Jihadism Isn’t Nihilism

What Everyone Gets Wrong About ISIS

ISIS’s ideology has been called extreme nihilism. Here’s why that’s not accurate.

Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) – Sunni jihadist group. Self-proclaimed as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over Muslims worldwide. Al-Qaeda is a global militant Islamist organization.
Photo Credit: Steve Allen

In the partisan battle over describing the Islamic State, Democrats have fastened on a philosophical term from 19th century European intellectual history. They’re being too clever by half.

“Extremist nihilism” is what Barack Obama has called ISIS’s ideology. In the second Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton labeled it a “kind of barbarism and nihilism.” John Kerry dismissed it as “nothing more than a form of criminal anarchy, nihilism which illegitimately claims an ideological and religious foundation.”

This makes it sound like nihilism has nothing to do with religion. But it has everything to do with religion.

Nihilism is a consequence of losing faith. It’s a trap door that opens when a divine sanction for morality loses authority. It’s a repercussion of the Enlightenment, a cost of learning science, a risk of higher education. Whatever God you once believed in, whatever scripture you once obeyed, whatever story about a realm beyond this one that once bound you to your tribe, nihilism is the stomach-churning corollary of realizing – in the words of the philosopher most closely associated with it, Friedrich Nietzsche – “God is dead.”

People find different ways to deal with that wound.

For some, nihilism turns out to be a way station on the human journey, a stage of moral development, a rite of passage to intellectual maturity. Eventually, and not without pain, you discover that secular values can provide a durable basis for human decency. You realize you can live by biblical bywords – “therefore choose life,” “do unto others” – but without biblical theology. You can find in philosophy – in the categorical imperative of Kantian ethics, say, or in the “veil of ignorance” of John Rawls’s theory of justice – a rationale for civilized behavior. You can find in nature an inspiration for reverence and awe; in love and art, an experience of transcendence; in evolutionary biology, an adaptive advantage for family and empathy. There may be no God on high, but immanence – the godliness within us and within everything – is no less spiritually authentic, and has a lot less blood on its hands, than official organized religion.

But what is a difficult passage for some can be a life sentence for others. With nihilism can come despair, a dark night of the soul that never turns to dawn. If there is no God, then life is pointless and absurd. Culture is just a desperate attempt to evade our mortality. Values are all arbitrary; truths are all political; epiphanies are just meaningless squirts of feel-good molecules. Nothing matters, and everything sucks.

From here, there are two possible moves. One is decadence. If morality is a socially-constructed scam, then there is no sin in the deadly sins. Since the only god is Chance, you might as well make your one night in the casino a hedonic blowout. The other move is more sinister.  As Dostoevsky’s characters are prone to observe, If God is dead, then everything is permitted. Why not steal? Why not murder? Coveting your neighbor’s wife won’t send you to hell; neither will killing him if he catches you. Psychopaths don’t know the difference between right and wrong. Nihilists know the difference, but they don’t believe it makes any difference.

So nihilism is the wrong word for ISIS. Extremist jihadism is a consequence of faith, not a consequence of losing faith.

You can say the Islam of ISIS is a perversion of the teachings of Muhammad, just as you can say the Inquisition and the Crusades were a perversion of the teachings of Jesus, or that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was a perversion of the teachings of the Torah. You can say the Islam of ISIS is fundamentalist and extreme, just as you can say the Christianity that supports Israel to hasten the arrival of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ is fundamentalist and extreme, or that the Judaism that supports replacing the Al-Aqsa Mosque with the Third Temple to hasten the arrival of the Messiah is fundamentalist and extreme. But what you cannot say is that the jihadism of the butchers of Paris, Beirut and Sharm el-Sheikh is a consequence of their concluding that Allah is dead, which is what calling them nihilists would mean.

Ironically, in their minds, we’re the nihilists. The sensual pleasure we take in life, they view as a sign of our decadence. Our modernity is a threat to moral order. We are infidels. It is bad enough that we do not believe in the One True God whose name is Allah. Our pluralism – our democratic refusal to embrace the notion that any God is the One True God – is to them evidence of our evil, proof we believe in no God, reason for holy warriors to have us in their sights.

Democrats may believe that calling ISIS’s ideology nihilism – or criminal anarchy, or barbarism – decouples their religion from their terrorism. That’s wishful thinking. “Nihilist” belongs to a Western narrative about a God that failed. ISIS isn’t part of that story. It’s discomfiting that ISIS’s evil is rooted in the Koran – the most apocalyptic, ultra-conservative, literalist reading imaginable, yet the Koran nevertheless. But it’s disingenuous of Democrats to root it in Nietzsche.



More than 500,000 homeless in the US

By Kate Randall
21 November 2015

More than a half million people were homeless in the United States this year, nearly a quarter of them children, according to a new report. The homelessness crisis is a stark indicator of the social reality in 2015 America and corresponds to a scarcity of affordable housing and dwindling wages for low-income workers and their families.

The report from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released Thursday counted 564,708 people homeless, both sheltered and unsheltered. These figures, gathered by volunteers on a given night in January 2015, are undoubtedly an undercount. Many of those living in motels, doubling up with relatives and friends or living on the streets are likely not represented in the tally.

Twenty-three percent, or 127,787, of the nation’s homeless are children under the age of 18, according to HUD. However, this figure is at odds with statistics from another branch of the federal government. According to the Department of Education, there are 1.36 million homeless students in the nation’s K-12 public schools, double the number in 2006, before the onset of the financial collapse.

According to HUD, 206,286 people were in homeless families with children, or 36.5 percent of the HUD total. Six percent of these homeless families are chronically homeless, in which the head of household has a disability and has been homeless for a year, or has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness over the past three years.

The HUD figures show homelessness declining by 2 percent between 2014 and 2015. But even if these numbers are taken as good coin, this represents a minuscule decline that hardly makes a dent in the homeless population.

A homeless woman in Chicago—the number of unsheltered people with chronic patterns of homelessness increased in the past year for the first time since 2011

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there is a shortage of 7 million units of affordable housing throughout the US, creating a desperate situation for workers and their families as they search for decent and affordable accommodations.

As the majority of working people feel the housing squeeze, they face declining real wages. According to a recent National Employment Law Projet report, workers’ wages have declined by 4 percent, after adjusting for inflation, between 2009 and 2014.

