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Atlantic Free Press OP/ED

Sun

06

Mar

2011

George Katsiaficas: U.S. Human Rights Policy is Self-serving and Duplicitous
Sunday, 06 March 2011 07:49
by Kourosh Ziabari in Iran
 
George Katsiaficas is a renowned university professor, sociologist, author and activist. He is a visiting American Professor of Humanities and Sociology at Chonnam National University, Gwangju, South Korea where he teaches and does research on the 1980s and 1990s East Asian uprisings.

Katsiaficas has a Ph.D. of sociology from the University of California, San Diego. Since 1990, he has taught sociology at the Wentworth Institute of Technology's Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. During the period between 2006 and 2008, he was an Associate in Research at the Harvard University and Korea Institute.

He specializes in social movements, Asian politics, the U.S. foreign policy, comparative and historical studies and has written numerous books in these fields.

In 2003, he won the American Political Science Association's Special Award for Outstanding Service and in 2008, received the Fulbright Senior Scholar Research Fellowship.

Among his major books are "The Battle of Seattle" by the New York's Soft Skull Press, "Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party" by New York's Routledge Press and "South Korean Democracy: Legacy of the Gwangju Uprising" by London's Routledge Press.

What follows is the complete text of interview with Dr. George Katsiaficas on the recent uprising in the Arab world, its impacts on the international developments and its implications for the United States and its European allies.

Kourosh Ziabari: After Tunisia and Egypt in which the revolutionary forces and people on the ground succeeded in ousting the U.S.-backed puppets, several other Arab nations joined them and staged massive street demonstrations to call for civil liberties, improved living conditions, freedom and democratic governments. Now the whole Arab world is in a state of turmoil and unrest and the U.S.-backed dictators are facing the bitter reality that their autocracies are about to fail and collapse. What factors led to the extension of anti-government protests to the whole Arab world? Can we interpret this collective uprising a result of the explosion of strong pan-Arabist sentiments?

George Katsiaficas: No one could have predicted that the suicide of a vegetable vendor in rural Tunisia would unleash long pent-up frustrations on such a scale. If we take a long historical view, the Arab world went into a steep decline after Europeans discovered how to round Africa and established direct trade with the East. While oil has provided a huge stimulus for recovery in the 20th century, its effects have been drastically mitigated by elite corruption. The Arab people are finally awakening from a long slumber. The masses of ordinary Arabs today know in their hearts that they are more intelligent than their rulers. They know that they could all live better lives if they could get rid of the corrupt and often stupid elites trampling on their freedoms and hogging the money that rightfully belongs to everybody.
 

Thu

03

Mar

2011

The Enduring Mystique of the Marshall Plan
Thursday, 03 March 2011 07:37
by William Blum

Amidst all the stirring political upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East the name "Marshall Plan" keeps being repeated by political figures and media around the world as the key to rebuilding the economies of those societies to complement the political advances, which hopefully will be somewhat progressive. But caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.

During my years of writing and speaking about the harm and injustice inflicted upon the world by unending United States interventions, I've often been met with resentment from those who accuse me of chronicling only the negative side of US foreign policy and ignoring the many positive sides. When I ask the person to give me some examples of what s/he thinks show the virtuous face of America's dealings with the world in modern times, one of the things mentioned — almost without exception — is The Marshall Plan. This is usually described along the lines of: "After World War II, the United States unselfishly built up Europe economically, including our wartime enemies, and allowed them to compete with us." Even those today who are very cynical about US foreign policy, who are quick to question the White House's motives in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, have little problem in accepting this picture of an altruistic America of the period 1948-1952. But let's have a look at the Marshall Plan outside the official and popular versions.

