Over the last few weeks the private English media has stepped up its campaign against the Venezuelan revolution, spreading a number of lies and misconceptions around President Hugo Chavez’s health, the politics and legalities involved in his swearing-in for his new term, and the Venezuelan government’s handling of the situation. [...]
Here, Venezuelanalysis.com debunks the top five lies currently being spread by private media.
1) The Venezuelan government is being secretive about Chavez’s health
This charge has been made by international media since Chavez first announced he had cancer in June 2011. Criticisms by the private media of government “secrecy” around his condition have intensified as the swearing-in date approaches, in part reflecting an increasingly fractious Venezuelan opposition anxious for details they could use to their advantage.
Mass media sources describe Chavez’s medical condition as “a mystery”, with outlets such as the Los Angeles Times referring to government information on Chavez’s post-operatory recovery as “sporadic and thinly detailed medical updates”. Outlets such as the British BBC and the Australian have picked up the opposition’s call for the Venezuelan government to tell the “truth” on Chavez’s health, implying that the government is withholding information, or outright lying.
The argument that the Venezuelan government is keeping secrets feeds into the discourse most mainstream media use in relation to the Bolivarian revolution, recently describing the government as “despots” (Chicago Tribune) and “autocratic populists” (Washington Post).
Other media has put out its own versions of Chavez’s state of health, with the Spanish ABC going to great lengths to describe even his bowel movements, and reporting that he is in a coma, and the multinational Terra mistaking its desires for reality, reporting that Chavez is already dead. These media outlets have just one “anonymous” source for their reports; they somehow, apparently, have an infiltrator (or an “intelligence source” as they call it) among Chavez’s Cuban medical team.
The government has in fact released 28 statements updating the public on Chavez’s condition since his operation on 11 December, an average of around 1 per day. These statements are available in full text on the internet, and are also being read out by communication minister Ernesto Villegas on all Venezuelan public television and radio.
In the latest statement, released yesterday, Villegas said that Chavez’s condition remains “stationary” compared to the last report, where the public was informed that he has a respiratory “deficiency” due to a pulmonary infection.
It is true however, that beyond mentioning the general cancer site; the pelvic region, the government hasn’t revealed the exact type of cancer that Chavez has, nor the exact nature of the operation that he underwent on 11 December. This is possibly due to privacy reasons.
When asked directly about this issue in a recent interview, Jorge Rodriguez, a doctor and key figure in Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), said “I’d give the example of Mrs. Hilary Clinton, who had a cerebral vascular accident. There are three factors which influence these cases: the part of the brain where it happens, the size of the affected zone, and if it produces a hemorrhage or obstruction. Well fine, I’ve not seen any serious and decent doctor ask in which zone she had the lesion. And I think it’s fine that they don’t ask because that lady has the right to privacy. I’ve not seen Ramon Guillermo Aveledo (the executive secretary of the opposition’s MUD coalition) asking to know if her accident affected her in the frontal lobe, in which case, of course, she couldn’t continue giving the instructions she normally gives”.
Of course, when the international media report on the Venezuelan opposition’s stance towards Chavez’s health situation, they invariably fail to mention that the opposition’s approach has a lot less to do with a crusade for truth, and more to do with its hopes of creating a political and constitutional crisis over the issue. They make out that the Venezuelan government is being deliberately misleading and manipulative with information, but would never point the finger at Western leaders such as George Bush or Barack Obama for not announcing the exact locations of their frequent, long, and luxurious vacations, for example.
2) It is unconstitutional if Chavez doesn’t take the oath of office on 10 January
This is another lie that takes a leaf straight from the opposition’s book. Most opposition leaders, and even the Venezuelan Catholic Church, are arguing that if Chavez cannot be officially sworn-in as president on 10 January then he will lose his status as president of Venezuela. They say that in that case, Chavez should be declared “permanently absent”, and the head of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello, would have to take over as president and call fresh elections. The opposition also claim that the swearing-in ceremony cannot be postponed, and that if Chavez continues on as president after 10 January it would be a “flagrant violation of the constitution”. Their strategy is to use their own interpretation of the constitution in order to try and depose Chavez on a technicality while the president-elect lies in Cuba struggling in post-surgery recovery.
Private media outlets have latched onto this argument, and misinformed about the Venezuelan constitution. In a highly misleading article, the Washington Post claimed that a delay in Chavez’s inauguration ceremony would be “a stretch of the constitution’s ambiguous wording”. Similar comments were made in other U.S. outlets, with Time arguing that Venezuela’s constitution is “a murky map that could send the western hemisphere’s most oil-rich nation into precarious governmental limbo this year”. Reuters argued that the Venezuelan government is “violating the constitution” and the country will be “left in a power vacuum”, and the BBC, which maintained a more reserved tone, still portrayed interpretations of the constitution as muddied debate between government and opposition.
However, Venezuela’s constitution is clear on the situation. The conditions under which a president can be declared permanently absent and new elections called are covered by article 233, and are, “death, resignation, destitution decreed by the Supreme Court, mental or physical incapacity certified by a medical council designated by the Supreme Court with the approval of the National Assembly, abandonment of the post, [or] a popular recall of the mandate”.
Currently Chavez’s status is that of “absence from the national territory”, a status which is granted by the national assembly. This could eventually be declared a “temporary absence” from the presidency, which is granted by the national assembly for a period of ninety days, and can be extended for 90 further days, as outlined by articles 234 and 235 of the constitution.