The vast majority of the US population has not experienced the benefits of the “economic recovery,” proclaimed by the Obama administration in mid-2009. Homelessness is one of the brutal consequences of these conditions.

Of the 564,708 people counted as homeless by HUD in January 2015, 69 percent were staying in sheltered locations, and 31 percent were unsheltered, living in places unfit for human habitation, such as under bridges, in cars or in abandoned buildings.

More than half of the homeless population is concentrated in five states:

· California: 21 percent or 115,738 people

· New York: 16 percent or 88,250 people

· Florida: 6 percent or 35,900 people

· Texas: 4 percent or 23,678 people

· Massachusetts: 4 percent or 21,135 people

While homelessness declined in 33 states and the District of Columbia between 2014 and 2015, according to the report, 17 states experienced an increase. New York State experienced an explosion of homelessness, rising by 7,660 people, or by 9.5 percent in one year. Since 2007, New York has seen a staggering 41 percent rise, with 25,649 people added to the homeless ranks.

More than one in five homeless people are located in the nation’s two largest urban areas: New York City, with 75,323 (14 percent of US total); Los Angeles (city and county), with 41,174 (7 percent). These are followed by Seattle/King County, Washington with 10,122; San Diego (city and county), 8,742; Las Vegas/Clark County, Nevada, 7,509; and the District of Columbia, 7,298.

Sixty-three percent of the homeless population are individuals without children. Of these 358,422 people, 57 percent were in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, or safe havens. The remaining 43 percent were living rough—on the streets, in parks, abandoned buildings and vehicles. Most homeless individuals are men (72 percent).

Nine of every 10 homeless individuals are over 24 years of age. Fifty-four percent are white, while African Americans are disproportionately represented, accounting for 36 percent of the total. About 17 percent of homeless individuals are Hispanic or Latino.

HUD defines unaccompanied youths as persons under age 25 who are not accompanied by a parent or guardian and do not reside with their children. There were 36,907 unaccompanied homeless youth in January 2015, including 87 percent ages 18-24 and 13 percent under age 18. More than half of unaccompanied youth under age 18 were counted in unsheltered locations.

A quarter of all unaccompanied youth, 8,964, live in five major US cities: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco and San Jose, California.

HUD added a new category for 2015—parenting youth—defined as an individual under age 25 who is the parent or legal guardian of one or more children who sleep in the same place with him/her. There were 9,901 parenting youth in January 2015.

Homeless unaccompanied youth and parenting youth are those hardest hit by unemployment, low wages and student loan debt. This segment of the population, with or without children, is the most likely to live with relatives or friends and go uncounted by HUD and other surveys.

2015 estimates of homeless people by state SOURCE: US Department of Housing and Urban Development

More than one in ten homeless adults are veterans. There were 47,725 homeless veterans on a single night in January 2015, or 11 percent of the 436,921 homeless adults. Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea and the countless US imperialist exploits are included in this total.

Returning veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, substance abuse and other maladies struggle to find housing. Twenty-four percent of homeless veterans (11,311) live in California. Three other states had at least 2,000 homeless veterans: Florida (3,926), New York (2,399), and Texas (2,393).

In January 2015, 83,170 individuals were chronically homeless in the US. Two-thirds of these individuals, or 54,815 people, were staying in unsheltered locations, more than twice the national rate for all homeless people.

The number of unsheltered people with chronic patterns of homelessness increased by 4 percent over the past year, the first such rise since 2011. The number of unsheltered chronically homeless rose by 4,409 in Los Angeles alone.

Despite the massive increase in homelessness since the beginning of the financial crisis, funding for public housing has been repeatedly slashed in the post-2009 period. A report by the San Francisco-based Western Regional Advocacy Project noted that “HUD funding for new public housing units…has been zero since 1996,” while “Capital available to perform maintenance in 2012 [was] $1,875 billion,” representing a fall of $625 million over three years.

Mass homelessness is only the most acute manifestation of America’s housing crisis. According to a study published by Harvard University’s Joint Center For Housing Studies in June, the homeownership rate for 35-44 year-olds, which has been plunging for decades, has hit the lowest levels since the 1960s. Only slightly more than one-third of households headed by those aged 25-35 own their own homes.

The persistence of mass homelessness in the United States, despite six years of “economic recovery,” is an expression of the persistence of mass unemployment, falling wages, the slashing of social services, and the increasingly unaffordable living costs in America’s major cities, including Los Angeles and New York, that are home to a disproportionate share of America’s billionaires.

According to a poll released earlier this month, half of New Yorkers are “either just getting by or finding it difficult to manage financially.” More than one in five said they did not have enough money to buy food over the past year, and 17 percent said that they “have had times over the last year when they lacked the money to provide adequate shelter for their family.”

In the New York borough of Manhattan, median rent prices have grown by 9.5 percent over the past year. To afford a typical Manhattan apartment, one would have to pay over $40,000 a year in rent alone, 30 percent higher than the median wage in the United States. Not surprisingly, one recent study found that it is impossible for any worker making the minimum wage of $8.75 per hour to afford an apartment in any part of New York City—defined as spending no more than 30 percent of monthly income on rent.

The response of the “progressive” administration of Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio to the deepening housing crisis in New York has been to further privatize public housing and drive up costs for low-income residents. De Blasio’s public housing plan, dubbed NextGen NYCHA, would jack up housing fees, such as parking, by up to several thousand dollars a year for low-income residents, while turning over more than 10,000 apartments and 11 acres of prime real estate to private developers.



Paris attacks: it’s time for a more radical reaction

By Claire Veale On November 19, 2015

Post image for Paris attacks: it’s time for a more radical reactionIn the wake of the Paris attacks fingers were pointed in all directions, but few were directed at France itself. What has radicalized the French youth?

Photo: A young man is arrested at a student protest in Paris, by Philipe Leroyer, via Flickr.

The deadly attacks in Paris on the night of Friday, November 13, were quickly met by a global rush of solidarity with France and the French people. From world leaders expressing their sympathies, to raising the French flag on buildings across the globe, and more visibly, on Facebook profiles, everyone stood unequivocally united with France.

The sentiment of solidarity behind this mass concern is heart-warming, however it must come hand in hand with a demand for a serious debate on matters of terrorism, violence and war. Rage and sadness should not hinder our ability to think.

