Saturday, July 31, 2010

NOM Inspires Simple Message: Death to Gays!

"The Solution To Gay Marriage" is death, according to this disgusting sign recently carried to an anti-marriage equality rally in Indianapolis sponsored by the so-called National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a fundamentalist Christian group that seeks to subborn U.S. civil law to biblical teaching. While this sign is not an official NOM sign, its call to lynch gays for seeking the civil right of marriage is crystal clear.

NOM is in the vanguard of rightwing organizations fighting efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. It's bankrolled by the Catholic and Mormon churches, and has poured millions of dollars into legal challenges in a number of states. But as the Prop 8 trial in California shows, despite all NOM's talk about only being interested in preserving the special nature of heterosexual marriage, it really comes down to sheer anti-gay hatred and bigotry. Now, with NOM on tour where all its supporters aren't so coached in the dainties of obfuscation and false logic, the masks are off and the hoods are on. This sign, evoking Old Testament law (the only one selectively remembered by this calibre of bigot), is the honest brutal logic of NOM's campaign.

So far NOM has failed to distance itself from this hateful grotesquery, just as the Republican party has failed to distance itself from the racist and xenophobic displays of their teabagging right flank. So much for that pitiful lie of compassionate conservatism.

(Photograph from Bilerico blog, thanks to JMG for the tip)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Anti-American Art: A Long Memory

The Bush administration normalized relations with the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, after Libya abandoned any sort of weapons of mass destruction related activities, and after Libya agreed to throw a bunch of money and PR around to pretty up its reputation regarding allegations of involvement in terrorism in the 1980s. Not prettied up, apparently, was Libya's memory of the US attack on Libya in 1986. The above stamp was issued just in 2009 in memory of the bombing of Tripoli and Sirte. Inscribed "American Aggression Against Great Jamahiriya 1986 2009" the stamp shows a giant Libyan hand crushing an F-111 attack plane; one of which was indeed shot down during the raid. The random addition of a minaret to the allegorical illustration seems like a new development in Libyan propaganda on the subject. Compare this to the previous Libyan stamps on the subject, click the "Libya" tag below.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Israel and the Language of Acquiescence

When is the news no longer news but something else? Consider an article that appeared in the New York Times on Wednesday. Here's how it begins:

"Student Injury at Protest Leads to Battle in Israel

JERUSALEM — A macabre legal wrangle is under way over who should pay the hospital bill for an American art student who lost an eye after being struck by a tear-gas canister fired by an Israeli border police officer at a Palestinian-led protest in the West Bank.

The student, Emily Henochowicz, 21, was injured on May 31 after she joined Palestinian and foreign activists protesting that morning’s deadly raid by Israeli naval commandos on a Turkish boat trying to breach the blockade of Gaza. Israeli security forces fired tear gas to disperse the demonstration after a few Palestinian youths threw rocks...."

Now here's what happened. The Israeli security forces shot Emily Henochowicz in the head with a tear-gas canister at a demonstration. She was carrying flags at the demonstration and was not throwing stones at anybody. The Israeli military blinded a young American woman by shooting her in the eye. Let's say that again: The Israeli military shot Ms. Henochowicz in the head, blinding her in one eye. The headline calls this a "student injury." That first paragraph uses a bizarrely ungainly sentence with multiple passive constructions to say a chain of three things just happened to Ms. Henochowicz, completely distancing the horror that was done to Ms. Henochowicz by the Israelis. The action in the second paragraph, again passively asserting that she "was injured," is that Ms. Henochowicz joined a demonstration...that the Israeli border police needed to disperse because Palestinians were throwing rocks. Ms. Henochowicz, it seems, has brought this injury upon herself because she joined a demonstration. It's so neat, right? You almost don't see it happening.

Israel and its armed security forces are thus absolved of responsibility. What I would like to know is why is the New York Times' Isabel Kershner writing such hasbara , the necessary official Israeli (propaganda) explanation of how reality is insufficient to describe what happened.

So it's bad enough that this story is about how the Israeli government refuses to pay Ms. Henochowicz's medical bills because it claims she was "injured" (not wounded? Not shot in the head by a police officer?) of her own free will by joining civil unrest, but the article itself begins by insinuating that premise through linguisitic slight of hand.

Let me repeat the facts in case they're still not clear: Armed Israelis shot Ms. Henochowicz in the head with a teargas canister, blinding her in one eye. Do you remember when you were small and you knocked something precious off the table, causing it to break? "I didn't do it!" You cried out. "It fell!" Chances are your own linguistic slight of hand made your parents rather angry. Chances are you were punished for, well, failing to take responsibility for your actions; in effect for lying. THIS is what the New York Times is doing here.

It's what small children say when accused of doing something bad. Not "I did it," but "It happened." But this is not what reputable newspapers say. This is not what independent media says. This is, on the contrary, how propaganda excuses the repressive force of the State of Israel.

Emily Henochowicz, a visual artist, returned from Israel and maintains a blog called Thirsty Pixels. Her self-portrait above is from her blog.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Anti-American Art: When Will You Shut Up and Get Gone?*

1960s or 70s poster from Cuba's OSPAAAL for the Sept. 23 Day of Solidarity with Puerto Rico. Clever photo montage on a Yankee Go Home theme showing symbols of American military might tossed in a wastebasket labelled "Go Home." Until not so long ago, a number of (beautiful!) smaller islands off the coast of Puerto Rico were used as testing grounds by the U.S. military.

Puerto Rico was seized by the United States in the Spanish-American war along with Cuba, the Philippines and Guam. Unlike Cuba, which was made an independent client state of the U.S. right away, and the Philippines, granted independence after the second World War, Puerto Rico and Guam remain in a sort of partially autonomous partially colonial associated netherworld with the U.S. today. Independence movements like the radical and Cuban-allied Puerto Rican Socialist Party, the urban guerrilla movement FALN, and the more mainstream Puerto Rican Independence Party suffered tremendous repression and disruption at the hands of the U.S. government. The PIP continues to exist today, but does not perform well in local elections.

