Aviva Chomsky: What’s at stake in the border debate

The militarization of the police has been underway since 9/11, but only in the aftermath of the six-shot killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, with photos of streets in a St. Louis suburb that looked like occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, has the fact of it, the shock of it, seemed to hit home widely.  Congressional representatives are now proposing bills to stop the Pentagon from giving the latest in war equipment to local police forces.  The president even interrupted his golfing vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to return to Washington, in part for “briefings” on the ongoing crisis in Ferguson.  So militarization is finally a major story.

And that’s no small thing.  On the other hand, the news from Ferguson can’t begin to catch the full process of militarization this society has been undergoing or the way America’s distant wars are coming home. We have, at least, a fine book by Radley Balko on how the police have been militarized.  Unfortunately, on the subject of the militarization of the country, there is none.  And yet from armed soldiers in railway stations to the mass surveillance of Americans, from the endless celebration of our “warriors” to the domestic use of drones, this country has been undergoing a significant process of militarization (and, if there were such a word, national securitization).

Perhaps nowhere has this been truer than on America’s borders and on the subject of immigration.  It’s no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The U.S. is in the process of becoming a citadel nation with up-armored, locked-down borders and a Border Patrol operating in a “Constitution-free zone” deep into the country.  The news is regularly filled with discussions of the need to “bolster border security” in ways that would have been unimaginable to previous generations.  In the meantime, the Border Patrol is producing its own set of Ferguson-style killings as, like SWAT teams around the U.S., it adopts an ever more militarized mindset and the weaponry to go with it.  As James Tomsheck, the former head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, put it recently, “It has been suggested by Border Patrol leadership that they are the Marine Corps of the U.S. law enforcement community.  The Border Patrol has a self-identity of a paramilitary border security force and not that of a law enforcement organization.”

It’s in this context that the emotional flare-up over undocumented Central American children crossing the southern border by the thousands took place.  In fact, without the process of militarization, that “debate” — with its discussion of “invasions,” “surges,” “terrorists,” and “tip of the spear” solutions — makes no sense.  Its language was far more appropriate to the invasion and occupation of Iraq than the arrival in this country of desperate kids, fleeing hellish conditions, and often looking for their parents.

Aviva Chomsky is the author of a new history of just how the words “immigration” and “illegal” became wedded — it wasn’t talked about that way not so many decades ago — and how immigrants became demonized in ways that are familiar in American history.  The Los Angeles Times has hailed Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal for adding “smart, new, and provocative scholarship to the immigration debate.” As in her book, so today at TomDispatch, Chomsky puts the most recent version of the immigration “debate” into a larger context, revealing just what we prefer not to see in our increasingly up-armored nation. Tom Engelhardt

America’s continuing border crisis
The real story behind the “invasion” of the children
By Aviva Chomsky

Call it irony or call it a nightmare, but the “crisis” of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, which lasted for months amid fervent and angry debate, is now fading from the news.  The media stories have been legion, the words expended many.  And yet, as the “crisis” leaves town, as the sound and fury die down and attention shifts elsewhere (even though the children continue to arrive), the real factors that would have made sense of what’s been happening remain essentially untouched and largely unmentioned.  It couldn’t be stranger — or sadder.

Since late June 2014, the “surge” of those thousands of desperate children entering this country has been in the news.  Sensational stories were followed by fervent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations with emotions running high.  And it’s not a debate that stayed near the southern border either.  In my home state, Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick tearfully offered to detain some of the children — and that was somehow turned into a humanitarian gesture that liberals applauded and anti-immigrant activists decried.  Meanwhile the mayor of Lynn, a city north of Boston, echoed nativists on the border, announcing that her town didn’t want any more immigrants.  The months of this sort of emotion, partisanship, and one-upmanship have, however, diverted attention from the real issues.  As so often is the case, there is so much more to the story than what we’ve been hearing in the news.

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Ferguson and Gaza: The definitive study of how they are and are not similar

David Palumbo-Liu writes: As photographs and videoclips from Ferguson overwhelmed our mediascapes, they created a strange double-optic. They seemed overlaid upon representations of events that had previously dominated our public consciousness: Images of the massive and on-going destruction of Gaza by the Israeli military. This stereoscopic image immediately drew bloggers, pundits and op-ed writers to rush to draw parallels. Indeed, in graphic terms alone the image of tear gas canisters filling the air with toxic smoke and of protesters hurling them back defiantly seemed exactly the same. And when tweets offering advice to demonstrators in Ferguson emerged from Palestinians, and reports of Ferguson police having been trained by Israelis surfaced, all that only seemed to complete the equation: Ferguson is Gaza.

There are many parallels and resonances to be sure, and below I will get to some key ones. But I have delayed responding because, as a comparatist, and also as someone concerned about racism in the U.S. and the racist policies of Israel, it is important to weigh things in as dispassionate a way as possible, to do justice to both sides.

