Tag Archives: War Resisters League

War Resisters League: Drop the Charges Against Rasmea Odeh

ImageOn the morning of October 22nd, 2013 agents of the Department of Homeland Security – acting on on behalf of federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Michigan – arrested Rasmea Yousef Odeh, associate director of the Arab American Action Network and founder of the its Arab Women’s Committee. Based in Chicago, Odeh (who has lived in the US for 20 years and is a US citizen), was charged with “immigration fraud” which authorities claim occurred when she neglected to mention her 1968 arrest in Palestine on her 1994 US immigration application. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison and the possibility of deportation.

War Resisters League condemns in the strongest terms the indictment of Odeh, a long-time Palestinian and Arab American community leader. In addition to the ways that her and many others’ right to freedom have been generally targeted by the criminalization of immigrants in the US, Odeh’s arrest poses other serious questions – such as why the US government feels the need to open a nearly 20-year immigration file at this particular moment. Also problematic is the fact that her original arrest in Palestine was made by a notoriously unjust Israeli criminal court system – which then oversaw her brutal torture while she was in detention. War Resisters International, an international secular nonviolence network affiliated with sections on six continents, will continue to closely monitor this situation. 

Our belief in supporting organizing within communities under attack – such as the crucial work for Arab empowerment and women’s rights Odeh was undertaking in Chicago – compels us to place this case in a broader context. Part of that context understands that our enormous prison industrial complex, complete with over 100 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience behind bars, is becoming more and more integrated with the military industrial complex to spread violence across our society. This is not only part of the continuing campaign to monitor and harass Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians in the US, but is also a targeted attack against organizers and progressive leaders in those communities.  We understand the targeting of these community leaders as part of a larger system of state repression aimed at policing protest and dissent to the status quo–one of the key forces behind mass incarceration.

We demand that all charges be dropped immediately and unconditionally! Free all political prisoners!

War Resisters League

What you can do:

Against intervention in Syria by a friend in Lebanon

by Zayd Sifri

Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek

Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek

I visited Lebanon for the first time more than ten years ago. The wounds of the civil war were much more visible to a visitor than they are today. In Beirut, bullet holes of varying sizes and shapes arranged randomly on the exterior of countless buildings told the story of a city that was half-pummeled into the earth during vicious battles. Now Lebanon’s neighbor Syria has fallen to a similar fate. Looking at the situation from Beirut, the hope is that new strikes do not cause Syria to fall even harder and pull Lebanon to its knees in the process.

Most of those bullet-holes in the central parts of Beirut have been cosmetically removed for the sake of promoting tourism but, if you look carefully, you can still see buildings that are covered by them. Decades of instability have been chiseled into the concrete by various factions and militias, each one backed by an external power. Lebanon is the land of proxy war. Its internal politics and conditions are heavily influenced by regional and global trends. The current war in its biggest neighbor, Syria, has not been an exception to the rule. If there is an American military strike, it will not only exacerbate violence in Syria but will also have negative consequences on the health and safety of Lebanon.

While speculation has circled around whether or not a strike will result in a wider regional conflict, there is near certainty that a strike will be harmful in Lebanon. The Syrian humanitarian and refugee crisis will undoubtedly worsen after a military strike. The fallout in Lebanon has been tremendous thus far with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Syrians seeking refuge across the border. Lebanon’s infrastructure is ill-equipped for dealing with this human catastrophe. The Palestinian refugee camps and pre-existing informal settlements (shanty towns), which are already the most delicate and impoverished parts of the country, are now housing much of the population that has come across the border from Syria. In the past week, thousands more have already began fleeing Damascus in fear of a new military strike. Unlike in Jordan and Turkey, there are no refugee camps for Syrians in Lebanon because of decisions taken by political factions. Civil society, NGOs, and others have been doing their best to respond to the crisis, but frequently those who do not have the private means for dealing with the conditions suffer the most.

