How religion has shaped American politics over the past 50 years

Inside the evangelicals: 

North Carolina exemplifies how the Christian left’s past informs its present — it’s not just the Christian right

Inside the evangelicals: How religion has shaped American politics over the past 50 years

A stained glass window adorns Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 6, 2016. The church marks its 200th anniversary in the city where it was founded by a former slave. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)(Credit: AP)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

On Oct. 3, Longwood University, a public university in Virginia, hosted the first and only 2016 vice presidential debate. In what were described as the debate’s “most sincere” and “most honest” moments, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) discussed their religious faiths.

Pence, a Roman-Catholic-turned-evangelical, appealed to familiar concerns of the Christian right, such as abortion and “the sanctity of life.” Kaine, a Roman Catholic, emphasized the moral responsibility of honoring individual choice.

That Pence pivoted toward abortion is not surprising. Since 1973 — when the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized the right to an abortion — the Christian right has put abortion, as well as homosexuality and “family values,” at the center of conservative politics.

This particular focus stemmed from the fear, particularly among white southern evangelicals, of disturbing an old order based on white supremacy, heterosexuality and female domesticity. Decades of judicial and legislative progress toward a more inclusive and democratic nation as a result of the civil rights, women’s rights and gay liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s only increased that fear. It also consolidated southern white evangelicals’ political strength in the Christian right.

It is not surprising, therefore, that since the 1970s, it is the Christian right that has set the discourse about religion in America. What has remained unrecognized is the important role the Christian left has played during the last 50 years.

What is the “Christian left” really?

Generally, left and left-leaning Christians seek religion not so much in expressing faith in social justice. Sociologist Nancy T. Ammerman has found that these “lay liberals” are “defined not by ideology, but by practice.” They especially value practicing Christianity according to the Golden Rule, or Jesus’ message,

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)

Their concerns include income inequality, racism, violence, hunger and homelessness. They do not necessarily support the hard-line ideological positions of the Christian right, including those regarding LGBTQ Americans and marriage equality.

The Christian left does not easily fit within traditional organizational structures, though they do value church membership.

The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Survey is suggestive of this trend. In the American South, where 34 percent of residents identify as evangelicals and 14 percent as mainline Protestant, the survey found that at least 21 percent of adults identify as liberal and 32 percent as moderate. These data suggest that the Christian left has found space within evangelical and mainline Protestant southern churches.

A historic tradition, a southern legacy

The Christian left is not a new phenomenon. American Christians have played important roles in many progressive movements dating back to the anti-slavery movement of the early- to mid-19th century.

After the Civil War, many Christians championed workers’ rights, orphanages and schools, women’s suffrage and resistance to American intervention in World War I. During this time, the black church, particularly in the South, became an important instrument in promoting social activism based on ideas of “social responsibility and good works” grounded in Christianity.

The black church was integral to the civil rights movement. At the time, both black and white Christians living in the South confronted head-on the Jim Crow laws, which enforced segregation and voting rights.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which made racial segregation illegal, many white Christian leaders joined hands with African-Americans to advocate for racial justice within their white congregations, as racial injustice continued.

One of the most well-known Christian left organizations at the time was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Formed in 1957, the SCLC put black evangelical clergy at the forefront of the movement, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It coordinated with local civil rights organizations and played a role in voter drives and the 1963 March on Washington. That was where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Perhaps King best summarized his vision for the Christian left, shared by the SCLC, when he wrote from inside a Birmingham jail cell,

“Was not Jesus an extremist in love?”

It is important to note that the Christian left did not limit its reach to racial justice, nor did its significance wane in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Christian right consolidated its political base.

For example, it is not widely known that some Christian denominations welcomed LGBTQ Americans. According to historian Jim Downs, churches for gay men and women, including those located in the South, played an important role in gay liberation in the 1970s. In the 1980s, mainline Protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church formed support ministries for LGBTQ members. Episcopalians also took a lead role in affirming women’s rights by ordaining women.

A southern phenomenon then and now

This history of Christian activism in the South continues today. North Carolina — a state that has been the focus of my own research — exemplifies how the Christian left’s past informs its present.

Historically one of the most progressive southern states, North Carolina is home tothe Moral Monday Movement. Formed in 2013 by Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the movement raises its voice against a wide range of issues related to unfair treatment and discrimination such as restriction of voting rights and cutting funding for Medicaid, welfare and education.

