…how brutal Empire is…
I didn’t want to watch another video of someone getting their head cut off. I was barely seventeen when video of WSJ journalist Daniel Pearl’s beheading was uploaded on the internet. The brutality of the Syrian Civil War, the children dead in pieces in Gaza, all of the other images of ISIS uploaded on to the internet were too much blood for me. And the fact that the video of James Foley kneeling in the hot sun next to a menacing, knife-wielding man was immediately yanked off of the internet meant for sure this video was more brutal than all the rest. Considering the sheer volume of grotesque imagery available on Youtube and Twitter, that which we cannot see must be more truly horrible. I asked a comrade if he saw the video, and he told me no, because that sort of thing wasn’t good for the mind. Everyone else said the same thing. And I had no desire to watch it. I could let others tell me about it.
But here’s my comrade telling me to watch it, go ahead and watch it. He sends me a live leak video. I watch it, and if James Foley really is dead, there is no conclusive evidence here – there is barely any gore, in fact no active representation of fatal violence (not counting Obama’s speech at the beginning). The only blood in the video is in the still image of a decapitated body whose face is covered in blood. And there is no way to say that it’s James Foley. As the shrouded menace grabs James Foley by the chin and begins to saw away at his neck, the movement is exaggerated and there is no blood. Fade to black. Fade up on the photo of a body that may be Foley’s. Fin.
Journalists now are either saying they have not seen the video or they are saying that the video clearly shows the beheading of James Foley.
A gigantic video screen in downtown Beijing is showing gruesome footage of the beheading of American journalist James Foley by Muslim extremists and images of racially charged riots in the Missouri town of Ferguson. – “In busy Beijing, graphic video of James Foley’s beheading is shown over and over on a giant screen” (NY Daily News)
…In the video Foley delivers a statement calling on his friends and family to “rise up against my real killers, the U.S. government.”
Then the ISIL member makes a statement. Speaking in what may possibly be a British accent, he identifies Foley and says his death is a direct result of American intervention in Iraq.
“So any attempt by you Obama, to deny the Muslims of living in safety under Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people.”
He then beheads Foley. –“Video shows ISIL beheading of photojournalist James Foley” (Politico)
In the video posted Tuesday on YouTube, Foley is seen kneeling next to a man dressed in black. Foley reads a message, presumably scripted by his captors, that his “real killer” is America.
“I wish I had more time. I wish I could have the hope for freedom to see my family once again,” he can be heard saying in the video.
He is then shown being beheaded. –“Video shows ISIS beheading U.S. journalist James Foley” (CNN)
There is even an article in the BBC titled “Experts warn of trauma after watching Foley death video” – because while the footage of children hoisting decapitated heads high in Raqaa and stills from mass executions are brutal, sure, for some reason they don’t really compare to the trauma and brutality of watching a white American man allegedly begin to be murdered.
I don’t really know what has happened to James Foley, but the question of why we should pretend this video shows something that it does not deserves to be answered. Why the swift media blackout of the footage? Why the possible play-acting? Why the fake knife?
Maybe this all boils down to facts, and the refusal to share them with us, the refusal to follow-up on sources. Why was the media telling us that he was being held by the Syrian government until this video was released?
Why are they still saying that? Why is this man’s disappearance and alleged murder a casus belli that we are not allowed to review, one that journalists are steadfastly refusing to investigate?
And of course, we should ask the producer of this video – allegedly an ISIS guy – why bother to put something up that looked so weird, possibly fake? The organizing strategy of ISIS is clearly one of terror and nightmarish presentations of gore. Why did they leave it out for the Americans?
And now I really have to ask – how many fingers am I holding up? Do you see three? You’re wrong, it’s four. Try harder.
Jeremy Scahill gets out of the tank and walks with the locals
Richard Rowley makes a good documentary – well shot, well narrated, good storytelling – but there was something that kept nagging me throughout the showing. I finally put my finger on it near the end, when Jeremy Scahill was going over his revelations, his horror at how largely evil the world has become in the last 10 years. I remember being a bit of a smug huff at his crawling out of a tank in Afghanistan to explore the surroundings on his own, his anguish in facing a “boring” life back in Park Slope, all pretty normal for a documentary. Even the bloodied Somali corpses as props for Scahill to express appropriate disgust and horror is pretty par for course in an American documentary against an imperial backdrop. But what really had me was – really? What’s changed? Targeted assassinations, kill lists, death squads, shadow proxy wars.. none of this is particularly new. Not even the part about extrajudically killing American citizens, either at home or abroad. I even asked the question to the panel at the end, maybe is the change something to do with the executive branch having more concentrated power? But this question was glazed over. Instead, we learn about how Scahill’s book (available for purchase by the concession stand) and this documentary were “piercing the veil” and how the New York Times calls it “riveting”. At one point, it was even compared to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was also credited with starting the Civil War, which is not only strange but a weird way of reading history.
