At this moment of closing borders and of politicians calling for surveillance of Muslims and deportations of refugees—with thought suspended and grief draped in the French flag—I hear whispers of the worst horrors of the last century. However, the document to which I turn to make sense of it all is a contemporary one. The Extinction of the Grayzone, an article published in the official ISIS magazine Dābiq, is a slick PDF that deftly binds together theology, politics and history in service of the so-called “caliphate.”
Reading Dābiq, I am struck by its reflection of the transnational, heterogeneous background of ISIS—demonstrating an impressive knowledge of contemporary graphic design, it is written in erudite English by those well-versed in ISIS’s theology. In its graphic depictions of violence, it is a document of barbarism, but then—as Walter Benjamin reminds us—so is every other document of civilization.
A world divided into two camps
Scrolling past images of militants brandishing kalashnikovs, knives held against bare necks, and graphic scenes of decapitations, I arrive at the issue’s eponymous article, “The Extinction of the Grayzone.” While “counter-terrorism experts” have argued that exploring the motives of the Paris attackers is futile, I believe this article demonstrates the importance of doing precisely that.
Through an examination of the establishment of their “Islamic Caliphate” and the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the article clearly explains the goals of the Paris Attacks. In a tweet, the author and activist Iyad El-Baghdadi captured the main thrust of the article:
This world imagined by ISIS is one in which difference is contained, sterilized, and homogenized. It is a world of stark contrast where belief adheres to one of two strict orthodoxies and there is no middle ground.
Confounding those who argue ISIS is merely the product of blind adherence to an antiquated tradition, the author cites a distinctly modern figure as ISIS’ inspiration. This figure is none other than one of the most horrendous and violent individuals of this millennium: George W. Bush. The article cites Osama Bin Laden:
The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning, either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.
The only thing standing in the way of this world of two clearly opposed camps is the “Grayzone,” the messy zone of coexistence. As Iyad El-Baghdadi suggests, the grayness of the Grayzone contaminates the purity of ISIS’ clean division. As much for ISIS as for the “West,” the trouble with the Grayzone is that it ruptures and renders absurd the binary logic which forces a choice between us or them, between friend or enemy, the camp of Islam or that of the Crusaders.
In this sense, the Grayzone is what philosopher Giorgio Agamben refers to as a “zone of indistinction,” a zone which renders impossible the ability to determine inclusion and exclusion. Furthermore, in its contaminated grayness, it is an opaque blot that clouds the panoptic gaze of a regime of legibility, a gaze which forces the world to appear as a collection of discrete, uncontaminated wholes. Hidden from this gaze, the Grayzone is home to all those who live messy, entangled and irreducibly complex lives.
Planting one’s feet in the Grayzone and looking at the forces arrayed against it, the attacks of ISIS and subsequent jingoistic and military maneuvers of the West appear not as skirmishes in an almighty Clash of Civilizations but rather as different moments of a single strategy carried out by a Janus-faced power, a strategy intent on bringing about the extinction of the Grayzone. This is to say, the targets of the Paris attacks were not primarily the civilians killed but the world they inhabited, one not yet divided into two civilizations on the brink of total war.
Yet, the Grayzone offers more than a perspective to make sense of unfolding events. It also provides a footing to ward off the spectral presence of creeping fascisms and resurgent nationalisms. In these dark times, it is of the utmost importance to see the world from the Grayzone, to make common cause with those who inhabit it and to struggle for its defense.
Living in the twilight of the Grayzone
Created and inhabited through living messy lives that cross borders and don’t neatly correspond to fixed identities, the Grayzone is something we all experience, but some more viscerally than others. There are those who live entirely in the crepuscular light of this entangled indeterminacy. For these people, the experience of the Grayzone is not an abstraction, but their home in this world—a visceral texture of their day to day lives.
Dābiq’s “Extinction” depicts the Grayzone as inhabited by “hypocrites” and “deviant innovators.” It encompasses, for Dābiq, the parties which “claim to be independent of both opposing camps.” I count three signs that mark these denizens of the Grayzone:
- those with a heretical relationship to orthodoxy;
- refugees, migrants and all the others living a life straddling two worlds; and,
- those fighting a war on two fronts and being “independent” of both ISIS and the West.
Being branded a so-called “heretic” or “hypocrite” is the first mark that you are a denizen of the Grayzone. However, this “heresy” is not an empirical reality that exists in-and-of itself but a question of judgment. For the “heretic”, their beliefs are not blasphemous but faithful to their own interpretation. Indeed, the “heretic” is only named as such by the particular orthodoxy or prevailing systems of norms which marks their beliefs or behaviors as deviant.
The “heretic” thus establishes the Grayzone by arriving at an alternative (marked as “deviant”, “heretical” or “blasphemous”) interpretation of a common code and living their life accordingly. In so doing, they demonstrate the contingency of any interpretation, threatening to topple the orthodoxy and turn the fictive homogeneity of one camp into a heterogeneous space of discussion and disagreement.
Dābiq‘s main focus is this form of “heresy.” Indeed, the magazine’s cover displays the “hypocrites” who reacted against the attacks last January on Charlie Hebdo. This danger of these “heretics” or “hypocrites” lay in the fact that their disloyalty does not take the form of a desertion, renouncing Islam, or moving to the camp of the crusader. Instead, by retaining their allegiances to Islam but deriving different interpretations, they fundamentally challenged the so-called “Islamic State” as the univocal enunciator of religious truth.