Many years ago, the eminent British Marxist historian Raymond Williams reflected on conversations he was having with Palestinian literary critic and activist Edward Said. Williams was particularly interested in seeing just how much of his work on British working class culture, history, and society could be understood as having to do in any way with Said’s concerns regarding Israel-Palestine, most especially with regard to what was going on then: the brutal Israeli bombing and invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Regarding that catastrophe, Hadas Thier writes, “During the course of Israel’s bombardment of the country, civilians and civilian infrastructure were systematically attacked, refugee camps and Lebanese towns were leveled, Beirut was battered for seventy-five days, and after all military objectives were met, the affair concluded with a grotesque massacre of women, children, and the elderly at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.” Williams’ conclusion is instructive:

The analysis of history is not a subject separate from history, but the representations are part of the history, contribute to the history, are active elements in the way that history continues; in the way forces are distributed; in the way people perceive situations, both from inside their own pressing realities and from outside them; if we are saying this is a real method, then the empirical test it’s being put to here is that comparable methods of analysis are being applied to situations which are very far apart in space, have many differences of texture, and have very different consequences in the contemporary world. There is an obvious distance from what is happening in the English countryside, or in the English inner cities, to the chaos in Lebanon. Yet nevertheless I think it is true that the method, the underlying method, found a congruity.

This discretion, this caution to pay attention to how history is represented and to get the historical record straight despite surface similarities, is found as well in the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel on Biafra, “Half of a Yellow Sun.” At one point she tells of a journalist’s hesitation at making comparisons between Biafra and other historical events: “After he writes this, he mentions the German women who fled Hamburg with the charred bodies of their children stuffed in suitcases, the Rwandan women who pocketed tiny parts of their mauled babies. But he is careful not to draw parallels.”

How then can we strike a balance between on the one hand reacting viscerally to the images from Ferguson, which point to the long and constantly replenished history of police assaults on black bodies, and the images of Israel’s murderous rampage in Gaza, an assault continuous with Israel’s history of oppression and persecution of an entire people, while on the other hand resisting drawing too quickly an immediate, provocative, but inexact parallel?

It is in the median space between declaring an equivalence and withdrawing into discreet silence that we should concentrate our energies. Comparisons may be “odious,” to quote Shakespeare, but they can also be instructive. They help us tease out the specifics while coming to understand basic and important similarities. To do this one needs to employ a “congruent” method.

Here are five ways we can see congruence in what is happening in Ferguson and in Gaza. [Continue reading...]

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Matthew Harwood: One nation under SWAT

Think of it as a different kind of blowback.  Even when you fight wars in countries thousands of miles distant, they still have an eerie way of making the long trip home.

Take the latest news from Bergen County, New Jersey, one of the richest counties in the country.  Its sheriff’s department is getting two mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs — 15 tons of protective equipment — for a song from the Pentagon.  And there’s nothing special in that.  The Pentagon has handed out 600 of them for nothing since 2013, with plenty more to come.  They’re surplus equipment, mostly from our recent wars, and perhaps they will indeed prove handy for a sheriff fretting about insurgent IEDs (roadside bombs) in New Jersey or elsewhere in the country.  When it comes to the up-armoring and militarization of America’s police forces, this is completely run-of-the-mill stuff.

The only thing newsworthy in the Bergen story is that someone complained.  To be exact, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan spoke up in opposition to the transfer of the equipment.  “I think,” she said, “we have lost our way if you start talking about military vehicles on the streets of Bergen County.”  And she bluntly criticized the decision to accept the MRAPs as the “absolute wrong thing to do in Bergen County to try to militarize our county.”  Her chief of staff offered a similar comment: “They are combat vehicles. Why do we need a combat vehicle on the streets of Bergen County?”

Sheriff Michael Saudino, on the other hand, insists that the MRAPs aren’t “combat vehicles” at all.  Forget the fact that they were developed for and used in combat situations.  He suggests instead that one good reason for having them — other than the fact that they are free (except for postage, gas, and upkeep) — is essentially to keep up with the Joneses.  As he pointed out, the Bergen County police already have two MRAPs, and his department has none and, hey, self-respect matters!  (“Should our SWAT guys be any less protected than the county guys?” he asked in a debate with Donovan.)

striking recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union indicates that, as in Bergen County, policing is being militarized nationwide in all sorts of unsettling ways.  It is, more precisely, being SWATified (a word that doesn’t yet exist, but certainly should).  Matthew Harwood, senior writer and editor for the ACLU, as well as TomDispatch regular, offers a graphic look at just where policing in America is heading. Welcome to Kabul, USA. Tom Engelhardt

To terrify and occupy
How the excessive militarization of the police is turning cops into counterinsurgents
By Matthew Harwood

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders.  They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic.  He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

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Racists are rampaging through #Israel

Philip Kleinfeld writes: In Israel, racism and extremism are exploding. It began shortly after the kidnapping of three Israeli boys—Naftali, Gilad and Eyal—in Gush Etzion, that led to the assault in Gaza which has seen over 1,000 killed. A Facebook page calling for the murder of Palestinians went viral. In one photo, a soldier posed broodingly with his gun, the word “vengeance” written on his chest. In another two teenage girls smiled happily with a banner that read: “Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values.”

