Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category


When Harry Met Hugo

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Harry Belafonte — a man who’s given us great music, a man who put himself on the line during the civil rights era — is one of a number of celebrities to have spent the last several years shilling for the ruthless Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez.

Supporters of Chavez often argue indignantly that the man is no dictator, that he was democratically elected. But look around the world and it’s easy to see: being democratically elected does not mean governing democratically. According to Human Rights Watch, “[T]he [Chavez] government has systematically undermined free expression, workers’ freedom of association, and the ability of human rights groups to function.” HRW’s full 2012 report on Venezuela is here, and it’s grim.

Chavez is also a proud ally of the virulently antisemitic Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He’s given vocal and even material support to the Assad regime throughout its ongoing slaughter of Syrian civilians.

If any of this disturbs Harry Belafonte, or fellow Chavez dupes such as Sean Penn and Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, they’ve yet to indicate it. And yet now, in 2012, we have Belafonte declaring that U.S. capitalism “is taking us to the doorstep of [a] Fourth Reich, I think.” A Fourth Reich.

Chavez runs Venezuela into the ground and backs some of the most heinous regimes in the world, and Belafonte gives him a free pass, even a big thumbs-up. “Viva la revolucion!” But oh, that Obama – better hold that man’s feet to the fire. Better call him out. No criticism is too harsh. Compare the U.S. to Nazi Germany? Why not.

Sorry, but when it comes to democratic advocacy, Belafonte’s credentials are in tatters. Not Obama’s.


Benjamin Barber’s prescience

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Political theorist Benjamin Barber (pictured, right) has been shilling for the Libyan regime for a number of years. On February 1 his article “No Democratic Dominoes in the Middle East” was published by HuffPo. It contained the following insight:

Qadaffi himself is not detested in the way that Mubarak has been detested and rules by means other than fear. His son Saif, with a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the London School of Economics and two forthcoming books focused on liberalism in the developing world , has pioneered a gradualist approach to civil society in Libya, insisting along the way that he would accept no office that wasn’t subject to popular elections. No dynasty likely there.

Wow. “Qadaffi is not detested” by Libyans, says a prominent American political theorist on February 1, just three weeks before the people of Libya brave snipers, drive-by shooters and fighter planes to tell the world how much they detest their leader. And Saif, the devoted democrat and Ph.D., takes to the airwaves to accuse the protesters of being on drugs and vows to “fight until the last bullet.”

Can Benjamin Barber retain even a shred of credibility, on Libya or any other subject, after an analysis as clueless and bought-off as this?

Marc Lynch (via Ken Silverstein) said it best in this retort to Barber in 2007:

You presented some very interesting ideas about Libya in your Washington Post op-ed. I found particularly interesting your ideas about Col. Qaddafi’s experiments with direct democracy and efficient government. I know just the person you should talk to about these ideas – a brave journalist exposing official corruption in Libya by the name of Dhayf al-Gazzal. Be careful shaking his hand, though, because about a year and a half ago he had his fingers cut off before his body was riddled with bullets and abandoned in the desert. Hey, wasn’t that right around the time you were having such pleasant chats about direct democracy and the Green Book with the flexible and adaptive Colonel? How embarrassing! Anyway, since he’s dead, he might not be as vivacious a conversationalist as Col. Qaddafi. But I’m sure he’d be fascinated by your notions of Qaddafi’s enlightened rule and might even have some notes.


Nir Rosen, major war monger

Friday, February 18th, 2011

After critiquing Nir Rosen’s shoddy excuse-making for terrorism in January 2009, I paid only slight attention to his work. But on the occasions when I stumbled onto his Twitter feed, I actually had to stop and wonder whether someone had hacked his account. The opinions were so extreme, so loutish, so flagrantly unprofessional, so obviously unbecoming of a Fellow at the NYU Center for Law and Security (no longer), a writer with bylines in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Salon and other highly respected outlets.

But yes, that was Rosen. Now he’s telling us, in the wake of his appalling comments about CBS News correspondent and sexual assault victim Lara Logan, that he’s really not like this. Well, yes, he is like this, as anyone who’s looked at that Twitter feed in the last year would know.

I can only wonder, as others have, why Rosen was able to hold onto his NYU position after linking to Taliban propaganda on the anniversary of 9/11 — and declaring that he agreed with it. Or calling for a punitive bombing of Tel Aviv as far back as April 2002. And it’s Lara Logan, he tells us, who’s the ”major war monger.”

Of course, Rosen is not alone in attacking Logan: right-wing nut Debbie Schlussel made an absolutely chilling and deplorable statement as well.

So we’re back to the question I’ve often been asked: Why am I, a person of the left, focusing my anger on Rosen rather than on Schlussel? Because we know what Schlussel is: a hate-spewing figure of the gutter. She stands for for unashamed racism. Yes, she is a menace, and she has not apologized (to my knowledge). Rosen, on the other hand, considers himself “someone who’s devoted his career to defending victims and supporting justice,” as he wrote in one of his many lame apologies. A lot of people believe him.