This is the exact strategy of the ISIS #NotInMyName campaign in which Muslims reject ISIS’ ability to act in the name of Muslims. For ISIS, the task of eliminating the threat these heretical interpretations pose lies in convincing the “heretics” to move “from Hypocrisy to Apostasy.” In other words, ISIS wants to eliminate the heretics by leading them to renounce their faith, to abandon the camp.
This call for apostasy is echoed by the other camp as well. It finds its purest expression in the Islamaphobic proselytization of secularism. Last Spring, in his thinly-veiled call for Western military occupation of Iraq and Syria entitled, “What ISIS Really Wants,” Graham Woode embraces ISIS’ hegemonic grasp on the interpretation of Islam. Arguing that Islam is a fundamentally “backward” religion and that the only principled thing for Muslims to do is to renounce Islam altogether, Woode leaves no room for faithful Muslims to live according to the example of the prophet and the Koran:
The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,’ Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.
Here again, the Grayzone is under siege not just by ISIS but also by the opposing camp. The West, especially in its mostferventdefenses of the “enlightenment,” “western values” and “secularism” cannot step outside of the Clash of Civilizations narrative. The only choice they offer Muslims is apostasy or desertion to ISIS’s camp—the Crusader’s choice of conversion or exodus at the barrel of a gun.
To destabilize this notion of a singular fixed truth — this destructive certainty upon which wars are waged and spaces of thought and discussion are closed — we must renounce the idea that there are “true” or “false” notions of concepts like Jihad or freedom. Instead, we must recognize that truth itself is the result of a struggle over interpretation.
In the wake of the Paris Attacks, a widely-circulated story celebrated the actions of Zouheir, the Muslim security guard who allegedly turned away bombers from a crowded soccer stadium. The popularity of the story depended on the “exceptional” character of Zouheir’s “selfless” and “heroic” actions, a framing which assumes all Muslims are aligned with ISIS.
Yet, if the Paris attacks are understood as a strategy of destroying the Grayzone—the space in which Muslims who do not accept ISIS’ interpretation of Islam reside—this story becomes one not of “selfless heroism” but of self-defense, defending the possibility of Muslim life outside the orthodoxy of ISIS.
But we must not tokenize these acts of self-defense; we must stand in solidarity. To do this means to assert the value of Muslim life and, like Zouheir, to defend the Grayzone which fosters and supports it. For non-Muslims, to not tokenize Muslims means to avoid claims about the “truth” of various interpretations of Islam. Such statements not only efface the diversity of Islamic interpretation but also risks furthering ISIS’s claims that the “heretics” are nothing more than “western puppets.” Yet, solidarity with Muslims undermining the authority of ISIS is not enough. The bombings, police raids, calls for ID cards, detentions and deportations in the West must also be met by cries of “#NotInMyName”.
The Grayzone is also a home for those who straddle different worlds. They cannot be neatly sorted into either camp. In this sense, the Grayzone is also a space inhabited by migrants and refugees. Forming a thread which entangles the fate of remote locales, they are a living testament to the porosity of borders.
Once more, we see ISIS and the West unified in their strategy to destroy the Grayzone, both undertaking measures to sterilize and purify their camps. In the West, this sterilization targets the bodies of migrants and refugees: restricting their movement, turning them away at borders, surveilling, containing, detaining and deporting them. For ISIS, the refugees fleeing violence are also heretics and apostates, blasphemously failing to heed the call to move to the so-called Caliphate. Yet, in Dābiq, ISIS envisions the outcome of these attacks as the production of a West so hostile to Muslims that they will have to choose between the “Caliphate” and renouncing Islam entirely.
Reflections and ghostly shadows
In this moment of widespread xenophobia cloaked in the language of security, I see reflections and ghostly shadows. ISIS’s desire for a West hostile to Muslims mirrors the xenophobic nationalists’ fantasy of Muslim self-deportation. And in the logic of immobilization, containment and sterilization, I see the specter of the unthinking bureaucratic administration of bodies—that specter which recalls some of the most horrific memories of the past century.
Our collective memory is crucial as we formulate responses to calls like those of Donald Trump for databases and identification cards for the two million Muslims living in America or by Slavoj Zizek for coordinated military detention and transportation of refugees. To honor this memory, we must reject attempts like those of Trump and Zizek to transform migrants and refugees into numbers in an administrative database or bodies in heavily guarded camps and instead forcefully affirm their freedom of movement that marks them as denizens of the Grayzone.
A final sign that marks someone as a denizen of the Grayzone is being targeted by or otherwise being at war on two fronts. Here, Dābiq gives significant attention to the “grayish calls and movements” of the “independent” Islamic parties in the Syrian Civil War.
To this account of “grayish” factions of the Syrian Civil War, it would be remiss not mention the Kurdish fighters of Rojava who are attacked regularly by bothISIS and the West—in the guise of NATO-ally Turkey. In their struggle for neither a nation-state nor a caliphate but a large territory of autonomous self-governed communities the Rojavan Kurds offer a powerful articulation of the Grayzone and the ethical and political possibilities that exists beyond the two choices proffered by ISIS and the West.