A few days later, at the boys’ funeral in Modiin, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu fanned the flames. “May God avenge their blood,” he said to the gathered mourners. “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created,” he tweeted later.

Bibi got his wish. Over the weeks that followed, videos began to emerge almost daily of right-wing mobs roving across cities from Jerusalem to Beer Sheva, waving Israeli flags and screaming “Death to Arabs!”

Many ended in physical assaults. Last Thursday two Palestinian men were attacked on Jaffer Street in West Jerusalem as they delivered food to a grocery market. The following day two more Palestinians, Amir Shwiki and Samer Mahfouz, were beaten unconscious in the Eastern part of the city by a gang of 30 young Israelis wielding sticks and metal bars. [Continue reading...]

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Jewish groups’ whitewash of Israeli racism ensures it will fester

David Sheen writes: As news spreads of the circumstances surrounding last week’s murder of 17-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdair, many international observers are responding with incredulity. Israeli police say the teenager was kidnapped from his home, beaten in the head, forced to consume a flammable liquid, and then burned alive. They also say they believe the crime was carried out by Jewish Israelis, acting out of racist hatred for non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs.

These details have come as a shock for many Jewish people living outside of Israel, who find it hard to believe that Jews could be capable of such venomous violence. Multiple viral videos of Jewish Israelis chanting “Death to Arabs!” in downtown Jerusalem earlier that same evening have added to the bewilderment of Israel’s liberal supporters in the Diaspora.

Clearly, such deep-seated hatred could not have sprung up spontaneously; surely it had been building up for weeks, months, and years. But why then, were many Jews outside of Israel only learning of it now, for the first time? Why hadn’t they been warned about it by the Jewish communal organizations that are in constant contact with their Israeli counterparts? With their claim to be a “premier civil rights” group, where has the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) been all this time, and why hasn’t it been sounding the alarm? [Continue reading...]

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In Israel echoes of Nazi Germany

Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev writes: On March 9, 1933, brown-shirted Sturmabteilung went on a rampage. “In several parts of Berlin a large number of people, most of whom appeared to be Jews, were openly attacked in the streets and knocked down. Some of them were seriously wounded. The police could do no more than pick up the injured and take them off to hospital,” the Guardian reported. “Jews were beaten by the brown shirts until blood ran down their heads and faces” the Manchester Guardian noted. “Before my eyes, storm troopers, drooling like hysterical beasts, chase a man in broad daylight while whipping him,” Walter Gyssling wrote in his diary.

I know: you were outraged before you even finished the paragraph above. “How dare he compare isolated incidents here and there to Nazi Germany,” you are thinking to yourself. “This is an outrageous trivialization of the Holocaust.”

You are right, of course. My intention is not to draw any parallel whatsoever. Both my parents lost their families during World War II, and I need no convincing that the Holocaust is a crime so unique in its evil totality that it stands by itself even in the annals of other premeditated genocides.

But I am a Jew, and there are scenes of the Holocaust that are indelibly etched in my mind, even though I was not alive at the time. And when I saw the videos and pictures of gangs of right-wing Jewish racists running through the streets of Jerusalem, chanting “Death to the Arabs,” hunting for random Arabs, picking them out by their appearance or by their accents, chasing them in broad daylight, “drooling like hysterical beasts” and then beating them up before the police could arrive – the historical association was automatic. It was the first thing that jumped into my mind. It should have been, I think, the first thing that jumped into any Jew’s mind.

Israel in 2014, it goes without saying, is not “The Garden of Beasts” that Erik Larson wrote about in his book on 1933 Germany. The Israeli government does not condone vigilantism or thuggery, as the Nazis did for a while, before Germans started complaining about the disorder on their streets and the damage to Berlin’s international reputation. I have no doubt that the police will also do their utmost to apprehend the murderers of the Palestinian boy whose burnt body was found in a Jerusalem forest. I am even praying that they find that the killing wasn’t a hate crime at all.

But make no mistake: the gangs of Jewish ruffians man-hunting for Arabs are no aberration. Theirs was not a one-time outpouring of uncontrollable rage following the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped students. Their inflamed hatred does not exist in a vacuum: it is an ongoing presence, growing by the day, encompassing ever larger segments of Israeli society, nurtured in a public environment of resentment, insularity and victimhood, fostered and fed by politicians and pundits – some cynical, some sincere – who have grown weary of democracy and its foibles and who long for an Israel, not to put too fine a point on it, of one state, one nation and, somewhere down the line, one leader.

