What Makes You You?

When you say the word “me,” you probably feel pretty clear about what that means. It’s one of the things you’re clearest on in the whole world—something you’ve understood since you were a year old. You might be working on the question, “Who am I?” but what you’re figuring out is the who am part of the question—the part is obvious. It’s just you. Easy.

But when you stop and actually think about it for a minute—about what “me” really boils down to at its core—things start to get pretty weird. Let’s give it a try.

The Body Theory

We’ll start with the first thing most people equate with what a person is—the physical body itself. The Body Theory says that that’s what makes you you. And that would make sense. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in your life—if your body stops working, you die. If Mark goes through something traumatic and his family says, CH“It really changed him—he’s just not the same person anymore,” they don’t literally mean Mark isn’t the same person—he’s changed, but he’s still Mark, because Mark’s body is Mark, no matter what he’s acting like. Humans believe they’re so much more than a hunk of flesh and bone, but in the end, a physical ant is the ant, a squirrel’s body is the squirrel, and a human is its body. This is the Body Theory—let’s test it:

So what happens when you cut your fingernails? You’re changing your body, severing some of its atoms from the whole. Does that mean you’re not you anymore? Definitely not—you’re still you.

How about if you get a liver transplant? Bigger deal, but definitely still you, right?

What if you get a terrible disease and need to replace your liver, kidney, heart, lungs, blood, and facial tissue with synthetic parts, but after all the surgery, you’re fine and can live your life normally. Would your family say that you had died, because most of your physical body was gone? No, they wouldn’t. You’d still be you. None of that is needed for you to be you.

Well maybe it’s your DNA? Maybe that’s the core thing that makes you you, and none of these organ transplants matter because your remaining cells all still contain your DNA, and they’re what maintains “you.” One major problem—identical twins have identical DNA, and they’re not the same person. You are you, and your identical twin is most certainly not you. DNA isn’t the answer.

So far, the Body Theory isn’t looking too good. We keep changing major parts of the body, and you keep being you.

But how about your brain?

The Brain Theory

Let’s say a mad scientist captures both you and Bill Clinton and locks the two of you up in a room.

CH

The scientist then performs an operation on both of you, whereby he safely removes each of your brains and switches them into the other’s head. Then he seals up your skulls and wakes you both up. You look down and you’re in a totally different body—Bill Clinton’s body. And across the room, you see your body—with Bill Clinton’s personality.

CFO

Now, are you still you? Well, my intuition says that you’re you—you still have your exact personality and all your memories—you’re just in Bill Clinton’s body now. You’d go find your family to explain what happened:

CF1

CF2

So unlike your other organs, which could be transplanted without changing your identity, when you swapped brains, it wasn’t a brain transplant—it was a body transplant. You’d still feel like you, just with a different body. Meanwhile, your old body would not be you—it would be Bill Clinton. So what makes you you must be your brain. The Brain Theory says that wherever the brain goes, you go—even if it goes into someone else’s skull.

The Data Theory

Consider this—

What if the mad scientist, after capturing you and Bill Clinton, instead of swapping your physical brains, just hooks up a computer to each of your brains, copies every single bit of data in each one, then wipes both of your brains completely clean, and then copies each of your brain data onto the other person’s physical brain? So you both wake up, both with your own physical brains in your head, but you’re not in your body—you’re in Bill Clinton’s body. After all, Bill Clinton’s brain now has all of your thoughts, memories, fears, hopes, dreams, emotions, and personality. The body and brain of Bill Clinton would still run out and go freak out about this to your family. And again, after a significant amount of convincing, they would indeed accept that you were alive, just in Bill Clinton’s body.

Philosopher John Locke’s memory theory of personal identity suggests that what makes you you is your memory of your experiences. Under Locke’s definition of you, the new Bill Clinton in this latest example is you, despite not containing any part of your physical body, not even your brain. 

This suggests a new theory we’ll call The Data Theory, which says that you’re not your physical body at all. Maybe what makes you you is your brain’s data—your memories and your personality.

We seem to be honing in on something, but the best way to get to concrete answers is by testing these theories in hypothetical scenarios. Here’s an interesting one, conceived by British philosopher Bernard Williams:

The Torture Test

Situation 1: The mad scientist kidnaps you and Clinton, switches your brain data with Clinton’s, as in the latest example, wakes you both up, and then walks over to the body of Clinton, where you supposedly reside, and says, “I’m now going to horribly torture one of you—which one should I torture?”

What’s your instinct? Mine is to point at my old body, where I no longer reside, and say, “Him.” And if I believe in the Data Theory, then I’ve made a good choice. My brain data is in Clinton’s body, so I’m now in Clinton’s body, so who cares about my body anymore? Sure, it sucks for anyone to be tortured, but if it’s between me and Bill Clinton, I’m choosing him.

Situation 2: The mad scientist captures you and Clinton, except he doesn’t do anything to your brains yet. He comes over to you—normal you with your normal brain and body—and asks you a series of questions. Here’s how I think it would play out:

Mad Scientist: Okay so here’s what’s happening. I’m gonna torture one of you. Who should I torture?

You: [pointing at Clinton] Him.

MS: Okay but there’s something else—before I torture whoever I torture, I’m going to wipe both of your brains of all memories, so when the torture is happening, neither of you will remember who you were before this. Does that change your choice?

You: Nope. Torture him.

MS: One more thing—before the torture happens, not only am I going to wipe your brains clean, I’m going to build new circuitry into your brain that will convince you that you’re Bill Clinton. By the time I’m done, you’ll think you’re Bill Clinton and you’ll have all of his memories and his full personality and anything else that he thinks or feels or knows. I’ll do the same thing to him, convincing him he’s you. Does that change your choice?

You: Um, no. Regardless of any delusion I’m going through and no matter who Ithink I am, I don’t want to go through the horrible pain of being tortured. Insane people still feel pain. Torture him.

So in the first situation, I think you’d choose to have your own body tortured. But in the second, I think you’d choose Bill Clinton’s body—at least I would. But the thing is—they’re the exact same example. In both cases, before any torture happens, Clinton’s brain ends up with all of your data and your brain has his—the difference is just at which point in the process you were asked to decide. In both cases, your goal is for you to not be tortured, but in the first situation, you felt that after the brain data swap, you were in Clinton’s body, with all of your personality and memories there with you—while in the second situation, if you’re like me, you didn’t care what was going to happen with the two brains’ data, you believed that you would remain with your physical brain, and body, either way.

Choosing your body to be the one tortured in the first situation is an argument for the Data Theory—you believe that where your data goes, you go. Choosing Clinton’s body to be tortured in the second situation is an argument for the Brain Theory, because you believe that regardless of what he does with your brain’s data, you will continue to be in your own body, because that’s where your physical brain is. Some might even take it a step further, and if the mad scientist told you he was even going to switch your physical brains, you’d still choose Clinton’s body, with your brain in it, to be tortured. Those that would torture a body with their own brain in it over torturing their own body believe in the Body Theory.

