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Posts by Justin Podur

The BBC Documentary doesn’t deny the genocide

The BBC Documentary, Rwanda: The Untold Story, does not deny the Rwandan genocide against Tutsis. It is a documentary primarily about Paul Kagame, Rwanda's current ruler, who came out of the Rwandan civil war and genocide of 1994 into a position of absolute power in Rwanda, from which he launched multiple invasions into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, invasions which resulted in well-documented mass atrocities. I wrote about the documentary after I watched it (“The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide”: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-BBC-and-the-Rwandan-Genocide-20141011-0029.html), saying that I hoped that it would create an opening to talk about the current government in Rwanda and about Western support for Kagame. So did many others, including Jonathan Cook, who has done excellent work on Israel-Palestine and has a sharp critique of propaganda in that conflict (See his Oct 4 blog, “Why is the truth about Rwanda so elusive?”: http://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2014-10-04/why-is-the-truth-about-rwanda-so-elusive/).

On October 12, a group of academics and writers wrote to the BBC to express their "grave concern" about the documentary. Their letter, which has been posted on media lens (http://members5.boardhost.com/medialens/msg/1413251703.html) is supposedly about 'genocide denial', but since no one involved in the BBC documentary denied the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis, the letter is really about Kagame, and continuing to protect him from criticism using the slur of genocide denial. The letter seems designed to ensure that no discussion about Kagame or Western support for his regime occurs. It repeats the term "genocide denial" 10 times, but it centers on a number of factual claims which can be evaluated. In the spirit of the "utmost intellectual honesty and rigor" that they claim to seek in their letter, let us evaluate these claims.

1. The documentary features a woman, Marie, whose childhood involved living through an incredible number of horrors: first she lived through the Rwandan genocide, then she lived through being hunted as a refugee through the forests of the Congo as a refugee. The writers write that "the programme allows a witness to claim that 'only ten percent of the Interahamwe (militia) were killers". The letter counters with "eyewitness testimony by several militia leaders who cooperated with the ICTR", who argue that "the majority of the Hutu Power militia forces - estimated to have been 30,000 strong - were trained specifically to kill Tutsi at speed, and were indoctrinated in a racist ideology."

The witness is a survivor of the genocide, and a survivor of the RPF massacres in the DR Congo. Her estimate is obviously not the outcome of a detailed sociological study or survey, and viewers should exercise skepticism in interpreting it, but it is very, very far from "genocide denial". The context was one in which mass numbers of Hutus were being punished collectively for the genocide - and the witness was trying to say that not all of those punished were guilty. That is not so far from what was written in the suppressed Gersony report, about the thousands of people massacred by the RPF during their advance: "It appeared that the vast majority of men, women, and children killed in these actions were targeted through the pure chance of being caught by the RPA. No vetting process or attempt to establish the complicity of the victims in the April 1994 massacres of the Tutsis was reported." As Theogene Rudasingwa, a former member of the RPF who is now in exile, wrote in his reply to the letter (posted on medialens: http://members5.boardhost.com/medialens/msg/1413315890.html):

"The BBC documentary, in its opening moments captures the agony of the victims, as they are hacked to death by this militia. So what if they were 5,000, 10, 1000, 30,000? For the American Professors (note: Rudasingwa is referring here to Davenport and Stam, academics at the University of Michigan, to whom I will return), and the authors of the letter trading polemics on this matter, I would say this is not time well spent. The militia had to be defeated militarily. I am glad they did. Unfortunately, the military victors of 1994 went on a killing spree in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo that is yet to be accounted for. That should be a subject of urgent interest rather than counting the number of militia that were involved in the genocidal madness."