In the past 24 hours alone, a Facebook Page calling for “revenge” for the killings of the three kidnapped teens has received tens of thousands of “likes,” replete with hundreds of explicit calls to kill Arabs, wherever they are. The one demanding the execution of “extreme leftists” reached almost ten thousand likes within two days. These, and countless other articles on the web and on social media are inundated, today as in most other days, with readers comments spewing out the worst kind of racist bile and calling for death, destruction and genocide.

These calls have been echoed in recent days, albeit in slightly more veiled terms, by members of the Knesset, who cite Torah verses on the God of Revenge and his command on the fate of the Amalekites. David Rubin, who describes himself as a former mayor of Shiloh, was more explicit: in an article published in Israel National News he wrote “An enemy is an enemy and the only way to win this war is to destroy the enemy, without excessive regard for who is a soldier and who is a civilian. We Jews will always aim our bombs primarily at military targets, but there is absolutely no need to feel guilty about ‘disrupting the lives of, and killing or wounding enemy civilians who are almost entirely Hamas and Fatah supporters.”

And hovering above all of this are Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, who persist in portraying our conflict with the Palestinians in stark terms of black and white, good versus evil; who describe Israel’s adversaries as incorrigible and irredeemable; who have never shown the slightest sign of empathy or understanding for the plight of the people who have lived under Israeli occupation for nearly half a century; whose pronouncements serve to dehumanize the Palestinians in the eyes of the Israeli public; who perpetuate the public’s sense of isolation and injustice; and who thus can be said to be paving the way for the waves of homicidal hatred that are now coming to light.

Some people will draw a parallel between the ugly right wing violence that swept Israel after the Oslo Accords and today’s rising tide of dangerous racism, implicating Netanyahu in both: from his fiery anti-government speeches in Zion Square to Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and from his harsh anti-Palestinian rhetoric to the outburst of horrid racism today. But that is an easy out. It is not Netanyahu who is to blame, it is the rest of us, Jews in Israel as well as those in the Diaspora, those who turn a blind eye and those who choose to look the other way, those who portray the Palestinians as inhuman monsters and those who view any self-criticism as an act of Jewish betrayal.

This comparison is surely valid: Edmund Burke’s maxim ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing’ was true in Berlin in the early 1930s and it will hold true in Israel as well. If nothing is done to reverse the tide, evil will surely triumph, and it won’t take too long.

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The case for reparations

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes: Clyde Ross was born in 1923, the seventh of 13 children, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, the home of the blues. Ross’s parents owned and farmed a 40-acre tract of land, flush with cows, hogs, and mules. Ross’s mother would drive to Clarksdale to do her shopping in a horse and buggy, in which she invested all the pride one might place in a Cadillac. The family owned another horse, with a red coat, which they gave to Clyde. The Ross family wanted for little, save that which all black families in the Deep South then desperately desired — the protection of the law.

In the 1920s, Jim Crow Mississippi was, in all facets of society, a kleptocracy. The majority of the people in the state were perpetually robbed of the vote—a hijacking engineered through the trickery of the poll tax and the muscle of the lynch mob. Between 1882 and 1968, more black people were lynched in Mississippi than in any other state. “You and I know what’s the best way to keep the nigger from voting,” blustered Theodore Bilbo, a Mississippi senator and a proud Klansman. “You do it the night before the election.”

The state’s regime partnered robbery of the franchise with robbery of the purse. Many of Mississippi’s black farmers lived in debt peonage, under the sway of cotton kings who were at once their landlords, their employers, and their primary merchants. Tools and necessities were advanced against the return on the crop, which was determined by the employer. When farmers were deemed to be in debt—and they often were—the negative balance was then carried over to the next season. A man or woman who protested this arrangement did so at the risk of grave injury or death. Refusing to work meant arrest under vagrancy laws and forced labor under the state’s penal system.

Well into the 20th century, black people spoke of their flight from Mississippi in much the same manner as their runagate ancestors had. In her 2010 book, The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson tells the story of Eddie Earvin, a spinach picker who fled Mississippi in 1963, after being made to work at gunpoint. “You didn’t talk about it or tell nobody,” Earvin said. “You had to sneak away.”

When Clyde Ross was still a child, Mississippi authorities claimed his father owed $3,000 in back taxes. The elder Ross could not read. He did not have a lawyer. He did not know anyone at the local courthouse. He could not expect the police to be impartial. Effectively, the Ross family had no way to contest the claim and no protection under the law. The authorities seized the land. They seized the buggy. They took the cows, hogs, and mules. And so for the upkeep of separate but equal, the entire Ross family was reduced to sharecropping.

