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Category Archives: Social Justice

The Dangers of this Nationalistic Fever and Bloodlust over Osama bin Laden’s Death

Image shared under creative commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/theqspeaks/5679548043/

Update: A slightly edited version of this has been reposted over at Mondoweiss.

Look, I’m glad Osama is gone. Now I wish for the swift crumbling of the US empire as well as the liberation of all the people it oppresses and kills around the globe.

Yet, make no mistake: his assassination will be used to continue and potentially escalate the so-called “Global War on Terror.”  Already I hear the media drum beat growing that “the war must go on” and “we must fight against those that would retaliate.” Each time you feed the Global War on Terror, a by definition never-ending war,  it simply grows and grows. Right now this growth is being cultivated through the calls we’re hearing to be “steadfast” in the face of the “retaliations” that are “sure to come.” (Which begs the question: why did we even assassinate Osama, who by many accounts was now just a figure head and had no operational power, if we knew it would result in retaliations against even more innocent lives?)

However, there is one impending and already manifesting danger even greater than the retaliations from Osama-allies that our politicians and media outlets are fomenting fear over: the immediate explosion of  nationalistic fever and bloodlust that swept across the nation directly following the announcement of bin Laden’s assassination. I direct your attention to the short clip below of students celebrating on the University of Massachusetts, Amherst campus – which is fairly representative of the simultaneous celebrations engulfing the nation well into the early morning of May 2nd.


(P.S. The next time some American media outlet plays videos of Arabs or Muslims burning something while declaring “how barbaric” they are and “how much they hate us,” show them that clip).

Images like these swept over the country, with young people in the streets and even in front of the White House cheering “we won! USA! USA!” and “it’s over! It’s finally over!”, on repeat throughout the night. I had to ask myself while watching these events: they really have no idea, do they?

If by “we won” and “it’s finally over,” these jubilant celebrators meant that our “win” was killing the ultimate terrorist boogeyman – than, yes, I suppose the specter of bin Laden has been defeated. Yet, the Ghost of Osama will keep the eternal “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) and the mass killings (perpetuated primarily by the United States) going and going. The GWOT is by definition an un-winable, never-ending war. It is a “fight” against a vaguely defined concept, meant to keep us on our toes anytime we determine there is a new boogeyman that must be defeated. And the great thing is that it’s global! We’ve got the whole world to scour over for terrorists! We’ll never have a shortage.

What’s important here, however, is that Osama’s assassination is being used consciously and subconsciously to justify and forget about all of the Afghanis and Pakistanis who have died. And, most likely, even the dead Iraqis as well. Don’t forget, we invaded (and continue to occupy) Iraq on the lie that Osama and Saddam were collaborating to kill Americans. (I’m serious: be watchful for the first time you hear “we killed Osama!” as retroactive nonsensical justification for the war in Iraq. I have already heard it mentioned once.). I repeat – the basis for our invasion of Iraq was a lie, and hundreds of thousands have died in Iraq as a result of it. That’s 9/11 over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. (And it’s still going on).

The problem is that American patriotism is so blinding that many Americans can’t even perceive how the death of this one asshole doesn’t justify the death of 14,000-34,000 Afghanis, thousands of Pakistanis, hundreds of people in Yemen, hundreds of thousands in Iraq, and thousands of more Americans. Not to mention the destruction these wars have brought to our environment, nor the financial and social cost we have burdened at home for them. (And by “we” I mean mostly the poor, women, and other historically marginalized communities. Those weapons and oil corporations seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.) So to all those Americans screaming “mission accomplished!” at the top of your lungs: I don’t really understand. What was the mission? To kill Osama? Tell that to the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of innocent people that died before him in that effort, as well as to those that are still yet to perish in the wake of the “great” and “mighty” USA.

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Reflections on Hampshire’s Successful Campaign to Divest from the Illegal Israeli Occupation, Two Years Later

An SJPer after divestment and during our struggle with the college administration.

These were my prepared remarks for the opening panel at the AFSC’s “Organize a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine” conference this past March. I was asked to speak about my experience organizing with Students for Justice in Palestine at Hampshire College and explore our successful divestment campaign.

Two years ago, in 2009, Students for Justice in Palestine succeeded in forcing Hampshire College to become the first institution of higher education in the United States to divest from the Israeli Occupation. Now, I don’t know if any of you have heard of Hampshire College before. It’s this tiny little college, in a tiny little town, in the backwoods of the tiny little state of Massachusetts; it has a tiny little population, and a tiny little endowment. Yet, when we succeeded in becoming the first college to divest from the illegal occupation, we were endorsed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the late Dr. Howard Zinn; Noam Chomsky; musician Roger Waters of Pink Floyd; Naomi Klein, Phyllis Bennis; the Palestinian BDS National Committee; Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney; a Nobel Peace Laureate; poets; writers; activists; international policy makers, and more. At the same time, unconditional supporters of Israel’s atrocities and injustices also attacked us. For example, I personally received a phone call from Alan Dershowitz, which was just the first step in a very public intimidation campaign he launched against us.

