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David Graeber

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  • Kurds inflict first Major Defeat on Daesh/ ISIL, Rescue Yezidis of Sinjar
    • here's a link with a map of the operation in question

      link to pic.twitter.com

      notice what forces are missing from the Juan Cole description of the event? Not only the YPG/J and PKK which took part in the action, but also, the actual Yezidi defence forces (HPS), which were trained by the YPG/J and PKK. Their involvement in the whole affair is obviously relevant to the larger strategic calculations which Cole proceeds to outline, but somehow, their presence is completely wiped out of the picture.

      When I talked to the Yezidi refugees in Rimellah, who were so angry about the Peshmerga fleeing and leaving so many of them to die or be raped, tortured, and enslaved, someone asked about the role of the PKK and YPG and their tone immediately changed. One said "yes, what they did was absolutely heroic. It wil be written in the pages of history."

      I guess he was naive. If people like this write the history, the true heroism will be entirely wiped off the pages of history and a new account where the soldiers of a corrupt oil state who originally ran away will be instead made the Yezidi saviours.

  • The Yezidi Minority, Daesh/ISIL, and Iraq's Human Rights Catastrophe
    • That's the best dirt you can get on them - some of their volunteers were under 18? Yeah. In a wartime situation teenagers often volunteer to fight and it's hard to document who's who.

      The HR Watch piece was largely Turkish propaganda. Considering that almost nothing Rojava was even accused of - most of the accusations being outright lies - come even close to the sort of human rights abuses Turkey actually does do on a daily basis, I find this comment peculiar.

