Who Gives More of Their Money to Charity?

People Who Make More or Less Than $200k a Year?

Philanthropy and income have an inverse relationship.

Billionaire CEO Nicholas Woodman, news reports trumpeted earlier this month, has set aside $450 million worth of his GoPro software stock to set up a brand-new charitable foundation.

“We wake up every morning grateful for the opportunities life has given us,” Woodman and his wife Jill noted in a joint statement. “We hope to return the favor as best we can.”

Stories about charitable billionaires have long been a media staple. The defenders of our economic order love them — and regularly trot them out to justify America’s ever more top-heavy concentration of income and wealth.

Our charities depend, the argument goes, on the generosity of the rich. The richer the rich, the better off our charitable enterprises will be.

But this defense of inequality, analysts have understood for quite some time, holds precious little water. Low- and middle-income people, the research shows, give a greater share of their incomes to charity than people of decidedly more ample means.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the nation’s top monitor of everything charitable, last week dramatically added to this research.

Between 2006 and 2012, a new Chronicle analysis of IRS tax return data reveals, Americans who make over $200,000 a year decreased the share of their income they devote to charity by 4.6 percent.

Over those same years, a time of recession and limited recovery, these same affluent Americans saw their own incomes increase. For the nation’s top 5 percent of income earners, that increase averaged 9.9 percent.

By contrast, those Americans making less than $100,000 actually increased their giving between 2006 and 2012. The most generous Americans of all? Those making less than $25,000. Amid the hard times of recent years, low-income Americans devoted 16.6 percent more of their meager incomes to charity.

Overall, those making under $100,000 increased their giving by 4.5 percent.

In the half-dozen years this new study covers, the Chronicle of Philanthropy concludes, “poor and middle class Americans dug deeper into their wallets to give to charity, even though they were earning less.”

America’s affluent do still remain, in absolute terms, the nation’s largest givers to charity. In 2012, the Chronicle analysis shows, those earning under $100,000 handed charities $57.3 billion. Americans making over $200,000 gave away $77.5 billion.

But that $77.5 billion pales against at how much more the rich could — rather painlessly — be giving. Between 2006 and 2012, the combined wealth of the Forbes 400 alone increased by $1.04 trillion.

What the rich do give to charity often does people truly in need no good at all. Wealthy people do the bulk of their giving to colleges and cultural institutions, notes Chronicle of Philanthropy editor Stacy Palmer. Food banks and other social service charities “depend more on lower income Americans.”

Low- and middle-income people, adds Palmer, “know people who lost their jobs or are homeless.” They’ve been sacrificing “to help their neighbors.”

America’s increasing economic segregation, meanwhile, has left America’s rich less and less exposed to “neighbors” struggling to get by. That’s opening up, says Vox policy analyst Danielle Kurtzleben, an “empathy gap.”

“After all,” she explains, “if I can’t see you, I’m less likely to help you.”

The more wealth concentrates, the more nonprofits chase after these less-than-empathetic rich for donations. The priorities of these rich, notes Kurtzleben, become the priorities for more and more nonprofits.

The end result? Elite universities get mega-million-dollar donations to build mahogany-appointed students dorms. Art museums get new wings. Hospitals get windfalls to tackle the diseases that spook the high-end set.

Some in that set do seem to sense the growing disconnect between real need and real resources. Last week billionaire hedge fund manager David Einhorn announced a $50 million gift to help Cornell University set students up in “real-world experiences” that address the challenges hard-pressed communities face.

“When you go out beyond the classroom and into the community and find problems and have to deal with people in the real world,” says Einhorn, “you develop skills for empathy.”

True enough — but in a society growing ever more unequal and separate, not enough. In that society — our society — the privileged will continue to go “blind to how people outside their own class are living,” as Danielle Kurtzleben puts it.

We need, in short, much more than Empathy 101. We need more equality.

Labor journalist Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, writes widely about inequality. His latest book is “The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970.”



Kobanê, the Kurdish struggle, and the dangers lurking ahead

by Jelle Bruinsma on October 19, 2014

Post image for Kobanê, the Kurdish struggle, and the dangers lurking aheadWhile ISIS has been driven out of Kobanê, dangers of U.S. imperial prerogatives lurk around the corner for Kurdish ambitions for democratic autonomy.

Now that various reports confirm that the amazingly brave Kurdish men and women have succeeded in holding the town of Kobanê and even driving out the ISIS fascists, it is time to reflect. How did they manage to repel ISIS? Why did the U.S. become more heavily involved? And what dangers lurk ahead?

Two weeks ago, the indomitable People’s Protection Units (YPG) came out with a defiant statement underlining the sense of their “historic responsibilities”, promising that “the defeat and extinction of ISIS will begin in Kobanê. Every single street and house of Kobanê will be a grave for ISIS.” Many admired the courage of the Kurds. Turkish and other comrades even tried to join in the defense of Kobanê and worldwide campaigns were set up to raise money for them.

But there were probably few outsiders who truly believed that ISIS’ murderous assault could be stopped, with several published articles assuming Kobanê had all but fallen. This was in large part due to Turkey’s criminal and intransigent position of blocking Kurdish supply lines, and the lack of U.S. interest in what — in their imperial calculations — was a strategically unimportant town.

Two weeks later, the situation seems to have been turned around, with ISIS reportedly retreating and a Kurdish official stating that “There is no ISIS in Kobanê now,” although fighting continues on the eastern outskirts. In these same weeks, the U.S. has stepped up its aerial bombardments of ISIS positions in and out of Kobanê, and engaged for the first time in direct talks with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). Kurdish YPG commander Baharin Kandal, meanwhile, said “her militia group had been receiving arms, supplies and fighters.” Although she did not disclose more information, journalists in the Turkish town of Suruc, 15 kilometres across the border from Kobanê, reportedly “met fighters who have been passing back and forth.” This could be due to the fighters’ intimate knowledge of the region, but a “well-placed Turk” told the BBC “that supplies had indeed been allowed across.”

As was reported on ROAR two weeks ago, if Kobanê had fallen, the U.S. and Turkey would have been to blame. Both states had the power and military capacity to stop ISIS from reaching the town. Moreover, and more importantly, various reports seemed to prove that Turkey was actively helping ISIS by:

  1. allowing wounded ISIS fighters to receive treatment in Turkish hospitals, and cross back into Syria to re-join the fight;
  2. allowing ISIS to cross the border and sell oil from the oil-fields it controls on Turkey’s black market, a fact of tremendous financial importance for ISIS;
  3. blocking the experienced PKK-forces from crossing into Syria to help defend Kobanê and fight ISIS, and likewise blocking weapons and other necessary supplies;
  4. last week this was compounded by actively re-engaging in the war against its own Kurds when it bombed PKK positions in the southeastern Dağlıca district.

Although all of the above still holds, imperial politics and calculations are complex and reflect the need to defend various and contradicting interests. In the case of Kobanê, it is obvious that Turkey was happy to let ISIS deal a heavy blow to the Kurdish forces, and potentially slaughter thousands of Kurds. It was also looking to trade off international pressure for a renewed front against Syria’s Assad. The United States, too, was perfectly happy to let these ‘unworthy victims’ die, and made clear Kobanê was of no significance to them.

What changed this situation? Although the U.S. still prioritizes fighting ISIS in Iraq, in which it has many more economic interests and its reputation to defend, it increased its air attacks on ISIS around Kobanê, possibly in coordination with the Kurds. Kurds in the region are understandably cheering on these U.S. air strikes on ISIS positions, and from the beginning the Kurdish resistance had been calling for more or more effective air strikes.

Two reasons seem to me to explain the intensified involvement of the U.S.