This was hardly unusual. In 2001, the Associated Press published a three-part investigation into the theft of black-owned land stretching back to the antebellum period. The series documented some 406 victims and 24,000 acres of land valued at tens of millions of dollars. The land was taken through means ranging from legal chicanery to terrorism. “Some of the land taken from black families has become a country club in Virginia,” the AP reported, as well as “oil fields in Mississippi” and “a baseball spring training facility in Florida.” [Continue reading...]

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Why I hate coming home to America

OpinionHost/producer for HuffPost Live, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, writes: It’s not easy coming back home to America when your name is Ahmed.

I want to look forward to returning home from a trip abroad, but thanks to my name or as the TSA officer put it — my “profile” — I’ve come to dread it.

The last four times I’ve traveled abroad (to Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon and Switzerland), Homeland Security has detained me upon arrival. It’s as frustrating as it is ironic, because although in Arabic my name, Ahmed, means, “blessed,” each time I land at JFK airport, I can’t help but feel somewhat cursed.

On Sunday night, after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos for the first time, I was detained for two hours upon arrival. In October, I was held for almost four, returning home after a 14-hour trip to Turkey where I moderated a UN conference on peace in the Middle East. For what it’s worth, I breezed through security in Istanbul.

In Davos — where I interviewed some of the world’s wealthiest, most powerful and highest-profile people — the running joke among our production team, and many of the other participants was how unusually friendly and hospitable the thousands of police officers, special forces, and security guards were. My team passed through security checkpoint after checkpoint at each of the various venues with respect and dignity.

Why then, you might be wondering, am I detained every time I set foot on U.S. soil? As it is always abstractly and bluntly explained to me: My “name” and “my profile” are simply a “match.”

Like all Americans (and every human being for that matter), I want to be safe. But I can’t help but question the efficacy of our national security policy, including the practice of detaining U.S. citizens because something (never specifically explained) about a name or person’s identity is said to match that of someone somewhere in the world who is deemed to pose a threat to America. [Continue reading...]

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Justin Bieber is lucky that he’s rich — and white. Poor immigrants don’t get off so lightly

OpinionSadhbh Walshe writes: Anytime I feel called upon to devote column inches to the antics of a teenage pop sensation in meltdown mode, I die a little. But after seeing a petition to the White House calling for the deportation of Justin Bieber for allegedly egging his neighbor’s mansion and subsequently driving under the influence has already gathered nearly 80,000 signatures, it seems necessary to take up his cause. This is not, I assure you, because he turned in what must be the sweetest mugshot ever or even because I’m so terribly concerned about his ultimate fate – I think we all know he’s going to be just fine – but simply because many other legal immigrants in the same position would almost certainly not be.

Since Bieber came under investigation earlier this month for the egg throwing incident, lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and elsewhere have been trying to use his case to highlight the fact that, if convicted, the potential consequences could be much more severe for Bieber, who is a legal immigrant from Canada (he has a US visa for his extraordinary ability in the arts), than they would be if he were an American citizen. As the ACLU’s Diana Scholl pointed out in a recent blog post, if the damage to his neighbor’s property were found to be over $400, Bieber could be charged with felony vandalism under California law and, if convicted, could be subject to mandatory detention in a privately run immigrant prison before being deported back to his native Canada. This is because under US immigration law, any legal alien convicted of an aggravated felony faces mandatory detention and deportation and many Americans might be surprised to know just how many crimes are classified as “aggravated felonies” when they are committed by immigrants.

Before any concerned Beliebers start flinging their bras over the barbed wire fences of one of our many immigrant detention centers that are mostly run by for profit corporations like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, Inc, I should stress that it’s highly unlikely that Bieber will end up in one of them. Although his neighbors have claimed the damage to their property is in the region of $20,000, well over the threshold that would make the egg attack a felony, investigators who subsequently searched Bieber’s home unsurprisingly failed to uncover any evidence against the performer. (As the Guardian’s Marina Hyde succinctly put it, “What were they looking for? An omelette?“) But even if the police had unearthed a nest of egg bombs in the star’s kitchen, chances are Bieber would still be safe, simply because the kind of immigrants that get deported do not tend to be either Canadian or rich. [Continue reading...]

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Far right in Eastern Europe makes gains as Syrians arrive

The New York Times reports: After spreading turmoil and desperate refugees across the Middle East, Syria’s brutal civil war has now leaked misery into Europe’s eastern fringe — and put a spring in the step of Angel Bozhinov, a nationalist activist in this Bulgarian border town next to Turkey.

The local leader of Ataka, a pugnacious, far-right party, Mr. Bozhinov lost his seat in the town council at the last municipal elections in 2011 but now sees his fortunes rising thanks to public alarm over an influx of Syrian refugees across the nearby frontier.

Membership of the local branch of Ataka, he said, had surged in recent weeks as “people come up to me in the street and tell me that our party was right.” Ataka, which means attack, champions “Bulgaria for Bulgarians” and has denounced Syrian refugees as terrorists whom Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest nation, must expel. An Ataka member of Parliament has reviled them as “terrible, despicable primates.”