After World War II, the United States, triumphant abroad and undamaged at home, saw a door wide open for world supremacy. Only the thing called "communism" stood in the way, politically, militarily, and ideologically. The entire US foreign policy establishment was mobilized to confront this "enemy", and the Marshall Plan was an integral part of this campaign. How could it be otherwise? Anti-communism had been the principal pillar of US foreign policy from the Russian Revolution up to World War II, pausing for the war until the closing months of the Pacific campaign, when Washington put challenging communism ahead of fighting the Japanese. This return to anti-communism included the dropping of the atom bomb on Japan as a warning to the Soviets. 1
 

Tue

01

Mar

2011

Indonesia – The Worst Example For Revolutions In Arab World
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 09:35
by Andre Vltchek

As several revolts shook recently big part of Arab world, as Hosni Mubarak stepped down and the leaders of Bahrain and Libya could not think about anything better than to order bloody crack down against their own people, the world (read Western governments, media and academia) were watching with increasing doze of discomfort.

Protests seem to be engulfing almost all countries in the region from Morocco and Tunis to Jordan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.   

Staunch ally of the West – Saudis – feel suddenly 'vulnerable', even 'encircled'. No wonder – millions of the poor from all over the region are now marching and fighting for social justice or for justice in general. And there is hardly a place in the world with more striking inequalities than in this kingdom based on Wahabi conservative Islam, historically close ally of British imperialism. As is well known, Saudi Arabia is bathing in oil – that dark liquid which is both blessing and curse - enriching elites while helping to maintain apartheid between the natives and exploited migrant workers.

For decades, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt (or more precisely their rulers and 'elites') – all of them served Western interests with zeal and efficiency. Now they are expecting helping hand, support in this complex and 'dangerous times'.

While the White House was sending conflicting reports to its allies, well-disciplined mass media and academia rose immediately to the challenge and invented 'the best role model for the Arab world' – Indonesia.

After all, Indonesia is home to more Muslims than any other nation on earth. It is rich in natural resources and after 1998 it holds multi-party elections. Its economy is growing at more than 6% a year and there seem to be no popular uprisings or calls for revolution. Both President Obama and Foreign Secretary Clinton sang praises to Indonesian model during their visits to Jakarta.

Indonesia is a staunch ally of the West: 'a bumper zone against rising China', good god-fearing country where the Communist Party and atheism are banned and business and the Almighty appear to be working in unison for the benefit of the few. It performed extremely effective surgery on behalf of the West in 1965/66 – murdering millions of Communists, progressive leaders, teachers, intellectuals and members of Chinese minority. It can be, therefore, trusted.

Writing for CNN, Ann Marie Murphy - an associate professor at the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University, and an associate fellow at the Asia Society - argued:

 "Since Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned in the face of widespread demonstrations, attention has shifted to what comes next. Fears have been raised that Egypt's transition may follow the Iranian path, where the Shah's overthrow led to a repressive Islamic regime that turned away from the West and became a source of regional instability. Indonesia provides a better analogy for Egypt than Iran. Over the past decade Indonesia, home of the world's largest community of Muslims, has made a successful transition to democracy that clearly refutes the proposition that Islam and democracy are incompatible…"

 
 

Sat

26

Feb

2011

Robert Jensen: Consciousness rising, world fading
Saturday, 26 February 2011 10:40
by Robert Jensen Ph.D.  

Our stories of awakenings -- whether moral, intellectual, religious, artistic, or sexual -- are tricky. Honest self-reflection doesn't come easy, and self-satisfied accounts are the norm; we love to be the heroes of our own epics.

That's true of accounts of political awakening as well, especially for those of us born into unearned privilege as a result of systems of illegitimate authority. Not only do we love to tell stories in which we come out looking good, but we know how to decorate the narrative with the trappings of humility to avoid seeming arrogant.  We use our failures to set up the story of our transformation; even when we speak of our limitations we are highlighting our wisdom in seeing those limitations.

So, when I got a request from a researcher to tell my story about how my political consciousness was raised, I was hesitant. I don't like feeling like a fraud, and something always feels a bit fraudulent about my account, even when I am being as honest as I can. But, like most people, I feel driven to tell my story, mostly to try to explain myself to myself. So, here I go again:

As a teenager coming of age in the 1970s in mainstream culture in the upper Midwest, I missed the United States' radicalizing movements by a decade and several hundred miles. I developed conventional liberal politics in reaction to the conventional conservative politics of my father and his generation. But in a more basic sense, I grew up depoliticized -- like most contemporary Americans, I was never taught to analyze systems and structures of power, and so my banal liberal positions seemed like cutting edge critique to me. After college I worked as a journalist at mainstream newspapers, which further retarded my ability to think critically about power; reporters who don't have a political consciousness coming into the field are unlikely to develop one in an industry that claims neutrality but is fanatically devoted to the conventional wisdom.

