An Open Letter to Folks Re-Posting George Monbiot’s Article on the US bombing of ISIS

This article you have posted by the George Monbiot engages in reductive equivocation across a whole list of conflicts and tensions. It’s by a white English guy who has written about the middle east only sporadically (I can’t find anything else by him that’s recent on Syria, Iraq, or ISIS). Since you are probably well aware of identity related issues in relation to the ongoing normalization of oppression, can I suggest that you try to read Syrian and Iraqi intellectuals as well before developing an opinion on what’s happening there?

The major fallacy in Monbiot’s article is the fact he focuses only on a very specific form of military intervention, while remaining quiet on the much more normal form of military intervention: the supply of arms. America funds the Israeli army something like 3 billion a year, the Egyptians 1 billion. The Iraqi army is built out of US debt (although the most recent planes they are flying are Russian), and in fact the entire history of the colonial and neo-colonial processes in the middle east have been of supplying various states with various kinds of security apparatuses, whether those are security guarantees, or arms.

Simply opposing the act of bombing, without a more radical critique of the history of European and American involvement int he middle east, leaves much to be desired. Should middle eastern countries not be allowed to sign treaties which include security guarantees from Western nations? If a middle eastern country does sign such a treaty, it is a treaty obligation for that western state to intervene in favour of the attacked nation. Iraq today is under attack – much of it’s territory is under occupation by an insurrectionary group.

The lack of analysis concerning the American bombing of ISIS is summed up in the use of the phrase “Second War on Iraq”. Not to mention the fact that the 2003 war was a “second war on Iraq”, unless the Gulf war is forgotten, this war – unlike the first two – is not a war against the Iraqi state, but an intervention in something like a civil war on the side of the Iraqi state. And, crucially, these attacks of not only been agreed to by the Iraqi state; the Iraqi state was actively requesting them.

I have devoted much of the past two years to organizing in relation to the Syrian revolution, and I was very active for the past three years with organizing with various Palestine solidarity student groups and IAW’s. Since I became involved, but especially since the uprising in Syria began, I have been very upset at the lack of engagement I’ve seen on the Canadian left with the politics of the Arab/Muslim region – it’s very low especially in relation to the volume of leftist voices against the various things are government does there. It’s better with respect to Palestine, but only after more than 50 years of organizing by Palestinians have western activists adopted a progressive and non reactionary anti-apartheid discourse. Compare this with western leftists discourse on Iraq and Syria, which despite a lot of “anti war rallies”, has remained extremely thin.

In my view, reactive pro nor anti intervention discourse helps Syrians fighting both the fascist Assad regime and the also fascist Daesh (“ISIS”). Neither does it help Iraqis, either those who are allied to the Iraqi state, or those who are to varying degrees supporting ISIS (although the majority of the anti-state forces in Iraq are Iraqi nationalist forces (including Iraqi Ba’athists) who are in a tactical alliance with ISIS).

Both the discourses which are being widely promoted in relation to intervention against ISIS – the “this intervention costs a lot” discourse, and the “there are so many people trying to kill each other in the middle east why would we possibly get involved” discourse, are deeply orientalist because they reduce the people of Iraq and Syria to a footnote in a conversation about America. Therefore I’m not surprised that, in actuality, the point Monbiot is making in this article is pretty much the same as Sarah Palin’s position (“Let allah sort it out”).

I am extremely opposed to the US bombings in Syria. Not because I oppose intervention in advance, in all cases (that perspective is unaccountable to the many Syrians who have called for intervention against Assad who has been carrying out genocidal processes against Syrians which has killed more than 250k and displaced many millions), but because of the particular character of those bombings. For example in Manbij, a town that was liberated from the regime without the use of arms, neither the regime nor ISIS dared to attack the grain silos because the fighters could not avoid accountability to the local population. The unaccountable US bombers however did target the silos, and have seriously reduced that town’s capacity to feed itself and maintain food sovereignty, which is one of the reasons it has been strong in the face of the regime and in the face of ISIS. The targeting of these silos shows the extent to which the USA wants the Syrian revolution to fail.

Here are some links interviews with Syrian intellectuals, which I think are far better analysis than either what is being promoted by the mainstream news fear mongers, or the leftist knee jerk “anti war” folk. And yes, these are all anti-intervention positions. I apologize that I can not link to any Iraqi intellectuals – and I fully acknowledge the insufficiency of my own intellectual engagement, manifested in the fact I don’t have off hand links of Iraqi intellectuals that I can cite to explain the political discourse inside Iraq regarding the Iraqi state’s requisitioning of these air strikes against Daesh.  