(* extra credit.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Graveyard of Empires: Time to Get Out of Afghanistan

Sunday the independent Wikileaks site released tens of thousands of classified American documents from its war in Afghanistan, dating from the early years of the war under President Bush through the first year of the war under President Obama. The documents were released in advance to three major news organizations, including the New York Times, which published some of them along with an analysis on Monday. The leaked documents show a war failing to meet the stated objectives of its masters. They show a history of attacks on civilians in Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan, and document an insurgency strengthened in response to these attacks. They also show the collusion of Pakistan's secret police with the Taliban, despite the stated U.S. alliance with the governments of Pakistan, both with the military dictatorship of Musharraf favored by President Bush and the civilian government that followed favored by Mr. Obama.

Also on Monday, news of an alleged attack, not yet confirmed by the American military, in which a NATO attack in southern Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of over 50 civilians, including at least half women and children.

The United States attacked Afghanistan in retribution for the 9/11 attacks: Al Qaeda was based there, guests of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the regime so-called The Taliban that had unified the country in 1996 after smashing the rule of the warlords. A few years earlier those mujahedeen warlords, financed and aided by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Iran, had defeated the pro-Communist government that had ruled since 1978; that government was backed by Soviet troops for a decade.

In 2001 the U.S. smashed the Taliban government, and greatly reduced Al Qaeda's presence in the region. Though it assassinated, killed in battle, or captured much of Al Qaeda's leadership, it failed to capture -- or prove that it had killed -- the top two Al Qaeda leaders including Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban government was dispersed and replaced with a corrupt puppet regime under Hamid Karzai that controls only a fraction of Afghan geography and relies heavily on so-called "Coalition" military forces (aka U.S. and tiny contingents of allies) and factions of the Mujahedeen warlords to keep a fading semblance of order in the country. Claiming he would finish the task set aside by George Bush when he decided to attack Iraq instead, Obama was elected pledging to deepen the war in Afghanistan by refocusing on the nation-building and terrorist-elimination that was clearly floundering two years ago. But the war has continued to flounder, despite changes in tactical facades, and support for the Taliban insurgency has risen along with the Afghan civilian casualties. Karzai has been revealed to be embarrassingly corrupt and unpopular. Obama has been further embarrassed by the spectacle of the crazy head of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, calling for an unwinnable war to end.

The above Soviet solidarity poster from the 1980s lauds the secular Afghan state it was then engaged in propping up. When Afghan Communists seized power in the late 1970s, they changed the national flag to a red banner and instituted land reforms and women's equality laws that provoked an insurgency. The first of several coups d'etat to rock the Communist government changed that red flag to the modified Afghan tricolor shown in the poster. (Today's flag of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Karzai's government, is the same tricolor with a different crest.)

The video below is a fascinating bit of documentary evidence filmed toward the end of the Soviet occupation. The secular bureaucrats interviewed are fascinating to me: their commitment to their progressive revolution is clearly expressed. But they seem somehow isolated from the country rising up around them, and the windswept desolation around them seems more than a little metaphorical.

The Soviets withdrew as the Soviet Union itself was collapsing upon itself. The war that the Soviets were unable to win proved some kind of last straw. No matter how much the Afghan Communists and the Soviets tried to build some kind of national unity compromise in Afghanistan, reaching out to conservative and tribal elements, the military forces of Islamic insurgents aided and financed by the CIA and Saudi Arabia were closing their grip.

Like the domino theory in reverse, the Soviet "empire" collapsed, with only a few world holdouts against the restoration of market capitalism. These were countries like Cuba and Vietnam who had fought their way to their versions of socialism through the crucible of conflict with the United States.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many opponents of the war in Vietnam argued that not only should the U.S. get out of the war and bring its troops home, but that the Vietnamese Communists deserved to win; deserved to transform their country. Not only was the U.S. war inflicted on the Vietnamese people immoral, but the cause of America's enemy was just in and of itself.

And here's a problem for many progressives today. No matter how unjust the American occupation with all its civilian casualties seem to be, many argue there is that matter of Al Qaeda and the brutally repressive Islamic fundamentalist Taliban. Here's the sad truth: the seeds of disaster that is today's Afghanistan were sowed by British colonialism in the 19th century. They have been nourished by thirty years of foreign intervention in thirty years of civil war. They've been nourished by India and Pakistan using Afghanistan as a covert battlefield for the unfinished wars between them. They've been nourished by conservative Islamic fundamentalist evangelists. None of these outside forces -- British, Russians, Americans, Saudis, Indians, Pakistanis, or Arab Salafists -- can fix the broken nation they've created. The Afghan people must have self-determination, even if it means a government that seems backward and repressive by outside standards. It can only be Afghan people themselves who liberate their country from fundamentalism, from tribalism, from poverty, from dependence on the drug trade. An earlier generation of Afghan secularists sought military solutions to advance their cause, to ultimately tragic effect. But perhaps there is a new generation of Afghans who will find a way to temper any resurgent Taliban government from repeating its tragic excesses.

This month an analyst for the American Enterprise Institute thinktank made this statement: "We don't need more troops, we need more time to let our strategy work," he said. "Afghan troops and security forces are not ready to take over. A premature withdrawal would be disastrous. President Obama should renounce the July 2011 withdrawal date." But American troops have been at it for nine years, longer than any other war in U.S. history. Things will not get "better" in a few more months or a few more years. Things will only get worse.

Almost 3,000 innocent American civilians died in an unprovoked attack on 9/11. If, as reported above, yesterday 50 innocent Afghan civilians died in an unprovoked American attack, and the week before that a handful died in a predator attack, and the month before that a few more were killed, and as revealed by Wikileaks many many more in the years before that, how many of these attacks add up to 3,000? Is the goal of the U.S. to equal Al Qaeda in its savagery against innocent civilians? The U.S. has already proved its brutality with the entire Iraq adventure. Setting aside for our argument about the Afghan conflict the unknown thousands (millions?) of Iraqis who have lost their lives since 2003, how many Afghan (and Pakistani) civilians must pay the price for 9/11? And if Americans care only about American lives and not the lives of other human beings, how many American soldiers must be sacrificed to avenge those 3,000 civilians? How deeply must the American economy be ruined by unlimited military spending to make up for the crushed steel of 9/11?