Why Paris? Who were the attackers, and how could they do such things? How can we counter these kind of attacks? Before bowing to the often narrow interpretations provided by the media and our political leaders, we must look for well-informed answers to these important questions. The current response–including more French bombings in Syria and extreme security measures on French territory–may be a fuel for further violence, rather than bring viable solutions.

“Us versus Them”

As a French national, the sudden inundation of the tricolored flag on my Facebook wall was a little unsettling. I do feel grateful for the surge of solidarity and wonderful messages calling for love and unity from all over the world. However, I find myself wondering if the French flag is truly the appropriate symbol to demonstrate this call for peace and inclusiveness, and to bring people together in unity against terror.

To me, the French flag represents first and foremost the French state, the respective governments that have ruled my country, and their foreign policies. Domestically, it is mostly a nationalist symbol, too often used by the likes of Marine Le Pen to create enemies out of foreigners. It represents certain values defined as “French”, as opposed to foreign values France should not welcome, and as such it can be a dangerous vector of racism.

In parallel to this bleu-blanc-rouge frenzy, many artists and humorists have responded to the attacks defending the stereotypes of French culture; drinking wine, enjoying life, smoking on terrasses. They state that any attack on French values is an attack on enjoying life itself. Although flattering in a way, as they praise what may seem the essence of being French, it unjustly encourages us to see the attacks through the lens of the “clash of civilisations” where enemy and foreign ideals threaten our way of life, our moral values.

Let us be clear about two things. First, in this “us” versus “them” discourse, I am not sure who the “us” is supposed to be. Am I–a French citizen who has long opposed aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East–all of a sudden on the same side as my government?

To many of us, the political elites of the country, who have insisted in involving France in wars that we did not want, are part of the problem. The different successive French governments have indirectly contributed to the rise of extremist groups and the radicalization of young men to join them. Waving the French flag could contribute to diminishing their role and the responsibility they hold in this crisis. Worse, it could legitimize further undesirable military actions abroad.

And second, who is “them”? The “War on Terror”, as it has been clearly framed by world leaders, is not a war in the traditional sense, with a clear, visible enemy. The attackers of the Paris killings weren’t foreigners; most of them were French or European citizens, born and raised on European soil. We are not talking about a mysterious, faraway enemy, but about young French men and women who are as much a part of French society as anyone else.

A show of force

And yet, the French president so promptly declared “war” and intensified the direct and aggressive bombings of IS targets in Syria. The terrorists being mostly European citizens, may it not be wiser to ask ourselves what is wrong in our own societies instead of taking such rash military action abroad?

Worryingly, there has been little resistance within the media or even within French left-wing circles, to Hollande’s policies. Has the emotion and anger from the Paris attacks impeded our ability to recognize that dropping bombs in the Middle East will not resolve the security threats that emanate from within?

Terrorism is an invisible enemy emanating from complex socio-political circumstances, which needs to be tackled in a more subtle and thought-through way. History has shown us that 14 years of “War against Terror” in the Middle East has only contributed to more violence, more terrorism and sadly, more deaths. Isn’t it time we started thinking about different tactics?

Since the attacks, Francois Hollande has proposed changes in the constitution, to make it easier for the state to resort to the use of force when facing terrorism. These changes include an increase in presidential powers, allowing Mr Hollande to enforce security measures without the usual scrutiny of the parliament. The president wants to extent the duration of the state of emergency, limiting freedom of movement and freedom of association, including mass demonstrations, in the name of national security.

The suggested changes could also result in widening the definition of targeted citizens to anyone who is “seriously suspected” of being a threat to public order, opening the door to a worrying reality of aggressive police tactics directed towards poor, disillusioned youth. Furthermore, Hollande wants to withdraw French nationality to any bi-national citizen suspected of terrorism acts.

The president’s reaction is deeply disturbing, and reinforces the skewed vision of a “foreign” enemy, which will inevitable result in discriminatory and racist policies and reactions towards foreigners, or anyone perceived as foreign, in France. More worrying still, is a recent poll in Le Parisien, which shows that 84% of respondents supported the decision to increase the manoeuvring power of the police and the army, while 91% agreed with the idea of withdrawing French nationality to suspected terrorists.

Where are the French values of openness and multiculturalism that we so ardently defend now? We must not let fear and an inaccurate “us” versus “them” discourse justify aggressive policies against our own citizens, or against anyone else for that matter, including refugees fleeing the very terror we claim to fight.

Why did French citizens decide to kill?

The reason why the media has focused on this angle of opposing the French values of liberté, egalité, fraternité, with the fearful and hateful values preached by the IS, is that it gives easy answers to complex questions. Why was Paris attacked? Because, we are told, it represents the heart of freedom, multiculturalism, secularism and joie de vivre. But does it really? France doesn’t always seem to live up to the values it professes.

The real question should be: why did young French (and Belgian) men and boys decide to sacrifice their life to kill members of their own society?

Two answers seem to have emerged. The first, mainly employed by the political elite and the media, is that the killers were “insane”, “brainwashed” and “barbaric”, and could not have acted rationally. This approach refuses proper analysis of the killers’ motives, brushing them aside to favour irrational and extremist religious ideology, and thus justifying a purely violent and heavy-handed response.

The second answer, coming from many left-wing, anti-racist circles, claims that such acts of terrorism are a direct result of France’s foreign and domestic policy. Although both seem radically opposed, they do have one thing in common: they undermine the agency and accountability of the attackers. This second approach, which points out undeniable political considerations, remains flawed in the same way as the first: it forgets that the killers are people who think and act, and not simply passive products of racist and imperialist foreign policy.

It is important to recognize the attackers as human beings, capable of acting and thinking rationally, as it is a first step towards understanding the reasoning behind their actions. Religious fanaticism is simply a vector of violence, as has been the case for many other ideologies in the past, such as nationalism, fascism, or communism. These ideologies are not the root causes of violence. Although this may seem obvious, there is a need to stress that religious extremism is not the reason why a young man would take up a gun and shoot into a crowd, it is simply an instrument to channel their anger.

We must try to look at the very roots of these young men’s discontent. Debates should be opened about the school system, about the ghettoization of urban areas across France, about police violence and domestic anti-terror security measures, about the prison system, about structural racism, about our skewed justice system, about oppressive and strict secularism; and the list goes on.

These questions are complex ones, and ones that are not easy to address. Thus, we prefer to paint the picture in black and white, our values versus their values, rather than to face the internal problems of our broken societies.

