2015-05-22

Israel Locks Community of 6,000 Behind Steel Gate

by Jesse Rubin
The Electronic Intifada

For the past few weeks, the 6,000 people of al-Zaim have been locked behind a steel gate that forms part of Israel’s massive wall in the occupied West Bank.

Because the gate is only open for a few hours each afternoon, local children have to pass through a different exit than they normally would to attend school in nearby Jerusalem. A journey that should be no longer than 15 minutes can now take an hour.

Ashraf, one of al-Zaim’s residents, has to take time off from work to drive his six-year-old son. The boy had previously traveled to and from school by bus. But the gate’s closure means he would have to cross a busy highway if Ashraf did not drive him. “It is not safe at all,” said Ashraf.

The Israeli authorities have closed the gate since the evening of 24 April. The closure followed Israel’s killing of 17-year-old Ali Muhammad Abu Ghannam at a military checkpoint beside the entrance to al-Zaim.

The blockade has disrupted life in this community.

Cars wishing to enter al-Zaim must continue past a checkpoint on Highway 1 toward the Dead Sea. Then they have to look for the next exit for the Israeli settlement Maale Adumim, make a U-turn and head back toward Jerusalem again.

“Out of our control”
“I am losing this time from my life,” said Ashraf. “This is not a dangerous neighborhood, people here don’t make problems, they don’t throw stones. I want my son to get to and from school safely.”

Because public buses are no longer running into al-Zaim, businesses are also strained. The Atallah Wedding Hall has received cancellations for events booked three months in advance. Carwashes sit empty and one auto shop owner is considering closing for good. “I had to tell my workers to go home, there is nothing to do because no one will come here anymore,” he said.

The al-Zaim local council, headed by Naeem Sob Laban, has organized demonstrations at the gate each Friday since it was closed. Council members have held placards reading “We want to live free” and “This is a village, not a prison.”

At the most recent Friday demonstration on 15 May, children from al-Zaim stood at the front of a crowd of approximately 60. The protest was peaceful and closed with afternoon prayers.

When asked if he is hopeful at the prospect of opening the gate, Sob Laban said, “it’s possible if you ask for it.”

Approximately 95 percent of al-Zaim residents have identity cards issued by the Israeli authorities that allow ID holders to travel to Jerusalem without obtaining permits.

This means that the people of al-Zaim have tended to have greater access to Jerusalem than those of some other Palestinian communities near the wall. Locals fear, however, that there could be long-term effects on their access.

On 10 May Israeli authorities called residents in al-Zaim, threatening to confiscate the blue Jerusalem ID cards of anyone who participates in the demonstrations. Al-Zaim’s local council has complained to the Israeli authorities.

According to Hamood, a local resident, the situation will probably worsen. “It is like an earthquake coming,” he said.

“We are living under a curfew, we are living in a big prison,” he added. “People here are scared to be happy, they are scared get their hopes up, because tomorrow can always be bad, and it’s out of our control.”

2015-05-18

The Pathology of the Rich White Family

by Chris Hedges
Truthdig

The pathology of the rich white family is the most dangerous pathology in America. The rich white family is cursed with too much money and privilege. It is devoid of empathy, the result of lifetimes of entitlement. It has little sense of loyalty and lacks the capacity for self-sacrifice. Its definition of friendship is reduced to “What can you do for me?” It is possessed by an insatiable lust to increase its fortunes and power. It believes that wealth and privilege confer to it a superior intelligence and virtue. It is infused with an unchecked hedonism and narcissism. And because of all this, it interprets reality through a lens of self-adulation and greed that renders it delusional. The rich white family is a menace. The pathologies of the poor, when set against the pathologies of rich white people, are like a candle set beside the sun.

There are no shortages of acolytes and propagandists for rich white families. They dominate our airwaves. They blame poverty, societal breakdown, urban violence, drug use, domestic abuse and crime on the pathology of poor black families--not that they know any. They argue that poor black families disintegrate because of some inherent defect--here you can read between the lines that white people are better than black people--a defect that these poor families need to fix.

Peddle this simplistic and racist garbage and you will be given a column at The New York Times. It always pays to suck up to rich white families. If you are black and parrot this line, rich white people are overcome with joy. They go to extreme lengths to give you a platform. You can become president or a Supreme Court justice. You can get a television talk show or tenure at a university. You can get money for your foundation. You can publish self-help books. Your films will be funded. You might even be hired to run a company.

