January 4, 2013
Best Report I have seen in weeks about what is going on in Mali

They were told to assemble in Gao’s market place at dusk. A man accused of using tobacco was escorted before the crowd by several members of the al-Qaida splinter group Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa.

"Then they chopped off his hand. They wanted to show us what they could do," said Ahmed, 39, a meat trader from the town in northern Mali.

That was not the end of it. The severed hand was tossed into a vat of boiling water. Then, according to Ahmed, the man was pinned down and over the next hour the bent, misshapen hand was sewn crudely back onto his stump. Ahmed, too terrified to disclose his full name, fled Gao the next day, 8 November: “I had to go. I could not live my life.”


June 24, 2012
Why we (or at least I) travel…

It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about. As someone who is probably disproportionately concerned with the idea of being sustainably happy, whatever that really means, as well as with my impact on the world around me, it’s kind of a big question. Imagine how much more peaceful New York (or wherever you are from) would be without the constant hum of circling jet planes. If you haven’t had the chance to spend a fair bit of time in a place where planes aren’t constantly overhead, you likely haven’t noticed that, even when they are at full altitude, you can hear them, and not just in a subtle way… they are loud. Environmental impact, the use of money that could be otherwise spent on projects to promote equity of improve the world around me, the list goes on, and sometimes I feel downright crappy about myself for travelling the way I do.

But then I remember something. I wouldn’t be myself if it wasn’t for travelling. The first time I boarded an international flight alone, I was an exceptionally different person from the one I am today.

As I was overdosing on couchsurfing trying to scrounge up a place to sleep in Genoa, I saw a quote in a guy’s profile that I’ve seen before, but that connected for me in a new way. It went something like “every time I am about to criticize people, I try to remember that they might not have had all of the advantages that I have.”

I’ve spent far too many nights in the last few weeks trying to be nonjudgemental towards young kids from the states who are finishing up their semesters abroad who say things like “wait Greece is a Mediterranean country?” etc. But then I am forced to rmemeber that I’m a product of the same system that they are. I was just a bit luckier in terms of finding a way out of the mainstream.

It’s almost impossible for us to question our systems and our realities unless we know how others work, and I find (despite being a history major in undergrad and having had some excellent instruction about cultures of the world) it’s impossible to know how other things work (and what the experience of being a part of them is like) until we have taken the time to immerse ourselves in new concepts, relationships, and ideas.

That’s why I value travel for myself so much. I think it’s at least a part of why most perpetual wanderers find themselves on the road. It almost certainly doesn’t have much to do with the appeal of carrying a sweatsoaked 50 liter backpack across a country, getting things stolen out of our bags while we sleep, or negotiating the pleasures of discount flights.

It’s why I would encourage everyone, but especially those who find themselves drawn to or involved in the radical left (or, I suppose, radical politics in general, although for different reasons) to step back and get on an intercontinental plane once in a while. Yes, I know it smells of the very privelage we love to criticize. But the reality is that, when one can fly to europe or asia for about 600 dollars and get by on very little money with couchsurfing and the help of friends made along the way, most of us could save that money in well under a year just by cutting back on drinks or smokes.

And have it be totally worthwhile.

Anyway, my train from Bolognia is pulling into Florence now. Off to Wander.


October 14, 2011
On the virtues of Extremism, and the limitations of “being reasonable.”

Terms like extremist, or fundamentalist, don’t generally have such positive connotations in our society.  Even those who argue that they should, such as numerous self avowed biblical fundamentalists in the United States who see no relationship between themselves and the fundamentalists of other religions (whom they naturally see as agents of the devil) seem to embrace the term out of little more than defensive necessity.  Today, in my teachers lounge, Occupy Wall Street came up yet again.  I noticed that there were more than a few signs of support hanging in teachers classrooms, which impressed me, but also sort of bothered me.  There is a general attitude among teachers (or at least among the teachers with whom I work) that there isn’t really any necessity for them to join the movement, so long as they put up signs.  Anyway, for those of you who do not live in the City the protests have become the kind of thing that virtually everyone has an opinion about, pro or con.  What I heard from a few of the younger teachers in my department (who, ironically, are the ones who haven’t been down there or involved in the movement in any way) that the “protesters” (since nobody wants to call it a movement or occupation, despite the fact that this is not, and has not been, a protest) needed to decide what they were “protesting” about (see previous).  That didn’t bother me, besides forcing me to reflect on the dangers of having the ignorant and blind leading our youth.  What did bother me was the way in which a few of the veteran teachers who have had the courage to involve themselves in the legal protests which have been carried out by OWS spoke of a few of our speakers today.