What the Wikileaks documents represent is the handwriting on the wall. Osama bin Laden on the loose or not, the U.S. must get out of Afghanistan. It must end a war and occupation that is only prolonging human misery, not ending it. Barack Obama was elected in part because of his pledge to end the Iraqi occupation, even if only gradually. He has attempted to assuage his critics with vague mutterings about beginning to draw down U.S. presence in Afghanistan next year, at the same time as other members of his government like Hillary Clinton talk about needing years more to achieve American goals. But Obama is wrong: American troops need to come home now, just like in Iraq. Here is the ugly truth: resurgent Taliban rule cannot be worse than what is happening now, because the U.S. is already party to terrorism against the Afghan people. There is no Afghan N.L.F. to transform social relations in Afghanistan, but an optimistic reading of history shows that human beings have a great ability to liberate themselves when left to their own devices. Freedom will come to the common people of Afghanistan, but it will never arrive in crates of guns from abroad.

U.S. Out of Afghanistan Now!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Anti-American Art: Godwin's Law?

Poster from the Cuban OCLAE, Organización Continental Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Estudiantes, or Student Organization of Continental Latin America and the Caribbean, ca. 1973, showing a new playing card, the King of Swastikas: rightside up it's Hitler, flipped around it's U.S. President Nixon. OCLAE was founded in Cuba in 1966, and engaged early on in solidarity activities with the Vietnamese then defending themselves from American attack. One of its early leaders, a young Puerto Rican named Jose Rafael Varona, was killed by a US air raid while on a solidarity mission to Vietnam. Thus OCLAE reserved special venom for Republic President Nixon, who escalated the war that had been started by his Democratic predecessors Kennedy and Johnson.

Godwin's Law refers to the notion, according to Wikipedia, that "given enough time, all discussions —regardless of topic or scope —inevitably wind up being about Hitler and the Nazis....[and] that overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact."

Given the scope of U.S. violence against Vietnam, I'm not sure that comparing Nixon to Hitler is particularly hyperbolic.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

25, El Borracho

(25, The Drunkard)
It's been really hot outside! Enjoy my recipes.

The Block Party
1/2 package frozen Parcha/Maracuya/Passion Fruit
1/2 package frozen Mango
1 cup orange juice
few tablespoons sugar
gold rum

blend. enjoy. vegetate.

Trans-Europe Express
1 package frozen Mora/Blackberries
1 cup cranberry juice
lingonberry syrup
handful fresh berries if available
equal parts Kentucky Bourbon, Benedictine, Aguardiente

blend. enjoy. laugh.

The Perfect Salsa
2 very ripe Mexican mangoes (the big green and red ones)
2 to 5 fresh serrano chiles, depending on size
5 small limes

Peel the mangoes; cut the flesh away from the pits into small bits, toss in a bowl. Dice the chiles. Juice the limes. Add a little seasalt if desired. Let sit in the fridge an hour for the flavors to blend.

Sweet, picante, refreshing; it looks like shiny fresh egg yolks. Delicious on chips or meat or tacos while you're enjoying your cocktails.

The best way to juice limes without a juicer: cut a thin slice off the top and bottom end. Make three vertical cuts down the length of the lime, leaving a thin triangular core of flesh with no skin in the center. All 6 pieces, squeezed by hand, will yield more juice this way.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Anti-American Art: Jet Shot Down by Terrorists

1988 stamp from the Islamic Republic of Iran marking the "Disastrous U.S. Missile Attack Against Iranian Air Liner." Iran Air Flight 655, a civilian Airbus jet flying from Tehran to Dubai with 290 people aboard was shot down by the U.S. Navy cruiser Vincennes on July 3 of that year, killing everyone. The Vincennes somehow thought the passenger plane was an attacking Iranian fighter and shot it down. The government of Ronald Reagan paid compensation to the families of the victims but maintained that the Vincennes was acting properly in defending itself from attack. The lives of 66 children were among those cut short.

The stamp shows a stylized American gunboat decked out in the US flag launching a SAM against the Iranian jet, and the Persian Gulf going up in flames.

Is it any wonder with the world's most lethal superpower prowling its waters armed to the teeth with a proven trackrecord of attacking innocent civilians why Iran would want the latest weapons to defend itself?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Immigration Reform

Somehow, until recently, I had not actually read this whole poem.

The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Anti-American Art: Grateful Dead

Here's another poster from the pro-Shining Path Movimiento Popular Peru, this one from 2003: "Long Live the 23rd Anniversary of the People's War in Peru!" Underneath the floating Maoist triumvirate plus Chairman Gonzalo, a crowd of revolutionaries looking like they stepped out of a videogame use their red banner to push a skeletal Uncle Sam into the dirt.

I don't think the socialist realistic aesthetic holds up in such primitive CGI graphics: the idealized heroic caricatures necessary for socialist realism seem to become mechanical and lifeless, devoid of the spark of aspiration necessary for its quasi-religious inspirational effect. Then again, click through to the MPP's propaganda site and you'll find some pretty soul-deadening sloganeering.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

North Korean Anti-American Art Makes the Headlines

The above North Korean poster reads "We Will Smash You with a Single Blow if You Attack." It was photographed by a Chinese businessman, and reported on the website of Radio Free Asia last week. The RFA article speculated that the poster, whose publication date is unknown, might be an attempt by the North Korean government to brag about sinking the Cheonan, the South Korean warship sunk by an explosion this March. The sinking of the South Korean warship has been blamed by the South Koreans and their U.S. sponsors on the DPRK, and was responsible for marked worsening of relations between the two countries.

Somewhat lazily, the article was hastily rewritten by The New York Times the day after it appeared on the RFA site, with the same idle speculation that the poster was a cloaked claim of responsibility. The Times article was then promoted by gossip website Gawker. The Times article repeated completely unsubstantiated claims the North Koreans "secretly" awarded medals to the crew of a North Korean submarine after the sinking of the Cheonan.

Though the Times does say that North Korea vehemently denies sinking the Cheonan, it leaves it there. It does not mention the speculation that the Cheonan was sunk by an American mine either intentionally placed or left over from recent military maneuvers. This alternative speculation is documented on NewAmerican Media, and by an unofficial North Korean spokesperson in the Asia Times online. It doesn't seem to me any more of an outrageous conspiracy theory than the one that has North Koreans torpedoing random South Korean warships and then secretly rewarding the devilish underwater crew.

It seems bizarre given the volume of quite violently imagined North Korean propaganda--many pieces shown here on The Cahokian--to suggest without any actual evidence that the DPRK is admitting in a public piece of propaganda something it in general denies. Given the number of American, South Korean (and Japanese?) weapons pointed at North Korea, it's completely understandable, on the other hand, that the DPRK would use a propaganda medium to announce its intentions to retaliate for any attack.

