Post #68 – Netanyahu’s Visit and the US Opportunity

Washington is on edge these days.  Democrats are bewildered, the President is seething, Republicans are salivating, K Street and J Street lobbyists are working overtime—all because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to town.  But there’s no need to fret just yet; there may be a silver lining here.

Someday, if we’re real lucky, Netanyahu’s forthcoming address to Congress at the invitation of the Republican majority will be regarded as (you’ll excuse the expression) a godsend for US policy in the Middle East.  By causing a ruckus in Washington, he may set in motion a recalibration of US relations with Israel.  Susan E. Rice, the President’s national security adviser, said in a televised interview that Netanyahu had “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship.”  Not the usual diplomatic language—and quite at odds with Netanyahu’s insistence that, far from using the visit to political advantage as he seeks reelection, he must speak out against a possible US-Iran nuclear deal that would be a “great danger to the state of Israel.”

Not that President Obama or liberal Democrats are going to jettison Israel or weaken security ties to it. That’s politically inconceivable, in no small part because such a wholesale change in course would badly hurt the Democratic nominee for president in 2016.  But greater balance in US policy toward Israel, such that Tel Aviv would no longer exercise a virtual veto and the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) would not automatically buy influence in Congress, would be a welcome change.  Obama has made a good start by pressing for a nuclear agreement with Iran despite considerable pressure from Israel and from Congress, some of it from hard-line Democrats.

As I’ve written before, a US policy based on the human interest and by definition distanced from Israeli priorities would actually benefit Israel’s security while also promoting broader US interests in a Middle East peace.  This new policy would also lend hope to the Palestinian people that they, like their Israeli neighbors, can live a decent life with personal security.

Such a policy ought to include:

  • Termination of further Israeli settlements in disputed territory and of Palestinian lands.
  • Mutual Israel-Palestine diplomatic recognition and exchange of security assurances.
  • Promotion of a Middle East nuclear weapon-free zone.
  • Release by Israel of funds due the Palestinian Authority.
  • A major increase in international development assistance to Palestine, with the focus on water, education, and job-producing construction.
  • Internationalization of Jerusalem.
  • Removal by Israel of obstacles to free movement of people for work and other ordinary purposes.

Let’s see if the President and Secretary of State John Kerry can withstand the predictable blizzard of nonsensical criticism that he doesn’t love either Israel or America.

Post #67 – Presidents and War

President Obama has submitted a request to Congress for authorization—actually, reauthorization—of wars the United States has been fighting for many years.  Though he considered the initial authorization in 2001 to President George W. Bush sufficient to prosecute the fight against ISIS, he evidently decided that an update might not be a bad idea in view of some disgruntlement, mainly among liberal Democrats, about being at war without enabling legislation.  But it’s all posturing; though the rhetoric for and against will be intense, in the end Obama will get what he wants, just like every president before him.

War politics in the United States is all about presidential prerogative.  My study of the issue has led me to several generalizations about presidents and war powers.  Put together, they amount to concluding that the US will remain at war in the Middle East in one form or another for years to come; that Congress will go along with what the president wants; and that the next president will inherit these wars, just as Obama inherited Bush’s wars.  Plus ça change . . .

My generalizations:

  • Congress may sometimes be asked to authorize a war, but presidents make war. The academic notion of shared powers is something of a myth. Only in rare instances—I think, for instance, of the Boland Amendment that prohibited intelligence agencies from supporting the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s, and the six-month (not days) limit that Congress placed on President Reagan’s troop commitment in Lebanon in 1983—will Congress come together to attempt to tie the President’s hands in a war situation.  But those attempts mattered little.  The Boland Amendment failed to prevent President Reagan’s National Security Council from secretly funneling money to the Nicaraguan contras.  And Reagan pulled US troops from Lebanon after the disastrous attack on their barracks in Beirut.
  • Deference to the President on national security is the tradition, often couched in terms of not “hamstringing” him. Even the President’s most hostile critics will bend to his leadership when national security is believed to be at stake.
  • Republicans are more likely than Democrats to support presidential war making. Today, some of them—for example Senator Marco Rubio of Florida—are saying the President should have the authority to use “all means necessary” to defeat ISIS.  In other words, they want to go beyond what Obama is asking under the authorization resolution.  That’s the same mistake Congress made in 1964, in the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, when it gave Lyndon Johnson a virtual blank check in Southeast Asia (“to take all necessary steps . . . to promote international peace and security”).
  • Presidents have many options when it comes to the use of force abroad—options that Congress can do little about. Look at what Obama has already done without Congress: bombing in Syria and Iraq, drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, air strikes against ISIS, and (just reported in the Times) Special Operations raids against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.  Advisers, trainers, intelligence analysts, mercenaries—all of these are substitutes for
    “ground troops” that would otherwise be forbidden.
  • The one preventive Congressional action against an imperial presidency—the War Powers Act of 1983—has never been effective. No president has ever regarded it as a legitimate exercise of Congressional authority in war.  No president has been forced to abide by the WPA’s key provision: 60 days in which to get Congressional approval of a troop deployment or have to withdraw the troops.  Only a few presidents (including Obama) have even acknowledged the Act when planning military action abroad.  All presidents have insisted that as commander-in-chief they have all the constitutional authority they need to make war.
  • Thus, when Congress votes to authorize military action abroad, as they will shortly, what they are really doing is legitimizing what the President has already decided to do—and would do even in the absence of Congressional authorization.