    • I passed that particular refugee camp on my way to Rojava (the autonomous Kurdish-majority cantons of Syria) a few weeks ago. I was there as part of an academic delegation invited to bear witness to the experiments in direct democracy there. We’d actually passed a number of other, unofficial, Yezidi camps – one dramatic one inside a half-finished skyscraper just outside Dohuk (the residents told us they’d been chased out of a different one by the local government at the behest of the property owner). We then drove past a long strip of sumptuous mansions, in Dohuk, some of them presumably owned by those very proprietors.
      When we entered Rojava, crossing the Tigris on a ferry, one of the first places our hosts took us was a refugee camp, mainly populated by Yezidis, near Rimellah. Conditions there were difficult to say the least. The director of the camp explained to us that they had gotten no international support whatsoever – even the UN had been unwilling to do more than provide tents, arguing that since the area was still technically part of Syria, they were obliged to proceed through the Syrian government. Rojava was forced to provide what they could on their own, which was extremely difficult, considering that Rojava was under total embargo from its neighbors – Daesh to the south, which was in a state of war with them, Turkey to the north, which was not allowing anything to pass back and forth, even medical supplies, and until recently, Iraqi Kurdistan as well, which, pressured by Turkey, had not only refused to allow any movement of goods but was digging a ditch across the border to prevent smuggling. This policy had only recently been modified, after the PKK (and the PYD which is the dominant party in Rojava, and the PKK, are sister organizations) had helped to save Erbil when Daesh forces were no more than 20 kilometers away, back in August. Now there is one bridge where limited traffic is allowed for a few hours a day.
      There is an important difference between Iraqi Kurdistan and Rojava. Unlike in the ostensibly “democratic” areas of Iraq controlled by the KDP and PUK, the first thing Rojava did after they expelled the Syrian Baath regime in 2012 was to completely eliminate all secret police. Political debate is open. People can say what they like. (And most, we found, were extremely vocal.) The Yezidi refugees we spoke to were all quite demonstrative about their situation, and what they said was pretty much uniform: they were absolutely outraged at how the world had treated them.
      The director took us to a tent where a Yezidi matriarch told us of the situation of Yezidi girls who had been sold off, openly, as slaves by the Daesh forces back in the summer. “We know where many of them are. Some have been sold to people in Yemen, others Turkey, the Gulf States, even some in Europe. Why isn’t there an effort to recover them? Why hasn’t the UN, the international community done something about this? You would think that of all things, the open reinstitution of slavery might be of some concern to them! Yet we’ve heard nothing.”
      Gradually, more and more people filled the tent. One young man who spoke English – he said he’d studied in college in Iraq – sat down in the center of the room. I still have a vivid picture of him, in watch cap and glasses, of an obvious intellectual disposition, but simmering with rage. He had a message he wanted us to convey to the world, and I did my best to scribble everything he said into a rain-dampened notebook. Here’s a summary from my notes:
      “The international community has done nothing for us. The KDP told us the Peshmerga would protect us, we didn’t need weapons of our own, but when Daesh entered the area, they fled without even warning us. Thousands were slaughtered. Even now the bodies of some of my relatives are lying unburied on the mountainside, being eaten by animals. Iraq did nothing for us. Not a single Iraqi parliamentarian or politician has even so much as visited us here. We have received no military support, no material help, no aid of any kind. Or from the KDP either. They hold out our misery to the world when they appeal for aid, but when they get the aid, military or otherwise, they just give it to their own people, or use it to seize more oil resources. I don’t know what their plan is. Maybe they wanted us all dead so they could seize the territory to add to their little empire or something. Maybe they want us to remain in misery so they can use us for their propaganda. But they’ve done nothing. The UN has done nothing. With all their talk of human rights, when there was outright genocide, they did nothing. The United States did nothing to help us. They made all sorts of noise but in the end they did nothing. Neither did Europe. Neither did the Russians. Or the Chinese.”
      “What about the PKK and YPG?” someone asked.
      “Well, yes, they helped as best they could. We have no complaints about them. But they were the only ones. And they had very limited resources.”
      (This is a story I might add here that seems to have fallen outside the realm of acceptable discourse in most Western media outlets – this blog included. The PKK, a Marxist national liberation movement, fought a guerilla war against Turkey in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and as a result, is still listed as a “terrorist” group by the US and Europe. In fact, they have since completely changed their politics, announcing a unilateral ceasefire and also unilaterally giving up any demand for their own nation-state, asking only for political autonomy in areas of Kurdish majority, and proposing to base their self-governance on the “democratic confederalism” and “social ecology” of American anarchist thinker Murray Bookchin (an idea their sister party, the PYD, is actually trying to put into effect in Rojava, which is one of the reasons Turkey has placed a total embargo on them.) At any rate, in August, when Daesh attacked the Yezidis who’d taken refuge on Mt. Sinjar, the Peshmerga did indeed flee the field, and the only local forces willing to step in were PKK guerillas based in the Qandil Mountains of Northern Iraq (where they’d withdrawn from Turkey at the beginning of peace negotiations), and the YPG and YPJ, the Rojavan defense forces. The two combined to fight their way through Daesh lines and open a corridor through which they were able to evacuate most of the Yezidis trapped there, providing weapons for those who chose to stay. The reader might recall that there was a lot of talk about US intervention at the time, to head off genocide, then, suddenly, word went out that the Yezidis were no longer in danger and no indication was given as to why. That’s why. The only people willing to make any risks or sacrifices to save the Yezidi population from genocide were ones still officially listed as “terrorists.”)
      More and more people kept entering the tent, and all of them had pretty much the same thing to say. “We no longer consider ourselves Iraqis,” said one. “Where was Iraq when we were being slaughtered? But we want nothing to do with Barzani either. There’s only one solution. We need our own autonomous territory, with our own self-government, and our own autonomous defense forces. Because now we know we can’t trust anyone else – any government, anyway – to intervene for us.” Several others came up to us to make the same point as we toured the camp, observing the first aid station and schools the Rojavans had set up, all woefully understocked, since, as they kept noting, international NGOs and even the UN were systematically ignoring them.
      The hatred of the Iraqi Kurdish regime was palpable. We did not hear a single person express anything but outrage. Particularly resented was the way that government held out images of suffering Yezidis to the world to win further aid, and then immediately redistributed 90% of it through their own corrupt patronage networks, leaving virtually nothing for the actual refugees. Feelings about the “international community” were not much better. They asked us to convey this to the world. “Do they think we aren’t human?” one asked. “And if not, why don’t human rights apply to us?”