What the opposition are trying to do is use article 231 of the constitution, which describes the presidential inauguration, to argue for Chavez’s deposal. The article states that the president elect “will assume their mandate on the 10th of January of the first year of their constitutional period, through a swearing-in ceremony in front of the National Assembly”. The opposition claim that Chavez’s inability to attend that ceremony means that he has not assumed his term and his “permanent absence” should be declared. However, as noted above, not being able to attend the inauguration ceremony is not considered a reason for “permanent absence” in the Venezuelan constitution, leaving the Venezuelan opposition without a constitutional leg to stand on.
Rather, this situation is dealt with by the second half of article 231, which states, “If for any supervening reason the president cannot take office in front of the National Assembly, s/he will do so before the Supreme Court”. No date is specified.
Venezuelan constitutional lawyer Harman Escarra, an opposition supporter who helped draft the 1999 constitution, explained in an interview with Venezuelan daily Ciudad CCS that constitutionally, even if the president can’t attend the 10 January ceremony, the new presidential term still begins, including the constitutional mandate of the president’s council of state, the vice-president, and government ministers. As such, he affirmed that in Venezuela “there isn’t a power vacuum”.
The constitutional lawyer further explained that under both the letter and spirit of article 231 of the constitution, “The President, from the point of view of sovereignty, is the President. There’s no other, and the mandate of the popular majority cannot not be overturned because of the issue of a date at a specific moment, because that would be to violate a sacred principle that is in article five of the constitution, which says that power resides in the sovereignty of the people”.
Therefore, it is erroneous for international media to report that Venezuela is entering a constitutionally ambiguous situation in which either the status of the president or the next constitutional step is not clear. Further, it is not only misleading, but dangerous to wrongly paint Chavez allies as looking to subvert the constitution to stay in power, when the opposition is trying to question the government’s constitutional legitimacy in order to provoke a political crisis and depose Chavez as president. The opposition is not the “critical” and “unbiased” democratic voice that the private media represent them as. Such reporting also displays a certain level of hypocrisy, as one can be sure that if the U.S. president or British prime minister were unable to assume a particular inauguration ceremony for health reasons, such outlets would not start casting doubt on their legitimacy, as they are currently doing with Chavez.
3) Should elections have to be called, they may not be “fair”, and opposition leader Henrique Capriles has a good chance of winning
This third myth adds to the previous two to create the impression that the Bolivarian revolution is undemocratic. It is spouted by most private media, but especially media from the US, which rarely points out the utterly unfair conditions in which elections are held in its own country.
The Washington Post claimed that if Chavez were to die and new elections had to be called, “Chavez’s inner circle…may consider postponing the election or even calling it off”.
“That’s why the first responsibility of the United States and Venezuelan neighbors such as Brazil should be to insist that the presidential election be held and that it be free and fair,” the WP said, and even suggested that “Mr Chavez’s followers or military leaders” might “attempt a coup”.
The US State Department has also called for any elections that Venezuela has to be “free and transparent” and the Chicago Tribune in an article today said, “In October, Chavez vanquished his first serious challenger, Henrique Capriles, despite being too sick to campaign… Too sick to give speeches, he bought votes through political stunts like awarding a free government-built home to his 3 millionth Twitter follower.”
The Chicago Tribune’s statement is a lie; Chavez attended one to two huge rallies around the country in the month before the presidential elections, including one in Merida the authors of this article attended, as well as fulfilling his duties as president. And, of course there is no basis or need for these calls for “fair” elections. None of the private media will remind its readers of the 16 elections held over the last 14 years, that 81% of Venezuelans voluntarily turned out to vote in the October presidential elections, that Venezuela is building up participatory democracy through its communal councils, and that Venezuelans have access to completely free and widely available health care, education, and even to subsidised housing—basic conditions necessary for democracy to be practiced.
The Washington Post argued that the Venezuelan government “fears” free elections because “a fair vote would be won by opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost the October presidential ballot but is more popular than Mr. Maduro.” This is wishful thinking, another example of the media mistaking its desire for reality. The opposition did not receive more votes than the governing PSUV in the recent 16 December regional elections, despite Chavez’s absence. The opposition is weak, divided, disillusioned after 14 years of losing election after election (except the 2007 constitutional referendum), has no street presence what so ever, and has no program or cause to unite around, beyond wanting power.
4) A split within the Chavista leadership between Maduro and Cabello is coming
This is another idea bandied about by the Venezuelan opposition and propagated by the international media. The notion, or hope, is that if the worst were to happen and Chavez were to die, Chavismo would immediately become divided among itself and fall apart. In particular, it is argued that national assembly president Diosdado Cabello would try to seize the presidential candidacy of the PSUV from Vice-president Nicolas Maduro. Some opposition figures appear to be actively encouraging this, with opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado demanding that Diosdado Cabello take power on 10 January and that “distrust” and “fear” exist between Cabello and Maduro.
On cue, always backed by vague “analysts” or “observers”, the international media has informed the public of, “A potential rift inside Chavismo between Maduro’s more socialist faction and that of the more pragmatic Cabello” (TIME), or, “Mr Cabello wields considerable power and is thought to harbour his own political ambitions” (BBC), and that, “Chavez’s death or resignation could set off a power struggle within the party among Maduro, Cabello, Chavez’s brother Adan and state governors” (LA Times).
Such commentary has been slammed by Maduro, Cabello and other leaders within Chavismo, who all stress the unity of different currents within the Bolivarian movement in the current difficult situation. Indeed, the scenario of a direct power grab by Cabello or any other figure within Chavismo of Maduro’s role as successor if Chavez cannot assume his presidential term is very unlikely. Just before Chavez flew off to Cuba for surgery in December, he told the nation that, “If such a scenario were to occur, I ask you from my heart that you elect Nicolas Maduro as constitutional president of the republic”. Chavez has such strong support and respect from among his followers that it would be almost unthinkable for another leader within Chavismo to publicly go against Chavez’s express wish that Maduro be his successor. Any attempt to usurp Maduro’s leadership and candidacy in fresh presidential elections would be seen as political suicide.
