Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Building Cultures of Resistance

A culture of resistance can be built, and it can also be methodically dismantled, and sabotaged.

Recent weeks have provided a lot of illustrations, around the world, of effective, massive-scale, sustained organizing in many cases, and in other cases, a few small protests that then sputter out, evolving into very small, isolated actions carried out by the dedicated few who just feel they must bear witness to the carnage in some symbolic way, at least.

Personally, I relate to and appreciate almost all the actions I hear about, including armed resistance to a genocidal occupation, including taking over the streets of London or any number of other cities around the world with hundreds of thousands of protesters, including actions to disrupt the flow of arms, or dropping a banner at a local highway overpass or in a local shopping mall to remind people there is a genocide underway that their government is supporting to one degree or another.

My personal affection for almost all forms of resistance aside, however, for so much of the rest of humanity, what kinds of efforts are going into building what kind of movement really matters.  While there's never any guarantee that even the most inclusive, exciting, and well-organized social movement will change history -- given the other forces involved with shaping history, such as the billionaires, their propaganda machines and their imperial armies -- those social movements that have changed history have shared characteristics, around the world, that are vitally important to understand.

According to my reading of the history of social movements -- a reading amplified dramatically by my own direct experiences with social movements in many different countries over the course of my lifetime -- there are fairly clear patterns in terms of what kinds of efforts and tactics tend towards building, and success, and which ones tend towards ineffectiveness, and failure.

Successful movements, or at least movements that successfully alter the parameters of policies and change the nature of the discussion around them, are movements that have managed, despite all the opposition, to win a whole lot of hearts and minds over to the cause.  And the movements that do this are not only big, well-organized and well-resourced, but they are fundamentally inclusive, forward-looking, and deeply engaged in the project of fostering a culture of resistance in so many ways.

Among the more profoundly unsuccessful social movements have been ones based on appealing to the public largely around notions of guilt, atonement, moral outrage, and other negative emotions that focus on the failure of the mainstream culture of a society to understand or respond to a terrible situation.  Such as a genocidal war being waged in their name, for example -- which happens regularly in the course of US and European history and beyond, and is not new, as impossibly horrendous as it is.

While criticizing the failures of a society, blaming and shaming the mainstream of a society for its many failures as a culture to rise to the occasion of genocide or whatever other occasion it's failing to rise to, may on some level make a lot of sense, as a tactic it tends to be counter-productive, and in fact basically the opposite of the kind of orientation and organizing efforts that do build movements.

People who have read much of what I've written will be aware that this is a theme I've explored frequently and at length.  What inspired thoughts on the subject in this current historical moment was a conversation I had last night with a Palestinian friend who was lamenting various aspects of the tactic of protesting Christmas in solidarity with Gaza.  

While Saed and I both shared the sentiment that celebrating the holidays while other people who might like to do that are busy having their homes destroyed by bombs is in very bad taste, we agreed that what's desperately needed is the building of a culture of resistance that is standing for something beautiful and positive -- such as peace and coexistence, such as a people, a culture, a community, with history, and with brilliant poetry and musical traditions, that can all be viscerally and deeply appreciated through the effective dissemination of a narrative and a culture.  

Movements that grow are ones that form exciting, inclusive communities that you not only want to be working with with because it's the right thing to do, but you want to be part of because the movement is also the most vibrant center of not only resistance, but culture as well.  This is where the intellectuals, musicians, artists, playwrights, visionaries, and those who love the preciousness of life the most are spending their time.  These are the people you want to be around anyway, and where you'll find them is at the heart of this movement.  Those are the movements I've seen that grow, and are capable of sustaining themselves in the long term, when they get like that.

A prime example of such a movement now and historically has been the movement for a free Palestine, particularly within historic Palestine as well as in the Palestinian diaspora throughout the Arab world and beyond.  As vital as any other form of resistance to subjugation and occupation for Palestinians historically has been keeping alive Palestinian culture and identity.  As important for the Israeli occupiers as any other method of disenfranchising and oppressing Palestinians has been the efforts to erase Palestinian culture from the face of the Earth, in so many different ways, including by assassinating Palestinian writers, artists, and journalists on a regular basis in covert operations in many different countries.  When they don't face the consequence of death, they face Israeli efforts to censor their work on every possible level, often involving the overt cooperation of the western media and tech platforms.

Despite so many efforts at suppressing the voices of Palestinians and their supporters in so much of the world, with the rise of the internet and news and information platforms like Al-Mayadeen TV, and platforms like Al-Jazeera broadcasting in English as well as Arabic, a lot more people in the world have had easier access to a different narrative than the Israeli one promoted by most western media and leaders.  This has obviously been very distressing to Israeli and US leaders, as evidenced by the many intentional killings of journalists and missile strikes carried out by both the US and Israeli forces against known locations where Al-Jazeera was operating or where Al-Jazeera journalists or family members lived, most recently a few weeks ago -- or in the case of Al-Mayadeen reporters, a few days ago.

What these platforms have done with their ability to put forward a narrative that gets to be heard by billions of people around the world has involved regularly featuring voices that are rarely heard in the mainstream western media -- including of course lots of Palestinian and other Arab writers, commentators, reporters, and artists, but many from the western countries who aren't used to appearing on such massive platforms in their home countries, like, for example, me. 

Or the great London-based hiphop artist, Lowkey.  Supporters of Israel in the UK are constantly trying to get his gigs canceled and get him kicked off of various platforms for his popularity and eloquence in speaking out against Israeli atrocities, in support of the Palestinian people.  His voice is rarely heard on mainstream media in the west, but if people in London want to hear their favorite hiphop performer, they can most easily catch him for free, performing at one of the recent marches there, or being interviewed on Al-Jazeera about it.

Al-Mayadeen has interviewed me on a number of occasions, most recently last Saturday, and their interest each time, sensibly enough, is the same.  Each time involves me having written recent songs about recent events in Palestine, and their interest is in discussing the role of music and culture in standing up against Israeli hegemony and countering Israeli lies.  Each time, I talk about the importance of framing reality in ways that might be accessible and even familiar to people in different settings, using universally accessible themes, and speaking in the language of your listeners, literally and more broadly.  If they didn't agree with me on these points, they wouldn't have an English-language version of their website, but of course they do.  And they wouldn't keep having me back on their evening news programs, but they do.

If you examine other struggles between occupying armies and subjugated peoples, where those subjugated people have managed to maintain an ongoing, militant opposition to the status quo of occupation, such as in that place they call Northern Ireland, it's the same.  Keeping the culture alive within that culture of resistance has always been seen as crucial -- just as banning and otherwise destroying all expressions of this culture was such a high priority for the British Empire for so many centuries.

For exactly the same sorts of reasons, in most of the US for much of the history of this slavery-based empire, drumming among the enslaved was illegal.  This is why clapping instead became a popular alternative in the Black church, centuries ago.

In terms of somewhat more recent US social movement history, the impact of the culture of resistance that became established in large parts of society in the course of the 1960's and 70's would be hard to overstate.  In so many ways, we have spent the rest of history since then "overcoming" the impact of those times.  One form this has taken has been decades of dismissing and deriding the utopian ridiculousness of those who became known to the mainstream media as "the hippies," with their obsession with what the media dubbed "sex, drugs, and rock and roll."

On one level, it's an easy movement to dismiss.  To the extent that the genocidal American war in southeast Asia went on throughout the existence of the antiwar movements in the US and other countries, killing millions of civilians in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the opposition movements clearly did not succeed in stopping this terrible, terrible series of wars.

On the other hand, the movement was so successful -- along with the Vietnamese resistance itself -- in deflating the martial spirit within the ranks of the conscripted American soldiers that the "Vietnam Syndrome" that resulted from this whole historical episode kept the US from sending significant numbers of troops to invade any other countries for more than two decades after that war ended.  Which is a long time, by US imperial standards.

The loss of interest in fighting patriotic wars of aggression that swept the ranks of the warriors and so much of society more broadly was accomplished not only by the horrors of the war itself, but in no small part by the movement which was agitating with coffeehouses at every military base in the country and in many other countries, with popular "underground" newspapers that were widely circulated, with huge, free festivals featuring the groundbreaking musical and theatrical culture that this movement so actively produced -- forms of music that would soon become globally popular.

Mainstream media depictions of this movement focus on isolated incidents of an American soldier returning from Vietnam and being called a baby-killer.  As with Israel's current genocidal war on the Palestinian people, massacring whole villages, including children and babies, was a regular practice.  However, what characterized the antiwar movement, rather than the occasional such outburst at a returning veteran, was the inclusive nature of the movement, specifically towards returning veterans, and anyone else who wanted to join.  Quite literally, making love -- and playing music, and smoking weed, and a whole lot of other common practices within the movement -- were overall far more attractive an option than going to the jungle and killing people.  It was not a choice between being in the US and getting yelled at, or going to Vietnam and dropping napalm on villages.  The domestic options were far more exciting than just getting yelled at -- and what in fact transpired instead is veterans of the American War in Vietnam were so welcomed into the ranks of the antiwar movement that they became its backbone.