But then, the scope was rather small. Even though the film describes 75 countries as suffering JSOC invasions and drone strikes, we are only presented with the theaters we understand a bit about already: Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. It was strange to me how Pakistan – being the main focus of these attacks – was somehow left out of the story. But either way, we are given “Islamic terrorism” and “drug cartels” as being the main reasons behind these attacks, with no broader scope as to the United State’s geopolitical and strategic capital interests. We get the feeling from the film that America needs to be doing something about these terrorist Muslims and drug lords, but perhaps it could be in a more humane way. After all, there is no dialectical relationship between the Taliban and the women and children slaughtered by Hellfire missiles. The link cannot exist because then we must see it also exists between Scahill, the Hellfire missiles being used to kill, and ourselves safe and sound in the IFC theater.
The finest part of the film is where a Somali general tells Scahill how Americans are the “masters of war” and “great teachers”. But the point is given in such a way where Americans watching have the chance to immediately settle back into the comfortable dichotomy of the Taliban vs. innocent Afghanis. Black and white, good guys and bad guys. No relationship, no history, just the sort of hogwash George Bush would hoot about on the radio. After all, we too must scramble to separate ourselves from responsibility. We too must be able, as Americans, to separate ourselves from our government – after all, we voted for Kerry in 2004 and did our part. In this film, there is no dialectical relationship between the people and power. Surely there can be no connection between our relatively comfortable lives in the United States and children born without limbs in Fallujah – otherwise we really could do something about the violence done in our names.
It was a good documentary, as I said. It’s important that people know what’s going on, how the United States’s endless lust for war affects human beings all over the world. However it should not be understood as “groundbreaking” or something that will change the tide of politics forever in this country. Whipping out my checkbook or signing a petition is not going to stop America’s ravenous appetite for blood and gold. These sorts of things have always happened in American history, maybe not with so much executive power and technological gadgets, but the idea has remained the same for hundreds of years. The question elicited from the film shouldn’t be “what can I do?” but rather, “how does this happen?” Once we understand how the machine works, we can properly throw a wrench in the gears.
The other questions during the Q&A session were mainly concerned with calls to action, what is it that we can do? The questions sounded rather like the “we” meant a crowd of individuals as opposed to “we” the people. They brought up a journalist jailed in Yemen, petitions for his release as he was arrested while covering this story. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as well-off citizens nestled on the island of Manhattan, is there nothing more you can do than sign a petition? On your own? I guess not. In the theater, many of those watching the horrific catalog of violence wrecked by the American government probably voted for Barack Obama, the man whose voice on the phone actually demanded the Yemeni journalist’s imprisonment, the man whose order slaughters thousands of unnamed innocents. The viewer does not trust their own ability because she is limited by their view of the world where all one can do is sign a petition and vote the lesser of two villainous warmongers.
New to the blogosphere, I thought I would introduce myself by proposing a debate that I have waged in my head recently regarding dignity and morality amid repression. The latest emanation of this debate occurred after I watched an interview with Israeli journalist Amira Hass. A resident of Ramallah since 1997 and the only Israeli journalist living in the West Bank, read and addressed criticisms of her op-ed article advocating Palestinian resistance against Israel, especially stone-throwing. Within Israel, the response to the Ha’aretz opinion piece has escalated beyond hate mail to calls for her arrest for inciting violence.
As Hass expresses her feelings in conversation with Amy Goodman, the two clash regarding the issue of violent resistance against oppression. For Hass, her concern was not to discern the most effective or noble methods of protest, but to recognize the capacity of individuals to express their feelings about Israel, in particular, and life in Palestine, in general. It is this capacity for self-expression and communication that occupation effectively obliterates.
The question that remains with me after this conversation is, whether it’s possible for individuals to achieve their morality amid oppression? And if oppression stifles individual fulfillment and liberation, then how can one avoid surrendering to wretched circumstances? At this point, circumstance turns life, itself, into a battleground between aspiration and resignation.