Firstly, the well-trained YPG-PKK forces proved the most effective military opponents of ISIS, even when highly outnumbered and outgunned. Whereas in Iraq the army — despite a decade of U.S. training and advanced weaponry — crumbled at the mere sight of ISIS fighters, the YPG-PKK forces proved their ‘worth’ for the second time, after first coming to the rescue of the Iraqi Yezidi’s. Since the United States does not want to put ‘boots on the ground’, since its regional allies have not shown any serious commitment so far, and since its aerial campaign is doomed to failure, it needs allies who are determined to fight ISIS.

Secondly, the U.S. is helping out in Kobanê for “propaganda reasons”, in the words of the BBC’s diplomatic and defense editor, Mark Urban. As in any good mafia network, in international relations reputation is everything. With the U.S. announcing it will “degrade, and ultimately destroy” ISIS, and the eyes of the world on Kobanê due to the hardened bravery of the Kurdish fighters and the activism by their supporters all over the world, a massacre in Kobanê would have dealt a blow to U.S. credibility. Kobanê “is more of a symbol than a strategic asset, but its loss would strengthen the sense that [ISIS] is unstoppable”, Brookings Institution military analyst Michael O’Hanlon adds.

The Kurds have now been forced into a seemingly unavoidable but dangerous strategic alliance with the United States. Unavoidable, since they were outgunned by ISIS and needed advanced weaponry on its side to block ISIS and create breathing space. Dangerous, because Kurdish interests and intentions are diametrically opposed to those of the U.S., of which both are aware. The Kurdish attempts at creating autonomous democratic zones are just as much a threat to U.S. imperial interests as is ISIS. The cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy has always been the support for stable regimes who could successfully block any calls for democracy or national control over the country’s natural resources. In this sense, David Graeber’s comparison of the Kurds to the Spanish anarchists in 1936 holds up; although the anarchists were fighting the same fascists, all the major western powers opposed them and blocked weapon transports, with Churchill famously preferring the fascists over the anarchists or communists.

In light of the YPG-U.S. cooperation, it is useful to recount a more contemporary history, that of the 1991 betrayal of Iraq’s Shi’ites and Kurds.

It was in 1991, but it could just as well have been 2014, that a European diplomat noted that “The Americans would prefer to have another Assad, or better yet, another Mubarak in Baghdad.” This was during the first Gulf War, initiated because erstwhile ally Saddam Hussein had disobeyed American orders by invading Kuwait. The U.S. attack on Iraq created hope among the oppressed Kurds and Shi’ites, strengthened by Bush’s open encouragement to rise up against Saddam Hussein, thereby creating the impression the U.S. would have their back. But the uncertainties of a post-Saddam Iraq made the U.S. decide to keep Saddam in power. In some of the most dreadful weeks of Iraqi history, the U.S. — in full control of Iraqi airspace — stood by and allowed Saddam Hussein to break the U.S. controlled no-fly zone and use helicopter gunships to suppress the uprisings and slaughter Kurdish and Shi’ite civilians.

The Kurds need hardly to be reminded of these facts. Their families lived through these and other imperial betrayals. At the same time they will not waste time on Western armchair philosophers who condemn any cooperation with U.S. bombs — and rightly so. It was their lives on the line.

But this new situation does pose great difficulties. The fact that the U.S. continues to emphasize the importance of Iraq over Kobanê and that the commander of the U.S. military in the Middle East, Lloyd Austin, on Friday still thought it “highly possible” that Kobanê would eventually fall to ISIS raises serious questions. How long will the U.S. continue to aid the resistance with air strikes? What is being discussed in the high-level talks between PYD representatives with the U.S. State Department? What will the U.S. try to ‘get’ from the Kurds? More active cooperation in the fight against ISIS? In exchange for what?

One answer was given today in the statement of the YPG General Command. In it they confirm that they made a deal with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the group that has been fighting the tyrannical Assad regime with a degree of Western support. They also confirm that the FSA has been fighting on its side in Kobanê and that from now on they will cooperate in “Counter-terrorism and building a free and democratic Syria.” This is a significant change in strategy which entails fighting not only ISIS, but also Assad — a key Turkish demand — and which is further based on a “true partnership for the administration of this country” with all “social classes.”

Was this the price the leftist YPG had to pay in order to open up the supply lines? It is an open question what this will mean for the social revolution in Rojava.

It is not unlikely, for instance, that the supply lines across Turkish borders have been covertly tolerated by Turkey due to U.S. pressure and/or the deal that was made with the FSA. They can also be cut off. U.S. air strikes can also be ceased, and imperial considerations can change. The list of those who, out of necessity or choice, cooperated with imperial powers but were then left to die is endless. The sad fact is that modern-day Emperors can still decide who lives or dies.

As the Kurds are aware, in the long-term, cooperation with the United States is incompatible with their own ambitions and aspirations for a region and society liberated of all forms of oppression. But whether there are any other options in the short-term is a valid question. Even for the continuous supply of much-needed heavy weaponry and the free movement of forces they are to a large extent dependent on the preferences of the imperial masters.

This time, thanks to their own bravery, they forced the imperial hand and are able to fight another day. But what about tomorrow? Turkey has for decades been one of the most important regional allies of the U.S., and although the U.S. now needs the Kurds, this will at best be a temporary alliance.

For us, as Westerners who stand in solidarity with our Kurdish comrades, it is key to keep the pressure on our own states, to keep the eyes of the world focused on Kobanê and the wider Kurdish struggle. More than that, we need to openly support the calls of the YPG for arm supplies and argue for the PKK to be taken off that monstrous ‘terrorist list’. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the Kurds in the end can only count on themselves. The more freedom to move they have, the better armed they are, the better able they will be to protect the social revolution in Rojava and further combat ISIS.

Jelle Bruinsma is a PhD researcher in History at the European University Institute, and an editor for ROAR Magazine.


Friedrich Nietzsche on Why a Fulfilling Life Requires Embracing Rather than Running from Difficulty


A century and a half before our modern fetishism of failure, a seminal philosophical case for its value.

German philosopher, poet, composer, and writer Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844–August 25, 1900) is among humanity’s most enduring, influential, and oft-cited minds — and he seemed remarkably confident that he would end up that way. Nietzsche famously called the populace of philosophers “cabbage-heads,” lamenting: “It is my fate to have to be the first decent human being. I have a terrible fear that I shall one day be pronounced holy.” In one letter, he considered the prospect of posterity enjoying his work: “It seems to me that to take a book of mine into his hands is one of the rarest distinctions that anyone can confer upon himself. I even assume that he removes his shoes when he does so — not to speak of boots.”

A century and a half later, Nietzsche’s healthy ego has proven largely right — for a surprising and surprisingly modern reason: the assurance he offers that life’s greatest rewards spring from our brush with adversity. More than a century before our present celebration of “the gift of failure” and our fetishism of failure as a conduit to fearlessness, Nietzsche extolled these values with equal parts pomp and perspicuity.

In one particularly emblematic specimen from his many aphorisms, penned in 1887 and published in the posthumous selection from his notebooks, The Will to Power (public library), Nietzsche writes under the heading “Types of my disciples”:

To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.

(Half a century later, Willa Cather echoed this sentiment poignantly in a troubled letter to her brother: “The test of one’s decency is how much of a fight one can put up after one has stopped caring.”)

With his signature blend of wit and wisdom, Alain de Botton — who contemplates such subjects as the psychological functions of art and what literature does for the soul — writes in the altogether wonderful The Consolations of Philosophy (public library):

Alone among the cabbage-heads, Nietzsche had realized that difficulties of every sort were to be welcomed by those seeking fulfillment.

Not only that, but Nietzsche also believed that hardship and joy operated in a kind of osmotic relationship — diminishing one would diminish the other — or, as Anaïs Nin memorably put it, “great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.” In The Gay Science (public library), his treatise on poetry where his famous “God is dead” proclamation was coined, he wrote:

What if pleasure and displeasure were so tied together that whoever wanted to have as much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the other — that whoever wanted to learn to “jubilate up to the heavens” would also have to be prepared for “depression unto death”?

