Category Archives: Europe

ISIS and the U.S., legacy of a troubled history

Until 2003 Chris Hedges held one of the most prestigious jobs in American journalism, Mideast bureau chief for the New York Times, until he was reprimanded by the paper for speaking against the American invasion of Iraq at a college commencement in Rockford, Illinois.

These days he hosts Days of Revolt, a weekly interview series for Telesur English.

Today we’re posting a two-part discussion on the rise of ISIS and the long troubled history of imperial ambitions in the Middle East with Professor Sabah Alnasseri, a native of Basra, Iraq, who teaches Middle East politics at York University in Toronto.

And with that, the first episode:

Days of Revolt – ISIS, The New Israel

From the transcript:

HEDGES: So let’s begin with ISIS, which is historically an extremely important movement within the Middle East. The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, which is named for the French and British diplomats that carved up the Middle East among the colonial–among the empire, essentially turning countries in the Middle East into protectorates, has only been changed twice. The first time was the Israeli independence movement, which rose up in Palestine, and now with ISIS, which controls an area roughly the size of Texas.

The mechanisms that were used to redraw the map in the Middle East are the same: the use of foreign money, the use of foreign fighters, the tactics of ethnic cleansing and terrorism, and this mythical vision, in the case of Israel, the re-creation of Judea and Samaria from the Bible, the land of Israel, and in the case of ISIS, the re-creation of the seventh century caliphate.

And these tactics have could prove quite effective. In both cases, in the case of Israel and in the case of ISIS, you could argue, especially with ISIS having roughly 20,000 foreign fighters, that these are forces that are as dependent on the areas outside the Middle East as within the Middle East. And I wondered if you could kind of address that phenomenon, this phenomenon that we are watching.

ALNASSERI: Right. Right. I mean, you are right, because ISIS has a kind of settler colonialist form the way they occupy space, cleanse the space, plunder the resources.

HEDGES: Which is what–as Israel does.

ALNASSERI: Exactly, and carve out territory for itself.

But to understand the phenomenon of ISIS, we needed to contextualize it within the setbacks and counterrevolution against the Arab revolutions, the amount of violence, of intervention, in Libya, for instance, the war in Libya, the civil war in Syria, now the war also in Yemen, and–.

HEDGES: And Egypt. We can’t forget Egypt.

ALNASSERI: Exactly. We don’t forget Egypt. And the failure of this peaceful, nonviolent revolutions, this amount of violence, of counterrevolutionary violence, created this Frankenstein, this phenomenon. So you can say ISIS is a Hegelian-Fischer synthesis of two form of violence.

Now, what is so interesting about ISIS and why it is so attractive for many young, unemployed, mostly Arab fighters–most of the fighters, by the way, they come from Libya or Tunisia and so on, less from Europe, etc. It’s mostly from the Middle East. What attracted them to ISIS is that when these peaceful revolution failed, revolutions turn into kind of jihadism, that ISIS is much more effective in its leadership, organization, logistical structure, and its geologies, than all the other peaceful, nonviolent movements, mass movements.

And the second part:

Days of Revolt – The Revolutionary Age

From the transcript:

HEDGES: So I think what we want to focus on in this segment is the dynamics of revolutionary change in an age of globalism and neoliberalism, how it will look like revolutions in the past, and how it will look like something else. And I know this is something you have examined.

ALNASSERI: Right. Right. I will start with the end of the Cold War and the breakdown of of the Soviet Union, because this world historical context is very important in understanding any kind of politics, revolutionary or otherwise.

Since the ‘90s, we observe the dominant political form [of] Europe, the United States, but also other parts of the world is populism. Before, at least until the ‘70s, political parties were organized around specific classes, articulated interests of classes, the social democracy for the working class, etc. But since the ‘90s, the dominant political form of the ruling classes is populism. And that’s not a coincidence with this neoliberal offensive, with half of the world open to be conquered by neoliberalism after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. There is a radical shift in the form of politics, articulation of interests, representation, etc. So what we see is that the majority of the population on a worldwide scale actually are excluded from the political system, are not represented. Their interests are not articulated.

So I believe that within this context–and that’s why the current revolutions are different than the historical one–that revolutions and revolt probably is the only political form available for the popular classes to introduce a radical change in the [crosstalk]

HEDGES: Well, I agree completely, and that is the thesis of my own book, Wages of Rebellion. But what about nationalism? I mean, nationalism still remains a powerful force.

