Posted by: r.m. | April 9, 2014

Charbel Nahas: Thinking critically about violence

Yesterday, Charbel Nahas spoke at an AUB event entitled ‘A Rupture of Amnesia’ about the Lebanese civil war.  He was his typical self: pushing the audience to think critically.

He did not simply present rote information about the war – numbers of people killed, money lost, etc.  He took us deeper and raised essential contextual points.

What follows are my own notes from Charbel Nahas’ talk. His presentation and his answers to the questions posed in the discussion alone can become a full university semester course.

Speaking from his experience within the Minister (reminder: he was both Minister of Telecommunications and Minister of Labor) and his experience of the Parliament, he said that Parliament (and to a lesser extent, the Ministries) is (are) empty of decisions.  They come to speak loyalties to their own communities. When they declare that they now “want to talk politics,” that is when the public intimidations begin.

He reminded the audience that, contrary to current popular perception, the war in Lebanon did begin with enthusiasm.  People volunteered to fight; it was only a few years later that people were receiving salaries to participate.

While the public memory of the civil war is missing, the private (selective) memories of the war are strong and known.

1. We need to recognize that threats of violence and poverty are used together.  Note. This government threatens us with additional poverty.  And it is all too often that we hear people say that it is good that all the warlords are together in Parliament now; that means they won’t drag us back into war.  Violence and Poverty — two main pillars of intimidation in today’s politics.

2. Violence is not an exception to human life.  It is new that societies have a problem with violence.  Note the extent: we don’t want to see animals killed; we would rather get our meat (those of us who eat meat) from packages presented in such a way as not to resemble the animal itself.  Note the use of drones.

3. Why is there violence in politics? Note that when the weak and the strong fight, this needs to be examined relatively and not with absolute terms.  Violence can arise from many things, including an incorrect assessment of one’s strengths (or the strengths of another) and from bluffing.  Violence can also be presented as the only alternative.

4. Violence negates the daily life, and therefore, by pushing the necessary daily activities aside, violence itself becomes empowered.

5. Violence constructs its players. It is not the players that construct the violence.  Just as stories of wars arise after the wars themselves, the identities of the warring factions arise as a consequence of the violence; they are not the cause of the violence.  Stop: think about this.

6. The warring factions cooperate with their warring opposing parties to remove their own competitors.  (Example: people believing in “x” and fighting “y” will cooperate with “y” to weaken those standing closer to “x” so that “x” and “y” will be left alone in the battlefield. Neither “x” nor “y” want competition on the battlefield.)

7. Neither the losing nor the winning parties arise out of war like they entered into it. The social make up of winning parties is transformed, nationally and internationally.  Without WWI, the Bolshevik revolution would have been harder.  Without WWII, the USSR would have been harder.

8.  Lebanon: When the political parties discovered that the State was disintegrating (post-Chehab), they took part in its disintegration by dismantling state security apparatus and building their own militias.  They instituted a violence of the perception of hegemony.

9. Every war is a civil war.

10.  We in Lebanon have been impacted by the civil war in more ways than numbers of killed, wounded, missing, etc.  Our relationships to each other and ourselves have changed.  Our rush to consumption is indicative of our fatalism.  Our acceptance of fortune tellers is indicative of our sense of impotence, arising from our sense of “defeat” from the war.  Our language is poisoned; the words we use to identify geographical areas in Lebanon has been poisoned.  What does it mean when we say “Jabal” for example?  Think about it.  Our economy has changed, becoming a rentier economy that exports degrees.  Our expectations and ambitions are lowered.

During the Q and A, Charbel Nahas shared other critical elements

* The right to strike is similar to the unequal confrontations between the weak and the strong. A capitalist system is, by nature, undemocratic. The owners dictate to the workers.  There is a small space left open – a space for the unions and workers to strike.  The workers lose when they strike (they don’t get paid) and they cause a loss to the capitalists, and thus force them to the table. Nahas raised the issue of Spinneys. He asked the audience: Would you go to support the workers who were fired when they insisted on the enforcement of the labor law?

