Democracy Now! – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 16 Jun 2021 04:05:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Rep. Rashida Tlaib: Trump’s “Racist” Plan Would Legalize the Theft of Palestinian Land (Democracy Now) Sun, 16 Feb 2020 05:04:49 +0000 ( Democracy Now! ) – We continue our conversation with Congressmember Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress. She responds to President Trump’s Middle East plan, under which Israel would gain sovereignty over large areas of the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem would be under total Israeli control, and all Jewish settlers in the occupied territory would be allowed to remain in their homes. Tlaib says the plan was formulated with a “racist lens” that ignores Palestinian lives and aspirations. Tlaib says she wants people “to know what the human impact is of taking people’s land, taking people’s livelihood away from them.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “No Es Mi Presidente,” “Not My President,” performed by Taína Asili, and she’s coming up on Democracy Now! in just a minute. But we wanted to stay with Congressmember Rashida Tlaib for just one more minute.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we’re continuing our conversation with Congresswoman Tlaib of Michigan, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress. I want to ask you about President Trump’s so-called Middle East peace plan. Earlier this week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas forcefully rejected the plan during a speech to the U.N. Security Council Tuesday.

PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS: [translated] This plan will not bring peace or stability to the region, and therefore we will not accept this plan. We will confront its application on the ground. This is a summary of the project that was presented to us. This is the state that they will give us. It’s like a Swiss cheese, really. Who among you will accept a similar state and similar conditions?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Rashida Tlaib, you’re the congressmember of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District. Along with Ilhan Omar, she is the first Muslim woman elected to Congress. Your response to the president’s plan and to the response from the Palestinian Authority?

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB: You know, I grew up in Detroit, the most beautiful, blackest city in the country. And so much what I learned here of these forms of kind of oppression and structural, I think, racism that is so present in all different processes, but even just, you know, fighting right now in my own backyard against unconstitutional taking of people’s homes by overassessing their homes and everything, there’s so many connectivity there to — by what the current president is pushing forward in trying to basically legalize theft for so many of the Palestinian families that are left there. I can tell you, you know, for me, what’s really critically important for people to understand, that with all these terminologies, with colleagues always asking me, “What does occupation mean?” I want listeners to know what the human impact is of taking people’s land, taking people’s livelihood away from them. And this plan just continues to dig into that approach to what’s happening in Palestine and Israel.

And I can tell you I want to hear more and more of those that are on the ground there, both Palestinians and Israelis who are against occupation, who want to see a true solution to there that actually involves them being having a seat at the table. I think that that’s not what’s going to happen, when the president just sits with his buddies and others that only see it through a very, I believe, racist lens that is this kind of othering politics. And also it’s very demonizing in the way the president and even his son-in-law and others have depicted Palestinians, as this is what they deserve, they don’t deserve anything more. Well, I can tell you, my grandmother lives in the West Bank, and she deserves human dignity. And this does not provide her human dignity, especially in her last years. She is a kind, compassionate woman who just wants to live freely with equality, with the freedom to travel, with the freedom to access healthcare, opportunities that help her have a better life.

AMY GOODMAN: Rashida Tlaib, we want to thank you for being with us, Democratic congressmember from Detroit, first Palestinian-American congresswoman. This is Democracy Now! When we return, Taína Asili and Eve Ensler. Stay with us.

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Death of al-Baghdadi: ISIS Grew Out of U.S. Invasion of Iraq: Cole @ Democracy Now! Tue, 29 Oct 2019 04:05:06 +0000 Democracy Now! | Video Interview and Transcript | –

Amy Goodman kindly had me on Democracy Now! Monday to discuss the US raid that killed ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and its broader context in Middle Eastern and US politics. Transcript below the video.

Democracy Now! “Death of al-Baghdadi: ISIS Grew Out of U.S. Invasion of Iraq. What Will Happen Next?”

Transcript from Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: The raid began early Sunday when eight U.S. military helicopters flew from a base near Erbil, Iraq, to northwestern Syria over airspace controlled by Syria and Russia. The New York Times reports Syrian and Iraqi Kurds had provided more intelligence for the raid than any single country. The raid comes just weeks after President Trump abandoned his support for the Kurds in northern Syria, green-lighting Turkey’s recent invasion. The U.S. named the operation targeting al-Baghdadi after Kayla Mueller, the American aid worker who was taken hostage by ISIS after she crossed the Turkish border into Syria to visit a hospital in 2013. She died in 2015 but her body was never found. She was raped by al-Baghdadi himself.