2. The second claim is that "the programme attempts to minimize the number of Tutsi murdered". The programme presents figures by Davenport and Stam. Davenport discusses their study at length in this lecture: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THyzuIPD1qc&list=PL4D0960C09545A4FD&index=2). To me, the value of their study was in this discussion of their sources, the ranges of figures, and how they understood the violence in Rwanda in space and time. You can look at their data here (http://genodynamics.weebly.com/data-on-violence.html). Their figures should definitely be viewed with caution, but their analysis has several points of interest. They concluded that more Hutus died in the genocide than Tutsis, arguing that a specific dynamic occurred: once the killings started, people began to flee, and the killers, unable to distinguish between Tutsi and Hutu, killed indiscriminately; because there were many more Hutus than Tutsis, more Hutus ended up dying. Like Marie, the witness's testimony, this analysis, and this conclusion, does not amount to 'genocide denial'. Davenport and Stam set out to study the Rwandan genocide, and have never denied that there was an anti-Tutsi genocide that was carried out by the Rwandan government at the time. You can disagree with their analysis, or with their conclusions (I do disagree with the figure they gave in the BBC documentary, of 800,000 Hutus and 200,000 Tutsis killed, and I think Fillip Reyntjens's estimates are the most accurate, of 600,000 Tutsis and 500,000 Hutus killed, and he has repeated his figures in a post about the documentary in facebook) but it is simply false to call them 'genocide deniers'. They presented an analysis of data, not "a tactic of genocide deniers", in the letter's ugly language.

3. "The film argues that the shooting down of the plane on April 6, 1994 was perpetrated by the RPF." The film presents RPF insiders claiming to have heard the planning of the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents. The letter writers cite French magistrate judge Marc Trevidic, whose investigations suggest that the missiles could not have been fired by the RPF. Two other judges concluded otherwise: Fernando Merelles from Spain in 2008 and Jean-Louis Brugiere from France in 2006. Reyntjens and Rudasingwa, in their replies, have both pointed out that Marc Trevidic's investigation is not over - like many others, they have concluded that the RPF shot down the plane.

I have reviewed the material that is available and I am not confident about who shot down the plane. But as a matter of logic, whether the RPF shot down the leader of their enemy government, or whether the government shot down their own president, culpability for the genocide does not change, does it? If - as the letter-writers, the BBC reporters, and all the people the BBC reporters interviewed agree - the Rwandan government and its militias organized and carried out the mass murder of Tutsis immediately after the plane was shot down, surely they are culpable for the genocide regardless of who shot the plane down? If the RPF shot the plane down, they would be guilty of assassination, but it would still be the Rwandan government that would be guilty of genocide. Regardless, the film presents some claims, the letter-writers present some claims, about an assassination that occurred at the beginning of the genocide. Whether the RPF shot the plane down or not, the genocide occurred. So, presenting a claim that the RPF shot the plane down cannot be 'genocide denial'.

4. "The film-maker, Jane Corbin... even tries to raise doubts about whether or not the RPF stopped the genocide." The letter writers cite Romeo Dallaire (one of the signers of the letter) as "The authority on this subject". But is Dallaire a greater authority than Kagame himself? At 20:38, there is an interview with Kagame, who was at the battlefront. Kagame is asked: "Are the massacres still continuing?" He replies: "Yes, the massacres are continuing, though on a lower scale, and this is not because the killers have stopped killing but because, I think, they have killed quite a big number of those they are supposed to kill."

Now to the departures from the "utmost intellectual honesty and rigor" engaged in by the letter writers. There are many, including the systematic slinging of mud and the constant argumentation from authority, but let us take two.

1. Do the letter-writers really believe that the civil war between the RPF and the Rwandan government at the time, led by Habyarimana, which killed tens of thousands of people, is a mere "smoke screen"? Do they really believe that the term 'civil war' belongs in scare quotes? Do they really not believe that the civil war created the context for the genocide?

2. Are the letter-writers really blowing off the invasion of the DRC, the millions killed there, the stealing of elections, the testimonies of the former RPF who are on the run and in exile and admit to committing crimes at Kagame's side? Do the Hutu deaths, even though they occurred on a smaller scale, really mean nothing to them?

