On Keith Ellison, the First Muslim—and My–Congressman in the US

Reading Jane’s post on the morning of March 21, 2008  about the religious beliefs of candidates made me think about how my own Congressman, Keith Ellison, had to deal with religious controversy in his past and how he has been able to overcome it. (Religion and politics in general, and the religious beliefs of candidates running for president in 2008 in particular, seem to be standard fare in the political realm and the media these days.)

While a law student in 1989 and 1990, Ellison wrote several columns as Keith E. Hakim in the student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. "The first article defended Louis Farrakhan against accusations of anti-Semitism," defended Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Abdul Muhammad, and spoke in the voice of a Nation of Islam advocate." The second column "called affirmative action a ‘sneaky’ form of compensation for slavery, suggesting instead that white Americans pay reparations to blacks."The third suggested the creation of a separate state for black residents.

In 1995, Ellison, writing an editorial as Keith X. Ellison, stated that Farrakhan is not an anti-Semite. The same year, Ellison was identified as a member of the Nation of Islam in the Star Tribune.

In 1997, when Joanne Jackson, executive director of the Minneapolis Initiative Against Racism (MIAR), allegedly said that, "Jews are among the most racist white people", Ellison, using his religious name Mohammed, read a statement supporting her on behalf of the The Minneapolis-St. Paul Study Group of the Nations of Islam: "[We] stand by Ms. Jackson. We stand by the truth contained in the remarks attributed to her, and by her right to express her view without sanction. Here is why we support Ms. Jackson: She is correct about Minister Farrakhan. He is not a racist. He is also not an anti-Semite. This widespread and unfair practice of whites sanctioning blacks for not denouncing Minister Farrakhan represents a racist double standard, and is an impediment to any honest dialogue about race. If black people are to ever possess a collective sense of self-respect and self-determination, they must not genuflect whenever powerful whites make the unreasonable demand to denounce Minister Farrakhan. Minister Farrakhan said he did not like the tension between the black and Jewish communities, and that he was open to dialogue with any groups as long as they did not set any conditions." Ellison later claimed "While some at that meeting justified her comments, I spoke out in favor of increased dialogue between the Jewish and African-American communities." (more…)

America’s War on Terror in the Time of Technology

The US invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003. We’re coming up on the 5th anniversary of this invasion, a useless war that distracted from the war on terror, from the US focusing on Al-Qaeda (and the Taliban) in Afghanistan and in Waziristan, the autonomous Pashtun tribal region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden is supposed to be hiding out with Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban.

On March 16, 2008, The New York Times reported that American officials say that Pakistan’s pledge to fight Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Waziristan is being weakened by disagreements in the Pakistani military and security forces over what their priority should be. The divisions have emerged as a source of growing frustration to the Bush administration, with officials saying the main disagreement in Pakistan is over whether to gear up a counterterrorism campaign against Islamic extremists or to try to shore up a conventional force focused on potential threats from India. (Almost two months after elections in Pakistan, in which the assassinated Benezir Bhutto’s extant Pakistani People’s Party (PPP) won the elections against Pervez Musharraf’s party, there is still no viable government in Pakistan.)

On March 10, 2008, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition had the following report:

"It’s been more than six years since the al-Qaida network was routed from its bases in Afghanistan.

In the meantime, many al-Qaida leaders have been killed or captured – but not Osama bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Within intelligence circles, there is debate over whether the terrorist network has recovered from the setbacks it suffered after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Some analysts say al-Qaida is a shell of what it once was. But U.S. intelligence officials are not so sure.

There are many different judgments of al-Qaida’s strength being put forth these days. Just last month, President Bush, before the Conservative Political Action Conference, said the group is reeling.

"The Taliban, al-Qaida and their allies are on the run," Bush said.

But the president’s own intelligence agencies offer a different opinion.

National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell, in his most recent threat assessment, said the core al-Qaida leadership has "regenerated."