We are joined now by three guests. In London, Emma Beals is with us, award-winning investigative journalist, researcher who has covered the Syrian conflict since 2012, editor of “Syria in Context.” In Ann Arbor, Michigan, Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan. His blog “Informed Comment” is online at He’s the author of many books, including Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires and Engaging the Muslim World. And in Boston, Rami Khouri, senior public policy fellow and journalist in residence at the American University of Beirut. He’s a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative and a columnist for The New Arab. Juan Cole, let’s begin with you. Your response to the death of al-Baghdadi?

JUAN COLE: Well, I think it should be remembered that the organization he led, ISIL, developed originally as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and arose in reaction to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. And so the same kinetic U.S. military that in some ways inadvertently created ISIL has now ended one of its leaders. It certainly has not destroyed the organization or the impulse that lies behind it. And I think if anybody thinks that kinetic military operations in this part of the world are going to solve all the problems, they are sadly mistaken.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of al-Baghdadi? While President Trump talked about the killing of the U.S. aid workers and journalists, the rape of Kayla Mueller, who also died in a bombing in Syria where she had been held captive, the fact is that—and probably these journalists and aid workers would have been the first to point this out—ISIS had killed thousands of Muslims.

JUAN COLE: Yes. Well, ISIL developed a strategy—it’s a terrorist strategy–as a small group that wanted to emerge as a state, of what it called acting like beasts. And it was quite deliberate to terrorize people all around it into submission to convince the enemy that they were invulnerable because they would act in such a beastly and violent and berserk way. In many ways, it worked. They intimidated very large numbers of people—at their height, millions—into submission. Iraqi soldiers who fought them talked about the horror of going into alleyways and facing men who would jump down from roofs onto them with suicide bomb belts and detonate them. It wasn’t hand-to-hand combat; it was hand-to-bomb combat.

And so this policy of beastliness was also a media strategy to attract followers. One of the advantages that they sought was to get highly trained former soldiers from Europe who might join them. And their policies were designed to attract people with violent tendencies who had that training.

This strategy, however, has severe drawbacks in that over time, especially if you were trying to run a state, it would make you extremely unpopular, not only with your own population, but with all of the neighbors. And it is an essential contradiction in ISIL strategy that they tried to continue to operate as a terrorist organization once they had a known address. The only way terrorism can be at all successful is if they can’t find you. But if you have a capital, then you are doomed.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, can you tell us, Juan Cole, about the history of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? In a nutshell, how he rose to power, what his background was, his captivity in—being in U.S. captivity back during the beginning of the Iraq war, the U.S. invasion of Iraq?

JUAN COLE: Sure. Well, al-Baghdadi was not, as he is being advertised, an Islamic scholar. He barely passed high school. He was shunted off to what was called the Islamic University of Baghdad, which was a low-level institution in Ba’athist Iraq. He seems to have preached some sermons at a local mosque as a kind of volunteer. And then he got arrested in 2004 along with some associates.

The U.S. military in Iraq would arrest large numbers of people if they were simply in the vicinity of a bombing or an act of resistance against the U.S. occupation. At any one time, they had 25,000 Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, in captivity. These prisons served as an opportunity, however, for some Iraqi oppositionists to network with others, and al-Baghdadi seems to have met some of the people who formed ISIL with him there in U.S. captivity.

An organization arose to oppose the U.S. occupation called al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Its leader was killed—Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—in 2006. Baghdadi joined that organization. In 2010, he emerged as the leader of it. He did innovate in the sense that he thought al-Qaeda was wrong to just engage in terrorism in hopes of weakening the state for an eventual revolution. He thought there was an opportunity, because the U.S. role in Iraq was so weak and it had destroyed the state, to actually take and hold territory under the Americans’ nose.

And that’s what he started to do, and that was all along what distinguished his tactics, is that he thought there was an opportunity here to create state structures. And in 2014, when the organization took 40% of Iraq and made Mosul its Iraqi center of operations, he declared himself a caliph, a kind of Muslim pope, much to the derision of most of the Muslim world, but it did attract, again, some violent activists.

AMY GOODMAN: Was he held by U.S. forces? Was he imprisoned by the U.S. either at Abu Ghraib or other places?