The writers write that "Denial... ensures the crime continues. It incites new killing. It denies the dignity of the deceased and mocks those who survived." And yet, the letter writers do all of those things. If the victims of the RPF don't count, as they do not seem to to these writers, then what is this except denial? All of the victims in Central Africa - of the defeated Rwandan government, of the RPF, of the RPF's proxies and of their opponents - all deserve to be acknowledged, not denied. The BBC documentary deserved better than shoddy arguments and mudslinging. Kagame is still in power, and the only function of this letter is to provide him with cover. Rather than a letter about 'genocide denial', the authors would have been more honest to write a manifesto of unconditional support for Rwanda's dictator.

Topics: 

The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide

First published on TeleSUR English:

At the beginning of October 2014, the BBC aired a documentary called Rwanda: The Untold Story. The outlet, the BBC, and the producer and presenter, Jane Corbin, don't just possess impeccable mainstream credentials - they define the mainstream in the West. The one hour documentary is intended for a British audience, and Britain is a bigger supporter of Rwanda and its ruler, Paul Kagame, than even the US. Up until now, in Western media, scholarship, and commentary, the Hutus as a community have been held solely responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and Kagame held up as Rwanda's savior. The titular untold story is that of the crimes committed by the winners in the Rwandan civil war, and especially the crimes committed by the biggest winner who took all, Kagame, Rwanda's president for the past 20 years.

In the documentary, Corbin talks to Rwandan dissidents who were once close to Kagame, but are now exiled and hunted - Kagame's former army chief of staff, Kayumba Nyamwasa, has survived four assassination attempts so far. Kagame's former intelligence chief, Patrick Karageya, was not so lucky, and was strangled in a hotel room in South Africa in January of this year. The documentary shows Kagame at a prayer meeting after Karageya's assassination telling the crowd that anyone who crosses Rwanda will pay the price, and that "it's a matter of time." Details of assassination plots are provided by another exile, who fled the country rather than carry out a killing of these dissidents for Kagame.

Corbin also talks to a Hutu survivor, Marie, who was a school girl, whose family sheltered Tutsi children from the anti-Tutsi genocide in 1994, and who then fled and was hunted in the jungles of the Congo, along with hundreds of thousands of others, when Kagame's forces invaded the DR Congo in 1996, and who can't go back to Rwanda. Marie estimates that 10% of organized Hutu forces participated in the genocide - but all Hutus were hunted, indiscriminately, by Kagame's forces in the Congo. Marie's conclusions are similar to those reached by Robert Gersony, the author of a report on the Hutu refugees who were being killed in large numbers by Kagame's forces. The report was suppressed, as the BBC documentary notes - in order to protect Kagame from criticism.

The Gersony report was not the only suppression of evidence which international institutions engaged in to protect Kagame. When Carla Del Ponte, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) began investigations into crimes by Kagame's forces, Del Ponte tells Corbin in the documentary, she was told by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, that the ICTR was political, and that there would be no tolerance for investigations into crimes committed by the winners in the war, only by the losers. When former FBI investigators were looking into the shooting down of the plane of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi in 1994, an event that helped set the genocide in motion, they told Corbin, they were told to stop by Louise Arbour, then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and well known Canadian human rights advocate. Successive, well-documented UN reports on the exploitation of natural resources in the Congo and of human rights violations there, all of which attribute primary responsibility to Rwanda and Kagame, have been filed and ignored.

The BBC report also talks to academic experts who rarely get a hearing despite being among the most knowledgeable people on Rwanda: political scientists Christian Davenport and Allan Stam, and political scientist Fillip Reyntjens. Anyone who studies Central Africa knows Reyntjens for his role in compiling the annual L'Afrique des grands lacs journal, as well as his articles and books. Davenport and Stam are known for compiling all of the numbers and data sources on deaths in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Unlike Reyntjens, they are not experts on the region, but have worked to come to solid conclusions based on solid methodology and the available evidence. Good scholars, their academic publications show all of their data and the process by which they arrived at their conclusions, so that readers can come to their own conclusions.