When the Moral Monday Movement began in North Carolina in 2013, religious leaders issued a joint statement urging activism not along partisan but religious lines.

The movement has since spread to other southern states, including Georgia, Floridaand Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana. Moral Monday rallies have also been held inAlabama and Missouri.

Lost in media coverage

Despite the growth of movements such as Moral Mondays, however, the Christian left often gets lost in media coverage during election cycles.

This is not surprising as media coverage of religion is limited. In 2008 and 2012,merely one percent of media coverage concerned religion, and 2016 appears to be no different.

Furthermore, whatever coverage does take place is often limited to conservative Christians and the “red states” of the South.

Unfortunately, the “red state” identification does not capture the region’s social, political and racial diversity. It is true that religion is important in the South. In 2014,62 percent of adults in the South reported that religion was “very important” to them. However, the percentage of religious southerners who lean Republican and Democrat are roughly the same (approximately 40 percent).

The voices that have been missed

It is important to note that even in this election cycle, the South’s Christian left has not been silent.

On Sept. 26, in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte police officer, Rev. William Barber led a “unity rally for justice and transparency” at a historic black church in North Carolina, where he asked his audience to hold up their “faithful voter cards.” He led the gathering in a civil rights marching song.

This year’s presidential election might be an opportunity for the Christian left to become more visible. There were indications of this when on Oct. 6 more than 100 evangelical leaders denounced Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and warned the media against viewing evangelicals as a monolithic group.

Of course, the “Christian left versus Christian right” discussion is itself limiting. In the context of the rich religious pluralism of the United States, we must ask more broadly what the religious left can do collaboratively to affect change in American political discourse.

There is movement in this direction, including in the federal government. For example, in 2009, just two weeks into his first term, President Barack Obama established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The office has embraced core principles of the Christian left, including social and economic justice. This year it appointed Barbara Stein to the advisory council, who is the first openly transgender appointee and an active member of the United Church of Christ.

Such examples can prove instructive, especially to local, grassroots organizations. As election day approaches, the Christian left can play an important role in taking a stand in favor of this progress.

The Conversation

Timothy J. Williams is a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon.


Donald Trump: The Dress Rehearsal for Fascism

Posted on Oct 16, 2016

By Chris Hedges

  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at an event hosted by the Republican Hindu Coalition in Edison, N.J., on Saturday. (Julio Cortez / AP)

Americans are not offered major-party candidates who have opposing political ideologies or ideas. We are presented only with manufactured political personalities. We vote for the candidate who makes us “feel” good about him or her. Campaigns are entertainment and commercial vehicles to raise billions in advertising revenue for corporations. The candidate who can provide the best show gets the most coverage. The personal brand is paramount. It takes precedence over ideas, truth, integrity and the common good. This cult of the self, which defines our politics and our culture, contains the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity, self-importance, a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation, and incapacity for remorse or guilt. Donald Trump has these characteristics. So does Hillary Clinton.

Our system of inverted totalitarianism has within it the seeds of an overt or classical fascism. The more that political discourse becomes exclusively bombastic and a form of spectacle, the more that emotional euphoria is substituted for political thought and the more that violence is the primary form of social control, the more we move toward a Christianized fascism.

Last week’s presidential debate in St. Louis was only a few degrees removed from the Jerry Springer TV show—the angry row of women sexually abused or assaulted by Bill Clinton, the fuming Trump pacing the stage with a threatening posture, the sheeplike and carefully selected audience that provided the thin veneer of a democratic debate while four multimillionaires—Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper, Clinton and Trump—squabbled like spoiled schoolchildren.

The Clinton campaign, aware that the policy differences between her and a candidate such as Jeb Bush were minuscule, plotted during the primaries to elevate the fringe Republican candidates—especially Trump. To the Democratic strategists, a match between Clinton and Trump seemed made in heaven. Trump, with his “brain trust” of Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, would make Clinton look like a savior.

A memo addressed to the Democratic National Committee under the heading “Our Goals & Strategy” was part of the trove of John Podesta emails released this month by WikiLeaks.

“Our hope is that the goal of a potential HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] campaign and the DNC would be one-in-the-same: to make whomever the Republicans nominate unpalatable to the majority of the electorate. We have outlined three strategies to obtain our goal …,” it reads.

