It’s Time To Free the Arctic 30 & Stand Up Against Fossil Fuel Extraction Everywhere November 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, Russia.
Tags: arctic 30, civil disobedience, climate change, daryl hannah, envrionment, fossil fuel, global warming, greenpeace, keystone xl, phil radford, putin, roger hollander
add a comment
All around the globe, record numbers of people from all walks of life are being thrown into jails because they are standing up to protect the most basic of human needs — uncontaminated water, unpolluted lands, and a liveable climate free from the ramifications of extreme fossil fuel extraction. If the greed-driven fossil fuel extraction corporations — and the governments that do their bidding to assure sustained record profits — don’t stop endangering our critical and already-compromised life support systems, there is little doubt that the numbers of individuals standing up will grow exponentially. People are increasingly recognizing the critical necessity to safeguard our communities and our ecosystems, and growing numbers around the world are taking that bold step to engage in the time-honored tradition of peaceful civil disobedience as a means of alerting others to the dangers that threaten us all. This map from The Public Society shows some of the major protests against fossil fuel extraction in the past year alone, and the reach is staggering.
Those of us who choose civil disobedience as a tactic, often of last resort, do so not because they are looking to get away with a crime, but because we are seeking to shine a light on laws that allow for injustice to prevail. No one wants to go to jail. But the history of righting terrible wrongs is first a history of individuals putting their bodies on the line, risking arrest, facing uncertain circumstances and sometimes going to jail (or worse), long before the nation or the world awakens to the realities of what amounts to legalized decimation, injustice, and oppression.
There were times in our history here in the United States of America where the law of the land allowed slavery, prohibited women the right to vote, left children unprotected by labor laws, and didn’t guarantee the civil rights of all citizens. In the USA’s many hard-fought movements of great social progress — the abolitionist movement, women’s suffrage, labor and civil rights movements, as well as the free speech, peace, and environmental justice movements — there have always been those who were out in front, laying their bodies on the line and leading the way — well before the lawmakers followed with new legislation designed to make this a “more perfect union.”
The climate movement is well underway, and thousands of peaceful protesters and interventionists have already put their bodies and freedom on the line. As the world grapples with how to recognize the first of its climate refugees, and as it becomes desperately clear that carbon pollution must be urgently addressed, the quest for more difficult to access and dirtier oil and gas has never been more furious. In the states, lawmakers in the pocket of extraction industry make the pillaging easier and the public health concerns more profound by allowing exemptions from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act. So, in the US alone, over 76,000 have pledged to engage in dignified acts of peaceful civil disobedience if the debacle that is the KeystoneXL pipeline is allowed to proceed through our country’s heartland.
The third largest threat to our planetary climate — third only to mining nearly all of China and Australia’s coal — would be drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic, where oil companies plan to take advantage of melting sea ice in this most sensitive region on earth. If their plan were to succeed, despite the technical obstacles and enormous environmental risks, the drilling would add 520 million tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere per year, as much as all of Canada’s annual global warming pollution.
That’s why Greenpeace activists and independent journalists determined to bring this urgent threat to humanity to light journeyed to the Russian Arctic to protest the first ever offshore Arctic oil drilling project. On September 19th, consistent with the tradition of peaceful direct action, Greenpeace activists scaled a Gazprom oil platform to hang a banner off of the side. They hoped to bring awareness of the frightening risks of runaway climate change and the devastating effect of oil spills that Arctic drilling could bring to the world.
The Russian Federal Security Services responded with force, firing 11 warning shots into the water just inches away from the Greenpeace small inflatable boats. Two activists were taken by the knife wielding agents, while the other 28 activists and journalists remained on the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise.
The next day, in international waters, 15 masked Russian troops rappelled on to the Arctic Sunrise from a helicopter, held all 28 civilians onboard at gunpoint, and seized the ship.
The Arctic 30 have been in Russian custody since.
While even President Putin said the activists and journalists were “obviously not pirates;” the Russian authorities detained and charged all 30 with piracy – a crime that carries a 15 year jail sentence in Russia. A few weeks ago, they added “hooliganism,” charges which carry even more disproportionate penalties of up to 7 years in jail. The illegal arrests on international waters and the outrageous charges have been condemned by governments and many human rights groups, including Amnesty International, while people in 220 cities from Jakarta to Hong Kong to California marched, calling for the release of the Arctic 30.
The disproportionate Russian response is like unleashing attack dogs on a sit-in.
History has shown us that peaceful activism is vital when all else fails to respond appropriately to the most pressing issues of our time. The great practitioners of non-violent direct action as a means of achieving social change knew this and practiced it only with love in their hearts. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr both said in so many words, “if a law is unjust, it is your responsibility to break it.” MLK once said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That one profound statement of moral genius succinctly exemplifies why the world must not be silent until the Arctic 30 are once again free.
Please stand in solidarity with those who were willing and compelled to go to the front lines on behalf of all future generations. The risks that these activists have taken, and the cost to them personally and to their loved ones, need you to relentlessly demand that Russia free the Arctic 30 — and of course that the world move swiftly, urgently and in earnest to a planet powered by clean energy.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s Prison Letters to Slavoj Žižek November 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Revolution, Russia.