What are their conclusions? In other words, what is this untold story that is so shocking, 20 years later? To look into it requires some careful study of the death counts, which, while simultaneously gruesome and dehumanizing, is politically important. One scholar, Gerard Prunier, who wrote one of the standard accounts of the Rwandan genocide, and who was at the time very sympathetic to Kagame and the RPF (more recently, like others close to Kagame, he has had experiences that drove him out of sympathy), reasoned as follows based on the 1991 Rwandan census and a growth rate of 3.2%. The Rwandan government said Tutsis were 9% of the population, 700,000 people, but Prunier bumps this up to 12%, 930,000 people. Based on figures of Tutsi survivors after the genocide, of 130,000 in refugee camps, Prunier estimated roughly 800,000 Tutsi deaths in the genocide.

Davenport and Stam, by contrast, encoded all of the massacres described in all of the human rights reports, including Alison Des Forges's field study for Human Rights Watch, a definitive report from African Rights, and government and other scholarly sources. Where the records showed a range of casualties, Davenport and Stam included the range in their analysis. Using this method, they produced a wide casualty range for the genocide and settled on a mean value of 1,063,336 deaths. This is very close to Filip Reyntjens's estimates, which are based on tallies made in refugee camps in the three years after the genocide. These estimates are between 1,069,643-1,143,225 deaths. Most of Davenport and Stam's 1,063,336 deaths, 891,295, were in areas under Rwandan government control. A much smaller, but substantial number, 77,043, were in areas under RPF control. Analyzing the available figures for Tutsi who survived the genocide, between 130,000-300,000, the range of Hutu victims is as low as 28,573, but as high as 958,573. Their best estimate, they tell Corbin, is of about one million killed in the genocide, 800,000 of which were Hutu, and 200,000 of which were Tutsi. Thus in Davenport and Stam's estimation, Hutus were the majority killed.

In Reyntjens's calculations, Tutsi were 10% of the population, or about 800,000 before the genocide, and 600,000 Tutsi were killed. This means, according to Reyntjens, 500,000 Hutu were killed. While not the majority, it is still nearly half of the victims.

How, if the Rwandan government set out to organize people to kill Tutsis in organized massacres, could so many of their victims have been Hutus? For several reasons. The main reason cited by Davenport is that the civil war and the massacres were creating massive displacement, of nearly the entire population. Even though local organizations were responsible for the killing, and locally, the killers could distinguish Hutu from Tutsi, in a situation where nearly everyone was fleeing from somewhere, and in a situation where admitting to being Tutsi was certain death, killers would have faced potential victims who were claiming to be Hutu, and killed them anyway. Many of the people who were killed as Tutsi, were Hutu.

Hutus were the demographic majority, so if there was a random element as well as a systematic element to the killing, this random element would led to many more random Hutu victims than Tutsi. I would also add a third possibility: that many Hutu were killed trying to protect Tutsi. The idea that the killers in the genocide were everyday Hutu neighbours of the Tutsi is quite pervasive, but it is also likely that many of these Hutu neighbours tried to protect the Tutsi members of their community and died doing so.

Davenport and Stam concluded from their analysis of the timing of the massacres that they occurred in government-held areas just before the arrival of RPF troops. The pace of the killing was set by the pace of the RPF advance. The Rwandan government turned away from its military enemy and instead committed genocide against its own population.

This was, as the BBC documentary shows, a matter of complete indifference to Kagame. His RPF rejected a peace deal with the Rwandan government because in his assessment, total victory was within his grasp. The BBC documentary argues that Kagame did not stop the genocide at all. Instead, it was actually the victims of the genocide who paid the price of the RPF's victory. Contemporary footage, shown in the BBC documentary, shows Kagame telling the camera that the killing is slowing down as the RPF advances, not because of the advance, but because most of those who were to be killed had been killed.

I should note here that I disagree with writers Ed Herman and David Peterson on the interpretation of this evidence. Herman and Peterson conclude that it was Kagame's RPF who did the majority of the killings. In their book The Politics of Genocide, they suggest that “Davenport-Stam shy away from asserting the most important lesson of their work: not only that the majority of killings took place in those theaters where the RPF “surged,” but also that the RPF was the only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994, and the only one that planned a major military offensive.”