Yassin Haj Saleh:

https://www.opendemocracy.net/…/conscience-of-syria…

Yasser Munif:

http://afscwm.org/2013/09/05/syrianrevolution/

Leila Shrooms:

http://tahriricn.wordpress.com/…/syria-the-life-and…/

Rania Khalek:

http://america.aljazeera.com/…/syria-s…

The Need for Honesty and Clarification for the Consumer Boycott against Israeli Apartheid

The BDS consumer boycott campaign feels hopelessly disorganized as soon as you try to step beyond the huge targeted campaigns, such as against Soda Stream or Hewlett-Packard. Unlike the Arab League Boycott, there are no simple set of self-consistent guidelines to determine what makes a product “boycottable”, and targets chosen by people often fail to reflect a sense of really having thought things through.

For example – McDonalds and Coca Cola. Are they boycottable? They both do business in Israel, but are they “complicit in Israeli violations of international law”? Paying taxes in Israel is to some extent complicity in these violations. Coca Cola goes farther and actually has a factory in an illegal settlement. However, McDonalds also in a sense “respects” a boycott against Israeli violations of international law by refusing to open locations in the occupied territories. Also, while Coca Cola is indeed involved in settlement factory activity, their main competitor – Pepsi – is a part owner of the Israeli company Sabra Hummus, which is itself a major target of BDS (due to being an Israeli export). So whether you support Pepsi instead of Coke, you are supporting Israel either way.

While guidelines exist, not only do they fail to give a definitive answer to the question of what qualifies a business to be boycott-able, it self-consciously avoids the question. The BDS movement website reads “Trying to boycott the products of every single company that participates in Israeli apartheid is a daunting task that has a slim chance of having a concrete impact.” However, to boycott companies (and countries!) that economically co-operate with Israel was the strategy adopted by the Arab league boycott against the Zionist movement which in 1946. According to the Israeli chamber of commerce and cited from a 1994 New York Times article, “the boycott has cost Israel $20 billion in export opportunities and $16 to $32 billion in lost investment”. Compare this with the cost to Israel’s economy from BDS, which is measured in the millions, rather than billions. While the current policy of many Arab League states is not to observe this boycott, this is not evidence that the boycott tactic itself is ineffective, rather it is evidence that American power has effectively neutralized Arab resistance against Israel.

“Trying to boycott the products of every single company that participates in Israeli apartheid” was in fact the policy of the Arab league boycott, which included a primary boycott (boycotting Israel and Israeli exports), a secondary boycott (boycotting companies that do business with Israel) and a tertiary boycott (boycotting companies that do business with boycotted companies). The BDS movement includes a version of the primary boycott (although it does not target individuals), and the secondary boycott (but only insofar as the companies “are complicit in Israeli violations of international law), and might include some version of the tertiary boycott when the engagement between companies concerns matters that sustain Israeli power.

BDS activists should clarify the Boycott of Israeli products in relation to the question of the secondary boycott. The notion of an “effective” or “strategic” target is a dangerous ground for hypocricy because it suggests the possibility of a situation where two companies which are equally supportive of Israeli crimes, but only one would be considered a “target” for boycott. The basis of a products boycott ability should be some standard of their degree of support to the Israeli apartheid system. Personally, I can’t see how we can draw any qualitative boundary between companies who participate directly in the occupation and security apparatus, and companies who merely help support and sustain the Israeli economy. The Israeli economy and the Israeli military-occupation machine are one and the same power system.

In my view, we should recognize that internal consistency is a part of the nature of activist solidarity – we shouldn’t make fun of people’s desire to be consistent. We should learn about the Arab league boycott in detail, and consider taking from it this sense of consistency in refraining from economic activity that strengthens the power systems that sustain Israeli crimes. Because…

2014 Peoples’ Social Forum and the Anglophone/Francophone Political Gap

This past weekend I travelled to Ottawa to attend four days of workshops, seminars, lectures, assemblies, and conversations concerning social and political issues. I attended sessions on global inequality, guaranteed minimum income, the state of the left since ww1, co-operative self-management, the 2012 student strike, quebec independence as resistance to neo-liberalism, the coup in Egypt, veganism and colonialism, the state of indigenous land defence today, and how to move forward with Palestine activism. I also met some very interesting people, who I hope to stay in contact with, as well as rekindled some old friendships. I also discovered that I really like dancing to progressive hip hop. 