With populist, anti-immigrant parties gathering momentum across much of Europe, Ataka stands out as a particularly shrill and, its critics say, sinister political force — an example of how easily opportunistic groups can stoke public fears while improving their own fortunes.

The influx of Syrian refugees has sown divisions across the European Union as the refugees add burdens on governments still struggling to emerge from years of recession. But Bulgaria is perhaps the most fragile of all the European Union’s 28 members. Modest as the numbers of refugees are here, the entry of nearly 6,500 Syrians this year has overwhelmed the deeply unpopular coalition government and added a volatile element to the nation’s already unstable politics.

The arrival of the refugees and public fury over the stabbing of a young Bulgarian woman by an Algerian asylum seeker “has opened the floodgates” for far-right nationalists, said Daniel Smilov of the Center for Liberal Strategies, a policy research group in Sofia, the capital. “They see this as their big chance.” [Continue reading...]

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Mandela’s unfinished revolution

T.O. Molefe writes: For all his remarkable achievements, Nelson Mandela died with his dream for South Africa incomplete. Democracy and peace were attained, yet real racial harmony, social justice and equality seem, in some ways, further away than ever.

South Africa’s economy still stifles the aspirations of most of its black citizens — a situation that threatens the sustainability of the project of national reconciliation that is a central part of the Mandela legacy.

When I am able to detach myself from the anger I feel over this injustice, I see the South Africa that Mr. Mandela described in his 1994 inaugural address — “a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world” — as but the opening move of a master tactician. It represented the brief suspension of reality for the sake of an endgame Mr. Mandela knew he would not be around to play.

Mr. Mandela’s rainbow ideal of a multiracial country that had avoided civil war, where blacks had forgiven whites for apartheid and everyone had learned to live together, was great and necessary for its time. But it is an ideal that should be laid to rest with him. Today, an economic revolution is what is needed most if South Africa is to continue on the path to reconciliation.

Like many of the transitional steps on the road to democracy, the rainbow-nation ideal was needed to hold together a country that was on the verge of fracturing. It did this by assuaging white guilt and putting off the black majority’s demand for immediate social justice.

In the 1990s, together with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Mr. Mandela popularized a new national self-image that made it possible to focus mainly on racial reconciliation, strengthening democratic institutions and creating a free press — all prerequisites for turning a tentative peace into a more lasting one.

In pursuit of this rainbow ideal, Mr. Mandela and the African National Congress had to silence, mollify or sideline certain allies within the liberation movement who not only demanded a democratic revolution but an economic one, too. But the price of deferring the dream of true equality was to leave the country lurching dangerously toward an explosion.

For the poorer black majority of South Africans, the unheralded heroes who have sacrificed so much in the transition to democracy that Mr. Mandela led, social justice has been held in abeyance, ostensibly for the sake of peace, as though the maxim “justice delayed is justice denied” did not apply to them. [Continue reading...]

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Recognizing Nelson Mandela

Alex DeWaal writes: For more than twenty years, following his conviction and sentence to life imprisonment in 1964, the Apartheid government in South Africa banned pictures of Nelson Mandela and his fellow prisoners. This ban was so effective that in 1982, following a medical checkup in Cape Town, Mandela’s warders allowed him a stroll on a public beach, confident—correctly—that no-one would recognize him. As told by his biographer William Gumede, “On the beach that day no-one as much as glanced at him. Later, with a glint in his eye, Mandela said he’d wondered what would have happened had he suddenly shouted: ‘I am Nelson Mandela!’”

Mandela’s anonymity was all the more ironic as, for over a decade, the African National Congress and the international Anti-Apartheid Movement had singled him out, from among all the other political prisoners in South Africa, as the symbol for its campaign. Images of his face from the Rivonia trial adorned posters and badges around the world, and in 1984 the song “Free Nelson Mandela” by the ska band The Specials helped to spark a movement by musicians, culminating in the “70th birthday concert” in 1988.

Mandela and his comrades were reluctant to give a single personal face to their mass movement. The ANC was run by a collective leadership in which individuals were required to submit to party discipline. It was profoundly averse to any personality cult. Nonetheless, at the insistence of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement which convinced the ANC that the global campaign against Apartheid needed a rallying symbol, they participated in constructing Mandela’s image to serve as an icon for their cause.

For the last twenty three years of his long life, Mandela had little privacy and no anonymity. Instantly recognized around the world, he became a vessel for many people’s hopes and aspirations, and a symbol of the new South Africa. For Africans, he exemplified leadership and dignity in overcoming racism and oppression: he was the leader they deserved. For white liberals, his forgiveness was a reward of which they could hardly have dreamed. Identities were projected onto him. When Mandela visited America after his release from prison, one young journalist prefaced her question with the words, “as an African American, do you…” before he gently reminded her that he was, in fact, an African. The way he has become idolized and idealized tells us more about the world’s need for such a figure, than about Nelson Mandela himself.