Firstly, these teachers, history teachers, were alarmed by the talk of the abolition of capitalism and of private property.  They stressed that the youth needed to set their sights on something more reasonable, something that they could actually attain.  Higher taxes on the wealthy were suggested.  I will not get out into a picket line to fight higher taxes on the wealthy, but at the same time, that isn’t why I am protesting.  Any reform that a billionaire like Warren Buffet would ask for will not fundamentally change our system.  Buffet sees that the system of Western Imperialism, as it is embodied by the United States, is under threat.  He sees that more capital will be needed to defend it and strengthen it’s stranglehold on the world.  As one of the key beneficiaries of international white capitalist heterosexist patriarchy, he sees it as his duty (and the duty of his equals) to step up to the plate to fight for the system that has given them such an egregious amount of power.  An interesting Jazeera piece phrased this Taxing more to pay for more wars, and pointed out that this is not the goal of the progressive movement, and that, as such, it was not clear that any support should be offered to Buffet and his call to arms.  It serves only to detract attention from the true problems of our unjust system, and to re-entrench the traditional elite of our society.

That is not what modern social movements are about.  That is not what Occupy Wall Street has been about to this point.  Hopefully, that will not be what the movement is about at ANY point.

Naturally, there is no one dogma which applies to everyone involved in the movement.  That is a strength of our revolution, not a weakness.  Despite all of the jaded and cynical smiles from the teachers at my school, about how communism failed in Russia (it was never attempted, the soviet system was in fact backed quite heavily by western european financiers, such as the Rothchilds, and their agents in the United States, particularly JP Morgan and the Warburgs.  Where do you think the gold of the Russian Czars ended up?) or Cuba (There is absolutely no question about the fact that Castro has killed FAR less people than the neoliberal fascism the CIA and United States inflicted upon Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Brasil, or others), it seems that they are missing the point.

Occupy Wall Street is about creating a forum for the conversations that we have not been allowed to have for our entire lives.  About change, and progress, and a new world.  Limiting ourselves to “moderatism” and “attainable goals” can only dampen this conversation.  Some movements may shoot off of OWS with specific goals and aims, and perhaps the language of compromise will be appropriate in that setting.  But what occupy wall street is about is resistance and openness.  If that’s extremism, then let’s embrace that.

We are extremists for the starving victims of capitalist imperialism, at home and abroad.  We are extremists for the modern day slaves who walk the streets of New York like zombies.

We are the vanguard of the 99%.

Hasta victoria siempre.


September 28, 2011

Cohen was quick to point out that the Jewish Defense Leauge, contrary to recent media reports, is not banned in Israel or the US, but in fact, has active chapters across the world, including the US, Canada, the UK and France.

“We are active, the authorities are aware of us, and we maintain good relations with them,” he said.

Numerous examples of targeted attacks on pro-Palestinian entities, movements, and demonstrations across France by individuals associating with the JDL validate Cohen’s statements.

Nicolas Shahshahani, manager of La Librarie Resistances, a bookstore located in a quiet neighbourhood of Paris, has been the victim of such aggression. The first attack occurred in December 2006 soon after the store’s opening, when Shahshahani asked two Jewish authors, the late Tanya Reinhart and Aharon Shabtai to speak, both critics of Israeli policy in the occupied territories. Midway through the event, the bookstore was suddenly filled with tear gas, as a group of six masked people wearing helmets, and armed with iron bars entered and raided the store, shouting obscenities at the attendees. “They broke the windows, and I had to go to the hospital to get treatment for the teargas,” Shahshahani told Al Jazeera. “We launched a complaint against the police, but of course there was no investigation.”

