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Police pseudoscience and the 'War on Terror'

(Gallo/Getty)

The following is an excerpt from my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

Radicalisation in the West: The Homegrown Threat” is the name of a 2007 report issued by the New York Police Department (NYPD) highlighting the allegedly underappreciated risk that terrorist acts might be committed by the domestic Muslim population.

The report’s pseudoscientific analysis postulates that Muslim individuals generally pass through four different phases prior to engaging in terrorism: Pre-Radicalisation, Self-Identification, Indoctrination and Jihadisation.

Examples of the Self-Identification phase are said to include “[g]iving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes” and “[b]ecoming involved in social activism and community issues”. To illustrate the Indoctrination phase, the report’s authors assert that the Islamic bookshop in Brooklyn that previously employed Pakistani American Shahawar Matin Siraj – convicted in 2006 for plotting to blow up a New York subway station – served as an “extremist incubator” and a venue for “transferring [Siraj’s] Salafi-like mindset to his perception of global issues”.

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Revealed: Corporation-Courting Imperialist Thomas Friedman

The following is an excerpt of my interview with Aaron Leonard for Truthout, which is currently featuring The Imperial Messenger as its Progressive Pick of the Week.

AL: Why does The New York Times, arguably the most influential newspaper in the world, have a Thomas Friedman?

BF: Friedman is far from alone when it comes to providing a veneer of independent validation to state and corporate hegemonic endeavors – ones in which they are entirely complicit. He just happens to enjoy a special symbiosis with centers of power. He is sought out by Barack Obama to explain phenomena like the Arab Spring (which Friedman obligingly determines was in fact propelled by five “not-so-obvious forces,” among them Obama himself). He receives awards from Goldman Sachs for writing about how important corporate globalization is for human progress. He boasts of plugging the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) without perusing its contents beyond the two words “free trade.” He emits grating corporate-military slogans like: “Attention Kmart shoppers: Without America on duty, there will be no America Online.” The New York Times itself is nothing but a mouthpiece for empire and capital. When considered from that perspective, it makes perfect sense that the Times would have a Friedman. And as long as there is no overwhelming uproar over his stupidity, there’s no reason they should dismiss him; it’s a winning partnership.

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Israel's humane society

The Serbian vulture (Photo courtesy of Galai PR)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

Lima, Peru – Last week, Israel’s High Court voted to uphold a law denying Israeli citizenship or residency not only to Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs, but also to spouses of similarly distasteful nationality (Lebanese, Iraqi, etc).

I read the news of the court verdict on the Haaretz website, where it was offset by another breaking headline of a more compassionate nature: “Serbian vulture set free after treatment at Israeli veterinary hospital”.

According to the article:

The vulture was found injured at Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan in northern Israel, and was rushed to an Israeli veterinary hospital specializing in wild animals. There, the bird was diagnosed with multiple gunshot wounds.

Following two months of treatment, the vulture was set free. The Serbian embassy in Tel Aviv was reportedly “delighted to hear about the bird’s recovery, and Serbian diplomats attended the release of the Serbian ‘patient’ back into the wild”. Haaretz offered the following assessment:

Flying in the Middle East can be perilous for the scavenger birds, as they are sometime [sic] shot by people ignoring the international treaties protecting these birds.

As for other creatures imperiled by ignorance of international treaties, these might include Palestinian populations regularly subjected to collective punishment in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The inferior urgency of Palestinian medical conditions vis-a-vis avian ones is additionally underscored by the Israeli tradition of firing missiles at Palestinian ambulances, as well as by Haaretz headlines such as “IDF investigating death of diabetic Palestinian delayed at checkpoint” and “Palestinians: Ailing woman dies after IDF denies her ambulance”.

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The Foibles of Thomas Friedman

The following is Max Ajl‘s review for Jadaliyya of my book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work.

A researcher once carried out an informal study to try to find out whether or not people actually read the books on bestseller lists. To find out, he put envelopes in the reputedly high-selling books. In each envelope was a note saying that if those who found the envelopes were to send them to a designated address, the researcher would send them five dollars. According to the story, the response rate was zero. After readingThe Imperial MessengerBelén Fernández’s treatment of the life’s work of Thomas Friedman, one can only hope for the sake of American intellectual culture that some of the books included in that experiment were Friedman’s.

Fernández’s book, part of Verso’s Counterblasts series, in which leftist writers take on the leading lay-preachers of the right, is organized around three themes: Friedman commenting on America and the economy; Friedman commenting on the Middle East; and Friedman commenting on the Special Relationship between America and Israel. Cataloging the stumbles of a man who can barely take a step before tripping over another fact was clearly a trying task. There is something altogether manic and dulling about reading the careful pairing of one Friedman statement with another that neatly negates it, again and again.

It cannot have been thankful labor, and it is clear that Fernández set to work with great diligence: reading all of his collected columns and books since 1995, crosscollating them for topicality, and juxtaposing them for their contradictions and inconsistencies.