ALNASSERI: Yes, yes and no, because nationalism now is embedded in an international and global context. So even nationalist movement, if they are not linked to a wider movement and solidarity and support, their prospective of success is almost zero. You can see this. Take the example of SYRIZA in Greece. SYRIZA, the first right approach was to say that you need a Europe-wide movement and solidarity in order to empower SYRIZA in Greece to deal with the European Central Bank, with the IMF, etc., and E.U. Commission, etc. So there’s a sense of embedding nationalist, or nationalist, say, movement within a wider context, a regional or international context. I think this is very important. It’s different than the old form of internationalism we knew in the 19th and 20th century, because the old form of internationalism was different in three instances. The first one, it was mostly European-centered, not international in this sense. The second point is it was mostly class-based. And third, all these revolt and revolution were organized by a political party with a strong leadership.

HEDGES: But that wasn’t true for the Communist Party. There was an internationalist element to that.

ALNASSERI: Yeah, but again, if you look at it historically, we’ll see mostly within Europe–there are some connection to other part of the world, but mostly it was within Europe, and I think that’s a big difference today. We have–you can call it the first international of the people. And it’s cross-class. It’s not nation- or nation states-centered, and it’s not articulated, organized by a specific political party.

Charts of the day: Big Agra’s rise in Europe

European smallholders, for millennia the backbone of European agriculture, with larger corporate farms on the rise, most notably in Eastern Europe.

First, via Eurostat [PDF], a chart of the overall trends:

BLOG Eurofarm 1

And, second, a nation-by-nation look at percentage changes in agricultural land ownership [click on it to enlarge]:

BLOG Eurofarm 2

Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Getrank: Coke was it

Yep, Americans who arrived in Berlin for the 1936 Olympics were greeted by a familiar brand and a slogan that mixed the familiar with the unfamiliar.

The two words normally following ein Volk and ein Reich [one people and one empire] were ein Fuhrer, but the folks at Coca Cola substituted the German for one drink, followed by the familiar “Coke is it.”

BLOG Nazi coke

It wasn’t the first time Coke played with symbolism near and dear to Nazis, although their 1925 use of the swastika as a key fob in the U.S. may owe more to the sigil’s use as a traditional good luck charm rather than to the Nazi Party, still a German fringe movement at the time:

BLOG Nazi Coke II

When the war began, German bottlers couldn’t import the coca and cola nuts needed to produce the brown beverage, so the company’s chemists came up with a substitute.

Earlier this year, on Fanta’s 75th anniversary, German television featured a commemorative ad, celebrating those “good old times” when Germany’s innovators created such a marvelous beverage.

The ad didn’t sit too well with countless Germans and countless others who lost parents, grandparents, spouses, and siblings during those “good old times,” and the ad was pulled and the requisite apology issued.

Still, major American corporations [including GM and IBM] and banks [including the one which George H.W. Bush’s father helped set up and profited from] made lots of money off the Third Reich. Indeed, it was IBM’s mechanical computers that enabled to Nazis to keep track of Jews in Germany and lands the Nazis conquered and send them on their ways to death camps, where more records were compiled by IBM’s Hollerith machines.

Map of the day: European homeownership

From Eurostat [PDF]:

BLOG Eurohomes

And now for something completely different. . .

We’re always willing to sit back and given a listen when older British actors sit down to reminisce.

British actors traditionally flowed easily between film, television, and, of course, the stage, unlike in the United States [until recently], where agents typically kept film stars off the tube, and where the capitals of stage and film are a continent apart.

Today’s video treat comes from this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival, across the Bay from Casa esnl, where one of Britain’s finest actors, Sir. Ian McKellen, sat down, microphone in hand, to pay tribute to the women of film — both in front of the camera and behind it — who have graced his life.

From the Mill Valley Film Festival:

Ian McKellen Remembers. . . Women I’ve Filmed with

Program notes:

From Ava Gardner and Meryl Streep to Mrs. Harold Pinter and Laura Linney, McKellen has worked with the best on screen. This one-hour talk was a unique event devised exclusively for MVFF. A great companion piece to his Tribute at the Festival, his presentation highlighted his work with some of cinema’s most legendary actresses, including Gardner, Streep, Pinter, and Linney as well as Grace Kelly, Flora Robson, Sandy Dennis, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Annette Bening, Lynn Redgrave, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, Stockard Channing, Halle Berry, Natasha Richardson, Audrey Tatou, and Cate Blanchett.