Tags: anti-capitalism, capitalism, democracy, freedom, nadezhda tolokonnikova, performance art, pussy riot, putin, revolution, roger hollander, slavoj zizek
add a comment
Roger’s note: I hope you find this correspondence as fascinating as I did. The left/progressive blogosphere these days is publishing more anti-capitalism analyses than ever. I am a life-long Marxist Humanist, so the notion of capitalism is something I have been thinking about for years (decades, actually). What I find troubling is that very few writers either attempt or demonstrate a precise understanding of exactly what capitalism is. Capitalism is not simply an ideology, although there are more than enough capitalist ideologues; and capitalism is not primarily about so-called free markets, nor is state ownership anything less than pure genuine capitalism (prime example: China). To understand what a genuine transformation of society will be, it is important to have a historical understanding of how capitalist economic relations developed. More important is the need to understand exactly what capitalist economic relationships ARE, and that has to do with the basic structure under which goods and services are PRODUCED (again, not marketed). Karl Marx discovered an entire new continent of thought that takes us into the heart of notions of human freedom and exploitation via capitalist economic relations. Much too complex for me to go into here; I just want to point out that being anti-capitalist is necessary but not sufficient. The dialogue below is a good example of revolutionary activist thinking, striving to understand in order to transform.
Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is currently in a prison hospital in Siberia; here she and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek meet in an extraordinary exchange of letters
2 January 2013
I hope you have been able to organise your life in prison around small rituals that make it tolerable, and that you have time to read. Here are my thoughts on your predicament.
John Jay Chapman, an American political essayist, wrote this about radicals in 1900: “They are really always saying the same thing. They don’t change; everybody else changes. They are accused of the most incompatible crimes, of egoism and a mania for power, indifference to the fate of their cause, fanaticism, triviality, lack of humour, buffoonery and irreverence. But they sound a certain note. Hence the great practical power of persistent radicals. To all appearance, nobody follows them, yet everyone believes them. They hold a tuning-fork and sound A, and everybody knows it really is A, though the time-honoured pitch is G flat.” Isn’t this a good description of the effect of Pussy Riot performances? In spite of all accusations, you sound a certain note. It may appear that people do not follow you, but secretly, they believe you, they know you are telling the truth, or, even more, you are standing for truth.
But what is this truth? Why are the reactions to Pussy Riot performances so violent, not only in Russia? All hearts were beating for you as long as you were perceived as just another version of the liberal-democratic protest against the authoritarian state. The moment it became clear that you rejected global capitalism, reporting on Pussy Riot became much more ambiguous. What is so disturbing about Pussy Riot to the liberal gaze is that you make visible the hidden continuity between Stalinism and contemporary global capitalism.
[Žižek then explores what he sees as a global trend towards limiting democracy.] Since the 2008 crisis, this distrust of democracy, once limited to third-world or post-Communist developing economies, is gaining ground in western countries. But what if this distrust is justified? What if only experts can save us?
But the crisis provided proof that it is these experts who don’t know what they are doing, rather than the people. In western Europe, we are seeing that the ruling elite know less and less how to rule. Look at how Europe is dealing with Greece.
No wonder, then, that Pussy Riot make us all uneasy – you know very well what you don’t know, and you don’t pretend to have any quick or easy answers, but you are telling us that those in power don’t know either. Your message is that in Europe today the blind are leading the blind. This is why it is so important that you persist. In the same way that Hegel, after seeing Napoleon riding through Jena, wrote that it was as if he saw the World Spirit riding on a horse, you are nothing less than the critical awareness of us all, sitting in prison.
Comradely greetings, Slavoj
23 February 2013
Once, in the autumn of 2012, when I was still in the pre-trial prison in Moscow with other Pussy Riot activists, I visited you. In a dream, of course.
I see your argument about horses, the World Spirit, and about tomfoolery and disrespect, as well as why and how all these elements are so connected to each other.
Pussy Riot did turn out be a part of this force, the purpose of which is criticism, creativity and co-creation, experimentation and constantly provocative events. Borrowing Nietzsche’s definition, we are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority.
We are a part of this force that has no final answers or absolute truths, for our mission is to question. There are architects of apollonian statics and there are (punk) singers of dynamics and transformation. One is not better than the other. But it is only together that we can ensure the world functions in the way Heraclitus defined it: “This world has been and will eternally be living on the rhythm of fire, inflaming according to the measure, and dying away according to the measure. This is the functioning of the eternal world breath.”
We are the rebels asking for the storm, and believing that truth is only to be found in an endless search. If the “World Spirit” touches you, do not expect that it will be painless.
Laurie Anderson sang: “Only an expert can deal with the problem.” It would have been nice if Laurie and I could cut these experts down to size and take care of our own problems. Because expert status by no means grants access to the kingdom of absolute truth.
Two years of prison for Pussy Riot is our tribute to a destiny that gave us sharp ears, allowing us to sound the note A when everyone else is used to hearing G flat.
At the right moment, there will always come a miracle in the lives of those who childishly believe in the triumph of truth over lies, of mutual assistance, of those who live according to the economics of the gift.
4 April 2013
I was so pleasantly surprised when your letter arrived – the delay made me fear that the authorities would prevent our communication. I was deeply honoured, flattered even, by my appearance in your dream.
You are right to question the idea that the “experts” close to power are competent to make decisions. Experts are, by definition, servants of those in power: they don’t really think, they just apply their knowledge to the problems defined by those in power (how to bring back stability? how to squash protests?). So are today’s capitalists, the so-called financial wizards, really experts? Are they not just stupid babies playing with our money and our fate? I remember a cruel joke from Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not to Be. When asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, the Nazi officer snaps back: “We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.” Does the same not hold for the Enron bankruptcy in 2002? The thousands of employees who lost their jobs were certainly exposed to risk, but with no true choice – for them the risk was like blind fate. But those who did have insight into the risks, and the ability to intervene (the top managers), minimised their risks by cashing in their stocks before the bankruptcy. So it is true that we live in a society of risky choices, but some people (the managers) do the choosing, while others (the common people) do the risking.