It is, however, not necessary to look as far afield as the Syrian civil war to find examples of those targeted by both ISIS and the West. As I have already discussed, this is also the case for Muslims in the West who face the daily threat of Islamophobic violence but would just as likely face violence at the hands of ISIS. So too is it the case with the refugees, who find themselves trapped between two hostile worlds and are thus forced to inhabit the Grayzone between them.
Facing this many-headed hydra intent on the destruction of the Grayzone, we cannot stand idly by.
Instead, heeding the grayish call, we must resist any attempt to divide the world into “us versus them” and rupture the fictive unity of these two camp by refusing to allow violent acts to be perpetrated in our name.
To defend the Grayzone means to call out Islamophobia and make sure that Muslim communities are safe. It means to counter an isolationist border policy by welcoming the stranger, the migrant and the refugee into our midst. And it means to refuse to let our grief to be draped in a flag, responding with the same outrage and grief to the airstrikes of the West as we did to the attacks in Paris.
Rejecting the narrative of an inevitable Clash of Civilizations, we must instead insist on coexistence. In the face of calls for its extinction, we must celebrate the entangled life that flourishes in the messy indeterminacy of the Grayzone.
Sam Law is a delivery boy in Brooklyn, NY. When not delivering bagels, he writes about and participates in struggles for autonomy, life and the commons. He blogs at The Counter Apparatus. Follow him on Twitter at @walmas.
Photo Credit: Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock.com
Christmas festivities will seem empty in a world which has chosen “war and hate,” Pope Francis said Thursday.
“Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes … it’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path,” he said in a sermon.
“There are wars today everywhere, and hate,” he said after the worst terror attack in French history, the bombing of a Russian airliner, a double suicide bombing in Lebanon, and a series of other deadly strikes.
“We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it,” the Argentine pontiff said, adding: “God weeps, Jesus weeps.”
The sermon threw a shadow over the start of the festive season at the Vatican, where a giant Christmas tree was unveiled.
The 82-foot- high pine hails from former Pope Benedict XVI’s homeland, the German state of Bavaria. The tree, which will be decorated in time for the start of the Vatican’s Holy Year on December 8, will be festooned with ornaments made by children from cancer wards in hospitals across Italy. This year’s nativity scene will be made up of 24 life-size figures, sculpted from wood and handpainted.
In a nod to Pope Francis’ humble style, alongside the figures from the story of Jesus’ birth will be sculptures of ordinary people, including a man supporting an elderly person in need.
Photo: A young man is arrested at a student protest in Paris, by Philipe Leroyer, via Flickr.
The deadly attacks in Paris on the night of Friday, November 13, were quickly met by a global rush of solidarity with France and the French people. From world leaders expressing their sympathies, to raising the French flag on buildings across the globe, and more visibly, on Facebook profiles, everyone stood unequivocally united with France.
The sentiment of solidarity behind this mass concern is heart-warming, however it must come hand in hand with a demand for a serious debate on matters of terrorism, violence and war. Rage and sadness should not hinder our ability to think.
Why Paris? Who were the attackers, and how could they do such things? How can we counter these kind of attacks? Before bowing to the often narrow interpretations provided by the media and our political leaders, we must look for well-informed answers to these important questions. The current response–including more French bombings in Syria and extreme security measures on French territory–may be a fuel for further violence, rather than bring viable solutions.
“Us versus Them”
As a French national, the sudden inundation of the tricolored flag on my Facebook wall was a little unsettling. I do feel grateful for the surge of solidarity and wonderful messages calling for love and unity from all over the world. However, I find myself wondering if the French flag is truly the appropriate symbol to demonstrate this call for peace and inclusiveness, and to bring people together in unity against terror.
To me, the French flag represents first and foremost the French state, the respective governments that have ruled my country, and their foreign policies. Domestically, it is mostly a nationalist symbol, too often used by the likes of Marine Le Pen to create enemies out of foreigners. It represents certain values defined as “French”, as opposed to foreign values France should not welcome, and as such it can be a dangerous vector of racism.
In parallel to this bleu-blanc-rouge frenzy, many artists and humorists have responded to the attacks defending the stereotypes of French culture; drinking wine, enjoying life, smoking on terrasses. They state that any attack on French values is an attack on enjoying life itself. Although flattering in a way, as they praise what may seem the essence of being French, it unjustly encourages us to see the attacks through the lens of the “clash of civilisations” where enemy and foreign ideals threaten our way of life, our moral values.
Let us be clear about two things. First, in this “us” versus “them” discourse, I am not sure who the “us” is supposed to be. Am I–a French citizen who has long opposed aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East–all of a sudden on the same side as my government?
To many of us, the political elites of the country, who have insisted in involving France in wars that we did not want, are part of the problem. The different successive French governments have indirectly contributed to the rise of extremist groups and the radicalization of young men to join them. Waving the French flag could contribute to diminishing their role and the responsibility they hold in this crisis. Worse, it could legitimize further undesirable military actions abroad.