The little research that has been conducted on IS fighters, abroad and within Europe, shows that young men don’t necessarily join the extremist group for religious reasons. The Kouachi brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo shootings had suffered a difficult childhood in poverty after the suicide of their mother, with little support from social services and surrounded by extreme violence as children.

Anger at injustices they face, alienation, and years of increasing humiliation from the very societies they are meant to be a part of can push young men to express their frustrations through the vehicle of religious extremism. IS just happens to be an organized group, which seriously threatens European societies, and which offers these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity and their pride.

As Anne Aly explains: “Religion and ideology serve as vehicles for an ‘us versus them’ mentality and as the justification for violence against those who represent ‘the enemy’, but they are not the drivers of radicalization.”

Radical solutions to radical problems

Radical solutions mean, first and foremost, tackling the problem at its roots.Julien Salingue expressed this idea very eloquently after the Charlie Hebdo shootings: “Deep change, and therefore the questioning of a system that generates structural inequalities and exploitation of violence is necessary”.

Every injustice and every act of humiliation towards a member of society can only cause anger and hatred, which might someday transform into violence. James Gilligan has written extensively about the way the prison system in America serves to intensify the feeling of shame and humiliation that push individuals to violence in the first place. This analysis is useful when looking at European societies, and the processes of discrimination and humiliation that push young men to react violently.

We must condemn all policies, discourses and actions that legitimize and reinforce the politics of hatred. Police violence towards young men of Arab origin, for instance, is frequent in France. Amedy Coulibaly, another actor in the Paris shootings in January 2015, suffered the death of his friend in a police “slipup” when he was 18. This kind of direct aggression perpetrated on a daily basis adds to the structural violence and discrimination young men from underprivileged backgrounds experience in European societies. War for them is not such a distant, disconnected reality, but closer to their every day life.

Every racist insult, act of police brutality, unfair trial, or discriminatory treatment brings them one step closer to carry out tragedies as the massacre in Paris. We must therefore question the very system we live in and the way of life we defend so defiantly after the attacks, for the problem may be closer to us than we imagine.

Claire Veale is a graduate from the SOAS, University of London, in Violence, Conflict & Development. Having lived and worked in several continents, she is particularly interested in writing about social movements, Latin American politics, gender rights and international development issues.



Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States

Let Us Finish What FDR and MLK Started

‘The bottom line is that today in America we not only have massive wealth and income inequality,’ said Sanders on Thursday, ‘but a power structure which protects that inequality.’ (Image: Screenshot/Common Dreams)

The following are the prepared remarks for a speech given by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at Georgetown University on Thursday, November 19th, 2015.

In his inaugural remarks in January 1937, in the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt looked out at the nation and this is what he saw.

He saw tens of millions of its citizens denied the basic necessities of life.

He saw millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hung over them day by day.

He saw millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.

He saw millions lacking the means to buy the products they needed and by their poverty and lack of disposable income denying employment to many other millions.

He saw one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.

And he acted. Against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day, people he called economic royalists, Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty and restored their faith in government. He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our country. He combatted cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed the country.

And that is what we have to do today.

And, by the way, almost everything he proposed was called “socialist.” Social Security, which transformed life for the elderly in this country was “socialist.” The concept of the “minimum wage” was seen as a radical intrusion into the marketplace and was described as “socialist.” Unemployment insurance, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as “socialist.” Yet, these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class.

Thirty years later, in the 1960s, President Johnson passed Medicare and Medicaid to provide health care to millions of senior citizens and families with children, persons with disabilities and some of the most vulnerable people in this county. Once again these vitally important programs were derided by the right wing as socialist programs that were a threat to our American way of life.

That was then. Now is now.

Today, in 2015, despite the Wall Street crash of 2008, which drove this country into the worst economic downturn since the Depression, the American people are clearly better off economically than we were in 1937.

But, here is a very hard truth that we must acknowledge and address. Despite a huge increase in technology and productivity, despite major growth in the U.S. and global economy, tens of millions of American families continue to lack the basic necessities of life, while millions more struggle every day to provide a minimal standard of living for their families. The reality is that for the last 40 years the great middle class of this country has been in decline and faith in our political system is now extremely low.

The rich get much richer. Almost everyone else gets poorer. Super PACs funded by billionaires buy elections. Ordinary people don’t vote. We have an economic and political crisis in this country and the same old, same old establishment politics and economics will not effectively address it.

If we are serious about transforming our country, if we are serious about rebuilding the middle class, if we are serious about reinvigorating our democracy, we need to develop a political movement which, once again, is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation. The billionaire class cannot have it all. Our government belongs to all of us, and not just the one percent.

We need to create a culture which, as Pope Francis reminds us, cannot just be based on the worship of money. We must not accept a nation in which billionaires compete as to the size of their super-yachts, while children in America go hungry and veterans sleep out on the streets.

Today, in America, we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but few Americans know that because so much of the new income and wealth goes to the people on top. In fact, over the last 30 years, there has been a massive transfer of wealth – trillions of wealth – going from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent – a handful of people who have seen a doubling of the percentage of the wealth they own over that period.

Unbelievably, and grotesquely, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

Today, in America, millions of our people are working two or three jobs just to survive. In fact, Americans work longer hours than do the people of any industrialized country. Despite the incredibly hard work and long hours of the American middle class, 58 percent of all new income generated today is going to the top one percent.

Today, in America, as the middle class continues to disappear, median family income, is $4,100 less than it was in 1999. The median male worker made over $700 less than he did 42 years ago, after adjusting for inflation. Last year, the median female worker earned more than $1,000 less than she did in 2007.

Today, in America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, more than half of older workers have no retirement savings – zero – while millions of elderly and people with disabilities are trying to survive on $12,000 or $13,000 a year. From Vermont to California, older workers are scared to death. “How will I retire with dignity?,” they ask?

Today, in America, nearly 47 million Americans are living in poverty and over 20 percent of our children, including 36 percent of African American children, are living in poverty — the highest rate of childhood poverty of nearly any major country on earth.

Today, in America, 29 million Americans have no health insurance and even more are underinsured with outrageously high co-payments and deductibles. Further, with the United States paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, 1 out of 5 patients cannot afford to fill the prescriptions their doctors write.