You have the choice: either as little displeasure as possible, painlessness in brief … or as much displeasure as possible as the price for the growth of an abundance of subtle pleasures and joys that have rarely been relished yet? If you decide for the former and desire to diminish and lower the level of human pain, you also have to diminish and lower the level of their capacity for joy.

He was convinced that the most notable human lives reflected this osmosis:

Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask yourselves whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense with bad weather and storms; whether misfortune and external resistance, some kinds of hatred, jealousy, stubbornness, mistrust, hardness, avarice, and violence do not belong among the favorable conditions without which any great growth even of virtue is scarcely possible.

De Botton distills Nietzsche’s convictions and their enduring legacy:

The most fulfilling human projects appeared inseparable from a degree of torment, the sources of our greatest joys lying awkwardly close to those of our greatest pains…

Why? Because no one is able to produce a great work of art without experience, nor achieve a worldly position immediately, nor be a great lover at the first attempt; and in the interval between initial failure and subsequent success, in the gap between who we wish one day to be and who we are at present, must come pain, anxiety, envy and humiliation. We suffer because we cannot spontaneously master the ingredients of fulfillment.

Nietzsche was striving to correct the belief that fulfillment must come easily or not at all, a belief ruinous in its effects, for it leads us to withdraw prematurely from challenges that might have been overcome if only we had been prepared for the savagery legitimately demanded by almost everything valuable.

(Or, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it in his atrociously, delightfully ungrammatical proclamation, “Nothing any good isn’t hard.”)

Nietzsche arrived at this ideas the roundabout way. As a young man, he was heavily influenced by Schopenhauer. At the age of twenty-one, he chanced upon Schopenhauer’s masterwork The World as Will and Representation and later recounted this seminal life turn:

I took it in my hand as something totally unfamiliar and turned the pages. I do not know which demon was whispering to me: ‘Take this book home.’ In any case, it happened, which was contrary to my custom of otherwise never rushing into buying a book. Back at the house I threw myself into the corner of a sofa with my new treasure, and began to let that dynamic, dismal genius work on me. Each line cried out with renunciation, negation, resignation. I was looking into a mirror that reflected the world, life and my own mind with hideous magnificence.

And isn’t that what the greatest books do for us, why we read and write at all? But Nietzsche eventually came to disagree with Schopenhauer’s defeatism and slowly blossomed into his own ideas on the value of difficulty. In an 1876 letter to Cosima Wagner — the second wife of the famed composer Richard Wagner, whom Nietzsche had befriended — he professed, more than a decade after encountering Schopenhauer:

Would you be amazed if I confess something that has gradually come about, but which has more or less suddenly entered my consciousness: a disagreement with Schopenhauer’s teaching? On virtually all general propositions I am not on his side.

This turning point is how Nietzsche arrived at the conviction that hardship is the springboard for happiness and fulfillment. De Botton captures this beautifully:

Because fulfillment is an illusion, the wise must devote themselves to avoiding pain rather than seeking pleasure, living quietly, as Schopenhauer counseled, ‘in a small fireproof room’ — advice that now struck Nietzsche as both timid and untrue, a perverse attempt to dwell, as he was to put it pejoratively several years later, ‘hidden in forests like shy deer.’ Fulfillment was to be reached not by avoiding pain, but by recognizing its role as a natural, inevitable step on the way to reaching anything good.

And this, perhaps, is the reason why nihilism in general, and Nietzsche in particular, has had a recent resurgence in pop culture — the subject of a fantastic recent Radiolab episode. The wise and wonderful Jad Abumrad elegantly captures the allure of such teachings:

All this pop-nihilism around us is not about tearing down power structures or embracing nothingness — it’s just, “Look at me! Look how brave I am!”

Quoting Nietzsche, in other words, is a way for us to signal others that we’re unafraid, that difficulty won’t break us, that adversity will only assure us.

And perhaps there is nothing wrong with that. After all, Viktor Frankl was the opposite of a nihilist, and yet we flock to him for the same reason — to be assured, to be consoled, to feel like we can endure.

The Will to Power remains indispensable and The Consolations of Philosophy is excellent in its totality. Complement them with a lighter serving of Nietzsche — his ten rules for writers, penned in a love letter.



Cornel West was right all along: Why America needs a moment of clarity now

It’s sad that it’s come to this. But social justice in America is officially stunted — and there’s only one answer

Cornel West was right all along: Why America needs a moment of clarity <em>now</em>
Cornel West is knocked over during a scuffle with police during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, October 13, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Jim Young)

This past weekend, protestors and activists, including students, clergy, and concerned citizens descended on Ferguson, Missouri, for a weekend of marches, protests, sit-ins, and civil disobedience billed Ferguson October. Yesterday as one activist, Patrisse Cullors-Brignac, an organizer with Black Lives Matter tweeted exultantly from the inside of a St. Louis County jail cell about having taken over a Wal-Mart, I waited to hear news of her safe release alongside rapper-activist Tef Poe, attorney and legal observer Justin Hansford, and Palestinian activist Bassem Masri, who handled live streaming for the Organization for Black Struggle.

Of course, many on Twitter, could not understand why disturbing the peace in a private business should be acceptable. The point is – we are no longer standing for business as usual. Lest we forget, racial segregation of old happened in “private” businesses, too, in stores like Woolworth’s and Hecht’s. That John Crawford could not step into a Beaver Creek, Ohio Wal-Mart, wander aimlessly, as so many of us have done on a casual shopping trip, and reasonably expect to come out alive, suggests that time is out for business as usual.

This nation proclaims Black America backwards, sees us as stuck in the past, declares that our obsession with race –not racism itself – is holding back progress. But really, Black people are the hands on our national clock, controlling the timing of America’s social progress. This time both hands are up, pointing straight to the sky. It is high noon in America. It is the deepest midnight in our hearts.  But, “from the darkness cometh the light,” Lucy A. Delaney proclaimed in the title of her 1891 autobiography. Until those hands move, no longer held hostage by a state-issued weapon, nobody is going anywhere.

Biblical platitudes don’t go far with this crowd, but I’m reminded of a verse: “it is high time to awake out of sleep. (Romans 13:11)”

In college, some youth government leaders used this verse with the slogan, “The Awakening. Don’t sleep.” These days, young folks have remixed it, proclaiming “stay woke.” I am sitting with what it means that we have moved from “Don’t Sleep to Stay Woke.”

For we have awakened from a long, fitful slumber. Lulled there by our parents and grandparents, who marched in Selma, sat down in Greensboro, matriculated at Black colleges, and argued before the Supreme Court, they convinced us to adopt their freedom dreams, impressed them into our bodies, in every hug, in every $25 check pressed into a hand from a grandmother to a grandchild on his or her way to bigger and better, in every whispered prayer, in every indignity suffered silently but resolutely in the workplace.

We slept so long our dreams have become nightmares.

Langston Hughes famously asked, “what happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

This Ferguson October, young people are on the ground dreaming new dreams, and in so doing, they are inspiring elders. They are creative, taking over public spaces, not only with signs, and chants, but with impromptu games of twister and double-dutch. From them we learn that play can be political, that there is joy in struggle, that there is no justice without pleasure.

They are lining up, linking arms, and being locked up for justice. They are listening to those who have something to say, and shutting down shit when forced to listen to anyone who doesn’t. They are choosing their leaders, their griots, their truth-tellers, their strategists, their elders.  Showing up matters most. Putting one’s body on the line is the order of the day. They are undignified, improper, unabashed, impolitic, unapologetic, indefatigable.

This weekend they took over four Wal-Marts, in solidarity with John Crawford who was murdered in an Ohio Wal-Mart. There, prosecutors have cleared officers of wrongdoing. Protestors took signs to the St. Louis Rams game, and confronted angry fans who yelled, “I am Darren Wilson.” Two weeks ago, they disrupted the symphony. Exploding dreams cause disruptions. They should be expected to continue.