The question needs to be asked why, if the New York Times is reporting completely unsubstantiated speculation, it's not covering both sides of this coin?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Anti-American Art: No Place to Land

From Cuba's OSPAAAL comes this 1985 poster: "Alto a la Agresion Yanqui A Nicaragua / Stop Yankee Attacks on Nicaragua." A fairly simple graphic treatment, as the predatory American eagle threatens the armed silhouetted people in Sandinista colors. OSPAAAL continues its international solidarity work today.

Yesterday, July 19, was the 31st anniversary of the triumph of the revolution, the FSLN liberation of Managua in 1979.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Nicaraguan Revolution Remains an Inspiration

If you're old enough, remember back to 1979. Swaths of Latin America were ruled mostly by corrupt U.S.-backed dictators, by oligarchies deeply indebted to their American sponsors, by Generals and liars. After a decades-long insurgency, the Frente Sandinista por Liberacion Nacional, or FSLN, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, waged its final insurrection and tossed out the Somoza dictatorship. Somoza, whose family had been in power at the whim of American presidents for decades. Somoza, who personally squandered most of the international relief money donated to Nicaragua after its devastating 1972 earthquake. Somoza, whose National Guard shot down children in the streets. He was gone!

The statue above shows a young masked hero in Masaya during the insurrection against the National Guard: the young revolutionaries donned traditional wire and cloth masks to hide their identities from retribution, and met the tanks and armored cars of the Guard with stones.

The FSLN was a Front of several factions ranging from several stripes of socialist to revolutionary nationalist. When it seized the reins of power in its impoverished country, it immediately began literacy campaigns and land reforms. It instituted participatory democracy, building organizations of civilian cooperation and power to rule the country. It wasn't always smooth going. Isolated and embargoed by the United States, Nicaragua relied on aid and assistance from its allies in Cuba and the Soviet Union and its satellites. When the U.S. policy of isolation turned to military aggression and CIA-funded destablization and insurgency, the FSLN pointed its new Sandinista Army and people's militias northward and fought back against the imperialist provocations.

This is a wall stencil from Granada. It reads, "Bajo la bandera de Sandino, Seguimos de Frente con El Frente, "Under the Banner of Sandino, We Stay Out Front With the Front." It was part of the ongoing FSLN campaign to win support of Nicaragua's citizens for its policies.

While there were incidents of repression, Nicaragua remained a multi-party state, with parties of left, center and right free to organize. After the long hard decade of the 1980s the counterrevolutionaries were defeated and the Sandinistas themselves were voted out of power: the economy was in shambles after a decade of embargo. Today the Sandinistas are fractured into the ruling minority government and an opposition party made up of many veterans of the revolution: many of the factional issues remain unresolved. Although the right-wing (closely aided by its US teabagger allies) committed a coup d'etat in Honduras last year, dictatorship is a thing of the past in Latin America, and left-wing governments hold sway in many many countries there.

The Nicaraguan revolution can be thanked for breaking the back of U.S. ability to dictate the affairs of the people of South and Central America, and that's a lasting victory. Today, July 19, is the anniversary of the Triumph of that Revolution in 1979. May the spirit of Sandino live on!

(Photos by me, 1986. click on them to see them larger. For more of my Nicaragua photos from that year, click here).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Anti-American Art: The Burning Path of Maoism

"Desarrollar la guerra popular de resistencia contra el imperialismo yanqui!" "Support the People's War of Resistance Against Yankee Imperialism!" proclaims this fairly recent poster from the Movimiento Popular Peru, one of the external factions of the Partido Comunista de Peru en el Sendero Luminoso de Jose Carlos Mariategui, better known as The Shining Path. The poster is a complicated montage of images: Front and center under the banner of Maoism, a demonstration of indigenous people burn the American flag at their feet. Floating up in the sky is the triumvirate of Marx, Lenin, and Mao, joined by Abimael Guzmán, the Shining Path leader imprisoned by the Peruvian government since 1992.

The Shining Path waged bloody "People's War" in the 1980s and 1990s, controlling portions of Peruvian territory and conducting urban guerrilla warfare. It was accused by the Peruvian government of terrorism and involvement in the drug trade. I read one account of a factional struggle -- that included the Peruvian Maoists -- in the worldwide Maoist movement in the last decade or so over whether to adopt the phrase "Marxism-Leninism-Maoism" or "Marxism-Leninist-Mao Zedong Thought"; the likes of this factional struggle had not been since then-socialist Albania broke from its People's Republic of China sponsors in the late 1970s throwing the Maoist movement into disarray.

(Poster snagged from Esdeladea blog. Thanks! Click on the image to see it much larger.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

Anti-American Art: That's No Guantanamera That's a Prison Camp

"No a la Base Naval de Guantanamo / No to the Guantanamo Naval Base" cries this 1971 poster from Cuba's OSPAAAL. That scary big bird is back, this time sinking its talons in the eastern end of the island of Cuba.

It's one of great ironies that the U.S. has a military base and prison camp on the territory of its greatest local adversary, but Guantanamo was "leased" in perpetuity to the United States after the Spanish-American war in 1903. The current socialist government of Cuba wants the land back, not recognizing the sweetheart lease signed by the earlier pro-U.S. client state. President Obama promised to close the prison camp for "terrorists" that the Bush government opened up there, but after being stymied by bipartisan opposition, Obama doesn't talk too much about the prison any more and his failure to make good on that promise. Apparently both republicans and democrats in Congress like having a blatantly extra-legal place to dump foreigners they've accused of terrorism without having to prove anything. As heinous as Guantanamo is, it's certainly only one of a chain of heinous prisons operated by the United States, its military and its intelligence forces including Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq, Baghram airforce base in Afghanistan, and various CIA "black sites" across the globe where alleged enemies can be held without anybody actually questioning these allegations. While it's not entirely Obama's fault that Guantanamo prison remains open, he didn't even promise to close the rest of these.