5) That the revolution is over without Chavez
Most private media have also subtly cast doubt that the revolution will continue without Chavez, suggesting that the leadership will collapse, that Venezuela is already in “economic chaos” and “disaster”, that Venezuela is living a political “crisis” right now, and that the revolutionary process can’t survive without Chavez. The Chicago Tribune said that, “Whoever ends up running Venezuela will preside over the mess Chavez made of a prosperous and promising nation” and there is now “high unemployment, record inflation and rampant crime”. This is despite Venezuela ending 2012 with 19.9% inflation, the lowest in years, and unemployment lower than the US.
The media is ignoring the fact that the country has been doing fine this last month without Chavez, that the PSUV leadership won 20 out of 23 states in the regional elections in December, without Chavez’s presence, that there is no crisis here; schools started again as normal today, the barrio adentro clinics are open, people are working, shopping, returning from Christmas season vacations, as normal. There is no panic buying, no looting, no political unrest.
Most importantly, the media is ignoring, is invisibilising the biggest factor there is; the people of Venezuela. Chavez isn’t just a person, or a leader, he represents a political project; of economic and cultural sovereignty, of Latin American unity, of freedom from US intervention, of all basic rights satisfied, and of participatory democracy. The majority of Venezuelans have shown their support for that project by turning out to vote en masse time and time again, including in elections in which Chavez wasn’t running, with voting rates generally increasing each year. In most other countries people would be tired and would have gotten over so many elections by now. Venezuelans have marched in the thousands and millions around the country again and again, not just to support electoral candidates, but to march for workers’ rights on May Day, as well as for other causes such as gay rights, defending journalists against violent attacks by the opposition, in support of various laws, and more. It was Venezuelans, en masse, who helped overturn the coup against Chavez in 2002.
The list of gains over the last 14 years is a long one. To mention just a few: complete literacy, broadly available and free university education, free healthcare centres in most communities, free laptops to primary school children, free meals for primary school children, subsidised food, subsidised books, increased street culture and street art, a range of new public infrastructure such as train lines and cable cars, laws supporting the rights of disabled people, women, and so on, government assisted urban agriculture, legalised community and worker organising, nearly a 1000 free internet centres, music programs, pensions for the elderly, and much more. These huge changes can’t be quickly reversed, and the Venezuelan people have every reason not to let them be.
Further, over the last 14 years, Venezuelans have woken up. They read and know their laws, everyone, even opposition supporters, spends hours each day debating and discussing politics and economics. Apathy still exists, but is way down. There is a political consciousness and depth that can’t be turned off overnight.
While it is true that after Chavez there will probably be bureaucracy, corruption, reformism, and some internal disagreements, these issues existed with him as a leader as well. Any change in political circumstances is an opportunity to bring these problems to the surface and to confront them.
The people of the Bolivarian movement are fighters, and are here to stay.
What does a Palestinian farmer who is living in a village tucked in between the secluded West Bank hills, a prisoner on hunger strike in an Israeli jail and a Palestinian refugee roaming the Middle East for shelter all have in common? They are all characters in one single, authentic, solid and cohesive narrative. The problem however, is that western media and academia barely reflect that reality or intentionally distort it, dis-articulate it and when necessary, defame its characters.
An authentic Palestinian narrative – one that is positioned within an original Palestinian history and articulated through Palestinian thought – is mostly absent from western media and to a lesser degree, academia. If such consideration is ever provided, everything Palestinian suddenly falls into either a side note of a larger Israeli discourse, or at best, juxtaposed to a pro-Israeli plot that is often concealed with hostility. Palestinian news stories are often disconnected, disjointed news items with seemingly no relation to other news items. They are all marred with negative connotation. In this narrative, a farmer, a prisoner and a refugee barely overlap. Due to this deliberate disconnect, Palestine becomes pieces, ideas, notions, perceptions, but nothing complete or never whole.
On the other hand, an Israeli narrative is almost always positioned within a cohesive plot, depending on the nature of the intellectual, political, academic or religious contexts. Even those who dare to criticize Israel within a mainstream western platform, do so ever prudently, gently and cautiously. The outcome of this typical exercise is that Israel’s sanctified image remains largely intact. In the meanwhile Palestinians constantly jockey for validation, representation and space in a well-shielded pro-Israeli narrative.
To counter these misrepresentations, the pieces must be connected to form a collective that would truly epitomize the Palestinian experience – the story and the history behind it. Once that has been attained, there are chances for greater clarity regarding the roots of the conflict, its present manifestations and future prospects. That can only happen if we return to the basics of a protracted tragedy that is draped with the names and stories of individuals. Doing so would ultimately articulate a consistent, generational discourse that deserves to stand on its own, without belittling juxtapositions or belligerent comparisons.
All tragic stories of the greater Palestinian narrative – of those enduring the ongoing ethnic cleansing, those who are fighting for freedom and those who are seeking their right of return have the same beginning – the Catastrophe, or Nakba. But no end is yet to be written. The storyline is neither simple nor linear. The refugee is fighting for the same freedom sought by the prisoner or the son of an old farmer, part of whose family are refugees in one place or another. It is convoluted and multilayered. It requires serious consideration of all of its aspects and characters. Perhaps, no other place unites all of these ongoing tragedies like Gaza. Yet as powerful as the Gaza narrative is in its own right, it has been deliberately cut off from urgently related narratives. This is the case whether it is in the rest of the occupied territories or the historical landscape starting with the Nakba. To truly appreciate the situation in Gaza and its story, it must be placed within its proper context like all narratives concerning Palestine. It is essentially a Palestinian story of historical and political dimensions that surpass the current geographic and political boundaries that are demarcated by mainstream media and official narrators. The common failure to truly understand Gaza within an appropriate context whether it is the suffering, the siege, the repeated wars, the struggle, or the steadfastness and the resistance being presented, is largely based on who is telling the story, how it is told, what is included and what is omitted.