For me, the true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very co-ordinates of social reality so that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying, “apollonian statics”. And, even more crucially, how does today’s global capitalism enter this scheme?
The Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi tells how capitalism has already overcome the logic of totalising normality and adopted the logic of erratic excess: “The more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normality starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen. This loosening is part of capitalism’s dynamic.”
But I feel guilty writing this: who am I to explode in such narcissistic theoretical outbursts when you are exposed to very real deprivations? So please, if you can and want, do let me know about your situation in prison: about your daily rhythm, about the little private rituals that make it easier to survive, about how much time you have to read and write, about how other prisoners and guards treat you, about your contact with your child … true heroism resides in these seemingly small ways of organising one’s life in order to survive in crazy times without losing dignity.
With love, respect and admiration, my thoughts are with you!
16 April 2013
Has modern capitalism really overtaken the logic of totalising norms? Or is it willing to make us believe that it has overpassed the logic of hierarchical structures and normalisation?
As a child I wanted to go into advertising. I had a love affair with the advertising industry. And this is why I am in a position to judge its merits. The anti-hierarchical structures and rhizomes of late capitalism are its successful ad campaign. Modern capitalism has to manifest itself as flexible and even eccentric. Everything is geared towards gripping the emotion of the consumer. Modern capitalism seeks to assure us that it operates according to the principles of free creativity, endless development and diversity. It glosses over its other side in order to hide the reality that millions of people are enslaved by an all-powerful and fantastically stable norm of production. We want to reveal this lie.
You should not worry that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the “real hardship”. I value the strict limits, and the challenge. I am genuinely curious: how will I cope with this? And how can I turn this into a productive experience for me and my comrades? I find sources of inspiration; it contributes to my own development. Not because of, but in spite of the system. And in my struggle, your thoughts, ideas and stories are helpful to me.
I am happy to correspond with you. I await your reply and I wish you good luck in our common cause.
10 June 2013
I felt deeply ashamed after reading your reply. You wrote: “You should not worry about the fact that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the ‘real hardship’.” This simple sentence made me aware that the final sentiment in my last letter was false: my expression of sympathy with your plight basically meant, “I have the privilege of doing real theory and teaching you about it while you are good for reporting on your experience of hardship …” Your last letter demonstrates that you are much more than that, that you are an equal partner in a theoretical dialogue. So my sincere apologies for this proof of how deeply entrenched is male chauvinism, especially when it is masked as sympathy for the other’s suffering, and let me go on with our dialogue.
It is the crazy dynamics of global capitalism that make effective resistance to it so difficult and frustrating. Recall the great wave of protests that spilled all over Europe in 2011, from Greece and Spain to London and Paris. Even if there was no consistent political platform mobilising the protesters, the protests functioned as part of a large-scale educational process: the protesters’ misery and discontent were transformed into a great collective act of mobilisation – hundreds of thousands gathered in public squares, proclaiming that they had enough, that things could not go on like that. However, what these protests add up to is a purely negative gesture of angry rejection and an equally abstract demand for justice, lacking the ability to translate this demand into a concrete political programme.
What can be done in such a situation, where demonstrations and protests are of no use, where democratic elections are of no use? Can we convince the tired and manipulated crowds that we are not only ready to undermine the existing order, to engage in provocative acts of resistance, but also to offer the prospect of a new order?
The Pussy Riot performances cannot be reduced just to subversive provocations. Beneath the dynamics of their acts, there is the inner stability of a firm ethico-political attitude. In some deeper sense, it is today’s society that is caught in a crazy capitalist dynamic with no inner sense and measure, and it is Pussy Riot that de facto provides a stable ethico-political point. The very existence of Pussy Riot tells thousands that opportunist cynicism is not the only option, that we are not totally disoriented, that there still is a common cause worth fighting for.
So I also wish you good luck in our common cause. To be faithful to our common cause means to be brave, especially now, and, as the old saying goes, luck is on the side of the brave!
13 July 2013
In my last letter, written in haste as I worked in the sewing shop, I was not as clear as I should have been about the distinction between how “global capitalism” functions in Europe and the US on the one hand, and in Russia on the other. However, recent events in Russia – the trial of Alexei Navalny, the passing of unconstitutional, anti-freedom laws – have infuriated me. I feel compelled to speak about the specific political and economic practices of my country. The last time I felt this angry was in 2011 when Putin declared he was running for the presidency for a third time. My anger and resolve led to the birth of Pussy Riot. What will happen now? Time will tell.
Here in Russia I have a strong sense of the cynicism of so-called first-world countries towards poorer nations. In my humble opinion, “developed” countries display an exaggerated loyalty towards governments that oppress their citizens and violate their rights. The European and US governments freely collaborate with Russia as it imposes laws from the middle ages and throws opposition politicians in jail. They collaborate with China, where oppression is so bad that my hair stands on end just to think about it. What are the limits of tolerance? And when does tolerance become collaboration, conformism and complicity?
To think, cynically, “let them do what they want in their own country”, doesn’t work any longer, because Russia and China and countries like them are now part of the global capitalist system.