More than 3000 new registered voters move among them (Update: This number has since been revised downward to 128). They have collected these new registrations like so many arrows in a quiver. Still they remain skeptical of the vote. And since the presence of Black faces at the voting booth scares white people they should be.  Take Tef Poe’s surly response to Senator Claire McCaskill at a PBS townhall in late September. She argued that we needed new pipelines of local African American leadership. He replied, “I voted for Barack Obama twice, and still got tear-gassed.”

We could mince words about the vast differences and expansive power of local governments in these matters, over against the apparently limited power of federal jurisdiction. But that’s kind of beside the point. Movements are as much about symbols as about substance. And Barack Obama is a broken symbol, a clanging cymbal, unable to say and do anything of use. His silence is the sound of imploding dreams, his words mere distractions and detours from the future we want.

He has become a prime example that being the leader of the free world in a Black body is still no match for entrenched, local, systemic, committed racism.  It’s sad that it has come to this.  But this is bigger than Barack Obama. Just like it was bigger than King and his dream. We have awakened from sleep. We have been startled out of it by nearly 30 gunshots ringing out insistently from the heart of America. Jay-Z might call it “a moment of clarity.” In Obama’s place, Cornel West has re-emerged, the wise and fearless elder, the one who we tried not to listen to, as he screamed into the wind for six years, the one whose approach chafed my hide on more than a few occasions, the one who is — despite all of our collective quibbles and begrudgements – right.

This moment is about all of us. About what kind of America we want to be. About what kind of America we are willing to be, willing to fight for. About whether we will settle for being mediocre and therefore murderous to a whole group of citizens. About whether there are other versions of ourselves worth fighting for.

Don’t sleep. Millennials, it seems, are the ones we have been waiting for.  Fearless and focused, the future they are fighting for is one I want. It is high time to awake out of sleep. Stay woke.

Brittney Cooper is a contributing writer at Salon, and teaches Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers. Follow her on Twitter at @professorcrunk.


ISIS fighter in Kobanê: “Erdoğan has helped us a lot”

by Iskender Doğu on October 14, 2014

Post image for ISIS fighter in Kobanê: “Erdoğan has helped us a lot”ISIS defiant as Syria’s civil war threatens to spill over into Turkey: “Erdoğan has helped us a lot, but we don’t need him anymore. Turkey is next.”

The last glimpse I catch of Kobanê, before we are forced off the hill overlooking the town by Turkish soldiers in their armored personnel carriers, are two pillars of smoke rising from the city center. Just minutes before, two loud explosions could be heard, after which clouds of dust and debris emerged from between the buildings in the town, just across the border from Turkey.

Despite the fact that coalition jets and drones are circling overhead, invisible to the naked eyed but clearly recognizable by their humming sounds, it is clear that these were not airstrikes: the explosions appeared in an area that is still under control of the People’s and Women’s Defense Forces (YPG/YPJ), and the smoke looks different from the kind that normally follows air strikes. That leaves only one possibility: these were the explosions of two more ISIS suicide car bombs unsuccessfully attempting to break Kurdish defense lines.

Immediately after the second car explodes — either detonated by ISIS or neutralized by the YPG/YPJ — half a dozen Turkish APCs come rushing from the border towards the hill where foreign journalists and local observers have gathered to keep track of the situation in the city. The soldiers command everyone, including the media, to leave the viewpoint immediately. No explanation is given, and we quickly return to our car to make our way back to Suruç, the Turkish border town just eight kilometers away.

Solidarity from a local activist

A few days ago, in the bus back to Urfa from Suruç, a man started talking to me. Introducing himself as Müslüm, a 31-year old Kurdish activist from around Suruç, he told me about his brother, who is currently fighting with the YPG in Kobanê. Müslüm hasn’t spoken to him for over five months, as any contact with Turkish volunteers fighting with the YPG in Rojava would put him and other family members back home at risk of arrest by Turkish authorities.

“He is fighting for the canton system, for the freedom of the Kurdish people and for the freedom of all people,” Müslüm says. “The independence of Rojava is a big problem for Turkey, because its canton system is an example of what the future of Kurdistan could look like.”

Müslüm fully supports and is proud of his brother. He himself is no stranger to political activism either, having spent three years in prison for his political involvement in the Kurdish struggle. He was deported to Greek Cyprus after his release and was only allowed to return to Turkey on the condition that he would not engage in politics anymore. This doesn’t seem to bother him too much.

“The government calls me a terrorist because I speak at protests that demand democracy for the Kurdish people. They don’t like anything that has to do with freedom for the Kurdish people. But I don’t listen! Every day I am active in the Kurdish struggle. All the people here are like me.”

The Turkish government keeps track of all Kurdish activists, and Müslüm’s name appears on a special blacklist, which means that every time he gets checked by the police there is a chance they will take him down to the station. This, however, doesn’t stop him from offering me all the help I might need, and over the next few days Müslüm would go out of his way to bring me to the villages dotting the Syrian border, which are presently occupied by solidarity activists — the so-called ‘human shields’ — and off-limits to foreigners.

Discussing democratic autonomy

After the funeral of seven YPG/YPJ fighters whose bodies were brought from Kobanê to Turkey in order to be properly buried here, a large crowd gathers in the local headquarters of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP). While everyone is drinking tea and watching the latest news from Kobanê on a Kurdish channel, Ayşe Muslim — the wife of Saleh Muslim, the co-chairwoman of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and de-facto leader of Rojava — walks in and starts shouting angrily at the men: “What are you doing here, watching television and drinking tea while our comrades in Kobanê are fighting for your freedom?! Go to the border to show your solidarity!”

Later, in the village of Measêr, where hundreds have flocked to watch the siege of Kobanê unfold, I sit down with some men at the local mosque to discuss their views on Rojava’s canton system and Öcalan’s theory of democratic autonomy. Among them is the brother of one of PKK’s highest commanders, who is happy to share some of his ideas.

“The canton system and the project of democratic autonomy is not just a Kurdish project,” he says. “The idea is that it facilitates the communal life of people of different religious, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Yes, the PKK fought for national independence before, but this was in the period of the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the communist-socialist block, we have come to realize that one country with one government is not the right solution.”

With the explosions in Kobanê clearly audible in the background, more and more men join the discussion. “Last year Barzani [the conservative leader of Iraqi Kurdistan] called for the unification of all Kurdish people in one single country,” one man adds. “But the PKK disagrees with this plan, because such a state will eventually be no different from the Turkish Republic. The Kurds have many different religions and we speak many different languages. How could we unite ourselves under one single government?”

The men agree that, given the strength of the Turkish state and military, the widespread adoption of a canton system like Rojava’s is still far off. Still they see democratic autonomy as the only real alternative. “We don’t need professional politicians, but rather want the people to make decisions about their own lives, based on consensus and by means of local councils.”

Just outside the village, in the shadow of the military base that covers the small hill overlooking Measêr on the one side, and the Syrian border on the other, I meet with Sabri Altinel. This veteran of the DBP is having a chat with his teacher-friend who came from the city of Kars to show his solidarity with the people of Kobanê. Altinel smilingly conveys to me that “now everybody here is an anarchist. We’re against ISIS as well as against the Turkish state.”

Red line Kobanê

Several days ago, Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, presented the Turkish state with a deadline to act on peace with the country’s Kurdish population. “We can await a resolution till October 15, after which there is nothing we can do,” his statement read. “They (the Turkish authorities) are talking about resolution and negotiation but there exists no such thing. This is an artificial situation; we will not be able to continue anymore.”

The men of Measêr fully support Öcalan’s statement, because they are fed up with being stalled by the Turkish government, which keeps bringing up the issue of the Kurdish peace process every time an election peeks around the corner, but which, when pushes comes to shove, consistently fails to act upon its promises. They believe Öcalan set the deadline so that the implementation of promises made in the negotiations so far can no longer be postponed — and in light of the events in Kobanê, the government will be forced to reveal its true face.

“Kobanê is everything,” the PKK commander’s brother states. “Kobanê is the red line: for the PKK, for Öcalan, for the Kurdish people, for everyone. Without Kobanê we can’t talk about anything.”