The memo names Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Ben Carson as candidates, or what the memo calls “Pied Piper” candidates who could push mainstream candidates closer to the positions embraced by the lunatic right. “We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.”

The elites of the two ruling parties, who have united behind Clinton, are playing a very dangerous game. The intellectual and political vacuum caused by the United States’ species of anti-politics, or what the writer Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics,” leaves candidates, all of whom serve the interests of the corporate state, seeking to exaggerate what Sigmund Freud termed “the narcissism of small differences.”

However, this battle between small differences, largely defined by the culture wars, no longer works with large segments of the population. The insurgencies of Trump and Bernie Sanders are evidence of a breakdown of these forms of social control. There is a vague realization among Americans that we have undergone a corporate coup. People are angry about being lied to and fleeced by the elites. They are tired of being impotent. Trump, to many of his most fervent supporters, is a huge middle finger to a corporate establishment that has ruined their lives and the lives of their children. And if Trump, or some other bombastic idiot, is the only vehicle they have to defy the system, they will use him.

The elites, including many in the corporate press, must increasingly give political legitimacy to goons and imbeciles in a desperate battle to salvage their own legitimacy. But the more these elites pillage and loot, and the more they cast citizens aside as human refuse, the more the goons and imbeciles become actual alternatives. The corporate capitalists would prefer the civilized mask of a Hillary Clinton. But they also know that police states and fascist states will not impede their profits; indeed in such a state the capitalists will be more robust in breaking the attempts of the working class to organize for decent wages and working conditions. Citibank, Raytheon and Goldman Sachs will adapt. Capitalism functions very well without democracy.

In the 1990s I watched an impotent, nominally democratic liberal elite in the former Yugoslavia fail to understand and act against the population’s profound economic distress. The fringe demagogues whom the political and educated elites dismissed as buffoons—Radovan Karadzic, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudman—rode an anti-liberal tide to power.

The political elites in Yugoslavia at first thought the nationalist cranks and lunatics, who amassed enough support to be given secondary positions of power, could be contained. This mistake was as misguided as Franz von Papen’s assurances that when the uncouth Austrian Adolf Hitler was appointed the German chancellor in January 1933 the Nazi leader would be easily manipulated. Any system of prolonged political paralysis and failed liberalism vomits up monsters. And the longer we remain in a state of political paralysis—especially as we stumble toward another financial collapse—the more certain it becomes that these monsters will take power.

Fascism, at its core, is an amorphous and incoherent ideology that perpetuates itself by celebrating a grotesque hypermasculinity, elements of which are captured in Trump’s misogyny. It allows disenfranchised people to feel a sense of power and to have their rage sanctified. It takes a politically marginalized and depoliticized population and mobilizes it around a utopian vision of moral renewal and vengeance and an anointed political savior. It is always militaristic, anti-intellectual and contemptuous of democracy and replaces culture with nationalist and patriotic kitsch. It sees those outside the closed circle of the nation-state or the ethnic or religious group as diseased enemies that must be physically purged to restore the health of nation.

Many of these ideological elements are already part of our system of inverted totalitarianism. But inverted totalitarianism, as Sheldon Wolin wrote, disclaims its identity to pay homage to a democracy that in reality has ceased to function. It is characterized by the anonymity of the corporate centers of power. It seeks to keep the population passive and demobilized. I asked Wolin shortly before he died in 2015 that if the two major forms of social control he cited—access to easy and cheap credit and inexpensive, mass-produced consumer products—were no longer available would we see the rise of a more classical form of fascism. He said this would indeed become a possibility.

Bill Clinton transformed the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. He pushed the Republican Party so far to the right it became insane. Hillary Clinton is Mitt Romney in drag. She and the Democratic Party embrace policies—endless war, the security and surveillance state, neoliberalism, austerity, deregulation, new trade agreements and deindustrialization—that are embraced by the Republican elites. Clinton in office will continue the neoliberal assault on the poor and the working poor, and increasingly the middle class, that has defined the corporate state since the Reagan administration. She will do so while speaking in the cloying and hypocritical rhetoric of compassion that masks the cruelty of corporate capitalism.