I thought initially I would go through every seminar, but this might be boring for readers. I think instead I will write about a general theme that emerged for me over the weekend. It was something I had inklings of already, but after this weekend I am no longer able to deny the gap in political discourse that exists between the anglophone and francophone communities in Canada. Attending the same number of events in French as I did in English, I noticed different issues coming to priority, different political ideals being mobilized to discuss the issues, even some differences in conversational norms.

This was all somewhat of a surprise, mostly because I hadn’t expected, and this is partially because I hadn’t spent any time looking at the schedule in advance, any of the convergence to be in French. After all, we all know that Francophones (are expected to) speak English, whereas Anglophones don’t (are not expected to) speak French. This isn’t descriptively false, and it was a cause of tension at several points when Anglophones complained that some event wasn’t being held in English. However, nearly all sessions provided for the language divide with simultaneous translation, UN style. It was outside my normal experience to see quiet rooms set up inside all the sessions, and people wearing headsets listening to the session in the other language. Probably quite expensive too, but I suppose this is what it takes to bring together the two solitudes. Except it isn’t really, because as I would have expected, Francophones came to Anglo-centric sessions, but virtually no Anglophones attended sessions given in French, despite the resource of simultaneous translation being offered.

This is actually the beginning clue to the division between the communities, in my view – the lack of interest in the issues that concern the other. The 2012 student strike, for example, was a massive event in Canadian student history, especially for progressives. And this forum didn’t disappoint – a session was set up for three members of CLASSE (the amalgam of student unions that organized the strike) to speak in the large auditorium about the history and future of that movement in a talk titled “A student strike, but a social struggle” (it sounds better in French: “La grève est étudiant/e, la lutte est populaire“). They built it, but they didn’t come – the event was attended by a scant twenty people (which looked especially minuscule in the large auditorium), and not a single person made use of the simultaneous translation.  That surprised me, especially because knowledge of the political history of that strike is not well known in English Canada, and most Anglo-Canadian progressives will tell you that it interests them and they would like to know more about it. What didn’t surprise me, however, was the nearly complete absence of Anglophones at the talk “Quebec Independence: beyond nationalism, solidarity grounds to think about social transformation“. Maybe it is a bit much to expect anglo-Canadians to care about the issue of Quebec independence, but it would do them well to take notice to how the sovereignty discourse has changed on the progressive left in Quebec. This event was interesting enough that it deserves its own post devoted to what I learned in it, but for the meantime I want to focus on the gap – for example how many progressive anglo-Canadians continue to use the derogatory term “separatist” to refer to the Quebec sovereignty movement? What’s worse is how many anglo-Canadians use the term “Progressive Canadian” or “Canadian” as if it unproblematically includes Quebecois who are committed to sovereignty? The pinnacle of this disconnect in my experience happened at the 2012 Student Strike event when two Anglophone (but fluently French-speaking) members of CFS made statements during question period in which the term “Canadian” was used to unproblematically cover Quebec students, including contexts of belonging that are strongly anti-federalist. Now, the talk itself hadn’t touched on the issue of federalism, but the fact that the talks were in French, and the absence of the use of the term “Canadian” from the talks made it clear to me that that word, “Canadian”, was not an inclusive term in this space. 