Russia under Putin, with its dependence on raw materials, would have been massively weakened if those nations that import Russian oil and gas had shown the courage of their convictions and stopped buying. Even if Europe were to take as modest a step as passing a “Magnitsky law” [the Magnitsky Act in the US allows it to place sanctions on Russian officials believed to have taken part in human-rights violations], morally it would speak volumes. A boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 would be another ethical gesture. But the continued trade in raw materials constitutes a tacit approval of the Russian regime – not through words, but through money. It betrays the desire to protect the political and economic status quo and the division of labour that lies at the heart of the world economic system.
You quote Marx: “A social system that seizes up and rusts … cannot survive.” But here I am, working out my prison sentence in a country where the 10 people who control the biggest sectors of the economy are Vladimir Putin’s oldest friends. He studied or played sports with some, and served in the KGB with others. Isn’t this a social system that has seized up? Isn’t this a feudal system?
I thank you sincerely, Slavoj, for our correspondence and can hardly wait for your reply.
• The correspondence was organised by Philosophie magazine in cooperation with New Times. Longer versions can be found in German at philomag.de or in French at philomag.com. Tolokonnikova’s letters were translated from Russian by Galia Ackerman
Which Syrian Chemical Attack Account Is More Credible? September 2, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chemical Biological Weapons, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media, War.
Tags: assad, chemical weapons, Colin Powell, Dale Gavlak, ghouta, jim naureckas, john kerry, Mnar Muhawesh, Prince Banda, putin, roger hollander, sarin gas, saudi arabia, Syria, syrian rebels, Yahya Ababneh
add a comment
Let’s compare a couple of accounts of the mass deaths apparently caused by chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21. One account comes from the U.S. government (8/30/13), introduced by Secretary of State John Kerry. The other was published by a Minnesota-based news site called Mint Press News (8/29/13).
The government account expresses “high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack” on August 21. The Mint report bore the headline “Syrians in Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack.” Which of these two versions should we find more credible?
The U.S. government, of course, has a track record that will incline informed observers to approach its claims with skepticism–particularly when it’s making charges about the proscribed weapons of official enemies. Kerry said in his address that “our intelligence community” has been “more than mindful of the Iraq experience”–as should be anyone listening to Kerry’s presentation, because the Iraq experience informs us that secretaries of State can express great confidence about matters that they are completely wrong about, and that U.S. intelligence assessments can be based on distortion of evidence and deliberate suppression of contradictory facts.
Comparing Kerry’s presentation on Syria and its accompanying document to Colin Powell’s speech to the UN on Iraq, though, one is struck by how little specific evidence was included in the case for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. It gives the strong impression of being pieced together from drone surveillance and NSA intercepts, supplemented by Twitter messages and YouTube videos, rather than from on-the-ground reporting or human intelligence. Much of what is offered tries to establish that the victims in Ghouta had been exposed to chemical weapons–a question that indeed had been in some doubt, but had already largely been settled by a report by Doctors Without Borders that reported that thousands of people in the Damascus area had been treated for “neurotoxic symptoms.”
On the critical question of who might be responsible for such a chemical attack, Kerry’s presentation was much more vague and circumstantial. A key point in the government’s white paper is “the detection of rocket launches from regime-controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media.” It’s unclear why this is supposed to be persuasive. Do rockets take 90 minutes to reach their targets? Does nerve gas escape from rockets 90 minutes after impact, or, once released, take 90 minutes to cause symptoms?
In a conflict as conscious of the importance of communication as the Syrian Civil War, do citizen journalists wait an hour and a half before reporting an enormous development–the point at which, as Kerry put it, “all hell broke loose in the social media”? Unless there’s some reason to expect this kind of a delay, it’s very unclear why we should think there’s any connection at all between the allegedly observed rocket launches and the later reports of mass poisoning.
When the evidence isn’t circumstantial, it’s strikingly vague: “We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the UN inspectors obtaining evidence,” the report asserts. Taken at face value, it’s one of the most damning claims in the government’s report–a veritable confession. But how was the identity of this official established? And what exactly did they say that “confirmed” chemical weapons use? Recall that Powell played tapes of Iraqi officials supposedly talking about concealing evidence of banned weapons from inspectors–which turned out to show nothing of the kind. But Powell at least played tapes of the intercepted communication, even as he spun and misrepresented their contents–allowing for the possibility of an independent interpretation of these messages. Perhaps “mindful of the Iraq experience,” Kerry allows for no such interpretation.
Another key claim is asserted without substantiation: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21, near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.” How were these personnel identified, and what were the signs of their operations? How was this place identified as an area used to mix sarin? Here again the information provided was far less detailed than what Powell gave to the UN: Powell’s presentation included satellite photographs of sites where proscribed weapons were being made, with an explanation of what they revealed to “experts with years and years of experience”: “The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions,” he said, pointing to an annotated photograph of bunkers that turned out to be storing no such thing. Powell’s presentation graphically demonstrated that US intelligence analysts are fallible, which is part of why presenting bare assertions without any of the raw materials used to derive those conclusions should not be very convincing.
Kerry did offer an explanation for why the report was so cursory: “In order to protect sources and methods, some of what we know will only be released to members of Congress, the representatives of the American people. That means that some things we do know, we can’t talk about publicly.” It is not clear, however, why intelligence methods that produced visual and audible evidence that could be shared with the public 10 years ago cannot be similarly utilized today. It does point to why the $52 billion the United States spends on surveillance annually, according to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Washington Post, 8/29/13), provides relatively little information that’s of value to American democracy: The collection of information is considered so much more valuable than the information collected that it rarely if ever can be used to inform a public debate. Instead, as we discuss the dreadful question of whether to launch a military attack on another country, we are offered an undemocratic “trust us” from the most secretive parts of our government–an offer that history warns us to be extremely wary of.