  • The Kobane Crisis: Where are Turkey, the PKK and the Kurds Going?
    • This piece does not accurately represent the Kurdish protests - I have been at many of them. Every protestor I speak to says the same thing: we are not protesting Turkish unwillingness to help us. We are protesting Turkish help, direct or indirect, for the Islamic State. Evidence that Turkey is favouring IS over the YPG is endless. IS has been observed moving reinforcements and supplies back and forth across the border on numerous occasions. The Kurds are strictly forbidden to do this. Wounded IS fighters are treated in Turkish hospitals. Wounded YPG fights are often left to bleed to death on the border, or left in ambulances outside the hospital refused treatment. When you have a city that is besieged on three sides by IS, and blockaded on the fourth side by Turkish tanks, which refuses to allow weapons, ammunitions, supplies, or even food and medicine, to enter the city, even as it undergoes attack after attack by an enemy that can bring up as many supplies and reinforcements as it likes, then by any definition, the forces blockading that city are participating in that siege. The Turkish army is participating, with IS, in the siege of Kobane. It is assisting a force that has openly stated its genocidal intentions. This should be made known and not covered up with diplomatic language because it's the only way to make them stop.

  • The Alamo of the Kurds: Kobane Near Falling to ISIL
    • yes, but it also shows the utter hypocrisy of any claims of humanitarian consideration. Some US spokesmen had the nerve to say they hadn't targeted ISIL tanks besieging Kobane as they were firing on civilians, because they couldn't be sure they wouldn't have hit a few civilians in the process. This despite the fact the tanks were on top of an otherwise empty hill with a huge ISIL banner next to them. Yet the same coalition is willing to launch its first attack on a BAKERY - a target that absolutely guarantees to cause massive civilian death and mutilation.

      Even if the targets are meant as a political gesture, why on earth would they start with an intentional attack on a civilian target, and essential refuse to attack military targets that are attacking civilians?

    • apparently their biggest attacks were on refineries and on a bakery. Which is odd because tank columns in relatively open country are one of the few sorts of target against which airpower is both effective, and almost certain not to cause the death of innocents. If the US is choosing to blow up bakeries full of civilians instead, and to leave the tanks full of people threatening to massacre civilians alone, that kind of tells you something. Seems to me.

  • Shock & Awe In Syria: It never Works
    • I just checked the Aljazeera Syria liveblog and found this:

      "Activists reported several air strikes overnight on ISIL's positions in the northeastern Aleppo countryside. in Sarrin, Qubah, Ilajaj, QaraQuzak and Khrab Ashak villages.

      "The villages are located in the southern Kurdish area of Kobani where fighting between ISIL and Kurdish fighters are taking place

      "The attacks are believed to have been carried out by the US led coalition."

      High time. Rojava seems to be the only part of Syria that combines good politics (efforts to create an inclusive, democratic system of governance, replete with Murray Bookchin-inspired popular assemblies), and an effective military (40% of the soldiers, apparently, women.) I had been afraid that the US would strategically allow them to collapse, because they're PKK.

  • American Writers are Self-Censoring to Avoid NSA Scrutiny (McCauley)
    • probably the majority of those 5 in 6 never even thought to write something that might get them into trouble in the first place. Either because they weren't political, or because they've so internalized the repression it doesn't even occur to them to write about dangerous topics

      incidentally, I find it VERY interesting that OWS is on the list of topics writers were afraid to write about.