Ignoring Quebecois contexts of belonging speaks to the gap in understanding between the communities. But what was actually much more interesting to me was the differences in political discourse between most events in English versus French. The first Francophone events I attended was perhaps the strongest example of this, titled “A Universal Guaranteed Income to meet Human Rights“. Guaranteed income is an issue which is important to me because, looking forward, I see it as the only alternative to increasing inequality as low income jobs aren’t simply squeezed with lower wages, but literally eliminated through mechanization (nearly 50% in the next 20 years). However in Toronto the issue hasn’t really been taken on by the radical left. OCAP doesn’t focus on it, although folks at this talk did say that they discuss it sometimes. However, if you search OCAP’s website for “minimum income”, nothing directly about guaranteed minimum income comes up. In Toronto, the only ground openly advocating for guaranteed minimum income is the Green Party, not exactly a bastion of radical progressive thought. This presentation did have a radical feel about it, however. It was put on by a group by the name of RSUG, which stands for committee for universal, social, guaranteed revenue (income), and the FCPASQ, the common front of people on social assistance in Quebec.  From their presentation I was able to glean a few reasons why perhaps their discourse has not spread through radical circles in Anglophone Canada. For staters, their presentation began with a focus on rights, and the way rights are inter-dependant – such as it would be mistaken to think someone has the right to free speech if they are starving and freezing to death, and therefore speech rights depend on rights to access food and shelter. RSUG also focussed on the pragmatic side, emphasizing that the cost of poverty is much higher than the cost of eliminating poverty. They differed from other guaranteed minimum income proposals, such as Milton Friedman’s (!), in that their proposal would include the continuation of all social services (whereas neo-liberal versions of guaranteed minimum income use the income supplement as a pretext to convert all social services to for-profit private companies). They said that such a supplement, which should by their calculations amount to 19k$ per year, would free people to volunteer, to raise children, and serve as a recognition for the 33% of national GDP (by their calculation) which is currently unpaid labour. They focussed on pilot projects which showed promising data including a surprisingly small decline in willingness to work, and spoke about how the desire to work to contribute to society is a basic human need, and the belief that humans only work to gain their food and shelter is an incredibly depressing view of the human species which few people actually believe. 

I don’t believe, however, that if RSUG came to Toronto, that they would be well recieved. Rights are not popular amongst the radical left right now, and RSUG fundamentally bases their analysis on a theory of human and juridical rights. Moreover, RSUG sees the state as an institution which should be held accountable to those whose needs it must serve (a view which, when I vocalized it at a later anglophone session, I was virtually laughed out of the room). The current thing is to be critical of “rights-discourses”, especially because of how they are co-opted by the state and serve to preserve the marginalization of the most oppressed by including others. And as for the state, the current version of anti-colonial, anti-oppression discourse sees no possibilities for redemption with the state. My problem with these critiques is that they both go too far. For example Dean Spade had effectively argued the thesis that rights-discourses can permit the co-option of radical movements in relation to the gay-rights movement. I agree with his account of the history of the gay and queer liberation struggles in North America/Turtle Island, and that in that context rights-discourse served as an avenue for liberals to co-opt a radical struggle and marginalize those who always have been and continue to be the most at risk of being subjects to anti-gay and anti-queer violence. However, generalizing this insight into a general principle of suspicion or rejection towards rights-discourses commits the error of confusing strategies with principles, and ignores the radical and revolutionary history of rights discourses especially in 18th and 19 century France. 

This difference between an Anglo-centric (post-modern) focus on specificity and a french-revolutionary style left-Republican focus on universality is also made evident by RSUG’s prolific use of the term “universal“, which they explained to mean that the guaranteed income should be available, and the same, for all residents of the territory in which the plan is implemented, regardless of age (so long as they are over 18), gender, ethnicity, language, etc… The motivation here is to be as inclusive as possible, to build social solidarity based on the meeting of concrete needs across the broadest possible context of belonging. I asked in the question period if this would include non-status persons, and the answer I received was pragmatic but reasonable: according to the presenter of the event, yes, but according to the RSUG and FCPASQ the income would be only for people of status. I pointed out that this is a major problem because of an increasing number of non status migrant workers working in our economies, the presenters agreed with me, but said that this is a project of social solidarity, and it can be implemented only so long as people agree to pressure institutions to implement it. The project is already pushing to increase the scope of who is included in the context of care, and it’s reasonably possible that those committed to the project and those being mobilized could be convinced that including non-status people is essential. This demonstrates an essential kind of gap between the politics of general inclusion, and the politics of dismissing universality and focussing exclusively on the most marginalized, because I’m sure when I present this politics to my anglo progressive, anti-rights discourse friends there will be a tendency to dismiss the project on the basis of its exclusion of the most marginalized. However, if a project is genuinely grassroots and democratic, and that is the only chance to implement RSUG, the project will only be as exclusive as the people carrying the project forward, and if the tendency of the project is towards greater inclusion of the marginalized by increasing greatly the income of the least well off, in a project which will also benefit lower-middle class workers, this is an organizing context which is fertile with the possibility of pushing the bounds of who is included increasingly outwards. 