 

No country is more militarily engaged than the US around the world—fighting three Middle East wars, sanctioning Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs (while leaving “all options on the table”), confronting Russia over Ukraine, and conducting intelligence, training, and other military support missions in many countries in Africa, Latin America, and East Asia.  Congress can attempt to frustrate the President’s policies on any of these issues, but the President literally calls the shots.  The current authorization resolution will not be an exercise in democratic decision making or checks-and-balances.  It will be an exercise in executive power, with no real limits.  Forget about Obama’s proposal of a three-year commitment, and no US ground troops.  These “limits” are easily overcome by later appeals to helping US allies, “protecting our troops,” and of course promoting “the national interest.”

The United States is a warfare society, no matter whether under a liberal or a conservative administration.  A warfare society produces two lasting realities: a social deficit, in which crucial homeland problems are shortchanged by military expenditures; and a moral deficit, in which “national security” is consistently distorted to justify interfering in others’ struggles, on the pretense that American motives are benevolent and American values are universally shared.  As Martin Luther King said in his famous speech on Vietnam in 1967, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”  So it seems.

Post #66 – Playing “Chicken” in Ukraine

Should the US dramatically increase military support to Ukraine as it faces defiant separatists in the east who are backed by Russian intelligence, advisers, and heavy weapons?  Key members of the Obama administration reportedly are ready to say yes, arguing that Vladimir Putin must be brought to his senses about the pressure he is putting on Ukraine’s government, in defiance of the September 5 cease-fire agreement that has clearly broken down.  A star-studded panel of eight Pentagon and former officials have written a report (noted in the New York Times of February 2) that urges a $3-billion increase over three years in “lethal” US military aid as the proper way to respond to Putin.  In short, all these current and former officials evidently have concluded that “non-lethal” equipment now being given to Ukraine, such as night-vision goggles and trucks, is insufficient.

But is this major policy shift wise?  At least three large considerations need to be brought into the discussion.  First is the fact that sanctions on Russia have had their intended effect.  Russia is hurting. Patience, not escalation of force, is needed—just as it was when George H.W. Bush wrongly decided in 1991 to leapfrog sanctions and go after Saddam Hussein directly.  The move didn’t work.  What will “defensive” weapons to Ukraine—anti-tank missiles and drones, for instance—accomplish?  My guess is that they will help Ukraine’s air force bomb targets in urban areas, further increasing civilian casualties.  They will enable Ukraine’s army to hit Russian tanks and locate artillery positions; but they will not stop shipments of additional tanks and artillery.  Moreover, let’s face it: what one side in a conflict regards as a “defensive” weapon is “offensive” to the other side.  This bit of sophistry should not go unanswered.

Second is that Ukraine’s government is not an innocent victim here.  Russia’s direct role in the fighting is fact, but so is brutal treatment of the separatist areas by Ukraine’s government.  It has caused considerable civilian casualties and damage to many buildings with its assaults, and by isolating the east’s economy it has left thousands of people without basic social services.  Both sides have responsibility for violations of the cease-fire and devastation of that part of the country.