But Rosen hasn’t done any such thing. He’s devoted his career to offering apologetics for the Taliban, Hezbollah and other so-called “armed resistance” movements. He’s betrayed the victims of those groups, and thus supported injustice, even as he proclaims the opposite. It’s an Orwellian lie, it’s the height of hypocrisy, and it ought to raise the ire of far more people on the left.

Lawrence O’Donnell, Keith Olbermann’s replacement on MSNBC and host of “The Last Word,” devoted a segment to the Logan fallout the other night and focused entirely on Schlussel. He said nothing about Rosen. Look, it’s the left that prides itself on facing uncomfortable facts and confronting the whole truth. O’Donnell failed. He gave his viewers a partial account and did the public a disservice.


“We were set upon”

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

This is why Egyptians have taken to the streets to demand Mubarak’s ouster – exactly this sort of thuggery, for decades, but always away from the cameras. Until now.


Egypt on the march

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011


Castro’s latest

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Via Jack Shafer’s Twitter feed, this AP story on Fidel Castro’s decision to fill three of the eight scant pages in the party-controlled newspaper Granma with nonsense from 9/11 Truther and Bilderberg conspiracy theorist Daniel Estulin. AP writer Will Weissert does a nice job detailing how Estulin’s work actually draws on the thinking (rather, “thinking”) of the extremist right.

I’m glad to see that the Obama administration is moving to ease travel restrictions to Cuba. And yet I’m still amazed that there are those on the left who continue to admire Castro, this pitiful crackpot, who has long outlawed the very existence of a journalistic culture on the island, preferring to force-feed the Cuban people his own ravings, along with the ravings of fellow loons.

I know, journalism in the U.S. is anything but perfect, but the quick dissemination of news and debate fostered by the Net — and the enormous flux in media and information cultures detailed in this very interesting pair of pieces in Wired (hat tip John Murph) — couldn’t stand in starker contrast to the utterly shriveled, hideous excuse for a media outlet that is Granma. And every other official organ like it elsewhere on the planet.

Read Chris Anderson’s thoughts on iPads and RSS feeds and Pandora and the like. And then recall that the Cuban government took the enormous step of legalizing cell phones in 2008. We thought it was right-wing anticommunists, per William F. Buckley, who “stood astride history, yelling ‘Stop!’” Turns out it’s actually the communists. (Of course, America’s Castro apologists benefit from cutting-edge online communication to get their organizing done.)

By the way, Castro’s not the only one spouting laughable conspiracist rot. Hugo Chávez, we learn in this valuable piece by Christopher Hitchens, believes the moon landing may not have actually happened. But the most amusing part of Hitchens’s account is how deeply, how desperately, Sean Penn wants to believe in Chávez’s political sanity, all evidence to the contrary.


“America has disgraced itself”

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

I agree with this strongly worded assessment of the Cordoba controversy by Peter Beinart. Key point:

Once upon a time, the “war on terror” was supposed to bring American values to Saudi Arabia. Now Newt Gingrich says we shouldn’t build a mosque in Lower Manhattan until the Saudis build churches and synagogues in Mecca—which is to say, we’re bringing Saudi values to the United States.

Also don’t miss Michael Kinsley’s dead-on rebuttal of Charles Krauthammer:

Even if this mosque has no connection with terrorism today, Charles writes, “Who is to say that the mosque won’t one day hire an Anwar al-Aulaqi–spiritual mentor to the Fort Hood shooter and the Christmas Day bomber”? Right, and who is to say that the Fifth Avenue Synagogue won’t hire Bernie Madoff as its next cantor? Or that the Pope won’t appoint some child molester as Archbishop of Boston? Obviously, freedom of religion can’t be contingent on such what-ifs.

Not incidentally, there is a horrific story of death by stoning out of Afghanistan today. “Taliban stone Afghan couple to death for adultery,” reports the Guardian. Here is how we should rewrite that headline in light of the Cordoba debate: “Taliban stone Muslim couple to death for adultery.”

You get the picture. These doomed young lovers were Muslims. Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin are essentially spitting on their graves.

Let us also recall the Muslim victims of recent Taliban attacks on Sufi sites, as helpfully catalogued by William Dalrymple in this brilliant NYT op-ed: the July 2 bombing of the Data Darbar in Lahore (42 dead, 175 injured); the May bombing of Peeru’s Cafe, a cultural center (sound familiar?) in Lahore; the rocketing and destruction of the mausoleum of Bahadar Baba and the shrine of Abu Saeed Baba near Peshawar; the March 2009 dynamiting of the Rahman Baba shrine near the Khyber Pass (thankfully killing no one). All carried out by Islamist terrorists, against Muslims and their holy places.

We must also add the heinous May 28 massacre carried out against Ahmadi Muslims in Lahore (98 dead, 110 wounded). And the ongoing attacks against Shia Muslims, like this one at a funeral, or this completely diabolical example:

In the first blast, a motorbike laden with explosives hit a bus carrying Shia Muslims to a religious procession and exploded, killing 12 people.