Guantanamo, of course, should be returned to the Cuban people. Ailing former leader Fidel Castro has called for its return recently: "Maintaining a military base in Cuba against the will of the people violates the most elemental principles of international law."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why Islamophobia IS Racism

I keep running up against people whose vitriol against Muslims transcends the normal rage in our very angry modern society. Every headlined outrage perpetrated by some fringe Al-Qaeda lunatic is cited as evidence that all Muslims harbor in their black hearts the urge to behead us infidels, to leech off "our" societies, to change "our" way of life. I have accused these people of racism. Oh no, they say, Islam is a religion, a choice, not a race! (Ironic how many of the people saying this to me are gay, as in whom the right-wing Christians always say "Being gay is a choice not the same as a race!") Oh no, they assure me, it's the religion of Muslims they are criticizing. It's backward! It's inhumane! Besides, they're entitled! Not to do so is to surrender! To give up! Completely unselfconsciously these Islamophobes then start muttering about how "these people" are sweeping over Europe, ruining it for the rest of us. How "we" are next. It would be laughable if it weren't so tragic. That it is textbook racism is plain to see.

Still, it's easy to get bogged down in a response. That most Muslims are of darker hue than the average white American doesn't entirely explain what's going on. And Edward Said's theory of Orientalism, the complex psychic bleeding wound of European/American colonialist consciousness, is more than a mouthful in simple conversation.

So I was excited to find an example of some extraordinarily clear thinking on the subject of the changing forms of racism. Here's an excerpt of a really insightful and useful talk by British revolutionary socialist Richard Seymour from the Marxism 2010 Conference in the UK this year. It's focused on the situation in Europe and some of the examples are outside of our experience, but it's very apropos of the situation in the U.S. Read the complete text at Lenin's Tomb.


I don’t know how many of you use social media service, ‘Twitter’, but those who do may be aware that some months back there was a trending topic called #thingsracistssay. Among these were: “I’m not a racist, but...”; “You can’t say anything these days...”; and, a growing favourite, “Islam ain’t a race, duh!” This talk is about the things that racists say and do, the alibis they use to cover their racism, and the reasons why racism has had to shift in the course of a generation or so, from focusing on biology and colour, to creed and culture....

But in all this, there are some novelties. Racism is changing. It no longer focuses so explicitly on biology and skin colour. The major focus is on culture, and religion. The specific targets are not necessarily black. In fact, many Islamophobes would try to persuade you that they aren’t racist by insisting that they aren’t hostile to black people as such. Now, some people say that Islamophobia is just a cover for ‘Paki’ bashing; that the hostility is not toward Islam itself, which is just a convenient excuse, but toward Asians in general. There are certainly many for whom this is true, but that’s not the end of the story. There is a specificity about Islamophobia, a particular emphasis on Muslims, their purported culture, what is supposedly said and implied by the Quran and hadiths - and the fact that this is so, and that the target appears to be a religious group, doesn’t make it any less racist. Or so I will argue....

...When Martin Amis complained about ‘honour killing’, saying that multiculturalism had meant allowing outrageous forms of behaviour purely on the grounds that it could be traced to someone’s tradition, a form of religious piety or ethnic ritual. He assumed, incorrectly, that honour killing is a particularly Islamic form of behaviour. It is not. It is a form of patriarchal violence that is practised in numerous countries, from Latin America to Europe to south Asia. It is sometimes called dowry killing; sometimes called a ‘crime of passion’; and sometimes it’s just known as murdering your spouse, two cases of which take place every week in the UK. But, again, he repeated this nonsensical claim that multiculturalism means tolerating murder – repeat and underline, it’s not tolerated, it’s against the law.

The confusion which enables people like ...Amis to spout this kind of hysterical racist nonsense, while professing to be anti-racist, partly results from the exaggeration of the role of biology in racist ideology. Historically, cultural tropes have always been built in to racist ideology. Many variants of Enlightenment racism were explicitly culturalist rather than biological, but even those forms of racism that have historically privileged some idea of the biological race have always supplemented it with cultural stereotyping and essentialism – from wily Orientals, to avaricious Jews, to violent African Americans. More to the point, the way in which ‘race’ was constructed as a political category had surprisingly little to do with biological notions of race....

And once this process begins, it doesn’t simply stop and ossify. It transforms in response to new political developments. So, new immigrant groups to America such as European Jews, Italians, the Irish, Poles, Hungarians, etc., would always be initially racialised. But as they consolidated their position in civil society, improved their bargaining power as labourers, and achieved political representation, they became ‘white’. It’s important, when assessing whether a particular speech-act is racist, to consider race as a process rather than a static entity. Racism, like fascism, is a ‘scavenger ideology’ which draws on national, regional, gender, class and cultural stereotypes. As such, it won’t do to say “Islam isn’t a race”, and consider that the end of any discussion about Islamophobia. The question is whether processes are at work separating Muslims out for particular oppression and surveillance, and whether the discursive practises of people like ... Amis, among others, are part of a race-making process....

If I was right in arguing that race is a social construct, a process of political oppression, then it also follows that racism can always adapt, and doesn’t have to respect previously existing boundaries of racial discourse. That means that for as long as there are systems of domination and exploitation, for as long as societies are run on the basis of producing surplus value, profit, for the few, there will always be new ways of dividing people....If we want to put an end to racism in the long-term, we have to challenge the system itself.

I've edited this clumsily with a butcher knife. Go read all of Seymour's talk.


Exhibit A: Here's a disgustingly vile Islamophobic video just put out by right-wingers to protest the construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Anti-American Art: Yep, Still Enemies

This North Korean stamp from 2005 celebrating the annual month of joint struggle against U.S. imperialism shows the might of North Korea's military arrayed against a montage of U.S. ignominy in Korea. In the montage are scenes from the capture of the spy ship Pueblo, POWs, military cemetaries, spy planes, and more. It's interesting to contrast the dynamics of this image with some of the other similar North Korean vignettes: it seems to me the posture of the Korean soldier here has changed from righteous outrage to moral superiority.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Everybody draw Muhammad?

"In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful" is what this calligraphy reads; it's the first line of the Holy Qur'an, the sacred book of Islam. It's an invocation, meant to sanctify the words that follow. Now I am not a Muslim, and, secure in my own faith, I've not studied Islam and don't see myself ever walking down that path. But I have tremendous respect for this religion that seeks to recognize the presence of God in all we do in life, and attempts to turn the very act of living into the act of worship. In my own experience of worship, I can see how powerful the act of submission is, of bowing down to God, that Muslims are supposed to commit several times a day in reverent unison as an act of prayer.

I'm writing this post today as it's reported that American-born Yemeni cleric and spokesperson for Al-Qaeda Anwar al-Awlaki has called for the death of the Seattle cartoonist who a few months ago proposed "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." Liberals have rushed to condemn this cleric's fatwa--as it should be condemned--and people up and down the spectrum have cited this cleric's edict as proof of what a horrible religion Islam is and how they're going to stand firm against the censorial urges of terrorists. Read the comments on any of today's blogs and weep.