Unlike the U.S. government, Mint does not have much of a track record, having been founded only about a year and a half ago (CJR, 3/28/12). The founder of the for-profit startup is Mnar Muhawesh, a 24-year-old Palestinian-American woman who believes, reasonably enough, that “our media has absolutely failed our country” (MinnPost, 1/18/12). One of its two reporters on its Syrian chemical weapons piece, Dale Gavlak, is a longtime Associated Press Mideast stringer who has also done work for NPR and the BBC. AP was one of the few US corporate media outlets to question official assertions about Iraqi WMDs, contrasting Powell’s assertions with what could be discerned from on-the-ground reporting (Extra!, 3-4/06).
Mint takes a similar approach to the Syrian story, with a reporter in Ghouta–not Gavlak but Yahya Ababneh, a Jordanian freelancer and journalism grad student–who “spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.” The article reports that “many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out” the chemical attack. The recipients of the chemical weapons are said to be Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda-linked rebel faction that was caught possessing sarin nerve gas in Turkey, according to Turkish press reports (OE Watch, 7/13).
Mint quotes Abu Abdel-Moneim, described as the father of a rebel killed in the chemical weapons attacks, as saying that his son had described carrying unconventional weapons provided by Saudi Arabia to underground storage tunnels–a “tubelike structure” and a “huge gas bottle.” A rebel leader identified as J describes the release of toxic weaponry as accidental, saying, “Some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions.” Another rebel referred to as K complains, “When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them.”
Of course, independent media accounts are not necessarily more credible than official reports–or vice versa. As with the government white paper, there are gaps in the Mint account; while Abdel-Moneim cites his late son’s account of carrying chemical weapons, the rebels quoted do not indicate how they came to know what they say they know about the origin of the weapons. But unlike the government, Mint is honest about the limits of its knowledge: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified,” the story admits. “Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates.”
This humility about the difficulty of reporting on a covert, invisible attack in the midst of a chaotic civil war actually adds to the credibility of the Mint account. It’s those who are most certain about matters of which they clearly lack firsthand knowledge who should make us most skeptical.
Clarification: Dale Gavlak assisted in the research and writing process of this article, but was not on the ground in Syria. Reporter Yahya Ababneh, with whom the report was written in collaboration, was the correspondent on the ground in Ghouta who spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.
Gavlak is a MintPress News Middle East correspondent who has been freelancing for the AP as a Amman, Jordan correspondent for nearly a decade. This report is not an Associated Press article; rather it is exclusive to MintPress News.
Ghouta, Syria — As the machinery for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria gathers pace following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit.
Interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, where the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said at least 355 people had died last week from what it believed to be a neurotoxic agent, appear to indicate as much.
The U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League have accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the chemical weapons attack, which mainly targeted civilians. U.S. warships are stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to launch military strikes against Syria in punishment for carrying out a massive chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and others are not interested in examining any contrary evidence, with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that Assad’s guilt was “a judgment … already clear to the world.”
However, from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.
“My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.
Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”
Ghouta townspeople said the rebels were using mosques and private houses to sleep while storing their weapons in tunnels.
Abdel-Moneim said his son and the others died during the chemical weapons attack. That same day, the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida, announced that it would similarly attack civilians in the Assad regime’s heartland of Latakia on Syria’s western coast, in purported retaliation.
“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”
“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.
A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’ agreed. “Jabhat al-Nusra militants do not cooperate with other rebels, except with fighting on the ground. They do not share secret information. They merely used some ordinary rebels to carry and operate this material,” he said.
“We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” ‘J’ said.
Doctors who treated the chemical weapons attack victims cautioned interviewers to be careful about asking questions regarding who, exactly, was responsible for the deadly assault.
The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders added that health workers aiding 3,600 patients also reported experiencing similar symptoms, including frothing at the mouth, respiratory distress, convulsions and blurry vision. The group has not been able to independently verify the information.
More than a dozen rebels interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government.
In a recent article for Business Insider, reporter Geoffrey Ingersoll highlighted Saudi Prince Bandar’s role in the two-and-a-half year Syrian civil war. Many observers believe Bandar, with his close ties to Washington, has been at the very heart of the push for war by the U.S. against Assad.
Ingersoll referred to an article in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph about secret Russian-Saudi talks alleging that Bandar offered Russian President Vladimir Putin cheap oil in exchange for dumping Assad.
“Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord,” Ingersoll wrote.
“I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” Bandar allegedly told the Russians.
“Along with Saudi officials, the U.S. allegedly gave the Saudi intelligence chief the thumbs up to conduct these talks with Russia, which comes as no surprise,” Ingersoll wrote.
“Bandar is American-educated, both military and collegiate, served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the CIA totally loves this guy,” he added.
According to U.K.’s Independent newspaper, it was Prince Bandar’s intelligence agency that first brought allegations of the use of sarin gas by the regime to the attention of Western allies in February.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the CIA realized Saudi Arabia was “serious” about toppling Assad when the Saudi king named Prince Bandar to lead the effort.