Not sure about you, but I’m finishing this experiment still divided. Let’s try another. Here’s my version of modern philosopher Derek Parfit’s teletransporter thought experiment, which he first described in his book Reasons and Persons

The Teletransporter Thought Experiment

It’s the year 2700. The human race has invented all kinds of technology unimaginable in  today’s world. One of these technologies is teleportation—the ability to transport yourself to distant places at the speed of light. Here’s how it works—

You go into a Departure Chamber—a little room the size of a small cubicle.

cube stand

You set your location—let’s say you’re in Boston and your destination is London—and when you’re ready to go, you press the button on the wall. The chamber walls then scan your entire body, uploading the exact molecular makeup of your body—every atom that makes up every part of you and its precise location—and as it scans, it destroys, so every cell in your body is destroyed by the scanner as it goes.

cube beam

When it’s finished (the Departure Chamber is now empty after destroying all of your cells), it beams your body’s information to an Arrival Chamber in London, which has all the necessary atoms waiting there ready to go. The Arrival Chamber uses the data to re-form your entire body with its storage of atoms, and when it’s finished you walk out of the chamber in London looking and feeling exactly how you did back in Boston—you’re in the same mood, you’re hungry just like you were before, you even have the same paper cut on your thumb you got that morning.

The whole process, from the time you hit the button in the Departure Chamber to when you walk out of the Arrival Chamber in London, takes five minutes—but to you it feels instantaneous. You hit the button, things go black for a blink, and now you’re standing in London. Cool, right?

In 2700, this is common technology. Everyone you know travels by teleportation. In addition to the convenience of speed, it’s incredibly safe—no one has ever gotten hurt doing it.

But then one day, you head into the Departure Chamber in Boston for your normal morning commute to your job in London, you press the big button on the wall, and you hear the scanner turn on, but it doesn’t work.

cubicle broken

The normal split-second blackout never happens, and when you walk out of the chamber, sure enough, you’re still in Boston. You head to the check-in counter and tell the woman working there that the Departure Chamber is broken, and you ask her if there’s another one you can use, since you have an early meeting and don’t want to be late.

She looks down at her records and says, “Hm—it looks like the scanner worked and collected its data just fine, but the cell destroyer that usually works in conjunction with the scanner has malfunctioned.”

“No,” you explain, “it couldn’t have worked, because I’m still here. And I’m late for this meeting—can you please set me up with a new Departure Chamber?”

She pulls up a video screen and says, “No, it did work—see? There you are in London—it looks like you’re gonna be right on time for your meeting.” She shows you the screen, and you see yourself walking on the street in London.

“But that can’t be me,” you say, “because I’m still here.”

At that point, her supervisor comes into the room and explains that she’s correct—the scanner worked as normal and you’re in London as planned. The only thing that didn’t work was the cell destroyer in the Departure Chamber here in Boston. “It’s not a problem, though,” he tells you, “we can just set you up in another chamber and activate its cell destroyer and finish the job.”

And even though this isn’t anything that wasn’t going to happen before—in fact, you have your cells destroyed twice every day—suddenly, you’re horrified at the prospect.

“Wait—no—I don’t want to do that—I’ll die.”

The supervisor explains, “You won’t die sir. You just saw yourself in London—you’re alive and well.”

“But that’s not me. That’s a replica of me—an imposterI’m the real me—you can’t destroy my cells!”

The supervisor and the woman glance awkwardly at each other. “I’m really sorry sir—but we’re obligated by law to destroy your cells. We’re not allowed to form the body of a person in an Arrival Chamber without destroying the body’s cells in a Departure Chamber.”

You stare at them in disbelief and then run for the door. Two security guards come out and grab you. They drag you toward a chamber that will destroy your cells, as you kick and scream…

__________

If you’re like me, in the first part of that story, you were pretty into the idea of teletransportation, and by the end, you were not.

The question the story poses is, “Is teletransportation, as described in this experiment, a form of traveling? Or a form of dying?

This question might have been ambiguous when I first described it—it might have even felt like a perfectly safe way of traveling—but by the end, it felt much more like a form of dying. Which means that every day when you commute to work from Boston to London, you’re killed by the cell destroyer, and a replica of you is created.1 To the people who know you, you survive teletransportation just fine, the same way your wife seems just fine when she arrives home to you after her own teletransportation, talking about her day and discussing plans for next week. But is it possible that your wife was actually killed that day, and the person you’re kissing now was just created a few minutes ago?

Well again, it depends on what you are. Someone who believes in the Data Theory would posit that London you is you as much as Boston you, and that teletransportation is perfectly survivable. But we all related to Boston you’s terror at the end there—could anyone really believe that he should be fine with being obliterated just because his data is safe and alive over in London? Further, if the teletransporter could beam your data to London for reassembly, couldn’t it also beam it to 50 other cities and create 50 new versions of you? You’d be hard-pressed to argue that those were all you. To me, the teletransporter experiment is a big strike against the Data Theory.

Similarly, if there were an Ego Theory that suggests that you are simply your ego, the teletransporter does away nicely with that. Thinking about London Tim, I realize that “Tim Urban” surviving means nothing to me. The fact that my replica in London will stay friends with my friends, keep Wait But Why going with his Tuesday-ish posts, and live out the whole life I was planning for myself—the fact that no one will miss me or even realize that I’m dead, the same way in the story you never felt like you lost your wife—does almost nothing for me. I don’t care about Tim Urban surviving. I care about me surviving.

All of this seems like very good news for Body Theory and Brain Theory. But let’s not judge things yet. Here’s another experiment:

The Split Brain Experiment

A cool fact about the human brain is that the left and right hemispheres function as their own little worlds, each with their own things to worry about, but if you remove one half of someone’s brain, they can sometimes not only survive, but their remaining brain half can learn to do many of the other half’s previous jobs, allowing the person to live a normal life. That’s right—you could lose half of your brain and potentially function normally.

So say you have an identical twin sibling named Bob who developes a fatal brain defect. You decide to save him by giving him half of your brain. Doctors operate on both of you, discarding his brain and replacing it with half of yours. When you wake up, you feel normal and like yourself. Your twin (who already has your identical DNA because you’re twins) wakes up with your exact personality and memories.

twins

When you realize this, you panic for a minute that your twin now knows all of your innermost thoughts and feelings on absolutely everything, and you’re about to make him promise not to tell anyone, when it hits you that you of course don’t have to tell him. He’s not your twin—he’s you. He’s just as intent on your privacy as you are, because it’s his privacy too.

As you look over at the guy who used to be Bob and watch him freak out that he’s in Bob’s body now instead of his own, you wonder, “Why did I stay in my body and not wake up in Bob’s? Both brain halves are me, so why am I distinctly in my body and not seeing and thinking in dual split-screen right now, from both of our points of view? And whatever part of me is in Bob’s head, why did I lose touch with it? Who is the me in Bob’s head, and how did he end up over there while I stayed here?”

Brain Theory is shitting his pants right now—it makes no sense. If people are supposed to go wherever their brains go, what happens when a brain is in two places at once? Data Theory, who was badly embarrassed by the teletransporter experiment, is doing no better in this one.

But Body Theory—who was shot down at the very beginning of the post—is suddenly all smug and thrilled with himself. Body Theory says “Of course you woke up in your own body—your body is what makes you you. Your brain is just the tool your body uses to think. Bob isn’t you—he’s Bob. He’s just now a Bob who has your thoughts and personality. There’s nothing Bob’s body can ever do to not be Bob.” This would help explain why you stayed in your body.

So a nice boost for Body Theory, but let’s take a look at a couple more things—

What we learned in the teletransporter experiment is that if your brain data is transferred to someone else’s brain, even if that person is molecularly identical to you, all it does is create a replica of you—a total stranger who happens to be just like you. There’s something distinct about Boston you that was important. When you were recreated out of different atoms in London, something critical was lost—something that made you you.