The general opinion of the Kurds and their supporters here at the border is that the Turkish government has had a hand in ISIS’ assault on Kobanê. This rumor was confirmed by a member of ISIS with whom we spoke on the phone, a mere two hundred meters from the border with Syria.

My friend Murat and I were walking through the fields when we met a man who explained to us that he had just escaped from Kobanê. He told us how, two days before, he had tried to call a friend who was fighting with the Women’s Defense Forces. But instead of his friend answering, an unknown man picked up the phone and told him that his friend was dead — killed by ISIS — and that this phone now belonged to him.

Murat encouraged the man to try and call the number again, and after it rang a number of times, the same man picked up. Our friend spoke to the ISIS fighter for a while, in Arabic, and then asked him: “how is your friend Erdoğan doing?” The reply confirmed what many here have been suspecting all along: “Erdoğan has helped us a lot in the past. He has given us Kobanê. But now we don’t need him anymore. After Kobanê, Turkey is next!”

The PKK’s October 15 deadline is approaching fast, and with the border still closed for any material or logistical support for the Kurdish defenders of the city, the likelihood of a new civil war in Turkey becomes greater every day. The men of Measêr would have preferred a political solution over violence, but realize that if the Turkish government continues to stand by idly, blocking the border as their comrades in Kobanê are being slaughtered at the hands of ISIS, they will not be left with much choice.

It therefore appears that the Syrian civil war is rapidly spilling over into Turkey, not in the last place because the majority of YPG fighters in Kobanê are reportedly from the PKK, aiding their Syrian comrades in the fight against ISIS. As news emerges of fresh Turkish airstrikes on PKK positions in the southeast of the country, it is clear that the ceasefire is rapidly breaking down. As such, the coming days will be decisive for the future of the Turkish-Kurdish peace process.

Unless the Turkish government suddenly makes a dramatic turn, opening the border crossing to Kobanê and supporting the Kurdish resistance against ISIS, it will be difficult to prevent a further escalation of violence in the region.

Iskender Doğu is an Istanbul-based freelance writer, activist and an editor for ROAR Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter via @Le_Frique.



The untold history of America this Columbus Day

North America is a crime scene:

The founding myth of the United States is a lie. It is time to re-examine our ruthless past — and present

North America is a crime scene: The untold history of America this Columbus Day

That the continued colonization of American Indian nations,  peoples, and lands provides the United States the economic  and material resources needed to cast its imperialist gaze globally is a fact that is simultaneously obvious within—and yet continually obscured by—what is essentially a settler  colony’s national construction of itself as an ever more perfect multicultural, multiracial democracy. . . . [T]he status of  American Indians as sovereign nations colonized by the  United States continues to haunt and inflect its raison d’etre. —Jodi Byrd

The conventional narrative of U.S. history routinely segregates the  “Indian wars” as a subspecialization within the dubious category  “the West.” Then there are the westerns, those cheap novels, movies, and television shows that nearly every American imbibed with mother’s milk and that by the mid-twentieth century were popular  in every corner of the world.  The architecture of US world dominance was designed and tested by this period of continental U.S. militarism, which built on the previous hundred years and generated its own innovations in total war. The opening of the twenty-first century saw a new, even more brazen form of U.S. militarism and imperialism explode on the world scene when the election of George W. Bush turned over control of U.S. foreign policy to a long-gestating neoconservative and warmongering faction of the Pentagon and its civilian hawks. Their subsequent eight years of political control included two major military invasions and hundreds of small wars employing U.S. Special Forces around the globe, establishing a template that continued after their political power waned.

Injun Country

One highly regarded military analyst stepped forward to make the connections between the “Indian wars” and what he considered the country’s bright imperialist past and future. Robert D. Kaplan, in his 2005 book Imperial Grunts, presented several case studies that he considered highly successful operations: Yemen, Colombia, Mongolia, and the Philippines, in addition to ongoing complex projects in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. While US citizens and many of their elected representatives called for ending the US military interventions they knew about—including Iraq and Afghanistan—Kaplan hailed protracted counterinsurgencies in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Pacific. He presented a guide for the U.S. controlling those areas of the world based on its having achieved continental dominance in North America by means of counterinsurgency and employing total and unlimited war.

Kaplan, a meticulous researcher and influential writer born in 1952 in New York City, wrote for major newspapers and magazines before serving as “chief geopolitical strategist” for the private security think tank Stratfor. Among other prestigious posts, he has been a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C., and a member of the Defense Policy Board, a federal advisory committee to the US Department of Defense. In 2011, Foreign Policy magazine named Kaplan as one of the world’s “top 100 global thinkers.” Author of numerous best-selling books, including Balkan Ghosts and Surrender or Starve, Kaplan became one of the principal intellectual boosters for U.S. power in the world through the tried-and-true “American way of war.” This is the way of war dating to the British-colonial period that military historian John Grenier called a combination of “unlimited war and irregular war,” a military tradition “that accepted, legitimized, and encouraged attacks upon and the destruction of noncombatants, villages and agricultural resources . . . in shockingly violent campaigns to achieve their goals of conquest.”

Kaplan sums up his thesis in the prologue to Imperial Grunts, which he subtitles “Injun Country”:

By the turn of the twenty-first century the United States military had already appropriated the entire earth, and was ready to flood the most obscure areas of it with troops at a moment’s notice.

The Pentagon divided the planet into five area commands—similar to the way that the Indian Country of the American West had been divided in the mid-nineteenth century by the U.S. Army. . . . [A]ccording to the soldiers and marines I met on the ground in far-flung corners of the earth, the comparison with the nineteenth century was . . . apt. “Welcome to Injun Country” was the refrain I heard from troops from Colombia to the Philippines, including Afghanistan and Iraq. To be sure, the problem for the American military was less [Islamic] fundamentalism than anarchy. The War on Terrorism was really about taming the frontier.

Kaplan goes on to ridicule “elites in New York and Washington” who debate imperialism in “grand, historical terms,” while individuals from all the armed services interpret policy according to the particular circumstances they face and are indifferent to or unaware of the fact that they are part of an imperialist project. This book shows how colonialism and imperialism work.

Kaplan challenges the concept of manifest destiny, arguing that “it was not inevitable that the United States should have an empire in the western part of the continent.” Rather, he argues, western empire was brought about by “small groups of frontiersmen, separated from each other by great distances.” Here Kaplan refers to what Grenier calls settler “rangers,” destroying Indigenous towns and fields and food supplies. Although Kaplan downplays the role of the U.S. Army compared to the settler vigilantes, which he equates to the modern Special Forces, he acknowledges that the regular army provided lethal backup for settler counterinsurgency in slaughtering the buffalo, the food supply of Plains peoples, as well as making continuous raids on settlements to kill or confine the families of the Indigenous fighters. Kaplan summarizes the genealogy of U.S. militarism today:

Whereas the average American at the dawn of the new millennium found patriotic inspiration in the legacies of the Civil War and World War II, when the evils of slavery and fascism were confronted and vanquished, for many commissioned and noncommissioned officers the U.S. Army’s defining moment was fighting the “Indians.”

The legacy of the Indian wars was palpable in the numerous military bases spread across the South, the Middle West, and particularly the Great Plains: that vast desert and steppe comprising the Army’s historical “heartland,” punctuated by such storied outposts as Forts Hays, Kearney, Leavenworth, Riley, and Sill. Leavenworth, where the Oregon and Santa Fe trails separated, was now the home of the Army’s Command and General Staff College; Riley, the base of George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry, now that of the 1st Infantry Division; and Sill, where Geronimo lived out the last years of his life, the headquarters of the U.S. Artillery. . . .

While microscopic in size, it was the fast and irregular military actions against the Indians, memorialized in bronze and oil by Remington, that shaped the nature of American nationalism.