Third is the questionable logic that further militarizing the conflict will help bring about a political settlement that all sides agree is the only sensible way out.  Those who believe more force is needed make an old and tired argument: Sanctions backed by power will move the opponent to the bargaining table.  The former US representative to NATO, Ivo Daalder, one of the authors of the report cited above, said as much in an interview on National Public Radio (www.npr.org/2015/02/02/383346073/as-tension-grows-should-u-s-offer-lethal-aid-to-ukraine).  We must “raise the cost” to Russia for its intervention in Ukraine, he said, and the only cost that will make a difference to Putin is in body bags.  (“We know from the history in Afghanistan and other places that when Russian soldiers die, then the cost and the debate in Moscow and in the rest of Russia will go up.”)  Is that so?  Is Putin the sort of leader who, thriving these days on a nationalism built on visions of Greater Russia, will respond to Western power by backing down rather than staying the course?  Daalder could only say, “hopefully.”

By the way, note the authors and sponsors of the report that is fueling the debate in favor of lethal US aid to Ukraine.  Far from being objective observers, these are experts wedded to the old Cold War practice of pushback.  The three foreign-policy groups behind the authors—the Atlantic Council, headed now by Daalder; the Brookings Institution; and the Chicago Council of World Affairs—are influential mainstream organizations that rarely move outside predictable lines of argument.  They are reliable supporters of a US “national interest” that favors toughness, the supremacy of American values, and corporate globalism.  They think checkmate, not peace.

Should the President agree with his advisers, the net result will most likely be more innocent deaths, increased intensity of fighting, and a proxy war between the Russian Federation and NATO.  If we want to see Ukraine’s future, take a look at what has happened to Kobani, Syria now that Kurdish fighters have “liberated” it from ISIS.  The city is a moonscape; there was nothing to liberate.

In Ukraine we have both a civil war and a proxy war.  Four sides need to have their interests met.  For the US/NATO and Ukraine, that means Russian adherence to a cease-fire and reaffirmation of Ukraine’s sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders.  Russia in return wants most of all the assurance that Ukraine will never join NATO and become a pro-Western military outpost on its border—an expression of its historical security concern.  Is that demand unreasonable?  Ukraine certainly has the right, as a sovereign nation, to join any international organization it wishes.  But sometimes—and I believe this is one such time—exercising sovereignty to enhance security actually undermines it.  A militarily neutral Ukraine on Russia’s doorstep seems like a better bet on Ukraine’s future than playing “chicken” with Russia and heightening the risk of terrible destruction (per the cartoon at www.alternet.org/comics/comics-matt-bors-coverage-ukraine-crisis).

Post #65 – Give Greece a Chance

The electoral victory of Alexis Tzipras may provide new hope for the overwhelming majority of Greeks, who are living in Third World-like conditions as the economy deteriorates and external debt piles up.  While many European political leaders, starting with Angela Merkel in Germany, see a leftist Greek government as a threat to their politics of austerity, they should recognize that their own approach has failed utterly and that Greeks deserve a chance to take a fresh approach.

Tzipras has announced priorities that, at least on paper, sound reasonable and necessary from a human-interest point of view.  As reported by the New York Times (www.nytimes.com/2015/01/29/world/europe/alexis-tsipras-greece-debt.html), his plan starts with addressing Greece’s humanitarian crisis, in which millions have fallen into poverty and loss of work; stimulating economy with government funds rather than (in the usual manner of austerity programs) cutting social welfare to the bone; negotiating debt relief with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European bankers and governments (external debt now stands at around $270 billion); and seeking “fairness” and equity in society by zeroing in on wealthy tax evaders and corrupt politicians.

The Germans and others who hold Greece’s debt seem to care far less about the human costs of austerity than they do about ensuring that the debt is repaid.  They have staked out a tough negotiating position—no debt writeoff—that contrasts with Tzipras’ expressed hope for compromise without “submission.”  In fact, Tzipras has made clear that far from reneging on Greece’s debt, what he wants is “time to breathe and create our own medium-term recovery programme.”  He wants a new debt agreement, not extension of the bailout deal that expires at the end of February.  The IMF and its European partners need to be supportive of his new direction, acknowledging that Tzipras was elected to get Greece out of a crisis that they failed to resolve.  Holding his feet to the fire will improve nothing and hurt many.

Post #64 – Welcome Back, George Orwell

I think most of us knew, or feared, that the wonders of the Internet might also become a weapon in the wrong hands, whether of our own government, criminals, dictators, or terrorists.  We also knew, or feared—well before Edward Snowden’s revelations—that as threats to our security mounted (or were said to be mounting), so too would threats to our privacy.  At some point, we were going to be asked to sacrifice, again, for the sake of “national security.”  Snowden, working on the inside of the security system, understood all this more clearly than most, and did something extraordinary about it.