Having survived the global war on terror, al-Qaida in this view is again a centrally directed network with military capabilities. Speaking on CNN two weeks ago, McConnell reflected that view.

"They have the leadership that they had before, they’ve rebuilt the middle management, the trainers," McConnell said. ‘they’re recruiting very vigorously.’ "

And also on March 10, NATO reassessed its presence in Afghanistan in light of the Taliban’s reconsolidation not only in Waziristan but within Afghanistan itself: (more…)

Kosovo and Its Historical Antecedents

On the night of February 21, 2008, (four days after Kosovo unilaterally declared independence) angry Serbs broke into the US Embassy and set fire to an office within the embassy (a burnt and charred body was later discovered there) as rioters rampaged through Belgrade’s streets, putting an exclamation point of violence to a day of mass protest against Western support for an independent Kosovo. At least 150,000 people rallied in Belgrade, waving Serbian flags and signs proclaiming ”Stop USA terror,” to denounce the bid by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian (and mostly Muslim) majority to create their own state out of what Serbs consider the ancient heartland of their culture. The Serbian Police stood by and did absolutely nothing while Serbs sacked and set the US Embassy on fire. Please read various accounts of the Belgrade attack on the US Embassy here and here.

Meanwhile, this is what happened on February 23:

Serbian prosecutors said Saturday they were hunting rioters who targeted the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade leaving one person dead while a senior Serbian minister reportedly blamed Washington for the violence triggered by Kosovo’s breakaway. Authorities said they had arrested nearly 200 rioters who took part in the violence on Thursday that prompted the United States to evacuate non-essential embassy staff and warn Serbia it would be held responsible. "We are collecting evidence and are identifying the culprits," Slobodan Radovanovic said in a statement, according to The Associated Press. Serbia’s Kosovo minister Slobodan Samardzic said Saturday that the U.S. — which backed Kosovo’s breakaway and was among the first countries to recognize its "seccession" (SIP: secession) — was the "main culprit" for the violence, AP reported.

What brought (what’s bringing) all this about? How did we get to this point that Serbs are sacking the US Embassy in Belgrade, protesting the declaration of independence by Kosovo, a UN protectorate-country that had been more or less independent from Serbia?


FDL Welcomes Charles E. Cobb Jr., Author of On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail

charlescobb.jpg(Please welcome Charles E. Cobb, author of On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail in the comments — jh)

Let’s begin with the title of the book: On the Road to Freedom. Road here can be interpreted in two ways. The first, concretely, so to speak: asphalt: protesters demonstrating on city streets demanding their civil rights. The second, metaphorically and in a policy-making sense: making progress (pace media coverage, debates, and so on) on the road to civil rights, to freedom.

And so first the title: On the Road to Freedom. The book establishes and demonstrates first and foremost, in general: how history emerges from specific identifiable places: ordinary places; neighborhoods; and communities (the "place" as the ground–in the two basic senses of the word–(1) as the material floor of history (where people live their everyday lives) and (2) history as grounded in abstraction, the place forming the foundation of history in a philosophical sense (as when philosophers use foundations to ground concepts). And second, in particular, the book also establishes and demonstrates how the Civil Rights Movement emerged from specific places like Selma and Birmingham in Alabama, Memphis, Baltimore, Charleston, and Marion in Georgia.

The book argues first of all that the civil rights struggle did not happen in a historical vacuum (or pop up suddenly with the1954 Supreme Court ordering an end to segregated schools), but is very much a confluence of road struggles tied concretely to places. And so the book is also not only a guidance to specific places, but is also a guidance to understanding the significance of place. In the book, the crucial sense of concrete places grounded in history cannot be overemphasized enough. And then the book travels to places where the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement marched over bridges, sat in lunch counters, gathered in churches, where they spoke, taught, were arrested, and where they lost their lives. A few of these pioneers are well inscribed in the memory of American history: Rosa Parks; Marian Anderson; and Martin Luther King.