* The question of ‘what is the solution’ implies that there is a problem.  There isn’t a problem.  There is a whole system.  So the correct question is: What is to be done?  What is to be done to change the system? First, develop critical thinking.  Be critical thinkers!  Nahas spoke about how disappointed he is with the academic nature of the AUB – and other universities (AUB is not the exception) and their reliance on Multiple Choice questions, on students’ not taking notes in class but merely asking for a textbook to memorize.  Think!  Second, deal with the past and its consequences.  Note the perspectives that are haunting our society.  People are too afraid to demand their rights, scared to lose the ill they know and now have.  Note how people now insist on showing their identities – whether through long beards, large crosses, or wearing the kuffiyes.  To whom are they displaying this identity, either religious or political? Not to others. Rather, it is a display of loyalty to themselves, and it aids to deny the thinking-ability of the other.

* In response to a question about the consequences of the law of amnesty, Nahas spoke about the need to contextualize the responsibility of violence.  The historic, political and societal responsibilities of violence, a responsibility arising from decision – and the absence of decisions – that allowed violence to be accepted, normalized, develop.  These responsibilities are still missing. They need to be created.

* In response to a question about the minimum wage debate (see: http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/204170), Nahas reminded us that from 1995 to 2012, the authorities — all of them, by consensus — abstained from re-examining the minimum wage in relation to inflation, as the law clearly demands.  During all that time, the unions were silent also.  Meanwhile, the concentration of wealth intensified; more people emigrated.  Now, there is is a confrontation between salaried people and those controlling the rentier economy. This confrontation took 2.5 years in the making. And no, a rise in minimum wage will not cause a rise in prices.

* In response to a question about the possibility of nonviolence between the Palestinians and Lebanese during the war, Nahas reminded the audience that the Palestinians cannot be lumped into one group.  Are Yasser Arafat and George Habash one thing?

* In response to a question about the Orthodox Election Proposal (which calls for each religious sect to vote for its own sect, Lebanon one voting district, and proportional representation), he said that the Parliament is currently a farce. No discussions are held in Parliament.  So any attempt to shake it is welcome.

I would love a transcript of his presentation.  Charbel Nahas gave more than I was able to transcribe.  He presented details and details to strengthen the points that he made.  Still the take home message? Be critical thinkers.

Hmm… So, Ziad Sayegh, the CEO of the Civic Influence Hub which is launching the Blue Gold Project, estimates that the project will cost US $5 billion – and that the majority of this money will come from the private sector – but – although the “Lebanon’s private sector will invest, [he] insists the plan does not amount to privatization of the water network.”

Uh… so, the logic is that the private sector will spend billions of dollars into a project, and then allow the public sector – the government – to control the source, distribution, and billing of this network?Really?

Sayegh continues to claim that Blue Gold does not amount to privatization – although in their own Blue Gold booklet, they speak quite clearly that the “private sector must” have control of the distribution, billing, and source of water.  Isn’t that privatization?

What does he want to do?

the vision requires a complete legal and regulatory overhaul of the water sector, including anti-monopoly laws and specific public-private partnership laws, with political top cover to implement. Sayegh hopes to replace the current water authorities, run by the Ministry of Energy and Water, with a National Water Council, a Water Regulatory Authority, a National Monitoring Center and a users’ association, as well as an independent watchdog.

“It’s time to lobby. There is no time to lose. We are working in parallel with the decision-makers and should be ready to submit to the parliament a serious, comprehensive and consultative law for the national water council in three months.”

The devil is in the details.  This “independent watchdog” is already a part of the Civic Influence Hub (as their own booklet indicates), so, not quite ‘independent.”  And this new oversight that Sayegh and company are planning lack transparency and accountability.

No to further privatization!

Yes to cleaning our government from its corruption and mismanagement.

Yes to enabling our government to provide what is our RIGHT: access to clean water to all.

 

 

Those of us who organize and struggle for justice are typically criticized for knowing only what we don’t want and not discussing what we actually do want; no to this, no to that, yes to what?

In many of the classes I teach in environmental sciences at the university, I ask my students to envision the Lebanon they want – with no challenges (except the physical limitations) and no obstacles in their way. We people created these laws and this economy – and we people can change them. So what do you want? All too often, the students have difficulty dreaming big, dreaming wide, dreaming free.