The results, as befit the crown prince of American nincompoop commentators, are ridiculous. One week will see Friedman calling for US aggression against Iraq so as to “create a free, open, and progressive model in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world to promote the ideas of tolerance, pluralism, and democratization.” The previous week would have seen him announcing that “we can invade Iraq once a week and it’s not going to unleash democracy in the Arab world,” while a third reflection has him describing the invasion as “the most important task worth doing and worth debating,” even though it “would be a huge, long, costly task—if it is doable at all, and I am not embarrassed to say that I don’t know if it is.” This tangled skein and dozens like it that Fernández extracts from Friedman’s nearly endless production attest to a mind that displays total indifference to the consistency of the thoughts and words it commits to paper.

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Private security and 'the Israelites of Latin America'

Juan Manuel Santos, chief Israelite of Colombia (Photo: EPA)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera:

Much fuss has been made in recent years in neoconservative circles in the US and among Israeli foreign ministry officials, regarding the danger to global security posed by an alleged Islamist infiltration of Latin America.

A pet factoid wielded by self-appointed experts on the matter is that it is currently possible to travel by air from Caracas to Tehran with only one stop in Damascus. Lest policymakers and the general public fail to respond with adequate alarm to such news, the severity of the threat is underscored via invented links between Muslims in Latin America and every potentially unfavourable regional trend, resulting in a spectre of Islamo-narco-socialist crime cartels menacing the southern border of the US.

In a WikiLeaks cable from the US embassy in Bogota dated December 1, 2009, a rather unexpected entity joined the usual lineup of Latin America-based threats. The cable discusses the manoeuvres in Colombia of the Israeli firm Global Comprehensive Security Transformation (Global CST), founded by Major General (Res) Israel Ziv – former head of the Operations Directorate of the Israeli military – and contracted to aid in the fight against both criminal organisations and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), as well as to evaluate potential perils emanating from Ecuador and Venezuela:

“Over a three year period, Ziv worked his way into the confidence of former [Colombian] Defense Minister [Juan Manuel] Santos by promising a cheaper version of USG [US government] assistance without our strings attached. We and the GOC [government of Colombia] learned that Global CST had no Latin American experience and that its proposals seem designed more to support Israeli equipment and services sales than to meet in-country needs”.

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IDF Shit List: Beirut

Reading David Hirst’s Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East, I’ve come across a passage that highlights other manifestations of Israel’s “purity of arms” in Lebanon aside from the mass slaughter of civilians (Hirst cites 20,000 fatalities, primarily civilian, in the 1982 invasion alone).

The passage discusses the “mess [that] confronted 1,500 US Marines, when, returning to Lebanon along with the rest of the ‘multi-national’ force [in September 1982], they took up position at Beirut international airport”. The Multinational Force, which had in August been tasked with overseeing the withdrawal from the country of the PLO, had itself prematurely withdrawn and was now being redeployed following the massacre of several thousand civilians at Sabra and Shatila by Lebanese Phalangists overseen by the IDF.

Hirst describes the scene at the airport:

“[The Marines’] first task there had been to remove the stinking mounds of excrement that, as in so many other places in the country, adorned just about everything, floors, elevators, chairs, desks and drawers. The Marines got the message. This, they quickly understood, was a ‘house-warming present’ from the Israeli soldiers whose place they were taking; it was their way of venting their spleen on those ‘Arab-loving’ American allies of theirs, who had bought all that Arab ‘propaganda’ about Sabra and Shatila, the Beirut blitz, and the iniquity of a nation that had done such things. Less disgusting, but decidedly more dangerous, was their other gift: the countless cluster bomblets, golfball-sized, which they had strewn the length and breadth of the airport buildings”.

Click here to read PULSE co-editor Robin Yassin-Kassab’s review of Beware of Small States; click here to read his interview with Hirst for The Electronic Intifada.

Guernica: The Latest Installment of the Iranian Terror Plot

”]The following is an excerpt from my short piece for Guernica on the continued fabrication of Islamo-Bolivarian threats to U.S. national security. The piece begins:

I have been kept up at night by the Iranian presence in Latin America ever since Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned in 2009: “We know that there are flights from Caracas via Damascus to Tehran.”

The warning, which was intended as evidence of Iranian infiltration of the American continent, occurred in the context of Ayalon’s excursion to Honduras to attend the General Assembly of the Organization of American States. Of no concern, apparently, was the fact that it is also possible to travel by air with minimal difficulty from Caracas to places like New York and Tel Aviv (and that Israel does not technically qualify as an American State).

The Caracas-Tehran one-stop has since been adopted as a pet issue by neoconservative pundits like the American Enterprise Institute’s Roger Noriega—author of such gems as “Chávez’s Secret Nuclear Program”—who categorized the flight as a component of “Chávez’s Scary Anti-American Campaign.” Noriega reiterated the malevolent travel itinerary as part of his July 2011 testimony before a U.S.Congressional Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence hearing entitled “Hezbollah in Latin America— Implications for U.S. Homeland Security.”

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