Most narratives concerning Palestinians in Western discourses are misleading or deliberately classified into simplified language that carries little resemblance to reality. History however, cannot be classified by good vs. bad, heroes vs. villains, moderates vs. extremists. No matter how wicked, bloody or despicable, history also tends to follow rational patterns and predictable courses. By understanding the reasoning behind historical dialectics, one can achieve more than a simple understanding of what took place in the past. It also becomes possible to chart a fairly reasonable understanding of what lies ahead. Perhaps one of the worst aspects of today’s detached and alienating media is its reproduction of the past and mischaracterization of the present as it is based on simplified terminology. This gives the illusion of being informative, but actually manages to contribute very little to our understanding of the world at large. Such oversimplifications are dangerous because they produce an erroneous understanding of the world, which in turn compels misguided actions.
For these reasons, we are compelled to discover alternative meanings and readings of history. To start, we could try offering historical perspectives which attempt to see the world from the viewpoint of the oppressed – the refugees and the fellahin who have been denied the right to tell their own story amongst many other rights. This view is not a sentimental one. Far from it. An elitist historical narrative is maybe the dominant one, but it is not always the privileged who influence the course of history. History is also shaped by collective movements, actions and popular struggles. By denying this fact, one denies the ability of the collective to affect change. In the case of Palestinians, they are often presented as hapless multitudes or passive victims without a will of their own. This is of course a mistaken perception; the conflict with Israel has lasted this long only because the Palestinians are unwilling to accept injustice and refuse to submit to oppression. Israel’s lethal weapons might have changed the landscape of Gaza and Palestine, but the will of Gazans and Palestinians is what has shaped the landscape of Palestine’s history. This composition of farmers, prisoners, refugees and numerous other manifestations and characters of the oppressed are resilient individuals. It is essential that we understand the complexity of the past and the present to evolve in our understanding of the conflict, not merely to appreciate its involvement, but also to contribute positively to its resolution.
The Palestinian narrative has long been either denied any meaningful access to the media or tainted through the very circles that propped up and sanctified Israel’s image as an oasis of democracy and a pivot of civilization. In recent years however, things began to change thanks to developments such as the internet and various global civil society movements. Although it has yet to reach a critical mass or affect a major paradigm shift in public opinion, these voices have been able to impose a long-neglected story that has been seen mostly through Israeli eyes.
A narrative that is centered on the stories reflecting history, reality and aspirations of ordinary people will allow for a genuine understanding of the real dynamics that drive the conflict. These stories that define whole generations of Palestinians are powerful enough to challenge the ongoing partiality and polarization. The fact is Palestinians are neither potential “martyrs” nor potential “terrorists”. They are people who are being denied basic human rights, who have been dispossessed from their lands and are grievously mistreated. They have resisted for over six decades and they will continue to resist until they acquire their fundamental human rights. This is the core of the Palestinian narrative, yet it is the least told story. A true understanding would require a greater exposure of the extraordinary, collective narrative of the “ordinary people”.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).
On January 5th, to everyone’s surprise, noted American jazz/jazz fusion guitarist and pianist Stanley Jordan posted this news that was music to the ears of BDS activists everywhere: “My performance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival has been cancelled. I apologize for any inconvenience to anyone.” Those who had been tracking the debacle will know that this is a reversal of his earlier decision, one in which he had announced he would go forward with his gig. Although he did not say why, or even attribute his own agency in his new announcement, the backlog on Facebook is telling.
On Dec. 24th, Jordan posted this update on his Facebook page explaining that he had “received several messages from people requesting that I cancel my performance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Israel,” for which he was billed as the headlining artist for the Israeli festival (his image was used to create publicity posters in Hebrew for the state-funded event). In that initial post, he wrote:
“I’ve received several messages from people requesting that I cancel my performance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Israel. I promised a detailed response, so here it is. I would like to start a dialog right here to discuss this topic. Next to global warming the Middle East conflict is the biggest issue of our time, and it’s too important for black-and-white responses that ignore the nuances. And we truly need an open dialog with a spirit of mutual compassion for everyone involved. For my part, I want to use my talents and energies in the best possible way for the cause of peace. This purpose is deeply ingrained in my soul’s code, and I’ve known it since childhood. So the only remaining question is: How can I best accomplish this goal? I invite you all to weigh in. I’d like to start the discussion by recommending a wonderful book called, “Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East,” by Rabbi Michael Lerner. I’ve been reading a lot on this topic but this book stands out for me because it resonates with my own feelings. I encourage everyone to read it as background for our discussion. And please keep your comments clean and respectful. Let’s model the type of dialog that will eventually lead to a solution.”
His invitation came on the heels of an unsuccessful attempt to secure the compliance of the academic and cultural boycott by another jazz musician, Native American poet Joy Harjo who rejected the call and went ahead with her performance at Tel Aviv University. In that case, the “dialogue” was derailed from the get go by both her obvious disingenuous claims to solidarity with the Palestinian people and the persistent efforts of Zionist trolls that ended up colonizing her Facebook timeline. As such, Jordan’s announcement posed a challenge for all BDS supporters, especially those who work in concert with the Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Like Harjo, Jordan – as his subsequent Facebook comments revealed – had cited the spirit of his art and higher consciousness as a major reason for not honoring the international boycott.