The difference between RSUG’s attitude towards rights and the state, and the attitude which is becoming prominent in anglo-radical contexts was really driven home by a seminar I attended late on Friday evening by the name of “Veganism in the Occupied Territories: Anti Colonialism and Animal Liberation“. Dylan Powell made a great presentation, as usual, where he called out racist vegans for being racist in their attitudes towards indigenous people who hunt animals for food. He also presented a lot of substantive information of which I was not previously aware, at least not consciously, on the newness and hugeness of animal agriculture on Turtle Island, which really demonstrates how problematic it is to focus on indigenous hunting. However, he tied “animal rights” discourse to the racist veganism that often comes from settlers, and when I suggested in question period that a welfarist approach to opposing animal cruelty was even more susceptible to the problem of racism, and referred to the work of Will Kymlicka which has tried to address exactly this problem but does so from a rights-framework, he dismissed Kymlicka by making slanderous allegations about the kinds of things Kymlicka’s followers tend to say. When I suggested to differentiate between the euro-settler community, to which the state is accountable, from the indigenous communities which are struggling for sovereignty, I was basically laughed out of the room for suggesting that the state could even potentially be accountable to anyone. And the thing is, while saying it, I realized that it was going to sound ridiculous, and I experienced this self-alienation as an intense difference between linguistic communities because I had just come from the seminar on new approaches to Quebec Independence.

I wonder if one of the reasons Anglo-Canadians find it so difficult to believe that state structures could be radically reformed, that the state could be held accountable to its people, has something to do with the Franco-Quebecois experience of the sovereigntist movement. Although both referendums failed, they both came close to succeeding, and I don’t think the experience of either was felt as “oh, well I guess this was impossible”. Maybe Quebecois believe that their state institutions can be radically reformed because they very nearly were radically reformed on two separate occasions – I can’t think of any similar examples of popular movement for restructuring the state ever happening in Anglo Canada. One thing that Quebecois sovereigntists speaking at the forum on approaches to Quebec independence all repeated was their encouragement to English Canadians to radically reform their state as well, because it is a “prison for them as well”. This encouragement in my perception is not being heard, and perhaps can not be heard in a political climate dominated by anti-State discourse coming both from anarchists and post-modernists, culminating in the all encompassing focus on “anti oppression”. 

There are other things I’d like to mention, but I can’t write forever at the greatest level of detail. The first session I attended, “World Cafe: Collaboration for Greater International Solidarity” was run by by the Quebec Association of International Co-operative Organizations (AQOCI), the Canadian council for international Co-operation, and Inter Peres. In other words, or rather in their own words, international development workers (although it hadn’t said so on the write up). When I heard the presenter say “development workers”, I immediately assumed “liberals” and looked towards the door. But the session was actually very solid, there was uncompromising analysis of power gaps, and an emphasis that all through the weekend we should view sessions with an eye to global and local inequality, the way power inequalities distort collaborative projects, and we even talked about the pitfalls of solidarity work! (You should have seen their faces when I answered that question by referring to support for Hezbollah in the context of their intervention in Syria, although they, after I explained, agree with the point). I think the good politics of these solidarity organizations might also have to do with the Quebec connection – there is a much larger co-operative movement in connect, and focus on building a “solidarity economy”. I see a continuity between this faith in institution building from the co-operative movement and a more open attitude towards reforming the state. It might be hard to articulate this, except that I found a video from Quebec Solidaire that makes the case for me, titled “Quebec Solidaire est Communiste“. The video is in French, but I think it’s worth translating:

When you hear Quebec Solidaire speak, we would say they want to give everything to the State. Health? The state. Education? The state. Economy? The state. Environment? The state. What Quebec Solidaire wants is to create an immense state that will take care of everything. We will have to pass by the way of the state to eat, se diverter, leave, we will never have a word to say on everything, it will always be bureaucrats to decide everything. We know well who Quebec solidaire sees at the head of this state. They are like the communist party in the USSR or China. 

 

In fact, it isn’t exactly this. Quebec solidaire considers the state as a tool that can permit us to realize things together, and this tool must not be turned against us. For Quebec Solidaire, the state must be at the service of the population, for example, to finance public services, but also when a factory closes, workers should be allowed to change their factory into a co-operative. In the same manner, when Quebec Solidaire proposes to nationalize wind power, is is the state which will fix the national objectives, but it will be left to local communities to decide how those objectives will be met in their areas. Currently, there are too many decisions made without consultations, and this comes not only from the government but also from corporations over which we have no power at all. Quebec Solidaire proposes to render our society more democratic at all levels, and put an end to all the little dictatorships that restrict our lives. 