Primarily, the book focuses on the South and that intense period of civil rights struggle during the decades of the 1940, 1950s, and 1960s. And also primarily, this is very much a book about freedom–the idea and pursuit of it–not only from slavery itself but also from the unique history of slavery in the United States, a history so ugly, so painful but yet fundamental, the author argues, that even after over two hundred years later in the 21st century we still haven’t fully come to grips with it: We still haven’t completely dealt with the collective trauma and social neurosis in its wake.


A Quick Cruise through the (Not Too) Recent and Brief History of Afghanistan–As Affects the US Directly or Indirectly By Metonymy

Now that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have reconsolidated in Waziristan (the porous border-area between Pakistan and Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding out, and where Musharraf’s Pakistani government has next-to-nothing control [in fact, he is supposed to have made some form of hands-off deal with tribal leaders in that region]), it might not be a bad idea to take a quick cruise through a (not too) recent history of Afghanistan induced first by the British, then the (now defunct) Soviet Union, and now by the US in the neglected so-called war on terror, distracted by a useless Iraq war, thanks to George W. Bush, useless and expensive (in terms of American and Iraqi lives and also of money–$2 billion a week, according to one estmate). In recent years, numerous arguments have been made in television, online, and print media about the fact that the Bush administration became distracted by the real war on terror in Afghanistan and Waziristan, too numerous, in fact, to be repeated and/or linked here.

So now by all means please join me on this quick cruise, where we’ll have a primer (on deck, so to speak) to bring us up to speed about this country that even Genghis Khan could not conquer, and that more or less flummoxed the hapless Soviets in their almost decade-long escapade, and where, some have argued, began the process of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

1949: (Waziristan was an autonomous region in the first place between Pakistan and Afghanistan, home of the Pashtun tribe. ) But in 1949, the British forced the then Afghan ruling entity, known as the loya jirga, to draw the so-called Durand Line, an international boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that then divided the Pashtun tribe between the two countries. Therein lies the historical origin of the troubled region from the get-go, an artificial and ineffective boundary that, interestingly enough, still exists as we type on this keyboard.

1979: The Soviet Union occupies Afghanistan, inaugurating a 9-year somewhat misnamed "Soviet-Afghan War."


Human Capital in the Digital City: A Few Questions about Class and Netroots


In my post last week, I talked about how, beginning in the mid-1970s, capitalism and technology, working for each other, produced a new regime that quietly dissolved the old pact between capital and labor. From then on, this new regime of capital started laying the foundation for the time of the Internet that was to emerge about two decades later in the mid-1990s. It helps to state the obvious here once again: Capitalism and technology produced the Internet, again working for each other as always, and also as always, both more or less contributing equally to the enterprise. The Internet in turn quite rapidly began to facilitate the free circulation of humans, products, and information. People whose profession involves producing, analyzing, and circulating money, words, codes, data, audio, video, and images (the so-called dot.com crowd); editors; writers; movie producers; media content-providers; designers; investment bankers; currency traders; and even salespeople (thanks to e-commerce, e-Bay, and others–and let’s not forget that sales used to depend on so-called "face-time") can live and work anywhere in the world as long as they’re wired, for institutions and entities not necessarily located where they live and work.

In order to render this post’s discursive narrative coherent and as understandable as possible, let’s distill here one sentence from my last post: Capitalism and technology together produced a teletopia where the duration of time and the extension of space have been erased. Now comes the alarming part: In the new full-blown regime of the Internet, time and space have long been superseded by the absolute speed of the time of capital: the speed of what Paul Virilio in "The Overexposed City" has called time-light: that is, the time it takes to transmit data–the speed of light. And now in the first decade of the Third Millennium, the condominium of capitalism-technology–that high-tech Janus–has liberated human life completely from the boundaries of space and even abolished all together the need for travel as we know it. From this point on, the task of capital is to ensure the optimal mobilization of information and, from sunrise to sunset and also overnight, to work against the viscosity of a complex social body that might obstruct this mobilization: as examples: civil-rights movements; radical intellectuals; community activists; and, in this age of the blogosphere, progressive netroots (there’s an irony in this latter that I will disclose later. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves).