Since then, we have watched as new documentation emerged about the extensiveness of government surveillance of our private communications—and of the cooperation, willingly or not, that telecommunications companies and social media have given to government to probe our email, telephone calls, and all the rest with virtually no nonofficial oversight but with the full weight of the Patriot Act (up for extension this year). The so-called metadata collection that has gone on for years is mindboggling—enough to alarm at least some legislators in the US, Britain, and other countries about the insistent chipping away of what once was assumed to be private activity.  No one, it seems, including heads of state (ask Germany’s Angela Merkel), can talk without assurance that someone isn’t listening in or collecting data.

The next phase in the battle over the limits of privacy is now at hand, in two forms: official intrusions into social media, and a widening dragnet to capture presumed terrorists. On the first, a leading figure in Britain’s intelligence community emerged from the darkness last year to urge a debate about restricting social media in order to combat ISIS and other terror groups.  His claim is that terrorists have learned how to encrypt messages they send to each other and to prospective recruits via Twitter and other social media.  He did not propose a specific remedy, and professed concerns about the implications of such restrictions for the privacy of ordinary citizens.  But he was quite clear that something fundamental must be done to disrupt the terrorists’ lines of communication.

The Charlie Hebdo attack provided the justification for the British government to put those thoughts into action.  Prime Minister David Cameron said that British intelligence simply must have access to social media services that use encrypted messaging systems (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/12/british-prime-minister-suggests-banning-some-online-messaging-apps/). “Are we going to allow a means of communication which it simply is impossible to read?” he asked.  If the social media companies in Britain, as well as Google, Facebook, and the like, won’t play ball, Cameron said, they’ll be banned.  End of conversation, literally. (Oh, by the way, national elections in Britain will be held in May.  An opportune time to show toughness with terrorism.)

(If you want some idea of just how far government invasion of social media can go, consider South Korea, where the national intelligence service secretly manipulated the Internet and social media to attack the opposition candidate in the 2012 presidential election.  The abuse became a major scandal for the current government when it was discovered.)

The second limit, also given impetus by the Charlie Hebdo killings, is underway in France and elsewhere in the EU.  The French government, under a law enacted in November, is jailing anyone who advocates or sympathizes with terrorists, or with terrorism.  “Words or acts of hatred” are the justice ministry’s target as it begins sweeping some people off the streets.  The obvious double standard here is that the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists are free, in the name of political satire, to offend the Prophet Muhammad while a Muslim citizen risks four or more years in jail for yelling support of Charlie’s attackers. (Here again, electoral politics lies in the background: President François Hollande was extremely unpopular until “France’s 9/11,” as some people are calling it.  Now he’s been given new life.)  As official control of information technology tightens and privacy for the rest of us withers away, expect that European Big Brothers will widen the net, in ways that go well beyond restrictions on speech and movement—and with public support.*

Though there was a brief public outcry in the US over metadata collection, it quickly dissipated.  I sense that most people, considering themselves law-abiding, do not see the erosion of privacy or police sweeps in Europe as relevant to their lives, and accept government assurances that new restrictions on personal liberties are (and will continue to be) modest though necessary. We should strive for “balance,” President Obama said. Yet when we recall previous eras where the balance swung toward government surveillance, intrusions, and unjustified arrests—the Palmer Raids, McCarthyism, Watergate, 9/11—we have reason for concern about

where the anti-terrorism battle is headed.  As threats, real and exaggerated, mount around the world, and as the US and other governments determine that all of them need to be confronted, we citizens—who in most cases have thus far been insulated from actual combat and horrible destruction—will be asked to sacrifice in ways that may seem very small but in fact will be anything but.

Challenging the powerful forces behind “national security” is extremely difficult.  I fear that a terrible future, similar to the one Orwell (or Bertram Gross, in Friendly Fascism) imagined, awaits us.  The costs to civil liberties are bound to outweigh the number of people who actually threaten us.

*Credit the Paris authorities, however, for banning some anti-Muslim demonstrations.