And second, who is “them”? The “War on Terror”, as it has been clearly framed by world leaders, is not a war in the traditional sense, with a clear, visible enemy. The attackers of the Paris killings weren’t foreigners; most of them were French or European citizens, born and raised on European soil. We are not talking about a mysterious, faraway enemy, but about young French men and women who are as much a part of French society as anyone else.
A show of force
And yet, the French president so promptly declared “war” and intensified the direct and aggressive bombings of IS targets in Syria. The terrorists being mostly European citizens, may it not be wiser to ask ourselves what is wrong in our own societies instead of taking such rash military action abroad?
Worryingly, there has been little resistance within the media or even within French left-wing circles, to Hollande’s policies. Has the emotion and anger from the Paris attacks impeded our ability to recognize that dropping bombs in the Middle East will not resolve the security threats that emanate from within?
Terrorism is an invisible enemy emanating from complex socio-political circumstances, which needs to be tackled in a more subtle and thought-through way. History has shown us that 14 years of “War against Terror” in the Middle East has only contributed to more violence, more terrorism and sadly, more deaths. Isn’t it time we started thinking about different tactics?
Since the attacks, Francois Hollande has proposed changes in the constitution, to make it easier for the state to resort to the use of force when facing terrorism. These changes include an increase in presidential powers, allowing Mr Hollande to enforce security measures without the usual scrutiny of the parliament. The president wants to extent the duration of the state of emergency, limiting freedom of movement and freedom of association, including mass demonstrations, in the name of national security.
The suggested changes could also result in widening the definition of targeted citizens to anyone who is “seriously suspected” of being a threat to public order, opening the door to a worrying reality of aggressive police tactics directed towards poor, disillusioned youth. Furthermore, Hollande wants to withdraw French nationality to any bi-national citizen suspected of terrorism acts.
The president’s reaction is deeply disturbing, and reinforces the skewed vision of a “foreign” enemy, which will inevitable result in discriminatory and racist policies and reactions towards foreigners, or anyone perceived as foreign, in France. More worrying still, is a recent poll in Le Parisien, which shows that 84% of respondents supported the decision to increase the manoeuvring power of the police and the army, while 91% agreed with the idea of withdrawing French nationality to suspected terrorists.
Where are the French values of openness and multiculturalism that we so ardently defend now? We must not let fear and an inaccurate “us” versus “them” discourse justify aggressive policies against our own citizens, or against anyone else for that matter, including refugees fleeing the very terror we claim to fight.
Why did French citizens decide to kill?
The reason why the media has focused on this angle of opposing the French values of liberté, egalité, fraternité, with the fearful and hateful values preached by the IS, is that it gives easy answers to complex questions. Why was Paris attacked? Because, we are told, it represents the heart of freedom, multiculturalism, secularism and joie de vivre. But does it really? France doesn’t always seem to live up to the values it professes.
The real question should be: why did young French (and Belgian) men and boys decide to sacrifice their life to kill members of their own society?
Two answers seem to have emerged. The first, mainly employed by the political elite and the media, is that the killers were “insane”, “brainwashed” and “barbaric”, and could not have acted rationally. This approach refuses proper analysis of the killers’ motives, brushing them aside to favour irrational and extremist religious ideology, and thus justifying a purely violent and heavy-handed response.
The second answer, coming from many left-wing, anti-racist circles, claims that such acts of terrorism are a direct result of France’s foreign and domestic policy. Although both seem radically opposed, they do have one thing in common: they undermine the agency and accountability of the attackers. This second approach, which points out undeniable political considerations, remains flawed in the same way as the first: it forgets that the killers are people who think and act, and not simply passive products of racist and imperialist foreign policy.
It is important to recognize the attackers as human beings, capable of acting and thinking rationally, as it is a first step towards understanding the reasoning behind their actions. Religious fanaticism is simply a vector of violence, as has been the case for many other ideologies in the past, such as nationalism, fascism, or communism. These ideologies are not the root causes of violence. Although this may seem obvious, there is a need to stress that religious extremism is not the reason why a young man would take up a gun and shoot into a crowd, it is simply an instrument to channel their anger.
We must try to look at the very roots of these young men’s discontent. Debates should be opened about the school system, about the ghettoization of urban areas across France, about police violence and domestic anti-terror security measures, about the prison system, about structural racism, about our skewed justice system, about oppressive and strict secularism; and the list goes on.
These questions are complex ones, and ones that are not easy to address. Thus, we prefer to paint the picture in black and white, our values versus their values, rather than to face the internal problems of our broken societies.
The little research that has been conducted on IS fighters, abroad and within Europe, shows that young men don’t necessarily join the extremist group for religious reasons. The Kouachi brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo shootings had suffered a difficult childhood in poverty after the suicide of their mother, with little support from social services and surrounded by extreme violence as children.
Anger at injustices they face, alienation, and years of increasing humiliation from the very societies they are meant to be a part of can push young men to express their frustrations through the vehicle of religious extremism. IS just happens to be an organized group, which seriously threatens European societies, and which offers these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity and their pride.
As Anne Aly explains: “Religion and ideology serve as vehicles for an ‘us versus them’ mentality and as the justification for violence against those who represent ‘the enemy’, but they are not the drivers of radicalization.”