"Everybody Draw Mohammad Day" was the brainchild of Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris, and was championed by Seattle blogger, sex-columnist, gay activist, and racist provocateur Dan Savage in reaction to the censorship imposed on an episode of Comedy Central's shock-humor cartoon South Park, and is the latest salvo in the conflict that came to a head after a Danish cartoonist was widely protested by conservative Muslims for drawing an insulting cartoon of the prophet Muhammad.

Let me say that I think censorship is wrong. Let me say that free speech is one of those few blessings we in the U.S. are lucky to have. Let me say that artists have the right to provoke us to thought, to challenge our assumptions and our prejudices; they have the right and indeed the obligation to play with symbols both secular and sacred. I contest none of this.

But I contest the willful campaign to insult Muslims by provocatively, carelessly, and wantonly violating a belief held by many Muslims that the Prophet Muhammad is not to be depicted in graven image. One piece of art, two pieces of art, a cartoon, is something to think about, to debate, maybe to embrace or maybe to protest. All of these things are appropriate (as death sentences and fatwas are inappropriate).

But what's happening with those who embraced "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" (which was to be last May 10 and seems to have passed more or less forgotten, til today's news headline), is that the ugly side of American arrogance is revealed. As people rush to defend their right to collectively lump all Muslims together with terrorists, with censorship, with fundamentalism, with those dangerous others who we must dehumanize or win to our own, morally superior vision of the world, this is revealed as a something quite different than a free-speech protest. Above all the "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" movement is a racist movement, which willfully and ignorantly juxtaposes the right of Americans to insult anybody they want to. In the end, "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" is about inspiring hate, and far from proving the moral superiority of the American way, be it secular or Christian, proves only arrogant self-centeredness.

This is the arrogance that lead George Bush to attack and invade Iraq in revenge for 9/11 despite Iraq having absolutely nothing to do with that day's terrorist attack. This is the arrogance that leads America to meddle -- under Bush's predecessors and his successor Obama -- over and over again in the Middle East to the benefit of American strategic and financial interests and the detriment of the people living there. This is the arrogance that allows the Obama administration to put this heinous Al-Qaeda spokeperson (and American citizen) Al-Awlaki on a list -- not of those to be brought to justice and tried -- of those to be assassinated or executed without right of due process should the opportunity arise. This is the arrogance we must fight against. Just as much as it is terrorists standing in the way of peace in so much of the Middle East, it is American arrogance standing in that same place.

I don't know if my experience of God, of spirit, is the same as what Muslims experience. I know their religion, like so many others, says their duty is to convert me to to their vision, and I disagree with that. My faith is also strong enough to withstand that. My religion has no such moral certainty that it is the only way, and I like it that way. I know I have many theological differences with Islam, as I do with most religions I know a little bit about. But my religious convictions allow me to find common ground with other people trying to make sense of an experience of living life that is mysterious, confusing, often wonderful and sometimes hard, despite those differences, even when they seem fundamental.

So I won't be drawing any pictures of Muhammad. Peace be upon him. I extend my hand in friendship.

Salaam. May peace be upon all of us.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Anti-American Art: OK if the Great Leader Says So

Celebrating the publication of an anti-American missive by its Great Leader Kim Il Sung, this 1974 stamp from the DPRK (North Korea) follows the familiar theme of an American-flag bearing GI cringing in the face of the people's righteous bayonets. Outlined in the background abstract protesters carry banners in English and Russian reading "Let Us Intensify the Anti-Imperialist, Anti-US Struggle!" which, hey, is also the title of Leader Kim's pronouncement.

You can learn all about Kim Il Sung's "Juche Idea," his post-Marxist rationalization for North Korea's international isolation at DPRK Naenara online.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mercedes Sosa

A little musical interlude: Here's the late Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa singing "Las Manos de Mi Madre," "My Mother's Hands Look Like Birds in the Air." Sosa was a leftist who was exiled by that country's military dictatorship; she died last year.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Anti-American Art: The Demons of Mordor?

Modern mural from the Philippines showing the "Communist Party of the Philippines, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, and the New People's Army, chasing away the demons of colonialism." It's kind of socialist realism meets cartoon art meets the urban wall mural. Uncle Sam up in the corner is looking quite sinister and Sauron-like.

The Philippines was an actual U.S. colony between its seizure in the Spanish-American war in 1901 -- when U.S. forces defeated both the Spanish and Filipino independence forces -- and its capture by the Japanese in the WWII. The Maoist New People's Army has waged a low-level guerrilla insurgency since the 1960s.

(Photo snagged from Jack Stephens' blog The Mustard Seed / Baliksambayanan. Thanks! Click on the photo to see it larger.)

Friday, July 09, 2010

22, La Bota

I bought a pair of black "engineer" boots once, a little more urbanly masculine and a lot less sleek and gentlemanly than the ones shown above, many long years ago. I thought they would look hot. They were the most uncomfortable fucking things I have ever worn in my life. I didn't feel like an engineer, or a biker, or any kind of stud. My life as a gay leatherman was immediately cut short. Blisters are not sexy.

I've done female drag a handful of times. The first time was probably Halloween, 1981. My friend Steve took me to the Village to the Halloween parade: in a sort of sparkly bluish-silver shift I looked like a seriously frumpy housewife out on the town for the first time in twenty years. Yes, that's me in several photo albums of Japanese businessmen who were visiting at the time. Hi Mrs. Businessman! No, your husband only took a photo of me. But those equivalent-to-men's-size-12 heels...I was hobbling in minutes, neither beautifully nor glamourously. My life as a drag queen was cut short: when I tried it again at an office party in this century I wore sensible flats.

I don't really understand the urge to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on shoes. I like shoes, I mean who doesn't. Set me loose in Century 21 and if they fit I can happily leave with two or three boxes under my arm. But that Sex and the City nonsense, the decadently expensive Manolo Blahniks and all, hundreds and hundreds of dollars for a few ounces of dyed leather cut in bizarre shapes. Redonkulous. I guess I'm glad I'm a boy. Or maybe the relatively expensive engineer boots were a lesson. I did see a Manolo Blahnik shoebox artfully arranged for maximum label exposure in a clear plastic garbage bag in the Village a couple weeks ago and briefly fantasized about taking it home. Still not sure what I would have put in it. My cat's old, male, and not likely need a place to drop a litter of kittens.