“They believed that Prince Bandar, a veteran of the diplomatic intrigues of Washington and the Arab world, could deliver what the CIA couldn’t: planeloads of money and arms, and, as one U.S. diplomat put it, wasta, Arabic for under-the-table clout,” it said.
Bandar has been advancing Saudi Arabia’s top foreign policy goal, WSJ reported, of defeating Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies.
To that aim, Bandar worked Washington to back a program to arm and train rebels out of a planned military base in Jordan.
The newspaper reports that he met with the “uneasy Jordanians about such a base”:
His meetings in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah sometimes ran to eight hours in a single sitting. “The king would joke: ‘Oh, Bandar’s coming again? Let’s clear two days for the meeting,’ ” said a person familiar with the meetings.
Jordan’s financial dependence on Saudi Arabia may have given the Saudis strong leverage. An operations center in Jordan started going online in the summer of 2012, including an airstrip and warehouses for arms. Saudi-procured AK-47s and ammunition arrived, WSJ reported, citing Arab officials.
Although Saudi Arabia has officially maintained that it supported more moderate rebels, the newspaper reported that “funds and arms were being funneled to radicals on the side, simply to counter the influence of rival Islamists backed by Qatar.”
But rebels interviewed said Prince Bandar is referred to as “al-Habib” or ‘the lover’ by al-Qaida militants fighting in Syria.
Peter Oborne, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, has issued a word of caution about Washington’s rush to punish the Assad regime with so-called ‘limited’ strikes not meant to overthrow the Syrian leader but diminish his capacity to use chemical weapons:
Consider this: the only beneficiaries from the atrocity were the rebels, previously losing the war, who now have Britain and America ready to intervene on their side. While there seems to be little doubt that chemical weapons were used, there is doubt about who deployed them.
It is important to remember that Assad has been accused of using poison gas against civilians before. But on that occasion, Carla del Ponte, a U.N. commissioner on Syria, concluded that the rebels, not Assad, were probably responsible.
Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates .
Dale Gavlak is a Middle East correspondent for Mint Press News and has reported from Amman, Jordan, writing for the Associated Press, NPR and BBC. An expert in Middle Eastern affairs, Gavlak covers the Levant region, writing on topics including politics, social issues and economic trends. Dale holds a M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago. Contact Dale at email@example.com
Yahya Ababneh is a Jordanian freelance journalist and is currently working on a master’s degree in journalism, He has covered events in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Libya. His stories have appeared on Amman Net, Saraya News, Gerasa News and elsewhere.
Olympics Petition Delivered August 7, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Russia, Sports.
Tags: all out, anti-gay, anti-gay crackdown, gay rights, human rights, lgbt, olympic committee, olympics, olympics petition, putin, roger hollander, russia, russia olympics, winter olympics
add a comment
Today in Switzerland: more than 50 All Out members delivered our petition of over 322,000 names from around the world to the International Olympic Committee.
In fewer than 200 days, Russia will host the Winter Olympics. Their anti-gay laws are fuelling terrible violence and murders across the country and they fly in the face of the Olympic values of friendship and respect.
That’s why we gathered at Olympics HQ today to ask the Olympic Committee to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, face-to face.
The Olympic Committee hasn’t hosted such a gathering before! Their Director of Communications accepted the massive petition and held a long meeting with us.
He listened to our concerns and announced that the Olympic Committee has now asked for the Russian government to state in writing that no athletes or visitors will be persecuted because they are gay. That shows they’re feeling our pressure to do more – but it’s not enough.
We’re going to keep asking the Olympic Committee to be a true guardian of Olympic values, by speaking out against the Russian anti-gay crackdown. The International Association of Athletics Federations spoke out today – it’s time for the Olympics to follow.
Today the 1.8 millionth member joined All Out, and together we did something really important for people power. We showed the biggest world leader in sport that we’re not just anonymous names on the internet. We’re real people and we want them to speak out for love and equality.
Right now, we’re figuring out the next things we can do together to persuade the Olympic Committee to speak out. If we can do it, it will build the pressure on President Putin to stop the anti-gay crackdown. So watch out for the next call to action!
Thanks for going All Out,
Andre, Guillaume, Hayley, Jeremy, Joe, Marie, Mike, Tile, and the rest of the All Out team.
PS: Recently, more than 3,738 All Out members chipped in for a fighting fund to power the campaign. That meant we could send some of our team to Switzerland to deliver the petition in person. There’s so much more to do – and it’s not too late to help by chipping in to support All Out. Click here to donate: https://www.allout.org/donate
White House Criticizes Russia For Edward Snowden Meeting July 13, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Russia, Whistle-blowing.
Tags: edward snowden, Edward Snowden Russia, Politics News, propaganda, putin, Us Russia Snowden, Us Snowden, whistle blower, White House Russia, White House Russia Snowden, White House Snowden
add a comment
Roger’s note: I call your attention to the following remarks of White House spokesman Jay Carney (AKA Joseph Goebbels):
“Snowden is not a human rights activist or a dissident. He is accused of leaking classified information, has been charged with three felony counts and should be returned to the United States … Our concern here is that he’s been provided this opportunity to speak in a propaganda platform.”
Thus speaketh the United States Government Ministry of Truth (AKA Ministry of Propaganda).
PS. I would have loved to listen in to the conversation between heavyweight contender Vladimir Putin and featherweight wannabe Barack Obama. Can you imagine Obama, who regularly caves in to the Republican misfits, standing up to a former KGB chief? Drones over the Kremlin?