In July 2009 the bookstore was targeted once again. Five people, who identified themselves as members of the JDL, poured litres of cooking oil all over the store and its books. “This is just as efficient as fire, if not more, if you want to damage a bookshop,” explained Shahshahani.

That time, however, the perpetrators were taken to court, where they admitted guilt, and were given suspended prison terms plus made to pay civil damages.

In another case, about 20 JDL members assaulted four students from Nanterre University. The attack, in which one student had his facial bones broken, took place within the compounds of the Administrative Court of Paris. Only Anthony Attal, reputed to be head of the group at the time, was charged.

The spokesperson for the Nanterre student association, AGEN, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal attacks, was present when the beating took place. Forced to do their own investigation into the matter, the students presented the police with their evidence. “We had video footage that identified Attal as the perpetrator,” he said, adding that as an association, AGEN - a Palestinian solidarity organisation - was regularly targeted by the JDL.

"When you spend many years attending these demonstrations, you start to recognise the faces of those who turn up and commit acts of aggression and intimidation, and then you see the same faces in court. It’s not difficult to point out who belongs to the JDL," he said.

The court process to convict Attal was unusual, according to Dominique Cochain, the lawyer representing one of the victims. “The aggressor wasn’t present in the court, neither was his lawyer, and the judge therefore took it upon himself to interrogate the victim for two hours, trying to make the victim say it was a fight rather than an act of aggression,” essentially playing the role of the defence lawyer, she told Al Jazeera.

Since his conviction, Attal has been captured on video at several pro-Palestinian demonstrations, as recently as this summer.

"It gives the signal to others that there is a possibility to continue with this type of aggression, because it is not dealt with harshly," said Cochain. "In my opinion, there is a certain level of tolerance between the French authorities and this group."

Cochain, who has been defending victims of these aggressions since 2004, has also been a victim of intimidation. “I’ve been verbally abused and menaced because of the cases I do,” she said. “They’ve called me the ‘devil lawyer’ and taken my photo,” adding that she can identify them by the JDL logos they flash at her.



September 26, 2011
Foreign fighters support Israel's settlements

The Jewish Defence League has dispatched French “militants” for a “show of solidarity” in illegal West Bank settlements.

September 14, 2011
"Homosexuality is a bigger threat to the United States than Terrorism."

— Oklahoma State Congresswoman Sally Kern.

If interested, you can join the Human Rights Campaign in demanding an appology from Oklahoma’s state leadership here.

August 21, 2011
King's Torah splits Israel's religious and secular Jews


Recent protests in Israel highlight the differences between the country’s religious and secular Jewish communities.

Rabbis Dov Lior and Yacob Yousef were detained for questioning

Hundreds of right-wing Jews have taken part in demonstrations outside Israel’s Supreme Court over the brief detention of two prominent rabbis in the last few weeks.

There were clashes with police on horseback on the nearby Jerusalem streets and several arrests were made.

Rabbis Dov Lior and Yacob Yousef had endorsed a highly controversial book, the King’s Torah - written by two lesser-known settler rabbis. It justifies killing non-Jews, including those not involved in violence, under certain circumstances.

The fifth chapter, entitled “Murder of non-Jews in a time of war” has been widely quoted in the Israeli media. The summary states that “you can kill those who are not supporting or encouraging murder in order to save the lives of Jews”.

At one point it suggests that babies can justifiably be killed if it is clear they will grow up to pose a threat.

Israeli police investigating allegations of incitement had asked the rabbis to be voluntarily questioned, but took them into custody when they refused.

Both men have strong support among ideological Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, but the wider religious community also took up their cause.