Although Kaplan relies principally on the late-nineteenth-century source of US counterinsurgency, in a footnote he reports what he learned at the Airborne Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina: “It is a small but interesting fact that members of the 101st Airborne Division, in preparation for their parachute drop on D-Day, shaved themselves in Mohawk style and applied war paint on their faces.” This takes us back to the pre-independence colonial wars and then through US independence and the myth popularized by The Last of the Mohicans.

Kaplan debunks the argument that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, brought the United States into a new era of warfare and prompted it to establish military bases around the world. Prior to 2001, Kaplan rightly observes, the US Army’s Special Operations Command had been carrying out maneuvers since the 1980s in “170 countries per year, with an average of nine ‘quiet professionals’ on each mission. America’s reach was long; its involvement in the obscurest states protean. Rather than the conscript army of citizen soldiers that fought World War II, there was now a professional military that, true to other imperial forces throughout history, enjoyed the soldiering life for its own sake.”

On October 13, 2011, testifying before the Armed Services Committee of the US House of Representatives, General Martin Dempsey stated: “I didn’t become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to oversee the decline of the Armed Forces of the United States, and an end state that would have this nation and its military not be a global power. . . . That is not who we are as a nation.”

The Return of Legalized Torture

Bodies—tortured bodies, sexually violated bodies, imprisoned bodies, dead bodies—arose as a primary topic in the first years of the George W. Bush administration following the September 2001 attacks with a war of revenge against Afghanistan and the overthrow of the government of Iraq. Afghans resisting U.S. forces and others who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time were taken into custody, and most of them were sent to a hastily constructed prison facility on the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on land the United States appropriated in its 1898 war against Cuba. Rather than bestowing the status of prisoner of war on the detainees, which would have given them certain rights under the Geneva Conventions, they were designated as “unlawful combatants,” a status previously unknown in the annals of Western warfare. As such, the detainees were subjected to torture by U.S. interrogators and shamelessly monitored by civilian psychologists and medical personnel.

In response to questions and condemnations from around the globe, a University of California international law professor, John C. Yoo, on leave to serve as assistant U.S. attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, penned in March 2003 what became the infamous “Torture Memo.” Not much was made at the time of one of the precedents Yoo used to defend the designation “unlawful combatant,” the US Supreme Court’s 1873 opinion in Modoc Indian Prisoners.

In 1872, a group of Modoc men led by Kintpuash, also known as Captain Jack, attempted to return to their own country in Northern California after the U.S. Army had rounded them up and forced them to share a reservation in Oregon. The insurgent group of fifty-three was surrounded by U.S. troops and Oregon militiamen and forced to take refuge in the barren and rugged lava beds around Mount Lassen, a dormant volcano, a part of their ancestral homeland that they knew every inch of. More than a thousand troops commanded by General Edward R. S. Canby, a former Civil War general, attempted to capture the resisters, but had no success as the Modocs engaged in effective guerrilla warfare. Before the Civil War, Canby had built his military career fighting in the Second Seminole War and later in the invasion of Mexico. Posted to Utah on the eve of the Civil War, he had led attacks against the Navajos, and then began his Civil War service in New Mexico. Therefore, Canby was a seasoned Indian killer. In a negotiating meeting between the general and Kintpuash, the Modoc leader killed the general and the other commissioners when they would allow only for surrender. In response, the United States sent another former Civil War general in with more than a thousand additional soldiers as reinforcements, and in April 1873 these troops attacked the Modoc stronghold, this time forcing the Indigenous fighters to flee. After four months of fighting that cost the United States almost $500,000—equal to nearly $10 million currently—and the lives of more than four hundred of its soldiers and a general, the nationwide backlash against the Modocs was vengeful. Kintpuash and several other captured Modocs were imprisoned and then hanged at Alcatraz, and the Modoc families were scattered and incarcerated on reservations. Kintpuash’s corpse was embalmed and exhibited at circuses around the country. The commander of the army’s Pacific Military Division at the time, Lieutenant General John M. Schofield, wrote of the Modoc War in his memoir, Forty-Six Years in the Army: “If the innocent could be separated from the guilty, plague, pestilence, and famine would not be an unjust punishment for the crimes committed in this country against the original occupants of the soil.”

Drawing a legal analogy between the Modoc prisoners and the Guantánamo detainees, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Yoo employed the legal category of homo sacer—in Roman law, a person banned from society, excluded from its legal protections but still subject to the sovereign’s power. Anyone may kill a homo sacer without it being considered murder. As Jodi Byrd notes, “One begins to understand why John C. Yoo’s infamous March 14, 2003, torture memos cited the 1865 Military Commissions and the 1873 The Modoc Indian Prisoners legal opinions in order to articulate executive power in declaring the state of exception, particularly when The Modoc Indian Prisoners opinion explicitly marks the Indian combatant as homo sacer to the United States.” To buttress his claim, Yoo quoted from the 1873 Modoc Indian Prisoners opinion:

It cannot be pretended that a United States soldier is guilty of murder if he kills a public enemy in battle, which would be the case if the municipal law were in force and applicable to an act committed under such circumstances. All the laws and customs of civilized warfare may not be applicable to an armed conflict with the Indian tribes upon our western frontier; but the circumstances attending the assassination of Canby [Army general] and Thomas [U.S. peace commissioner] are such as to make their murder as much a violation of the laws of savage as of civilized warfare, and the Indians concerned in it fully understood the baseness and treachery of their act.

Byrd points out that, according to this line of thinking, anyone who could be defined as “Indian” could thus be killed legally, and they also could be held responsible for crimes they committed against any US soldier. “As a result, citizens of American Indian nations become in this moment the origin of the stateless terrorist combatant within U.S. enunciations of sovereignty.”

Ramped Up Militarization

The Chagos Archipelago comprises more than sixty small coral islands isolated in the Indian Ocean halfway between Africa and Indonesia, a thousand miles south of the nearest continent, India. Between 1968 and 1973, the United States and Britain, the latter the colonial administrator, forcibly removed the indigenous inhabitants of the islands, the Chagossians. Most of the two thousand deportees ended up more than a thousand miles away in Mauritius and the Seychelles, where they were thrown into lives of poverty and forgotten. The purpose of this expulsion was to create a major U.S. military base on one of the Chagossian islands, Diego Garcia. As if being rounded up and removed from their homelands in the name of global security were not cruel enough, before being deported the Chagossians had to watch as British agents and U.S. troops herded their pet dogs into sealed sheds where they were gassed and burned. As David Vine writes in his chronicle of this tragedy:

“The base on Diego Garcia has become one of the most secretive and powerful U.S. military facilities in the world, helping to launch the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (twice), threatening Iran, China, Russia, and nations from southern Africa to southeast Asia, host to a secret CIA detention center for high-profile terrorist suspects, and home to thousands of U.S. military personnel and billions of dollars in deadly weaponry.”

The Chagossians are not the only indigenous people around the world that the US military has displaced. The military established a pattern during and after the Vietnam War of forcibly removing indigenous peoples from sites deemed strategic for the placement of military bases. The peoples of the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific and Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island are perhaps the best-known examples, but there were also the Inughuit of Thule, Greenland, and the thousands of Okinawans and Indigenous peoples of Micronesia. During the harsh deportation of the Micronesians in the 1970s, the press took some notice. In response to one reporter’s question, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said of the Micronesians: “There are only ninety thousand people out there. Who gives a damn?” This is a statement of permissive genocide.