Today, in America, youth unemployment and underemployment is over 35 percent. Meanwhile, we have more people in jail than any other country and countless lives are being destroyed as we spend $80 billion a year locking up fellow Americans.

The bottom line is that today in America we not only have massive wealth and income inequality, but a power structure which protects that inequality. A handful of super-wealthy campaign contributors have enormous influence over the political process, while their lobbyists determine much of what goes on in Congress.

In 1944, in his State of the Union speech, President Roosevelt outlined what he called a second Bill of Rights. This is one of the most important speeches ever made by a president but, unfortunately, it has not gotten the attention that it deserves.

In that remarkable speech this is what Roosevelt stated, and I quote: “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men.” End of quote. In other words, real freedom must include economic security. That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. It is time that we did.

In that speech, Roosevelt described the economic rights that he believed every American was entitled to: The right to a decent job at decent pay, the right to adequate food, clothing, and time off from work, the right for every business, large and small, to function in an atmosphere free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies. The right of all Americans to have a decent home and decent health care.

What Roosevelt was stating in 1944, what Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in similar terms 20 years later and what I believe today, is that true freedom does not occur without economic security.

People are not truly free when they are unable to feed their family. People are not truly free when they are unable to retire with dignity. People are not truly free when they are unemployed or underpaid or when they are exhausted by working long hours. People are not truly free when they have no health care.

So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; “This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.” It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.

Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.

Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt.

It is a system, for example, which during the 1990s allowed Wall Street to spend $5 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions to get deregulated. Then, ten years later, after the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior of Wall Street led to their collapse, it is a system which provided trillions in government aid to bail them out. Wall Street used their wealth and power to get Congress to do their bidding for deregulation and then, when their greed caused their collapse, they used their wealth and power to get Congress to bail them out. Quite a system!

And, then, to add insult to injury, we were told that not only were the banks too big to fail, the bankers were too big to jail. Kids who get caught possessing marijuana get police records. Wall Street CEOs who help destroy the economy get raises in their salaries. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant by socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for everyone else.

In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations, huge tax breaks for the very rich, or trade policies which boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs. It means that we create a government that works for works for all of us, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what America stands for.

It means that health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege. This is not a radical idea. It exists in every other major country on earth. Not just Denmark, Sweden or Finland. It exists in Canada, France, Germany and Taiwan. That is why I believe in a Medicare-for-all single payer health care system. Yes. The Affordable Care Act, which I helped write and voted for, is a step forward for this country. But we must build on it and go further.

Medicare for all would not only guarantee health care for all people, not only save middle class families and our entire nation significant sums of money, it would radically improve the lives of all Americans and bring about significant improvements in our economy.

People who get sick will not have to worry about paying a deductible or making a co-payment. They could go to the doctor when they should, and not end up in the emergency room. Business owners will not have to spend enormous amounts of time worrying about how they are going to provide health care for their employees. Workers will not have to be trapped in jobs they do not like simply because their employers are offering them decent health insurance plans. Instead, they will be able to pursue the jobs and work they love, which could be an enormous boon for the economy. And by the way, moving to a Medicare for all program will end the disgrace of Americans paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

Democratic socialism means that, in the year 2015, a college degree is equivalent to what a high school degree was 50 years ago – and that public education must allow every person in this country, who has the ability, the qualifications and the desire, the right to go to a public colleges or university tuition free. This is also not a radical idea. It exists today in many countries around the world. In fact, it used to exist in the United States.

Democratic socialism means that our government does everything it can to create a full employment economy. It makes far more sense to put millions of people back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, than to have a real unemployment rate of almost 10%. It is far smarter to invest in jobs and educational opportunities for unemployed young people, than to lock them up and spend $80 billion a year through mass incarceration.

Democratic socialism means that if someone works forty hours a week, that person should not be living in poverty: that we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage – $15 an hour over the next few years. It means that we join the rest of the world and pass the very strong Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation now in Congress. How can it possibly be that the United States, today, is virtually the only nation on earth, large or small, which does not guarantee that a working class woman can stay home for a reasonable period of time with her new-born baby? How absurd is that?

Democratic socialism means that we have government policy which does not allow the greed and profiteering of the fossil fuel industry to destroy our environment and our planet, and that we have a moral responsibility to combat climate change and leave this planet healthy and inhabitable for our kids and grandchildren.

Democratic socialism means, that in a democratic, civilized society the wealthiest people and the largest corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. Yes. Innovation, entrepreneurship and business success should be rewarded. But greed for the sake of greed is not something that public policy should support. It is not acceptable that in a rigged economy in the last two years the wealthiest 15 Americans saw their wealth increase by $170 billion, more wealth than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans. Let us not forget what Pope Francis has so elegantly stated; “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”

It is not acceptable that major corporations stash their profits in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens to avoid paying $100 billion in taxes each and every year. It is not acceptable that hedge fund managers pay a lower effective tax rate than nurses or truck drivers. It is not acceptable that billionaire families are able to leave virtually all of their wealth to their families without paying a reasonable estate tax. It is not acceptable that Wall Street speculators are able to gamble trillions of dollars in the derivatives market without paying a nickel in taxes on those transactions.

Democratic socialism, to me, does not just mean that we must create a nation of economic and social justice. It also means that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person one vote. It is extremely sad that the United States, one of the oldest democracies on earth, has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country, and that millions of young and working class people have given up on our political system entirely. Every American should be embarrassed that in our last national election 63% of the American people, and 80% of young people, did not vote. Clearly, despite the efforts of many Republican governors to suppress the vote, we must make it easier for people to participate in the political process, not harder. It is not too much to demand that everyone 18 years of age is registered to vote – end of discussion.

Further, it is unacceptable that we have a corrupt campaign finance system which allows millionaires, billionaires and large corporations to contribute as much as they want to Super Pacs to elect candidates who will represent their special interests. We must overturn Citizens United and move to public funding of elections.

So the next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this:

I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.

I believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America instead of shipping jobs and profits overseas.

I believe that most Americans can pay lower taxes – if hedge fund managers who make billions manipulating the marketplace finally pay the taxes they should.

I don’t believe in special treatment for the top 1%, but I do believe in equal treatment for African-Americans who are right to proclaim the moral principle that Black Lives Matter.

I despise appeals to nativism and prejudice, and I do believe in immigration reform that gives Hispanics and others a pathway to citizenship and a better life.

