Posts by Justin Podur

The Demands of the Dead: a novel

My novel The Demands of the Dead is out as of September 2014. It's a self-publication, inspired by authors like Hugh Howley, available on KDP and Smashwords (as an e-book) and on CreateSpace as a physical book. Cover design by Suzy Harris-Brandts.

Get the e-book on KDP

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John Greyson’s Gazonto

GAZONTO from Albino Squirrel Channel on Vimeo.

John Greyson's new video: imagine Israel's latest attack on Gaza, in Toronto.

Torture is neither inevitable nor endless: a reply to Gerald Caplan

by Justin Podur and Dan Freeman-Maloy Imagine an anti-racist with decades of work in the struggle writing the following about the popular upheaval and police attacks witnessed this month in Ferguson, Missouri: Half a century after summer 1964 (when maj…

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Line 9 resources

Neither the NEB, nor the very nice Line 9 Communities, nor Stop Line 9 has a shapefile that a GIS person could use to study line 9. I used the map at stop line 9, re-georeferencing and re-digitizing, to create a line shapefile in WGS 84 of the part of line 9 that goes through Toronto. I also created a KML file.

Small Genocides

First published at Telesur English August 12, 2014.

When the word genocide is invoked, many people might think of Rwanda 1994. In that genocide, the government of the country targeted a minority population for massacre during a civil war that had begun three years before, and killed hundreds of thousands of people, from both the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations. That government lost the civil war, and was replaced by the regime that still rules Rwanda today, the RPF government of Paul Kagame.

Others might think of the Nazi holocaust. In the holocaust, Germany invaded many of the countries of Europe, captured and killed millions of people. The German Nazi government, like the Rwandan government of 1994, lost the war, and was occupied by the very country (Russia) that it had invaded.

We remember these genocides. We remember their victims. We remember their perpetrators. There are museums dedicated to them, and academic scholarship, and media attention. We are taught the slogan, never again.

But these genocides are unique mainly because their perpetrators lost. In many cases, including recent cases, genocide has been a path to power, a way of achieving a goal. The perpetrators have power. No one is able, or willing, to stand up to them. This is frightening for the rest of us because the powerful can, in fact, get away with genocide.

Returning to Rwanda: Kagame's RPF, which defeated the Rwandan government in
1994 and took over the country, massacred tens of thousands of Hutus in Rwanda in 'reprisal', in highly organized massacres. Then, in 1996, Kagame's RPF invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo, and, directly and indirectly over the next 15 years, occupied it. The violence of Rwanda's occupation of the eastern DR Congo has led to excess mortality in the millions, hundreds of thousands of which were from direct violence not unlike the Rwandan genocide of 1994. But Kagame remains in power, his regime is a highly unequal police state, and wealth continues to flow from the eastern Congo, through Rwanda, to the West.

In the film "The Act of Killing" (http://theactofkilling.com/), documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer meets some of the men who organized and carried out the mass political murder of hundreds of thousands of Indonesian communists in the 1960s. Oppenheimer has these killers re-enact their killings as a horror film.
At one point, he asks one of the killers, "what you have done could be considered war crimes, couldn't they?" The killer responds: "What is and isn't a war crime depends on who has won. I am a winner, and I get to decide what is a crime and what isn't." Elsewhere in the film, the killers go on television, laugh and joke about their killings with approving talk show hosts. The killings of the 1960s in Indonesia set the political context for decades to come - including the present.

The Americas are the most dramatic example. Hitler himself saw the expansion of the United States and the destruction of the indigenous populations of the Americas as a model. If the US could do it to the indigenous, Hitler reasoned, why could Germany not do it to the people of Eastern Europe? Even today, you can go to museums in the US that describe how indigenous people "left" their territories after "raids and counter-raids". As the Indonesian general said, the winners have decided what constitutes crimes and what doesn't. The winners have decided how history is to be remembered.

Massacres of indigenous people in the Americas didn't stop in the 19th century. The Guatemalan civil war in particular had a genocidal character, with hundreds of thousands of indigenous people murdered by the state. The war was ended in 1996 through a UN peace process, but, like elsewhere, the victors remain in power. The president in 2012 denied that there had been a genocide.
How could there be? he asked, if the armed forces were indigenous. A report from January 2014, "Guatemala: El haz y el envés de la impunidad y el miedo", shows how the Guatemalan establishment defends the political and economic status quo established during the genocidal civil war, through political murder, through legislation about 'terrorism', and through propaganda campaigns.

But these are whole states, or, in Rwanda's case, regimes, that came to power, and strengthened their power, using genocide. But genocide can also be a tool for individual political figures.

Consider India's current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. He arrived in the Prime Minister's palace from the state of Gujarat, where he had been Chief Minister since October 2001. Just a few months after he became Chief Minister of Gujarat, in February 2002, a highly organized, state-sponsored massacre, mainly of Muslims, occurred in Gujarat. The massacre was documented by Human Rights Watch in a report titled "We Have No Orders to Save You" (http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/india/). Modi remained Chief Minister for over a decade, then, this year, rode all the way to the Prime Ministership. He has dodged all legal proceedings about his role in the deaths of 3,000 people, which helped re-shape the politics of Gujarat - and of India.
And even though, as Nirmalangshu Mukherji has written (http://www.countercurrents.org/mukherji070614.htm), millions of people are waiting for some key questions to be answered about the Chief Minister's role in this well-organized slaughter, today Modi is moving forward with an agenda of re-making India in Gujarat's image.

Or take Sri Lanka's President, Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is credited with ending the threat of the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, defeating them militarily in 2009 in what is called Eelam War IV. Filmmaker Callum MacRae gathered footage by Sri Lanka soldiers, 'trophy' footage of crimes being committed, and by victims, that show a pattern of slaughter of a trapped civilian population, in his film, No Fire Zone (http://nofirezone.org/). Rajapaksa has gone from electoral strength to strength, and having terrorized the Tamils, his regime is now terrorizing Muslims and even Buddhist monks.

Viewing this whole global panorama, several examples of which Israel loaned a hand (Sri Lanka, Guatemala), should anyone be surprised that Israel does not understand why it should not be allowed its own genocide against the Palestinians? And, like Modi or Rajapaksa or Kagame, Israel is being given a pass. At the end of a month-long war specifically against the children of Gaza, celebrating murders in demonstrations, in the parliament, and on social media, Israel is working hard to ensure that the Palestinians return to starvation and imprisonment, and that they have fewer means to resist the next massacre.

American writer Barbara Coloroso wrote a book, "Extraordinary Evil",
(http://www.kidsareworthit.com/Extraordinary_Evil.html) linking the logic of bullying to the logic of genocide. Genocide, like bullying, is a crime of power, and a crime of contempt. Like bullying, genocide is an act that depends on a bully, and on a bystander. If the bully can demonize his victim, then he can demobilize bystanders who might otherwise intervene and protect the bullied.

Can anything be learned from these genocides? Yes, but the lessons are not the ones that we are usually taught. The truth will not necessarily come out. The perpetrators will not necessarily be brought to justice. People's consciences will not automatically be activated after some horrible threshold is reached.
There is nothing so terrible that it won't find apologists, as anyone who has had to watch one of these massacres unfold in North America, having to listen to the vilest talking points, knows. Those who commit genocide have power, and they hope to silence, or even attract, bystanders with their power. They want to use their power to get the bystander to suspend reason, fact, moral sense, and compassion. And they very often succeed.

So what can stop them? In each case, genocide occurred after resistance was broken. Whether armed or civil, it is resistance by the victim that provides the greatest chance of survival. Even if unsuccessful, resistance can help enough survive for a community to persist after a genocide. Look at the current Israel Gaza massacre, the so-called "Protective Edge". Compared to Israel's 2008-9 massacre in Gaza ("Cast Lead"), the Palestinians were more effective in their military resistance. Israel responded by going for mass civilian casualties and avoiding any close-quarters battles where they might lose soldiers, engaging in domestic and international campaigns to try to desensitize Westerners to Palestinian civilian deaths.

