The nadir of American race relations and its legacies

I think all Americans and those who study the country should know something about what James Loewen and other historians call the nadir period of American race relations. It is incredible what kind of things were done.

The era of Reconstruction after the Civil War was relatively cordial between blacks and whites (though Indians were getting massacred), but around 1890 things changed. Younger people who had not lived through the Civil War had grown up. Immigrants from Europe and China, who obviously knew nothing of the war, had arrived. The Republican Party stopped being the party black people could get something out of. This period has only gone away bit by bit, at times such as WW2, the Civil Rights movement (plus of course the Cosby Show ;)), and leaves its legacies to this day.gone with the wind frankly my dear

After 1890, the way history was perceived began to change. No longer was the Civil War about slavery but about states’ rights, as told by many monuments put up during this period. The best-selling book and most popular movie of all time in the US is Gone with the Wind, which is a revisionist fiction that millions of Americans take as true. Woodrow Wilson, a white supremacist, segregated the federal government as best he could. All manner of legal forms of discrimination were enacted at federal, state and municipal levels (“Jim Crow”) which excluded blacks from voting, land and housing while sending others to prison. White labour unions forced blacks out of jobs. The Ku Klux Klan rose and lynchings became common in many places. At its peak in the mid-1920s, the KKK was national, with branches all over the US. Thousands of these places became sundown towns. Sundown towns are towns, sometimes with populations in the thousands, usually relatively wealthy, which at some point ethnically cleansed the town of blacks (along with Jews or Chinese if there were any) in a kind of pogrom. In many cases, they remain sundown towns.

sundown town

Furthermore, to justify all of this to maintain their position on top, white people began more than before to believe in theories of racism. We began to hear about “good breeding”, the idea of genetic superiority. This is of course the time when Social Darwinism and scientific racism were gaining ground. White Americans gave it a major boost. Stricter immigration laws were enacted. Did you know they practiced eugenics in the US? The government began sterilizing those of “dubious stock”, such as isolated rural people, the poor and those with low IQ-test scores. The standard IQ test used in the US and the Scholastic Aptitude Test or SAT come from this period, from the eugenics movement. These developments in fact inspired Hitler’s eugenics programme. American eugenicists applauded. However, when the concentration camps were discovered and the logical conclusion of completely disenfranchising an entire group was understood, eugenics died in the US.

All this is absent from high school history textbooks, yet it explains a considerable amount about the modern US. Perceptions of race or similar categorization (eg. Muslims in a Christian nation) influence immigration policies and, increasingly, security policies. And today’s racism is still largely based on old hypotheses about racial superiority and the tests to prove it.

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How appeal to national ideals sold Operation Iraqi Freedom

Drawing on sources from political science, history, media and the psychology of nationalism, this paper explains how the Bush administration used what Americans perceive as the virtues of their nation and its foreign policy–freedom, democracy, peace, humanitarianism and God–to win support for its invasion of Iraq.

Two essays on the causes of Egypt’s revolution

Having completed my second semester at grad school, here are two essays on the causes of the January 25 Egyptian Revolution.

The first is about how the Mubarak regime came to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a tiny elite. Egypt had been called a paragon of neoliberalism. If that was indeed the case, without reducing the power of the state, neoliberalism is bound to be disastrous.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/95225262/The-nexus-of-power-and-wealth-in-Mubarak%E2%80%99s-Egypt

The second essay shows how street protests and online activism in Egypt led to the January 25 revolution, and the extent to which police brutality fueled this activism. It goes through a history of protests and police reaction, explaining the power of the police in the process.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/95224866/Activism-Online-and-Off-Confronts-the-Police-the-Brutal-Road-to-January-25

Two essays on Occupy Wall Street

For my master’s programme at the American University in Cairo, I have just completed two essays on Occupy Wall Street. The first describes America’s ruling class using elitist theories of political science.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/74265960/The-Elitists-The-Ruling-Class-and-Occupy-Wall-Street

The second describes the crisis many Americans face and how it gave rise to the movement.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/75060739/The-Crisis-of-the-99-and-the-%E2%80%9COccupy%E2%80%9D-Response

Enjoy!

Egyptians demand an end to military rule

“Down with the field marshal!” yell the protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Thousands have been there since Friday, with many more spread out along the side streets. Most protesters are peacefully gathered, sometimes marching in groups of one or two hundred, but some are tackling the security forces head on.

Carrying the injured to an ambulance in Tahrir Square

One of the makeshift hospitals in Tahrir Square

A makeshift hospital in Tahrir

Down the side streets, protesters are throwing rocks and molotov cocktails and security forces respond with tear gas and rubber bullets. When one person is hit, others haul him back to the square where ambulances are running back and forth. There are a few makeshift hospitals in the square where people are getting treated for injuries. Many have been shot in the eyes; and a photo circulating the internet shows one of the lions adorning Qasr al-Nil Bridge, which leads to Tahrir, sporting a bandage over one of its eyes as well.