Body Theory (and Brain Theory) would point out that the only difference between Boston you and London you was that London you was made out of different atoms. London you’s body was like your body, but it was still made of different material. So is that it? Could Body Theory explain this too?

Let’s put it through two tests:

The Cell Replacement Test

Imagine I replace a cell in your arm with an identical, but foreign, replica cell. Are you not you anymore? Of course you are. But how about if, one at a time, I replace 1% of your cells with replicas? How about 10%? 30%? 60%? The London you was composed of 100% replacement cells, and we decided that that was not you—so when does the “crossover” happen? How many of your cells do we need to swap out for replicas before you “die” and what’s remaining becomes your replica?

Something feels off with this, right? Considering that the cells we’re replacing are molecularly identical to those we’re removing, and someone watching this all happen wouldn’t even notice anything change about you, it seem implausible that you’d ever die during this process, even if we eventually replaced 100% of your cells with replicas. But if your cells are eventually all replicas, how are you any different from London you?

The Body Scattering Test 

Imagine going into an Atom Scattering Chamber that completely disassembles your body’s atoms so that all that’s left in the room is a light gas of floating atoms—and then a few minutes later, it perfectly reassembles the atoms into you, and you walk out feeling totally normal.

disassemble

Is that still you? Or did you die when you were disassembled and what has been reassembled is a replica of you? It doesn’t really make sense that this reassembled you would be the real you and London you would be a replica, when the only difference between the two cases is that the scattering room preserves your exact atoms and the London chamber assembles you out of different atoms. At their most basic level, atoms are identical—a hydrogen atom from your body is identical in every way to a hydrogen atom in London. Given that, I’d say that if we’re deciding London you is not you, then reassembled you is probably not you either.

The first thing these two tests illustrate is that the key distinction between Boston you and London you isn’t about the presence or absence of your actual, physical cells. The Cell Replacement Test suggests that you can gradually replace much or all of your body with replica material and still be you, and the Body Scattering Test suggests that you can go through a scatter and a reassembly, even with all of your original physical material, and be no more you than the you in London. Not looking great for Body Theory anymore.

The second thing these tests reveal is that the difference between Boston and London you might not be the nature of the particular atoms or cells involved, but about continuity. The Cell Replacement Test might have left you intact because it changed you gradually, one cell at a time. And if the Body Scattering Test were the end of you, maybe it’s because it happened all at the same time, breaking thecontinuity of you. This could also explain why the teletransporter might be a murder machine—London you has no continuity with your previous life.

So could it be that we’ve been off the whole time pitting the brain, the body, and the personality and memories against each other? Could it be that anytime you relocate your brain, or disassemble your atoms all at once, transfer your brain data onto a new brain, etc., you lose you because maybe, you’re not defined by any of these things on their own, but rather by a long and unbroken string of continuous existence?

Continuity

A few years ago, my late grandfather, in his 90s and suffering from dementia, pointed at a picture on the wall of himself as a six-year-old. “That’s me!” he explained.

He was right. But come on. It seems ridiculous that the six-year-old in the picture and the extremely old man standing next to me could be the same person. Those two people had nothing in common. Physically, they were vastly different—almost every cell in the six-year-old’s body died decades ago. As far as their personalities—we can agree that they wouldn’t have been friends. And they shared almost no common brain data at all. Any 90-year-old man on the street is much more similar to my grandfather than that six-year-old.

But remember—maybe it’s not about similarity, but about continuity. If similarity were enough to define you, Boston you and London you, who are identical, would be the same person. The thing that my grandfather shared with the six-year-old in the picture is something he shared with no one else on Earth—they were connected to each other by a long, unbroken string of continuous existence. As an old man, he may not know anything about that six-year-old boy, but he knows something about himself as an 89-year-old, and that 89-year-old might know a bunch about himself as an 85-year-old. As a 50-year-old, he knew a ton about him as a 43-year-old, and when he was seven, he was a pro on himself as a 6-year-old. It’s a long chain of overlapping memories, personality traits, and physical characteristics.

It’s like having an old wooden boat. You may have repaired it hundreds of times over the years, replacing wood chip after wood chip, until one day, you realize that not one piece of material from the original boat is still part of it. So is that still your boat? If you named your boat Polly the day you bought it, would you change the name now? It would still be Polly, right?

In this way, what you are is not really a thing as much as a story, or a progression, or one particular theme of person. You’re a bit like a room with a bunch of things in it—some old, some new, some you’re aware of, some you aren’t—but the room is always changing, never exactly the same from week to week.

Likewise, you’re not a set of brain data, you’re a particular database whose contents are constantly changing, growing, and being updated. And you’re not a physical body of atoms, you’re a set of instructions on how to deal with and organize the atoms that bump into you.

People always say the word soul and I never really know what they’re talking about. To me, the word soul has always seemed like a poetic euphemism for a part of the brain that feels very inner to us; or an attempt to give humans more dignity than just being primal biological organisms; or a way to declare that we’re eternal. But maybe when people say the word soul what they’re talking about is whatever it is that connects my 90-year-old grandfather to the boy in the picture. As his cells and memories come and go, as every wood chip in his canoe changes again and again, maybe the single common thread that ties it all together is his soul. After examining a human from every physical and mental angle throughout the post, maybe the answer this whole time has been the much less tangible Soul Theory.

______

It would have been pleasant to end the post there, but I just can’t do it, because I can’t quite believe in souls.

The way I actually feel right now is completely off-balance. Spending a week thinking about clones of yourself, imagining sharing your brain or merging yours with someone else’s, and wondering whether you secretly die every time you sleep and wake up as a replica will do that to you. If you’re looking for a satisfying conclusion, I’ll direct you to the sources below since I don’t even know who I am right now.

The only thing I’ll say is that I told someone about the topic I was posting on for this week, and their question was, “That’s cool, but what’s the point of trying to figure this out?” While researching, I came across this quote by Parfit: “The early Buddhist view is that much or most of the misery of human life resulted from the false view of self.” I think that’s probably very true, and that’s the point of thinking about this topic.

___________

Here’s how I’m working on this false view of self thing.

Sources
Very few of the ideas or thought experiments in this post are my original thinking. I read and listened to a bunch of personal identity philosophy this week and gathered my favorite parts together for the post. The two sources I drew from the most were philosopher Derek Parfit’s book Reasons and Persons and Yale professor Shelly Kagan’s fascinating philosophy course on death—the lectures are all watchableonline for free.

Other Sources:
David Hume: Hume on Identity Over Time and Persons
Derek Parfit: We Are Not Human Beings
Peter Van Inwagen: Materialism and the Psychological-Continuity Account of Personal Identity
Bernard Williams: The Self and the Future
John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Chapter: Of Identity and Diversity)
Douglas Hofstadter: Gödel, Escher, Bach
Patrick Bailey: Concerning Theories of Personal Identity

 

http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/12/what-makes-you-you.html

Drones and the New Ethics of War

Protesters march against President Obama’s drone wars on the day of his second inauguration on January 21, 2013. (Photo: Debra Sweet/flickr/cc)

This Christmas small drones were among the most popular gift under the tree in the U.S. with manufacturers stating that they sold 200,000 new unmanned aerial vehicles during the holiday season. While the rapid infiltration of drones into the gaming domain clearly reflects that drones are becoming a common weapon among armed forces, their appearance in Walmart, Toys “R” Us and Amazon serves, in turn, to normalize their deployment in the military.