I learned to tie shoes like most people when I was a kid. I had a lot of Keds, and Converse. I think I only once had a pair of Golden Goose shoes, the ones that came with a toy in a plastic egg; Captain Kangaroo assured me I wanted those. It was a pretty good marketing gimmick. This was when sneakers were made of just canvas and rubber, smelling a little bit like a new car when you bought them. There were no fancy lines, and you pretty much had a choice of red, white, blue or black. Thing is, as an adult I seem to do a terrible job of tying shoes. They always come undone. Is it modern laces? Or did my training lack commitment? It's one of the reasons I've taken to wearing, weather and pride permitting, the world's ugliest shoes, Crocs. Like walking on ugly little plastic clouds. With no laces.

In Santeria it's very important not to wear shoes on the sacred straw mats you use in building shrines, altars and ceremonial thrones. The mat symbolizes the earth itself in an extraordinarily sacred way, and trodding upon it in shoes is like flinging shit on a Bible: it's breaching the sacred symbolism by walking mundanity all over it. Also, if you're not initiated into Santeria and you set foot on the sacred mats of a throne, with or without shoes? You better save your money cause it's commitment and you're gonna need it because that means the Orishas want you to join them on the mat and get initiated. Interestingly enough, some Santeros receive a letter in their lifetime Ita, or sacred divination upon initiation, that they should never go outside barefoot. Thank God, literally, I didn't get that letter.

The truth is I would rather be barefoot than anything else. In winter I hate that my house is cold and drafty and I have to wear slippers, because all summer long I'm flinging off shoes and socks the minute I arrive home and putting them on again at the last minute before I have to go back out to work. I like the feel of warm wood, or cool tile, or soft grass -- less hot sand -- or soft worn carpet, or wet sidewalk after a rain, or sacred straw mats under my feet. My favorite moment of the year is when my Brooklyn block turns on the fire hydrants twice a summer in the morning before a block party so that we can all wet down our stoops. I stand in the once-hot gutter by the curb feeling the cold cold water rush over my bare feet. At those moments I never want to wear shoes again. It's the urban earth beneath my sometimes achy and gnarly tired feet blessed by the lifeblood of the city and I feel hot and glamourous and alive and sacred and clean until my feet are as cold as though I was wading in snow.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Anti-American Art: Captured Invaders

From a series issued by the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam in 1966 marking the successes of the National Liberation Front (NLF, the so-called "Viet Cong"), comes this stamp showing NLF fighters leading a line of American prisoners of war into captivity. There's a huge NLF flag, and presumably captured artillery in the background.

There were about 600 American soldiers captured as POWs during the American war against the Vietnamese people, released after the Paris accords in 1973. Since the total number of American invaders missing was larger than the number of live Americans returned, insane and right-wing activists claimed that Vietnam was holding hundreds of Americans still alive in secret camps well after the liberation of the South in 1975. This right-wing paranoia became a highly developed conspiracy theory well-maintained by right-wing demagogues through the present day. That atrocious black "POW/MIA" flag that often flies below the stars and stripes is a stain on the mental health of the country.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Us vs. Them, Them vs. Us

How did it happen that working-class Americans lost their class solidarity? How did it come to be that working people have come to identify with their bosses? The people in government--overwhelmingly entitled, wealthy people--and the bosses of the business world know what their self interests are. How come working people don't? Who's responsible for this lie that what's good for the business world, for capitalism, is good for everybody?

Marxism, not exactly the most popular of ideologies in our post-modern world, got this one exactly right. One of the simplest but seemingly most difficult concepts of Marxism is that different social classes have different self interests. And the self-interest of the ruling class--them--really is to do everthing possible to stay in power and to game the system so it preserves and enforces itself. To "them," we below them exist to make them rich; to give them power. The self-interest of the working class--us--should be mutual solidarity, banding together to protect each other and to organize together to take what is rightfully ours.

It's true that Marxism hasn't aged well. Class-based methodologies like Marxism, heck even like industrial trade unionism, have been particularly prone to a host of corruptions. The truth is that "they" are very strong and "we" are very weak as long as "we" believe that "they" have the right to make the rules. But it doesn't have to be that way. "We" can make different choices, and these choices start at the smallest level of who we identify with, whose side we instinctively jump to.

One of my favorite jokes probably dates me horribly. (And, careful reader, it's even an example of Indianism.) It has the Lone Ranger and his trusty Indian companion Tonto chased into a canyon by hostile Indians. The Indian war cries echo off the walls of the Canyon, loud and fierce. There's guns shooting and arrows flying. Out from every boulder steps another Indian, and finally the Lone Ranger and Tonto are backed against the canyon wall. The Lone Ranger says to Tonto, "Well, Tonto, I think this is it. I don't think we're going to get out of this one. We are surrounded." Tonto turns to the Lone Ranger and says, "What do you mean we, white man?"

So yeah, us versus them: Which side are you on?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Anti-American Art: Don't Tread on Me

Speaking of Cuba's "Symposium on Yankee Genocide in Vietnam," here's the cover of a pamphlet published in Cuba on the occasion of the second one in the late 1960s. The line drawing shows an American GI crushing a rose with his boot; he's covered in psychedelic lettering including "Yankee Go Home" and "Love," although his uniform and helmet also contain elements of stars and stripes. The metaphor seems a little unclear to me: I'm not sure what is irony and what is wishful thinking, cause that gun looks pretty deadly and the rose looks pretty squished. I guess that's avant garde Cuban art for you.

Right-wing American POW veterans claim that Cuban interrogators tortured American POWs in Vietnam to gather information for this symposium. I haven't seen any reputable information on this claim so I won't link to it.

Monday, July 05, 2010

"I believe in living"

This "holiday" weekend I've been reading Assata Shakur's autobiography, "Assata: An Autobiography." It's the story of the African-American freedom fighter who was framed for murder in the 1970s but who wound up miraculously escaping prison and fleeing to Cuba, where she now lives. The book opens with a poem which I wanted to excerpt here:

"I beleve in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And I believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.
I believe in life.
And I have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen the bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted...
I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
to port."