The ensuing discussion on Jordan’s Facebook page was a remarkable drama for two reasons. For one thing, the hasbara trolls, who had plagued the discussion with Harjo, were nowhere to be found until after (indeed, immediately after) Jordan announced his decision to cross the picket line. That announcement came on January 1st in a status update that read:
“Our discussion revealed a crisis whose depth was even far greater than I had known, and I felt compelled to help. Like many others, I am deeply dedicated to the cause of world peace, and this situation goes against everything anyone with a heart could ever condone. However, after much consideration I concluded that the best way I could serve the cause would be to do my performance as scheduled, but separately organize an event in a major city in the United States to raise funds and awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people.”
Only after close to 600 comments (out of over 800 on that one thread) were posted by activists seeking to educate Jordan on all aspects of the plight of the Palestinians and the nature and objectives of the BDS appeal did the artist reveal that individuals from the Zionist contingent were in fact pressing their case with Jordan via private messages, out of the sight of the BDS activists.
Second, the absence of (overt) trolling allowed for an exemplary demonstration of what well-informed, dedicated BDS advocates can do with a thread if they are not constantly fending off accounts spouting Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs talking points. The result was passionate well-reasoned and forceful advocacy for the Palestinian cause from a diverse group of people on several continents, many of whom were unconnected with one another or had just become Facebook friends as a result of the virtual encounter. Palestinians, Jews, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Israelis, European-American settlers, Australians, Native Americans, and many others took part in the discussion which continued throughout New Year ’s Eve across various time zones on the globe.
It is worth asking why Jordan, who once publicly endorsed the cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, was ultimately not convinced by the extensive discussion in which he actively participated, and what, if anything, it tells us about the efforts of PACBI supporters. One also wonders what it was that made Jordan reconsider. It would be really useful if he were to make a full clear statement of support for BDS in the future.
The ebb and flow of the discussion, in what eventually turned out to be a long thread of over 800 posts, shows how well the activists’ comments elaborated on and complemented one another. One person would drop an idea out there, and someone else would pick up on it. Great care was taken to remain respectful, as people tried to understand Jordan’s frame of reference and engage him meaningfully within it without patronizing him. One turning point in the discussion was an explanation of what constitutes being “in solidarity” in the human and civil rights movements. “Being in solidarity,” wrote Adrian Boutureira Sansberro, “entails being able to take direction from those one claims to be in solidarity with. Learning how to take direction, as to what is it that those we are in solidarity with wish us to do, is a huge aspect of shifting the relationships of power between the oppressed and the oppressor. It is also a way to really come face to face with our own true commitment and power issues.”
One of the many things on which Jordan was called up is the claim that he had no prior political involvement as a musician. It became apparent, however, that he had, in fact, made very clear, public, and political statements on the subject of playing Sun City with fellow artists in 1987. At the time, Jordan had supported the spirit of the boycott but was never put to the test. But in the discussion thread, he waived off the contradiction between the principled stand he took then (and his position in support of various other human rights causes) on the one hand, and his reluctance to take a comparable stand on the boycott calls on the other. At that point in time, he appeared to want to have it both ways.
After Jordan made his January 1st decision not to support the boycott, some suggested that the entire dialogue was intended to provide cover to a decision Jordan never intended reconsidering. Others have pointed to the difficulty of responding to arguments one cannot see. I believed that, although he did come to see the justice of the Palestinian cause and even to sympathize with it, Jordan simply did not wish to let go of his gig for financial reasons (what he described as “the reality of my situation”). At one point in the discussion Jordan asked Israeli boycott supporters, “why should we outsiders bare [sic] the economic brunt of the boycotts? You want me to quit my job, so then shouldn’t you be quitting yours too? After all, any economic activity aids Israel and can be seen as de facto normalization.” In answer to that, people, of course, pointed out that being asked to cancel a gig is not the same as quitting a job.
Anyone who studies the thread can easily see that, throughout the discussion, Jordan and his publicist (who eventually jumped into the discussion in his stead) were searching for a line that would validate his strong desire to keep the gig but that would also allow Jordan to sympathize or “ally” himself (as opposed to being in solidarity) with the Palestinian people (hence, the charity concert that would follow in the United States). At that time, Jordan kept insisting that, as a musician he had no political role to play (even as it was made crystal clear to him that he himself was, in fact, being played by Israel’s politicians). He was just a guitar player. He felt his music went “to the heart of the subjective, interior dimension, and the world of all things spiritual” and had the power to “influence humans to be more humane”, so he just wanted to perform and to leave it up to his Israeli audience to “decide for themselves how to use the inspiration”.
Once his first frame of reference as represented by Lerner’s book was summarily critiqued, Jordan kept introducing into the discussion therapeutic frameworks, such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming, the study of the structure of subjective experience. He ultimately turned away from Ali Abunimah’s vision in One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, which posits that a principled and sustained campaign to impose a cost for Israeli government abuses of Palestinians would, in fact, ease tensions. As Abunimah puts it, once “freed from the hardships of occupation, discrimination, and exile, and engaged by Israeli counterparts genuinely interested in building a tolerant, multicultural, multireligious society, the Palestinian majority would gladly, forgivingly, and open-mindedly choose the same course.” To Jordan, it seemed that would never happen, unless people were “getting along first” – a catch 22.
Jordan’s initial inability to grasp even rudimentary facts about the campaign turned his statement, “You’re also educating me so that I can hopefully someday speak intelligently on this matter” into a farcical proposition. The Palestine Chronicle published an article I wrote after the January 1st announcement he would play, “Stanley Jordan: You Don’t Get to Peace without Real Solidarity”, in which this point was made: “Jordan is now trying to justify his decision by expressing inchoate beliefs about the power of his art to achieve “world peace” by “changing consciousness” while propounding the notion that the boycott undermines the freedom of the artist and limits the transformative power he possesses over his audience.”