If we take a look at some of the basic precepts involved with successful cultures of resistance, let's also consider how those trying to prevent the development of such a movement might respond to each of these things.

Inclusivity might be the most fundamental of all precepts.  You'll often hear people communicating the message in so many ways that the movement for the liberation of the people of Palestine is not just a Muslim movement, even if the majority of the Palestinian population is of Muslim background.  You'll hear the same message hammered home throughout the centuries in the struggle against the British occupation of Ireland -- this is not just a Catholic movement, it is bigger than that, it is a movement for national sovereignty, where your participation is desired whether you're Catholic or not, just as non-Muslim involvement in the struggle for Palestine has always been actively welcomed.  

So of course the divide-and-rule messaging of the propagandists opposed to Palestinian liberation has been to talk about how this is all about Muslims vs. Jews.  With the propagandists against Irish nationalism, they tell us this is all tribal warfare between Catholics and Protestants.  By the same token, in the context of the US antiwar movements that have taken place since the 1960's, the pundits and politicians push the line that the movement is against our own soldiers -- as if we were the ones sending them off to kill and die.

When it comes to solidarity movements in the west specifically with Palestine, we are treated to the notion that because of the sensitivity of the issue, only Jews can more or less safely condemn a genocide being carried out by Jews.  If other people were to do so, they could be labeled antisemitic.  This is another way to turn it into a Muslims vs. Jews dichotomy, that everyone else should best avoid, at a time when what is obviously desperately needed is for everyone of all nations and all backgrounds to join the struggle to stop this genocide.

The centrality of the notion of celebrating life in the face of death, singing and dancing in spite of or in defiance of the efforts of those who would silence your voice and your culture, can't be overstated, in all sustained social movements and popular struggles.  You see this spirit everywhere there are social movements with the kind of lasting power of the Palestinians, the Irish, and so many others.  Children learn to speak the languages, play the music, learn the dances, and not just pass this cultural knowledge down through the generations, but celebrate its continued relevance and cross-pollination with the rest of the world's forms of expression.

The historic efforts to ban the Irish language and Israel's bombing the schools of Gaza are policies cut of the same cloth.  Genocide through the destruction of cultural identity, along with other means.

Considering the potency of language, culture, and real education, those hoping to prevent solidarity movements from taking hold in other countries might focus on presenting lines of reasoning that discourage musical performance or other artistic displays, perhaps calling such things frivolous or disrespectful or even culturally appropriative in one way or another.  Maintaining a stranglehold on the media and on social media in order to keep such forms of culture marginalized as novel or pigeonholed as "political" forms of art is another way to prevent such potent tools from having too much influence.

The power of culture as a major means for helping to gather community, maintain morale, and build a movement can't be overemphasized, so many examples make clear.  We would do well to be very skeptical of anyone who doesn't think this is true.  Because there is no time for sabotage, only for building.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Dublin Riots: the Social Engineering of Xenophobia in Ireland

In these days of a genocidal bombing campaign in Gaza and a widespread blackout in both the mainstream media in the west, and on social media, the choice between a news blackout on Facebook and a polarized, all-or-nothing "discourse" on X, trying to make sense of anything happening in the world that you're not directly witnessing yourself can in many ways be more challenging than ever, oddly enough, in this epoch of supposed "connection."

Following events taking place in Dublin, Ireland, since November 23rd, all the same sorts of factors are at play in trying to make real sense of anything, it seems to me.  I'm not sure if it's any different for people who live there, at least judging from the sorts of things we're hearing from the Irish politicians or Irish media outlets.

So although I know many Irish people in Ireland who share my take on recent history there and ongoing developments in Irish society that have been taking place on the island in our shared lifetimes, perhaps my vantage point as an outsider who is also a frequent visitor with an interest in sociology might be of use.

For the many people out there in the world with Irish ancestry or just anyone with a deep sense of connection with various themes from Irish history or with Irish music, dance, poetry, etc., it's easy to paint the Irish past and present with broad brushes and unhelpful generalizations.  I'll just admit right here that I'm one of those people apt to make such generalizations, being a history buff with a bit of an obsession with Irish traditional music.  But I'll endeavor to avoid any inaccurate pronouncements, even if I may make a few broad historical statements along the way.

For those who missed it, an Irish citizen with an immigrant background seems to have lost the plot and began attacking small children with a knife, on one of Dublin's busiest streets.  One of the children's teachers and a quick-thinking Brazilian immigrant on a motorcycle were able to put a stop to the man's stabbing spree.  What then followed were large groups of young men engaging in the torching of city buses and police cars and apparently the chanting of xenophobic slogans ("get them out"), the targeting of a refugee asylum center, it seems, with one of the burning vehicles on fire directly in front of it, and then larger groups of people taking the opportunity created by the chaos to loot some downtown shops.

Politicians and pundits are saying these riots are unprecedented, in a number of ways.  They're very understandably expressing revulsion.  But just as often, they seem perplexed.

If they are actually perplexed, and not just faking it for the cameras, it could still be understandable.  The politicians are usually around my age or older, unlike these young rioters.  The politicians grew up in something more along the lines of the Ireland I first visited in the 1980's, and then again much more in the 1990's.  

The Irish Republic they grew up in -- and the Irish Republic I first visited -- was overwhelmingly white, Irish, Catholic, and poor.  It was the first country to be colonized by the British Empire, and one of many to throw off the yoke of imperial domination only to replace it with a partial independence that had a lot to be desired, and still does. 

But the Ireland they grew up in also had, at least by my recollection, certain consistencies about it that many people found comforting.  Most people were poor, but then that was true of most people you knew, and there were very few ostentatiously wealthy people of any description, even in the center of the biggest cities, flaunting their riches and wearing mink coats and staying in fancy hotels back then.  Many people were on the dole -- probably half the young people I met back when I first visited -- but rent was cheap in most of the country, and most everyone could at least squeak by under the circumstances.

Although many people had complaints about the two-party duopoly that had been (and still is) running the Republic of Ireland for most of its existence since independence, there was also a widespread feeling that a lot of people in the world had it worse than Ireland did at the time.  There was, and still is, a widespread sense of solidarity with other formerly colonized lands and peoples around the world, whether they were other former victims of the British Empire or victims of other empires.  There was a widespread and frequently-expressed revulsion for the racist attitudes many Irish people associated with Irish-Americans, and as an American visiting Ireland I was often told by people that "we're not like that here."

To say what is overwhelmingly obvious to anyone my age or older who grew up in Ireland, the whole foundation of Irish nationalism was that it was a nationalism of a colonized nation against an imperial one.  And to the extent that most of the island became independent in 1921, Irish nationalism maintained this internationalist, anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and also fundamentally anti-racist and anti-xenophobic character, as it was rooted in all the colonized people uniting against their common oppressors, and very rooted in socialist notions generally.  As any Irish person passingly familiar with Irish history knows, the leaders of the Irish independence struggle were also socialists.

Ireland was thus also not only an island with a disproportionate number of great musicians, but its population on average was one of the most generous in the world, in terms of donating to and volunteering for humanitarian organizations, which is just one quantitative measure of the attitude of the average Irish person.

So many aspects of this Ireland I'm describing began to change in the 1990's, with the "Celtic Tiger" phenomenon.  Overnight, it seemed, Ireland became a country of immigration rather than emigration.  Suddenly, jobs were plentiful, but they were being taken not only by Irish people but my immigrants from other EU countries and beyond.  

IT companies were moving in in droves and setting up their European headquarters in Ireland.  This was good for Irish IT experts, but for everyone else, as in places like San Francisco, it meant skyrocketing rents and other skyrocketing expenses for so many other people.

Ireland was obviously at a crossroads, in the 1990's, and in a situation where really big decisions desperately needed to be made about regulating the housing market under the circumstances, lest the cost of living become completely disconnected from what the average person earned.  Despite efforts to increase social spending to keep up with rising inequality, inequality has continued to rise in Ireland, by my observation and also according to something I just read from the International Monetary Fund.  Where this is most apparent is within the ranks of the top 10%, and particularly the top 1%, of Irish society.

As with the US and so many other countries, although perhaps it would be a stretch to call the Irish Republic a failed state, it is a state that, like the US, has been completely unable to rise to the occasion that is demanded by the situation, and effectively control the housing market, which is of course one of the biggest reasons the wealthy keep getting wealthier, and so many other people can't pay the ever-increasing costs.  The average apartment rental in Dublin is now well over $2,000, and getting worse all the time.

And who are the beneficiaries of this growing divide?  Some of the biggest are those who own the land -- the land, and the buildings, that once were only moderately profitable to own as a landlord, which have become tremendously profitable.  Which has led, in Ireland as with the US, to a further concentration in ownership of the housing stock, by investors with ever less connection to the society whose basic needs it is their business to profit from.