I want to end on a note which is at least half uplifting. During the forum on approaches to Quebec Sovereignty, Jonathan Durand invited English Canadians to reform and re-invent their state such that it would no longer be “The Canadian Prison” that holds hostage both francophone and anglophone Canadians. His call won’t be heard, partially because I don’t think there was a single anglophone besides myself in the room when he said it, and also partially because anglo Canadians don’t believe in the possibility of these kind of radical reforms. For example, when the referendum to change the British Columbian election structure to Single Transferable Vote failed for a second time, the overwhelming social emotion was: well that’s done, no chance in changing it. The same thing happened when a similar referendum failed in Ontario – the feeling was “well, that’s impossible, but at least we tried”. The belief that changing state structures is impossible is, however, the crucial lock on the door that keeps it impossible. Any political idea can be powerful if people believe in it, and I believe the central failure on the radical anglo left today is the commitment to ideas which are non-starters for most of the left’s “natural base”, i.e. lower income working folks. Focussing above all on specificity and difference isn’t inclusive to the broad majority, and moreover the near complete ignorance of Francophone issues by Anglophone “progressives” shows that the focus on difference among radicals is selective at best. Moving forward might be helped by changing form a focus specific identities, “difference”, towards respecting contexts of belonging and building new shared contexts of belonging. 

Peter Singer is out to lunch on Gaza

Yesterday, Peter Singer published this article discussing the morality of Israel’s recent war with Palestinians in Gaza. Normally, I am a fan of Singer’s work which usually contains a high degree of moral seriousness. However, in this piece, his moral seriousness is undermined by his uncritical acceptance of Israeli talking points:

“Israel, blaming Hamas, arrested hundreds of its members in the West Bank, though it has never explained the basis of its accusation.”

Why is Singer taking Israel’s word that the people it arrested are actually members of Hamas?

“The Israeli government may have seized on the outrageous murders as a pretext for provoking Hamas into a response…Hamas responded to the West Bank arrests with a barrage of rockets that reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem”

This goes from mischaracterization to flat out lie. Hamas was responding not only the arrests, but several days of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, which were a violation of the 2012 ceasefire it had signed with Israel.

“In firing rockets at Israel, Hamas invited a military response. A country subject to rocket attacks from across its border has a right to defend itself”

Unfortunately for Singer, this logic actually defends the Hamas rocket attacks, because its land was under attack by Israeli rockets.

“Hamas’s strategy of launching rockets from residential areas and storing them in schools”

While some rockets were found in schools, there is no evidence that this represents a “strategy”. The actions of the few, acting against the institutional norms and orders, don’t constitute an institutional strategy.

“Israel has legitimate military objectives in Gaza: to stop the rockets and destroy the tunnels.”

These are not legitimate military objectives. They are legitimate political objectives, which can legitimately be pursued militarily if there are no other means possible. However, Hamas has offered another means: stop the siege of Gaza. Which is, not incidentally, a crime.

Singer’s failure to overcome the media talking points on Gaza might tell us something fundamental about the gap between ethics and politics: perhaps ethics is asking difficult questions about right and wrong when the facts are not themselves up for question (or, when whether the facts are up for question is itself known, and becomes an ethical problem itself). Politics, on the other hand, is the world where ethically relevant facts are manipulated by public relations armies, which if they do their job right will result in otherwise good people affirming processes which are in fact unjust.

Singer is a decent philosopher, and he’s actually more politically engaged than average because he takes the uncontested but ignored facts about cruelty towards non-human animals and draws ethical implications from them. However, on political matters where it is already taken for granted by everyone that the lives at stake are valuable, he can not avoid the manipulative representations of power structures which results in blaming the victim, and representing the problem as the solution.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this article is, however, that he begins with a recognition of the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but then denies that it has any relevance to morally understanding the current conflict.

“Different answers to that question are possible. Some depend on answers to prior questions about the founding of the state of Israel, the circumstances that led to many Palestinians becoming refugees, and responsibility for the failure of earlier efforts to reach a peaceful solution. But let us put aside these questions – which have been explored in great depth – and focus on the moral issues raised by the latest outbreak of hostilities.”

Rather than ignoring context, and taking media talking points as a given, I would expect from Singer (and from any serious philosopher) an original interpretation of the situation on the basis of that context, and ideally one that uses thinking to break through media taboos which make our public discourse anemically ritualistic, and unable to hold power to account and stop the perpetual reproduction of injustice at which we sigh but fail to confront.