Now, in light of Jordan’s January 5th announcement that he will not play, he has demonstrated his decision to stand on the right side of history. Still, it would be ideal if he would issue a statement that explains what finally lead him to respect the boycott. But regardless, BDS activists who worked tirelessly to educate Jordan can claim this a victory – and we can all surmise that it was his conscience that prompted him to do the right thing.
- Rima Merriman is a faculty member in the English department, Al Quds University in the occupied West Bank.
- South Africa’s ruling ANC officially endorses Palestine’s boycott movement (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- BDS activists call on Joy Harjo to cancel Israel performance (bikyamasr.com)
Lebanon is incredible - an intoxicating blend of natural beauty, rebellious spirit, pious clarity, tolerance, wild night life and unbelievable hummus. I landed in Beirut four days ago. The purpose of my visit wasn’t all that clear. I knew that a talk and a musical performance were scheduled by Almayadeen TV, but I never expected such a spiritually transforming experience.
It was my second visit to the country. 30 years ago I crossed the Lebanese border along with an IDF convoy escorted by tanks and armed vehicles. Then I was an occupier, this time I came with only my saxophone and a desire to share my thoughts and deliver some beauty.
But it didn’t take me a couple of hours to realise that Lebanon is much more than just humus, shisha, the sea and some captivating rural scenery. Early on Friday we left Beirut for the south. Our first stop was Mleeta – a Hezbollah front line outpost and a symbol of Lebanese defiance. Mleeta is located on top of a mountain, surrounded by the South Lebanese Massif which, until 2000, was controlled by the Israelis. From Mleeta, the Lebanese Mujahedeen launched daily attacks against the Israeli invader and gave the Israelis a true taste of their own medicine. Now Mleeta is a Jihadi tourist resort, there to tell the story of the heroic Hezbollah, those brave paramilitaries that confounded the ‘best army in the world’. The truth is, though armed only with light weapons, they were well supplied with Shia, spiritual ammunition.
Mleeta provides an overview of three decades of Islamic resistance in Lebanon and, in exhibiting all that the fleeing IDF soldiers have left behind, it proudly demonstrates the reality of Israeli cowardice. Mleeta is a symbol of confidence – confidence that the IDF is gone, never to return. Because when, in the summer of 2006 Hezbollah routed the IDF, it also demolished their confidence forever. The Jewish state was taught a lesson it would never forget – their phantasmic expansionist dream had come to an end.
But Mleeta was just a beginning. South Lebanon is dripping with defiance – every village, house and person is an emblem of Shia’s heroic resistance with the villages bedecked with Hezbollah posters featuring Leader Hasan Nasrallah and the many martyrs who taught the IDF those very necessary lessons.
Like Mleeta, Khiam the notorious Detention Centre is also a monument to Israeli brutality. Khiam is where Israel detained and tortured its political opponents, in some cases, for as long as 14 years. My visit there reminded me of a devastating memory, which on occasion, I share with my audience. It concerns Ansar, an Israeli concentration camp located in South Lebanon. It was back in 1984, on a piece of flat land in the middle of the camp, I noticed a dozen concrete boxes with small metal doors, they looked like dog kennels being only about 80 cm high, 100 cm long and probably about 80cm wide. When I pointed out to the commanding officer that these concrete construction weren’t suitable for dogs, he told me not to worry: no one would even think of putting dogs in them. “Put a Palestinian in one of those for 24 hours,” he laughed, “And he’ll come out singing the Hatikvah.” They were solitary confinement units for Palestinian prisoners. That was it. Then and there, I realised that Israel was not my country.
In Khiam this week I saw the exact same Israeli torture facility where the Israelis would shove their political opponents into tiny metal boxes, lock them in for days and then occasionally hit the top with a heavy stone. This time I took a picture.
But someone in Israel must have felt some shame at what Israel was leaving behind in Lebanon. In 2006 the IDF attempted to erase all trace of the detention centre at Khiam. In a desperate attempt to hide Israeli brutality, Israel sent in its engineering squads to blow up the cells and all remaining evidence of torture. But that clumsy effort to conceal the true reality of Israeli inhumanity achieved only the complete opposite. It now only affirms that Israel has, indeed, a lot to conceal.
The journey to occupied Palestine’s Border is over the most beautiful, wild and rural terrain. But then, suddenly, we were there, faced with the Jewish ghetto walls, guarded by cameras, army posts and barbed wire. Israel clearly doesn’t even try to convince its neighbours that it belongs in the region. It looks different, it smells different, it sounds different – it is in fact, just one extended Jewish European shtetl that has matured into a neurotic, psychotic and murderous collective fuelled by PRE traumatic stress. In that regard, the Israelis indeed have great deal to keep under wraps.
Inspired by Lyotard’s “Heidegger and the Jews” and my visit to the south, I decided, in my talk in Beirut, to speak about ‘History as a form of concealment.’ Instead of telling us ‘what really happened’, I argued that history is there to hide our shame, to repress that which we cannot even utter. It is, in effect, there to make us forget. Jewish history, for instance, is there to suppress Jewish shame, to disguise that which Jews prefer to hide from themselves. Jewish history is an attempt to talk about the past while avoiding the horrendous and embarrassing fact that Jews, throughout their history, have been bringing on themselves one Shoa after the other.
But concealment wasn’t invented by the Jews. The Brits also find it hard to cope with their past chain of murderous imperial genocides. This may explain why they entrusted the writing of Churchill’s biography to Jewish Zionist Sir Martin Gilbert, and why their historians have dedicated a whole floor of the Imperial War Museum to the Nazi Holocaust. As if Brits do not have enough shoas and suffering inflicted on others to remember. One of those British-inflicted shoas is obviously the Palestinian Nakba. Britain should own up to this disaster and perhaps find a little room for it also in its Imperial Museums. And like Britain, the Israelis have yet to acknowledge their own role in the original sin of 1948.