Drones, as Grégoire Chamayou argues in his new book, A Theory of the Drone, have a uniquely seductive power, one that attracts militaries, politicians and citizens alike. A research scholar in philosophy at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, Chamayou is one of the most profound contemporary thinkers working on the deployment of violence and its ethical ramifications. And while his new book offers a concise history of drones, it focuses on how drones are changing warfare and their potential to alter the political arena of the countries that utilize them.

If Guantanamo was the icon of President George W. Bush’s anti-terror policy, drones have become the emblem of the Obama presidency.

Chamayou traces one of the central ideas informing the production and deployment of drones back to John W. Clark, an American engineer who carried out a study on “remote control in hostile environments” in 1964. In Clark’s study, space is divided into two kinds of zones—hostile and safe—while robots operated by remote control are able to relieve human beings of all perilous occupations within hostile zones. The sacrifice of miners, firefighters, or those working on skyscrapers will no longer be necessary, since the collapse of a tunnel in the mines, for example, would merely lead to the loss of several robots operated by remote control.

The same logic informed the creation of drones. They were initially utilized as part of the military’s defense system in hostile territories. After the Egyptian military shot down about 30 Israel fighter jets in the first hours of the 1973 war, Israeli air-force commanders decided to change their tactics and send a wave of drones. As soon as the Egyptians fired their initial salvo of anti-aircraft missiles at the drones, the Israeli airplanes were able to attack as the Egyptians were reloading.

Over the years, drones have also become an important component of the intelligence revolution. Instead of sending spies or reconnaissance airplanes across enemy lines, drones can continuously fly above hostile terrain gathering information. As Chamayou explains, drones do not merely provide a constant image of the enemy, but manage to fuse together different forms of data. They carry technology that can interpret electronic communications from radios, cell phones and other devices and can link a telephone call with a particular video or provide the GPS coordinates of the person using the phone. Their target is, in other words, constantly visible.

Using drones to avert missiles or for reconnaissance was, of course, considered extremely important, yet military officials aspired to transform drones into lethal weapons as well. On February 16, 2001, after many years of U.S. investment in R&D, a Predator drone first successfully fired a missile and hit its target. As Chamayou puts it, the notion of turning the Predator into a predator had finally been realized. Within a year, the Predator was preying on live targets in Afghanistan.

A Humanitarian Weapon

Over the past decade, the United States has manufactured more than 6000 drones of various kinds. 160 of these are Predators, which are used not only in Afghanistan but also in countries officially at peace with the US, such as Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. In Pakistan, CIA drones carry out on average of one strike every four days. Although exact figures of fatalities are difficult to establish, the estimated number of deaths between 2004 and 2012 vary from 2562 to 3325.

Chamayou underscores how drones are changing our conception of war in three major ways. First, the idea of a frontier or battlefield is rendered meaningless as is the idea that there are particular places—like homesteads—where the deployment of violence is considered criminal. In other words, if once the legality of killing was dependent on where the killing was carried out, today US lawyers argue that the traditional connection between geographical spaces—such as the battlefield, home, hospital, mosque—and forms of violence are out of date. Accordingly, every place becomes a potential site of drone violence.

Second, the development of “precise missiles,” the kind with which most drones are currently armed led to the popular conception that drones are precise weapons. Precision, though, is a slippery concept. For one, chopping off a person’s head with a machete is much more precise than any missile, but there is no political or military support for precision of this kind in the West. Indeed, “precision” turns out to be an extremely copious category. The U.S., for example, counts all military age males in a strike zone as combatants unless there is explicit intelligence proving them innocent posthumously. The real ruse, then, has to do with the relation between precision and geography. As precise weapons, drones also render geographical contours irrelevant since the ostensible precision of these weapons justifies the killing of suspected terrorists in their homes. A legal strike zone is then equated with anywhere the drone strikes. And when “legal killing” can occur anywhere, then one can execute suspects anywhere—even in zones traditionally conceived as off-limits.

Finally, drones change our conception of war because it becomes, in Chamayou’s words, a priori impossible to die as one kills. One air-force officer formulated this basic benefit in the following manner: “The real advantage of unmanned aerial systems is that they allow you to protect power without projecting vulnerability.” Consequently, drones are declared to be a humanitarian weapon in two senses: they are precise vis-à-vis the enemy, and ensure no human cost to the perpetrator.

From Conquest to Pursuit

If Guantanamo was the icon of President George W. Bush’s anti-terror policy, drones have become the emblem of the Obama presidency. Indeed, Chamayou maintains that President Barak Obama has adopted a totally different anti-terror doctrine from his predecessor: kill rather than capture, replace torture with targeted assassinations.

Citing a New York Times report, Chamayou describes the way in which deadly decisions are reached: “It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals… Every week or so, more than 100 members of the sprawling national security apparatus gather by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and to recommend to the president who should be the next to die.” In D.C, this is called “Terror Tuesday.” Once established, the list is subsequently sent to the White House where the president gives his oral approval for each name. “With the kill list validated, the drones do the rest.”

Obama’s doctrine entails a change in the paradigm of warfare. In contrast to military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz, who claimed that the fundamental structure of war is a duel of two fighters facing each other, we now have, in Chamayou’s parlance, a hunter closing in on its a prey. Chamayou, who also wrote Manhunts: A Philosophical History, which examines the history of hunting humans from ancient Sparta to the modern practices of chasing undocumented migrants, recounts how according to English common law one could hunt badgers and foxes in another man’s land, “because destroying such creatures is said to be profitable to the Public.” This is precisely the kind of law that the US would like to claim for drones, he asserts.

The strategy of militarized manhunting is essentially preemptive. It is not a matter of responding to actual attacks but rather preventing the possibility of emerging threats by the early elimination of potential adversaries. According to this new logic, war is no longer based on conquest—Obama is not interested in colonizing swaths of land in northern Pakistan—but on the right of pursuit. The right to pursue the prey wherever it may be found, in turn, transforms the way we understand the basic principles of international relations since it undermines the notion of territorial integrity as well as the idea of nonintervention and the broadly accepted definition of sovereignty as the supreme authority over a given territory.

Wars without Risks

The transformation of Clausewitz’s warfare paradigm manifests itself in other ways as well. Drone wars are wars without losses or defeats, but they are also wars without victory. The combination of the two lays the ground for perpetual violence, the utopian fantasy of those profiting from the production of drones and similar weapons.

The drone wars, however, are introducing a risk-free ethics of killing. What is taking place is a switch from an ethics of “self-sacrifice and courage to one of self-preservation and more or less assumed cowardice.”

Just as importantly, drones change the ethics of war. According to the new military morality, to kill while exposing one’s life to danger is bad; to take lives without ever endangering one’s own is good. Bradley Jay Strawser, a professor of philosophy at the US naval Postgraduate school in California, is a prominent spokesperson of the “principle of unnecessary risk.” It is, in his view, wrong to command someone to take an unnecessary risk, and consequently it becomes a moral imperative to deploy drones.

Exposing the lives of one’s troops was never considered good, but historically it was believed to be necessary. Therefore dying for one’s country was deemed to be the greatest sacrifice and those who did die were recognized as heroes. The drone wars, however, are introducing a risk-free ethics of killing. What is taking place is a switch from an ethics of “self-sacrifice and courage to one of self-preservation and more or less assumed cowardice.”