I don’t believe in some foreign “ism”, but I believe deeply in American idealism.

I’m not running for president because it’s my turn, but because it’s the turn of all of us to live in a nation of hope and opportunity not for some, not for the few, but for all.

No one understood better than FDR the connection between American strength at home and our ability to defend America at home and across the world. That is why he proposed a second Bill of Rights in 1944, and said in that State of the Union:

“America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”

I’m not running to pursue reckless adventures abroad, but to rebuild America’s strength at home. I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will never send our sons and daughters to war under false pretense or pretenses or into dubious battles with no end in sight.

And when we discuss foreign policy, let me join the people of Paris in mourning their loss, and pray that those who have been wounded will enjoy a full recovery. Our hearts also go out to the families of the hundreds of Russians apparently killed by an ISIS bomb on their flight, and those who lost their lives to terrorist attacks in Lebanon and elsewhere.

To my mind, it is clear that the United States must pursue policies to destroy the brutal and barbaric ISIS regime, and to create conditions that prevent fanatical extremist ideologies from flourishing. But we cannot – and should not – do it alone.

Our response must begin with an understanding of past mistakes and missteps in our previous approaches to foreign policy. It begins with the acknowledgment that unilateral military action should be a last resort, not a first resort, and that ill-conceived military decisions, such as the invasion of Iraq, can wreak far-reaching devastation and destabilize entire regions for decades. It begins with the reflection that the failed policy decisions of the past – rushing to war, regime change in Iraq, or toppling Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, or Guatemalan President Árbenz in 1954, Brazilian President Goulart in 1964, Chilean President Allende in 1973. These are the sorts of policies do not work, do not make us safer, and must not be repeated.

After World War II, in response to the fear of Soviet aggression, European nations and the United States established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – an organization based on shared interests and goals and the notion of a collective defense against a common enemy. It is my belief that we must expand on these ideals and solidify our commitments to work together to combat the global threat of terror.

We must create an organization like NATO to confront the security threats of the 21st century – an organization that emphasizes cooperation and collaboration to defeat the rise of violent extremism and importantly to address the root causes underlying these brutal acts. We must work with our NATO partners, and expand our coalition to include Russia and members of the Arab League.

But let’s be very clear. While the U.S. and other western nations have the strength of our militaries and political systems, the fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam, and countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations – with the strong support of their global partners.

These same sentiments have been echoed by those in the region. Jordan’s King Abdallah II said in a speech on Sunday that terrorism is the “greatest threat to our region” and that Muslims must lead the fight against it. He noted that confronting extremism is both a regional and international responsibility, and that it is incumbent on Muslim nations and communities to confront those who seek to hijack their societies and generations with intolerance and violent ideology.

And let me congratulate King Abdallah not only for his wise remarks, but also for the role that his small country is playing in attempting to address the horrific refugee crisis in the region.

A new and strong coalition of Western powers, Muslim nations, and countries like Russia must come together in a strongly coordinated way to combat ISIS, to seal the borders that fighters are currently flowing across, to share counter-terrorism intelligence, to turn off the spigot of terrorist financing, and to end support for exporting radical ideologies.

What does all of this mean? Well, it means that, in many cases, we must ask more from those in the region. While Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon have accepted their responsibilities for taking in Syrian refugees, other countries in the region have done nothing or very little.

Equally important, and this is a point that must be made – countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE – countries of enormous wealth and resources – have contributed far too little in the fight against ISIS. That must change. King Abdallah is absolutely right when he says that that the Muslim nations must lead the fight against ISIS, and that includes some of the most wealthy and powerful nations in the region, who, up to this point have done far too little.

Saudi Arabia has the 3rd largest defense budget in the world, yet instead of fighting ISIS they have focused more on a campaign to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Kuwait, a country whose ruling family was restored to power by U.S. troops after the first Gulf War, has been a well-known source of financing for ISIS and other violent extremists. It has been reported that Qatar will spend $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup, including the construction of an enormous number of facilities to host that event – $200 billion on hosting a soccer event, yet very little to fight against ISIS. Worse still, it has been widely reported that the government has not been vigilant in stemming the flow of terrorist financing, and that Qatari individuals and organizations funnel money to some of the most extreme terrorist groups, including al Nusra and ISIS.

All of this has got to change. Wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them. As we develop a strongly coordinated effort, we need a commitment from these countries that the fight against ISIS takes precedence over the religious and ideological differences that hamper the kind of cooperation that we desperately need.

Further, we all understand that Bashar al-Assad is a brutal dictator who has slaughtered many of his own people. I am pleased that we saw last weekend diplomats from all over world, known as the International Syria Support Group, set a timetable for a Syrian-led political transition with open and fair elections. These are the promising beginnings of a collective effort to end the bloodshed and to move to political transition.

The diplomatic plan for Assad’s transition from power is a good step in a united front. But our priority must be to defeat ISIS. Nations all over the world, who share a common interest in protecting themselves against international terrorist, must make the destruction of ISIS the highest priority. Nations in the region must commit – that instead of turning a blind eye — they will commit their resources to preventing the free flow of terrorist finances and fighters to Syria and Iraq. We need a commitment that they will counter the violent rhetoric that fuels terrorism – rhetoric that often occurs within their very borders.

This is the model in which we must pursue solutions to the sorts of global threats we face.

While individual nations indeed have historic disputes – the U.S. and Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia – the time is now to put aside those differences to work towards a common purpose of destroying ISIS. Sadly, as we have seen recently, no country is immune from attacks by the violent organization or those whom they have radicalized.

Thus, we must work with our partners in Europe, the Gulf states, Africa, and Southeast Asia – all along the way asking the hard questions whether their actions are serving our unified purpose.

The bottom line is that ISIS must be destroyed, but it cannot be defeated by the United States alone. A new and effective coalition must be formed with the Muslim nations leading the effort on the ground, while the United States and other major forces provide the support they need.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), currently a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont’s at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website. Follow him on Twitter: @SenSanders or @BernieSanders

Capitalism and mortality: Death rate soars for middle-aged US workers


4 November 2015

A study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documents a sharp rise in the mortality rate for white, middle-aged working-class Americans over the past fifteen years. The report’s authors are Nobel laureate Angus Deaton and Anne Case, both economists at Princeton University.