Looking at the state of the refugee camps in Lebanon, it became very clear to me that the Lebanese also might engage in some soul searching. For 65 years Palestinian refugees have lived in Lebanon and in other Arab countries in unbearable conditions and have suffered terrible discrimination. Palestinian refuge camps in Lebanon are nothing short of hell on earth. Palestinians cannot be naturalized. They are banned from certain professions and jobs such as medicine and law. In some ways, their situation is worse even than their brothers’ in Gaza or The West Bank, because for them there is not even any prospect of hope or change.
Those endless solidarity discussions about ‘One State’, ‘Two States’ or ‘BDS’ have zero significance or impact on their lives or their livelihoods. These displaced and dispossessed people need immediate change in their political status, but, being excluded from the political process, they lack the wherewithal to bring such change about. Not able to travel, their voice is hardly heard within the Western solidarity discourse and the International Palestinian solidarity movement is hardly engaged, or even concerned with their tragedy. Even that most absolute of rights, the right to return to their land has been compromised by the BDS in Ramallah and other prominent Palestinian leaders.
On my last day in Beirut I visited Sabra and Shatilla. I saw the mass graveyards, I saw the poverty, I saw the piles of rubbish in the streets, the outcome of the complete absence of even the most elementary municipal services. I have been traveling around the world for many years but this is, without doubt, one of the saddest sights I have seen. But, in those camps, I also saw some of the kindest people on this planet. People who against all odds, in spite of being crushed, humiliated and tortured for more than six decades, still look forward, still live their lives. They raise their kids and care about their education. They greet you in the warmest possible manner and, no sooner have you approached their shop, they have invited you for coffee. Surely, their suffering must be our primary concern.
- Shifting responsibility: the propaganda of The Jewish Chronicle (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Gazans fall victim to Israel’s experimental wars (windowintopalestine.blogspot.com)
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of prisoners behind bars for crimes they did not commit could prove their innocence with relative ease—if only prosecutors would let them. Although the American criminal justice system purports to create a level playing field, for example by requiring prosecutors to share relevant information with defense lawyers, only prosecutors have access to the DNA databases that more than 300 former prisoners have used to prove their innocence since 1989.
Operated and maintained by the FBI, the federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database contains data regarding 10 million offenders and 1.3 million arrestees, and is growing at an accelerating rate. At present, however, prosecutors have an iron grip on CODIS and only nine states—Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas—have laws granting defendants access to DNA databases.
According to defense attorneys and civil libertarians, legal reforms are needed to make the DNA databases equally available to defense lawyers. Steven Benjamin, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, called it “a national problem, a huge and recurring one,” because “juries expect the defense to be able to prove that if your client didn’t do it, who did? Science doesn’t belong to the government, but they act like it does. Unless the defense is given access to this information, the playing field remains uneven in criminal justice.”
Even some prosecutors say they agree: “We, as law enforcement and prosecutors, are obligated to seek the truth and follow the evidence, and DNA should be entered into CODIS,” said Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. “It seems like there should be laws for it, and I agree that the defense should be given the information.”
“You’d think there would be a federal rule or a statute in every state creating the clear obligation to do a CODIS search in any case where the defense wants it,” said Brandon L. Garrett, a professor of law at the University of Virginia.
However, as Garrett has also pointed out, when it comes to prisoners challenging their convictions, prosecutors “are attached to their convictions, and they don’t want to see their work called into question.”
- Another False Confession Cleared by DNA (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- Rapid DNA: Coming Soon to a Police Department or Immigration Office Near You (informationliberation.com)
Amazing stuff, India ink. A few drops spread vigorously with a roller for several minutes on an iron plate are enough for eight sets of fingerprints and two sets of hand prints on four ancient double-sided and folded Indian police fingerprint forms. By contrast, the mug shot was taken with a digital camera. After that, I was issued an official deportation order, for which I signed to acknowledge receipt. My passport remained in police custody until I got to the security check at the airport, when it was returned to me.
My crime? I had spoken to an audience of 22,000 youth at a Student Islamic Organization conference in Kerala State without having a visa that authorized public speaking or conference participation. India is perhaps the only “democracy” where free speech for foreigners depends upon the visa they are carrying. In fact, it is probably the only such country that has no visit visa category at all, and which has one of the most convoluted, bureaucratic and invasive visa application procedures this side of North Korea.
Not that the visa restrictions are always enforced. However, the myriad regulations and procedures (“for public protection”) permit the security apparatus to control individuals and events at their discretion without having to cite the true reasons for their enforcement. Every effective police state knows the drill.
In my case, I used a tourist visa, because the conference visa is a truly onerous procedure unless it is a state-sponsored event. In fact, that is the only type of conference participation permitted, because even private groups must seek state sponsorship in order to bring speakers from outside. In today’s India, however, state sponsorship is hardly a routine bureaucratic procedure.
It shouldn’t have been this way. India was supposed to have been the model for tolerant multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-confessional societies. And when India was a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, carefully balancing its relationships among great and small powers and supporting those who might otherwise be a mere pawn in world affairs, this promise seemed plausible.
Regrettably, India has now become a home-grown Raj, choosing sides and fomenting discord between competing interests as a means of governing and controlling, in the best traditions of its colonial past. Thus, for example, conservative Salafist clerics are welcome when they attend conferences on tourist visas, while human rights speakers like David Barsamian, John Esposito, Yvonne Ridley, Wilhelm Langthaler and myself are unwelcome, and are denied visas or expelled, and/or their hosts are prosecuted.