An hour later, another bomb exploded outside the entrance to the emergency ward of the hospital where the victims of the first attack were being treated.

As Dalrymple notes, Al Qaeda and the Taliban view Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative as “an infidel-loving, grave-worshiping apostate; they no doubt regard him as a legitimate target for assassination.” If Rauf lived in Pakistan, he would have every reason to fear for his life. How disgraceful that he should be subjected to smears by self-seeking U.S. politicians.

Again, according to Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and the other ringleaders of this phony Cordoba controversy, there is no distinction to be drawn between Islamist terrorists and the victims of the bombings I’ve mentioned above. They’re all the same.

And this from people who talk piously of not slapping the victims of terrorism in the face.

[Update: Please see this NYT editorial on the flood disaster in Pakistan. Help UNICEF help the victims.]


In support of Cordoba House

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

I’m proud that the president of my country, and the mayor of my city, have spoken out forcefully against the bigoted campaign to block the construction of a Muslim community center on Park Place in lower Manhattan. This is a phony issue ginned up by the right, in fact part of a wider outburst of xenophobia that actually has little to do with the hallowed 9/11 site itself. And the fact that a demagogue like Newt Gingrich can now accuse President Obama of “pandering to radical Islam” gives you a good idea of what the game plan was from the beginning.

For Obama, this is not the time to back-pedal.

Ironically, Gingrich’s smear coincides with this extensive report, on Obama’s significantly stepped-up war against radical Islam. The facts are in front of us.

I’m saddened to know that a majority of my fellow New Yorkers disagree with Mayor Bloomberg, and my advice to them would be to look beyond New York’s borders — I know, it’s so difficult — and learn something about the internal divisions in the Muslim world. Jeffrey Goldberg put it most effectively: ”If he could, Bin Laden would bomb the Cordoba Initiative.” Or as President Obama noted, “Al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion.”

This is something I’ve said a thousand times before on this blog — and it’s something equally ignored by the Rush Limbaugh right and the Code Pink left: The chief victims of jihadi violence are Muslims. It’s time for Americans to get over their narcissism and understand what this means.

The Cordoba Initiative must go forward. It is an eloquent rejection of jihadi ideology, a powerful alliance of pluralist Islam and the Western democratic ideal.

As for the sensitivities of the 9/11 families: There are other 9/11 families who passionately disagree with the effort to demonize Cordoba. Why do their opinions not count? Muslims, too, were among the 9/11 victims. And in case you think that the ADL speaks for the entire Jewish community on this issue, please read this.


Oliver Stone’s Chávez

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Oliver Stone has made a documentary called “South of the Border,” about the new left-wing populist wave in South America, and in particular about Hugo Chávez, a man Stone much admires.

On “Real Time with Bill Maher” the other week, Stone praised Sean Penn’s earlier appearance on the same program. Penn, Stone said, had done “a great job” defending Hugo Chávez on HBO. Interestingly, what Stone is referring to is the discussion in which Penn declared that American journalists should be jailed for reporting inaccurately on the Chávez regime. What this shows is that Penn is not deluded about the autocratic nature of Chávez’s reign (or Castro’s for that matter). It turns out he in fact supports its autocratic nature. I’m someone who believes firmly in straight talk, and this, finally, was Penn talking straight, laying bare his anti-democratic convictions. Good for him, I suppose.

In case you haven’t been paying attention:

Chávez recently announced, ”The Internet cannot be something open where anything is said and done.” (If an American politician said this, needless to say, there’d be endless howls of protest and mockery from the left, and rightly so.) In 2008, Chávez ejected two leading Human Rights Watch officials from Venezuela. He recently voiced qualified admiration for Idi Amin. He congratulated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for stealing the 2009 Iranian election. He has proclaimed solidarity with torturer and kleptocrat Robert Mugabe and called Belarus under dictator Alexander Lukashenko “a model social state.”

This is not subtle, and it’s not up for argument — it’s all a matter of record, and it establishes Chávez as a deeply reactionary figure, a figure beloved not by the democratic left (in any country), but by the reactionary left. There is, and has always been, a difference. Yes, Chávez was democratically elected, as Stone and Penn tell us over and again. But being democratically elected is not the same as governing democratically. Ask the people of Gaza.

What do Stone’s film, and Penn’s advocacy, and the mewlings of other pro-Chávez celebrities really represent? They represent the growing success of the reactionary left in drowning out the discourse of the democratic left, a phenomenon that is aided by the silence of people like Rachel Maddow, who sat and listened to Oliver Stone on Bill Maher’s panel and uttered not a word back. I love Maddow, I watch her, I’m thrilled that she’s on the air, precisely because she’s a person of democratic convictions. But those convictions failed her here. And I’m a hundred percent certain she knows better.

Google Stone’s film and the only strong critiques you’ll find are on right-wing sites. This is not because only a rightist would attack a great guy like Chávez. It’s because left political culture in the U.S. is badly distorted and in need of an overhaul.


Iran solidarity

Saturday, January 9th, 2010