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the United States operated more than 900 military bases around the world, including 287 in Germany, 130 in Japan, 106 in South Korea, 89 in Italy, 57 in the British Isles, 21 in Portugal, and 19 in Turkey. The number also comprised additional bases or installations located in Aruba, Australia, Djibouti, Egypt, Israel, Singapore, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Crete, Sicily, Iceland, Romania, Bulgaria, Honduras, Colombia, and Cuba (Guantánamo Bay), among many other locations in some 150 countries, along with those recently added in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In her book The Militarization of Indian Country, Anishinaabe activist and writer Winona LaDuke analyzes the continuing negative effects of the military on Native Americans, considering the consequences wrought on Native economy, land, future, and people, especially Native combat veterans and their families. Indigenous territories in New Mexico bristle with nuclear weapons storage, and Shoshone and Paiute territories in Nevada are scarred by decades of aboveground and underground nuclear weapons testing. The Navajo Nation and some New Mexico Pueblos have experienced decades of uranium strip mining, the pollution of water, and subsequent deadly health effects. “I am awed by the impact of the military on the world and on Native America,” LaDuke writes. “It is pervasive.”

Political scientist Cynthia Enloe, who specializes in US foreign policy and the military, observes that US culture has become even more militarized since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Her analysis of this trend draws on a feminist perspective:

Militarization . . . [is] happening at the individual level, when a woman who has a son is persuaded that the best way she can be a good mother is to allow the military recruiter to recruit her son so her son will get off the couch. When she is persuaded to let him go, even if reluctantly, she’s being militarized. She’s not as militarized as somebody who is a Special Forces soldier, but she’s being militarized all the same. Somebody who gets excited because a jet bomber flies over the football stadium to open the football season and is glad that he or she is in the stadium to see it, is being militarized. So militarization is not just about the question “do you think the military is the most important part of the state?” (although obviously that matters). It’s not just “do you think that the use of collective violence is the most effective way to solve social problems?”—which is also a part of militarization. But it’s also about ordinary, daily culture, certainly in the United States.

As John Grenier notes, however, the cultural aspects of militarization are not new; they have deep historical roots, reaching into the nation’s British-colonial past and continuing through unrelenting wars of conquest and ethnic cleansing over three centuries.

“Beyond its sheer military utility, Americans also found a use for the first way of war in the construction of an ‘American identity.’. . . [T]he enduring appeal of the romanticized myth of the ‘settlement’ (not the conquest) of the frontier, either by ‘actual’ men such as Robert Rogers or Daniel Boone or fictitious ones like Nathaniel Bumppo of James Fenimore Cooper’s creation, points to what D. H. Lawrence called the ‘myth of the essential white American.’”

The astronomical number of firearms owned by U.S. civilians, with the Second Amendment as a sacred mandate, is also intricately related to militaristic culture. Everyday life and the culture in general are damaged by ramped-up militarization, and this includes academia, particularly the social sciences, with psychologists and anthropologists being recruited as advisors to the military. Anthropologist David H. Price, in his indispensable book Weaponizing Anthropology, remarks that “anthropology has always fed between the lines of war.” Anthropology was born of European and U.S. colonial wars. Price, like Enloe, sees an accelerated pace of militarization in the early twenty-first century: “Today’s weaponization of anthropology and other social sciences has been a long time coming, and post-9/11 America’s climate of fear coupled with reductions in traditional academic funding provided the conditions of a sort of perfect storm for the militarization of the discipline and the academy as a whole.”

In their ten-part cable television documentary series and seven-hundred-page companion book The Untold History of the United States, filmmaker Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick ask: “Why does our country have military bases in every region of the globe, totaling more than a thousand by some counts? Why does the United States spend as much money on its military as the rest of the world combined? Why does it still possess thousands of nuclear weapons, many on hair-trigger alert, even though no nation poses an imminent threat?” These are key questions. Stone and Kuznick condemn the situation but do not answer the questions. The authors see the post–World War II development of the United States into the world’s sole superpower as a sharp divergence from the founders’ original intent and historical development prior to the mid-twentieth century. They quote an Independence Day speech by President John Quincy Adams in which he condemned British colonialism and claimed that the United States “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” Stone and Kuznick fail to mention that the United States at the time was invading, subjecting, colonizing, and removing the Indigenous farmers from their land, as it had since its founding and as it would through the nineteenth century. In ignoring that fundamental basis for US development as an imperialist power, they do not see that overseas empire was the logical outcome of the course the United States chose at its founding.

North America is a Crime Scene

Jodi Byrd writes: “The story of the new world is horror, the story of America a crime.” It is necessary, she argues, to start with the origin of the United States as a settler-state and its explicit intention to occupy the continent. These origins contain the historical seeds of genocide. Any true history of the United States must focus on what has happened to (and with) Indigenous peoples—and what still happens. It’s not just past colonialist actions but also “the continued colonization of American Indian nations, peoples, and lands” that allows the United States “to cast its imperialist gaze globally” with “what is essentially a settler colony’s national construction of itself as an ever more perfect multicultural, multiracial democracy,” while “the status of American Indians as sovereign nations colonized by the United States continues to haunt and inflect its raison d’etre.” Here Byrd quotes Lakota scholar Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, who spells out the connection between the “Indian wars” and the Iraq War:

The current mission of the United States to become the center of political enlightenment to be taught to the rest of the world began with the Indian wars and has become the dangerous provocation of this nation’s historical intent. The historical connection between the Little Big Horn event and the “uprising” in Baghdad must become part of the political dialogue of America if the fiction of decolonization is to happen and the hoped for deconstruction of the colonial story is to come about.

A “race to innocence” is what occurs when individuals assume that they are innocent of complicity in structures of domination and oppression. This concept captures the understandable assumption made by new immigrants or children of recent immigrants to any country. They cannot be responsible, they assume, for what occurred in their adopted country’s past. Neither are those who are already citizens guilty, even if they are descendants of slave owners, Indian killers, or Andrew Jackson himself. Yet, in a settler society that has not come to terms with its past, whatever historical trauma was entailed in settling the land affects the assumptions and behavior of living generations at any given time, including immigrants and the children of recent immigrants.

In the United States the legacy of settler colonialism can be seen in the endless wars of aggression and occupations; the trillions spent on war machinery, military bases, and personnel instead of social services and quality public education; the gross profits of corporations, each of which has greater resources and funds than more than half the countries in the world yet pay minimal taxes and provide few jobs for US citizens; the repression of generation after generation of activists who seek to change the system; the incarceration of the poor, particularly descendants of enslaved Africans; the individualism, carefully inculcated, that on the one hand produces self-blame for personal failure and on the other exalts ruthless dog-eat-dog competition for possible success, even though it rarely results; and high rates of suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, sexual violence against women and children, homelessness, dropping out of school, and gun violence.

These are symptoms, and there are many more, of a deeply troubled society, and they are not new. The large and influential civil rights, student, labor, and women’s movements of the 1950s through the 1970s exposed the structural inequalities in the economy and the historical effects of more than two centuries of slavery and brutal genocidal wars waged against Indigenous peoples. For a time, US society verged on a process of truth seeking regarding past atrocities, making demands to end aggressive wars and to end poverty, witnessed by the huge peace movement of the 1970s and the War on Poverty, affirmative action, school busing, prison reform, women’s equity and reproductive rights, promotion of the arts and humanities, public media, the Indian Self-Determination Act, and many other initiatives.

A more sophisticated version of the race to innocence that helps perpetuate settler colonialism began to develop in social movement theory in the 1990s, popularized in the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Commonwealth, the third volume in a trilogy, is one of a number of books in an academic fad of the early twenty-first century seeking to revive the Medieval European concept of the commons as an aspiration for contemporary social movements. Most writings about the commons barely mention the fate of Indigenous peoples in relation to the call for all land to be shared. Two Canadian scholar-activists, Nandita Sharma and Cynthia Wright, for example, do not mince words in rejecting Native land claims and sovereignty, characterizing them as xenophobic elitism. They see Indigenous claims as “regressive neo-racism in light of the global diasporas arising from oppression around the world.”