JUAN COLE: Well, he was in prison, as far as we know, at the U.S. hands in 2004 for many months. And that certainly was one of the origins of his radicalization. Although, the U.S. occupation of Iraq was radicalizing enough. People forget now—four million Iraqis out of 26 million at the time were displaced from their homes and made homeless, not directly necessarily by the U.S. occupation, but as a result of it. Hundreds of thousands died. Sunni Arabs were suddenly viewed with suspicion by the new Shiite-led government.
Many had worked for the Ba’ath government of Saddam Hussein, were fired from their jobs. A hundred thousands were fired from state jobs. Massive unemployment, as much as 75% unemployment, developed in Sunni Arab areas.

And so this was an apocalyptic event for the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, and over time, it radicalized millions of them. And because I think the U.S. destroyed the secular socialist alternative in Iraq quite deliberately, one of the few avenues for their activism that was left was a hyper Sunni fundamentalism, which was extremely rabid in its hatred of foreigners and Shiites. But this is a night-and-day transformation of Sunni Arab Iraq, which had, as I said, largely been secular-minded and even refused Islam as the state religion . . .

MY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to President Trump. A lot of clips were taken just from the very first part of the announcement he made on Sunday morning. But he then moved on, rambling wildly.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, these people are very smart. They are not into the use of cell phones anymore. They are not—they’re very technically brilliant. You know, they use the internet better than almost anybody in the world, perhaps other than Donald Trump. But they use the internet incredibly well. And what they have done with the internet through recruiting and everything—and that’s why he died like a dog. He died like a coward. He was whimpering, screaming and crying.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan Cole, President Trump’s comments, from the dogs to the internet?

JUAN COLE: Well, Trump is an extremely disturbing leader in the sense that he basically gave us a snuff film, a film about somebody’s violent death, as a sort of entertainment, I think. And one of the ironies is that ISIL pioneered on the internet what is called stochastic terrorism. Most terrorism is conducted by organized cells with a certain amount of command and control. One of the things that ISIL did as part of its policy of beastliness was to call upon people to undertake violent actions as a destabilizing attempt. And I think it appealed to people on the internet who were already angry and unstable, often mentally ill, and they would go out and commit violence, and then would attribute it to ISIL even though ISIL knew nothing about it. It was just off of a Twitter or Facebook meme.

In many ways, although not with the same systematic effect, Trump also is responsible for a certain amount of stochastic terrorism. The El Paso shooter who drove ten hours to kill Latino Americans was, by his own admission, at least somewhat inspired by memes coming out of the Trump Administration. We saw this in other attempted attacks on mosques in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: And of course invoking Hispanic invaders was a year ago at the Pittsburgh synagogue where 11 Jewish worshipers were killed.

JUAN COLE: Yes, Trump has adopted and people around him have used this language of replacement, which is a far-right conspiracy theory that the American Jewish community wants to bring in immigrants to replace white people, and so made the American Jews a target. It’s of course a monstrous lie. But these kinds of internet memes, which ISIL in some was pioneered as sources of violence, have now been taken up by the American far right, which is in itself a kind of less organized but still very deadly form of ISIS-like activity.

Lawsuit Against Salaita & American Studies Assn for Boycotting Israel Dismissed Thu, 07 Feb 2019 06:22:18 +0000 ( Democracy Now!) A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Steven Salaita, the American Studies Association—or ASA—and other defendants who were sued after endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions—or BDS—movement. Professor Salaita joined the board of the ASA two years after the organization passed a boycott resolution, but was still named as a defendant.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented Salaita, said in a statement, “These desperate lawsuits brought to silence advocates of Palestinian rights are not only losers—they’re helping to grow the movement by making even clearer who’s on the wrong side of history, who is the aggressor, who is unreasonable, and who wants to silence debate.”

The lawsuit is not the first time Salaita has been targeted in a case related to Israel and Palestine. In 2014, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign withdrew a job offer for a tenured position for Salaita after he posted tweets critical of the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza.


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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

the MPhil in Race, Ethnicity, Conflict – Trinity College Dublin: “Steven Salaita – ‘BDS and the Modern University'” . “Steven Salaita addresses a public audience invited by the MPhil in Race, Ethnicity, Conflict – Trinity College Dublin – during the conference “Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: The case of the academic boycott of Israel”. Steven Salaita (Author of Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom, Steven was denied a Professorship in University of Illinois due to his views on Israel/Palestine).”