I disagree with Herman and Peterson because the RPF was not "the only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994". The RPF was fighting a "well-organized killing force", in the Rwandan army and its militias, who turned primarily on the civilian population instead of fighting Kagame's RPF forces.

The BBC documentary also does not accuse Kagame's RPF of primary responsibility in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The truth of Kagame's acts is bad enough without adding this crime: Kagame's invasion and the civil war set the context for the genocide; Kagame's massacres of Hutus in areas under RPF control were smaller in scale but were also crimes against humanity and were also genocidal like the Rwandan government's massacres; Kagame's massacres, proxy warfare, and occupation of the Congo have led to the deaths of, by best estimates, millions of people; Kagame's suppression of human rights and freedom in Rwanda have created a brutal dictatorship that has somehow been sold to the world as a developmental miracle.

Up until now, these discussions were impossible to have in the West, even on the left. One did not have to argue, as Herman and Peterson do (incorrectly in my opinion) that Kagame conducted the Rwandan genocide, to be labeled a genocide denier. Indeed, anyone who suggested that Kagame's forces committed crimes against Hutu civilians in Rwanda and Congolese civilians in the Congo was eventually labeled some kind of genocide denier, or a proponent of something called double genocide theory. Rather than coming to some kind of shared understanding of events in Rwanda, as Davenport and Stam tried to do, or as scholars like Reyntjens and Rene Lemarchand have tried to do, proponents of Kagame's government have smeared those who seek to understand the full magnitude of crimes and criminals in Central Africa in the 1990s as genocide deniers. In doing so, they have of course participated in their own kind of genocide denial, but worse than that, they have helped prevent any actual reckoning with the past, any end to impunity, that might help prevent the repetition of genocides in the future, including in the region. As Reyntjens said in the BBC documentary, there might presently be a lid on the volcano there, but it may erupt again.

The BBC documentary is not perfect. It shows Tony Blair smiling all over the place next to Kagame, and even a shot of Clinton, but a whole other hour could be spent with the evidence on economic interests unearthed by the UN investigations into the exploitation of natural resources in the Congo, the parallel genocides and wars in Burundi, the Western interventions that set all these horrors in motion in the 1960s, and the disgraceful role of most Western media and scholarship in covering it all up. But for one hour, on the BBC, it is a remarkable opening to think about Central Africa and the West's role. It remains to be seen whether the BBC and Jane Corbin will now be accused of genocide denial, or whether this documentary can help Westerners begin to understand what they are actually supporting in Africa, in Reyntjens's words, "the most important war criminal in office today”.

Topics: 

A massacre in the NAFTA zone

Written for Ricochet Media

A national day of action in protest against the disappearance and massacre of 43 education students in Mexico occurred on Wednesday, Oct. 8. The national teachers’ union made the call to protest, which was answered in 59 cities in Mexico and included a silent march organized by the Zapatistas in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Protests occurred all over the world, including Canada.

The college students from the Mexican community of Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero, 43 of whom were disappeared from a bus on Sept. 26, were studying to be teachers and protesting the starvation of the public system they were planning to work in. The bus was ambushed by police, probably on orders from officials in the nearby city of Iguala, Guerrero, from the director of Seguridad Publica (Public Security), Francisco Salgado Valladeres, and the mayor, José Luis Abarca. Both of these men are currently on the run. Six people were killed in the ambush, among them people on an unrelated bus, which was mistaken for a bus with student protesters and was actually carrying a soccer team.

An unknown number of bodies, 34 at last count, almost certainly belonging to these students, were unearthed in a mass grave in Iguala. The bodies had signs of torture and were probably burned alive.

Randal Archibold, writing in the New York Times, put forward the theory that the police were a part of a gang, or passed the kidnapped students on to a gang, which was strange because the students “were not known to have criminal ties.”