Chamayou refers to this as “necro-ethics.” Paradoxically, necro-ethics is, on the one hand, vitalist in the sense that the drone supposedly does not kill innocent bystanders while securing the life of the perpetrator. This has far-reaching implications, since the more ethical the weapon seems, the more acceptable it is and the more readily it will likely be used. On the other hand, the drone advances the doctrine of killing well, and in this sense stands in opposition to the classical ethics of living well or even dying well.

Transforming Politics in the Drone States

Moreover, drones change politics within the drone states. Because drones transform warfare into a ghostly teleguided act orchestrated from a base in Nevada or Missouri, whereby soldiers no longer risk their lives, the critical attitude of citizenry towards war is also profoundly transformed, altering, as it were, the political arena within drone states.

Drones, Chamayou says, are a technological solution for the inability of politicians to mobilize support for war. In the future, politicians might not need to rally citizens because once armies begin deploying only drones and robots there will be no need for the public to even know that a war is being waged. So while, on the one hand, drones help produce the social legitimacy towards warfare through the reduction of risk, on the other hand, they render social legitimacy irrelevant to the political decision making process relating to war. This drastically reduces the threshold for resorting to violence, so much so that violence appears increasingly as a default option for foreign policy. Indeed, the transformation of wars into a risk free enterprise will render them even more ubiquitous than they are today. This too will be one of Obama’s legacies.

Neve Gordon is an Israeli activist and the author of Israel’s Occupation.

The legitimization of Marine Le Pen

RASSEMBLEMENT DU FRONT NATIONAL AU PALAIS ROYAL

20 January 2015

The international campaign to legitimize the fascistic politics of the French National Front (FN) reached a new stage Monday with the publication in theNew York Times of an op-ed piece on the Charlie Hebdo shootings by the party’s leader, Marine Le Pen.

By opening its pages to Le Pen, the Times, the crumbling pillar of American liberalism, is signaling that powerful sections of the American ruling class consider her ideas to be a critical part of the public debate. The Times took the added step of including a simultaneous translation in French, ensuring that the column would receive the widest possible distribution in France itself.

Le Pen is being elevated as part of a broader effort by the ruling elites to play the anti-Muslim race card in the face of entrenched opposition to imperialist operations in the Middle East and social reaction at home. The anti-Muslim cartoons in Charlie Hebdo have been proclaimed symbols of democracy, and now Le Pen is presented as its savior.

Le Pen’s chauvinist arguments in the Times (under the headline “To Call this Threat by Its Name”) are largely drawn from the political arsenal of the US “war on terror.” France, “land of human rights and freedoms, was attacked on its own soil by a totalitarian ideology: Islamic fundamentalism,” she writes.

She then calls for effectively scrapping freedom and human rights in order to wage political war on France’s five-million-strong Muslim population, proposing “a policy restricting immigration,” new policies to strip people of citizenship, and a fight against “communalism and ways of life at odds” with French traditions.

While providing a political platform for Le Pen, the Times does not bother to inform its readers of her political pedigree. The FN was formed in 1972 by former supporters of the World War II Nazi collaborationist Vichy regime and defenders of French colonial rule in Algeria. It is notorious for its anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic racism, its virulent nationalism, and its thuggish attacks on political opponents.

In justifying their decision to publish Le Pen’s column, the editors of the Timesmay argue that whether one likes it or not, Le Pen cannot be ignored. TheTimes and its apologists will probably claim that by providing her with a platform, she is being given the opportunity to expose herself.

This is nonsense. Le Pen is being deliberately legitimized by the Times, just as French President François Hollande increased her stature and that of the FN by inviting Le Pen to the Elysée Palace shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

The promotion of Le Pen is part of a broader elevation of fascistic and extreme right-wing organizations internationally. Last year, the United States and Germany worked with the Right Sector and Svoboda—organizations that celebrate the Nazi collaborators in Ukraine during World War II—to overthrow the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych, an operation that was presented across the political establishment as a movement for democracy.

In Germany, as the ruling class moves to cast off all restraints imposed on German militarism following World War II, it is working to downplay and justify the crimes of its past. Jorg Baberowski, a leading historian at Berlin’s Humboldt University, recently argued that “Hitler was not cruel,” comparing his actions favorably to those of Stalin and the Soviet leadership.

In a recent speech, Chancellor Angela Merkel referred to the need for Christians to “strengthen their identity” and “speak even more and with self-confidence about their Christian values”—an encouragement of anti-Muslim sentiment calculated to bolster and legitimize the racist agitation of the right-wing Pegida movement in Germany.

As far as growing sections of the corporate-financial aristocracy are concerned, the voices of neo-fascists must be heard. At the same time that herTimes column appeared, Le Pen was featured in a glowing interview with theWall Street Journal. Pointing to the calculations of the ruling class, the Journalargued, “Once a political outlier, Ms. Le Pen has been gaining prominence as France’s problems—a moribund economy and its un-assimilated Muslim population—have become more acute and seemingly beyond cure by the traditional political class.”

Here the Journal refers to the fact that, under conditions of protracted economic crisis, the political establishment is deeply discredited in France and internationally. In an effort to create support for its rule, the financial elite is seeking to mobilize sections of the petty-bourgeoisie on the basis of extreme nationalism. At the same time, right-wing forces are exploiting the bankruptcy of the “left” to present themselves as an oppositional force.

The logic of developments is following channels traced previously. Contemporary politics assumes more and more the character of the 1930s, when the ruling elites of Europe turned to fascist parties and forces to defend their rule. Today, the promotion of the likes of Le Pen is part of a broader effort to use anti-Muslim racism as a central plank for imperialist operations abroad and a far-reaching assault on democratic rights at home. The ruling classes in France, the United States, Germany, Britain and the other major imperialist powers are plotting and launching new wars in the Middle East and northern Africa.

Domestically, the ruling class is increasingly concerned about the growth of social opposition in the working class. This week, as billionaires gather in Davos for their annual economic forum, a report has come out showing that by 2016, the richest 1 percent of the world’s population will own more than the bottom 99 percent. The richest 80 individuals own as much wealth as the poorest half of the earth’s inhabitants (about 3.5 billion people). Such conditions are unsustainable. Mass social opposition is inevitable.

Together with a vicious campaign against the immigrant population, the ruling class is promoting and legitimizing fascistic and chauvinist movements in order to direct them against the working class as a whole. The basic lesson of the experiences of the 1930s is that the fight against fascism must be waged as a struggle against the capitalist system and all of its political representatives.

Joseph Kishore and Alex Lantier

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/20/pers-j20.html

The Uncompromising Anti-Capitalism of Martin Luther King Jr.

Posted: 01/20/2014 5:22 pm EST Updated: 03/22/2014 5:59 am EDT

I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic… [Capitalism] started out with a noble and high motive… but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness. (Letter to Coretta Scott, July 18, 1952)

One day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” … When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.
(Final speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 1967)

 
In the thousands of speeches and celebrations on the official Martin Luther King holiday since its inception, there is a crucial fact of his life, activism and thought that no major commemoration has ever celebrated: that King was a strong and uncompromising opponent of American capitalism. This was no late-in-life development for King. It spanned from his youthful years to his death while attempting to gain humane wages and working conditions for a public union. Why was Martin Luther King so opposed to capitalism?