Be realistic, demand the impossible.

Here is one vision of what I do want in Lebanon – and elsewhere, from Al-Akhbar.

An excerpt:

I’ll be in Beirut just in time for the Erasure Festival, held every year to officially inaugurate all the public spaces that were opened the year prior. The festival started after the Council for Urban Development decided to prohibit the flattening of historic buildings, and demolish new buildings instead – buildings that don’t comply with formal and functional qualities that contribute to a good life in a good city. If you’ve been in Beirut in the early 2000s, you would know which buildings I’m talking about.

In place of every demolished building, a new garden, park, or public facility is erected to cater to our cherished communal well-being. Somewhere along the line of a series of tragic urban development strategies, we realized that a nation with a tree on its flag couldn’t neglect its environmental strategy. Better yet, we decided that a green strategy should be our guiding light, a template for our different development plans. It’s been great for us ever since.

Check it out in full here

Let’s keep on our eyes on the prize, as was said in the civil rights struggle in the US. Let’s keep organizing to build a society that is what we want, and not just make do co-existing with what we have.

Dream the impossible. The only dreams worth having.

From Al-Akhbar

ماذا لو قرر أحدهم قطع أنفاسك، وعدم السماح لك بالتنفس إلا بقدر المبلغ الذي يمكنك أن تدفعه؟ فلو جرى ابتكار طريقة ما لاحتكار الهواء والتحكم في مصدره وتوزيعه لما كان هذا المشهد بعيداً جداً عن لبنان. فأمر مشابه يحصل اليوم في المياه، في مشروع يجري التسويق له على أنه «ذهب» أزرق، علماً أنه حقٌّ لا بديل عنه.

وبرغم أن أصحاب مشروع «بلوغولد» يحاولون قدر الإمكان الابتعاد عن استخدام كلمة «خصخصة» في سياق حملات الترويج له، إلا أن «هذا ما يريدون الوصول إليه: خصخصة مصدر المياه وتوزيعها وتسعيرتها، وهذا واضح في كتيبهم»، وفق ما تؤكد رئيسة قسم العلوم البيئية في جامعة البلمند الدكتورة رانية المصري.

Posted by: r.m. | April 3, 2014

Democracy – governments for sale

In the US, the rich buy the government…

 

Yesterday’s devastating Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, aka Citizens United Round 2, further cements our plutocracy, thus “opening the floodgates for the nation’s wealthiest few to drown out the voices of the rest of us.”

In a boon to the role of big money in politics, the U.S. Supreme Court  struck down overall limits on the amount of money individuals can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees during the federal two-year election cycle.

The decision left the cap of $2,600 per election that an individual can give to any single federal candidate but removed the limit on the grand total that can be contributed to all federal candidates.

The ruling means that a single person can write a $5.9 million check for expenditure by candidates, political parties and political committees, according to Public Citizen.

“This is truly a decision establishing plutocrat rights,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, slamming the ruling as a “devastating blow at the very foundation of our democracy.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Freedom of speech, in my view, does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government…What world are the five conservative Supreme Court justices living in? To equate the ability of billionaires to buy elections with ‘freedom of speech’ is totally absurd. The Supreme Court is paving the way toward an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will control our political process.”

Then this government-by-the-rich-and-for-the-rich in the US topples other governments around the world, all, of course, in the name of democracy and freedom and international law.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon, governments (local and foreign) buy votes (spending hundreds of millions of dollars).

So – democracy smells like cash, eh?

 

Climate change a threat to security, food and humankind – IPCC report: Warming is leading to more volatile weather patterns that are already reducing crop yields, the IPCC has warned

A United Nations report raised the threat of climate change to a whole new level on Monday, warning of sweeping consequences to life and livelihood.

The report from the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change concluded that climate change was already having effects in real time – melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains and mega-disasters.

And the worst was yet to come. Climate change posed a threat to global food stocks, and to human security, the blockbuster report said.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC.