The Democratic and Republican parties may be able to disappear Trump, but they won’t disappear the phenomena that gave rise to Trump. And unless the downward spiral is reversed—unless the half of the country now living in poverty is lifted out of poverty—the cynical game the elites are playing will backfire. Out of the morass will appear a genuine “Christian” fascist endowed with political skill, intelligence, self-discipline, ruthlessness and charisma. The monster the elites will again unwittingly elevate, as a foil to keep themselves in power, will consume them. There would be some justice in this if we did not all have to pay.

Leaked Clinton email admits Saudi, Qatari government funding of ISIS in Syria


By Bill Van Auken
12 October 2016

An email exchange between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta, posted Monday by WikiLeaks, frankly acknowledges that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) is funded and supported by Washington’s chief allies in the Arab world.

The September 2014 exchange was contained in one of the 2,086 documents posted by WikiLeaks Monday, following up on the release a week ago of over 2,000 more of Podesta’s emails and attachments.

At the time of the exchange on ISIS, Podesta was a White House counselor to President Barack Obama. One of the most powerful figures in the Democratic Party establishment, he is the former White House chief of staff to Bill Clinton, the former chairman of the Obama transition and a corporate lobbyist for corporations like WalMart, BP and Lockheed Martin. For her part, Clinton had left her post as secretary of state over a year earlier.

The email acknowledges that the sources for the assessment of the Saudi and Qatari support for ISIS “include Western intelligence, US intelligence and sources in the region.”

The document calls for increased reliance upon the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga as a key proxy force for combating ISIS in Iraq, pointing to the Kurdish militia’s “long standing relationships with CIA officers and Special Forces operators.”

It adds: “While this military/para-military operation is moving forward, we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL [ISIS] and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

The email continues: “This effort will be enhanced by the stepped up commitment in the [Kurdish Regional Government]. The Qataris and Saudis will be put in a position of balancing policy between their ongoing competition to dominate the Sunni world and the consequences of serious US pressure.”

The Obama administration has publicly embraced Saudi Arabia as its closest Arab ally and the ostensible leader of an “Islamic alliance” against terrorism. The Saudi regime is the patron of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which purportedly represents the so-called “moderate” opposition that is also supported by Washington in the more than five-year-old war for regime change against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Officially, the US administration has maintained that, while wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia and Qatar had helped finance ISIS, the despotic governments of these oil monarchies were blameless.

This pretense was blown in October 2014, barely a week after the Podesta-Clinton email, when Vice President Joe Biden told an audience at Harvard University that the Saudi regime, along with other Gulf sheikdoms and Turkey, had “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

“We could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them,” Biden added.

The US State Department subsequently “clarified” the vice president’s remarks and Biden himself apologized for “any implication that Turkey or other Allies and partners in the region had intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth of ISIL [ISIS] or other violent extremists in Syria.”

The contents of the Clinton-Podesta email are supplemented by a separate email released by WikiLeaks that includes an excerpt from a secret speech delivered by Clinton in 2013 that was flagged as problematic by her staff. In it she claimed that US attempts to “vet, identify, train and arm cadres of rebels” in Syria had been “complicated by the fact that the Saudis and others are shipping large amounts of weapons–and pretty indiscriminately–not at all targeted toward the people that we think would be the more moderate, least likely, to cause problems in the future.”

And previously, WikiLeaks posted a secret State Department memo signed by Clinton in 2009 that affirmed: “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups.”

The Clinton camp has responded to the latest release of emails by ratcheting up its virulently anti-Russian campaign, claiming that WikiLeaks was acting as a pawn of the Kremlin and that the material released may have been altered to serve Moscow’s foreign policy purposes.

In her debate Sunday with her Republican rival Donald Trump, however, Clinton herself acknowledged the authenticity of the documents, attempting to defend a statement quoted in one of them from a speech to real estate investors in which she declared that in politics “you need both a public and private position.” She claimed that her inspiration for this approach was Abraham Lincoln.

The method of the “public and private” position is clearly in force in relation to Saudi Arabia, and for good reason.

Saudi Arabia remains a key pillar of political reaction and imperialist domination in the Middle East, with its ruling monarchy constituting the world’s chief customer of the American arms industry. Some $115 billion in US weapons and military support have poured into the kingdom since Obama took office in 2009.

More importantly, the Saudi government support for Al Qaeda, ISIS and similar Islamist militias has developed in close collaboration with the CIA, which coordinated the flow of arms, money and foreign fighters into Syria from a station in southern Turkey.