On the one hand, capitalism has generated immense wealth, significantly raised living standards and generally made life more comfortable and secure to varying degrees for most of those living in capitalist countries. On the other hand, it has exacted an excruciating toll in human toil and treasure. It has wrought immense suffering, systematic oppression and exploitation, and debilitating social alienation. Capitalism rewards, indeed depends upon, selfish, aggressive behavior. It values profits over people, promotes material values over spiritual values, dispenses power without social responsibility, and treats people as commodities to be discarded.

Moreover, capitalism is not compatible with “one person, one vote” political democracy because those with the most capital have far more political influence and power per capita than less well-heeled Americans. It is also incompatible with economic democracy because capitalism allows no democracy in the workplace. Workers have to comply with capitalists’ rules and dictates or risk penury and, in egregious cases, physical violence.

However, the factor that most powerfully fueled King’s opposition to capitalism is the imperative of his biblical faith to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth. In this sense he considered capitalism an insult to his faith. King’s ethics are firmly in the tradition of radical biblical prophets like Amos, Micah, and Isaiah, who together proclaimed that everyone, including the rich and the powerful, were to be governed by ethical principles that included mishpat (foundational egalitarian justice), sadiqah (justice put into action), hesed (steadfast love; in politics, civility at the least) and emet (truthfulness, in public and in private). The political implications of this ethical constellation are reflected in this proclamation by the prophet Isaiah: “A throne shall be established in hesed (steadfast love)… and on it shall sit in emet (truthfulness) a ruler who seeks mishpat (egalitarian justice) and is swift to do sadiqah (put justice into action)” (Isaiah 16:5). From what we know of King, he was draped with the mantle of these prophetic ethics which, by definition, are fundamentally opposed to the anti-biblical foundational capitalist ethics of greed and dog-eat-dog self-dealing.

A sense of the deleterious effects of capitalism can be seen in the extraordinary inequality of wealth that plagues America today. Fifteen percent of the US population — nearly 47 million people — lives beneath the official poverty rate of $24,000 per year for a family of four. Roughly 18 million more are near poor, living within 130 percent of the poverty line. More shameful still, 20 percent of all American children live in poverty. Yet capitalists and their political minions fight tooth and nail against every effort to ensure that all American workers are paid a living wage. King rejected the capitalist logic that claims that the economy cannot bear a universal living wage. He said, “God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and he has left in this universe ‘enough and to spare’ for that purpose.”

How can the inherent structural injustice of capitalism be addressed? For King the answer was democratic socialism. An aide recalled that at a meeting with his SCLC staff in the mid-1960s, King “talked about the fact that he didn’t believe that capitalism as it as constructed could meet the needs of poor people, and that what we might need to look at was a kind of socialism, but a democratic form of socialism.” In a 1966 speech to his staff, King explained:

[W]e are saying that something is wrong … with capitalism…. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. Call it what you may, call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.

Although King specifically advocated for democratic socialism as the ameliorator of the vast chasm between rich and poor, it is clear that his primary interest was not in democratic socialism or in any ideology for its own sake. His concern was for poor people’s needs to be addressed, for all to have equal opportunities to thrive, for workers to have democratic rights in the workplace. Under capitalism, workers as citizens have political rights, but as workers they have virtually no rights or say-so about their working conditions, hours, wages, etc. Corporate capitalists now even enforce control over what workers can say and do outside the workplace. For example, until the National Labor Relations Board recently stepped in, the Koch brothers-owned Georgia Pacific Corporation could terminate its workers if they shared information on social media about their own wages, hours and conditions of employment. The extent of corporate capitalists’ control of American workers’ lives and space indicates a virtual state of neo-feudalism in the American workplace.

Nevertheless, although he favored democratic socialism, King’s allegiance was to whatever form of political economy could ameliorate the vast chasm between rich and poor. What was non-negotiable for him, however, was democracy. That is why in King’s democratic socialism the emphasis is on democratic, meaning that he not only understood but also affirmed that the changes he sought should be democratically decided by popular vote. Thus his notion of democratic socialism entailed nothing that in any way can be construed as anti-democratic. Because of his faith in the ethic of egalitarian justice, King had no tolerance for communism or any other kind of authoritarianism. This he reiterated numerous times in his career. For King, democratic socialism was more of a perspective, a worldview, an approach to human society that was based upon humane, mutually cooperative economic relations — the very antithesis of capitalism’s dog-eat-dog competition and its valorization of greed and selfish individualism that routinely crushes anything standing in the way of corporate profits.

In other words, what King wanted was deeper democracy. In a speech to a retail union in 1962 he declared, “I believe that we can work within the framework of our democracy to make for a better distribution of wealth.” This echoed the belief in democracy that he publicly asserted as early as 1955, in his first address to the Montgomery Improvement Association: “We are here also because of our love for democracy and because of our deep-seated belief that democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action is the greatest form of government on earth.”

Yes, King wanted democracy, more democracy, but he wasn’t willing to leave the important task of achieving economic democracy to ad hoc laws and piecemeal policies. “For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of society,” he said, through “a little change here and a little change there, but now I feel differently. You have to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values.”

This is what he had in view in a 1966 article in Ebony magazine. “Our goal,” he wrote, “is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” That is also what he had in view when he declared in his last address to the SCLC in 1967, “What I am saying today is… ‘America you must be born again!'”

What did King mean by a “born again” America? From King’s words and deeds we can venture a few observations with confidence: An America whose policies are animated by love of neighbor and egalitarian justice; an economic system based on cooperation instead of dog-eat-dog competition; political and social responsibility for the needy instead of valorized selfishness; economic relations structured to value people over profits; an America reborn as a true political democracy in which “one person, one vote” strictly means that; and an economic democracy that countenances neither a de facto ruling class or an exploited workforce with no say in its workplace conditions or its destiny.

What would be a born again America for Martin Luther King? An America that understands, as King put it, “that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” An America that feels as passionately as King that, “The curse of poverty … is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism.” An America that believes, as King did, that “The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”

What did King mean by a “born again” America? Among other factors, an America that does not genuflect before the altar of capitalism.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/obery-m-hendricks-jr-phd/the-uncompromising-anti-capitalism-of-martin-luther-king-jr_b_4629609.html

 

A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe

Je Suis Charlie Chaplin
by SHLOMO SAND

“To read the Koran is a revolting experience. After Islam is born, it distinguishes itself by its will to subjugate the world. Its nature – it is subjugation.”

— Michel Houellebecq, reported 31 August 2001.

Nothing justifies an assassination, all the more a mass murder committed in cold blood. What has happened in Paris, the beginning of January, constitutes an absolutely inexcusable crime.

To say that involves nothing original: millions of people think and feel likewise on this account. However, in the light of this appalling tragedy, one of the first questions that occurrs to me is the following: in spite of the profound disgust experienced by the murders, is it obligatory to identify oneself with the victims’ actions? Must I be Charlie because the victims were the supreme incarnation of the ‘liberty of expression’, as the President of the Republic has declared? Am I Charlie, not only because I am a secular atheist, but also because of my fundamental antipathy towards the oppressive roots of the three principal Western monotheistic religions?

Certain caricatures published in Charlie Hebdo, that I’ve seen ages ago, appeared to me to be in bad taste; only a minority amongst them made me laugh. But isn’t the problem to be found there! In the majority of the caricatures on Islam published by the weekly, in the course of the last decade, I have discerned a manipulative aggro intended to further seduce the readership, obviously non-Muslim.