Before any news of a chemical weapons attack in Syria, August was a precarious month for Lebanon that saw an escalation in violence and tension between the main rival factions. In Beirut, a neighborhood controlled by Shia party Hezbollah was hit by a car bomb. The next week, in the northern capital Tripoli, a car bomb ripped through two Sunni mosques on a Friday. The Sunni-Shia rivalry has been defining the political landscape in Lebanon for some time. Tensions are increasing even further as both groups have allies that are fighting on opposite sides in Syria. Most Lebanese Sunni groups back some form of the opposition to the Assad regime and Shia Hezbollah supports its ally the Syrian state and Bashar Assad. In the case of a military strike, people in Lebanon will brace themselves for the possibility of fighting between Shia and Sunni groups that could evolve into an all-out war engulfing the country.

It is certain that Lebanon’s political situation will further destabilize as a result of strikes on Syria. The only question is how much it will destabilize. Will car bombings periodically occur or will all-out war flood the streets again, as it did during the brutal Lebanese civil war?

Speaking recently on the possibility of striking Syria, Susan Rice has said that the current administration does not “assess that limited military strikes will unleash a spiral of unintended escalatory reactions in the region.” In a region that’s been plagued by war for decades, this “assessment” is at best a crap-shot, but no one on this side of the Mediterranean is surprised to see politicians gambling with the lives of millions of people. Decades of unending foreign interference and the consequences of violence have hardened people’s hearts when it comes to understanding day-to-day harshness. In spite of these circumstances, optimists continue to exist and opt for the long-term perspective. Bullet-riddled buildings are made of concrete and with time they crumble. Eventually they become ruins–like the Roman temples in Baalbek today–and will mark a period among many in a long history.

American voices against war in Syria are being heard in the mainstream and people in Lebanon and elsewhere have not given up hope that there will not be military action. The recent Russian proposal to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons has been met with some acceptance in both Washington and Damascus. This diplomatic maneuver should viewed with critical eyes, but at the moment this surprise move augurs well for those who want to generate momentum against military intervention in Syria.

Zayd Sifri is a WRL supporter based in Beirut, Lebanon. In New York City, he has been involved in the Occupy Wall Street Global Justice Working Group, Turath: Arab Students Organization at Columbia University and Students for Justice in Palestine.

U.S. Tear Gas Still on the Streets of Egypt: Honoring Asma Mohammed

Text by Judith Pasternak – translated into Arabic by Ali Issa.

Earlier last week, Egyptians poured out onto the streets across Egypt to protest President Morsi’s dictatorial decree overriding the power of the courts, attempting to keep a heavily Muslim Brotherhood-influenced constitutional assembly in tact, and granting himself seemingly unchecked authority over the nation. This past Friday, pro-democracy protestors poured into Egypt’s streets and pack its many squares again to counter Morsi and his attempts to quickly push through a controversial constitution in spite of popular outcry over his seizure of ultimate control over the Egyptian government.

U.S.-made tear gas has continued to rain down on protesters in Egypt calling for Morsi to reverse his decision as well as on those who filled Mohamed Mahmoud Street to call for justice and accountability for those who were gassed, beaten and murdered there exactly one year ago. Much of the tear gas — then and now — was made in Jamestown, Pa., by Combined Systems Incorporated, the same manufacturer whose seven-ton shipment, approved by U.S. government, was refused on November 27, 2011 by Asma Mohammed and her fellow customs workers at the Port of Adabiya in Suez.

The War Resisters League has awarded Asma Mohammed its 2012 Peace Award, given in the past to activists including Bayard Rustin, Bob Moses and Jeanette Rankin. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the first WRL Peace Award event in 1958.

Mohammed’s refusal of the tear gas shipment from the Port of Wilmington, N.C., came following the unprecedented deployment of thick walls of tear gas against protesters near Tahrir Square during the “battle of Mohamed Mahmoud.” The “battle” on this street near Tahrir, began on Friday, November 18, 2011 and lasted for eight days. During this time, Egyptian riot police killed tens of young men, most of them poor and working class—some estimates of the death toll are as high as 50. Hundreds of thousands of people remained in the square during this time, and volunteers at the makeshift field hospitals in Tahrir for the injured noted that some of the bodies that returned were completely black from the gas, as if they had been burned.