This kind of untenable situation might give rise to lots of people identifying their problem as being all caught up with capitalism and things like the housing market being woefully insufficiently regulated.  People might demand that all the landlords in the Dáil resign!  People might recognize Ireland for the terribly divided class society that it is, now more than ever, and they might try to address this problem head-on.

While there are people trying to organize renters in Ireland, of course, what has characterized the Irish left by my observation over the past two decades or so has been the same sorts of division and atomization that has been easy to witness here in the United States.  Identity politics has largely taken over political discourse in the Republic of Ireland, unlike reality on the ground in Northern Ireland, where the same phenomenon has not taken hold to anything like the same degree, though it's evident there, too.

I don't know what the various motivations are for the different actors involved here, but what is very evident to observe on social media in the wake of the riots, and generally on social media consumed by Irish people for many years, are people constantly promoting the same kinds of nominally anti-racist arguments that are steeped in a sort of white guilt and anti-working class sentiment very familiar to Americans, but which seems especially alien in the Irish context.  Or at least it used to.  Now, it seems to have taken root.  

After years and years of people in Ireland expressing nationalist sentiments being told by anonymous actors on the internet -- some of whom may actually be fellow Irish people, who knows -- that their patriotic pride or nationalistic sentiments were nothing more than expressions of racism and xenophobia, that they were uneducated people, that they were scum, eventually this kind of message being driven home continually on corporate, American-owned social media platforms managed to take root.  Eventually, some combination perhaps of their ever-more-stressed circumstances, of the unfamiliar displays of ostentatious wealth that are now so easy to find in the center of every Irish city, of the direly precarious and ever-worsening housing market, and of the competition for jobs and housing with an ever-growing population of immigrants and refugees, created the xenophobic outburst that was being socially engineered for so many years, in so many ways.

When I look at the kinds of messaging I'm seeing on social media platforms using hash tags like #DublinRiots I see organized, professional trolls who have an agenda in mind to foment division within Irish society and to foment racism and xenophobia in it.  Of course it doesn't need to be professional to appear to be organized or to have terrible consequences.  The right algorithms can create that appearance and have the same effect.  

But whether professional actors are involved or not, who might they be and what interests might they be promoting?  The possibilities are endless.  The ones that first come to mind to me would be anyone who might have an interest in de-socializing Irish nationalism, and turning it into a racist, rightwing phenomenon.  Up to this point, Ireland has had no far right party.  It is definitely in the interests of various actors, such as MI5, just to take a less-than-random possibility, to divide the Irish nationalist community as much as possible.  

It would also be in the interest of the Irish ruling class -- the 1% of Irish society that owns a third of the wealth there -- which is profiting at a heretofore unprecedented rate from the basic need of the island's population to have a place to live.  Much better to have the nationalists and the refugees competing with each other for a place in Irish society, rather than having them unite against their common class enemy.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The German Question

What do they mean in Germany when they say "never again," and how does that relate to what is currently happening in Gaza?

In order to understand and perhaps someday even make any progress on the notion of peace in the part of the world that the British Empire dubbed "the Middle East," it's vital to understand the role of Germany in the ongoing conflict, its beginnings, and its entire history in between.  

We can begin with two facts.  Then I'll spend the rest of this essay trying to make sense of them, and why they are both true, despite the apparent deep contradictions involved.

  1. The Israeli military is carrying out a genocide against the Palestinian people, intentionally destroying their entire medical system, intentionally preventing them from having access to food and water, intentionally destroying all the civilian homes, schools, hospitals, and places of worship throughout the Gaza Strip.
  2. The German government is actively supporting Israeli policies of genocide, now and for most of Israel's existence as a state, with economic and military aid as well as diplomatic cover and moral justifications for genocidal policies.
Any half-serious investigation of reality will reveal these two facts about the situation in Israel/Palestine and its history.  Anyone who seriously consumes non-western news sources or who seriously studies history is well aware of these realities.  Those in denial of these basic facts are probably beyond the reach of any reasonable arguments -- they are essentially modern holocaust-deniers, denying a holocaust that is happening in real time.  Strong words, and also entirely true.

How does a government whose self-proclaimed reason to exist is essentially to atone for the Nazi Holocaust then turn around and support what every UN official and humanitarian group is currently denouncing as a genocide?  How does the country that many people around the world think of as the moral center of European society today, the country that welcomed 800,000 war refugees in 2015, the country that has been engaged in intense forms of self-examination in so many ways from the Nazi Holocaust to the present, how is a country like this also led by politicians both "progressive" and "conservative" who are so deeply committed to a completely uncritical support for a genocidal regime today?

It's vital to understand how these two facts can be true at the same time because understanding this reality is at the heart of understanding why the self-proclaimed Jewish State continually manages to portray itself in the minds of so many westerners and especially in their political leaders as something other than an explicitly Jewish-supremacist apartheid state located on land that was forcibly seized from its former inhabitants.  How does such an obvious case of continual injustice, land theft, and collective punishment of an entire population like this somehow manage to get portrayed for so many western media consumers and by so many western political leaders as some kind of a democratic society fighting for "western values"?

The contradictions within German society, German political leadership, and German history are at the heart of understanding any of this reality, current or past.

At the center of the whole mess is the concept of Nazi exceptionalism.  That is, the notion that the crimes committed by the Nazis were so staggeringly horrendous that they are qualitatively and fundamentally distinct from any other crimes committed by one group of people against another group.

To address the question of Nazi exceptionalism, let's go back a bit in history to set the stage.

As capitalism took hold, hand in hand with the industrial revolution were the continual efforts on the parts of the capitalist class and their political representatives to find new markets and achieve new heights of wealth and power.  The countries ruled by capitalists across Europe, North America, etc. wanted an easily-available, low-paid, hard-working, compliant workforce both at home and abroad. 

The contradictions between the notions of paying workers as little as possible while also getting as much work out of them as possible were resolved in different ways at different points in the history of different societies.  Generally, the capitalists and their political henchmen nominally running the various countries of the capitalist world developed methods to exploit the workers and resources of their countries and of other countries that tended to fall along various lines of division.

Two of those lines of division have long been "here" and "there"; workers and resources within the country, and those outside of it.  But within countries, stark divisions were also cultivated and used for the advantage of the ruling class in so many ways.  In many different countries at many different periods of the history of the modern era, the divisions cultivated within fell along the lines of religion, national origin, caste, or other notions that become defined by amorphous terms such as "ethnicity."

The expansion of colonial empires generally involved colonial powers using their very intentionally disenfranchised and often half-starving working class to go abroad and run their empires for them, thus moving up in life in the process, adopting a higher-class lifestyle, eating better, with servants perhaps, living in a bigger house, etc., which worked out well for a lot of workers, if they managed to rationalize these crazy contradictions, and if they didn't get killed in a revolt or something.  This was also the modus operandi for the westward expansion of the ever-growing United States of America throughout the nineteenth century and beyond.  Go west, white man, said the leaders of the free world.  Go get your free land, if you can manage not to get killed out there beyond the Pale.  Once you civilize the place for us, we'll move out there and take your land from you, and send you off to fight a war in the Pacific, where you can be useful.

Colonial powers employing this kind of logic consistently engaged in genocide.  The systematic extermination of entire groups of people in order for their land and resources to be forcibly taken from them is not the exception in the history of settler-colonialism, it is the rule.  There's lots of variation from place to place, but the intentional, systematic, mass extermination through direct physical slaughter, economic strangulation, land theft, starvation, dehydration, and many different forms of biological warfare was not the exception in the history of the settlement of the United States, Canada, Peru, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Namibia, Kenya, and so many other places, but rather it has been the norm.

Another tragic norm throughout the history of "civilization" has been the use of the "enemy within" method for winning and holding political power, profiting off of divisions within societies that were both pre-existing and especially intentionally manufactured, and scapegoating groups within a society in order to distract attention from problems or to benefit other groups.  We see a bloody history of anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia, anti-Muslim riots in India, anti-Chinese mass slaughter periodically throughout the history of many other countries, anti-Black and anti-indigenous pogroms on many occasions in the history of the US.  We see highly organized efforts by national governments to put certain groups of people in concentration camps, starve them to death, cause them to die of thirst, or to kill them through other means, with such methods leading to untold millions of dead on concentration camp-like places that in the US were called "reservations."  In Namibia, this is exactly what the German colonists did to the people there, at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The history of the much more highly industrialized twentieth century saw the mechanization of the slaughter of human beings reach entirely new heights of destruction.  The genocide of the Armenian Christian "enemy within" during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was largely carried out by asphyxiating people in caves with smoke.  This mass killing method was essentially just industrialized a couple decades later by the Nazis in Europe, with man-made gas chambers instead of natural caves, and with manufactured chemicals instead of smoke.

But right alongside with these new methods of the mass slaughter of human beings came the development of such things as tanks, bombers, and nuclear weapons.  New methods of killing entire urban populations all at the same time were developed by the American and British air forces, which learned that if you drop enough of the right kinds of bombs on a city, you can actually suck the air out of the whole place, killing everyone through asphyxiation.  They learned about how to do this, and then they did it again and again and again, on the civilian population of Germany and Japan.  Especially Japan.