The reproduction by Charlie of the caricatures published in the Danish magazine seemed to me appalling. Already, in 2006, I had perceived as pure provocation the drawing of Mohammed decked in a turban in the form of a bomb. This is not so much a caricature against Islamists as a stupid conflation of Islam with Terror; it’s on a par with identifying Judaism with money!

It has been affirmed that Charlie, impartially, lays into all religions, but this is a lie. Certainly, it mocks Christians, and, sometimes, Jews. However, neither the Danish magazine, nor Charlie would permit themselves (fortunately) to publish a caricature presenting the prophet Moses, with kippah and ritual fringes, in the guise of a wily money-lender, hovering on a street corner. It is good that in the society these days called ‘Judeo-Christian’ (sic), it should no longer be possible to publically disseminate anti-Jewish hatred, as was the case in the not-too-distant past. I am for the liberty of expression while being at the same time opposed to racist incitement.

I admit to, gladly, tolerating the restrictions imposed on Dieudonné from expressing too far and wide his ‘criticism’ and his ‘jokes’ against Jews. On the other hand, I am positively opposed to attempts to restrain him physically. And if, by chance, some idiot attacks him, I will not be very shocked … albeit I will not go so far as to brandish a placard with the inscription: ‘je suis Dieudonné’.

In 1886, there was published in Paris La France juive of Edouard Drumont. And in 2014, the day of the assassinations committed by the three idiot criminals, there appears, under the title: Soumission[Submission], effectively Muslim France, of Michel Houellebecq. The pamphlet La France juive was a genuine bestseller by the end of the 19thCentury. Even before its appearance in the bookstores, Soumission was already a bestseller!

These two books, each in its own time, have benefited from sizeable and heated media coverage. There are, certainly, differences between them. Amongst other things, Houellebecq knows that, at the beginning of the 21st Century, it is no longer acceptable to generate fear-mongering of a Jewish threat, but that it remains readily acceptable to sell books implying a Muslim threat. Alain Soral, less adept, has not understood the ‘rules’ and, for this fact, he is marginalized in the media – and so much the better! Houellebecq, on the other hand, has been invited, with much fanfare, to appear on the coveted 8 o’clock program (journal de 20 heures) of French public television, while his book is simultaneously responsible for the dissemination of the fear of Islam.

A bad wind, a fetid wind of dangerous racism, hovers over Europe: there exists a fundamental difference between challenging a religion or a dominant belief in a society, and that of attacking or inciting against the religion of a dominated minority. If, in the breast of ‘Judeo-Muslim’ [no less ridiculous than the Judeo-Christian label] society – in Saudi Arabia, in the Gulf Emirates – there is a groundswell of protests and warnings against the dominant religion that oppresses workers in their thousands, and millions of women, we have the responsibility to support the persecuted protestors. Now, as one well knows, Western leaders, far from encouraging the would-be disciples of Voltaire and Rousseau in the Middle East, maintain their total support to the religious regimes the most repressive.

On the other hand, in France or in Denmark, in Germany or in Spain populated by millions of Muslim workers, more often forced into the worst jobs, at the bottom of the social scale, it is necessary to show the greatest prudence before criticizing Islam, and above all to not crudely ridicule it.

At the moment, and particularly after this terrible massacre, my sympathy goes to the Muslims who reside in ghettos adjacent to the metropolises, who are at considerable risk of becoming the second victims of the murders perpetrated at Charlie Hebdo and at the Hyper Casher supermarket. I continue to take as a reference point the ‘original Charlie’: the great Charlie Chaplin who never mocked the poor and the little-educated.

Moreover, and knowing that one’s writings always occur in context, how to not raise the fact that, for more than a year, so many French troops are present in Africa to ‘combat the jihadists’, when no serious debate has taken place in France on the usefulness or the damage of these military interventions? The colonial gendarme of yesteryear, who carries an incontestable responsibility in the chaotic heritage of [arbitrary] borders and regimes, is today ‘recalled’ to reinstall ‘law and order’ by means of its latterday neo-colonial gendarmerie.

France joins the military coalition in Iraq, beside the US military, firefighting pyromaniac, responsible for the chaos created in the region, and notably in the rise to power of the frightful ‘Daesh’. Allied with the ‘enlightened’ Saudi leadership, and other ardent partisans of the ‘liberty of expression’ in the Middle East, [France] shores up the illogical border carve-up that it had imposed a century ago according to its imperialist interests. It is summoned to bombard those who threaten the precious oil reserves whose product it consumes, without understanding that, in doing so, it invites the risk of terror attacks in the heart of the metropolis.

But, in fact, it is possible that this process is well understood. The enlightened West can’t possibly be the naive and innocent victim as it loves to present itself. Of course, for an assassin to kill in cold blood innocent and unarmed people it is necessary to be cruel and perverse. But it is necessary to be hypocritical or stupid to close one’s eyes on the particulars that have provided the foundations of this tragedy.

This is also proof of a blindness that we had better understand: this conflict will further escalate if we don’t all work together, atheists and believers, to open true ways of living together without hating each other.

Shlomo Sand is the author of How I Stopped Being a Jew, Verso, 2014.

In November 2014 Sand was denied the opportunity to talk at a University in France (seat of the liberty of expression). The UJFP summarises the affair here.

An earlier version of this article was published on the site of the Union Juive Française pour la Paix, and reproduced on Mediapart. Translated from the Hebrew by Michel Bilis; translated from Bilis’ French by Evan Jones.

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/je-suis-charlie-chaplin/

France Arrests 54 People for Offensive Speech

Observers warn that government reaction in wake of Charlie Hebdo killings reminiscent of post-9/11 fear campaign

Dieudonné, the controversial French comic pictured here in 2007, was arrested Wednesday morning for a Facebook post mocking the Charlie Hebdo attack. (Photo: Alexandre Hervaud/cc/flickr)

Dieudonné, the controversial French comic pictured here in 2007, was arrested Wednesday morning for a Facebook post mocking the Charlie Hebdo attack. (Photo: Alexandre Hervaud/cc/flickr)

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre last week and just days since the historic Parisunity rally when world leaders stood shoulder-to-shoulder and declared their support for freedom of speech, French authorities have arrested 54 people on charges of “glorifying” or “defending” terrorism.

The French Justice Ministry said that of those arrested, four are minors and several had already been convicted under special measures for immediate sentencing, AP reports. Individuals charged with “inciting terrorism” face a possible 5-year prison term, or up to 7 years for inciting terrorism online. None of those arrested have been linked to the attacks.

Why is one view permissible and the other criminally barred—other than because the force of law is being used to control political discourse and one form of terrorism (violence in the Muslim world) is done by, rather than to, the west?
-Glenn Greenwald

Controversial comic Dieudonné was one of those taken into custody Wednesday morning for a Facebook post in which he declared: “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”—merging the names of the satire magazine and Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who killed four hostages at a kosher market on Friday.

Since last week’s multiple terrorism attacks that left 17 people dead, “France ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism,” AP reports.

The irony that the west was rallying to defend a magazine that was attacked for its alleged slander of Islam, while at the same persecuting individuals for voicing their views was not lost on many.

“As pernicious as this arrest and related ‘crackdown’ on some speech obviously is, it provides a critical value: namely, it underscores the utter scam that was this week’s celebration of free speech in the west,” journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote on Wednesday.