The heated reaction to their arrests has highlighted tensions between religious and civil authority in Israel and sparked a debate over freedom of expression…

Read More: BBC News

February 8, 2011

So it has come to this. The entire modern history of the Middle East - the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the Balfour declaration, Lawrence of Arabia’s lies, the Arab revolt, the foundation of the state of Israel, four Arab-Israeli wars and the 34 years of Israel’s brutal occupation of Arab land - all erased within hours as those who claim to represent a crushed, humiliated population struck back with the wickedness and awesome cruelty of a doomed people. Is it fair - is it moral - to write this so soon, without proof, when the last act of barbarism, in Oklahoma, turned out to be the work of home-grown Americans? I fear it is. America is at war and, unless I am mistaken, many thousands more are now scheduled to die in the Middle East, perhaps in America too. Some of us warned of the ¨Explosion to come.¨ But we never drempt this nightmare.

And yes, Osama bin Laden comes to mind, his money, his theology, his frightening dedication to destroy American power. I have sat in front of bin Laden as he described how his men helped to destroy the Russian army in Afghanistan and thus the Soviet Union. Their boundless confidence allowed them to declare war on America. But this is not the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about American missles smashing into Palestinian homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanise militia - paid and uniformed by America’s Israeli ally - hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps.

No, there is no doubting the utter, indescribable evil of what happened in the United States. That Palestinians could celebrate the massacre, of 20,000, perhaps 35,000 innocent people is not only a symbol of their despair but of their political immaturity, of their failure to grasp what they had always been accusing their Israeli enemies of doing: acting disproportionately. All the years of rhetoric, all the promises to strike at the heart of America, to cut off the ehad of ¨The American Snake¨ we took for empty threats. How could a backward, conservative, undemocratic and corrupt group of regimes and small, violent organisations fulful such preposterous promises? Now we know.

And in the hours that followed yesterday’s annihilation, I began to remember all those other extraordinary assaults upon the US and its allies, miniature now by comparison with yesterday’s casualties. Did not the suicide bombers whi killed 241 American servicemen and 100 French paratroops in Beirut on 23 October 1983 time their attacks with unthinkable precision?

There were just seven seconds between the Marine bombing and the destruction of the French 3 miles away. Then there were the attacks of US bases in Saudi Arabia, and last year´s attempt - almost successful it now turns out - to sink the USS cole in Aden. And then how easy was our failure to recongise the new weapon of the Middle East which neither the Americans nor any other Westerners could equal: the despair driven, desperate suicide bomber.

And there will be, inevitably, and quite immorally, an attempt to obscure the historical wrongs and the injustices that lie behind yesterday’s firestorms. We will be told about ¨mindless terrorism,¨ the ¨mindless¨ bit being essential if we are not to realise how hated America has become in the land of the birth of three great religions.

Ask an Arab how he responds to 20,000 or 30,000 innocent deaths and he or she will respond as decent people should, that it is an unspeakable crime. But they will ask why we did not use such words about the sanctions that have destroyed the lives of perhaps half a million children in Iraq, why we did not rage about the 17,500 civilians killed in Israel´s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. And those basic realsons why the Middle East caught fire last September - the Israeli occupation of Arab land, the dispossession of Palestinians, the bonbardments and state sponsored executions… all these must be obscured lest they provide the smallest fractional reason for yesterday’s mass savagery.

No, Israel was not to blame - though we can be sure that Saddam Hussein and other grotesque dictators will claim so - but the malign influence of history and our share in its burden must surely stand in the dark with the suicide bombers. Our broken promises, perhaps even before our destruction of the Ottoman empire, led inevitably to this tragedy. America has bankrolled Israel´s wars for so many years that it believed this would be cost-free. No longer so. But, of course, the US will still want to strike back against ¨world terror,¨ and last night´s Bombardment of Kabul may have been the opening salvo. Indeed, who could ever point the finger at Americans now for using that pejorative and sometimes racist word ¨terrorism¨?

Eight years ago, I helped to make a television series that helped to explain why so many Muslims had come to hate the West. Last night, I remembered some of those Muslims in that film, their families burnt by American-made bombs and weapons. They talked about how no one would help them but God. Theology versus technology, the suicide bomber against the nuclear power. Now we have learnt what that means.


— Bill Fisk for The Independent on September 11, 2001

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