By DARLENE SUPERVILLE 07/12/13 06:47 PM ET EDT
WASHINGTON — The White House criticized Russia on Friday for allowing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to meet with human rights activists, calling it a “propaganda platform” for the man who seeks to avoid prosecution for leaking classified information about secret U.S. electronic surveillance programs.
A Russian lawmaker who was among the officials who met privately with Snowden in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport on Friday said Snowden wants asylum in Russia and is willing to stop sharing the secrets in his possession in exchange for such a deal.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Russia should instead send Snowden back to the U.S. to face the felony charges that are pending against him.
“Providing a propaganda platform for Mr. Snowden runs counter to the Russian government’s previous declarations of Russia’s neutrality and that they have no control over his presence in the airport,” Carney said. “It’s also incompatible with Russian assurances that they do not want Mr. Snowden to further damage U.S. interests.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki used similar language to express disappointment over the meeting.
“We are disappointed that Russian officials and agencies facilitated this meeting today by allowing these activists and representatives into the Moscow airport’s transit zone to meet with Mr. Snowden despite the government’s declarations of Russia’s neutrality with respect to Mr. Snowden,” Psaki said. “Our concern here is that he’s been provided this opportunity to speak in a propaganda platform.”
President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Snowden, among other issues, during a telephone call on Friday, the White House said in a terse statement that provided no specifics of their conversation about the NSA leaker. Carney said the call was planned several days ago, suggesting that it was unrelated to Snowden’s meeting with the activists.
Carney said Snowden is not a human rights activist or a dissident. “He is accused of leaking classified information, has been charged with three felony counts and should be returned to the United States,” the spokesman said.
Carney also urged the Russian government to “afford human rights organizations the ability to do their work in Russia throughout Russia, not just at the Moscow transit lounge.”
Snowden is believed to have been staying at the airport transit zone since June 23, when he arrived by air from Hong Kong. He fled to Hong Kong from the U.S. before his revelations were made public. Snowden had been expected to transfer in Moscow to a Cuba-bound flight, but he did not get on the plane.
He made an initial bid for asylum in Russia, but Putin said Snowden would have to agree to stop leaking the classified information in his possession before asylum would be considered. Snowden then withdrew his bid.
It was not immediately clear whether Russia would take Snowden up on his latest request for asylum. The Kremlin has signaled that it wants him out of the country. Granting asylum could further test U.S.-Russia relations.
Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua recently offered Snowden asylum.
At the State Department, Psaki denied that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, had telephoned a representative from Human Rights Watch. The anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, which has been assisting Snowden, said in a statement that McFaul called the Human Rights Watch representative on her way to the airport and asked her to relay a message to Snowden that he is not considered a whistle-blower and was wanted in the United States.
Psaki said a U.S. Embassy officer placed the call.
“Ambassador McFaul did not call any representative from Human Rights Watch,” she said. “An embassy officer did call to explain our position … but at no point did this official or any official from the U.S. government ask anyone to convey a message to Mr. Snowden.”
Psaki confirmed, however, that U.S. officials have been in touch with individuals who attended the meeting.
Your chance to free the women of Pussy Riot September 25, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Russia.
Tags: amnesty, artistic expression, Criminal Justice, free speech, human rights, pussy riot, putin, roger hollander, russia
add a comment
|Pussy Riot appeal begins Monday. Help bring them home.|
“Daddy, I’m going to get mommy out of jail with a bulldozer.”
That’s four-year-old Gera speaking about her plan to free her mother Nadya, one of the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot.
As an Amnesty activist, you know we don’t need a bulldozer to free a prisoner – just the power of our voices. And we need your voice more than ever as Pussy Riot faces an appeal hearing on October 1st.
Turn up the volume of protest to end the political persecution of Pussy Riot. Send your message calling for the unconditional release of Nadya, Masha and Katja.
Nadya and the other members of Pussy Riot went to the cathedral to give Russia – and the rest of the world – a wake-up call. They felt it was their civic duty to expose the corruption and repression they saw.
Pussy Riot stood up for their ideals. As artistic expression. Nonviolently. Legally.
Except, of course, in Putin’s Russia, where their dissent was stifled and condemned as “hooliganism.”
But there is hope. The world is watching. Last week, Pyotr Verzilov travelled with his daughter Gera to the United States to work with Amnesty to raise awareness for his wife’s case. During the Amnesty International Youth Town Hall, Aung San Suu Kyi met with Pyotr and Gera and called for the release of the women. With Amnesty at her side, Yoko Ono gave the band the LennonOno Grant for Peace to honor their courage.
During their visit, Pyotr expressed how moved he was by your advocacy on behalf of his wife and the other courageous women imprisoned for expressing their opinions peacefully:
“We are grateful to Amnesty International for your work on the case and all of your support. The most important thing you can do is rally people. We need your voices.”
Use your voice to tell the Russian authorities to release Nadya, Masha and Katja. Take a stand for free speech and human rights before Pussy Riot’s Oct. 1 appeal hearing.
Michelle Ringuette Chief of Campaigns & Programs Amnesty International USA
|© 2012 Amnesty International USA | 5 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10001 | 212.807.8400|
Pussy Riot and the Two Russias August 4, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, Russia.
Tags: dissent, free speech, katrina vanden heuvel, political protest, protect, protest music, punk rock, pussy riot, putin, roger hollander, russia, russia opposition, russia patriotism, russian orthodox
add a comment
(Credit: Igor Mukhin)
Pussy Riot is here to stay. International attention has mounted over the months since three members of the punk rock/protest group were imprisoned for a fifty-one-second stunt. All the more so this week, as their trial—on “hooliganism” charges—finally began.