How Capitalism and Technology Created (a) NAFTA

naftabrnssm.thumbnail.jpgIn the late-20th century and especially in this first decade of the 21st century, there have been impassioned and highly controversial debates about the merits and demerits of trade agreements like the World Trade Organization (WTO), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), and the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA)–which was simply called CAFTA before January 2004 and renamed after. Recent discussions about globalization and the asymmetries of these agreements can be found here, here, and here. And yet, as I’ll show, these agreements simply formalized (or attempted to formalize) a sub-rosa globalization and a new international division of capital and labor that began to operate defacto since the mid-1970s. Capitalism and technology played a huge role in these developments, with both equally contributing to this enterprise.

Before the mid-1970s, there was a pact between capital and labor in general, and in particular, among labor, management, and the state: that is, with the cooperation of labor and management, the state regulated and arbitrated productivity, wages, and profits. The production of consumer products developed mass consumption–in other words, supply worked to create demand. Americans became consumers of their own products–pace Henry Ford: "Our workers shall also be our customers," a capitalist model commonly known as Fordism.

However, by the mid-1970s, the saturation of domestic markets for consumer products led to the expansion of capital into third-world countries for the production and increasing consumption of these products by a robust and cheap third-world urban labor force ready for work but disorganized. Capital then became extremely fluid, eroding to a certain extent the boundaries and functions of traditional nation-states: no restrictions on first-world investment and transfers of capital, as third-world governments lusted after first-world revenues, and as first-world global (transnational) corporations lusted after cheap and robust third-world labor. This was a truly symbiotic relationship indeed, which eventually led to two condominiums.

The first condominium comprised first-world imperial agents and a third-world local elite that needed the same (and phenomenally contradictory) obligations from third-world countries: a weak government in relation to capital (no restrictions on the fluidity of capital) and a strong government in relation to labor (to guarantee a needy domestic labor market by imposing taxes and overpricing punitive to the poor). Now, this new international division of labor and capital started working for the free global circulation of humans, products, and information. Which brings us to the second condominium, a logical corollary and in fact the result of the first one: that of capital and technology.


Global Diaspora and (an) Obama

Much ink has been spilled and much airtime sucked in mainstream media about Barack Obama’s distinct and colorful (pun intended) biography in this election cycle. Much too much, in fact, that I won’t provide links. It’s simply out there and has become part of our quotidian narrative, lexicon, and vocabulary about Obama. But I’ll provide the outlines of this biography.

Briefly, Obama was born in Hawaii, of a Kenyan father and Kansan white mother. He grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia. He then went to college at Columbia in New York, then to Chicago to work as a community organizer before going to law school at Harvard in Cambridge. He has been called the exotic Kenyan-Kansan. Briefly then, Obama is a product of global diaspora.

Let’s begin with the historical context of diaspora. The Greek word diaspora, which means dispersion, was first used by Thucydides in The Peloponnesian War to describe the exile of the population of Aegina. (pace the Greek words, oikos, which means home, and barbarus, which means foreign, the etymon of barbarian) And the Hebrew word galut was employed in the Old Testament to refer to the forced exile of Jews from Jerusalem to Babylon in 586 BC/BCE. Diaspora was later used to describe Christian communities scattered across the Roman Empire before it adopted Christianity as the state religion.

Western traditional notions of diaspora can be loosely defined in two ways: first, as a collective forced dispersion of a religious and/or ethnic group precipitated by a political and/or military disaster (what Naomi Klein recently called shock therapy); and second, the group’s will to transmit its heritage in order to preserve its identity no matter the degree of integration or attempt at assimilation. There are many diasporas in many first-world countries, each represented usually in enclaves and classified as domestic cultural minorities: Armenian; Gypsy; North African; Chinese; Vietnamese; Cambodian; Somali; Ethiopian. And so on.