This Gaza genocide, a Western genocide, paid for and armed and covered by the West, is a test for Western bystanders. Many Westerners have sided with the bully, adopted the bully's contempt for the victim, and in the process are helping speed up the genocide. On the other hand, for bystanders, genocide prevention is simple to understand, if difficult to enact: it means standing up to the bully, standing with the victim who is resisting, sheltering the victim and isolating the bully. Specifically, in the so-called 'ceasefire negotiations' and after, it means insisting that:

* The side that targets children and celebrates their deaths, killing overwhelmingly civilians (80%) does not get to proscribe as 'terrorist' the side that attacks overwhelmingly military targets (95%).

* The side that kills civilians must be disarmed before the side that focuses on military targets. We cannot arm the bully and insist on the disarmament of the victim. Security is for both sides. Freedom is for both sides. Full rights are for both sides.

* The blockade must be lifted, the siege must end, people and goods must be able to come and go freely from Gaza.

We have a long and arduous path to travel to make genocide no longer a rational choice for the powerful. In the West, it begins with taking a stand, even if it means risking something.

August 7, 2014: The Gaza Ceasefire with Dan Freeman-Maloy

The Ossington Circle is an internet talk show hosted by Justin Podur in Toronto. In this episode, recorded during the 72-hour ceasefire at the end of a month of Israel attacking Gaza in 2014, Freeman-Maloy talks about the ceasefire, the long history of Israel's decades-long, disciplined destruction of Gaza and of Palestinian society, the ironclad Western support for Israel, and what people of conscience in the West can do about it.

Taking Action on Gaza

On August 1, 2014, three weeks into Israel's assault on Gaza, people everywhere were holding fundraisers for medical aid and events to try to understand and figure out how to take action to stop the attack. This talk, given at one such event, describes the direction of Israel's - and the West's - politics on Gaza and Palestine more generally. It is a terrifying direction, a critical moment, and one that will not resolve itself. The West must set limits for Israel, and will only do that if people take action.

Israel/Palestine lexicon for mainstream media

If you are writing for mainstream media, you need to learn special uses of words and phrases that are specific to Israel/Palestine. If you use common usage, you will run into confusions, paradoxes, and hostile responses from pro-Israel people. Please f…

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Q/A on Palestine

Written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24 Q: Didn’t Hamas start this fighting by provoking Israel? A: According to this interpretation of events: 1. Palestinians killed Israeli teens -> 2. Israel responded -> 3. Hamas began rock…

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The Reordering of Iraq and Syria

Written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24.

How far back do we look to understand the breakup of Iraq and the declaration by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June 29, 2014 of a caliphate?

Do we start 11 years ago, in 2003, when the US invaded Iraq (in the operation called Operation Iraqi Freedom), occupied it, put Nouri al-Maliki’s government in power, and has supported it since?

Or do we need to start a decade earlier? The 2003 invasion was preceded by a 13-year regime of sanctions, starting in 1990/1, and periodic bombing that prevented Iraq’s economy from functioning, or developing. And the sanctions regime was preceded by a devastating bombing and invasion conducted by the US in 1990/1, Gulf War I (called by the US Operation Desert Storm). The death toll of Gulf War I and the sanctions is at least in the hundreds of thousands; The toll of Gulf War II and the occupation is estimated to be close to one million.

But let’s not forget that the 1990/1 Gulf War I, conducted by US President Bush I, came just two years after the 8-year long Iraq-Iran war, 1980-1988, which killed hundreds of thousands of people in each country (by conservative estimates) and devastated both.

Or, does it go even further back, to the post-WWI arrangements that imposed artificial, colonial boundaries on the countries of the region?

Not all of the blame for Iraq’s thirty years of war can be blamed on the US, or the West. Yes, the US supported Saddam Hussein in the war on Iran’s then-new regime in the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War. Yes, the US conducted a multi-decade assault on Iraq starting in 1990. Yes, after the 2003 occupation, the US reorganized Iraq and its oil industry for its own ends. In spite of all that, much of what is happening in Iraq today are unintended consequences, rather than planned or anticipated consequences, of US actions.