Moreover, such collaboration began long before the Syrian civil war, dating back to the US-orchestrated war against the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s, where Al Qaeda got its start under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, who collaborated closely with the CIA and Pakistani intelligence.

The determination of the US ruling establishment to maintain a veil of secrecy over this collaboration was underscored by Obama’s veto–subsequently overridden–of legislation allowing Americans to sue foreign governments alleged to be responsible for terrorist attacks in the US. The clear target of the bill was Saudi Arabia, based on ample evidence of Saudi government involvement in the September 11, 2001 attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

The overriding fear within the administration and US ruling circles is that any serious probing of the Saudi role in these attacks would uncover the complicity of elements within the US intelligence agencies themselves in the events of 9/11.

Another significant element of the Clinton-Podesta email is its welcoming of the ISIS 2014 offensive in Iraq. It states that “the advance of ISIL [ISIS] through Iraq gives the U.S. Government an opportunity to change the way it deals with the chaotic security situation in North Africa and the Middle East. The most important factor in this matter is to make use of intelligence resources and Special Operations troops in an aggressive manner.”

In other words, ISIS provided a pretext for launching a renewed US military intervention aimed at furthering the strategic goal of American hegemony in the Middle East under the guise of a struggle against terrorism.

The email exchange further exposes Hillary Clinton’s deep involvement in all of these crimes.

Solidarity with Standing Rock

Published on

The Dakota Access pipeline needs to be stopped — and the broken system that allowed it to get this far must be fixed.

Sacred Stone Camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Many have gathered since April 2016. (Photo: Nima Taradji/Polaris)

Some environmental victories come in the form of a single, decisive moment: the president’s signing of an executive order, for example, or the long-awaited announcement of a jury verdict or Supreme Court decision.

Other victories are more incremental: less the result of a moment than a movement, one that has grown and strengthened over time. Right now, in North Dakota, we’re witnessing the blossoming of one such movement. We’re also witnessing, once again, just how effective individuals can be when they band together and collectively speak truth to power.

On Friday afternoon, members of this movement scored a major triumph — just minutes after processing the news of a devastating legal setback. This remarkable turn of events is testament to the faith and fortitude of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe as well as the thousands of others who have joined their cause over the past several months. While their ultimate victory is yet to be won, there can be no doubt that these individuals have already made history by demanding justice and standing up for their rights.

The Dakota Access pipeline, if completed, would carry half a million barrels of crude oil daily through four states — more than 1,100 miles — on a journey that would ultimately take it to refineries located along the Gulf of Mexico. The companies building the pipeline, led by a company called Energy Transfer Partners, have indicated that they’re willing to spend upwards of $3.8 billion to bring their investment to fruition.

“A marginalized community has spoken out in its own self-defense, and instead of being ignored, it has been heard. And the chorus of supporters demanding justice isn’t fading; it’s actually getting louder.”

They’re also willing, it would seem, to desecrate or outright destroy any number of sites held sacred by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe: symbolic cairns, stone prayer rings, even burial grounds. In addition, the current proposed route for the pipeline would pass under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe just half a mile upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux’s reservation. The tribe has long relied on Lake Oahe as its primary source of drinking water. It also uses the lake for irrigation, fishing, and recreation.

In July, tribe members attempted to halt construction of the pipeline by filing a complaint in federal court, charging that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had not followed proper procedures for public review when fast-tracking its approval. Over Labor Day weekend, however — as both supporters and opponents of the pipeline anxiously awaited a federal judge’s ruling on the matter — Energy Transfer Partners saw fit to begin bulldozing land in preparation for the pipeline’s construction.

This unconscionable and provocative act was greeted, understandably, with a demonstration of opposition by the Standing Rock Sioux — whose cause by this point had been joined by members of more than 200 other Native American tribes as well as by hundreds of nonnative allies. Past demonstrations had been peaceful affairs. The one that took place two Sundays ago, however, was different: In a scene that recalled some of the ugliest images from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the private security firm hired to keep demonstrators at bay chose to use pepper spray and guard dogs. According to one eyewitness, children and tribal elders were among those who suffered dog bites.

Amid this context of violence and uncertainty came the judge’s ruling on Friday afternoon: The Standing Rock Sioux’s motion for injunctive relief was denied. The Army Corps had followed proper procedures in granting its permits, the court concluded; construction on the pipeline could continue.

But then, just as this first shock wave was making its way through the demonstrators’ encampment on the shores of Lake Oahe, a second shock wave hit: the U.S. Department of Justice — with support from both the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Army — announced that it was calling for an immediate and indefinite pause in construction on the lands adjacent to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Furthermore, according to the announcement, any pause should extend until after “serious discussion” had taken place between the federal government and Native American tribes “on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”

My organization believes that the Obama administration made the right call in asking the Justice Department to intervene. Such reform is as necessary as it is overdue. The permitting system that allowed Dakota Access to be fast-tracked is broken — riddled with loopholes that have been wantonly exploited by builders and widened further by the Army Corps of Engineers’ complicity.

Thanks to an Army Corps action known as Nationwide Permit 12, massive projects like Dakota Access are often broken down into hundreds of individual micro-projects to avoid the requirement for meaningful public review under the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA, passed by Congress in 1969, requires that major actions with the potential to impose environmental hazard or harm be subject to public review. When companies like Energy Transfer Partners take advantage of Nationwide Permit 12, their intention is typically to bypass the very transparency that NEPA was designed to ensure.

This isn’t the first time that the oil and gas industry has abused this regulatory loophole. But it needs to be the last. Either the Army Corps of Engineers needs to stop allowing such abuse, or it needs to scrap the provision altogether.

The Natural Resources Defense Council stands with the Standing Rock Sioux and fully supports their right to preserve their heritage, their water, and their sovereignty. And we believe that the movement they have spawned will redound to the benefit of all Americans who seek greater transparency and increased public input for oil and gas infrastructure projects that lead to the destruction of our land, air, water, and climate.

In English, the Lakota phrase Mni wiconi translates into “Water is life.” The stark simplicity of that eternal truth, combined with justified outrage at the imminent desecration of their heritage, is what has compelled so many members of the Standing Rock Sioux to speak out. And as they would be the first to acknowledge, their struggle is also our struggle. The grace and strength they have exhibited as they fight for their culture — and for clean water — stand as a model for all communities whose resources are imperiled by an oil and gas industry that consistently puts profits before people.

Their struggle is far from over. But regardless of its ultimate outcome, the Standing Rock Sioux won something valuable on Friday — and thanks to their unyielding efforts, so have we all. A marginalized community has spoken out in its own self-defense, and instead of being ignored, it has been heard. And the chorus of supporters demanding justice isn’t fading; it’s actually getting louder. A movement is building, undeniably, toward a moment.

Contribute to the Camp of the Sacred Stones’ legal defense fund.

Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Noam Chomsky: How Obama Has Ushered in ‘a New Era of International Terrorism’

Chomsky and Emran Feroz talk Obama’s political legacy in the Middle East, the deal with Iran and the refugee crisis.

Noam Chomsky.
Photo Credit: screenshot via Democracy Now!

The following is a recent interview with Noam Chomsky on the Middle East and the Obama Administration’s policies towards Syria, Egypt and Iran, and the rise of right-wing extremism and nationalism in Europe.

Emran Feroz: Barack Obama’s presidency is coming to an end. With reference to the political situation in the Middle East, what remains of his historical speech in Cairo and what of his Middle East policy in general?

Noam Chomsky: At the time I felt that the speech was pretty vacuous. I didn’t expect anything from it, so I wasn’t disappointed. One positive aspect of his policy is that there have been no major acts of aggression like the vicious invasion of Iraq, which in my opinion was the worst crime this century. And I suppose you could describe the negotiation of the agreement with Iran as positive too. But it could have been done much earlier. Still, better an agreement with Iran than no agreement.

Obama’s major legacy in the Middle East is the US drone campaign, which is ushering in a new era of international terrorism. I predict that its impact will be wide reaching. Drone technology will not only expand, it will also become a useful tool for all kinds of different terrorist groups in the near future. In the case of the Arab Spring, Obama – and his allies – supported the established dictators as long as it was possible. Moreover, they also tried to shore up the old systems even after the revolutions had started.

EF: We are still witnessing these brutal dictatorships, in Egypt particularly, but also in Syria. Has the Arab Spring been a total failure?

NC: That’s hard to say. Some progress has been made, but there is still much to be done. There have been significant changes which could have formed the basis for something. In Egypt, for example, the labour movement, which is an important and leading part of the Arab Spring, did make some substantial gains. I don’t think the Sisi dictatorship is capable of dealing with Egypt’s mammoth problems. I suspect this is just another stage of many as the country edges towards democratisation and freedom. Syria is a different story. The country appears bent on self-destruction. Anything that might be done to mitigate the situation simply leads to another disaster.

EF: To what extent is the US administration responsible for Syria’s implosion?

NC: It’s hard to say. The Assad regime is absolutely monstrous and responsible for a large majority of the atrocities. IS is another monstrosity. The al-Qaida affiliated al-Nusra Front is not much better than IS, while some of the other major groups are closely linked to it. The Kurdish groups have succeeded in defending their own territory and establishing a more or less decent system within. And then there are various other groups – local militias and parts of the original reform movement and some other more democratic elements.

To what extent they still exert any influence is debatable. The veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk claims they no longer exist. Others say they are a substantial force. It’s a patchwork of many different groups. At the moment, there are some small signs of progress that might possibly lead to a ceasefire or some kind of negotiated agreement. We can be sure that this will be pretty ugly. But it’s still better than suicide.

EF: You already mentioned the deal with Iran. Many people say it’s one of the biggest successes of the Obama administration, while others say it will lead to the nuclearisation of the Arab Sunni states. Why do you think it is a success?

NC: I think the deal was a success, but I also think there is a problem with how the issue has been presented. It would have been a major step had those involved accepted Iranian, Arab and, in fact, global opinion and moved towards establishing a nuclear-weapons-free-zone in the region. Indeed that is what Obama promised. The deal is a small step in the right direction. We – and that includes the US intelligence agencies – don’t know whether Iran was planning to develop nuclear weapons. I think we can be fairly confident that it was planning to develop nuclear capability. On the other hand, any nation with nuclear power or technology can be said to possess this capability. Considering, however, the restrictive conditions in which it was reached, the agreement was a step forward.

EF: On the subject of success, to what extent can we say there’s been any in Israel and Palestine?

NC: We’ve seen zero success there. If we put aside words and look at actions, the Obama administration has been the most supportive administration of Israeli expansion so far. While the rest of the world condemns the illegal settlements, the US is still supporting the Israeli government in this point. There is still military, diplomatic, economic and even ideological support for continuing the settlement programme. Obama’s most remarkable move, one of the few that actually received some public attention, was his veto of the UN security council resolution in February 2011 which literally endorsed official US policy. The resolution called for limiting settlement expansion while the Obama veto claimed it was a drawback to peace. In fact, we’re currently seeing negotiations with Netanyahu over increasing extensive US aid, which basically feeds settlement expansion. Gaza has just been subjected to brutal and savage attacks by Israel with US support.

EF: We’re seeing a rise in nationalism and right-wing extremism in Europe at the moment. First and foremost the hatred is being directed at the refugees fleeing the chaos in the Middle East. With the rise of Donald Trump, a similar picture seems to be developing in the United States. Do you think that the fear-mongers are winning?

NC: It’s very interesting to look at the so-called refugee crisis. In Austria, for example, a neo-Nazi is on the verge of political victory. Austria has taken in a very small number of refugees. One of the most forthcoming countries in Europe, I suppose, is Sweden, which has taken in some 160,000 refugees. Sweden is a rich country with a population of 10 million, so now refugees make up about 1.5 per cent of the population. But this is still a very small number compared to a poor country like Lebanon, which has no role in generating refugees. But refugees currently make up 40 percent of its population; 25 percent of those are Syrians. Jordan has also taken in a huge number of refugees, while most European countries have apparently absorbed very few.

But where are the refugees coming from? Most of them come from the Middle East, but some are also coming from Africa. Europe has a long history in Africa. For centuries, Africa suffered devastation and destruction, which is still one of the reasons why people are fleeing from Africa to Europe. In the Middle East, there are many causes for the crisis, but one major and overwhelming cause is the American and British invasion of Iraq, which virtually destroyed the country. Iraqis are still fleeing, at the moment mostly from a sectarian conflict that barely existed before the invasion. Look more closely and it is clear that there are countries that have generated refugees throughout their history – and they include the US, Britain and a number of European countries.

Interview conducted by Emran Feroz

Emran Feroz is the founder of the Drone Memorial.