In the mid- to late-20th century, the disintegration of European imperialist networks and the emergence of various decolonization movements; the ever-changing social formations and modes of production under the aegis of capitalism; and the politics of the defunct cold war have had several ramifications, among which, because of many military, social, economic, and political practices corollary to these developments, first-world countries now have a sizable and expanding population of first- and second-generation citizens with third-world heritage.

Global diaspora and first-world ethnic diversity have already had effects on US politics locally and nationally. As an example, my own congressman (the first black congressman from Minnesota and most certainly the first Muslim US House Rep), Keith Ellison of Minnesota’s 5th District, easily the bluest in the state, was elected with considerable help from Somali refugees who are US citizens. And the case of Obama may yet be one proof that history is biography writ large.

(Biodun Iginla) (more…)

Why Some Feminists Aren’t Supporting Hillary

Quite a few feminist activists are not supporting Hillary Clinton in her bid for the presidency. And that may seem odd, given that she’s the first viable woman candidate to run for the White House. She remains highly suspect to her cohort: middle- and upper-middle-class educated and professional white women over 40 years old.

Rebecca Traister gives her own reason why she’s not supporting her:

Unlike its sister gem, "I’m not a feminist, but …" (an utterance that nearly always gives away the fact that its speaker is in fact a feminist), the Hillary disavowal, in my case, has been true: I really am not a Hillary Clinton supporter. A feminist by trade, I have wished that I could get behind Clinton, a woman I admired when she first arrived in the White House 15 years ago. But there has been nothing in her steady, ineluctable move to the center that I could embrace; I understood why she did it, but it cost her my support.

And Frances Kissling states her own reason:

The sad fact is that Clinton has felt compelled to run as a stereotypical male. In her own mind it is only a certain kind of man who is qualified to be president and she will be that man: tough on everything from war, flag burning, kids’ access to video games, illegal immigrants and Palestinians. She has missed the opportunity to talk about what it really means for women to be equal in this country. She has shown no interest in using her extensive international experience to push for more women in party leadership, state legislatures and even the Senate. A woman candidate who considered her gender a strength (as opposed to something she needed to overcome) would announce a series of measures specifically designed to ensure that women’s needs and rights were at the forefront of her agenda.


The Third Rail of Identity Politics in the US

Identity politics is now back with a vengeance at the center of US politics. In the New Hampshire Democratic primary, belying all the polls and media accounts that had Obama ahead by as much as 13 points, Hillary Clinton’s unexpected victory opened up the historical antagonism between race and gender that has always haunted US politics.

Speculations in the media among politicians and pundits in the wake of that primary have been discussed here, here, and here.

Identity politics involves the privileging, in political practice, of one of the categories of difference (race, class, gender, and sexual orientation), hierarchy, and discrimination that exists in US culture and society.

However, in this election cycle, Progressives have to be vigilant not to let race and gender short-circuit each other the way that happened in the 1960s. In that decade, the civil rights movement elided gender, while second-wave feminism elided race. In the latter, in the name of universal sisterhood, white feminists elided women of color (in the US and in the third-world), who stood at the nexus of gender and race. In a New York Times article on Sunday, Mark Leibovich implied that the race between Clinton and Obama is zero-sum: one side wins, the other loses. On the contrary, we say it should be nonzero-sum: both sides win. The discourse and debates in this primary and general presidential run should of course engage the issues of gender and race, among other issues, but absolutely should not be defined by them. Progressives need to form tactical and strategic alliances across these categories of difference in order to achieve desired political goals.

In the context of political (and social) movements mobilized for political(and legal) goals in the US, the historical antagonism between race and gender can (more…)