Thirty-three people are estimated killed around the country with thousands more injured or arrested. Among those arrested were three American students accused of throwing Molotov cocktails although they were actually delivering medical supplies. Fortunately, many Egyptians have become inured to the lies of their government from the roughly twelve thousand civilians sentenced in military kangaroo courts since the fall of the Mubarak regime in February. Most of them were peaceful protesters, bloggers and other activists charged with crimes such as “insulting the regime.”

The focus of their anger is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt’s military interim government, and its head, Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi.

Monday’s news that Egypt’s cabinet, which many Egyptians consider puppets of the military council, resigned did not lead protesters to disperse. The basic demand is to end rule by the generals and turn power over to an elected, civilian government. The military has repeatedly postponed elections and it is not yet clear if it is about to relent.

At the moment, the violence appears to have subsided although protesters are marching in ever greater numbers.

Why war is wrong, part 3: support the troops

“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” – Napoleon

Soldiers  are agents of the state and agents of war. As such, they are outside of peaceful society. Soldiers are trained to follow orders unquestioningly and kill people without knowing who they are. They have their most important human qualities, such as compassion, squeezed out of them through indoctrination. They are put into uniforms to strip them of their individuality and thus their ability to act independently of orders. They are forced to conform. They are chosen when they are young: able to kill but less able to think critically about killing. After they kill, they turn into nervous wrecks. Saddest of all, they believe they are keeping us safe. Well, some of them do.

I wonder what the “Support the Troops” people think when they find out some soldiers have been killing civilians for sport. (See here and here.) And though most are isolated incidents, like collateral damage (a euphemism for killing civilians accidentally, such as these nine children killed from a helicopter in Afghanistan), friendly fire (a euphemism for soldiers’ killing their fellows) and rape (See here and here.) (sometimes a deliberate policy of intimidation or ethnic cleansing), they are inevitable in war. Do you know why? Because when people are given the kind of power over others that a big gun or an army grants you, many of them will choose to use that power however they want. We call soldiers brave, but how brave is it to beat, rape and kill unarmed men, women and children? How brave is dropping bombs on or shooting cruise missiles at people? These people are heroes?

Let us briefly examine the killing of innocents. It occurs in every war. The soldiers and civilians in the country prosecuting the war have been told that they are at war with an entire country, and as such, civilian casualties are easier to stomach. Their media report little in the way of dead innocents, and use a variety of euphemisms to soften the blow when they do. In Afghanistan, for instance, thousands of innocent people have died from air strikes (3000 in the first six months alone, though estimates vary).  (It makes one wonder if there is really such a thing as targeted, “smart” weapons; and if not, what it is we are paying billions of dollars to develop.) How many newspapers reported the figures at the time? Perhaps they were afraid of looking unpatriotic. If patriotism means dropping bombs on people, or letting it go unreported, you can have it. However, we could still kill people who are harming innocents—the only enemies we should ever have—and leave innocents alone. We do not need a state to have special ops teams that get into tight spots to cut the head off the snake. We will always have people who want to do this type of work. Large-scale wars are just not necessary. But while they continue, expect hundreds of innocent people to get caught in the crossfire every year from it.

I also wonder what “Support the Troops” really means. Which troops? All of them? What about the racist ones? What about the ones who are just mindless killers? We should support even the ones who deliberately kill innocent civilians and take trophy photos with them? Putting a sticker on your car is cute and all, but the idea “Support the Troops” lacks all nuance. (A politician’s idea of supporting the troops is to use them and get photographed next to them.) Besides, are these the same troop-supporting people who do not take their governments to task for reducing funding for body armour, pensions, medical and psychiatric treatment for veterans? Did you know that 17.4% of soldiers in Afghanistan report acute stress? Did you know that some 20% of suicides in the US are veterans, even though they make up less than 1% of the population? Between 100,000 and 200,000 Vietnam vets have killed themselves. Plenty of suicides take place among current soldiers as well. Posttraumatic stress disorder is believed to afflict up to 30 percent of close to 2 million active-duty soldiers and veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Unemployment among young male veterans is now more than 22 percent, and hundreds of thousands of US military vets are homeless or at risk of homelessness. I don’t think we should have any troops, but while we have them, how about they get what they were promised and what they need? Is that what it means to support the troops? Because that is not what is happening. Don’t expect government to make it happen, either. Government is bankrupt, morally and now economically. Finally, if you really want to support the troops, take away the government’s ability to send them to their deaths in pointless imperial wars.

What is the difference between soldiers and terrorists? Or insurgents or enemy combatants or whatever word the propaganda machines are using this week. Well, let’s see. First, soldiers are employed by a state and terrorists are not. That means soldiers are pursuing the state’s interests and terrorists are pursuing private interests. Most wars are concocted by elites and wrapped in flags and slogans. Flags lend wars and the actions of soldiers legitimacy in the eyes of nationalists. They get it: soldiers=good, terrorists=bad. Terrorism, on the other hand, is usually born of desperation. Therefore, in general, terrorists have real grievances and soldiers take for granted that their commanding officers have the best interests of the country at heart. To argue that terrorists are less moral than soldiers because they target civilians is wrong because soldiers sometimes target civilians, sometimes as an aim of war and sometimes for fun; and those branded as terrorists sometimes target agents of the state (as when al Qaeda attacked the USS Cole, and Bill Clinton declared it “an act of terrorism”).