  • America's Secret 4th Branch of Government: The NSA kept even Obama in the Dark
    • It might seem outrageous to suggest the NSA is holding blackmail information on elected officials as a way of maintaining it's own funding, power, and legal advantages, or even to pursue particular right-wing political agendas. But it would not be unprecedented. J. Edgar Hoover notoriously did so for decades, using his command the surveillance and information-gathering technologies available in his day. Is it really that unthinkable that practices commonplace under the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations would be unthinkable today, when in fact government secrecy has dramatically increased since then, rather than decreasing? In fact, from a sheerly sociological perspective, it would be more surprising if a bureaucracy with this kind of power did not use to pursue it's institutional interests, and if those running it never used it to pursue personal agendas of any kind.

  • Top Five Objections to the White House's Drone Killing Memo
  • FBI Violated Constitution by Branding Peaceful Occupy Wall Street as Terrorist threat
    • I must admit that - while as an anarchist I don't expect much of liberals - even I was shocked by the casualness with which those groups and institutions which claim to be the guardians of our civil liberties just shrugged their shoulders at the government's basically shredding the First Amendment in this way. Not just the FBI involvement, but across the board: the systematic attacks on the camps, extreme violent tactics, destruction of libraries and personal possessions, attacks on and arrests of onlookers with cameras filming illegal actions by cops, all followed by systematic policies of arbitrary and illegal arrest of peaceful protestors to make sure no new camps were established, opening fire with tear gas and plastic bullets even on marches and rallies that involved no civil disobedience at all. In the face of all this, the liberal establishment has basically said nothing, or - even more ridiculously - create an hysterical furor over two or three broken windows by people who might have been associated with protestors months before, as if this was somehow the reason for police repression - or anyway, the only issue really worth talking about. As a result, most readers even of the left press have heard all about a couple coffee shop windows broken in Oakland in October by someone who may or may not have been part of a Black Bloc, and remain entirely unaware of the first store window broken in the course of OWS protests in New York on March 17 - even though it was broken by a police officer, using a protest medic's head.

      One could even argue this marks a kind of turning point in US history. Not that there isn't a long history of the US government using violent means to suppress social movements, from the IWW to the Panthers. But just in about every case the violence was directed against either working class people, or people of color - not middle class white people. When any sort of repression is directed against middle class white people, even relatively minor in comparison like the McCarthy blacklists or Kent State, it tended to be followed by a national moral crisis. Now it seems different. OWS was hardly exclusively a middle class white movement but there were lots of middle class white people involved, and systematic militarized violence was directed at them in direct defiance of basic principles of freedom of assembly, and so far, the outrage has hardly materialized at all.

      I think Juan hits the nail on the head when he notes that on the right, there is an institutional culture which is absolutely an unceasingly dedicated to defending the aspect of the Bill of Rights they traditionally care about - the second amendment - where the institutional Left has nothing like the same degree of dedication to the ones that have traditionally mattered to those interested in greater democracy, and the issues they claim to support. Instead, our experience in OWS was that insofar as that institutional structure exists, they first tried to co-opt us and turn us into some kind of left version of the Tea Party; then, when they realized we were serious about our directly democratic principles and didn't want to enter a formal political process we saw as inherently corrupt, shrugged their shoulders when the attacks began.

      Maybe, just maybe, such evidence might help change things a little. But at the moment I'm not holding my breath.

  • Blaming Gen. Petraeus for the Wrong Mistakes: Remembering Afghanistan (Cook)
    • Has anyone noticed what this piece is actually saying? It's only slightly encoded. It's saying Petraeus violated his sacred trust by laying down rules of engagement that put American soldiers at risk because he told them not to fire if there was a likelihood of killing innocent noncombatants, old people, women and children. (You know, in order to "win hearts and minds" because people don't like it when you kill their wives, grandparents or infant children.) The author seems to think this was a terrible, terrible thing to do because it's much more important to protect the lives of volunteer soldiers in an invading army than innocent civilians in a country they invaded.

      Huh?

  • Putin, Pussy Riot, Hooliganism and the Syrian Bloodbath
    • No, actually it happened during a student protest about the tripling of tuition fees. If I recall the only physical assaults taking place on that occasion were by police on horseback charging into the crowd of protestors with batons.