When the Nazis came to power they promoted the idea that the Jewish people were collectively responsible for the defeat of Germany in World War 1 and more generally for most everything that had ever gone wrong in Germany, along with Bolshevism.  At first with lots of support from the western powers, the Nazis seemed to many western leaders to be a great bulwark against the specter of communism that all the capitalists were so terrified of.  Then Germany invaded France and other western countries, and calculations in places like London and Washington, DC began to quickly shift.

In the wake of World War 2 and particularly of the mechanized genocide of millions of Jews and millions of non-Jewish communists and millions of other people of every description, people around the world, and perhaps especially among the populations of the countries that had lost so many soldiers and civilians to this heretofore unprecedented industrial carnage, wanted to see things change.  The notion that this sort of thing should happen never again was a very popular one, and the Nuremberg Tribunal and the United Nations were supposed to be fundamental new institutions that would put an end to this kind of thing.

Putting an end to this kind of thing quickly became a very sticky wicket, though.  If we're saying "never again" to the mechanized slaughter of millions of Jews in gas chambers, what about the mechanized slaughter of millions of Japanese civilians through aerial bombardment with "conventional," chemical, and nuclear weapons and the intentional use of mass asphyxiation through the creation of firestorms?  How are these two forms of the mechanized slaughter of millions of civilians to be distinguished from each other?

If putting certain elements of society into concentration camps and then starving them to death by intentionally not allowing them to eat enough to survive is to be considered an exceptionally horrific crime against humanity in the context of the practices of the Nazis during World War 2, what about the history of the US and German colonial authorities only a few decades earlier forcing large numbers of people onto barren plots of land after intentionally killing the herds of animals that the people depended on for their survival?  What about this intentional mass starvation of people on such a tremendous scale, practiced systematically by so many colonial powers in so many parts of the world?

Clearly, these were problematic contradictions to contend with, unless you actually wanted to say "never again" to anyone, which none of the ruling factions of the big capitalist countries ever seemed to really want.  Rather, the ruling classes in the US, the UK, and very much as well in West Germany, set out to erect a firewall between the Nazi holocaust and the rest of history.

"Holocaust education" became of paramount importance in Germany, it became what they today call Germany's "reason of state."  This was by no means unique to Germany, this intense focus on that particularly horrific example of genocide that took place between 1939 and 1945, but it is only in Germany and in Israel where you'll find such an intense embrace by both the state and a large part of the population of Nazi exceptionalism.

The inability -- or complete unwillingness -- of the ruling classes in the post-World War 2 period to come to terms with the reality that the Nazi holocaust was not an exceptional phenomenon, but entirely consistent with the basic precepts of settler-colonialism and divide-and-rule capitalism practiced by so many of the countries that made up both the Allies and the Axis, is a failure that the world has had to bear ever since.

In the fantasy narrative of the self-proclaimed Jewish State, it all begins with planting trees on barren land.  The land wasn't barren -- it was already full of ancient olive trees.  But if we use this metaphor anyway, you could say that in 1945 a tree was planted in Palestine -- a tree rooted in the false consciousness of Nazi exceptionalism -- and it has been bearing its poison fruit ever since.  Now, however, this tree of Nazi exceptionalism is fully grown, its roots deeply bored into the minds of several generations of Israelis, Germans, Americans, and others who have been raised on the fruit of this toxic tree.

In the real world, the nation of West Germany, under the occupation of American, British, and French troops, immediately began supporting genocide again, right away, by supplying these imperial armies and supporting their military bases as they engaged in the mechanized slaughter of the peoples of places like Korea, Vietnam, Kenya, and Algeria.  Obviously, among the population of Germany there have been many, even most at times, who recognize genocide when they see it, such as the US wars in Korea and Vietnam, and they actively oppose it.  But this has never been true of the national governments of either West Germany or reunified Germany today.

German people, much like their counterparts in the UK, the US, and so many other places, have grown up going to schools and consuming media and narratives of history that do not include much, if any, background on the history of capitalism, the exploitation of the working class at home and abroad, or on the history of settler-colonialism or the many acts of genocide that settler-colonialism all over the world has involved.  Instead, Germans and Americans and British and so many others are treated to a version of history that speaks of progress, freedom and democracy spreading around the world, especially in the parts that trade freely with and otherwise have good relations with the west.  All this progress and freedom and democracy was rudely interrupted by fascism in Europe, which was dealt with, and ever since then the world needs to remember that the Nazi holocaust was a singularly and exceptionally horrific event that can't be compared with any other event, and never again should Jews or anyone else be killed en masse in gas chambers with poison gas and cremated.  Dropping thousands of tons of chemical weapons on southeast Asian or Arab cities and indiscriminately slaughtering their civilians, however, is no problem.  That's different, and you're antisemitic for thinking it's vaguely similar.  And you're totally antisemitic if you think it's morally equivalent.

Growing up for generations with this completely bankrupt narrative of history and reality will do more than warp a lot of minds.  It creates the social and moral backdrop that is required for national leaders of nominally democratic countries to support genocidal policies, in the name of opposing genocide.  It creates the environment for most people in most of these societies to sit silently by, aside from the occasional social media post, as the genocide goes on.

I love Germany, by the way.  I've spent a lot of time there, over many years, with many German friends, comrades, and lovers.  I mention this only to say that I'm writing not just about abstract history, but about a place and a people that for me are very familiar.

The extent to which the history of the rise of fascism, and the consequences of it, are studied with urgent interest by so many people in Germany is, from my experience spending time in a couple dozen other countries, unique.  I have never seen a more self-reflective society, and the degree to which so many people are engaged in self-reflection and in understanding the history of the twentieth century across Germany is only matched by the intellectual capacity of so many Germans.

But contrary to the perspective that has been so successfully cultivated and so widely reflected upon by so many Germans, Germany is not, and Germans are not, in fact, the root of all evil.  Germans and Germany is not exceptional in its past prosecution of genocide at home or abroad, and Germany in fact engaged in genocide both at home and abroad, across Europe as well as in Africa, just as so many other empires did at the same time they did, and before they did, and after they did.

There are, however, specific ways that the myth of Nazi exceptionalism has directly generated the conditions that have now led to a genocide being carried out by people who are, in so many cases, descendants of Jews killed in the Nazi holocaust.

The West German government, like its counterparts among the other wealthy, capitalist, and usually also imperialist nations, has never been especially concerned about the theft of the land of Palestine from the Palestinians and the violent expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians when the state of Israel was founded.  Support for what was obviously a settler-colonial regime intent on further annexing more and more Palestinian land and killing more and more Palestinians continued by Germany ever since.  And now that an actual, UN-declared genocide is underway, the support by the German government and a significant percentage of the German population continues.

All people in all countries should oppose genocide, of course.  But for the country that is often viewed as Europe's moral compass today, where understanding history is so widely considered to be so important, and for the country that is arguably the birthplace of the most efficiently mechanized form of genocide ever practiced on planet Earth, recognizing that genocide is not unique to Germany, and recognizing genocide where it is actually now happening, seems to me to be a thing of the most desperately urgent importance.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Why Don't the Genocidal Killers (or the Liberal Establishment) Like Elon Musk?

The campaign against Elon Musk and his social media platform has become more shrill than ever.  What is it actually all about?

If you watch Al-Jazeera or any number of other non-western media platforms, you will see live footage of a genocidal bombing campaign being waged with absolutely no discretion whatsoever against the civilian population -- largely children and babies -- of the Gaza Strip, by the US client state of Israel, armed by American weaponry, with unlimited American financial support and unlimited American diplomatic cover, regardless of the extent of the war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by the minute.

If you're watching BBC or CNN, reading the New York Times, or tuned in to NPR, to name a few random mainstream media examples, you'll get the impression that among the many other important news stories in the world and domestically in the US today such as Taylor Swift's record-breaking tour profits and how Christmas shopping trends are going so far this season, there are also hostage negotiations going on, and, oh yes, a bit of unfortunate collateral damage as well -- but don't forget, the people really responsible for all of this are the Arab terrorists, not the Jewish lovers of peace and democracy who they hate because Arabs hate freedom.  Look, this very centrist Israeli politician even said so!

The difference in the version of reality I get from my social media feeds is equally stark.  Contrasting what is still by far the world's biggest platform, Facebook, with the world's twelfth most popular platform, Twitter/X:  when I look at my feed on Facebook I will occasionally be reminded in some way that there is this war going on, because of an American who resigned from their position in protest against the war, but otherwise I'm featured to a selection of posts reminding me that Roger Waters is a very controversial figure who is accused of antisemitism and being an apologist for terrorism, Bruce Springsteen has another concert tour coming up, my friend Maria has an adorable new profile picture, another friend got a new job, and someone else's father died of old age.  I see not a single picture from the war in Gaza in my feed.