On the mad utopian dreams of neoliberals

A recent episode of Christ Hedges’s news series for Telesur English features an interview with Canadian intellectual provocateur John Ralston Saul on the twisted origins and pernicious intellectual distortions of neoliberal ideology.

An erudite scholar and ferocious analyst, Saul has relentlessly pilloried the intellectual perversions underlying much of modern economic thought in a series of books [most famously Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West] and essays, with his most recent targets being the twisted rationales employed by apologists for an economic order that has given rise to modern plutocracy.

In conversation with Hedges, Saul worries that modern neoliberalism has proven to resemble Beniuto Mussolini’s fascism.

From The Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: Neoliberalism as Utopianism

From the transcript:

SAUL: Right? And what they did, most universities, was they did an intellectual cleansing of the economic historians to remove the possibility of doubt, the possibility of speculation on ideas, leaving these sort of hapless — mainly hapless macroeconomists, who fell quite easily into the hands, frankly, of the ideologues, the neoliberals, neoconservatives, who were — you know, let’s face it. What is this ideology? It’s an ideology of inevitability, an ideology based on self-interest, an ideology in which there is no real memory. And at the end of the day, it really is — it’s about power and money.

HEDGES: It’s about, you write, making every aspect of society conform to the dictates of the marketplace, which, as you point out, there’s nothing — and I think you say something like 2,000 or 5,000 years of human history to justify the absurdity that you should run a society based on —

SAUL: On the marketplace.

HEDGES: — the marketplace.

SAUL: Let me just take a tiny step back as a historical marker, which is the day that I realized that the neos were claiming that Edmund Burke was their godfather or whatever, I realized that we were into both lunacy and the denial of history, ‘cause, of course, in spite of his rather crazy things about Mary Antoinette and the French Revolution, most of his career was about inclusion, standing against slavery, standing for the American Revolution, and of course leading a fight for anti-racism and anti-imperialism in India — amazing democratic [incompr.] a liberal in the terms of the early 19th century. So when you see that these guys were trying to claim him, it’s like lunatics today claiming Christ or Muhammad to do absolutely unacceptable things.

And I think that the fascinating thing is once you get rid of history, once you get rid of memory, which they’ve done with economics, you suddenly start presenting economics as something that it isn’t, and you start saying, well, the market will lead. And these entirely theoretically sophisticated experts are quoting the invisible hand, which is, of course, an entirely low-level religious image–it’s the invisible hand of God, right, running the universe. As soon as you hear that term and they say, oh, that’s what Adam Smith said — but when you talk to them, they haven’t read Adam Smith. Adam Smith isn’t taught in the departments of economics. You get quotes from Adam Smith even when you’re doing an MA or whatever. They don’t know Adam Smith. They don’t know that he actually was a great voice for fairness, incredibly distrustful of businessmen and powerful businessmen, and said never allow them to be alone in a room together or they’ll combine and falsify the market and so on, so that what we’ve seen in the last half-century is this remarkable thing of big sophisticated societies allowing the marketplace to be pushed from, say, third or fourth spot of importance to number one and saying that the whole of society must be in a sense structured and judged and put together through the eyes of the marketplace and the rules of the marketplace. Nobody’s ever done this before.

HEDGES: How did it happen?

SAUL: Well, I mean, I think it happened gradually, partly by this emptying out of the public space, by this gradual —

HEDGES: What do you mean by that?

SAUL: Well, by the advancing of the idea of the technocracy and the gradual reduction of the space of serious political debate and ideas, and with that the rise of kinds of politicians who would be reliant on the technocracy and really were not themselves voices of ideas that would lead somewhere, you know, the humanist tradition, democratic tradition, egalitarian tradition. And we can see this all sort of petering out. And you can like them or dislike them, but you can see when the real idea of debate of ideas and risk on policy starts to peter out with Johnson and suddenly you’re into either populists or technocrats.

Chart of the day II: Euro small businesses

From Eurostat [PDF], a country-by-country look at the distribution of very small business employment in Europe:

BLOG Euro small biz