Rich white families, their sycophants opine, have tried to help. Rich white families have given poor people numerous resources and government programs to lift them out of poverty. They have provided generous charity. But blacks, they say, along with other poor people of color, are defeated by self-destructive attitudes and behavior. Government programs are therefore wasted on these irresponsible people. Poor families, the sycophants tell us, will not be redeemed until they redeem themselves. We want to help, rich white people say, but poor black people need to pull up their pants, stay in school, get an education, find a job, say no to drugs and respect authority. If they don’t, they deserve what they get. And what the average black family ends up with in economic terms is a nickel for every dollar held by the average white family.

Starting at age 10 as a scholarship student at an elite New England boarding school, I was forced to make a study of the pathology of rich white families. It was not an experience I would recommend. Years later, by choice, I moved to Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood when I was a seminary student. I lived across the street from one of the poorest housing projects in the city, and I ran a small church in the inner city for nearly three years. I already had a deep distaste for rich white families, and that increased greatly after I saw what they did to the disenfranchised. Rich white people, I concluded after my childhood and Roxbury experiences, are sociopaths.

The misery and collapse of community and family in Roxbury were not caused by an inherent pathology within the black family. Rich people who treated the poor like human refuse caused the problems. Layers of institutionalized racism--the courts, the schools, the police, the probation officers, the banks, the easy access to drugs, the endemic unemployment and underemployment, the collapsing infrastructures and the prison system--effectively conspired to make sure the poor remained poor. Drug use, crime and disintegrating families are the result of poverty, not race. Poor whites replicate this behavior. Take away opportunity, infuse lives with despair and hopelessness, and this is what you get. But that is something rich white families do not want people to know. If it were known, the rich would have to take the blame.

Michael Kraus, Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, social scientists at the University of California, did research that led them to conclude that the poor have more empathy than the rich. The poor, they argued, do not have the ability to dominate their environments. They must build relationships with others to survive. This requires that they be able to read the emotions of those around them and respond. It demands that they look after each other. And this makes them more empathetic. The rich, who can control their environments, do not need to bother with the concerns or emotions of others. They are in charge. What they want gets done. And the longer they live at the center of their own universe, the more callous, insensitive and cruel they become.

The rich white family has an unrivaled aptitude for crime. Members of rich white families run corporations into the ground (think Lehman Brothers), defraud stockholders and investors, sell toxic mortgages as gold-plated investments to pension funds, communities and schools, and then loot the U.S. Treasury when the whole thing implodes. They steal hundreds of millions of dollars on Wall Street through fraud and theft, pay little or no taxes, almost never go to jail, write laws and regulations that legalize their crimes and then are asked to become trustees at elite universities and sit on corporate boards. They set up foundations and are admired as philanthropists. And if they get into legal trouble, they have high-priced lawyers and connections among the political elites to get them out.

You have to hand it to rich white families. They steal with greater finesse than anyone else. If you are a poor black teenager and sprint out of a CVS with a few looted bottles of shampoo, you are likely to be shot in the back or sent to jail for years. If there were an Olympiad for crime, rich white families would sweep up all the medals; blacks would be lucky to come within a mile of the first elimination trial. I don’t know why black people even try to compete in this area. They are, by comparison, utter failures as criminals. The monarchs of crime are rich white people, who wallow in their pilfered wealth while locking away in prisons a huge percentage of poor men of color.

Rich white families are also the most efficient killers on the planet. This has been true for five centuries, starting with the conquest of the Americas and the genocide against Native Americans, and continuing through today’s wars in the Middle East. Rich white families themselves don’t actually kill. They are not about to risk their necks on city streets or in Iraq. They hire people, often poor, to kill for them. Rich white families wanted the petroleum of Iraq and, by waving the flag and spewing patriotic slogans, got a lot of poor kids to join the military and take the oil fields for them. Rich white people wanted endless war for the benefit of their arms industry and got it by calling for a war on terror. Rich white people wanted police to use lethal force against the poor with impunity and to arrest them, swelling U.S. prisons with 25 percent of the world’s prison population, so they set up a system of drug laws and militarized police departments to make it happen.

The beauty of making others kill on your behalf is you get to appear “reasonable” and “nice.” You get to chastise poor people and Muslims for being angry fanatics. You get to spread the message of tolerance with a cherubic smile--which means tolerating the crimes and violence of rich white people. Compare a drive-by shooting in Watts with the saturation bombing of Vietnam. Compare a gangland killing in Chicago with militarized police shooting a person of color almost every day. No one else knows how to churn out corpses like rich white people. One million dead in Iraq alone. And the rich and powerful kill staggering numbers of people and never go to prison. They can retire to a ranch in Crawford, Texas, and paint amateurish portraits of world leaders copied from Google Image Search.