Greenwald went on to question the charge of “defending terrorism” brought against Dieudonné and others. Greenwald continued:

If you want “terrorism defenses” like that to be criminally prosecuted (as opposed to societally shunned), how about those who justify, cheer for and glorify the invasion and destruction of Iraq, with its “Shock and Awe” slogansignifying an intent to terrorize the civilian population into submission and itsmonstrous tactics in Fallujah? Or how about the psychotic calls from a Fox News host, when discussing Muslims radicals, to “kill them ALL.” Why is one view permissible and the other criminally barred – other than because the force of law is being used to control political discourse and one form of terrorism (violence in the Muslim world) is done by, rather than to, the west?

Also Wednesday, Ines Pohl, who runs the German satire magazine die tageszeitung,published an op-ed in Politico warning against the exploitation by political leaders in the wake of such an attack or crisis, which in this case is the European right pushing an agenda of closed borders and general ethnocentrism.

“The blood in Paris wasn’t even dry when the first German politician, Alexander Gauland, one of the top candidates from the Alternative für Deutschland party, claimed this killing as a proof that Germany has the right to fear the influence of Muslim culture and that Germans have the right, and the obligation, to defend their Christian heritage,” Pohl writes.

Drawing a line between the current climate since the Paris attacks and the post-9/11 crackdown, Pohl goes on to note that next week the CIA torture reports are to be released in German and adds: “This report is the proof of how a country can be misled when it becomes ruled by fear.”

Torture victim Maher Arar and others shared their reactions to the French crackdown online.

Europe’s terror attacks: The blowback from Western intervention

us_terrorism_safety_400x300

17 January 2015

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of January 7 in Paris, police across Europe have launched a wave of arrests, rounding up dozens of alleged Islamist militants, many of whom have reportedly traveled to and from Syria, where the US and its allies have fomented a bloody civil war.

Amid press reports of imminent plots being disrupted, it is evident that European security officials were well aware of who the alleged plotters were and had been closely following their movements and activities.

The media, throwing itself into the state-backed campaign to terrorize the public, fails to ask the most obvious questions. How is it, for example, that these individuals were able to freely travel to a foreign war zone, fight there, and then return, no questions asked?

The most obvious answer is that they enjoyed the acquiescence, if not direct support, of elements within the state itself. They were left alone until now because they were deemed to be useful.

For nearly four years, Washington and its Western European allies—France first among them—have politically orchestrated and helped finance and arm a war for regime-change in Syria in which Islamist fighters, like the men who carried out the mass killing at the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, have served as the principal ground troops.

Weapons, foreign fighters and money have been sent into Syria largely through Turkey, where the CIA set up a secret station to coordinate these operations. Much of the arms and aid flowing to the imperialist-backed “rebels” have come from Washington’s key Arab allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Two organizations have emerged as the preeminent armed opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: the Al Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a split-off that has been condemned by Al Qaeda itself for its excessive brutality.

German reporter Jürgen Todenhöfer, the first Western journalist to travel through ISIS-held areas in Syria since the outset of the latest US-led war in the region, reported last month that fully 70 percent of those fighting to overthrow Syria’s Assad regime are foreign fighters, funneled into the country from throughout the Middle East, Chechnya, Western Europe, North America and elsewhere. According to a recent US government estimate, as many as 1,000 foreign fighters are joining these militias each month.

The death toll in Syria approaches 200,000. Terrorist attacks, mass executions and other crimes have for years been carried out there by the same elements that committed the killings in Paris, without a word of protest from the official circles now promoting the “Je suis Charlie” campaign. They were doing the West’s dirty work.

With the entry of ISIS into Iraq last summer, however, today’s imperialist crimes collided with those of yesterday, creating a serious crisis. The debacle suffered by the Iraqi army at the hands of ISIS was the product of nearly nine years of US war and occupation that ravaged the country, claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, turned millions into refugees, and provoked an intense Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict.

Washington and its allies moved quickly to exploit this crisis, organizing a bombing campaign in both Iraq and Syria and sending thousands of US troops back into Iraq. Yesterday’s proxy forces in the war for regime-change in Syria were transformed into today’s enemies in the revived “war on terror.” This is the political context for the attack in Paris and the warnings of threatened attacks elsewhere.

This is hardly a new story. US imperialism has for over half a century given its support to Islamist forces, with the aim of combating secular nationalist movements and regimes bent on asserting control over the region’s oil wealth or cementing close ties with the Soviet Union.

The most famous example is Afghanistan, where the CIA, working in close collaboration with Pakistani intelligence, sponsored a war by Islamist fundamentalist forces to overthrow a Soviet-backed government in Kabul. The forces that would later emerge as Al Qaeda played a key role in this operation.

Since then, virtually all those designated as prominent targets and suspects in the “war on terror” are individuals well known to the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

There are the 9/11 attacks themselves, in which the principal hijackers enjoyed close ties to the government of Saudi Arabia, Washington’s key ally in the Arab world. More than 13 years after the event, the US government has refused to declassify 28 pages from a report produced by a congressional investigation into the September 11 events that deal with Saudi financing for the attacks. Key organizers of the attack were under direct surveillance by the CIA, but were allowed to enter, leave and re-enter the US freely, without even possessing proper visas. Once in the US, they were allowed to train as commercial jet aircraft pilots.

Then there is the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Muslim cleric who was assassinated in a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Now blamed for a host of alleged plots, including providing direction to the Paris gunmen, al-Awlaki had intimate ties with the American state. He became the first imam to conduct a prayer service for Muslim congressional staff members at the US Capitol in 2002. Months after the 9/11 attacks, he was brought to the Pentagon to speak on easing tensions between Muslims and the US military.

More recently, in the case of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the key suspect in the attack, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was not only under surveillance by the FBI, but was targeted for recruitment as an informant against the Muslim community. Tsarnaev, who was killed four days after the bombing, was allowed to travel freely to and from southern Russia, meeting with Islamists fighting the Moscow government. Moscow itself warned US authorities about his activities not once, but twice.

As for the gunmen killed last week in Paris, it is acknowledged that they had been under surveillance by not only French, but also US and British intelligence.

How is it that those under surveillance by and in direct contact with police and intelligence agencies are the authors of one terrorist attack after another? The possibility of deliberate provocation can by no means be excluded. It is impossible to say for certain in each of these events whether some form of CIA skullduggery was involved, with events allowed to transpire, carried out by individuals known to the state, either through acts of omission or commission by the authorities.

The media’s attempt to present those involved in these acts of terrorism as mysterious and unknown individuals is fraudulent. On Friday, they reported in succession the mass arrests in Paris and the rollout of new US plans to fund and train Syrian “rebels.” There was no examination of the connection between these developments.

After the first decade of the “global war on terrorism,” in which Al Qaeda was portrayed as an existential threat, these same forces were employed as proxies in Western-backed wars for regime-change against secular Arab governments, first in Libya and then Syria. Now, their actions are once again being exploited to promote war abroad and repression at home.

Ultimately, attacks like the one carried out on Charlie Hebdo are the product of decades of imperialist intervention in the Middle East. The wars that have devastated one country after another have unleashed a wave of violence that cannot but spill beyond the region. Meanwhile, Washington and its allies promote and work with the very forces involved in these attacks.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/17/pers-j17.html