On my feed on X/Twitter, I see carnage.  I see completely appropriate carnage -- I see posts from my actual friends and from the journalists and activists that I follow on the platform.  I follow the same accounts on Facebook, but nothing they post comes up in my feed.  On X, most of what I see is about the genocidal bombing campaign Israel is waging against the Palestinian people.  There are also quite a few posts from the many supporters of imprisoned journalist, Julian Assange, that come up, because I'm a supporter of Julian's and I intentionally follow many of his other supporters.  And because in the real world, rather than the one that CNN, Facebook, and the US authorities want us to see, millions of people are deeply concerned with the injustice of imprisoning the most significant exposer of American war crimes alive today, and with implications for freedom of the press and for the rest of us generally.

Now, another news story that the mainstream media from the US is currently pumping out new articles about by the minute is Elon Musk's brief comment to a brief post that seemed fairly obviously to have been a very awkward and badly-worded effort to criticize the kinds of identitarian groups habitually funded by foundations supported by George Soros.  It's just a few words, and therefore very open to interpretation.  Interpreted in the most charitable way possible, it's a post that is part of a much bigger conversation about which groups George Soros funds, and why -- which is an entirely legitimate area of inquiry, obviously.  Interpreted in the least charitable way possible, it's an antisemitic statement from someone who may think there's a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world.

Along with this news story, you'll find in the mainstream western news an endless stream of other stories seeking to illustrate in one way or another that there is a massive rise in antisemitism happening now around the world.  Every effort is made in each instance to de-contextualize this supposed rise in antisemitism from the fact that the self-proclaimed Jewish State is currently engaged in a genocidal bombing campaign funded by American money, using American weapons.  Every effort is also made to inject the notion that any suggestion that a Jewish billionaire who donates profligately to all kinds of different causes may have a political agenda is a form of antisemitism.

Some of the world's biggest corporations, very notably Apple, have now stopped advertising on X.  There's a lot of talk about whether they may take X off of the Apple app store, which could be the end for most any platform in the modern world.  What we're seeing is a very, very serious effort to bring Elon Musk to heel, to get him on board with the program of censorship and algorithmic control over what kind of reality we are all exposed to -- to get him to obey the dictates of the censorship-happy authorities across the western world that have so successfully brought Facebook and TikTok under their control.

It's extremely fashionable these days to analyze tweets and comments on posts without giving them any broader context to speak of, and then to draw all sorts of wild conclusions rooted in intellectual extrapolations made based on a ridiculously insufficient amount of data.  This is exactly the method by which the British Labor Party was purged of its supposedly antisemitic members.  Using bots to trawl through Twitter posts and then interpreting all of them in the most uncharitable way possible, with no understanding of context allowed.

If you want to assassinate someone's character, this is what you do, and this is obviously what they're now doing with Elon Musk.  Of course, for a billionaire with his family background and long record of making cryptic statements on Twitter, it's easy to find reasons to accuse Musk of all kinds of things.  But are the army of corporate journalists currently aiming their guns at the richest man in the world and the owner of the twelfth-biggest social media platform actually concerned with his alleged prejudices against various groups of people?  Or do they have another agenda?

For those of us who were not born yesterday and who are not working for and have not yet successfully been reprogrammed by Facebook, and who are not working for a hate group such as the ADL, or for a western corporate or "public" propaganda outlet, the answer to this question should be abundantly obvious:  they desperately want Musk to adhere to their strict censorship regime, and they are outraged by his unwillingness to do so.

For those of you who are under thirty, or are perhaps over thirty but who have never been actively engaged on Facebook or Twitter, let me give you a little helpful background before I continue.

Before those of you who are under thirty became adults, Facebook was a very different platform.  This is the platform that got so many of those of us who lived through the Golden Age of the Internet (1995-2005) to abandon most other means of communication in favor of Facebook pages and Facebook news feeds.  It was once the case that Facebook's news feed was largely a chronological accounting of the posts people we intentionally follow on the platform were putting out there.  We saw largely the kinds of things we wanted to see, much like with signing up to an email announcement list.  This also meant that for those of us with a big platform for our essays or music or whatever else, if we had more followers, we were more likely to have more people see our posts.  This all changed a few years into Facebook's existence, when the feed became a completely opaque phenomenon based on unknown algorithms, having very little to do with who you follow or what you want to see.

This is how it is that we get such starkly different versions of reality from one platform to the next, even though we may be following the same sorts of people and organizations on the various platforms.

In the past few days, TikTok management is being praised for so enthusiastically censoring their platform, to eliminate any discussion of Osama Bin Laden's Letter to America from 2001, where he explains his motivations for organizing the September 11th attacks.  I don't actively use TikTok, but according to all the reports I've heard, a few days ago posts about this letter, and how it relates to the current "war on terror" being waged on the civilian population of Gaza and the West Bank, were very popular on the platform.  Overnight, after receiving a censorship directive from the US authorities, this changed.  Now you won't find any such posts on TikTok.

To illustrate on a very up-close and personal level the difference between the platforms as they are now run:  since the war on Gaza began, as a singer/songwriter inclined to write about such things, I have written several songs.  Each one of them has consistently gotten around ten times as much exposure on X than on all the other platforms I posts to, combined.  A song promoted by Stella Assange and others involved with the campaign to free Julian has been seen 188,000 times within a couple of days, but on all the other platforms where it appears, the view count is less than 1% of that number, last I checked.  This despite the fact that the campaign is active on many platforms, trying to disseminate the same content on all of them.  This has been typical for years, in terms of anything I or the Assange Defense campaign posts ever going viral, as far as I've observed.  Virality these days only happens for people like me on X -- nowhere else.  The days when this sort of thing happened on other platforms with songs like mine ended a long time ago -- but I do remember them well.

As the authorities have been mounting their frenetic campaign of accusations against Elon Musk and his platform's lack of sufficient interest in censoring posts and policing the use of what supporters of Israeli fascism, among others, claim are antisemitic tropes, Musk has made a statement, in the form of an X post of course, that has become the fodder for untold numbers of news stories over the past few days, as these same outlets for the most part studiously ignore the fact that the Gaza Strip is on the brink of famine, and every head of every UN agency and every humanitarian organization is holding press conference after press conference trying to communicate this fact to the world.  (If you want to see these emergency press conferences, you can find them as breaking news on Al-Jazeera, and just about nowhere else.)

In his post, Musk stated:  "As I said earlier this week, 'decolonization,' 'from the river to the sea' and similar euphemisms necessarily imply genocide. Clear calls for extreme violence are against our terms of service and will result in suspension."

Somewhat to my surprise, it's not only the liberal media establishment, but also more libertarian-oriented journalists and others who are expressing their outrage at this post.  Everyone that I've read seems to be taking it at face value, and assuming he means what he says.  I think they're all wrong.  Here's my interpretation of what Elon is up to.

First of all, as with TikTok or Facebook, Musk fully has the technological ability to censor whatever content they want to.  They are fully capable of introducing censor-approved algorithms as well, to throttle or completely cut off from view whatever content they don't want us to see, regardless of who we're trying to follow on the platform, just as Facebook and TikTok have done so successfully.  However, these phrases and this kind of content has not yet been censored on X.  These words, phrases, and hash tags have not yet been censored or, as far as I can tell, throttled or shadowbanned on X.

If, in the face of such tremendous pressure from the world's most powerful institutions to censor and throttle content on his big, increasingly money-losing social media platform, Musk is not actually censoring these phrases or ideas, what, instead, did he actually mean by this post?

My take -- which so far makes much more sense according to the actual evidence than what all the journalists are currently pumping out -- is Musk has no intention of censoring these words or phrases.  He is simply -- and quite eloquently, I'd add -- making the point that if you want to censor phrases like "from the river to the sea" because they supposedly advocate genocide, then we will also have to censor phrases like "decolonization," which can also just as easily be interpreted as supporting genocide.  What do all you anti-racist, anti-colonial American liberals who also happen to support the genocide of Palestinians think about that, huh?

To further elucidate my point:  since long before 2020, the idea of "decolonizing" the USA has been a popular notion among those campaigning for the rights and sovereignty of indigenous people.  It's generally a very vague concept, often, it seems, intentionally so.  No one seriously thinks the use of the term in the US context is advocating a genocide of white people or other non-native people who currently live on this stolen continent.  To "decolonize" is very broadly understood to be something we need to do with our minds, and perhaps even in terms of things like the distribution of things like land, wealth, and political power.  No serious advocate of the concept of decolonization supports the genocide of white people or anyone else.  The idea is simply ridiculous, and Elon knows this.

So why is he saying he's going to censor the word "decolonize"?  Because he's making fun of all the liberals and journalists who are currently engaged in what is obviously an ADL/AIPAC-fueled campaign to associate the term "from the river to the sea" with the genocide of Jews -- as actual Jews are committing an actual genocide of Palestinians, as we discuss Elon Musk and antisemitism.  Elon knows that "from the river to the sea" does not, for Palestinian civil society groups or for the vast majority of other people chanting the phrase at marches, have anything to do with killing all the Jews, but rather with the idea of all the people living within the historic land of Palestine being equal and free.