As I’ve described before, members of the group seized the stage of Russia’s iconic Christ the Savior Cathedral just before the country’s March elections, performing (and recording) a musical plea to the Virgin Mary to oust Vladimir Putin. The cadre of Russian artists and activists descended from the performance artists Voina (“War”), who were influenced by the US punk movement Riot grrrl. Its story might have ended there, if not for a truly authoritarian response from the Russian government. Three alleged participants were arrested, threatened with seven years of imprisonment, and placed in a pre-trial detention that’s been extended for months. Now, Pussy Riot is world famous—as is its stunt. The longer they’re in prison, the more attention they get.
It’s been gratifying to see the outpouring of support for these women. It’s come from insiders and outsiders alike, in Russia and abroad. Key Putin backers have broken with him on Pussy Riot. More than 400,000 Russians have signed an online petition protesting their arrest and detention. The Washington Post editorialized in defense of the activists. Punk artists around the world have voiced their solidarity. British writer Stephen Fry has called on his more than 4.6 million Twitter followers “to do everything to help Pussy Riot” and “pressure Putin” in connection with the trial. Amnesty International named Pussy Riot prisoners of conscience; its US activists have planned a guerilla art exhibit and a solidarity concert at the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC.
The crackdown on Pussy Riot is part of a broader attack on dissent in Russia. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the introduction and rapid passage of a quartet of laws that undermine Russia’s democratic ambitions: (Re-)criminalization of “defamation”; a blacklist of “harmful” websites; punitive fines on participants in “unsanctioned” protests; and a mandate that nonprofits declare foreign funding and brand themselves “foreign agents.” Russia, alas, is not the only country cracking down on political freedom. But these broadly worded, swiftly passed laws represent another wave in Russia’s de-democratization, a process started under Boris Yeltsin and continued under Putin.
The righteousness of the Pussy Riot cause is clear-cut: courageous activists up against punitive suppression. As someone who’s worked with the women’s movement in Moscow, and as a longtime student of Russia, it’s horrific to watch the mistreatment of these women, and heartening to see them draw the support they deserve, both outside the country and within it.
But lost in much of the coverage is a sobering reality: there are two Russias. The country’s deep divisions are reflected in the polling on Pussy Riot, with only a 43 percent plurality telling pollsters that a potential two-to-seven-year sentence is disproportionate. Why? There’s more in place here than simple offense at their act.
To many Russians, Russia feels like two different countries: one is urban, hyper-Westernized, aggressively modern, and seems condescending in its attitude to ordinary people; the other is the Russian heartland in the regions and provinces, where people are suffering economically and believe they’re guarding the country’s traditional values and religious convictions. This is the lens through which some Russians view Pussy Riot’s imprisonment: not individual freedom of conscience versus the state but national pride and religious faith versus a well-off, urban elite. Putin has masterfully stoked such resentments, framing the resistance to his authority as an affront to the values of the nation (a segment on state TV last month called protests in defense of Pussy Riot a “vanity fair”). Too many Western journalists ignore or underestimate the effectiveness of that appeal.
Putin’s key partner in this has been the Russian Orthodox Church. In recent years, the church has grown in clout while growing ever closer to the Kremlin. The church’s spokesperson announced that God had personally shared with him, “just like he revealed the gospels to the church,” that He “condemns” what Pussy Riot did. Cynically or in earnest, church leaders are nurturing a patriarchal, paternalistic form of patriotism, and its power and popularity are growing as a result (US readers: this may sound familiar). The prosecution’s indictment against the artists cites “blasphemous acts” and “weighty suffering” of believers—despite Russia’s supposed separation of church the state. That’s a sign of how flimsy the legal case against Pussy Riot is, but also of the church’s role in modern Russia.
In a case replete with ironies, here’s the final one: even as Putin reaps political benefit from the resentments of this other Russia, his economic and social policies are poised to hit its citizens hardest—and his most prominent critics in the opposition are on board as well. Last month ushered in a fairly dramatic increase in utility and transit costs. And austerity, Russia-style, is coming to other sectors as well: neoliberal “reforms” are on the way in education, housing and pensions. These changes will mean socio-economic disaster for already-suffering Russians, many in regions far-flung from Moscow. What is little reported in the West is that Putin’s own critics, those who’ve led many of the street protests in Moscow, also back these measures. These include elite critics like former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Boris Nemtsov and Ksenia Sobchak, once the Paris Hilton of Russia until she became its Pasionaria. Perhaps that should be no surprise: they’re not the ones about to get hurt.
It is heartening to see the broad attention being paid to the three women of the Pussy Riot group. But perhaps it’s time for some reporting on the millions of working or unemployed Russians who will bear the brunt of economic policies hatched by the Putin government and supported by many of its opposition critics. Putin’s repression has sparked vibrant pro–Pussy Riot activism. The efforts on behalf of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion and Freedom from Fear have been important. But if the opposition really wants to mobilize a mass movement for political, social and economic change, it will have to bring the Two Russias back together. That will mean developing a program that calls for fair elections and combating corruption, while also resisting neoliberal measures that will privatize public education and gut pensions. Simply put, the activism we’ve witnessed in these last months will need to expand to encompass Freedom from Want. The fate of the next Pussy Riot could depend on it.