The raising of my consciousness began when I started a journalism/mass communication doctoral program in 1988, a time when U.S. universities were somewhat more intellectually and politically open than today. After years of the daily grind in newsrooms, I felt liberated by the freedom to read, think, and talk to others about all the new ideas I was encountering. My study of the First Amendment led me to the feminist critique of pornography, which at the time was an important focus for debate about the meaning of freedom of expression. My first graduate courses were taught by liberal defenders of pornography, who were the norm in the academy then and now. But I also began talking with activists in a local group that was fighting the sexual-exploitation industries (pornography, prostitution, stripping), and I realized there was a rich, complex, and exciting feminist critique, which required me to rethink what I thought I knew about freedom, choice, and liberation.

As a result of those first conversations, I started reading feminist work and taking feminist classes, and I kept talking with folks from the community group, which led me to get involved in their educational activities. I didn't make those choices with any sense that I was constructing a radical philosophical and political framework. I was just following the ideas that seemed the most compelling intellectually and the people who seemed the most decent personally. Those ad hoc decisions changed my life, in two ways.

First, they opened up to me an alternative to the suffocating conventional wisdom, in which liberals and conservatives argue within narrow ideological boundaries. This exposure to feminist thinking, especially those people and ideas most commonly described as radical feminist, allowed me to step outside those boundaries and ask two simple questions: Where does real power lie and how does it operate, in both formal institutions and informal arrangements?

Second, they helped me realize the importance of always having a political life outside the university. Instead of putting all my energy into my teaching and research, I was anchored in a community project and connected to people who weren't preoccupied with publishing marginally relevant research in marginally relevant academic journals. Although I had to publish scholarly articles for my first six years as an assistant professor, once I got tenure and job security I immediately returned to community organizing and ignored the pseudo-intellectual pretensions that dominate in most of the so-called scholarly world in the social sciences and humanities. I had developed respect for rigorous and relevant scholarship but had come to realize how little of it there was in my fields in the contemporary academy.
 

Sat

26

Feb

2011

Till September: The PA’s Meaningless Deadlines
Saturday, 26 February 2011 10:37
by Ramzy Baroud
 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his supporters in the Fatah party want us to believe that dramatic changes are underway in the occupied Palestinian territories.

This is part of a strategy intended to offset any public dissatisfaction with the self-designated Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. The PA hopes the ‘news’ will create enough distraction to help it survive the current climate of major public-regime showdowns engulfing the Middle East.

Anticipating a potential popular uprising in the occupied territories - which could result in a major revamping of the current power, to the disadvantage of Abbas - the PA is now taking preventive measures.

First, there was the resignation of the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Ereka on February 12. Erekat was clearly implicated in negotiating, if not squandering, Palestinian rights in successive meetings with Israeli and American officials. This was revealed through nearly 1,600 leaked documents, which Aljazeera and the Guardian termed the ‘Palestine Papers’.

Erekat was hardly representing himself, as he readily gave away much territory, including most of Jerusalem. He also agreed to a symbolic return of Palestinian refugees to their land, now part of today’s Israel. By keeping his post, the entire PA ‘peace process’ apparatus would have remained ineffective at best, and at worst entirely self-seeking, showing no regard whatsoever for Palestinian rights.

With Erekat’s exit, the PA hopes to retain a margin of credibility among Palestinians.

Erekat, who made his entrance to the world of ‘peace process’ at the Madrid peace conference in 1991, opted out in a way that conceded no guilt. He claimed to have left merely because the leak happened through his office. The PA expects us to believe that, unlike other Arab governments, it functions in a transparent and self-correcting manner. Erekat wants to be seen as an “example of accountability”, according to the Washington Post (February 16). He claimed: “I'm making myself pay the price for the mistake I committed, my negligence. These are the ethics and the standards. Palestinian officials need to start putting them in their minds.”
 
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