Post #63 – Davos: The One Percent and the Rest      

Ever been to Davos?  I haven’t, but I hear it’s a lovely Swiss town, with many chalets and all the other fine things that we associate with the Alps.  Davos also happens to host an annual event, the World Economic Forum, that attracts heads of state and about 2500 international business executives and bankers of the Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt level.  This year’s event carries the theme of “The New Global Context,” meant to convey major international political and economic changes that may threaten the unending pursuit of greater wealth.  As one publication aptly headlined, “Davos, Annual Conference for the 1%.”

Contrast that conference with the global reality of income inequality just reported by Oxfam. Oxfam found, to no one’s surprise, that the rich are getting richer and everyone else is treading water.  The 1 percent now owns around half (48 percent) of global wealth—not just income, but wealth (stocks, bonds, and other investments); 99 percent of the world’s people have the other 52 percent, which is shrinking (see below).  The 1 percenters’ share has been increasing every year since 2009, in keeping with the dictum that wealth begets more wealth, just as poverty leads to more poverty.  Whatever benefits trickle down from globalization therefore go into the coffers of the rich, starting with “85 billionaires [who] have the same wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population.”

Thus, the Davos forum’s actual purpose is clear: an opportunity for the super rich to figure out, between glasses of pinot noir, how they can escape the most dangerous traps—high-tax countries, terrorism, falling oil prices, nationalization of property, anti-globalization movements, new diseases, another Greece or Ukraine—and not only keep and grow their own assets but preserve and extend the global capitalist system itself.  After all, as the New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz writes, many of the folks at Davos are “reeling with disappointment” to learn that they only control half the world’s wealth.  No wonder the Oxfam study is entitled Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More.  Borowitz has one of the super rich saying: “Getting that other half is not going to be a walk in the park. But ten years from now, when Oxfam says that the top one per cent owns everything in the world, it’ll all have been worth it” (www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/richest-one-per-cent-disappointed-possess-half-worlds-wealth).  We can all appreciate what a challenge these folks face, and wish them well.

(For those interested, the Oxfam study is at www.oxfam.org/en/research/wealth-having-it-all-and-wanting-more.  The trend line shows that the top 1 percent is on course to control more than 50 percent of global wealth by 2017.  The data are from Credit Suisse, by the way.)

And here’s another facet of the Davos tragicomedy:

A squadron of 1,700 private jets are rumbling into Davos, Switzerland, this week to discuss global warming and other issues as the annual World Economic Forum gets underway.

The influx of private jets is so great, the Swiss Armed Forces has been forced to open up a military air base for the first time ever to absorb all the super rich flying their private jets into the event, reports Newsweek (www.breitbart.com/national-security/2015/01/20/1700-private-jets-fly-to-davos-to-discuss-global-warming/). 

 

 

 

Post #62 –  Human Rights: The Rising Record of Abuses

The terrorist attacks in Paris and the ongoing abductions of Boko Haram in Nigeria bring to mind this fact of life: systematic, large-scale abuses of human rights are on the upswing. Hardly a day passes without some report of atrocities, repression, or denial of basic dignities somewhere in the world.  Why is this happening?  Among the reasons are the persistence of poverty and consequent hopelessness, the rise of fanatical nonstate movements, the development and use of inhumane weapons and technologies, exploitation in the global economy, and political leaders’ recourse to repression of their own people.  The scope of that list suggests just how central and lasting human-rights problems are going to be for our and later generations.

We should be mindful that major human-rights abuses occur in widely different locations and types of political systems, in some cases (like Boko Haram) with only passing notice by world leaders and Western-dominated media. Here are five recent examples.

First is torture, recounted in the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s interrogation techniques with prisoners in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  The report prompted many criticisms from around the world, including China, whose official media accused the US of hypocrisy in preaching respect for human rights and practicing quite the opposite.  A foreign ministry spokesperson told journalists on December 11 that the US should cease having a double standard on human rights—criticizing China’s human rights conditions (which have had “great achievements”) while committing serious violations of human rights at home, such as racial discrimination and cruel treatment of prisoners.

But China itself is a second example.  The Chinese leadership’s disrespect for people’s rights has been on display for some time, barely beneath the surface of its economic explosion that garners most of the publicity. President and party leader Xi Jinping has been engaged in a concerted effort to silence critics, particularly journalists and lawyers, and lock up ethnic and other actual and potential dissidents—all while also carrying out a campaign to selectively punish high-ranking officials guilty of corruption.  Use of torture in Chinese prisons is routine, as a UN investigation found about four years ago.  So Beijing has no basis for criticizing others. (In the same vein, a Chinese group of uncertain origins has awarded Fidel Castro its annual Confucius Peace Prize. This award began in 2008, clearly motivated by Norway’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize that year to Liu Xiaobo, China’s leading political dissident. Vladimir Putin was a previous recipient of the Confucius Prize, which gives you some idea of the group’s valuation of peace and human rights.)