And when there are such abuses, we rightly call for the guilty soldiers to be prosecuted. What tends to happen, though, is that the military will throw the book at a few soldiers whose abuses have been made public, and it will attempt to cover up any more so the military’s image remains professional and just (much like they try to cover up images of coffins with flags draped over them). (The Iraq War Logs have revealed plenty of examples.) One point of the book The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo is that individual responsibility, asking who did the crime, should not be the only consideration when apportioning blame. An additional question is, who created the conditions where all this was allowed to happen? Donald Rumsfeld’s deliberate sidestepping of international law and basic human morality trickled down to his army in Iraq, which is how we got Abu Ghraib.

Soldiers are lied to. They are told that their actions, whether occupying a foreign country, shaking down a village, killing whomever they are told to kill without question, are all in the service of a good cause. Soldiers are not only taught to kill, and that killing is right, but to believe in the utmost honourability of their organisation and their superiors, and thus the uncritical, unquestioning acceptance of their orders. That’s called indoctrination. But I guess since we are mostly taught not to question through government-run schools, what would we expect? Besides, many people who go into the military want to follow authority and want to kill. But why should we pay for their training, their guns, tanks and bombs?

But not all soldiers want to kill. Most are persuaded, much like the public is, that, in extreme circumstances, it is noble to kill. I am not a big fan of killing anyone, but of course I can understand that killing can be the right thing to do: if you are defending your own life or the life of an innocent, it may be necessary to kill someone. But states do not fight defensive wars very often anymore. The US has not fought a defensive war for 200 years. (Contrast that with the evil Iran, which has not fought an aggressive war in 200 years.) Wars against terrorism are usually results of state, not terrorist, aggression. Every war for humanitarian ideals (if there has ever truly been one) has just set the intervening powers further down the road to the next imperial war by enlarging the state, legitimising aggression and spreading the lie that war is not so bad on the people. Soldiers need to begin to think very critically about their role as agents of the lies, the plunder and the killing.

One problem is that the US, British, Canadian and other public constituencies do not care enough about the turmoil abroad caused by their governments’ policies. Most of them will never fight in a war, nor will they see the war brought home to them (until the next terrorist attack, at any rate; and then they will not realise the war was the cause of it). Many of them do not care what happens abroad, as long as they can keep the car full of gas. Many others support these wars, believing they are self-sacrificial and good for everyone. When the public is not exposed to the bloodshed and the costs of war, it can give its seal of approval willingly.

Egypt’s revolution is not over

It is said that Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong’s premier, was once asked what he thought of the French Revolution, and he replied “It is too soon to tell.” Whether or not this story is true, it reveals an important fact about revolutions: their true measure is not in the immediate outcome of the uprising, but how it pans out in the long term. When Egyptians speak of the revolution, they usually mean the three-week uprising that started on January 25. Hosni, the NDP and the police are gone, but the activists are still in the street.

Every Friday after prayers in Tahrir Square, crowds address one or more issues with speeches, cheering, flag-waving and debating in a clear sign that they love their new-found freedom and want their Arab brothers to enjoy the benefits. Today marks the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba, the day Palestinians commemorate their expulsion (some 700,000 people) from their homeland. This week, in crowds bigger than I have seen in my month in Cairo, demonstrators demanded rights and freedom for Palestinians. This video expresses the pain of living under Israeli occupation.

Here are some photos from Friday’s demonstrations.

Just down the road from Tahrir in Masbiro Square was a separate demonstration urging equal rights for Christians. Coptic Christians lived in Egypt before the Muslims came, yet today make up only 10% of the population. The recent clashes at the Imbaba church in Cairo that killed 12 and wounded nearly 200 sparked several days of protests by Copts and sympathetic Muslims (though I am led to understand protests were planned before the Imbaba incident). Copts argue that 47 churches were closed by the old regime, and that they should have the right to open new opens; and that Muslims (salafis) are kidnapping girls who convert to Christianity and forcing them to submit to Islam. (Though I do not know how many times that has happened, it was what led to the fighting at Imbaba.) This week’s demonstrations took place in front of the Channel One television station with slogans demanding that it tell the truth about Egypt’s Christians, and another that “Muslims and Christians stand united”. One area was cordoned off for women, to prevent their being harassed; space was created for Muslims to pray (as well as for Christians); and in the last photo you can see one of many people shuttling drinks back and forth for the demonstrators.

Sectarian fighting is said to be on the rise since February, though it may in fact be on the wane. Today’s demonstrations were a strong indication that Christians, like all Egyptians, are not afraid to stand up for their rights, and that Muslims will stand by them. That so many Egyptians are still not tired of taking their grievances to the streets is a heartening sign that the revolution is far from over.