There is no decadence like the decadence of rich white people. I knew a billionaire who in retirement spent his time on a yacht smoking weed and being catered to by a string of high-priced prostitutes. The children of rich white families--surrounded by servants and coddled in private schools, never having to fly on commercial airlines or take public transportation--develop a lassitude, sometimes accompanied by a drug habit, that often leads them to idle away their lives as social parasites. Mothers never have to be mothers. Fathers never have to be fathers. The help does the parenting. The rich live encased in little kingdoms, one guarded by their own private security, where the real world does not intrude. They are cultural philistines preoccupied with acquiring more wealth and more possessions. “Material success,” as C. Wright Mills wrote, “is their sole basis of authority.” They meld into the world of celebrity. And the organs of mass media, which they control, turn them into idols to be worshiped solely because they are rich. Public-relations specialists manufacture their public personas. Teams of lawyers harass and silence their critics. Acolytes affirm their sagacity. They soon believe their own fiction.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 wrote what is known as the Moynihan Report, or “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” The report concluded that “at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.” The oppressed were to blame for their oppression. Social programs alone could not save the poor. The report offers a classic example of a neoliberal economic model repacked as an ideology.

The pathologies of the rich will soon drive us over an economic and ecological cliff. And as we go down, the rich, lacking empathy and understanding, determined to maintain their privilege and their wealth, will use their Praetorian Guard, their mass media, their corporate power, their political puppets and their security and surveillance apparatus to keep us submissive. “The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been discovered, because it was properly executed,” Honore de Balzac wrote of the rich in his novel “Le Pere Goriot.”

The rich executed a coup d’etat that transformed the three branches of the U.S. government and nearly all institutions, including the mass media, into wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state. This coup gives the rich the license and the power to amass unimaginable wealth at our expense. It permits the rich to inflict grinding poverty on growing circles of the population. Poverty is the worst of crimes--as George Bernard Shaw wrote, “all the other crimes are virtues beside it.” And the ability of a rapacious power elite to let children go hungry, to let men and women suffer a loss of dignity and self-worth because there are no jobs, to abandon cities to decay and squalor, to toss the mentally ill and the homeless onto the streets, to slash the meager services that give some hope and succor to those who suffer, to lock hundreds of thousands of poor people in cages for years, to wage endless war, to burden students with crushing debt, to unleash state terror and to extinguish hope among the least fortunate exposes our wealthy oligarchs as the most dangerous and destructive force in America.

2015-05-16

Four Corners' Fishbowl Journalism Does More Damage To Aboriginal People

by Amy McQuire
newmatilda.com


The more things change, the more they stay the same. Particularly when it comes to responsible reporting of Aboriginal poverty. Amy McQuire explains.

Last night Four Corners pointed its lens into a few Aboriginal communities in Western Australia and produced a beautiful piece of promotion for the WA government and its plans for a catastrophic assault on Aboriginal homelands.

Every year, there seems to be a new story on Aboriginal poverty. But it’s more than just ‘poverty porn’. This is called ‘Fishbowl Journalism’, where the Australian media arrive to film devastating pictures of the Aboriginal problem one month, feel outraged and dismayed and shocked by it, and then a couple of months later do basically the same story from another remote corner of the country.

Then, a year later, they do it again, effectively swimming in circles, drunk on their own reflection, viewing Aboriginal Australia through the distorted view of their own privileged fishbowl.

Last night’s Four Corners was a good example of it, complete with the usual images of poverty within Aboriginal communities, of allegations of domestic violence, child sexual abuse and alcoholism, voiced predominately through the concerns of non-Aboriginal people with power.

Four Corners even went down and filmed Aboriginal people living in the parks and streets of Broome, struggling with alcohol abuse. One has to argue about the ethics of that.

Four Corners’ intention was to provide an “unflinching portrait” of WA Aboriginal communities in order to find out if the WA government’s plans to stop funding services to up to 150 remote communities is justified.

The plans were announced following an agreement signed between the state and federal governments, offloading the Commonwealth responsibility to fund essential and municipal services in remote Australia onto the shoulders of the Barnett government.

It sparked anger around the country after Prime Minister Tony Abbott backed Barnett, saying taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to fund the “lifestyle choices” of Aboriginal people who choose to live remotely. The plans have been the subject of protests which drew tens of thousands of people around the country, but which were largely ignored by mainstream media.

Four Corners promised to confront the “uncomfortable truth” about these communities. But instead it presented a distorted one. What is more uncomfortable for journalists is taking the time to untangle the complicated history within Aboriginal affairs, to look at the enormous level of government neglect and disempowerment, and examine how that has led to the sad situation facing many Aboriginal people in remote Australia today.

