the US military. So many people are so hopeful for the leadership he supposedly offers. Sure, he's said some pretty rhetoric about nuclear disarmament. But what does any of that talk - or his Nobel Peace Prize mean when the man does not recognize that Human Beings Live in Afghanistan. He talked about the Taliban and al Qaeda, but never about poverty or corruption, war lords or illegitimate presidents. And then he had the gall to end his speech hoping that we all join in unity, like we did after 9-11.

Let's be clear about something: if you have to rely on pandering to the fears created by the horrific terrorist attack on US soil in 2001 to unify your audience, then you've failed to make a persuasive argument.

Yet, he did. And there are so many people who think he's right. I'll admit something: eight years ago, I thought the US military would be useful to bring women out of the shadows of Afghanistan and create space for all people of the country to create a real nation. How foolish I was. And how foolish the US political elite continues to be.

Obama's Afghanistan strategy relies on everything that is wrong with international relations. IR focuses on Power: you must be a war lord, terrorist, state leader, or corporation to be meaningful in a discussion based on "realist" theory. The men who created this paradigm thought so highly of their beliefs that anyone daring to oppose them were derided as "idealists."

I'm tired of these standards of discourse. Poverty, political corruption, and social instability have never been resolved by military occupation. Flooding Afghanistan with English speaking US soldiers and US-paid mercenaries serves one purpose: it props up the corrupt, illegitimate Karzai government and gives carte blanche to warlords wielding power in the name of fighting terror.

I accepted the reality of international relations seven years ago, when I made the decision to stop pursuing a career in the foreign service. The paradigm shifts needed to create real human security are so massive: non-violent social upheaval is simply the only way to make it happen. And I can't help move the world towards needed paradigm shifts from a job serving the US Empire.

Tuesday's speech depressed me. It's depressing not just because the most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner fundamentally does not understand how to create global peace. It's depressing because to explain the faults in his reasoning requires a level of sophistication in political discourse that simply does not exist in the US mainstream media. The only place I've heard a bit of common sense on the topic was Josef Joffe, a German publisher/editor on "To The Point" explaining that Europeans, after experiencing two horrific wars on their soil in the 20th century, think diplomacy is the best way to solve international disputes and create nation states.

Remember, Europeans did not find these beliefs by sitting in ivory towers, thinking up ways to rule the world. The true horror of war, the disgusting indiscriminate nature of aerial bombings and painfully slow path to reconstruction taught them the simple truth: War Is Never The Answer. Period. Full Stop.

You may call me an idealist, but I believe I am the true realist. I have seen the core of human nature, I have seen the destruction of war and I say firmly: the US military is not a liberating force. The US fails to live up to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which mandates women's equal participation in conflict resolution. Fighting terrorists through mercenaries, the US military, and corrupt warlords does not create human security for US citizens or Afghans.

The US Government has chosen the path to further destabilization of Afghanistan.

At this crucial moment in world history, will you silently ascent to the senseless deaths of more US soldiers and Afghans? Or will you take a stand for real justice?

Things to do:

  1. Sign the Code Pink petition against Endless Occupation.
  2. Join Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. We work tirelessly to challenge and change the root causes of war and injustice at the local, national, and international level.
  3. Explain your opposition to the hopeless military escalation to your friends, family, and co-workers.
  4. Chastise mainstream media for excluding articulate anti-war voices from their political talk shows. Ask how balanced a panel is when no one on it rejects the paradigm of IR realism.
  5. Find a way to create peace in your own life so that your anger doesn't consume you: depression, though a logical response to this endless war, only poisons you.

Posted by cj at 9:21 PM | Comments (0)