Less than 72 hours after two bombs went off in Boston, killing three and wounding hundreds, Human Events (a conservative newspaper) has already begun to lament the cold trail left behind by the perpetrators. President Obama briefly addressed the media and, at first, refrained from using the words “terror” or “terrorism”. Janet Napolitino has claimed there is no “broader plot” involved in these bombings. These three developments more than anything lead me personally to believe that these bombings were domestic in nature, probably spawned out of the same sort of nativist, racist movements that inspired Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph.
Immediately after the bombings, the New York Post zeroed in on what it labelled a “suspect” – a Saudi man in a hospital who was caught running away from the carnage. Once he was no longer a “person of interest”, the trail goes cold.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that the US Department of Homeland Security gutted its domestic terrorism office after a 2009 report on right-wing terror was leaked, causing political backlash.
What ultimately happened?
Napolitano eventually told Congress that DHS was going to remove the report from its websites. Some of the people in the media assumed they were recalling the report. That never happened. There is actually a formal process involved when you want to rescind a report. The only reason you do so is if there was something erroneous in the document.[…]
Is it off the DHS website today?
Yes. It was removed from various law enforcement computer systems, and classified systems too. […]
What happened to your DHS unit?
[…]Eventually, they ended up gutting my unit. All of this happened within six to nine months after the furor over the report. Analysts then began leaving DHS. One analyst went to ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], another to the FBI, a third went to the U.S. Marshals, and so on. There is just one person there today who is still a “domestic terrorism” analyst.
Though terror from the domestic right in the United States has caused hundreds of deaths in the past twenty years, in recent times we have been quietly ushered away from such scenes of violence, politicians describing these as “lone wolves” who, for instance, fly planes into federal buildings for reasons of mental insanity. It echoes the response in Norway to the Anders Breivik trial, where a man who penned a thousand-word manifesto espousing fascist and nationalist ideals was simply labeled (and tried as!) “insane” for murdering 77 mostly young people.
The excuse in Breivik’s case and in other American cases was that it was important not to create a martyr. This is false. Martyrs are created everyday in the world wherever American bombs make contact. The true reason is to not push the idea that American supremacy – rooted in white supremacy – results in such violence.
To describe something as American, or All-American, is a bestowal of value. Nothing negative is described as “All-American” – the enemies of our society do not look American, they do not act American, they are as far away from American as possible. Muslims and Arabs, after 9/11, stressed their “American-ness” in an effort to stem racist violence. The people in our prisons are mostly of color – certainly not considered “All-American” by any measurement of common mythology. Terrorists, likewise, are foreign to our body. In our collective mindset, as former Obama advisor David Axelrod says, “The word has taken on a different meaning since 9/11“. The mythological unity that was culturally and politically required for the total commitment to economic disaster and total war also required doing away with white terrorism.
The American myth is rooted in Wild West shoot-outs, covered wagons, individualism, self-reliance and a lot of guns. What is left unsaid but is certainly understood in this is also the total supremacy of the white man. If white men become terrorists in official parlance, then our national identity is shook to its core. The ideas of self-reliance, individualism, conquering “untamed” peoples and lands would be suddenly revealed as packed together with a racial myth that is still even used to challenge the legitimacy of the president, who is of color. Why has the trail gone cold in the Boston bombing? Why have white terrorists been labelled “insane” or “lone wolves”? It is because our society is still dependent on this myth of white supremacy to hold up a national identity that enables the continued subjugation of billions worldwide, including the American poor, seen in their laziness and lack of material success as unAmerican and generally portrayed as non-white.
The left, people of color and feminists understand too well that white supremacy exists at the expense of our safety and security. Occupy and other leftist movements are busted up with violence while the Klan gets a police detail when they march and the Tea Party is seen as a viable, legitimate political force in the United States – something that can find a home in the system of American/white supremacy. When the media ignores this connection, when the government has no one to take care of tracking down these (white) terrorists, when we are told the “trail has gone cold”, then we are also given an implicit message: Watch your back! They are still out there!
I grew up in the south and I’d never seen racism like I had in Israel. I was totally shocked. Putting aside all of the incredible racism exhibited by the occupation, on that side of the wall, I’d never seen little boys spit at Muslim women and drag their fingers across their throat. There was a public lynching in West Jerusalem last year. I’d never before in my life seen armed soldiers harass innocent people on the street because of their race – and in Tel Aviv, no less.
Yet this racism – and not even the systemic racism as exhibited by the gargantuan proportion of non-Jewish people in prison, the refusals to rent or sell to non-Jewish people, the differences in schools – this racism among Israelis of Jewish heritage is never properly cited as something that reflects so much on Zionism.