It is easier to take the soundbites of people like non-Indigenous lawyer John Hammond, who claimed that remote communities are a “disgrace”, of the state Indigenous affairs minister Peter Collier who regurgitated the same tired government lines about “sustainability” while facing no challenge from the journalist, the WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan in a state which jails the highest number of Aboriginal people per population, and a representative of the Broome Chamber of Commerce, who doesn’t believe in alcohol restrictions for the town because tourists don’t want to be told what they shouldn’t drink… “It’s not the Australian way”.

Interspersed with these interviews are comments from Aboriginal people, who largely talk about their own experiences, but are not given the opportunity or the time to outline their own solutions, unless they are talking about Aboriginal people taking more responsibility for their poverty and deflecting blame away from government.

The program probed the community of Oombulgurri, which was bulldozed in 2011 after the state evicted the last remaining residents following cases of child sexual abuse.

The government could do this because while the local Balanggarra people won native title following a 20-year fight in 2013, it did not include the Oombulgurri community. That land instead remained in the WA government’s Aboriginal Lands Trust.

After the eviction, the community lost their ability to practice their culture. They own a barge which transported them across the Forrest River, which was seized by the government and now prevents many Traditional Owners from going back to country to exercise the native title rights they spent 20 years fighting for.

The residents’ white goods and other items were seized. People were forced into the nearby town of Wyndham, where many slid into homelessness among a reported increase in suicides.

The ongoing trauma was documented by Amnesty International’s Tammy Solenec who understands that while it is important to try and deal with the problems afflicting remote Australia, further disempowerment will only traumatise an already traumatised people.

The Barnett government’s 11th hour justification to close the communities - that they are havens of domestic violence and child abuse while failing to present evidence - is given little scrutiny in the Four Corners piece. It’s reminiscent of the media complicity that helped the Howard government pave the way for the NT intervention.

That policy is still the greatest Aboriginal rights abuse in recent times, and was supported by months of reporting on child sexual abuse lead by the ABC’s Lateline program, which broadcast lies about a predatory paedophile in the Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu. The community had actually kicked out the man months before, but was nevertheless placed under administration.

Lateline’s reporting lead to a moral panic from white Australia, the majority of whom have no contact with Aboriginal people and are used to viewing them as the “other”. The ensuing media coverage slandered the majority of Aboriginal men with the lie that they are all child abusers, painted Aboriginal communities as protectors of paedophiles, and as a people who do not care about the safety of their children.

The media uncritically accepted the lies put forth by then Indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough that there were “paedophile rings” in every community, a claim that was obviously false, and later proved to be.

What was left out was the fact that for years the NT and Commonwealth governments had underfunded and underspent on communities in the Northern Territory, and that this systematic neglect - for example overcrowding and poor housing - had a direct impact on rates of child abuse.

The NT intervention led to a deep sense of disempowerment across the prescribed communities, and attempted suicide and self-harm rates more than quadrupled. When the ability to control your own life is taken out of your hands, it is very hard to see a future.

The role of trauma, and the ongoing negative effects of intergenerational trauma in Aboriginal communities is not going to be solved by closing down communities, nor by taking power away again from the hands of Aboriginal people. That’s what Four Corners did last night, by prioritising the views of non-Aboriginal people and acting as if they are guardians of the solution, it again pushed Aboriginal people to the periphery.

It also let government off the hook for their failure, and it’s failures that will only continue to re-traumatise, and compound the problem.

The only time the journalist put any heat on an interviewee was when she chastised the chair of the local Oombulgurri council for not doing enough to stop child abuse in the town.

And the ending comments again deflected blame back onto the shoulders of Aboriginal people, by repeating the lie that they are not taking responsibility for their own lives.

The journalist ended the piece by opining, “The challenges for remote communities won’t be solved simply by mass closures, nor can they be solved entirely by governments. Some believe it’s time for Aboriginal people to step up.”

The piece then quotes Susan Murphy, CEO of the Winun Ngari Aboriginal Corporation who says, “As an Aboriginal woman I’m of the opinion we can’t keep giving them handouts. That at the end of the day there are some of us out there saying enough is enough, we have to start being responsible for our own actions and decisions… we have to start showing governments… that we can do it.”

The problem is, Aboriginal communities have been waiting for 200 years for government to step up.

And when Aboriginal people do step up and want to have a say in their own future, they are told their solutions are worthless, and then they’re ignored.

An example is the dismantling of the two successful ATSIC programs - Aboriginal devised and run. One is the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP), which provided a form of employment to Aboriginal people in remote areas where there were no jobs. The other is the Community Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP), which helped provide finance for infrastructure in remote communities.