Those of us who have been following the reports and the news on climate change cannot be surprised by the IPCC latest report – IPCC 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (accessed in full here).  And for those who continue to deny that the climate is changing and that we – we humans – are to blame, they seem to have lost their ability to read.

The IPCC solution? “The one message that comes out of this is the world has to adapt and the world has to mitigate

I wonder though: How can one adapt to such massive changes? Adaptation also cannot happen everywhere; what about the lands that will be drowned? And what form would this adaptation be?

George Monbiot discusses this point when he writes:

If a small, rich, well-organised nation cannot protect its people from a winter of exceptional rainfall – which might have been caused by less than one degree of global warming – what hope do other nations have, when faced with four degrees or more?

When our environment secretary, Owen Paterson, assures us that climate change “is something we can adapt to over time” or Simon Jenkins, in the Guardian today, says that we should move towards “thinking intelligently about how the world should adapt to what is already happening“, what do they envisage? Cities relocated to higher ground? Roads and railways shifted inland? Rivers diverted? Arable land abandoned? Regions depopulated? Have they any clue about what this would cost? Of what the impacts would be on the people breezily being told to live with it?

My guess is that they don’t envisage anything: they have no idea what they mean when they say adaptation. If they’ve thought about it at all, they probably picture a steady rise in temperatures, followed by a steady rise in impacts, to which we steadily adjust. But that, as we should know from our own recent experience, is not how it happens. Climate breakdown proceeds in fits and starts, sudden changes of state against which, as we discovered on a small scale in January, preparations cannot easily be made.

 

I would have loved to have been surprised by the report – I would have loved to read that the IPCC is demanding environmental justice, protection for the environmental refugees (already here and millions to come), and a new economy.  Adaptation? Not enough. Revolution? Yes.

Dr. Brad Werner earlier said that – our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.”

 

 

Posted by: r.m. | April 2, 2014

Water is life – not to be compared to gold

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 10.54.46 PM

Water is Life – not to be compared to gold. There is no substitute for water!

If you live in Lebanon and drive through its highways or simply watch the news — on any of the non-state channels (LBC, MTV, Future, OTV, Manar, NBN), you quite likely have seen an advertisement for “Blue Gold” – hosted by the “Civic Influence Hub.” The adverts are slick, smart, and are designed to lead the viewer to express dismay at the government’s inability to provide clean water efficiently and thus to encourage the viewer to trust in this Civic Influence Hub.

Please don’t.

Al-Akhbar has revealed some of the problematic issues in this drive to privatize the source, distribution, and pricing of Lebanon’s water. See: Blue Gold: The deceitful plan to commodify water in Lebanon (and in arabic, here
And a campaign is underway in Lebanon to protect our water.

 

 

Posted by: r.m. | April 1, 2014

Realization…

Breaking news

The Israeli Knesset today realized that there is a powerful way to stop the growing international BDS movement worldwide: by recognizing that apartheid is incompatible with basic moral decency. Consequently, the Israeli Knesset has declared that the system of apartheid imposed in Israel – and throughout the Occupied Territory – must immediately be dismantled, and that full equality – regardless of one’s religious viewpoints or ethnic background –  must be implemented.  All Palestinian refugees from 1948 are thus also welcomed to return to their villages.  The Israeli people responded to the call by calling for open discussions on a democratic one-state solution.

Palestinians dusted off their old home keys from 1948 and began the return. In response to the worries of some Israeli former Zionists that Palestinians may seek revenge, a leading grassroots organizer said that the land of Palestine will teach forgiveness.

Mahmoud Abbas had no comment; he was thrown in jail by the people.

 

Breaking news

In reviewing his old papers, President Obama realized that drones are a violation of juris prudence, an issue he had somehow earlier forgotten although he was a constitutional law professor. He also recognized that NSA surveillance is a violation of the US constitution.  Both are hereby ended through executive order.

 

Breaking news

Ashraf Rifi resigns as Lebanese Minister of Justice, stating that he can no longer bear the irony of his position.

 

Breaking news

The leading schools of economics in the US announce that an economic model built on constant growth is in violation of the Laws of Thermodynamics,  and they recognize that those laws are not governable by humans. They thus concede that a new model of economics is necessary — one designed within ecological limits. They also state, in their humbling announcement, that economies need to be designed for the people, as a means to people’s happiness and well-being.