Radical solutions to radical problems
Radical solutions mean, first and foremost, tackling the problem at its roots.Julien Salingue expressed this idea very eloquently after the Charlie Hebdo shootings: “Deep change, and therefore the questioning of a system that generates structural inequalities and exploitation of violence is necessary”.
Every injustice and every act of humiliation towards a member of society can only cause anger and hatred, which might someday transform into violence. James Gilligan has written extensively about the way the prison system in America serves to intensify the feeling of shame and humiliation that push individuals to violence in the first place. This analysis is useful when looking at European societies, and the processes of discrimination and humiliation that push young men to react violently.
We must condemn all policies, discourses and actions that legitimize and reinforce the politics of hatred. Police violence towards young men of Arab origin, for instance, is frequent in France. Amedy Coulibaly, another actor in the Paris shootings in January 2015, suffered the death of his friend in a police “slipup” when he was 18. This kind of direct aggression perpetrated on a daily basis adds to the structural violence and discrimination young men from underprivileged backgrounds experience in European societies. War for them is not such a distant, disconnected reality, but closer to their every day life.
Every racist insult, act of police brutality, unfair trial, or discriminatory treatment brings them one step closer to carry out tragedies as the massacre in Paris. We must therefore question the very system we live in and the way of life we defend so defiantly after the attacks, for the problem may be closer to us than we imagine.
Claire Veale is a graduate from the SOAS, University of London, in Violence, Conflict & Development. Having lived and worked in several continents, she is particularly interested in writing about social movements, Latin American politics, gender rights and international development issues.
Let Us Finish What FDR and MLK Started
The following are the prepared remarks for a speech given by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at Georgetown University on Thursday, November 19th, 2015.
In his inaugural remarks in January 1937, in the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt looked out at the nation and this is what he saw.
He saw tens of millions of its citizens denied the basic necessities of life.
He saw millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hung over them day by day.
He saw millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.
He saw millions lacking the means to buy the products they needed and by their poverty and lack of disposable income denying employment to many other millions.
He saw one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.
And he acted. Against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day, people he called economic royalists, Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty and restored their faith in government. He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our country. He combatted cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed the country.
And that is what we have to do today.
And, by the way, almost everything he proposed was called “socialist.” Social Security, which transformed life for the elderly in this country was “socialist.” The concept of the “minimum wage” was seen as a radical intrusion into the marketplace and was described as “socialist.” Unemployment insurance, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as “socialist.” Yet, these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class.
Thirty years later, in the 1960s, President Johnson passed Medicare and Medicaid to provide health care to millions of senior citizens and families with children, persons with disabilities and some of the most vulnerable people in this county. Once again these vitally important programs were derided by the right wing as socialist programs that were a threat to our American way of life.
That was then. Now is now.
Today, in 2015, despite the Wall Street crash of 2008, which drove this country into the worst economic downturn since the Depression, the American people are clearly better off economically than we were in 1937.
But, here is a very hard truth that we must acknowledge and address. Despite a huge increase in technology and productivity, despite major growth in the U.S. and global economy, tens of millions of American families continue to lack the basic necessities of life, while millions more struggle every day to provide a minimal standard of living for their families. The reality is that for the last 40 years the great middle class of this country has been in decline and faith in our political system is now extremely low.
The rich get much richer. Almost everyone else gets poorer. Super PACs funded by billionaires buy elections. Ordinary people don’t vote. We have an economic and political crisis in this country and the same old, same old establishment politics and economics will not effectively address it.
If we are serious about transforming our country, if we are serious about rebuilding the middle class, if we are serious about reinvigorating our democracy, we need to develop a political movement which, once again, is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation. The billionaire class cannot have it all. Our government belongs to all of us, and not just the one percent.
We need to create a culture which, as Pope Francis reminds us, cannot just be based on the worship of money. We must not accept a nation in which billionaires compete as to the size of their super-yachts, while children in America go hungry and veterans sleep out on the streets.
Today, in America, we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but few Americans know that because so much of the new income and wealth goes to the people on top. In fact, over the last 30 years, there has been a massive transfer of wealth – trillions of wealth – going from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent – a handful of people who have seen a doubling of the percentage of the wealth they own over that period.
Unbelievably, and grotesquely, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.
Today, in America, millions of our people are working two or three jobs just to survive. In fact, Americans work longer hours than do the people of any industrialized country. Despite the incredibly hard work and long hours of the American middle class, 58 percent of all new income generated today is going to the top one percent.
Today, in America, as the middle class continues to disappear, median family income, is $4,100 less than it was in 1999. The median male worker made over $700 less than he did 42 years ago, after adjusting for inflation. Last year, the median female worker earned more than $1,000 less than she did in 2007.
Today, in America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, more than half of older workers have no retirement savings – zero – while millions of elderly and people with disabilities are trying to survive on $12,000 or $13,000 a year. From Vermont to California, older workers are scared to death. “How will I retire with dignity?,” they ask?
Today, in America, nearly 47 million Americans are living in poverty and over 20 percent of our children, including 36 percent of African American children, are living in poverty — the highest rate of childhood poverty of nearly any major country on earth.
Today, in America, 29 million Americans have no health insurance and even more are underinsured with outrageously high co-payments and deductibles. Further, with the United States paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, 1 out of 5 patients cannot afford to fill the prescriptions their doctors write.