As Aboriginal academic Larissa Behrendt has noted: “The psychological impact of withdrawing from these successful programmes has been undeniably negative. It’s only one dynamic among many, but the government’s own data shows escalating levels of unemployment and welfare dependence and continually low school attendance; self-harm and suicide rates have doubled since 2007.”

You don’t see any of this context in this piece of “fishbowl journalism” purporting to be Australia’s premier investigative news program.

While it was a great “investigation” for the Barnett government, it was less so for Aboriginal people, who have a right to live on their country, and determine a future free of another paternalistic, racist government intervention.

Bob Randall: "Brown Skin Baby (They Took Me Away)"

Time to Celebrate Real Heroes, Like the One Just Lost

by John Pilger
johnpilger.com

If you want to meet the best Australians, meet Indigenous men and women who understand this extraordinary country and have fought for the rights of the world's oldest culture. Theirs is a struggle more selfless, heroic and enduring than any historical adventure non-Indigenous Australians are required incessantly to celebrate.

I know this to be true, because I have been reporting from and filming in Indigenous communities for most of my life. In 1984, I met one of the best Australians, Kwementyaye Randall.

Kwementyaye Randall was, like so many others, stolen from his mother. He was seven when he was taken, and he never saw his mother again. Indeed, he felt the full force of Australian colonial brutality and duplicity most of his life; but he fought it and rose above it, and he never faltered in confronting the injustice imposed on Indigenous people. I mourn the passing of this old friend, a real hero in a nation that has yet to find the moral sense to honour those who courageously stand against oppression within Australia.

When I interviewed Kwementyaye for my film, Utopia, in 2012, in Mutitjulu in the shadow of Uluru, he was white haired and a distinguished elder, but he still had the twinkle of the rebel in his eyes. His ballad "My Brown Skin Baby, They Take 'Im Away," is one of the most moving political songs of our time. He sang it for me when we first met and I can still feel my thrilling response. Yes, it was a sad song; it was also angry and it said there would be a fight until there was justice.

Sitting in the shade outside his house more than 30 years later, he spoke eloquently about the love and respect for this land that he and Indigenous people felt. He was an educator and natural leader who taught people to reclaim the cultural identity that is Australia's singular uniqueness.

But mostly,Kwementyaye Randall was still angry and hurt. He described vividly how the Australian army had invaded his community in 2007 - "they pitched their tents right over there, without asking: can you believe it: the Australian army. We were being invaded."

He was referring to the so-called "intervention" when Prime Minister John Howard sent the army into dozens of communities in the Northern Territory on the basis of a big lie that Indigenous "paedophile gangs" were abusing children in "unthinkable numbers".  Subsequently, the Australian Crime Commission, the Northern Territory Police and the leading body of Central Australian child medical specialists investigated these allegations and found no evidence to support them.

The words "unthinkable numbers" were used by Howard's minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, on Tony Jones's ABC Lateline programme. This was an historic slur on Indigenous Australia, and it led to untold suffering throughout the Northern Territory - as community after community was humiliated and terrorised by a form of bureaucratic malice. Self-harm and suicides quadrupled, according to the government's own monitoring body; people fell into what the report called "widespread despair".

The media played a crucial role in this, notably Lateline, which broadcast an interview with a disguised witness the program called a "youth worker". In fact, he was a senior official in the Department of Indigenous Affairs who reported directly to Brough. His lurid allegations were discredited, yet the ABC never apologised - instead, it conducted an enquiry that wondrously cleared itself. I asked both Tony Jones and reporter Suzanne Smith to account for themselves on camera - as they demand of others - but they failed even to respond. Even an ABC functionary refused to be interviewed.

One of the victims of Lateline was Kwementyaye Randall. The program ambushed him in Melbourne and broadcast the impression that he and other elders in Mutitjulu had failed in their duty of care to their community. It is difficult to describe the degree of hurt this caused - in Kwementyaye, in other elders, in the whole community and right across Indigenous Australia. It was this failure to apologise, to right a wrong, that devastated one of the best Australians.

On the eve of Kwementyaye Randall's death, the ABC's Four Corners broadcast more of the same - this time patronising distortions about communities in Western Australia that the redneck Premier Colin Barnett intends to close down, thus contravening at least three statutes of international law. Amy McQuire demolished this wretched program in New Matilda and I urge you to read her piece - https://newmatilda.com/2015/05/12/four-corners-fishbowl-journalism-does-more-damage-aboriginal-people

I last saw Kwementyaye Randall in January last year, in pride of place among other elders who came from all over Australia to join the 4,000-plus crowd in The Block in Redfern, to watch the premiere of 'Utopia'. We stood arm-in-arm with Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, another Australian hero. Both were delighted by the huge non-Indigenous crowd and its source of hope.