So he's saying, OK, we'll ban that phrase.  And then which one shall we ban next?  He is, I think quite obviously, making an eloquent -- and even humorous -- statement against censorship, illustrating what a slippery slope censorship inevitably always is.

He is, I would argue, simply throwing the ball back into the court of the powerful politicians and owners of the corporate and "public" media propaganda machines, and telling them if they want to flagrantly violate their own Constitution's most cherished First Amendment, then let them do so directly, rather than by finding so many different ways of shouting at Elon Musk.  If they want censorship, let them pass censorship laws, criminalizing the use of phrases and words they don't like.

Well done, Elon Musk.  I know you're a billionaire full of contradictions, and you should be paying your workers much more, and doing a lot of other things differently.  But I hope, for the sake of freedom of speech and access to information, you keep sticking it to the man, in your role as the owner of X.  Despite all the significant design flaws that the platform seems to have which facilitates trolling and bullying and all sorts of horrible things, at least in comparison with all the other big corporate social media platforms, X seems to be the only one left that isn't engaged in forms of censorship and thought control that Orwell didn't even dream of.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Ceasefire Tour Roundup

The Israeli genocide of Palestinians goes on unabated, but at least in Scandinavia it's "all out in the streets for Palestine."

I've been on tour in Scandinavia from the first of November until last Friday.  During the many hours spent in the car, my singing partner Kamala and I have been mostly listening to Al-Jazeera Audio, tuned in to the extremely professional Palestinian reporters talking stoically about their slain family members, friends, and colleagues, documenting Gaza's descent into apocalypse, famine and disease -- a land of rotting bodies beneath rubble too heavy to move without machines, which have no fuel, if they haven't also been destroyed by the bunker-busting missiles the US has just sent Israel in their thousands.

In between the long drives across Denmark, across Sweden, and through the snowy mountains of Norway, we've been visiting friends, singing at protests, and playing concerts -- concerts with a big emphasis on current events in Palestine, along with songs I've written over the past 23 years or so about the history of the occupation there, and many more about the "War on Terror" context that the Israeli regime constantly tries to associate their genocidal bombing campaign with.  "But you did it, too" is Israel's main, completely bankrupt line of moral defense, along with all history having begun on October 7th, vaguely reminiscent of the way God made the world in seven days.

The contrast between the rabidly pro-Israel news coverage you can hear throughout the western world's mainstream media platforms and the outrage expressed by so much of the population of the western countries -- along with most of the rest of the world -- is stark.  Only matched by the contrast between the pro-Israel policies of the western countries and the antiwar sentiments of the majority of the population of all the nations.

The tour was in Scandinavia, but my first stop in Europe, just for a few hours, in transit, was Frankfurt, Germany.  I had on a Palestine Action t-shirt, walking through the airport.  Typically, wearing this t-shirt in a public setting will elicit a few positive comments from Arabs and others opposed to Israeli genocide of Palestinians.  But not in Frankfurt, where everyone was studiously quiet, pretending not to see the t-shirt.  Recent laws passed in Germany could have seen me prosecuted for antisemitism for this t-shirt, I believe, but not that day.

Our first gig was in Copenhagen, and was one of a couple that had a low attendance, because most of the folks who would have been there were in front of the parliament building, where that day's protest was happening at the same time as the gig.  The parliament was debating whether to ban pro-Palestine protests as they had done in Germany, and they were debating whether to light up the building in blue and white (the colors of the Israeli flag).  They voted to do neither of these things, though among the conservative minority both initiatives were popular.

In Copenhagen the main organizing principle has been "all out in the streets for Palestine," since the bombing of Gaza began.  Every day has seen protests there, the biggest in the tens of thousands.  Using a model first employed about a century ago in Copenhagen, different groups with different political orientations -- unions, political parties, solidarity organizations, etc. -- start out in one neighborhood with a protest rally, and then they all march towards the parliament building in the center of the city, and have a much bigger rally together there.

If we had been in various cities on the right day of the week, or for a longer stay, we could have sung at so many more rallies, but as it was, we were able to sing at antiwar rallies in Malmo and Gothenburg, Sweden, and Trondheim, Norway.  Because of the multi-generational and highly organized nature of the left in Scandinavia, getting on the stages to sing at the antiwar rallies over the past few weeks was a matter of me telling the organizers of each of our gigs that we'd like to sing at an antiwar rally in town while we're there, if the timing worked.  

In Scandinavia, as in so many other countries, a new antiwar movement does not need to be reconstructed from the ground up -- the infrastructure for such a movement already exists.  In Malmo, my comrade Talat Bhat, filmmaker and organizer originally from Kashmir, who has made Malmo his home for a long time now, had only to contact a fellow member of the Left Party, which was the organization providing the sound system for the protest and as well as one of the principle protest organizers.  In Gothenburg, the same organization that was putting on our concert -- the Communist Party of Gothenburg -- was also organizing the antiwar protest the next day.

We were the featured musical guests at the Nordic Labor Film Festival in Malmo, on the weekend of the antiwar protest there.  It was a busy weekend, so we didn't actually catch any films at the film festival, but we did attend a workshop, which we also sang at, which was co-presented by a filmmaker originally from Gaza, and another filmmaker who teaches at the university in Sheffield, England.  It certainly caught my attention that in her presentation about the history of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Film Unit in the early 1970's, an early music video produced by the PLO featured a Palestinian woman playing a guitar and singing in English about the struggle to liberate Palestine.

Daniel Sestrajcic was another person we spent a bunch of time with in Malmo, as he was the one who volunteered to house us during the film festival there.  We stayed in the guest apartment on the top floor of one of the six-story buildings that made up the housing cooperative Daniel had helped found.  Designed by many of the folks who would soon be living in it, built with government funds, the members of the housing collective eat together regularly, though everyone also has their own apartments with kitchens and such.  They share a soundproofed recording studio which is actively used by the many musicians that are members of the cooperative, and the other public spaces they share are equally impressive.

These kinds of housing cooperatives are all over Europe, and always make me terribly jealous, as I want to live in all of them.  Folks living in these beautiful buildings pay in rent for a beautiful, spacious four-bedroom apartment what I pay for a moldy two-bedroom in Portland, plus they have the use of so many collective spaces.  One of the most notable uses of their collective spaces occurred just after the buildings were finished and people had moved into them, which happened to coincide with what was called the refugee crisis of 2015.  As with other organized groups of people, such as political parties and unions, the housing collectives have buildings and other physical assets that can be used how they want to use them.  When hundreds of thousands of refugees were walking across the Oresund Bridge, this housing collective turned their available public spaces into temporary housing, and turned their laundry room and kitchen into facilities for looking after the needs of their new guests.

In Gothenburg, unlike in Copenhagen, there were no marches starting from different points in the city and then converging.  There, the Communist Party organizes the Saturday rallies, and the Left Party organizes the Sunday rallies.  In effect, this means there are two large rallies every weekend.  We sang a song I had just written, called "Stop the Genocide," among others, at this Saturday rally.  If two rallies organized by different groups each weekend may at least conceivably speak to the disunity on the Swedish left, both parties are nonetheless fully capable of putting on a big rally and march.  

And if that's what a disunited left looks like, I'd happily take it, compared with the state of collapse of the US left in most of the country, where a city like Portland not only doesn't have a serious organization capable of putting on a large rally without the help of mainstream media publicity, but even when a large rally manages to happen, no one has a sound system that works, and if anyone does, no one asks them to bring it, for one reason or another.

Very much on that note, we took a break from listening to Al-Jazeera long enough to listen to Naomi Klein's latest book, Doppelganger, on the long drive between Gothenburg and Trondheim.  For anyone who has been on the fence about whether to check it out, it's one of the most helpful and informative books I've ever read, as her book Shock Doctrine also was for me, way back when.  There is no book I've read that does a better job than Doppelganger at illustrating the workings of what she calls the "mirror world," mostly an online phenomenon, where reality gets wildly distorted and methodically flipped upon its head.  If you want to understand how the left in the US collapsed since Naomi wrote the Shock Doctrine, then read (or listen to) Doppelganger.

It would be hard to recommend a more relevant book in light of Israel's genocidal war against the Palestinian people that is currently underway.  It's not just that Klein speaks specifically and at length to this issue in her book, which she does.  It's that the whole methodology with which truth is turned upside-down in the socially engineered mirror world is directly and massively relevant to the way this is now being done systematically with any arguments against Israel committing genocide.

Trondheim had also been having regular rallies, organized by different left parties.  The one we sang at there was billed as a Concert for Palestine, which was mostly what it was, though it also featured some powerful speakers (I had someone translating for me).  It was organized by a group of folks more associated with the collectivist neighborhood of Svartlamon, but it saw a good turnout either way.  