Nakba denial is one of the ideas that blossoms in such casual, everyday racism. The recent review in the English-language Jerusalem Post of a book that is about the Deir Yassin massacre explores this mentality:
It [the Deir Yassin battle] became a basic founding myth in the Palestinian consciousness, and therefore in Palestinian culture. It serves as a fundamental example for the claim that the Jews committed genocide against the Palestinians in 1948, and expelled, knowingly and intentionally, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians…
The Jerusalem Post review exists not to review a book so much as to actively denigrate what it calls the “founding myth” of Palestinian nationality. As if it could make a difference to those in Haifa, who were either rolling lit bombs into Palestinian neighborhoods or escaping in boats. As if it could make a difference to those in Yalo, who were dispossessed of their villages and turned into refugees nearly 20 years later. The Nakba denier focuses on stories, disproving individual accounts, shaking fists at publishers and blacklisting academics. They never step back and let their eyes rest on the giant concrete wall that splits the land like a raised scar. They invade Lebanon to kill “terrorists” and wheel their tanks right by the refugee camps. They focus more on the light of the beautiful flares over Sabra & Shatila instead of on the slaughter going on below.
When they look at the Nakba, they see cowards and simple villagers, stupid fools who take to the road in bare feet. The denier’s history cuts off as the dust settles in the village and then, not hours later, a new dust rises from the tires of trucks bringing in new people that find abandoned food on the table and bedding still warm.
The foundation of Israel is the Nakba just as much as it would be the for the Palestinians. Both people commemorate the Nakba on the same day, though the Israelis have given it a new name. Palestinian flags are not allowed to fly on the other side of the wall. Those who speak the language of Mahmoud Darwish are forced to twist their tongue to Hebrew in order to find jobs as day laborers. They live in enclaves with poor utilities servicing, and occasionally you can find a doctor who is unwilling even to treat them. They are called Arabs.
The Arabs of the Mandate territory were for years attempting to define themselves as a separate national group was Porat’s historical contribution whereas Milstein retorted that his frame of reference was difference. The fact that the Arabs needed a story of a “massacre” in order to cover their unwillingness to fight was proof that they were not a nation because a nation fights.
What Zionist reads this whose face does not burn with shame?
Yet this is the callous mentality that supports an ongoing occupation and brutal subjugation of millions. Tel Aviv is not even forty five miles away from the Gaza Strip, an open air prison where children go to sleep nightly with drones in their ears. Israelis can go see the occupation with their own eyes – a visit to a friend or relative in a settlement can show you the lush green lawns and swimming pools next to the scorched earth of what was once a people who had pride and hopes for the future.
I used to work on a very tall hill, and when I walked home down that hill I could see the vista before me of a settlement, the wall, Tel Aviv, and then beyond, the ocean. I thought to myself when I saw this, surely it would drive me insane if I saw this every day for my whole life. Yet the Israelis have no such consciousness – they have a “free press” and “freedom of speech”, but in spite of this ignore the constant brutal suppression of the truth of their situation. Forget the view on the drive home to Shilo from work; pro-Palestinian Israeli journalist Amira Hass is currently under investigation while Kahanists hand out copies of “Nakba Bullshit” on university campuses. How is it that the racist atmosphere of Israel and Israel’s history more generally not been challenged by those who think it is a refuge, strong, safe and humane?
I saw an anti-Zionist Israeli once at a conference. She was saying that it is impossible to attempt to break the back of the occupation by appealing to Israeli society to change its ways. She said that she was part of a minuscule proportion of those who believed the land they lived on was not their own. What, then, is to be done? While the BDS campaign has laudable aims, it is appealing to the wrong sector; to expect that the people of Israel will suddenly wake up and hand themselves over to justice in the spirit of equality is to deny the deep roots of racism that anchor the Zionist dreamscape in place. There is no denying the racism held by the governments, the press, the education system, the former Prime Ministers and by the settlers in Hebron necessarily also acts to anchor the Israeli national identity in place as it stands. The distance tolerated between Tel Aviv and Gaza is proof enough.
Palestine persists whether 300 people or 100 people were killed in Deir Yassin. It persists because Palestine is not founded in myth, but rather by “facts on the ground”, as every day of their lives they are forced to identify with the national duality imposed on them by a racist occupation and traumatic displacement. Refugees will wake up refugees whether or not they have a founding myth.