But hope is not enough. Kwementyaye Randall felt deeply that until non-indigenous Australia told the truth about its own rapacious past and stopped covering this with relentless, duplicitous dispossession of Indigenous Australians, along with collusive, craven smears in the media, there would be no justice in this country.

In my film, Utopia, there is a sequence just before the end credits, over which play the haunting words of Glenn Scuthorpe's ballad, "No More Whispering". As Glenn sings the words, "The smile that won't be forgotten; can you never fade away?" there is a fine image of Kwementyaye Randall, whose memory shall never fade away.

2015-05-15

Migration Is an Act of Desperation, Not a Crime

By Sonali Kolhatkar
Truthdig

A father from Ivory Coast wanted to reunite his son with the rest of his family living in Spain. But the Spanish government denied him a family reunification visa. Desperate, he paid a Moroccan woman to smuggle his 8-year-old onto Spanish soil. On May 7, 2015, she attempted to do so by placing the boy, tightly folded into a fetal position, inside a carry-on suitcase and traveling to Spain. When airport authorities noticed she was nervous, they X-rayed her bag and were shocked to find the child.

Imagine the boy’s ordeal.

Imagine the father’s desperation.

It is situations like these, multiplied by the millions, that are playing out all over the world, in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and elsewhere. Driven by war and poverty, millions of people are on the move, risking their lives to escape desperate circumstances. Unfortunately, the response from elites is to trap them, by putting them in jail or criminalizing traffickers and militarizing sea routes.

The Norwegian Refugee Council and Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre released a report in early May revealing that there were 38 million internally displaced people last year alone, nearly 5 million more than the year before. The record-breaking number includes 11 million refugees who were newly displaced and clustered in the Middle East and Africa, including Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Council Secretary-General Jan Egeland said, “These are the worst figures for forced displacement in a generation, signaling our complete failure to protect innocent civilians.”

The number of people living outside their home countries is even higher. In 2013, the latest year for which statistics are available, the United Nations found that 232 million people are migrants or refugees, or, in effect, “externally displaced” people.

In the case of the boy smuggled into Spain in a suitcase, authorities simply arrested the father and placed the boy in protective custody, dashing any hopes for reunifying their family. This is a typical response. Instead of exploring what drives the desperation of migrants, authorities lock them up or threaten them with force.

Each week there is news of migrants stranded at sea, dying in large numbers, or locked up in prisons. In recent days, about 2,000 migrants were found off the shores of Indonesia and Malaysia, hailing from Bangladesh and the Rohingya community in Myanmar. They were rescued from several boats. The Rohingya are a community of Muslims from the northern region of Myanmar called Rakhine. They have been persecuted to such an extent that many consider them the victims of attempted genocide. The migrants had apparently been stranded by traffickers and told to swim ashore. In interviews, they said they had been at sea for two months and were extremely hungry and weak. They were headed to Malaysia and Thailand to find work. Thailand has been rocked by the recent discovery of mass graves of migrants, and in fact has been cracking down on immigration over the past several years.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about 25,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya from Myanmar attempted to migrate by sea during the first three months of 2015, twice the number from last year. Very little coverage of the persecution of Rohingya people in particular makes it into the U.S. media. President Obama lauded Myanmar as a “success story” during his visit there last year, effectively dismissing concerns over Rohingya persecution.

Not far from Indonesia, Australia offers a particularly macabre example of how migrants are locked up for trying to find a better life. Earlier this year, imprisoned asylum seekers took drastic steps, sewing their lips shut to draw attention to the physical and sexual abuse they face. According to one news report, the Australian government houses migrants in locked facilities on islands like Papua New Guinea, Nauru and Manus “to remove the financial incentive for people smugglers, in the process saving hundreds of lives that might otherwise have been lost at sea in rickety boats.” Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s idea of saving people is apparently to lock them up in abusive conditions. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, singled out Australia for its torture and abuse of children asylum seekers in particular, to which Abbott responded that he was “sick of being lectured to.”

Binoy Kampmark, a senior lecturer at the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, said in an interview on “Uprising” that many of the refugees tend to come “from war zones that also had Australian involvement, namely Afghanistan and Iraq.” The response of the government, said Kampmark, “has been very hard-line” in imprisoning refugees in what he calls a “crude gulag archipelago.”

The situation in the U.S. is only marginally better. Even though there are now fewer deaths on the U.S.-Mexico border than before, the Obama administration has revived the cruel Bush-era practice of locking women and babies up as a “deterrent” to immigration, as I detailed in a previous column. With millions of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows, hundreds of thousands deported each year, and no prospect of a viable congressional solution to the crisis, people’s lives remain in limbo. A right-wing narrative that exhorts undocumented immigrants to simply “go to the back of the line” to legally immigrate ignores the reality that there is no line at all.