  • Lemurs are the Species most threatened with Extinction
    • Thanks, JPL, yes, I was trying to do exactly that: a sort of Juan Cole-style exposition of the situation in Madagascar. (I do speak the language, that helps.) Glad you think it worked.

      I do wish we could do something about the sanctions. People are dying.

    • You might want to bring to your readers' attention the role of economic sanctions in all this. Whats happening is not taking place in a political vacuum.

      In fact humans have lived alongside lemurs in Madagascar for more than a thousand years and never been a threat to their existence. The problem now is widespread hunger, with increasingly desperately people reduced to turning to anything they can get their hands on to feed their families, including animals that had often traditionally been fady (taboo).

      The sanctions were imposed after the "coup d'etat" of 2009. It's not really clear if this event should really be called a coup at all: what happened was, in the wake of a mass protest movement, and a massacre of protestors by the Presidential guard, army officers called in by then-President Marc Ravalomanana (who was accused of stealing his reelection and privatizing the state's assets to his personal friends, and trying to sell a substantial chunk of the country's agricultural land in the west to a Korean transnational) to take temporary power to suppress the protests instead turned over power to the protest leader, Andry Rajoelina, the mayor of the capital Antananarivo. Whatever happened at the time, though, it has turned into a de facto military regime as Rajoelina shed many of his earlier leftist allies and relied increasingly on military officers for support, and for key ministers, and the battle between him and the now exiled former President has essentially turned into a covert power struggle between French and American economic and political interests, with a great deal of potential future mineral wealth at stake. (Among other things Madagascar is sitting on large deposits of rare earth and about 80% of its subsurface by some estimates contain tar sands.) As a result we've seen three years of stalled negotiations over the terms of endlessly-postponed elections.

      Economic sanctions against the "coup" government are part of this game but they have done almost nothing to harm the ruling coterie, while causing unimaginable suffering among an already struggling population. I was in Madagascar the summer before last and while many of my friends were ardent Ravalomanana supporters and detested the new government, I did not meet a single one who did not equally denounce the sanctions.

      If a threat to lemurs is the only thing that will wake the world up to the human suffering imposed on millions of innocent human beings who simply had the bad luck to be caught in the middle during a nasty little international power struggle, well, it's better than their never waking up at all. At any rate I really do hope that information like this helps people realize just how horribly destructive these sanctions are, and that must be put to an end. Most of all I should emphasize: This is not a clear moral issue like sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Both sides in Madagascar have mass popular support, both sides have played fast and loose with the constitution, and, ironically, it's the old government that the sanctions are meant to restore that is accused of massacring protestors, not the current one. Even more critical, aside from a few members of the political elite, virtually no one who supports the old government wishes to see the sanctions continue.

  • Libya Seeking Qaddafi Assets Abroad: Mathiason & Serle
    • Isn't that the place that anarchists squatted a year ago in solidarity with the Libyan Revolution? I'm pretty sure. A bunch of us London activists were all very enthusiastic at first, when we thought it was Muamar's place, about the idea of running down to check out the wardrobe ("hey we can reconstruct the cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band!") then we learned it was Saadi's with his stupid track suits. Anyway by then the original occupiers were only letting anti-government Libyans in.

  • White Christian Fundamentalist Terrorism in Norway
    • Wait - by the standards Interpol seems to be applying to Europe, isn't almost all current "terrorism" in Egypt and Syria being carried out by pro-democracy protestors? Since pro-democracy advocates do (like, say, Mediterranean anarchists) sometimes throw rocks and damage, and even occasionally set fire to, buildings, and since by the standards Interpol applies, no action carried out by police or other security forces, no matter how arbitrarily violent, can ever be defined as "terrorism." So the only "terrorists" by their definition would seem to be the protestors - or, perhaps, units of the Syrian army who defect to help protect them.