But whether the explosion today in 2014 of the order the US imposed after 2003 was foreseeable by US planners then, or not, the US has been incrementally steering Iraq, Syria, and the rest of the region towards an order that, however horrific for the people living there, is tolerable for US power. That order consists of transnational refugee populations ministered to by international agencies, helpless civilians trapped in sectarian states or statelets, perpetual, low-level civil war on the ground, and US surveillance and assassination technology in the sky and on the sea.

When the US occupied Iraq in 2003, it deposed the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, who ruled over a country whose divisions he suppressed using the tools of a police state. Even though he favored one group (the Sunni) over the others (Shia and Kurdish), it was the US occupation that created the ‘security dilemma’ that forced everyone into sectarianism. By supporting Saddam’s opponents, the US effectively supported the Kurds in their movement towards autonomy and eventual independence, and the Shia, al-Maliki’s group, who are the demographic majority and who are close to Iran. A Sunni-Shia civil war broke out on US watch, and it was never resolved, except through a de facto partition – a separation of the populations who had before lived among one another.

A decade after the 2003 invasion, the government of Iraq, now nominally sovereign and no longer occupied, is in the strange position of being supported by the US and also by Iran. Their common enemies are Iraq’s Sunni insurgency, which has diverse threads, among which are those ousted by the 2003 invasion, as well as al-Qaeda and other religious and sectarian groups.

While supporting the increasingly sectarian (Shia) leadership of Iraq, and its Iranian ally, against the increasingly sectarian (Sunni) insurgency, the US also continues its decades-long absolute support for the Gulf monarchies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar. These monarchies have their own sectarian agendas in the region, opposed to the Shia, in Iraq, in Lebanon, and against the ‘Alawi, a minority in Syria, to which the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, belongs.

This leads us to the name of the group that has declared the caliphate, ISIS – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Even though the Arabic rendering does not include the name ‘Syria’, the English rendering of the group’s name is accurate enough. ISIS’s most spectacular military breakthroughs have come in Iraq, but they grew strong fighting alongside (and, alternatingly, against) al-Qaida and other insurgents against Assad’s regime in Syria’s now three-year old civil war, which has itself had hundreds of thousands of casualties. Assad’s external backers include Russia, Lebanon’s Hizbullah, and the US’s ally in Iraq, Iran. Syria’s insurgents are backed by US allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. So, the US is on both sides of this conflict.

This is not the only conflict that the US is on both sides of. The US invaded, occupied, and established a government in Afghanistan in 2001/2, overthrowing the Taliban, who retreated to Pakistan. The US spent the next decade fighting the Taliban from Afghanistan and also supporting Pakistan’s government, whose military establishment covertly supports the Taliban (as do the Gulf monarchies, also supported by the US).

What does it mean for the US to be on both sides of a conflict? Is the US working against itself? Does one hand not know what the other is doing?

Not exactly. For all their complex and contradictory dimensions, these conflicts have many important consistencies: the ones mentioned at the outset of this essay. They feature weak states, unable to protect their political sovereignty. Their economies are dysfunctional, unable to regulate or control multinational corporations that can operate freely according to rules they make up as they go along. Their populations are helpless, forced to work in the informal, illicit, and conflict economies, and for the educated, in the conflict-management and NGO economies. At the (literally) highest level, their military affairs are controlled by remote control US technology. The pattern is found in many countries: Afghanistan, Haiti, Palestine, the DR Congo – these are the models for the future of the region, and they are being steered methodically to that outcome.

The problem for Iraqis and Syrians is not artificial borders. All borders are artificial, and no re-partitioning of the countries will solve it. Nor are Iraq and Syria’s conflicts the outcome of a new, multipolar world order that is a result of collapsing US power. US power is not absolute and it may, indeed, be collapsing, but the strategy of the collapsing power might just be to ensure that everyone else collapses first. The shattered statelets of the middle east won’t fail to provide continued access for profit-making, humanitarian intervention, high-tech surveillance, and control.

Justin Podur blogs at podur.org and is based in Toronto.