Except if you’re extremely wealthy. Foreign investors who pour half a million dollars into a business in the U.S. that they claim creates at least 10 jobs can simply buy their way into the immigration system through a special visa called the EB-5.

Nowhere has the refugee and migration crisis been as dramatic in recent months as in Europe. Since the start of the year, thousands of migrants have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea into European nations like Italy. Migrants from Mali, Eritrea, Syria and Libya are packed onto flimsy boats, risking their lives to escape the brutal war in Syria and the violence and chaos of a post-U.S.-NATO invasion in Libya.

Italy, which is often the first place migrants arrive, ended its yearlong, highly successful search and rescue operation in 2014, after most European governments refused to provide funding. The Mare Nostrum program saved 130,000 lives before being replaced by a program with a third of the funding. But as Behzad Yaghmaian, a professor of political economy at Ramapo College of New Jersey, told me, the European view is that “rescue and save programs are actually a pull factor. They encourage more migration and more death.” The flip side is that allowing migrants to die at sea is what Europe considers an effective deterrent, rather like Australia’s imprisonment of asylum seekers.

In recent weeks, internationally shamed by the humanitarian catastrophe, representatives of dozens of European Union nations met to discuss alternatives to mass death as deterrent. Unbelievably, instead of creating orderly and safe pathways for immigration and naturalization, Europe’s bright idea is to militarily target areas in Libya where boatloads of migrants launch. By criminalizing traffickers and militarizing sea routes, leaders are adopting the false narrative that the tens of thousands of Libyans, Syrians and other migrants are forced onto boats at gunpoint and dumped onto European seas and soil against their will. They are, in effect, trapping desperate people. It seems as though if the deaths are out of European sight, they are wiped clean from European consciences.

Imagine if, upon discovering the routes of the Underground Railroad during the era of U.S. slavery, people of conscience militarily attacked the escape routes instead of creating a safe haven for escaped slaves.

I have been an immigrant all my life. My parents left behind lives of grinding poverty in India before I was born and migrated to the Persian Gulf region like millions of South Asians have done, looking for a better life. As a teenager, I left the United Arab Emirates, heading to the United States for higher education, searching for an escape from the confines of a totalitarian and consumerist state.

Poverty, war, violence and repression are all too common for millions of people the world over, thanks in large part to the neoliberal economic wars and neocolonial military wars of the U.S. and Europe. Even though my family and I were among the lucky migrants who managed to survive displacement, I can relate to the desperate circumstances that drive the migration of those who have few options left to live a decent life. If our response to the human yearning for escape is to add to repression and violence, then we are very much part of the problem.

2015-05-09

Mumia’s Life Matters

by Sonali Kolhatkar
Truthdig

I first heard the deep and haunting voice of Mumia Abu-Jamal more than 10 years ago, as he offered cutting analysis of the political issues of the day through his brilliant commentary. The fact that an African-American man convicted of killing a police officer and waiting to be executed was continuing his journalistic work from behind bars, and doing it so powerfully, was profound. I soon learned that he was a political prisoner on death row who had been convicted in a faulty trial of murdering a police officer. I also discovered an entire movement dedicated to freeing him.

Today, despite a successful effort in 2012 to commute his death sentence to life in prison, Abu-Jamal seems to be prematurely dying. A sudden onset of life-threatening diabetes and an inexplicable and dire skin condition have left him weakened, shaking and a shell of the man he once was. His supporters and family are convinced that having failed to officially execute him, the state of Pennsylvania is simply letting him die through medical neglect.

That may sound far-fetched?until one examines the shocking lengths to which authorities have gone over several decades to kill and silence Abu-Jamal. The earliest evidence can be found in the words of Judge Albert Sabo, who presided over Abu-Jamal’s trial in the early 1980s and was overheard by a court stenographer saying that he would “help ’em fry the ni**er.” That set the tone for a trial that by many accounts was deeply flawed and intent on delivering a death sentence.

For decades legal battles ensued during which the notorious Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) did everything it could to intimidate supporters and even news outlets from fairly reporting on his case. Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting lambasted NPR for caving in to political pressure from the FOP and for reneging on an agreement to air Abu-Jamal’s comments.

In its latest apparent attempt to silence him, Pennsylvania passed a bizarre law last year aimed specifically at Abu-Jamal called the Revictimization Relief Act, which claimed that victims of violence relived their mental anguish if the convicted perpetrator of the violence was able to speak in public. Abu-Jamal had just recorded a commencement address for his alma mater, Goddard College. He and others challenged the law and won a victory in late April when a judge rightly ruled it was unconstitutional.