Their calculations show that the rising death rate since 1999 for this segment of the population translates into 96,000 more deaths than if the mortality rate had remained flat. Had the rate continued on its declining trajectory for the period 1978-1998, the authors state, there would be 500,000 more people alive today in the United States.

“Only HIV/AIDS in contemporary times has done anything like this,” commented Deaton.

The increase in the mortality rate is due mainly to a dramatic rise in the rate of deaths from suicide, drug abuse and alcoholism—all expressions of social and personal crisis.

Dr. Case and Dr. Deaton found that the overall mortality rate (measured as the number of deaths each year) for white, non-Hispanic adults between the ages of 45 and 54 increased by 34 per 100,000 between 1999 and 2013. For those with a high school education or less, the rate increased by 134 per 100,000 (reaching 735.8 per 100,000) over this same period. This is a rise of 22 percent. In the study, education level served as an approximate stand-in for income level.

The increase in mortality for middle-aged white Americans with a high school education or less is attributed to: poisonings (including drug overdoses), which rose from 13.7 to 58.0 deaths per 100,000 (an increase of 400 percent); suicide, which rose from 21.8 to 38.8 deaths per 100,000 (an increase of 78 percent); and chronic liver cirrhosis (caused by alcoholism), which rose from 26.7 to 38.9 per 100,000 (an increase of 46 percent).

The authors also document the growth of morbidity, or ill health, within this social layer, showing that reports of good health fell, while reports of physical pain, psychological distress and poor health rose sharply.

The study confirms and provides additional substantiation for the conclusions of previous reports, including one from September of this year that found a dramatic decline in life expectancy for poorer middle-aged Americans.

Behind these figures lies an immense social retrogression and sharpening of class divisions. They reflect a catastrophic decline in the social position of the working class resulting from the protracted decay of American capitalism and a relentless, decades-long assault by the ruling class on all of the past social gains achieved in the course of a century of bitter class struggle.

While white workers, particularly white men, are routinely denounced as “privileged” by the pseudo-left proponents of racial and gender politics, they have seen perhaps the most dramatic reversal in their conditions of life. Middle-aged blacks still have a higher mortality rate than whites, but the difference between the two groups is closing rapidly.

Consider the experiences of the age group involved. A worker aged 50 in 2013 was born in 1963, at the height of the postwar economic boom. He or she would have reached employment age around 1980, the onset of a ruling-class offensive aimed at driving down workers’ wages and living standards and dismantling social services and public infrastructure. With the “deindustrialization” of America, huge swaths of industry were shut down, working-class cities were devastated, and millions of decent-paying jobs were wiped out.

This social counterrevolution has only accelerated under the Obama administration in the years since the financial crisis of 2008. The Wall Street crash of that year, triggered by the greed and criminality of the financial elite, has been utilized by that same financial aristocracy to strengthen its control over every aspect of social and political life in the United States.

The number of manufacturing jobs in the United States peaked at 19.5 million in 1970, falling to 17.4 million in 1999 and collapsing to just over 12 million by 2013. The share of working-age men between the ages of 25 and 54 who are not working has tripled since the late 1960s. Those jobs that are available pay less and less. Households headed by someone with a high school education or less have seen a 19 percent decline in their inflation-adjusted income.

Immense resources have been diverted into financial speculation, with the stock market becoming the primary mechanism for redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich. The share of national income going to the top one percent has nearly tripled, increasing from about 8 percent in the 1960s and 1970s to more than 20 percent today.

The consequences have been disastrous for predominantly African American cities such as Detroit, but the most concentrated growth of poverty in recent years has occurred in the suburbs—an increase of 64 percent from 2000 to 2011, according to one study.

Workers who are now middle-aged have experienced an unending decline in living standards. They have had their homes taken away, their retirement and health benefits gutted, their life savings wiped out. Millions are drowning in debt, exhausted by overwork or scraping by on unemployment, often unable to provide for their families and facing the permanent stress of economic insecurity. The “American dream” has become the American nightmare.

The organizations through which workers previously resisted the dictates of the corporations have collapsed. The trade unions have become labor syndicates, serving as a police force for the corporations to suppress the class struggle and impose mass layoffs, wage cuts and speedup. Under these conditions, the anger and frustration of workers, unable to find any organized expression, have in many cases been turned inward and taken personally and socially destructive forms.

This, however, is not a permanent state of affairs. The increase in mortality for large sections of the American population testifies to the failure of the capitalist system and the bankruptcy of all of its agencies, including the official unions. The objective crisis of capitalism is already giving rise to a growth of social opposition and anti-capitalist sentiment, which will inevitably find expression in a new upsurge of class struggle.

That the ruling class has nothing to offer to address the spiraling social crisis is reflected in the lack of serious attention paid to the shocking findings of the Princeton economists. In an earlier period, they would have been treated as a national disgrace.

Today, the Democrats and Republicans compete with each other in slashing social programs. A decline in life expectancy is seen as a positive good by a ruling class that is determined to cut spending on health care and pensions in order to finance an ever-expanding stock market bubble.

Under capitalism, society is marching backwards. The only social force that can reverse this counterrevolution is the working class.

Joseph Kishore



South African students rise up to demand free education


By Mikaela Erskog On October 24, 2015

Post image for South African students rise up to demand free educationIn the biggest protests since the end of apartheid, students have shut down universities and forced the government to abandon a planned tuition hike.

“I find myself suddenly in the world and I recognize that I have one right alone: That of demanding human behavior from the other. One duty alone: That of not renouncing my freedom through my choices… I am not a prisoner of history… I should constantly remind myself that the real leap consists in introducing invention into existence.”

– Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1952)

Over the last week, South African students shut down 17 universities in an attempt to prevent proposed fee increases. The initial focus of the national shutdown was on students’ demands for the removal of proposed fee increases. Now, this has shifted towards the fundamental goal of the acquisition of free education, to end outsourcing of support staff and other issues that fall under the call for the transformation of the institutional culture and operational structure of higher education establishments across the country.

The official national shutdown began on Wednesday, October 21, and targeted both the government and university leadership. In all, this has been one of the biggest mass demonstrations since the anti-apartheid protests of the 1980s.

The National Shutdown Collective, which comprised students from 19 different universities (many of whom are members of recently formed student movements such as the Rhodes Must Fall Movement, Open Stellenbosch, the Black Student Movement and UPrising, to name but a few), spearheaded the awareness and mobilization campaign through various social media (see #FeesMustFall and #NationalShutdown) and by mobilizing various student networks.