Today, in America, youth unemployment and underemployment is over 35 percent. Meanwhile, we have more people in jail than any other country and countless lives are being destroyed as we spend $80 billion a year locking up fellow Americans.
The bottom line is that today in America we not only have massive wealth and income inequality, but a power structure which protects that inequality. A handful of super-wealthy campaign contributors have enormous influence over the political process, while their lobbyists determine much of what goes on in Congress.
In 1944, in his State of the Union speech, President Roosevelt outlined what he called a second Bill of Rights. This is one of the most important speeches ever made by a president but, unfortunately, it has not gotten the attention that it deserves.
In that remarkable speech this is what Roosevelt stated, and I quote: “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men.” End of quote. In other words, real freedom must include economic security. That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. It is time that we did.
In that speech, Roosevelt described the economic rights that he believed every American was entitled to: The right to a decent job at decent pay, the right to adequate food, clothing, and time off from work, the right for every business, large and small, to function in an atmosphere free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies. The right of all Americans to have a decent home and decent health care.
What Roosevelt was stating in 1944, what Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in similar terms 20 years later and what I believe today, is that true freedom does not occur without economic security.
People are not truly free when they are unable to feed their family. People are not truly free when they are unable to retire with dignity. People are not truly free when they are unemployed or underpaid or when they are exhausted by working long hours. People are not truly free when they have no health care.
So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; “This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.” It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.
Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.
Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt.
It is a system, for example, which during the 1990s allowed Wall Street to spend $5 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions to get deregulated. Then, ten years later, after the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior of Wall Street led to their collapse, it is a system which provided trillions in government aid to bail them out. Wall Street used their wealth and power to get Congress to do their bidding for deregulation and then, when their greed caused their collapse, they used their wealth and power to get Congress to bail them out. Quite a system!
And, then, to add insult to injury, we were told that not only were the banks too big to fail, the bankers were too big to jail. Kids who get caught possessing marijuana get police records. Wall Street CEOs who help destroy the economy get raises in their salaries. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant by socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for everyone else.
In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations, huge tax breaks for the very rich, or trade policies which boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs. It means that we create a government that works for works for all of us, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what America stands for.
It means that health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege. This is not a radical idea. It exists in every other major country on earth. Not just Denmark, Sweden or Finland. It exists in Canada, France, Germany and Taiwan. That is why I believe in a Medicare-for-all single payer health care system. Yes. The Affordable Care Act, which I helped write and voted for, is a step forward for this country. But we must build on it and go further.
Medicare for all would not only guarantee health care for all people, not only save middle class families and our entire nation significant sums of money, it would radically improve the lives of all Americans and bring about significant improvements in our economy.
People who get sick will not have to worry about paying a deductible or making a co-payment. They could go to the doctor when they should, and not end up in the emergency room. Business owners will not have to spend enormous amounts of time worrying about how they are going to provide health care for their employees. Workers will not have to be trapped in jobs they do not like simply because their employers are offering them decent health insurance plans. Instead, they will be able to pursue the jobs and work they love, which could be an enormous boon for the economy. And by the way, moving to a Medicare for all program will end the disgrace of Americans paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
Democratic socialism means that, in the year 2015, a college degree is equivalent to what a high school degree was 50 years ago – and that public education must allow every person in this country, who has the ability, the qualifications and the desire, the right to go to a public colleges or university tuition free. This is also not a radical idea. It exists today in many countries around the world. In fact, it used to exist in the United States.
Democratic socialism means that our government does everything it can to create a full employment economy. It makes far more sense to put millions of people back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, than to have a real unemployment rate of almost 10%. It is far smarter to invest in jobs and educational opportunities for unemployed young people, than to lock them up and spend $80 billion a year through mass incarceration.
Democratic socialism means that if someone works forty hours a week, that person should not be living in poverty: that we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage – $15 an hour over the next few years. It means that we join the rest of the world and pass the very strong Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation now in Congress. How can it possibly be that the United States, today, is virtually the only nation on earth, large or small, which does not guarantee that a working class woman can stay home for a reasonable period of time with her new-born baby? How absurd is that?
Democratic socialism means that we have government policy which does not allow the greed and profiteering of the fossil fuel industry to destroy our environment and our planet, and that we have a moral responsibility to combat climate change and leave this planet healthy and inhabitable for our kids and grandchildren.
Democratic socialism means, that in a democratic, civilized society the wealthiest people and the largest corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. Yes. Innovation, entrepreneurship and business success should be rewarded. But greed for the sake of greed is not something that public policy should support. It is not acceptable that in a rigged economy in the last two years the wealthiest 15 Americans saw their wealth increase by $170 billion, more wealth than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans. Let us not forget what Pope Francis has so elegantly stated; “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”
It is not acceptable that major corporations stash their profits in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens to avoid paying $100 billion in taxes each and every year. It is not acceptable that hedge fund managers pay a lower effective tax rate than nurses or truck drivers. It is not acceptable that billionaire families are able to leave virtually all of their wealth to their families without paying a reasonable estate tax. It is not acceptable that Wall Street speculators are able to gamble trillions of dollars in the derivatives market without paying a nickel in taxes on those transactions.