So it should come as no surprise if it appears that Pennsylvania prison authorities might be deliberately dragging their feet in addressing the medical needs of their most controversial prisoner. In response, a coalition of supporters has mobilized to “Rise for Mumia.” In addition to raising thousands of dollars for his medical care, filmmaker Stephen Vittoria, director and producer of “Mumia: Long-Distance Revolutionary,” created a short video that I was humbled to host, in order to generate as much support for Abu-Jamal as possible.

It appears that the campaign may be working. Just this week news emerged that medical staff at the Pennsylvania Corrections Center informed Abu-Jamal that they would proceed with the first of several diagnostic tests recommended by his doctor, and that a skin biopsy was also approved. But concerns about testing delays and inadequate medical care remain.

Given the current political context, Abu-Jamal’s situation is more relevant than ever. Viewed through the lens of the Black Lives Matter movement, his case exemplifies the trajectory of mistreatment of African-Americans at the hands of police, and the miscarriage of justice that so many black men have suffered. In fact, he is a living, breathing reminder that black people have been screwed by police violence and the criminal justice system for decades.

In his January 1982 essay, “Christmas in a Cage,” to be published in his forthcoming book “Writing on the Wall,” Abu-Jamal describes the brutality he faced during his arrest:

"Nowhere have I read an account of how I got shot, how a bullet happened to find its way near my spine, shattering a rib, splitting a kidney and nearly destroying my diaphragm. And people wonder why I have no trust in a “fair trial.” Nowhere have I read that a bullet left a hole in my lung, filling it with blood.

"Nowhere have I read how police found me lying in a pool of my blood, unable to breathe, and then proceeded to punch, kick and stomp me?not question me. I remember being rammed into a pole or a fireplug with police at both arms. I remember kicks to my head, my face, my chest, my belly, my back and other places. But I have read no press accounts of this, and have heard tell of no witnesses.

"Nowhere have I read of how I was handcuffed, thrown into a paddy wagon and beaten, kicked, punched and pummeled. Where are the witnesses to a police captain or inspector entering the wagon and beating me with a police radio, all the while addressing me as a “Black motherfucker”? Where are the witnesses to the beating that left me with a four-inch scar on my forehead? A swollen jaw? Chipped teeth?"


Similar scenarios have surely occurred countless times in encounters between police and African-Americans in the United States. For men like Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and Walter Scott, and for children like Tamir Rice (to name just a tiny fraction), they ended in death.

What has set Abu-Jamal apart from most prisoners and journalists is the sharp analysis of law enforcement he had constructed even prior to his arrest. A former Black Panther, Abu-Jamal was also an accomplished journalist. He won the prestigious Major Armstrong Award from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism for his coverage of police brutality in the black community. After his arrest he effectively employed his masterful expression to eloquently shame the power structure that had trapped him.

Over the years he has filed thousands of commentaries, perfecting his art in the best medium available to him: essays of two to three minutes each delivered verbally by phone and distributed worldwide. He has brilliantly analyzed domestic policies (for example, during the Occupy Wall Street movement he provided critical historical analysis to social movements) and also connected those policies to U.S. foreign policy (in the midst of the Iraq war, he made crucial comparisons between the conditions at Abu Ghraib prison and the prison system in the U.S.).

More than a decade ago, I passed out leaflets with a group of Abu-Jamal’s supporters outside the historic Midnight Special bookstore on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. During those somewhat naive early years of my activism, I was convinced that if only enough people knew about his case, they would rise up to demand his freedom and it would simply happen because enough of us wanted it. I marched on the streets of San Francisco alongside thousands of others chanting, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we’re gonna free Mumia Abu-Jamal.”

Sadly, all these years later, leafletting and marching haven’t freed him. But they have lifted his spirit, as Abu-Jamal attests in his latest recording expressing gratitude for the campaign demanding medical care. In “Message to the Movement” he says, ” I am not back to where I was before, but I will be, thanks to you.”

We have imprisoned the body of one of the nation’s most important individuals for over three decades. But we have never imprisoned his mind. While the militancy and optimism of the movement may have faded, it remains imperative for myriad reasons that we demand freedom and health for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Abu-Jamal’s supporters recommend making calls to the following officials and prison and asking for his freedom and his immediate access to his doctor: John Wetzel, PA Secretary of Corrections: (717) 728-4109; Gov. Tom Wolf: (717) 787-2500; SCI Mahanoy: (570) 773-2158.