A third abuse of human rights is the rising number of people who are enslaved through forced labor, trafficking (mainly of women and children), and prostitution.  The UN estimates that the greatest number of enslaved people are in India (14 million), China (3 million), and Pakistan (2 million).  (See www.nytimes.com/2014/12/03/opinion/modern-slavery-grows.html.)

Fourth is the plight of so many of the world’s 2.2 billion children.  UNICEF’s annual report, “The State of the World’s Children: Every Child Counts” (www.unicef.org/sowc2014/numbers/documents/english/SOWC2014_In%20Numbers_28%20Jan.pdf), documents the horrific numbers of children at the mercy of wars and traffickers, early marriage and forced labor.  These children are denied health, education, and other basic amenities guaranteed to them under various UN conventions and national laws.  To be sure, average levels of child mortality, health, nutrition, and literacy show improvement on an overall global basis.  But grinding poverty, civil and international conflict, and cultural practices still cut deeply into children’s rights.  As just one example from the report: “Some 6.6 million children under 5 years of age died in 2012, mostly from preventable causes, their fundamental right to survive and develop unrealized.”

Appropriately, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize went to two very deserving protectors of children’s rights: Malala Yousafzai, the amazing teenage advocate of children’s education from Pakistan; and Kailash Satyarthi of India, long known for his work against child labor.  The Nobel has sometimes awarded people who are particularly undeserving from the standpoint of human rights, such as Henry Kissinger; but more often than not, truly magnificent individuals, such as Liu Xiaobo, Kim Dae-jung (South Korea’s former president), and Muhammad Yunus (the Grameen Bank), have received the prize.

Fifth, we return to the terrorism of states and groups. From a human-rights point of view, the terrorism cycle is especially worrisome: outrageous attacks by militants that may lead to disproportionate responses by police and military forces, feeding the public’s fear, galvanizing hatred of the militants, and providing a rationale for new terrorist attacks down the road.  We are witnessing the start of this cycle in France, where the massacre at Charlie Hebdo is creating a severe backlash of anti-Muslim sentiment, not just in France but probably throughout Europe.** There will probably be new restrictions on immigration, increasing assaults on Muslim mosques, shops, and individuals, and stronger support for extremist political parties (www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/world/europe/paris-attack-reflects-a-dangerous-moment-for-europe.html).  The French premier’s declaration of “a war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam” may sound appropriate, but doesn’t it have a familiar ring?  It’s 9/11 in miniature: making a despicable act into a war cry, and thus giving license for increasing the power of the state at the expense of civil liberties and civic decency.

The fundamental problem in Europe as in other place, such as occupied Israel, is that the more hatred takes the place of reasoned dialogue and the longer aspirations for a better life by the young and the poor are quashed, the more violent will daily life become for everyone and the more will politics be dominated by appeals to “us” versus “them.”

Sadly, there are few heroic efforts at resistance to the widespread assaults on rights, though we may take heart from the Occupy movement in Hong Kong (quashed for now, but sure to arise again), Peace Now and other groups fighting for mutual understanding in Israel and Palestine, mothers and grandmothers of the disappeared in Nigeria and elsewhere, and the ongoing demonstrations for police reform in the US.  To these we should add, as we witness events in France, the individual journalists and journalist organizations that have stood in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, and Muslim community leaders who decry violence and condemn jihadism. These efforts show that it is grassroots organizing and everyday heroics, not high-level preaching and parades, that have the best chance to improve and defend human rights.

—————-

*As Mr. B. Mosi of AfricanConstitution.org points out, Boko Haram’s abductions and killings are far more outrageous, destructive, and constant than the actions of a few terrorists in Paris.  Yet look at the difference in (Western) media attention to the one as opposed to the other.

**Feeding such sentiment is the large gap between public perceptions in Europe of Muslim populations and the actual number.  See the map provided by my friend Gil Latz: https://mobile.twitter.com/DougSaunders/status/553379701520363520/photo/1.

 

Critical appraisals of foreign affairs from a global-citizen perspective.

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