Democratic socialism, to me, does not just mean that we must create a nation of economic and social justice. It also means that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person one vote. It is extremely sad that the United States, one of the oldest democracies on earth, has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country, and that millions of young and working class people have given up on our political system entirely. Every American should be embarrassed that in our last national election 63% of the American people, and 80% of young people, did not vote. Clearly, despite the efforts of many Republican governors to suppress the vote, we must make it easier for people to participate in the political process, not harder. It is not too much to demand that everyone 18 years of age is registered to vote – end of discussion.
Further, it is unacceptable that we have a corrupt campaign finance system which allows millionaires, billionaires and large corporations to contribute as much as they want to Super Pacs to elect candidates who will represent their special interests. We must overturn Citizens United and move to public funding of elections.
So the next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this:
I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.
I believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America instead of shipping jobs and profits overseas.
I believe that most Americans can pay lower taxes – if hedge fund managers who make billions manipulating the marketplace finally pay the taxes they should.
I don’t believe in special treatment for the top 1%, but I do believe in equal treatment for African-Americans who are right to proclaim the moral principle that Black Lives Matter.
I despise appeals to nativism and prejudice, and I do believe in immigration reform that gives Hispanics and others a pathway to citizenship and a better life.
I don’t believe in some foreign “ism”, but I believe deeply in American idealism.
I’m not running for president because it’s my turn, but because it’s the turn of all of us to live in a nation of hope and opportunity not for some, not for the few, but for all.
No one understood better than FDR the connection between American strength at home and our ability to defend America at home and across the world. That is why he proposed a second Bill of Rights in 1944, and said in that State of the Union:
“America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”
I’m not running to pursue reckless adventures abroad, but to rebuild America’s strength at home. I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will never send our sons and daughters to war under false pretense or pretenses or into dubious battles with no end in sight.
And when we discuss foreign policy, let me join the people of Paris in mourning their loss, and pray that those who have been wounded will enjoy a full recovery. Our hearts also go out to the families of the hundreds of Russians apparently killed by an ISIS bomb on their flight, and those who lost their lives to terrorist attacks in Lebanon and elsewhere.
To my mind, it is clear that the United States must pursue policies to destroy the brutal and barbaric ISIS regime, and to create conditions that prevent fanatical extremist ideologies from flourishing. But we cannot – and should not – do it alone.
Our response must begin with an understanding of past mistakes and missteps in our previous approaches to foreign policy. It begins with the acknowledgment that unilateral military action should be a last resort, not a first resort, and that ill-conceived military decisions, such as the invasion of Iraq, can wreak far-reaching devastation and destabilize entire regions for decades. It begins with the reflection that the failed policy decisions of the past – rushing to war, regime change in Iraq, or toppling Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, or Guatemalan President Árbenz in 1954, Brazilian President Goulart in 1964, Chilean President Allende in 1973. These are the sorts of policies do not work, do not make us safer, and must not be repeated.
After World War II, in response to the fear of Soviet aggression, European nations and the United States established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – an organization based on shared interests and goals and the notion of a collective defense against a common enemy. It is my belief that we must expand on these ideals and solidify our commitments to work together to combat the global threat of terror.
We must create an organization like NATO to confront the security threats of the 21st century – an organization that emphasizes cooperation and collaboration to defeat the rise of violent extremism and importantly to address the root causes underlying these brutal acts. We must work with our NATO partners, and expand our coalition to include Russia and members of the Arab League.
But let’s be very clear. While the U.S. and other western nations have the strength of our militaries and political systems, the fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam, and countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations – with the strong support of their global partners.
These same sentiments have been echoed by those in the region. Jordan’s King Abdallah II said in a speech on Sunday that terrorism is the “greatest threat to our region” and that Muslims must lead the fight against it. He noted that confronting extremism is both a regional and international responsibility, and that it is incumbent on Muslim nations and communities to confront those who seek to hijack their societies and generations with intolerance and violent ideology.
And let me congratulate King Abdallah not only for his wise remarks, but also for the role that his small country is playing in attempting to address the horrific refugee crisis in the region.
A new and strong coalition of Western powers, Muslim nations, and countries like Russia must come together in a strongly coordinated way to combat ISIS, to seal the borders that fighters are currently flowing across, to share counter-terrorism intelligence, to turn off the spigot of terrorist financing, and to end support for exporting radical ideologies.
What does all of this mean? Well, it means that, in many cases, we must ask more from those in the region. While Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon have accepted their responsibilities for taking in Syrian refugees, other countries in the region have done nothing or very little.
Equally important, and this is a point that must be made – countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE – countries of enormous wealth and resources – have contributed far too little in the fight against ISIS. That must change. King Abdallah is absolutely right when he says that that the Muslim nations must lead the fight against ISIS, and that includes some of the most wealthy and powerful nations in the region, who, up to this point have done far too little.
Saudi Arabia has the 3rd largest defense budget in the world, yet instead of fighting ISIS they have focused more on a campaign to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Kuwait, a country whose ruling family was restored to power by U.S. troops after the first Gulf War, has been a well-known source of financing for ISIS and other violent extremists. It has been reported that Qatar will spend $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup, including the construction of an enormous number of facilities to host that event – $200 billion on hosting a soccer event, yet very little to fight against ISIS. Worse still, it has been widely reported that the government has not been vigilant in stemming the flow of terrorist financing, and that Qatari individuals and organizations funnel money to some of the most extreme terrorist groups, including al Nusra and ISIS.