So – let me back up, how did we get there?

Historic Economic Boycotts and the Current BDS Movement

First, I think it’s important to put why we launched a divestment campaign at our school into perspective.

There is a growing movement within this nation and worldwide called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions – or BDS for short – which is a new, vital movement aimed at impacting the situation in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Israel itself. And I stress that this is vital in the Palestine/Israel struggle because all other attempts, such as the so-called “peace process,” have proven ineffectual and even harmful as they have drawn out the colonization and occupation of Palestine.

At its core, BDS is a dual tool that is being used to put economic pressure on Israel and to educate the wider public about Palestine. So, what does BDS look like?

In July of 2005, to quote the official Global BDS website, “a clear majority of Palestinian civil society called upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel.”

Students viewing a mock apartheid wall Hampshire SJP erected on the library lawn, across the college's main walk-way. Four different versions of this wall were put up - each with protest art as well as information about the wall, Gaza, the occupation, and Palestine in general.

In short, people all around the world are boycotting products from illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank (like Ahava beauty products), students are pressuring their colleges to divest from companies producing military equipment and weapons for the Israeli army, and government officials are feeling the heat to put economic sanctions on Israel until it complies with international law and lifts the blockade on Gaza.

There are a few things that are extremely important to understand about the BDS initiative that makes it a critical strategy. The first is that it is completely non-violent. BDS is an effort to employ economic means to utilize global, grassroots efforts rather than simply waiting on ineffective governments to act. The second important thing to keep in mind is that BDS is an indigenous call from Palestine. It is what Palestinians are telling us we can do to be their allies in their struggle.

What’s more, this movement is rooted in a history of successful struggles for justice. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela utilized a BDS movement to end the apartheid regime in South Africa, which finally collapsed in the 1980’s. Now, they have also endorsed BDS as a means to end the occupation and colonization of Palestine. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks employed boycotts and other economic strategies in the Civil Rights movement. Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass also attempted to abolish slavery through economic means.

Today, globally and in the United States, BDS efforts have been making gains in the face of tremendous odds. I can share my personal experience as one example of these successes.

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The Hard Truth about the Libyan Intervention: The West Doesn’t Care About Innocent Lives and Democracy

Like many anti-war activists who don’t support the West’s military intervention in Libya, I have been struggling to put my objections into words. But I have finally figured it out. It’s not that I don’t support a “humanitarian intervention” in Libya, it’s simply that I have absolutely no reason to believe this is what the West’s bombing campaign is actually about. Those that promote the idea of the intervention have what on paper sounds like a good cause: stop Gaddafi from killing scores of innocent people while supporting a democratic uprising against a dictator.

Unfortunately, there are two colossal facts that must be completely ignored in order for anyone to believe that these are the true intentions of the West’s intervention in Libya:

1) The United States and Europe do not care about innocent lives in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. In fact, they are one of the worst perpetrators of killing civilians in these regions.

I can’t believe that I actually have to make this point, yet so many people on the left who support the intervention seem to have purposefully forgotten that the United States and NATO are already at war with two countries in the Middle East while bombing scores of others.

In Iraq, the number of those that have died from our 8-year war is simply staggering. A conservative estimate of the death toll puts the figure in the 100’s of thousands; while some say that once you incorporate all of the factors (such as a lack of adequate medical facilities as a result of the war, which has led to countless unnecessary deaths), there may be a million or more dead in Iraq. In fact, our continued occupation has completely decimated the country’s infrastructure, which by 2007 reduced the average life expectancy of an Iraqi by four years (from 71 years-old to 67). Our military has been occupying Afghanistan for a decade while demolishing entire villages, bombing weddings, and even posing for pictures with dead civilian Afghans. Our drones are ravaging Pakistan and we are launching countless “secret” bombing raids into Yemen (and that country’s regime covers this up on our behalf). The list goes on and on.

And when Israel killed over 1,000 in South Lebanon in 2006 and another 1,400 in Gaza in 2009, the U.S. and Europe did nothing to protect those civilians. The United States government didn’t even say that these mass killings were wrong.

The only difference that exists when civilians are killed by Gadaffi’s shelling versus when they die from Western bombs is that one is being called “murder” and the other is known as “collateral damage.” This is a prime example of how people’s lives are suddenly devalued when they get in the way of America’s bombs, contrasted to their new-found value when under threat from America’s enemies at a convenient time.

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