Canadian journalist and author Dawn Paley, currently studying in Mexico, writes, “The killers in Iguala were not drug gangs. They were cops and paramilitaries. Paramilitaries are non-state armed groups who work with state forces. There can be no clearer example of the horrors of state and paramilitary violence than what has happened to these students.” This massacre, Paley notes, is far from the only mass grave in Mexico. The New York Times report went so far as to say the country was “accustomed to mass killings.”
the key context for these killings is the use of state violence, up to mass murder, to manage social protest and to dismantle the public sphere

All of these issues are linked — drugs, crime, corruption and politics — but the key context for these killings is the use of state violence, up to mass murder, to manage social protest and to dismantle the public sphere. In this case, the attack focused on an embattled network of rural teacher education that has survived only through student mobilization, that seeks to serve Mexico’s rural population of 28 million, 20 million of whom live in extreme poverty.

The first escuelas normales were established in Mexico in the 1920s. They were a part of the country’s distant revolutionary history, where the goal was to bring public education to Mexico's countryside and to create schools that would educate teachers and rural leaders among Mexico's peasants. They were explicitly based on inculcating values of democracy and self-governance.

Historian Tanalis Padilla has described a pattern of violence against normalistas over many decades in La Jornada, concluding that “the lives of normalistas seem to have little value.”

The state and police certainly have acted that way. Unless people in Mexico and their friends outside, including here in Canada, prove them wrong, we can expect more Ayotzinapas.

Democracy: Failed Installation In Afghanistan

Written for TeleSUR English

In 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore were the winner and loser in a very close US presidential election, with Gore getting 48.4% and Bush getting 47.9% of the vote amid irregularities and fraud. The issue was ultimately decided not by recounting the votes, but by a decision of the US Supreme Court not to count the votes. This was irregular, bizarre, and made a mockery of the election. But the recent Afghan election was worse.

Take all of the despair of those who realized their votes didn’t count, all the disillusionment in a nontransparent electoral system that came about in the US in 2000, and imagine a few changes. Imagine a foreign country, say the UK, coming to broker a power-sharing deal between Gore and Bush. Imagine the deal involving making emergency changes to the US constitution in order to accommodate the ambitions of both the winner and the loser in the contest. Imagine the loser of the contest insisting not only on the nullification of the electoral outcome, but also that the outcome never be made public. That gets us closer – but the recent Afghan election was still worse.

Some background: In October of 2001, the declared winner of the US election, George W. Bush, sent troops to invade Afghanistan and bring about a regime change in Kabul. Most of Afghanistan had, from 1996-2001, been under the control of the Taliban, a Pakistan-sponsored group that was battling for control of Afghanistan’s territory and resources. The Taliban’s opponents were a coalition of commanders, who combined military, territorial, and business power, and legal and illegal activity, in a way that got them characterized as ‘warlords’. The warlords had ruled in Kabul, destroyed and plundered their parts of Afghanistan from 1992-1996, and still held parts of Afghanistan in 2001. Bush’s invasion sent the Taliban into retreat and the warlords back to power. The Taliban went first across the border into Pakistan and then, years later, returned to fight the Afghan government and the US from base areas in southern Afghanistan.

From the US invasion in 2001 until now, Afghanistan has been ruled by a different kind of coalition. The warlords were back. The US-created Afghan government, led by President Karzai, tried to absorb the warlords into it, with some success. The US oversaw the appointment of the warlords to the government, the writing of the constitution, and two electoral exercises that brought those warlords into the legislature, with Karzai at its helm. Military force was supplied by the US military (and its US, Canadian, and other partners), which fought the Taliban from its own fortified military bases and conducted air strikes throughout southern Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s border areas. The economy was also organized by the US and NATO partners, who channeled funds on a neoliberal, charity-driven model favoring nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) over government programs. The Afghan government was simultaneously supported by the West militarily and economically and also derided as being corrupt and ineffective.