In addition, though Tahrir was a relatively “safe” place during the attacks on people at Mohamed Mahmoud, a new kind of chemical agent was used against people in the square on at least one day in particular. On the spent canisters, protesters read the term “CR,” different from the “CS” gas they normally saw. CR gas was said to cause violent convulsions, unconsciousness, and seizures—something they had never before experienced. It was enough to spark a new macabre and biting chant among the revolutionaries: “asha’ab yureed al-ghaz al-adeem!” (“The people want the return of the old gas!”)

Asma Mohammed, whose act of resistance to tear gas and to US support for the regime led to the formation of the General Independent Union of Port Workers, recalls: “I said ‘No, I refuse — because I don’t want to be the cause of someone’s pain or death.’ So in solidarity with me, or with the cause, my co-workers said ‘No, we’re not going to work on it either.’”

Asma Mohammed and her counterparts in the independent Egyptian labor movement, a key force in the unfolding revolution, have been present in the streets of Egypt over this past week. The protests continue while the tear gas, beatings and repression remain the norm under Morsi’s civilian government, as it was under the Supreme Council of Armed Forces’ military junta. On Tuesday, the Egyptian “Popular Alliance Party” member Fathy Ghareeb died of asphyxiation as a result of tear gas fired in Tahrir Square.

As Morsi tries to justify his takeover with the promise for justice for those killed by government forces on streets including Mohammed Mahmoud, Asma Mohammed recognizes that only the people of Egypt can protect the revolution and calls on the people of the U.S. to join her: “The Arab people now want to be the decision makers. Just as the American people should be the decision makers and affect their government in the decisions it makes. We also want our rulers to know that we are the ones that are going to influence things. And they’re not going to understand that until governments of the world begin to act according to that logic.”

And as the US embassy in Cairo tweeted last Tuesday, “The Egyptian people made clear in the January 25th revolution that they have had enough of dictatorship” while the US continues to send tear gas and military aid to the Egyptian government, the ordinary people of the US must recognize that we are the only ones here who are of any use to the revolution.

For more information about US-made tear gas in Egypt, go to: facingteargas.tumblr.com.

The Unfinished Story of Iraq’s Oil Law: An Interview with Greg Muttitt

[Originally published on July 24th, 2012 on Jadaliyya.]

by Ali Issa

[US Sergeant Masterson checks out an oil pipeline valve in Iraq early in his deployment in 2005. It was referred to as "the big steering wheel-looking thing." Image by YourLocalDave via Flickr]

“No Blood For Oil” was a slogan featured on many a sign in demonstrations during the run up to the US-led invasion of Iraq, and throughout the early years of the occupation as global opposition to it grew. But as Iraq faded from the headlines in 2009, the struggle over its oil continued. In the following interview, Greg Muttitt, investigative journalist and author of the groundbreaking Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq (2012), discusses the attempts by occupying forces, multinational oil giants, and newly minted Iraqi “leaders” to privatize Iraq’s oil. Having worked directly with Iraq’s oil unions, Muttitt also describes the heroic role that Iraqi civil society played in challenging these efforts, how it all shook out and where it might be headed today, at an especially sensitive moment when the Iraqi labor movement is facing a series of fresh attacks. The audio interview was conducted on 13 July 2012, and what follows is an edited transcript.Ali Issa (AI): Based on the hundreds of US/UK documents you have unearthed, what were your findings about the role of oil in the Iraq War?