We need to tease apart the wishful thinking from the realities of this great man. [Continue reading...]

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Among those eulogising Mandela are people who once damned him as a terrorist and supported apartheid

Chris McGreal writes: Nelson Mandela Square sits at the entrance to the glitziest shopping mall in what is reputed to be the wealthiest square kilometre in Africa. Towering over the cafes around the northern Johannesburg piazza, as if guarding the diamond jewellers and designer clothes shops within, is a six metre tall, 2.5 ton statue of the great man dancing.

The mall’s owners say the statue is intended to honour Mandela and his country’s hard-won democracy and most of the shoppers milling around it would probably see it that way. But the great totem always seemed to me to be mocking the new South Africa.

Many of the same prosperous whites who gaze on the giant Mandela from plush cafes and pour out their love and admiration for his sacrifice in saving South Africans from themselves can also regularly be heard bemoaning the state of the country he bequeathed. They worship the man but despair of the legacy of his handiwork in the levels of crime, corruption, authoritarianism and “falling standards” under democratic government.

Not all whites, but a good number of them. And they feel free to do this because when they look at Mandela they see absolution. Their praise of his willingness to forgive comes with the understanding that they too are forgiven and absolved of the past. Freed of responsibility for how South Africa came to be what it is, they head back to the pool and congratulate themselves on their luck in embracing the world’s greatest modern statesman. Bring up past responsibilities and you face being accused of failing to understand Mandela’s message. [Continue reading...]

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Nelson Mandela and the Anti-Apartheid Movement

Peter Hain writes: “Ah, Peter, return of the prodigal son!” Nelson Mandela beamed, welcoming me to his Johannesburg home in February 2000.

Although on an official government visit, in a sense I was also being welcomed to my “home” – to South Africa, the panoramic, sunshine country of my childhood, as the first-ever British minister for Africa to be born on that continent.

Almost to the day, 10 years before, many of us had watched, tears welling up, as he had walked to freedom after 27 years in prison. And a long time before that – in March 1966 – I was a teenager aboard an ocean liner steaming out of Cape Town, past Robben Island where Mandela and his fellow leaders of the African National Congress were jailed. My anti-apartheid activist parents had been forced to leave their beloved country and the “island from hell” disappeared in the stormy mist as we headed for exile in Britain.

People forget how tough it was then, how hard the struggle was to be for decades afterwards. The resistance had been closed down, leaders such as Mandela imprisoned, tortured, banned or forced underground.

Within a few years, Mandela had almost been forgotten. British diplomats dismissed the ANC and Mandela as a busted flush. The white racist police state seemed omnipotent.

But in Britain, the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) had kept the flame of freedom flickering. Soon it was lit by our militant protests, which stopped white South African rugby and cricket tours in 1969-70. The country had been forced into global sporting isolation.

On Robben Island, brutal white warders, all fanatical rugby fans, vented their fury on Mandela and his comrades at the ostracism of the mighty Springboks, unwittingly communicating a morale-boosting message through the news blackout. [Continue reading...]

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Mandela stood up against American power

Peter Beinart writes: Now that he’s dead, and can cause no more trouble, Nelson Mandela is being mourned across the ideological spectrum as a saint. But not long ago, in Washington’s highest circles, he was considered an enemy of the United States. Unless we remember why, we won’t truly honor his legacy.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan placed Mandela’s African National Congress on America’s official list of “terrorist” groups. In 1985, then-Congressman Dick Cheney voted against a resolution urging that he be released from jail. In 2004, after Mandela criticized the Iraq War, an article in National Review said his “vicious anti-Americanism and support for Saddam Hussein should come as no surprise, given his longstanding dedication to communism and praise for terrorists.” As late as 2008, the ANC remained on America’s terrorism watch list, thus requiring the 89-year-old Mandela to receive a special waiver from the secretary of State to visit the U.S.

From their perspective, Mandela’s critics were right to distrust him. They called him a “terrorist” because he had waged armed resistance to apartheid. They called him a “communist” because the Soviet Union was the ANC’s chief external benefactor and the South African Communist Party was among its closest domestic allies. More fundamentally, what Mandela’s American detractors understood is that he considered himself an opponent, not an ally, of American power. And that’s exactly what Mandela’s American admirers must remember now. [Continue reading...]

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Mandela was never a revolutionary, always a radical

Gary Younge writes: A fitting way to commemorate Nelson Mandela is to describe his arrival in the townships during the first democratic elections in 1994. The crowds travelled up to 100 miles in cattle trucks or minibuses to get to places that apartheid had deliberately made remote and barren. Then they waited for hours, in a ramshackle stadium with little shade. Despite being punctual in his personal life, Mandela on the campaign trail was always late: a victim of overambitious scheduling and inefficient minders.