Cree scholar Lorraine Le Camp calls this kind of erasure of Indigenous peoples in North America “terranullism,” harking back to the characterization, under the Doctrine of Discovery, of purportedly vacant lands as terra nullis. This is a kind of no-fault history. From the theory of a liberated future of no borders and nations, of a vague commons for all, the theorists obliterate the present and presence of Indigenous nations struggling for their liberation from states of colonialism. Thereby, Indigenous rhetoric and programs for decolonization, nationhood, and sovereignty are, according to this project, rendered invalid and futile. From the Indigenous perspective, as Jodi Byrd writes, “any notion of the commons that speaks for and as indigenous as it advocates transforming indigenous governance or incorporating indigenous peoples into a multitude that might then reside on those lands forcibly taken from indigenous peoples does nothing to disrupt the genocidal and colonialist intent of the initial and now repeated historical process.”

Excerpted from “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Beacon Press, 2014). Copyright 2014 by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.


Kobanê refugee girl: “ISIS destroyed my dreams”

by Iskender Doğu on October 12, 2014

Post image for Kobanê refugee girl: “ISIS destroyed my dreams”
Kurdish refugees from Kobanê are in want of solidarity and support while the Turkish army is accused of sharing intelligence with ISIS forces in Syria.ROAR editor Iskender Doğu is in North Kurdistan on the Turkish-Syrian border to report on the battle for Kobanê and the Kurdish struggle for democratic autonomy. Photo by Murat Bay for Sendika.org.

“ISIS destroyed all my dreams,” the 20-year old Medya tells me at the ‘Rojava’ refugee camp in Suruç, where several thousand refugees have found shelter in hundreds of tents and inside an abandoned factory. Together with her family she arrived here ten days ago, as part of the major exodus of Kobanê’s population, which saw tens of thousands of people leaving their homes behind and crossing the border into Turkey.

“Two men came to our village on a motorbike, they were covered in blood and shouted that ISIS had overrun their village and killed everyone,” one of the locals in the camp recounts. Panic broke out, and everyone left in a hurry, bringing with them only what they could carry with their own hands. “Later, we realized that this was a tactic of ISIS, and that the two men who came by motorbike where part of the gang.” Apparently ISIS pulled the same trick in most of the villages surrounding Kobanê, scaring thousands out of their houses in a move that can be considered a form of psychological warfare.

The flood of refugees obstructed the resistance of the People’s Defense Forces and Women’s Defense Forces (YPG/YPJ) against ISIS’ advance, and while the eyes of the world were fixed on the humanitarian disaster unfolding at the border with Turkey, ISIS easily took control over the majority of villages in the Kobanê canton.

Now, as a result, Medya lives in a tent in the refugee camp, where she spends the nights huddled together with twenty others in a space smaller than the average bedroom of a European home. She lost her dream of once becoming a football player for the Syrian national team and now just hopes that she and her family can make their way to Istanbul to look for some work there.

Situation in the camps

By a stroke of luck I meet with Murat, a journalist from Istanbul who is originally from the region and who has been here for the past three weeks, writing daily updates for Sendika.org and providing aid wherever he can. The fact that besides Turkish he also speaks English and Kurdish makes him an invaluable contact for me, and I quickly decide to bind myself to him, opening many doors that otherwise would have remained closed for an outsider like myself.

In the Rojava camp, at the edge of the terrain, we meet with a Syrian Kurdish family who have built makeshift shelters for themselves from blankets and mattresses. Despite the fact that they have been here for two weeks already, they are still waiting to be appointed a tent. A couple sits with a handful of children on the ground, in the shade of a blanket they have fastened to some empty crates and oil drums to protect them from the burning sun. They just sit and stare, because there is little else to do, waiting for ISIS to be defeated so they can return to their homes — and simply not knowing what will happen to them otherwise.

One young girl with light blond hair and bright blue eyes lies motionless between the blankets, her watery eyes staring at us, but she doesn’t respond to our greetings. Murat tells me that he met this girl just two weeks ago in Kobanê, when the city was still under full control of the People’s and Women’s Defense Forces, and that he had just found her again a few days ago.

“For me she symbolizes the suffering of the people here. I can’t explain, but this girl is special to me.” Murat admits that he couldn’t control himself and started crying when he saw her in the refugee camp in Suruç for the second time. Sometimes the pain and suffering of one single person can have more impact than the woe and misery of a faceless mass.

In the hands of ISIS

A while later, outside of town we meet with the 15-year-old Orhan (not his real name), who was one of the 153 Kurdish children who were kidnapped on May 29, 2014 by ISIS while they were on their way back home after year-end exams in the city of Aleppo. For four months Orhan remained in captivity of ISIS, during which he was forced to study Sharia and was taught jihadist ideology and several times every week the children were forced to watch videos of beheadings and suicide bombings by ISIS.

After four months, Orhan and the others had to take an exam; those who passed were released and those who did not remain with ISIS. Luckily, the majority of the children, including Orhan, passed the test and were set free, but of the fate of the two or three dozen that failed, little is known. Even though Orhan is now once again reunited with his family, the time spent in captivity has presumably changed him forever. “It is like he is brainwashed,” his father tells us. “He still prays five times a day and when we try to stop him he tells us he fears he won’t go to heaven if he quits.”

Despite the fact that religion and tradition still play a very important role in the lives of many Kurds, I have rarely met a less dogmatic people. Amongst the Kurds one can find Sunnis, Shias, Sufis and Alevis, as well as Yarsanis, Yazidis and Zoroastrians, together with an ever-growing group of secular Kurds. Time and again the local people go out of their way to make clear that to them it doesn’t matter to which religion one adheres, while the more politicized KCK-members convey to me that in their opinion “nothing good has ever come out of religion.”

Human solidarity

Later that day, we receive a ride from a man named Yusuf, a Kurd from Mardin who has come here together with a friend out of solidarity with the people of Kobanê. “I didn’t come here as a member of any political party or religious group, not even as Kurd,” he tells me as we’re driving back from the border into town. “I’m here as a human.”

Yusuf is eager to share his views on the Kurdish people: “At home I have a parchment that lists all my forefathers, going back 21 generations. Every head of the family has written his name on this parchment for over five hundred years. This shows that the Kurdish people have a strong historical connection with this land. No Turk living here will be able to show you anything similar.”

More importantly, Yusuf explains, the Kurds have never tried to conquer other nations, kingdoms or colonize any other people. “This is our land, and we have lived here as long as anyone can remember. We were here before the Ottoman Empire and the Arab kingdoms. We live in peace with the other ethnic and religious groups. In my hometown Kurds, Yezidis, Armenians and Syriacs have been living together in peace for centuries. Where else in the Middle East can you find something like this?”

Resisting against all odds

Now the land of the Kurds is once again under attack. As the evening falls we sit on a hill overlooking the border crossing at Mursitpinar, with a panoramic view of Kobanê. Smoke rises from the eastern part of the city where coalition jets have targeted ISIS positions and the sound of gunfire and heavy artillery can be heard non-stop. It is a very surreal situation: mere kilometers away people are fighting for their lives. The heroic men and women of the YPG/YPJ empty their ammunition clips at the ISIS fighters, while the jihadists keep shelling the city from strategic hills around the city center.

On the hill right next to us around two dozen tanks of the Turkish army are positioned. If they decided to do so, the Turkish army could destroy ISIS in a matter of days. But rather than attacking the Islamists they are paying them friendly visits, and allegedly provide them with intelligence and satellite imagery identifying the positions of Kurdish weapons and ammunition storage facilities.

When darkness sets in, we descend from the hill and return to Suruç, where thousands of refugees are readying themselves for yet another night in this foreign land. Winter will come soon to these parts, and the few clothes and goods people managed to bring with them when they left their homes will not suffice to help them through the cold winter months.

These people need solidarity, both in the form of Western citizens pressuring their governments into ending their inaction — which can be considered a crime against humanity in itself — and in the form of financial and material support for the Kurdish fighters and the local population. The world urgently needs stand with the Kurds as they sacrifice their lives to battle one of the most barbaric organizations that have ever roamed this earth.

Iskender Doğu is an Istanbul-based freelance writer, activist and an editor for ROAR Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter via @Le_Frique. More reports from the Turkish-Syrian border will follow in the coming days.