Greg Muttitt (GM): Unsurprisingly, the documentary record shows that oil was a central part of the strategic thinking behind the war, and consistently shaped the conduct of the occupation. My book is primarily about what happened during the occupation. The United States, Britain, and the “international community” were keen to see Iraq’s oil developed through foreign investment. It was not so much about helping out their own corporations—that was a secondary concern for them. What they wanted was to see foreign investment in Iraq as a starting point for opening up the other nationalized industries, especially of the region, so as to get oil flowing more quickly. Iraq’s oil sector had been nationalized since the 1970s. The nationalization took place mostly in 1972, and the final phases of it continued until 1975. Essentially, what they wanted to do was to reverse that: put multinational oil companies back in the dominant role in the Iraqi oil sector.
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Between Credit, Bullion and Rebellion: Debt by David Graeber

[The WRL blog is excited to feature a third book review by Jeanne Strole, co-director of the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, with which the War Resisters League shares a long history, as well as the building at 339 Lafayette St. in Manhattan.]

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber (2011)

Review by Jeanne Strole

Right now, everyday people are increasingly feeling stress from all directions. Pressure from the faltering economy, violence and warfare, debt/deficit worries, and austerity measures are taking things to a breaking point. Human-scale economic considerations are being crushed beneath the massive weight of a world-wide permanent war economy and a bloated, lawless global financial system. The lingering 2008 financial crisis has this year sparked worldwide protest movements in one form or another that are hunkered down and gaining momentum in rebellion of the immense financial stresses effecting all but the richest among us.

Into this moment of epochal crisis comes Debt: the First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber, a book examining the real history of the economic forces that seem so permanently entrenched and that are affecting our lives so profoundly. It is an engaging, thoroughly researched text that is at times humorous and always thought-provoking. It presents a fascinating history of human financial systems and illustrates how changeable these systems actually are when viewed over time. Graeber takes the reader through an examination of various aspects of economic mechanisms and systems of exchange, then on a journey down a timeline of economic evolution, beginning from around 800 BC up through the present. While chapter by chapter, Debt is an accessible and interesting read, the book is also extremely dense and detailed, making it a long read.

The dynamic between debt and credit, and how they function, is the primary focus of the book. The author examines how debt is experienced very differently by economically disenfranchised people and countries in the global south compared to how privileged people and wealthy countries experience it. He notes that there are deep contradictions and economic double standards that have been at play for centuries and which have evolved into the power dynamics in force today. Graeber observes that it is the power and capacity to create violence that determines how an entity, a country, for instance, experiences debt and the pressure to repay that debt. “In the final analysis”, he notes simply, “the man with the gun doesn’t have to do anything he does not want to do.”

The underlying forces that govern which economic systems are employed when throughout history is also dictated by the absence or presence of violence, in the form of wars, military adventures and empire building. In order to facilitate the maintenance of armies and the fighting of wars, gold and silver exchange markets replaced debt and credit systems….but not permanently. Throughout the last 5,000 years, Graeber explains, human society has shifted back and forth between credit and bullion or gold and silver exchange systems based on the presence of institutional violence. The concept of how “violence, or the threat of violence, turn human relations into mathematics” is explored throughout the book.    

The author observes that the 2008 financial crisis presented an opportunity for a conversation about how our current financial systems might once again be dismantled and/or reinvented, this time to more intentionally serve human needs rather than violence, power and greed. But this conversation never really got started, the banks were never held accountable for their greed and incompetence, they never faced oversight and regulation, and the militarization of the economy was allowed to carry on. Graeber notes that, since then, in the wake of that missed opportunity, the financial crisis has worsened, like a global economic flu. Real people all over the world are enduring an accelerated degradation of their financial situations, loss of homes, the crush of consumer debt, mortgages and student loans, and draconian cuts in education, healthcare, and social welfare systems as the financial elite squeeze the last drops of blood from the world economy.

Graeber asks the question “How did we get here?” He suspects that what we are seeing and feeling is the last stages of the complete militarization of American capitalism. He goes on to speculate that “the last thirty years have seen the construction of a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a giant machine designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures.”

But he then writes that this ongoing crisis does present an opportunity for alternative solutions, for conversations about debt forgiveness for economically vulnerable countries and people and for reform of the system in general. Graeber writes that, in order to begin this process, “to begin to free ourselves, the first thing we need to do is to see ourselves again as historical actors, as people who can make a difference in the course of world events. This is exactly what the militarization of history is trying to take away.”