The US got its bases established in central Asia and assured influence in the region, but also lectured Afghanistan on how it would have to stand on its own feet eventually – standing, presumably, against the US ally, Pakistan, and the Taliban. 2014 was set as the date for the US withdrawal, and even though it would be a typically ambiguous withdrawal, with troops and bases remaining, it was a symbolic and important date, and the 2014 Afghan election was set to be an important one. If successful, it would be a peaceful transfer of power from one elected government to another. After 13 years of occupation, the US would be able to claim that it had successfully installed a democracy, at least in the most limited sense of a ‘democracy’ as a country that has one elected government succeeding another.

What Afghanistan got instead does not have a precise political science word, but there is no way that it could be called a democracy in any sense of the word.

The Taliban had threatened voters and attempted to disrupt the elections, but people voted anyway. According to the Afghan constitution, if a candidate does not get an absolute majority in the first round, there is a second round with the first and second place candidates on the ballot. In the first round of voting in April 2014, Abdallah Abdallah won 45% of the vote, Ashraf Ghani 31.56%.

Both leading candidates have connections to the warlords. Abdallah Abdallah was close to Ahmed Shah Masoud, who led the Northern Alliance against the Taliban until his assassination just before 9/11, 2001, and campaigned on this proximity to the famous warlord. Ashraf Ghani has weaker ties to the warlords, but his party includes general Rashid Dostum, one of the longest-surviving and best-organized warlords (see Anthony Giustozzi’s book Empires of Mud for background on Dostum and other warlords). Ghani campaigned as a free-marketeer, close to the West, interested in economic development and anti-corruption. He even has a TED talk, a pretty solid pro-West credential (https://www.ted.com/talks/ashraf_ghani_on_rebuilding_broken_states).

It was the second round, in June, that things started to go wrong. It became clear early in the second round that Ghani was going to win. The preliminary results should have been announced in July, but they were delayed. When they were announced, with Ghani at 56.44% and Abdallah at 43.56%, Abdallah Abdallah said he would refuse to accept the result, claiming fraud. Given that Afghanistan’s new government would have to either fight or negotiate with the Taliban (most likely do both) and could ill afford an absolute opposition from a powerful faction, Abdallah Abdallah must have decided that he had enough power to dictate terms regardless of the electoral outcome. A UN-supervised audit of the votes was organized, and was completed in September.

What was the result of the UN-supervised audit of the votes? We may never know, because the US negotiated a power-sharing agreement, making Ghani President and creating a new post for Abdallah to fill called “Chief Executive Officer”. One of the clauses of the agreement, insisted on by Abdallah, was that the results of the recount not be made public. Not only do Afghan’s votes not count, the counts can’t even be known.

Some of the Western commentary has been as strange as the election itself. The NYT editorial on the topic (“A Shaky Step Forward in Afghanistan”, Sept 21/14) simultaneously praises Kerry for negotiating the deal while calling it “far from democratic” and noting that “at the end of the day, the millions of Afghan voters who defied Taliban threats to cast ballots are now left wondering if their votes counted.” A BBC commentator, David Loyn, decided to publish speculations he’s heard about the electoral outcome: “one source told me the margin of victory could be as close as 3% but other figures being quoted by Afghan officials say it’s more like 10%,” but then concluded that “nothing is certain unless or until Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission publishes the final result,” leaving readers to wonder why he threw the 3% and 10% figures out there (BBC News, Sept 21/14, “Afghan presidential contenders sign unity deal”). Western media have also noted that both Ghani and Abdallah are supportive of an agreement allowing US forces to stay on in Afghanistan. One way of summarizing these comments might be: We don’t really know or care how Afghans voted, but it seems that Western interests in Afghanistan will be protected by the deal the West brokered.

Among all the uncertainties about what happened, about the real and hidden agendas of the players, about whose votes were counted and whose ignored, that is the one constant: Western interests are taken care of. Western interests are why Afghans have been bombed, they are why Afghans have been presented with these candidates, they are why their votes were counted, and they are why their votes were ultimately ignored. Whether the deal holds or it doesn’t – and it probably won’t – Afghanistan is another example of how US invasions don’t bring democracy, even more than a decade later.