Towards a non-vacuous concept of “Just Peace”

All parties in conflict want peace. Oppressed groups want peace in the sense of the end of their oppression, which they interpret as a continuation of war, whereas oppressor groups want peace and quiet, in the sense of the absence of any rebellion against the oppression they instituted through mechanisms of pacification. Calls for “peace” without reference the context, or the terms of peace have, politically speaking, no content, and certainly cannot be assumed to contain anything like “justice”. At best they are context-poor expressions of a desire to see the end of the most extreme forms of human suffering, at worse, they are affirmations of mechanisms pacification towards oppressed people who refuse to let oppression be carried on in an atmosphere of peace and quiet. Worse, the concept of “justice” has no special relationship with “peace”, because a “just war” is only as far away as some example of rebellion you consider justified.

Generally, the problem with both these concepts, “peace” and “justice”, is that there is a tendency, we might even speak of an incentive to call for their implementation without specifying their content. The more we say what we mean by “justice”, the more we specify the terms for “peace”, the more we risk division, disagreement. In other words, there is an incentive, especially in online environments where the gladiatorial nature of the public space is more explicit than usual, to avoid saying what we mean by things, to avoid conflict by allowing each to interpret a value such that the appropriateness of that value obtains for them. Baudrillard talks about this in terms of his concept, (or his interpretation of Reagan’s concept) of the “silent majority”:

Microgroups and individuals, far from taking their cue from a uniform and imposed decoding, decode messages in their own way. They intercept them (through leaders) and transpose them…contrasting the dominant code with their own particular sub-codes, finally recycling everything passing into their own cycle…

We perhaps should see the incentive to speak in a way that avoids conflict as the object side of a coin to the tendency to re-interpret in terms of a particular sub code forms the subject side. And “flame wars” are perhaps just one kind of symptom that manifests when our normal agreement to sustain this two-sided mechanism of non-interaction, breaks down. No one wants flame wars, but also, none of us should want rhetorical exchanges based on false manifestations of agreement, from the perspective of the desire for the genuine interaction of interpretive perspectives, these are both disasters.

Instead, I would suggest, and I think is especially relevant for philosophers desiring to influence the public discourse, that when we assert the need for “just peace”, to be as explicit as possible concerning which prescriptions we believe must be implemented in order for a state of affairs to qualify as both just and peaceful, and also to be as thoughtful as possible concerning the mechanism for instituting of those prescriptions, including the contradictions and conflicts that can be predicted to arise from their implementation.

In Gaza, I can hear the rumble of victory

Since 1982, Israel has responded to every Palestinian “peace offensive”, i.e. any suggestion that the Palestinian leadership was prepared to resolve the political conflict on the basis of international law, in the same way: provoke, create a pretext, go to war, destroy the political institution with which they otherwise would have to negotiate. Hamas’ unity with Fatah is, like the 1981 ceasefire agreement between the PLO and Israel, an implicit granting of recognition of Israel’s existence. More importantly, it is an implicit recognition of the existing political framework between the PA and Israel, and therefore of the “peace process”, at least from the Palestinian perspective. From the Palestinian point of view, the political logic in the peace process, the Oslo Accords, the 1988 statehood declaration, all the way back to Breshnev’s “September Plan” in 1982, is not “land for peace”, but “law rather than war”; it is explicitly about resolving the conflict not on the basis of the balance of military force, where Israel enjoys a clear advantage, but through recourse to international law.

Since Israel enjoys such a superiority over the Palestinians in force but not in law, we should perhaps not be surprised that Israel uses war not as a continuation of politics, but as a means of avoiding politics. Rather than engage in politics, Israel inflicts pain, today they even use “pain maps”, that map the “pain that the enemy sees, we create a lot of pain so that he will have to think first to stop the conflict”.  Using this tactic, Israelis have many times achieved military victories that leave Palestinians physically and politically weakened. The expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon, and the Abbas-Dahlah coup at the end of the al-Aqsa intifada were both important Israeli victories, which took pressure off Israel and allowed it to continue settlement construction while preventing Palestinians from achieving an independent, unified, and internationally recognized political representation committed to their rights under international law. Every day the Palestinians do not go to the ICC, similarly, is one day longer Israel enjoys immunity from the law on the basis of its domineering power relationship against the Palestinians.

This time the resistance is strong, however, much stronger than for instance in ’82, or in 2008-2009.  Israel is responding to the success of the Palestinian resistance with brutal shelling of people in their homes while ambulances can’t move, and many ambulances have been hit directly (I see these reports constantly on my facebook feed, from activists who are on the ground in Gaza). But by all accounts the people of Gaza are fed up, they will not life on their knees but would rather die on their feet, or as Israel prefers, in their homes. Moreover, and perhaps just as importantly. Hanan Ashrawi has announced that the decision has been made to go to the ICC. So this time it may not only be “allegations” of Israeli war crimes, there may be real political pressure for Israeli politicians to stand trial for the crimes they have committed over the past weeks.

When people tell the story of the liberation of Palestine, perhaps the steadfastness of the people of Gaza and the heroism of the resistance in Gaza in 2014 will be story of the decisive blow. It feels like it could be the key moment, when time stood still, and resistance forces both on the ground by arms and around the world’s airwaves finally forced ideas to change and political forces to re-aligned and make Palestinian rights a reality. Inshallah Palestine will soon be free, and Israel in defeat will be forced to re-interpret itself, so that it can become something other than what it has been for the first 67 years. Maybe one day, a day long after decolonization, something called “Israel” could become something like a light among nations. In that Israel, perhaps Israelis would respect and salute the martyrdom of Palestinian heroes.

In Gaza, the Palestinian Revolution is alive. In Gaza, they are still holding down to the ground.

On the need for honesty as Gaza burns

We have no right to dishonesty of any sort. The Israeli massacre of Palestinians is political, it is what they judge to be required to maintain the current situation of political impasse. We must avoid calling for an end to violence by both sides and instead recognize that the explicit violence of massacres is part of an order of violence that maintains occupation, siege, colonization and dispossession. The violence that needs to end is not only the air strikes, but the settlements, the occupation, and the exclusion of refugees from their homeland.


 It is deeply misleading to characterize what’s happening in Palestine as a “cycle of revenge”. Israel occupies Palestinian land, and prevents refugees from returning to their homes, and this is maintained by a state of war which has lasted since the creation of the state. From the perspective of refugees, and people living under occupation, every day is a day of war – not only days of escalation. The escalation, just like all forms of resistance against the colonizer, is an attempt to make Israelis also experience the abnormality of the ongoing war which they do not normally experience. Rather than speaking of a “need for peace”, we should ask, “peace for who”, and realize that “peace” is only peace for the oppressor, and the continuation of war by other means for the one whose defeat is instituted as normality.


For Israel, war is something that begins and ends (with the exception of the October war) at the choice of the military leadership. For the occupied and the refugees every day is lived in a state of war. We should stop focussing on the need for “peace” and begin thinking about the unequal distribution of war in deeply one-sided conflicts.


We must have the courage to commit ourselves to the absoluteness of the distinction between violence that preserves institutionalized oppression, and violence that threatens and exposes that oppression as nothing but privileges defended by a regime of brutal domination.


 The true ground of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) is the need to resist against colonial violence including dispossession and aggression. 

The truth is that the conflict is political, and it is over land and who gets to live in it – as Ahamad Yassin says, who has a greater right to the land, a refugee who was pushed out a few decades ago, or a Russian Jew descended from people who left the land 2000 years ago? It’s easy to say that there is enough room for everyone, and it’s easy to believe that from a position of safety in the first world, but would you believe there was enough room in the land for everyone if you were a refugee living in Gaza, and the Israelis had been keeping you out of your land, killing members of your community or family, and demolishing your houses, for the last 65 years? If there is room enough for everyone, let the Israelis say this, stop their aggression and welcome the refugees home. Do not ask the oppressed to first reach out the hand that builds trust. 

Most people in Gaza are refugees, and Hamas insists on their right of return, whereas the Fatah since the early 80s became politically associated with giving up this right. Is it any wonder that Hamas is popular in Gaza? 

As for the question of racism, why are we so quick to insist that there is no racism by racialized people against whites in the first world, and yet not apply the same analysis to Palestine? Israel is a white supremacist state, and it is not possible to be racist against those who act from a position of white privilege. Any similarities between statements about Jews coming from people suffering under Israeli oppression should not be called “racist” anymore than statements about whites coming from racialized people anywhere else where white privilege is a key structural factor in the oppression of one group by another.


The only countries supplying arms for the defence of Gaza [Iran, Syria] are the ones also supplying weapons for and carrying out the siege of Yarmouk.