Check out the book for the whole thing. Powerful, beautiful stuff.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Anti-American Art: Napalm Psychedelia

Here's a Cuban stamp from 1972, part of a series issued to mark the "Third Symposium Against Yankee Genocide in Vietnam and its Extension into Laos and Cambodia." Its hip, Peter-Max-like kaleidoscopic eye-candy illustration becomes completely less sweet when you see that it's a burned out Vietnamese house surrounded by cancerous bomb craters and defoliated trees: it's brilliantly subversive Cuban graphic design.

Cuba rightly saw a natural affinity with Vietnam's struggle to defend itself against the U.S. attack. From Che Guevara's famous speech: "How close we could look into a bright future should two, three or many Vietnams flourish throughout the world with their share of deaths and their immense tragedies, their everyday heroism and their repeated blows against imperialism, impelled to disperse its forces under the sudden attack and the increasing hatred of all peoples of the world! And if we were all capable of uniting to make our blows stronger and infallible and so increase the effectiveness of all kinds of support given to the struggling people — how great and close would that future be!"

The U.S. sprayed millions and millions of gallons of defoliants like Agent Orange over Vietnam during the war to destroy the natural landscape and deprive the Vietnamese of "food and cover." The result was hundreds of thousands of deaths and ongoing health problems including serious birth defects for the Vietnamese themselves and even health problems among the American GIs exposed to these chemical defoliants. Generations of innocents paid a dear price for the American determination to "win" at any cost. Fortunately, the U.S. was defeated in Vietnam.

Che concluded: "Our every action is a battle cry against imperialism, and a battle hymn for the people's unity against the great enemy of mankind: the United States of America. Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this, our battle cry, may have reached some receptive ear and another hand may be extended to wield our weapons and other men be ready to intone the funeral dirge with the staccato singing of the machine-guns and new battle cries of war and victory."

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Also Born on the Fourth of July: License to Kill?

Oh those immortal words of the American Declaration of Independence, every school child learns them by heart: "He [The King of Great Britain] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." Yes that's from that long part at the end. The part you never really read, the long list of grievances against King George.

While it's true that the Declaration of Independence contains some inspiring and fiery anti-authoritarian language and some really finely wrought righteous indignation, it's pretty clear that this document's appellation of "merciless Indian Savages" on the residents just across the potential new nation's frontier is the beginning rationalization to treat said "merciless savages" savagely without mercy.

It's been said that the three main colonizers of the Americas all had different attitudes toward the native population: The Spanish wanted to enslave them and convert them to Catholicism, the French wanted to trade with them, and the English wanted to pretend that they weren't there, or if need be push them out of the way. These are oversimplified of course. But one can see in the history of the 18th-century a hardening of colonial attitudes toward Native Americans, especially in the Northeast. The defeat of the French and their Indian allies in the American theater of the Seven Years War (the "French and Indian War") in the 1760s by the English seems to have pushed settler America to greater hostility toward the Indian nations; nations that were it should be said, unifying and modernizing living side by side with the English. Disastrously, the Indian nations wound up generally allied to the English in the American Revolution, and huge numbers emigrated to English-held Canada upon Washington's victory.

I'm not sure of the specific historical reference point that this portion of the Declaration of Independence is referring to, but it's clear that the nascent Americans saw English attempts to build alliances with Native nations as a threat to settler expansion.

Joseph Brant, whose Mohawk name was Thayandanagea, and who looked nothing like this "Indian chewing gum" trading card from the 1930s, was a prosperous landowner in New York State who as the military leader of the Iroquois League allied with the English against the new Americans. ('Brant dressed in "the English mode" wearing "a suit of blue broad cloth.' points out Wikipedia.) While obviously his military alliance against the Americans post-dates the declaration of independence, it's clear that everybody in 1776 knew there was a collision coming between the western frontier of the colonies and the Indian nations abutted against it. While some of the Indian nations remained technologically behind the settlers, in many places north and south, nations like the Cherokee and Iroquois were growing into, pardon the phrase, "civilized" nations that were in direct competition with white settlers for land and resources. While there were nomadic hunter-gatherer Indian societies, along the frontier of the time this was really not the case. Remember that the wild west of the time was western New York State and Ohio.

The English and the French and the Indian nations tried numerous different strategies of alliance and conflict to subvert the others and gain or defend territorial advantage. Clearly the Americans wanted none of that: they wanted one thing, sovereignty. And so in its first, most important document, the Declaration of Independence, signed so long ago on the 4th of July 1776, the United States of America built right in the dehumanization of native peoples, and the implied right to do something about the threat posed by these "merciless savages." Because everybody also knows that when the colonists labelled untold thousands of people "merciless savages" who don't respect human life, they were pretty much preparing themselves for the coming genocide.

Between the victory of the Americans in 1783 and period after the end of the war of 1812, the borders of white settlement were pushed from the East coast states clear to the Mississippi, with the Indian nations in between defeated. The Americans had made good on their founding words.

History is, well, history. It can't be changed (unless you're the Texas schoolboard), and I don't actually believe that we as modern people are responsible for the mistakes and betrayals of our ancestors. July 4, 1776 brought a lot of good into the world also: anti-colonialism and radical republicanism were historically progressive achievements. But I think confronting our national mythology is a good thing, because if we as American individuals living today are hopefully not committing genocide against Native Americans, the surviving institutions we hold dear--and sometimes abhor--are all built on questionable foundations that do color modern American policy and judgment. It should also be pointed out that the "we" of the Declaration didn't even include the hundreds of thousands of African-ancestored Americans who were, at the time, living out back in slave quarters and not even considered in polite discussions of citizens and their inalienable rights.

So I think it's good to ponder exactly who were the "merciless savages" back in 1776 and the years that followed. Enjoy the fireworks, and the grilled processed tubes of mystery meat, I know I will. But say a prayer that one day those inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness endowed by our Creator will apply equally to all the women and men clinging to this pretty boulder spinning through space.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Anti-American Art: Shot Down and Pasted Up

Another example of anti-imperialist clip-art from cultural-revolution era China in the 1960s, showing National Liberation Front of South Vietnam fighters triumphant on the wing of a downed US airplane. This is from one of the hundreds of booklets of approved propaganda images distributed by government publishers for re-use by local (and international) media.

(I colorized and adapted this design and added the famous quote from Che Guevara "Two, Three, Many Vietnams" at my Cafepress propaganda mill. You can get it on a tee-shirt, cloth bag or even a decorative tile from The Scarletmenace.)