      It seems to me before we can say that "left-wingers" carry out more acts of terrorism than "right-wingers" we might want to consider what these actions are. When was the last time a European left-winger massacred dozens of people like that? Like, ever? I am not sure I can think of any examples even of someone killed by intentional violent acts by a left-winger in recent years (by "intentional violent acts" I mean "acts of violence intended to kill someone") in Europe. Last year three people died in Athens when some protestors set fire to what they thought was an empty bank - but it turned out they were employees who'd been locked in an upper room so they couldn't join the protest. Afterwards, there were barely any protests at all for months, and certainly no attacks on banks, despite the economic crisis because everyone felt so terrible about the death of innocents. Anarchists and other leftists in Greece do regularly engage in pitched battles with police, but I am not aware of attacks intended to kill, maim, or terrorize civilians - which is the usual definition of terrorism.

      Anyway it seems odd to apply standards that make it sound like leftists are blowing up bombs on crowded street corners or crowded office buildings and opening fire on vacationing children when in fact nothing of the kind seems ever to take place. And even more odd to uncritically site figures that, if applied to the Middle East, would make it sound like Syrian democracy advocates were that country's only terrorists.

  • Million-Person Marches and the Army Backs Off
    • I'm no authority on Egypt, but it seems to me that the Mubarak regime tried the expedient so often appealed to by authoritarian governments when faced with a broad popular uprising: try to encourage "anarchy and chaos" to scare the middle class away, then try to move in and reimpose "order" with their at least tacit acquiescence. Under such regimes, where there is a large and omnipresent police force who see the political opposition (real or potential) as their primary enemy, there is often a sort of tacit alliance between police and not only fascists or their equivalents, but also gangsters and certain elements of the criminal classes, with all three of whom the personnel often overlap. I heard a lot about this when I was in Greece this spring: one of the most telling government reactions to the insurrectionary stirrings of January 2010, when there was a spate of school and even factory occupations, and some neighborhoods began holding public assemblies to begin to take over certain functions of government, was to redouble police presence in those neighborhoods where that was happening, often teaming up with right-wing thugs to do things like trash anarchist cafes and whatnot, and effectively withdrawing police presence from those immigrant neighborhoods seen to be full of drug-dealers, pimps, and various sorts of petty criminals, so as give people a sense that the breakdown of state authority would necessarily lead to Hobbesian chaos. In Greece this was clearly a long-term strategy but it seems like in Egypt, they tried an extreme version of something like that in a hurry; and we won't know until much later, for instance, how many of the people running amok were criminals intentionally released by the cops, gangsters and thugs taking advantage of the absence of cops, or actually _were_ cops.

      The obvious danger (from the point of view of the authorities) with this strategy is: if you intentionally foment chaos, there is the possibility that some elements of the "security forces" that actually do see their role as guaranteeing security might then feel they have little choice but to begin cooperating with the protestors, thus creating a dual power situation. The most telling quote I've seen from news reports was from a few days ago:

      In one part of Tahrir Square, soldiers working with civilian protester volunteers were even checking IDs and bags of people arriving at the square, saying they were searching for weapons and making sure plainclothes police did not enter the square.
      "The army is protecting us, they won't let police infiltrators sneak in!" one volunteer shouted.

      Which indicates that even the army suspected that cops out of uniform were a main source of random violence and general trouble. Anyway, that's exactly a dual power situation and when that sort of thing starts happening, elites usually panic and are terrified and start frantically trying to figure out a way to prevent this from going any further. In fact, I find it startling that Mubarak is still there even a few days after things like that - it's more typical for the sitting president to be whisked away the moment there is any sign that the army might be making common cause with protestors (I always remember the example of Sanchez del Losada in Bolivia who in 2003 was forced to step down almost instantly after the first soldier was shot by a superior for refusing to obey an order to fire on demonstrators. When things like that happen, the rest of the ruling class usually decides to cut their losses and at the very least, change the immediate face of power.) Mubarak must either have a very determined faction of powerful supporters who are being enormously stubborn, or, alternately, the US is exerting a great deal of pressure behind the scenes to ensure the obvious doesn't happen.

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