The folks setting up the stage in Trondheim had naturally been playing punk rock through the sound system while they were setting up, when we arrived in the center of town.  The lovely Norwegian man doing the sound asked me if there was something more appropriate they might play instead, and I suggested Fairuz, a Lebanese musician long beloved throughout the Arab world, particularly among Palestinians.  As soon as her captivating voice was emanating from the banks of speakers above the stage, I could see the atmosphere become more welcoming for the significant minority of recognizably Arab people in attendance.

Another long drive over the Norwegian mountains, through the snow flurries, to the beautiful little fjord-side city of Moss.  Moss used to be known as a town full of stinking paper mills, and no one wanted to live there, but now the mills have closed and this city an hour's drive from the center of Oslo is becoming much more popular.  

Someone at the gig mentioned that Stella Assange was going to be in Oslo the following day to accept an award on behalf of her imprisoned husband, Julian Assange.  I texted her and mentioned that we were playing a gig at Cafe Mir after the award ceremony, as it happened, and we ended up with an extra table full of wonderful folks, including Stella, Danish filmmaker Niels Ladefoged, and one of the main folks from PEN Norway which had voted to award this year's Ossietzky Prize to Julian.

It of course could not be more appropriate to see such folks in the course of what we've called our Ceasefire Tour.  Julian has done more to expose war crimes and corruption in this world, particularly in the USA and with regards to the US military, than perhaps anyone alive today.  This is, in fact, why he is in prison now, and why he is facing extradition to the United States, and a potential 175-year sentence there.

It was especially appropriate for the occasion, you could say, that it was specifically the Ossietzky Prize Julian was being given.  Carl von Ossietzky was a journalist and pacifist who blew the whistle on Germany's secret rearming program, post World War 1.  As with Julian exposing US war crimes, for exposing Germany's secret military program in the 1920's, Ossietzky was also severely punished, ultimately dying in a concentration camp in 1938.  As with Julian, Ossietzky was also tortured.  As with Julian, he was also given prominent awards while in prison.  As with Julian, the government whose crimes he was exposing had many friends around the world, including in Norway, where there was much opposition to giving Ossietzky the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935.  And as with the time when Ossietzky lived, Germany is once again supporting genocide, and once again providing all kinds of cover for a fascist regime that has an officially secret, massive stockpile of nuclear missiles.  But this time, the genocidal regime is not being opposed by any of the powerful countries that defeated Nazi Germany by the end of World War 2.  Rather, it is being actively defended by all of them, who are all profiting from the genocide by selling lots of high-tech weapons to the murderers.

The show at Cafe Mir was a double-bill with us and a band with members who currently reside in various far-flung parts of what is a very large country, especially from north to south.  The band, Folk Flest, first formed in the early 1970's, and the songs they sang back then such as "Free Palestine" are sadly just as relevant today as they were then, if not more so.

We had already sung my song, "When Julian Met Stella," when Julian happened to call Stella from prison, during our set.  We did the song again, so Julian could hear over the phone, and the audience clapped again afterwards as if they hadn't just heard the song a few minutes earlier already. 

As we listened to Al-Jazeera after our flight to Amsterdam, where we have a couple days before heading to our respective homes in Australia and the US, we heard the heads of various UN agencies making their best effort at ringing the alarm that there is a genocide underway in Gaza, and the people there are facing imminent famine, with no food, no water, and nowhere to be safe from the constant rain of bombs falling without warning on homes, and banned chemical weapons burning off the skin of anyone within range.  Checking in with BBC and various US and Australian news networks, it was as if the UN didn't exist.  None of them were airing this press conference.  Only Al-Jazeera.

If a country commits genocide and no one is told about it, for them, the bombs are as silent as those trees falling in the forest.  But just like those falling trees, they do make a sound, whether or not we're there to hear it.  And they kill thousands of children.  They kill babies in their incubators.  They do it on purpose.  They brag about bombing hospitals and refugee camps, and then they do it again and again.

There was going to be a gig vaguely in the Amsterdam area.  We were originally planning to rent a car in Amsterdam and drive to the Hambach Forest, where we were going to sing for the forest occupiers there, something we or I have done on many previous occasions.  The gig was kind of left hanging, though -- we were on their blog as part of this skillshare event we were supposed to sing at, but I had never received an email from the organizers confirming that it was happening.  I emailed for clarification, and after some days, heard back.  We had been disinvited from performing at the event, I was informed, because "someone started the debate with a mail demanding canceling your gig."  

After some debate, the folks who had invited me to play decided that although they didn't think I was a Nazi or an antisemite, I had apparently "given a platform to Nazis" by interviewing a former white nationalist on my YouTube channel in January, 2021, and so I was no longer welcome to sing for the folks trying to prevent the expansion of Europe's biggest coal mine.  Me and all the white folks with dreadlocks who were also disinvited from participating in the movement, due to their apparent racism.

As Israel commits genocide against the Palestinian people, in Germany and in Portland they debate whether some of those opposed to this genocide are antisemites, for daring to communicate with an alleged rightwinger on their YouTube channel.  As Israel commits genocide, this kind of black-and-white thinking, where context is never relevant, is the state of discourse for significant elements of society, and specifically the left, in both Germany and the United States -- unlike in Scandinavia.  

At a time when we desperately need all hands on deck, in Germany and the US we debate about who should be kicked off the boat before it sails anywhere.  Although the deck hands on board are known to have many relevant skills and a lot of history of using them effectively, we first have to go over everything they ever posted on social media since 2006 in order to determine whether they might have once said something that could be interpreted as antisemitic, in order to make sure the skeleton crew that might remain is sufficiently pure of past possible transgressions.  To describe how bleak this reality is altogether would require someone with far greater communication skills than I possess.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Discovering Buffy

Buffy Sainte-Marie has been big news lately.  I have no interest in either joining the pile-on or proclaiming Buffy's innocence, but I do have some thoughts to share.

As a genocide of the indigenous people of Palestine unfolds before us, with US protection, as the rest of the world watches helplessly, at least in Canada there's another headline to compete with that one.

Anyone looking for concrete conclusions so they can decide what's good and what's bad, what should be defended and what should be condemned, will be disappointed by what I have to say.  I've spent so much of my life judging others, and being judged by others, I've lost interest in notions of moral clarity or correct thinking.  I'd rather be lost in the endless complexities and contradictions of life, because that's the real world.  Might as well experience it, rather than spending your brief time here on Earth constantly trying to shove a square peg in a round hole.

I'm a musician, of the singer/songwriter variety, very much coming out of the same musical traditions that sparked the "folk scare" of the early 1960's, though I came around later, not born until 1967.  But the first bunch of other singer/songwriters that really blew me away when I was in my late teens, discovering what was for me new music, after Bob Dylan, were certain of the other artists who were his contemporaries in the Greenwich Village folk music scene of the period, most especially Phil Ochs, and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

For most people in broader US society, especially people younger than me, when people say the name "Buffy," they first associate it with the hit TV series from the 1990's, Buffy the Vampire-Slayer.  But for many, particularly in Canada and particularly among indigenous Canadians, the Buffy that is more likely to come to mind is Buffy Sainte-Marie.

I know that Buffy is an iconic figure in certain circles for being an indigenous musician.  I can't remember when I first learned about her indigenous identity.  I was too interested in the music to be particularly interested to know about the personal details of the musicians.  I wasn't that kind of fan.  I was a musician -- obsessed with the music, specifically, rather than the lives of the musicians that made the music.

And what a musician I discovered in Buffy Sainte-Marie.  I found her earliest material first.  As with so many other artists that got swept up in the folk scare of the early 1960's, these years were the peak of her long career, when she was barely out of her teens, and writing such gobsmackingly powerful songs as "It's My Way."  I was as inspired by her inventive use of open tunings as I was by the way she attacked her instrument, her unique vibrato, and her raw lyrics that cut right to the heart.

I was well into adulthood and on the cusp of pursuing a career as a musician when Buffy released Coincidence and Likely Stories in 1992, which once again blew me away with songs like "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."  Musically she had gone in exciting new directions, with what seemed to me like groundbreaking explorations in the power of synthesizers.  And politically, she had clearly not become any less militant in her older age.

I attended one live show of hers in 1993, and she was largely doing material from that most recent album.  It was at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and local indigenous communities had come out in large numbers, opening for Buffy with wonderful hoop dances from the youth.  Buffy coming to town was a big deal for a wide variety of people.

She spoke only sparingly between songs, but some of the things she said made a big impact on me.  Perhaps being of Jewish descent made what she said overwhelmingly obvious, but it was an interesting statement to mull over, nonetheless.  Perhaps in an oblique reference to some of her extremely bitter early songs such as "Now That the Buffalo's Gone," she said she used to be very bitter about the whole history of genocide in North America, until she got into global history and discovered that the Europeans were doing the same thing to each other, too.

I remember a lot of people commenting on her high heels at that show in Olympia, as if they had been expecting her to wear moccasins.  I think she made a joke about it from the stage, too.