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

Reading from and a review of The Demands of the Dead, Oct 10, 12pm, Toronto Public Library

I will be reading from the Demands of the Dead on Friday Oct 10, 12pm, at the Toronto Public Library. If you're in the city, come and check it out.

I also wanted to call attention to the review of the book by Megan Cotton-Kinch at the Two Row Times, which was also republished at Countercurrents.org.

Here's the event listing:

The Demands of the Dead: A crime novel by Justin Podur

Fri Oct 10, 2014

12:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.

75 mins

Toronto Reference Library, Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium

Here's Megan Cotton-Kinch's review:

Book review: A detective story set in the middle of an Indigenous insurgency

Demands of the Dead, By Justin Podur
Reviewed by Megan Cotton-Kinch

While I’ve always enjoyed a good detective novel, I’ve always felt like this genre usually contains an underlying message of support for the police, and never really takes a critical look at the role of “law-and-order” in maintaining a society based on the oppression of poor people and the theft of Indigenous land. At best, this kind of stories will look at corruption in police and politics but offer no solutions. This is where Demands of the Dead transcends the genre, and moves beyond works like The Wire by actually looking at the larger political context and offering possible solutions. In the case of Podur’s novel these are represented by the Zapatista Indigenous insurgency, which has an important presence in the book.

In the opening of Demands of the Dead, an ex-cop receives an email, in Spanish that says, “The dead demand so much more than vengeance.” But the dead are more than the two dead police, or his dead friend, but include all the dead in southern Mexico who have been killed in the counter-insurgency. And unlike most books in the detective genre the novel does offer up the possibility of solutions that go beyond personal vengeance.

Did Zapatista guerrillas murder two police officers? Or was it the Mexican police? Or drug traffickers? What were the police, in the political context of an armed uprising, doing on Zapatista territory anyway? The main character “Mark” is in southern Mexico to investigate. But in reality he is there to investigate the murder of his best friend, a progressive lawyer and activist, back in New York, by cops on the force he used to serve on.

The novel, and its protagonist “Mark”, doesn’t shrink from looking at what it means to be an ex-cop, and ‘independent’ contractor working with semi-sponsorship from the American embassy and their proxies in the Mexican counter insurgency (police and military). Back in the States, Mark’s murdered best friend had told him, “You can’t help. You should just go. I don’t care what kind of person you are Mark. If you’re a cop, we’re enemies.” But Mark is not just an ex-cop, he also has wilderness survival and tracking skills, and a personal history that gives him connections to progressive lawyers and an inclination to cross into Zapatista territory to get their side of the story.

As asides into the two cases, one official and one personal, there are discussions of Zapatista political and military strategy, with people’s organizations and democratic decision-making as preferred weapons in a struggle, but with an armed self-defense strategy in reserve. Podur also shows what they are up against: a counter-insurgency strategy targeted at the Indigenous Zapatistia movement that is linked with machine politics, American imperialism and drug money.

Nonetheless, the novel has a very nuanced take on the state and police systems, seeing them worthy of analysis and full of contradictions.

The book has realistic fight scenes with descriptions to suit martial arts fans, and accurate descriptions of guns and military tactics. The main character’s wilderness skills are not overplayed but are realistic assessments of the kind of things that skilled trackers can do (hear people approach before they arrive due to concentric disturbances in the forest) and can’t do (find individual tracks of intruders on a heavily trafficked roadway). The one thing I’d wish for is more fully developed female characters with plot importance.

The author, Justin Podur, is better known as a non-fiction writer and commentator on political topics, including Indigenous issues and solidarity efforts with Palestine. He is a professor at York University who does research on forestry and forest fires. In the novel, this background is present but doesn’t overwhelm the story.

The novel is available for download or purchase as a book from Justin’s website http://podur.org/demandsofthedead

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

Get the e-book on Smashwords

Get the physical book from CreateSpace

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…

Continue reading at Justin Podur …

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.