Enter 2011, witnessing the widespread protests of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, movements that are gaining momentum, each encouraging the other, and joining with the austerity protests breaking out all over Europe. The world seems poised to form the makings of a vast global rebellion and people seem to be taking up active roles to make change. Finally, it seems, also, that the conversation which did not happen in 2008 is beginning now in earnest.

Graeber points out that, when economic pressure has reached critical points in the past, people have been able to work for change. Jubilee or debt forgiveness and a re-distribution of resources have happened in many civilizations throughout history and he posits that we have reached again exactly such a moment.

How might debt forgiveness work for homeowners and students, for instance? Graeber’s comments on debt forgiveness may seem revolutionary, but he is by no means alone in this debate. This 2009 article from Business Week, for instance, describes one aspect of the growing movement for forgiving student debt to stimulate the economy. Many involved in this movement have begun to make progress pressing their congressional representatives for debt forgiveness and income-based repayment relief legislation. Mortgage forgiveness for homeowners is being fiercely debated but the prevailing sentiment is that any allowances for re-financing, principle forgiveness or overall mortgage forgiveness would endanger the mortgage-backed securities industry. Graeber would likely argue that the unregulated proliferation of questionable mortgage products and predatory lending practices started the problem, so the companies and banks responsible should be made to pay….and not out of taxpayer’s pockets.

The question of debt forgiveness on a national scale is another discussion. Haiti might be the first country that comes to mind when thinking about national debt forgiveness. Graeber writes that, when the slave population of Haiti won their independence in 1804, France levied a debt of reparations upon the new country of 150 million francs, the equivalent of 18 billion dollars today, a sum impossible to pay back. Haiti has been crippled beneath the weight of that debt ever since and is, consequently, the poorest country in the world. Ongoing debate about forgiving Haiti’s debt intensified after an earthquake devastated the island country in January of 2010. Some of that debt was forgiven, but Haiti still struggles under a burden of more than one billion dollars that it owes to various countries and international entities, much of that more recent debt accumulating during the brutal reigns of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

Graeber also notes that, often times, loans to countries in the global south end up in the bank accounts of dictators and not in the countries’ treasuries, and he questions the fairness of making these countries pay back the debts, rather than demanding the money back from the people who stole it from those national treasuries. Recently, the post-Mubarak transitional government in Egypt has been working on lobbying their lender countries like the United States to forgive some or all of its national debts. The Obama administration is currently considering some form of debt forgiveness as part of its next aid package to Egypt.

Some countries that have been pushed to the brink of default by foreign debt burdens have even managed to successfully negotiate refinancing terms with their creditors without the International Monetary Fund installing itself as the mandatory intermediary. Argentina, in debt restructuring negotiations with its creditors in the wake of its 2002 fiscal crisis, is one example.

Graeber notes that he wrote Debt, in part, to encourage people to begin to view economics as being changeable and not monolithic, and to spark some creative thinking about what the possibilities for the future of human beings might look like. He admits that it is anyone’s guess what might happen next but he suggests that new forms of human exchange and cooperation, forms reliant on human compassion, creativity and love, can break with the forces that continually have sought to reduce human activity to commodity.

We are taking back power, restoring ourselves as engaged, creative, socially interacting beings, retrieved from the shrunken, two dimensional roles as producers and consumers of goods and services that accepted economics would relegate us to. Debt, the First 5,000 Years, is an attempt at understanding the past in order to understand the possibilities of this moment in time and our future economic survival. Human economics based on relationships and efforts based on creativity, love, and passion could form a new system from within the shell of the old. We can change the system for the better forcing governments and financial institutions to forgive the debts of economically vulnerable people and countries alike, and re-ordering the future for people, not for armies and banks.

Jeanne Strole is an artist and social justice activist living in New York City. She is currently a co-director of the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute.