In Toronto Again: Kevin Annett

Last night I had the good fortune of seeing Kevin Annett speak at Ryerson University. I first met Kevin last year when I arranged for him to speak at Campus Co-op, and that event was crucial for my becoming aware of Canada’s genocidal treatment of indigenous populations, and specifically the history of residential school. His documentary, “Unrepentant” (watch the trailer or the whole film online), is a brutal and compelling story which carefully documents both the history, and the way institutions respond to those who threaten to unearth crimes of the past.

This event was part of the launch of Kevin’s new book, Unrepentant: Disrobing the Emperor, although unfortunately he was all out of copies so I wasn’t able to get my hands on one (it can also be ordered online for the surprisingly low price of 13$, or 8$ on Kindle). Kevin read from the book a little, but because the stories are highly emotional, and the audience was relatively small and highly educated in residential school history, he left most of the time for people to ask questions, talk, and socialize. One of my favorite things about Kevin is his sense of the importance of community, and the need to actively engender time and spaces for people to relate humanely with each other – and how this is at least as important as getting the correct ideas out there, supported by good arguments.

Superficially, not much as changed in Kevin’s story since I saw him speak last year. There is a difference in tone, however – in a sense he has become much more hopeful. He’s begun to speak about the confluence of capitalist/environmental crisis in relation to our society’s unwillingness/inability to come to terms with grief, to understand its own failings, and to be honest with itself about the terror it creates for those who are excluded from privilege. He now connects the religious logic which allowed Christians to consider non-Christian lives not worth living with the logic of white or western privilege which grounds racial or sectarian prejudice that makes palatable imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. His response to this is not to encourage us to stand up against it, because this culture is us. Rather, he suggests we grieve the death of that culture, which is our culture. I’ll have a better idea of what that means after I read his new book, but perhaps more significantly – I already have a strong feeling of what he means.

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Glyn Secker in Toronto and North America

During the past few weeks I’ve had the good fortune of meeting Glyn Secker, seeing him speak, and talking with him at length on several occasions about his life and political outlook. Glyn is a retired social worker who has in many ways committed his life to activism and organizing. At present, Glyn is finishing up a North American speaking tour in which he’s been telling his story of captaining a Jewish Boat to Gaza in open defiance of the Israeli blockade.

The story of the boat is interesting and powerful, and I recommend reading Glyn’s detailed testimony at the operation’s website: http://jewishboattogaza.org. The big picture is,a group in the UK which Glyn is involved in called “Jews for Justice for Palestinians” (http://jfjfp.com/) wanted to send an all-Jewish boat to Gaza to counter the charge that boats challenging the blockade were motivated by anti-semitism. They went public with the project last may, immediately following Israel’s piracy against the Free Gaza Flotilla and murder of 9 activists abord the Mavi Marmara.

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What is “Twitter”

This isn’t a joke. Of course, we all know what Twitter is. It’s that smartphone thing, where you say short things, and other people say things, and you read the things that other people say who don’t necessarily read the things you say.

But seriously, what is Twitter? Twitter is an asymmetrical social media site. That means that instead of having “friends” you have followers, and the amount of followers you have is in no way limited by the amount of friends you could conceive of having, or wish to interact with online. Facebook has a natural upper limit of the number of friends a person someone can acquire. I don’t mean the actual limit (some people have hit it – I think it’s a few thousand), but the limit in terms of the content streaming down your wall which you don’t want to deal with. Or the hundreds of people messaging you everyday when they click “message entire list”.

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Libya, Force, Hypocricy

I feel as though I have to say something about the War in Libya which is happening as we speak.  I’m not much of a political scientist, so don’t take any of my analysis too seriously.

It seems that the uprisings in Libya are related to the uprisings in Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, Yemen, and Palestine. Many media sources are calling this the “Arab Awakening”, but I think it is more appropriate to call it the “Arab Uprising” – since it is the uprisings that we, and they, can see. Maybe we could say the uprisings are causing awakening, which leads to more uprising. But anyway, I think the reason we haven’t seen the term “uprising” used as much is because the Arabic word for uprising is intifada, and analysts do not wish people to make the obvious links between this pan-Arab intifada and the two Palestinian intifada.

The uprisings in every country besides Libya have been responded to in a similar way by Western powers – support the dictator and continue to materially support brutal oppression of the uprising right up to the point where it is obvious some sort of regime change is required, and then pretend you supported the uprising all along. Of course, Obama might “call on” the middle east dictators he supports not to use force against protestors, but no there is no material to these demands right up until the point where it is clear that supporting the dictator is politically impossible. This explains why the US supported Mubarak until very late in the Egyptian uprising, and also why it has supported Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in its brutal repression of protests there.

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Chomsky: Climate Change is an institutional problem

Transcribed from a recent interview in Wales:

When you have a financial crisis there is a way to rescue it: you go to the taxpayer, the taxpayer bales you out. So there is a possible answer; Goldman Sachs can make risky investments and when it all crashes you take your copy of Hayek or Milton Friedman and run to the nanny state. But in the case of climate change the externality in this case… is the fate of the species. So when you’re making decisions as the director of a corporation, one of the externalities you can’t pay attention to is “what’s the effect on my grandchildren?” – you have to maximize short term profit and market share. In this case there is nobody to bail you out, no taxpayer can come and take care of it. But these are institutional necessities and that’s what makes them so dangerous. There is no point convincing a CEO that you shouldn’t be doing it; he knows it already. But if he doesn’t do it someone else will do it. It’s just the way the institution is set up; it’s the way markets work. To the extent that we have unregulated markets we’re going to get more and more of this. These (anti-climate change) propaganda campaigns in the last couple of years have had a big effect, you can see in opinion polls. Now about a third of the population thinks there is a serious risk of global warming. This is exasterbated by the recession, for a large part of the population it’s back to the depression, and worse because the jobs aren’t going to come back; people don’t want to hear about things that don’t matter to their immediate survival.

Why you can’t just read “the Economist”

If you read one source, you get one view. The way an article is titled skews a story, and the sources a press office uses and the way those sources are used changes the content of the story. Moreover, the way a story is framed changes the way you emotionally respond to it. And yet, the facts are the same – the same thing happened in the world.

Take the IDF and settler’s actions against the town of Awarta, Palestine in response/retribution for the heinous killing of 5 settlers in the illegal Itamar settlement, 70km from Jerusalem. In reality, no one knows who committed this crime, although the lack of any video footage of the criminals suggests that it was someone with a high level of knowledge of the settlement, which is highly fortified and heavily employs video surveillance.

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Chomsky comes around on Marx

In a recent talk Chomsky has publicly dispelled (go to 5:16) a common myth concerning Marx’s idea of communism:

If you read Marx for example, I discovered that he says almost nothing about a post capitalist society, a few remarks here or there. But he didn’t say anything about post capitalist society for a reason: he thought post capitalist society would have to be determined by the working class after they had assumed control over the society. I assume the background thinking is that this is too much to understand, and that answers would have to be discovered by trying to organize participatory systems, which can be done right now. You all know that it’s possible for information about production to be made available to the democratically functioning workforce in realtime, so they can make sensible decisions. That doesn’t have to be associated with control or renumeration. But what’s the answer? Nobody knows, you have to try out and see. And that’s true of other forms of social organization as well.

-Chomsky March 11th 2011, Cardiff, England

My supervisor always makes this point when people try to complain about Marx’s “theory of communism”, which simply doesn’t exist.

Judith Butler on the Global Boycott: Analysis and Response

Now that Israeli Apartheid week is ending, and Judith Butler’s talk has been posted online, I feel it is less important to provide a comprehensive sketch of her arguments, and instead offer some analysis and response to the case she made for a “global” as opposed to “partial” boycott.

Butler’s case relies on the idea that doing business with any Israeli institutions normalizes the current conditions of domination, and should therefore be avoided. Relations with individuals as individuals do not exist only as institutional relations, so the new academic boycott does not target individuals. She is opposed to, but supports, partial boycotts on the grounds that doing business with any Israeli firm or institution normalizes the entire system of domination and rights-exclusion that is Israeli apartheid. Her opposition to partial boycotts is, however, partial, as she recognizes the civil society call for BDS is purposely open-ended to allow groups in different situations to find a BDS tactic that works for them.

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Israeli Apartheid Week Update Day 5 – Riham Barghouti and Ali Abunimah

Last night was the last talk or panel event in this years Israeli Apartheid Week in Toronto, although the week goes on and includes the Great Indian Bus tour of Toronto happening this Sunday in collaboration between SAIA and the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. The event was called “State of the Siege, State of the Struggle” and covered stories about how different groups across North America are moving the BDS movement forward in different ways, as well as a critical analysis of Israeli apartheid, and Israel’s own BDS movement against Palestine and Palestinians.

Riham Barghouti is a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for an Academic and Cultural boycott of Israel, as well as a founding member of Adlah – NY, the New York campaign for the boycott of Israel. She spoke about the state of the BDS movement, mostly across the United States. She pointed out that in only one decade BDS rose from nothing to a huge global movement, and that this has not happened haphazardly but as the result of hard work actively pursuing the end to the systematic oppression of Palestinians. Prior to the BDS movement, she argued, civil societies condemnation of Israel has been criticism of specific acts, but BDS and the framework of apartheid allows societies to criticize not only specific acts of violence but the systematic oppression that underlies them. It encourages us to look at the everyday experience of Palestinians, not only the most grotesque acts of murder and displacement. The response to BDS by the pro-Israeli community, on the other hand, has become increasingly reactionary and defensive. Initially their response was to ignore the BDS movement, then to denounce it (falsely) as anti-semitic, and then finally to take legal action against people engaged in Palestinian solidarity activism. This increasingly reactionary stance with the complete absence of argument is symptomatic of a movement which is ill, and which is increasingly grasping at straws to defend the occupation and differential treatment of people based on race.

Ali Abunimah is a Palestinian-American journalist and a co-founder of electronic intifada.net. He spoke about the failure of the peace process, which he said is as bankrupt as were the calls for “constructive engagement” with South African apartheid. Since the “talks” began, settler populations in the illegally occupied territories have tripled, and the recent Palestinian Papers release demonstrate that Israel has no interest in a peaceful settlement, even after extreme concessions were offered by the PA – concessions far beyond the mandate they have from the Palestinian population.

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