The Salafist treatment is part of a Machiavellian formula hatched by India with its newest partner, Israel. Salafists deserve free speech as much as anyone, but the reason India accords more of it to them is on the advice of Israel. Israel promotes Islamophobia as part of its strategy of demonizing Palestinians and Arabs, a majority of whom are Muslims, and the Salafist brand of Islam fits Israel’s agenda of portraying Islam as an extremist ideology. This stokes the flames of the more extreme nationalist Hindu groups in India and plays on the fears of many other non-Muslim groups, as well. Since Pakistan is an external Muslim enemy, such demonization helps to unify non-Muslim India and permit popular tolerance of greater government control as well as encroachment of security forces on civil rights and privacy.
In fact, India has its own version of the U.S. Patriot Act, curbing the rights of its people. It is called the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and while the title is more honest than “Patriot”, it is also a bit scary. It implies that people can be snatched from the edge of a sidewalk on the pretext that they were intent on jaywalking. No need for the infraction to happen first.[i] UAPA is an illustration of the degree to which human rights have been marginalized in the land of M.K. Gandhi and Abdulghaffar Khan.
Not that India doesn’t have real security concerns. Communal strife is as old as India itself and has sometimes risen to the level of genocide, which drove the 1947 Pakistan secession. However, it is one thing to use law enforcement to prevent fighting and quite another to use it to drive a wedge between communities with a view towards playing them off against each other.
A case in point is the role that Israel is playing. The self-proclaimed Jewish state is selling itself to India as a worthwhile ally on the basis that it is a) an experienced and effective leader in the fight against Islamist extremism and terrorism, b) a supplier of high-tech weapons and intelligence, and c) a means of access to U.S. support and cooperation. In effect, Israel is saying that both states have common friends and enemies and that Israel is in a position to provide what India needs.
India appears to be buying, and is currently the largest customer for Israeli military arms systems and services. Never mind that the expensive Iron Dome systems are effective less than 50% of the time against rockets from Gaza that use 16th century technology. Like most governments, India has been seduced by the promise of omniscient surveillance systems and the prospect of winning battles rather than preventing them.
This is obviously a devil’s bargain. True to the nature of such contracts, however, are the surprises that await the unwary. It is instructive to remember that Israeli agents once planted bombs in Baghdad synagogues to encourage Iraq’s Jews to emigrate to Israel. (It worked, and encouraged Iraqi thugs toward violence, as well.)
Since then, Israel has stolen nuclear weapon technology and weapons grade fissionable material from the U.S., conducted the most massive spying operation in U.S. history against its “ally”, and staged numerous assassinations and “black ops” actions outside its borders, including friendly countries. Questions currently surround the killing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and the putative assassination attempt on Israeli diplomats in India. Israel blamed both of these on Iran on the basis of flimsy evidence, possibly fabricated in collaboration with its allies, the violent Mujahedin-e-Khalq Iranian exile group.
India would do well to be more circumspect toward friends like this. Vilifying Iran is high on Israel’s current agenda, and Israel reportedly provided “evidence” and pushed the Indian government to prosecute the case. The result was the arrest of journalist Syed Mohammed Ahmed Kazmi, who anchors a news program on West Asia providing alternative views of events in the region. His open advocacy of better relations with Iran and his Iranian contacts were enough make him an Israeli target and an Indian suspect. After seven months of incarceration, however, the Indian government had to release him for lack of evidence.
Kazmi and I shared the podium at the SIO conference in Kerala and I was able to chat with him privately just prior to the event. He is a courageous man, willing to accept the risk of speaking in public so soon after his release, but appears to hold no bitterness. Peaceful dissent of this kind needs to be encouraged in India, which is well advised to heed John F. Kennedy’s warning that, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Sadly, Israel sees violent revolution in foreign countries to be in its national interest, under the “divide and conquer” principle. However, one would think that India’s principle would be the opposite if it wants to remain a successful unified nation with a highly diverse population seeking assurance that all their voices are heard in a national consensus. Furthermore, there is no need for India to acquire the same enemies as Israel. It may be in Israel’s perceived interests, but is it in India’s?
My few days in Kerala were an inspiring glimpse of what is possible. I saw thousands of young Indian Muslims whose religious and social mission is to benefit all mankind, to alleviate the social ills of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to promote interfaith cooperation and to create an umbrella that is inclusive of everyone.
Although this was a Muslim event, many who attended were not Muslim and were invited directly by their Muslim neighbors. I was invited to be the keynote speaker even though I am not Muslim and spoke more generally about human rights and about Palestinian issues, which are not specifically Muslim or Indian. Roughly 40% of the attendees were young women, in a society not always known for its success in promoting women’s rights.
These young people were politically aware, committed, well organized and motivated. Society is supposed to create models for young people, but in this case it was the young that created a model for their society.
Dr. Paul Larudee is a human rights advocate and one of the co-founders of the movement to break the siege of Gaza by sea. He was deported from India on 31st December, 2012.
[i] For a fictional treatment illustrating the absurdity of this proposition, see the film Minority Report (2002).
TEL AVIV, Israel – Israel’s Channel 2 TV station reported on Sunday that 100 fighter jets from around the world are training in Israel, including preparation for possible intervention in Syria.
The foreign pilots and aircraft arrived in the country in recent days, and will examine crisis scenarios if Syria uses chemical weapons, the report said.
It did not release the names of the countries participating.
Last week, the TV channel said the Israeli air force was preparing for the joint training, which would include practicing bombing runs and air-to-air combat.
- Turkey Okays approval of Israel’s status in NATO: Report (alethonews.wordpress.com)