The mass demonstrations, occupations and disruptions that began this week were sparked by the suspension of all academic activities at the University of Witwatersrand (WITS) in Johannesburg on Wednesday 14 October. The shutdown was a result of student protests for both the rejection of the proposed 10.5 percent fee increase, and for the decrease in current university fees. It generated a national conversation and mass student mobilization, linking the issue of fees to the broader student struggles for the decolonization and radical transformation of universities that has been unfolding since the Rhodes Must Fall Movement began in February at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

From barricading university entry ways and occupying university administration buildings to mass protest marches that shut down city centers, the broadly supported student movements have catalyzed a nationwide uprising that aims to radically reinvent the existing higher education system, which continues to privilege the white male to the complete detriment of the historically oppressed black child.

The current university model is unsustainable and was always going to be challenged because it simply does not take seriously the lived realities of the majority black, poor South African population. The university business model does not respond to the epic disparities of financial means of the citizenry. According to the CEO of New Leaf Technologies, Paul Hanly, only 1 percent of the population can actually afford the approximately 120,000 rand ($8,800) per year in university fees. Most students are only able to attend university through financial aid programs, most of which are lending schemes with high interest rates.

Historically white institutions continue to represent the white male colonial subject, both in terms of financial means as well as in terms of the intellectual project of furthering white patriarchal capitalism. At the university currently known as Rhodes, over 65 percent of the student body are black, but at least 80 percent of the universities senate — the most influential governing body — is white.

Yet despite the painfully obvious urgency of the issues voiced by students and the peaceful but resolute character of student demonstrations, executive university management and national government officials still fail to take students seriously. When the students at Rhodes university presented their demands to senior management on Wednesday, the latter responded with empty rhetoric, surface level engagements with the demands and feigned consideration, failing to make official commitments to any course of action.

When the Minister of Education Blade Ndzimande received the student demands, his response was to condescend and banalize the pressing issues, remarking on different occasions that students do not possess the analytical skills to be taken seriously and that “students must fall.”

On Friday, October 23, when students from universities in Gauteng province marched in historic numbers to the Union buildings to demand a government response to national demands, President Jacob Zuma had thousands of students waiting hours past the communicated time of his address, before cancelling the planned public conference. Instead, a private media conference broadcast was held where the president made a non-statement that conceded a zero percent fee increase for 2016 but blatantly side-stepped all of the other demands.

The obfuscating response of university management and national government was expected. What completely flipped the script in the eyes of student activists was the disproportionate level of force used by the South African police against the student protests. Whilst students had in some cases burnt tires in a controlled open environment, they were largely peaceful. Nonetheless, the police responded with a disproportional use of physical force, dragging students on the ground by their collars, using stun grenades and rubber bullets, deploying chemical water cannons and firing live ammunition warning shots.

When students from the university currently known as Rhodes joined Eastcape Midlands College students — no more than 150 in total — in a demonstration outside of the EMC campus on Monday, October 19, somehow stun grenades and chemical water cannons, creating an itchy sensation on contacted skin, were seen as an appropriate response to the small non-violent crowd. The EMC students were calling for the release of the monthly allowance provided by theNational Student Financial Aid Scheme that students have not received since March.

On Wednesday, October 21, students in Cape Town marched to parliament and entered the building to confront the national leadership where they were met with brute force by the riot police. Six of the students arrested for trespassing were “provisionally charged” with treason” — a charge that has not been used since the apartheid regime targeted the anti-apartheid leadership. The South African police later released the students with a warning and denied having enacted the treason charge.

The criminalization of student activism reflects the gravity of this political moment and shows how the shifting of generationally-embedded ideologies is a real challenge to the existing relations of power. If the national government and university management are so quick to mobilize police violence in response to the rising voice of student movements, they are clearly threatened by the emergence of a new popular politics.

As it stands, students are not satisfied with the response by the government or university administrations, and disruptions of the academic year will continue until the lily-livered leadership actually takes students seriously and is committed to approaching the demands creatively. To quote one of the students, it’s now a case of “total transformation or death.”

In the spirit of Frantz Fanon, the South African students are demanding human behavior from those in society who both benefit from historically embedded but socially constructed privileges. The elder generations have become comfortable and complacent and have in many ways renounced our collective freedoms through their elitist and kleptocratic political choices; choices that have maintained the racialized, patriarchal capitalist order of things — choices that allow the black, poor South African child to remain a prisoner of the country’s colonial and apartheid history.

The recent student mobilizations, not only of the last two weeks but over the last nine months, are so potent and historic because — unlike the elders who refuse to transform the order of things — the movements are re-imagining what a truly transformed African university might look like. They are calling for the invention of a social order that actually reflects the dynamics and realities of the people who live in this country. As such, the students’ actions are making real leaps towards a more just society.

Mikaela Erskog is a Master’s student in History and a member of the Black Student Movement at the university currently known as Rhodes.



Germany Clarifies Netanyahu Comments: We’re Responsible for the Holocaust

Posted on Oct 21, 2015

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Kleinschmidt / MSC / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The German government responded Wednesday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outrageous attempt to blame Palestine for the Holocaust.

On Tuesday evening, Netanyahu ignited a firestorm with remarks made at a Zionist Congress meeting suggesting that Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian religious leader who held the title of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the 1920s and 1930s, had inspired Hitler to enact the Final Solution, a policy that led to the deaths of more than 6 million Jews during World War II. According to Netanyahu, “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said, ‘Burn them.’ ”

The incendiary claim was quickly denounced by Israeli historians and politicians, as well as Palestinian leaders. The remark also inspired a Twitter hashtag, #bibihistorylessons.

From Reuters:

The German government said on Wednesday that responsibility for the Holocaust lay with the Germans, after Israel’s prime minister sparked controversy before a visit to Berlin by saying a Muslim elder had convinced Adolf Hitler to exterminate Jews.

“All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilization that was the Holocaust,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said when asked about Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks.

“This is taught in German schools for good reason, it must never be forgotten. And I see no reason to change our view of history in any way. We know that responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own.”

Hours before leaving for Berlin, Netanyahu referred in a speech to a series of attacks by Muslims against Jews in Palestine during the 1920s that he said were instigated by the then Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu said in the speech. “And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’

—Posted by Roisin Davis