Your turn…

Posted by: r.m. | March 17, 2014

Solidarity, Roger Waters, BDS, and common roots

Talking about solidarity… Roger Waters has an article entitled ‘Why I must speak out on Israel, Palestine, and BDS‘, published today in Salon Magazine about solidarity! He speaks out powerfully – once again – in support of the Boycott movement against apartheid in Israel.

After more than two decades of negotiations, the vulnerable Palestinian population still lives under occupation, while more land is taken, more illegal settlements built, and more Palestinians are imprisoned, injured or killed struggling for the right to live in dignity and peace, to raise their families, to till their land, to aspire to each and every human goal, just like the rest of us. The Palestinians’ prolonged statelessness has made them among the most vulnerable of all peoples, particularly in their diaspora where, as now in Syria, they are subject, as stateless, powerless refugees, to targeted violence, from all sides in that bloody conflict, subject to unimaginable hardship and  deprivation and, in many cases, particularly for the vulnerable young, to starvation.   

What can we all do to advance the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories, Israel and the diaspora? Well, BDS is a nonviolent, citizen-led movement that is grounded in universal principles of human rights for all people. All people! In consequence, I have determined that the BDS approach is one I can fully support.

With regards to solidarity, he writes:

I believe that the root of all injustice and oppression has always been the same – the dehumanization of the other. It is the obsession with Us and Them that can lead us, regardless of racial or religious identity, into the abyss.

Let us never forget that oppression begets more oppression, and the tree of fear and bigotry bears only bitter fruit. The end of the occupation of Palestine, should we all manage to secure it, will mean freedom for the occupied and the occupiers and freedom from the bitter taste of all those wasted years and lives. And that will be a great gift to the world.

“Ashes and diamonds

Foe and friend

We were all equal

In the end.”

There is a tendency, a dangerous tendency, in the thinking of numerous communities here.  The essence of this framework is that “we are different.”

Exceptionalism.

We find it in positive statements such as – “Only Lebanese excel when they travel.”   or  “Only our history is so grand.”

And in negative statements – “No one has suffered as much as we have.” “No wars have been conducted in the manner in which they have been conducted against us.”

– Note: I very much doubt that this exceptionalist-thinking is only present in Lebanon. <no pun intended> 

I just came from a lecture whose very foundation was this concept of exceptionalism.  Not only has no people, anywhere in the world – now or before, had genocide committed against them and had their history deliberately erased, but we are the only ones that also defeated a grand army and showed that army that they can be attacked in their home base.

Uh…

A few exceptions come to mind. Australia and the deliberate killing of millions of indigenous communities.  The Americas – from Canada to Argentina. And Africa – and the hundreds upon hundreds of years of genocide and slavery and theft.

And, yes, in all those examples, their history – the history of the indigenous communities – was erased.

As for the ‘grand army’ – we have the US army in Vietnam, the Soviet army in Afghanistan… and more…

This concept of ‘exceptionalism’ is ahistorical.  And it is arrogant. And debilitating

We need to ask ourselves: why do we want to be so special? Truly.  Why do we want to look upon ourselves as “only us”? Rather, why not unite with others in our commonalities?

Let us learn from the plethora of examples around us – of struggles against occupation and oppression.  Let us contextualize Zionism as racism, and thus build solidarity with all who struggle against racism.  Let us contextualize Zionism also as colonialism and build solidarity with all who struggle against colonialism.

I wish, truly, that we – as people from the Levant – are the only ones who have suffered – and continue to suffer from –  occupation and division, lost identities and betrayed teachings of history.  I wish that those horrors were not so common worldwide.  But they are. A quick reading of history tells us those horrors are common, and a quick reading of current affairs tells us they are ongoing.

So, we are not alone.

And as we struggle against occupation and oppression here, we can understand, learn from, and support similar struggles worldwide.

As we struggle against Zionism here, we can understand, learn from, and support struggles against racism worldwide – and at home.

And throughout it all, we can get strength and hope and inspiration from others.

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