Like so many others, I first heard about the revelations in the past week in the CBC that were then shared with shock and disbelief around North America and beyond that Buffy was in fact not adopted by a white couple in Massachusetts, where she grew up, but was their biological daughter, delivered at the same hospital where her brother was born, by the same doctor.

My first reaction to hearing about the allegations was to reject them out of hand, without watching the documentary or reading the written article version of it.  When I finally was ready to take a break from following the hourly death toll of children in Gaza, I found myself looking over my shoulder as I clicked on the CBC article about Buffy, as if I were about to view pornography.  By the time I got to the end of the lengthy expose, hearing from Buffy's immediate family members about her childhood, beginning with her birth at a hospital in Massachusetts, the evidence that Buffy had fabricated her Cree ancestry seemed overwhelming.

I can only try to imagine how painful and perhaps confusing these revelations are for so many people, probably most of all among indigenous Canadians, whether they accept them or reject them.  For me, they brought up a lot of thoughts about history, as well as personal memories.  I can't know how relevant any of these thoughts may be to understanding Buffy Sainte-Marie's decisions in life.  But I'd venture to guess that they're probably all relevant, and it's a matter not of whether, but to what degree.

Buffy's grandfather was an Italian immigrant.  Buffy was born in 1941.  The family name on her father's side had been Santamaria, but it was changed to Sainte-Marie in order to sound less Italian.

At the time Buffy was born, Italians had been barred from emigrating to the US for the previous two decades.  In Canada, Italians were being imprisoned for the crime of being Italian, just as Japanese nationals and generations of Japanese-Americans were being imprisoned for the crime of their national heritage.  The US and Canada were at war with Italy, which was ruled by fascists.  Italians in the US at the time were mainly associated in the popular imagination with anarchism, fascism, and organized crime -- all very negative things, as spun by the establishment press and political leaders.

There were a lot of people back then who didn't want to be Italian, look Italian, sound Italian, etc.  People changed their first and last names in large numbers in order to assimilate, be safer, have a better chance at getting a job, etc.

The laws in the US against Italians back then also existed for Germans, regardless of whether they were Jewish or whatever else.  I mention this because my nanny when I was a baby in the late 1960's was a German Jew, but I didn't learn this until just after her death, from her sons, who had learned about this during the last year of  Lola's life, when her mind was fading and she could no longer keep her story straight.  They always thought she was English, had married an Italian-American soldier, and moved to New York City with him at the end of World War 2.  It was true about the soldier and moving to New York City from London, but what she never mentioned was that she had only a few years previously moved to London, as a teenager, escaping Nazi Germany just in time to avoid the gas chambers.

I only learned of these things after Lola's death, too late to ask her why she never told anyone of her German or Jewish roots.  Was she treated badly by kids in England for having a German accent, as she surely did at the time she lived there?  Did she just not want to pass on to her children the crazy baggage of being from a group of people who had just been largely wiped off the face of the Earth?  Did she choose to adopt an English identity because it was the most obvious one, since she had been living in London for years and had some idea how to pretend to be English better than how to pretend to be some other nationality?

It's not like Lola didn't know other Jews in New York.  There was my family and so many others, all over the place, including German Jews with whom she could have spoken German or Yiddish, both of which she evidently spoke fluently.  I visited her apartment with a German woman once, as a young adult.  But at no point did she ever utter a word in German or otherwise give anyone any indication that she had spent most of her childhood in Germany.

Buffy Sainte-Marie first started identifying her background as indigenous and adopted when she was in her early twenties, once she was in New York City and a central feature of the folk revival happening there, and beyond.  Less than two decades earlier, my nanny Lola also adopted a new identity in New York City, becoming English.

My nanny Lola spent her entire life ever since I knew her taking care of children and living in a small, rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan.  Changing her identity from German, or Jewish, or German Jewish, to being a Londoner of some kind, never benefited her in any measurable way.  She certainly never got rich or famous from pretending to be English.  And if she had, it might never have become a scandal of any kind, because the history of the oppression of Jews is such that a lot of people can viscerally understand why someone with her background would want to keep her Jewishness in the closet.  (The term, "in the closet," was first coined to refer to Jews who practiced their religion secretly, keeping their religious items literally in the closet.)

Along with thoughts of Lola, reading about these revelations also sparked memories of my early teens, when I participated along with a gaggle of high school students in a bicycling trip around New England, along with our adult trip leaders.  I had been studying karate at that point for some time, maybe a few years even.  I was pretty good, and could do showy high kicks and stuff, but I wasn't a black belt.  At some point early on in the expedition I found myself telling another kid I was a black belt.  I regretted saying it soon afterwards, and wasn't quite sure why I did even.  Something about being with an entirely new group of people, and having the rare opportunity to reinvent my past and my identity without my sister or parents or old friends anywhere nearby to correct the record.  Either way, once I found myself inventing a slightly different identity for myself, I felt obligated for fear of mortal embarrassment to maintain the ruse for the rest of the trip.

In that instance, it wasn't an especially hard ruse to maintain.  Even among teenage boys, we had other things to do, the subject didn't come up.  The guilt ate at me though.  If I had in some way benefitted from the ruse, it would surely have eaten at me much more, just as the fear of being found out would have as well.

I have a lot of contact with modern young people, as a performer and as a father, and I certainly know lots of folks of my generation and of Buffy's generation, which is my parents' generation, more or less.  I have never known of a period in the US where it was popular among white people to be white.  "White" has never been much of an identity to embrace.  It's not especially descriptive, it doesn't embrace any particular cultural notions that anyone can possibly be proud of.  It's not like identifying with a particular national or ethnic group that has its own exciting cultural traditions.  No one plays "white" music, or talks about their "white" heritage.

Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, most of my young friends had some kind of story about their native ancestry, whether they were blond and blue-eyed or had less Aryan features.  It hasn't changed at all -- I don't think any of the teenagers I know in Portland identify as white, even though the overwhelming majority of them are.  I always assume they'll grow out of this and face reality after a bit.  In any case, I'm sure it was similar when Buffy was a kid, too.

When I was growing up and kids in the neighborhood would play some variation of "Cowboys and Indians" it was always hard to find anyone who wanted to be the cowboys.  Even if you are from the dominant culture, raised in a family that has been benefitting from being part of the dominant culture for generations, living in a million-dollar house in picturesque, woodsy New England suburbs -- I am describing most of the people I grew up with in Wilton, Connecticut -- you still don't want to identify with any of this.  Or at least that was what I observed, and experienced, with lots of my peers.

With these anecdotes I'm not trying to suggest that I understand Buffy Sainte-Marie or her motives, as a young adult or today.  I don't know her.  Never met her beyond having her sign a CD and smile glowingly at me and my friends at Evergreen that night we heard her perform.

But it's not hard to imagine how a kid born into a group broadly identified as either criminals, anarchists, or fascists -- Italians and Italian-Americans in 1941 -- would want to identify in some other way.  It's equally easy to see how embracing the dominant "white" identity feels like a bizarre thing to do as well, especially when you're coming from a group that is or was recently clearly being broadly criminalized.

Did someone at a gig in Greenwich Village ask this dark-complexioned woman if she was indigenous, and she found herself saying yes?  It's easy for me to imagine such a beginning to this strange story.  Easy to imagine the inner conflict she might have struggled with when her indigenous identity became such an important part of her story and her artistic recognition in some circles.

In this era so characterized by black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, where people are either virtuous or villainous, I think it's good to take a step back and look at the big picture, which, for me, necessitates holding contradictory things to be true at the same time.

One of those truths would seem to be that Buffy Sainte-Marie has been lying about her indigenous ancestry since she began identifying as such, in her early twenties.  I don't want to minimize the implications or impact of this deceit for so many people, and I don't want to say it's OK -- that's not for me to do.  I just want to highlight the many complexities involved with however it was that she first started identifying that way, and consider some of the possible motivations.

Another of those truths is that regardless of Buffy's real or proclaimed ancestry, she was one of the most musically groundbreaking and talented songwriters or guitarists to emerge from the folk revival of the early 1960's, and she went on to have a long career involving so much more great music.

Another truth is that because of Buffy's deep involvement in and advocacy for the native sovereignty movement, she was one of a number of musicians coming out of the 1960's who was targeted by the FBI, which was directly involved with trying to minimize radio airplay for Buffy and other efforts to try to make sure she didn't get any more well-known or influential than she already was.

One more truth is for generations of young indigenous folks and anyone who grew up watching Sesame Street, at least up until very recently, Buffy's voice has been a powerful one, for doing popular education, for standing up against injustice, and for bringing people together in so many ways.

I hope that however it is that the dust settles around all of this, Buffy Sainte-Marie will continue to be known as a great artist and a great voice for making the world a better place, not just as a fallen angel.


Linda Wiener's Echo

When people die, they leave behind many different kinds of echoes. There were a lot of people back in the 1960's like Ken Kesey who, for...