All of this has got to change. Wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them. As we develop a strongly coordinated effort, we need a commitment from these countries that the fight against ISIS takes precedence over the religious and ideological differences that hamper the kind of cooperation that we desperately need.
Further, we all understand that Bashar al-Assad is a brutal dictator who has slaughtered many of his own people. I am pleased that we saw last weekend diplomats from all over world, known as the International Syria Support Group, set a timetable for a Syrian-led political transition with open and fair elections. These are the promising beginnings of a collective effort to end the bloodshed and to move to political transition.
The diplomatic plan for Assad’s transition from power is a good step in a united front. But our priority must be to defeat ISIS. Nations all over the world, who share a common interest in protecting themselves against international terrorist, must make the destruction of ISIS the highest priority. Nations in the region must commit – that instead of turning a blind eye — they will commit their resources to preventing the free flow of terrorist finances and fighters to Syria and Iraq. We need a commitment that they will counter the violent rhetoric that fuels terrorism – rhetoric that often occurs within their very borders.
This is the model in which we must pursue solutions to the sorts of global threats we face.
While individual nations indeed have historic disputes – the U.S. and Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia – the time is now to put aside those differences to work towards a common purpose of destroying ISIS. Sadly, as we have seen recently, no country is immune from attacks by the violent organization or those whom they have radicalized.
Thus, we must work with our partners in Europe, the Gulf states, Africa, and Southeast Asia – all along the way asking the hard questions whether their actions are serving our unified purpose.
The bottom line is that ISIS must be destroyed, but it cannot be defeated by the United States alone. A new and effective coalition must be formed with the Muslim nations leading the effort on the ground, while the United States and other major forces provide the support they need.
All photos by Ulas Yunus Tosun.
The winners of the elections in Turkey are the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, their party and all the nationalist and conservative people who wanted ‘security’ and ‘stability’. The race was not fair but they won anyway. They set the rules of the game and decided to play it alone.
The minorities that were not killed in the run up to the elections led a heroic campaign. The survivors must be celebrated for their sound politics, their courage, their diligence, their ethics and their open heart. Too many people were hurt, and more are being crushed because the majority won.
We all tried to be rational about the electoral process. We knew that it was a lie, but we tried to motivate ourselves despite daily news of arrests, people being fired, lynched and attacked. We practised suffering together as we were forced to watch peaceful people being killed, towns occupied and forests burned before our eyes.
Some time ago, we noticed that we tended to step out from rational zones. At some point rumours, dramatic and pervert performances of violence, and big lies became serious data. These shifts started a little more than two years ago, and we have been on this strange collective trip since Gezi. We did not have a choice; we were forced on it. No more 24-hour time rules, and usually, it all starts with some sparkles.
We lost control of time one week before the elections. We were just about to happily adapt to capitalist wintertime, but we did not. We started living at two times, one wrong but right, and the other right and false. We were told to do that for one week, because of the elections. Arbitrarily, some time after yet another victory of the political right in Turkey, time went back to normal, until further notice.
In principle, allowing time to flow differently could be quite a pleasant and even liberating experience. However, having your time at the mercy of an important little man has irritating effects. In a blink, his human shape can turn into some undetermined creature with an edgy smile under its moustache.
He looks awful in pink on those posters that celebrate female servitude and capital. And there is that voice in the background, repeating itself, saying nothing but leaving you with a feeling of outrage.
Of course, you must have heard about the real winner. He likes it that the whole world is talking about him. He has the capacity to multiply things like buildings and money and people. He even pulled a palace out of a forest. He can change the places and names of things and rewrite history. A big cold wind spreads when he scolds the world.
If you like living in fear of God, you might also like living in fear of him. Even if you know that he is brutal.
But do not let fear take over. Take a deep breath, try to find your flow and settle back into your space. Listen to some soft music to reset the vibes, gently shake your organs and blow through the hair on your arms. You might start to relax, let your heart explode softly into little diamonds. Kind people really do exist.
Behind the veils of this generous and transparent place, there is death. There is a lot of love here too. There is a constant traffic, some people who arrive in masses, people who can’t arrive, people who arrive too soon, and those who won’t go. It is an entire industry full of suffering, mutilated bodies, very little bodies, young smiling faces, old bodies and lungs in need of air.
And suddenly, just like magic, no more potential bombs in the metro.
Does this mean that we are safe now? Why is everything slowing down as they grow bigger all around? Is it because they have the licence to kill now? Who are all these people happy to see a woman’s dead body left naked in the street after being tortured? Will they kick that door in and step through your life with their boots? Do you have anything to hide?
Will you get rid of the books or keep them, even the controversial ones? Do you have strong networks and smart connections since you can’t trust the laws? Did you clean up your computer, save your data and erase all your history, especially the sexy stuff? How will I fight back with these long skinny arms? Will you object consciously and disobey?
Cagla Aykac has a Phd from the EHESS in Paris. She currently lives and teaches in Istanbul.