Finally, the crowds saw his cavalcade throw up dust in the distance, and they began to sing the campaign song Sekunjalo Ke Nako (Now is the Time). Everyone started to dance, ululations and cheers growing in intensity. Many of those present had not seen Mandela even on TV, and knew his face only from posters and newspaper pictures. Flags and placards hoisted above heads created a ripple at first, then a wave of excitement on a sea of black, gold and green.

The rush of energy did not subside until Mandela had taken the stage half an hour later. By then the crowd had got what it came for – proximity, a sighting, to be present in history. For hours after the rally, people walking home from the stadium punched the air and shouted “amandla” (“power”) at passing cars.

The problem with personifying a national, political aspiration, as Mandela did, is that it becomes difficult to see where the man starts and the movement ends. [Continue reading...]

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Desmond Tutu on Nelson Mandela: ‘Prison became a crucible’

Desmond Tutu writes: For 27 years, I knew Nelson Mandela by reputation only. I had seen him once, in the early 1950s, when he came to my teacher-training college to judge a debating contest. The next time I saw him was in 1990.

When he came out of prison, many people feared he would turn out to have feet of clay. The idea that he might live up to his reputation seemed too good to be true. A whisper went around that some in the ANC said he was a lot more useful in jail than outside.

When he did come out, the most extraordinary thing happened. Even though many in the white community in South Africa were still dismissing him as a terrorist, he tried to understand their position. His gestures communicated more eloquently than words. For example, he invited his white jailer as a VIP guest to his inauguration as president, and he invited the prosecutor in the Rivonia trial to lunch.

What incredible acts of magnanimity these were. His prosecutor had been quite zealous in pushing for the death penalty. Mandela also invited the widows of the Afrikaner political leaders to come to the president’s residence. Betsie Verwoerd, whose husband, HF Verwoerd, was assassinated in 1966, was unable to come because she was unwell. She lived in Oranje, where Afrikaners congregated to live, exclusively. And Mandela dropped everything and went to have tea with her, there, in that place.

He had an incredible empathy. During the negotiations that led up to the first free elections, the concessions he was willing to make were amazing. Chief Buthelezi wanted this, that and the other, and at every single point Madiba would say: yes, that’s OK. He was upset that many in the ANC said Inkatha was not a genuine liberation movement. He even said that he was ready to promise Buthelezi a senior cabinet position, which was not something he had discussed with his colleagues. He did this to ensure that the country did not descend into a bloodbath. [Continue reading...]

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Nelson Mandela: a leader above all others

In an editorial, The Guardian says: When Helen Suzman went to see Nelson Mandela on Robben Island in 1967, the first prisoner she encountered was a man called Eddie Daniels, who told her: “Yes, we know who you are. Don’t waste time talking to us. Go and talk to Mandela at the end of the row. He’s our leader.” Daniels’s absolute certainty struck Suzman very forcibly. Although Daniels did not spell it out, she learned later that the prison administration had tried to arrange her tour so that she would not reach Mandela’s cell before her limited time on Robben ran out.

She took the advice, made her way to Mandela’s cell, and found there a quietly eloquent and direct man of imposing physique and great natural authority. Eddie Daniels was of course right: Mandela was indeed the leader, not only of the detainees in the island prison, but of the South African liberation movement as a whole. He had mentors and partners, some in detention with him, some in exile, and some enduring a harassed and persecuted life in South Africa itself, and he had rivals inside and outside the African National Congress.

But he was indubitably the man who came, above all others, to symbolise the struggle of the ANC, from the time when it seemed to have collapsed under the assaults of the apartheid state, to the time of its final successes, when that same state found itself pleading with the ANC to enter a new era in which the structures of oppression would be liquidated.

Yet this leadership, even if we define it as moral rather than practical, remains ultimately something of a mystery. Mandela was not able, during 27 years in prison, to exercise sustained operational control or to take a regular part in ANC decision-making, except toward the very end, when he negotiated with FW de Klerk.

Before he went to jail, his record was of brave failure rather than of significant victory. His attempts, during his early years, to wage, along with others, a legal and non-violent campaign for black rights were stymied by a government which was not only unresponsive but positively preferred to push the ANC into clandestine activity so that it could fragment and criminalise the movement. His reluctant conversion to the military path ended abruptly when he was arrested within days of returning to South Africa to pursue the armed struggle. As a civil rights leader, he was ineffective. As a short-lived guerrilla leader, he was an amateur. And when, released from prison, he became the first president of the new South Africa, he was often inattentive, he discarded his once radical views on the economy, and, arguably, he endorsed the wrong man as his successor. To set against that, he insisted on respect for the judgments of the South African Constitutional Court even when they upset the ANC’s plans, and he refused to support the death penalty.

Mandela was far from alone among 20th-century liberation leaders in achieving stature in prison. [Continue reading...]

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