Leon Mugesera and Donald Trump

On this day, July 1, 1962, the Belgian-administered region of German East Africa was granted independence. From the Belgian support of the racist “Hamitic” origin theory of Tutsi superiority to the creation of two states with Hutu majorities (rather than more homogenous nation-states), sadly the seeds of the Rwandan and Burundi Genocides were already sown.

Belgians defined “Tutsi” as anyone owning more than ten cows (a sign of wealth) or with the physical feature of a longer nose, or longer neck, commonly associated with the Tutsi; the physical distinctions were explained by postulating a partial descent from Hamitic peoples of the Horn of Africa or even European Caucasians.

Thirty years later, in 1992, Leon Mugesera gave the most famous speech in Rwandan history. Mugesera was an official in President Habyarimana’s MRND Party (Movement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement). In his speech at a party conference in Gisenyi, Mugesera called on Hutus to kill Tutsis and to dump their bodies in the rivers of Rwanda…  To send them back to Ethiopia where they came from….

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Shereen Marisol Meraji recently had a new episode on her podcast Code Switch and interviewed a neuroscientist, a sociolinguist, a philosophy professor, and a historian about the use of term animal and animal metaphors to describe people.

Now, there is this Godwin’s Law; it says that the longer a conversation goes on, the more likely someone will be compared to Hitler or Stalin. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. The fact is that Hitler used derisive language to describe people. Does that make Hitler unique? No. Does that make anyone who uses derisive metaphors of animals, am I calling that person Hitler? No. But the fact of the matter is that language matters. Skilled orators can inspire people, but it is much easier to use code language to galvanize a mob.

In the podcast, Meraji and historian Ibram X. Kendi discuss the history of referring to enslaved West Africans as animals and beasts….

And David Livingstone Smith, a philosophy professor, who wrote “Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, And Exterminate Others,” he continued the discussion and reminded listeners of that famous “nits make lice” by John Chivington (a Methodist minister on top of everything else!).

The podcast also mentioned how, in WWII, the Japanese were referred to as devils, when the genocide-committing Germans were not? I wonder why?

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There is a history of interconnection between White Privilege and the language of dehumanization

On March 21, 1861, Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens spoke in Savannah, Georgia, and referred to the new Confederate government whose “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Another example that just saying something is a philosophical or moral truth doesn’t make it truth. But, perhaps more to the point, repetition will convince many people of a truth, even if it’s not…

Like on April 20, 1968, when British MP Enoch Powell delivered his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in which he recounted the belief that, within “15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” Incidentally, Powell’s district in Parliament is now represented by Eleanor Smith, a daughter of Barbadian immigrants who, as a young girl, was taunted after Powell’s speech.

And then, there’s John Blake’s recent piece on the “M-Word.” US Senator George Allen, cruising to a re-election victory in Virginia in the summer of 2006” as Blake writes, and the 18 words that ended his political life: “So welcome, let’s give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America, and the real world of Virginia,” Allen said to an Indian-American in the mostly European-American crowd.

Blake continues:

“Jimmy the Greek,” lost his job when he said that blacks were superior athletes because of breeding from slavery

Trent Lott resigned as Senate majority leader in 2002 after he seemed to suggest that the United States could have avoided “all these problems” if it had remained segregated.

Blake argues that overt racist speech went underground in 1968, the year that MLK, Jr. was gunned down and the year that George Wallace shouted Segregation Forever.

But now overt racist speech, dehumanizing language, and the language of violence is all back. Yes, there are pundits and politicians from both parties using violent language now, but it is clear who brought the language mainstream again. Arguing otherwise is simply the diversionary tactic of the Godwin Law Inverse.

The inverse of Godwin’s Law is a false declaration of victimization designed to immune our selves from responsibility. It goes like this, “Can you believe it? THEY’RE calling me/us/Trump Nazis! Nazis killed millions of people, I can’t believe THEY’RE insulting the memory of the Holocaust victims.”

It’s a logical conceit to protect the speaker and anything he or she might say, from criticism. The conversation then becomes about the accusation (inferred or otherwise) and not about the content of the offensive language in the first place.

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Just last week, on June 24, 2018, Ed Henry of Fox News’ had a segment on TV with the onscreen banner which read “PUNDITS CALL TRUMP SUPPORTERS RACIST, NAZIS.” During the segment, Trump’s deputy campaign manager told Democratic strategist Joel Payne, who is African-American, that Payne was “out of your cotton-picking mind.” Yup, he said that. While, as I said already, the onscreen banner said, “PUNDITS CALL TRUMP SUPPORTERS RACIST, NAZIS.”

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David Bossie, the Trump surrogate did apologize. I even have the feeling he didn’t realize the loaded-language which he had used. Rosanne Barr was held accountable, the Netflix Exec. But….

 

Ronald Reagan has been called the Teflon President, but I think its time to pass that baton to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Donald Trump has mainstreamed insensitive language, conspiracy theories, and replaced fact-based journalism with self-serving opinions of perceived reality.

The Donald’s Art of the Deal is the art of making destructive language fashionable while remaining beloved by his base, perhaps even beloved because of the dehumanizing discourse. After all, it wouldn’t resonate if it wasn’t already in so many of us already, right?

Blake concludes his piece by suggesting that the increase of dehumanizing language could be a new norm. Let us hope it is not, let us hope we will not become desensitized to it like violence and inappropriate language in music, movies, and TV.

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In my book, This Day in Donald: The 140 Character President, I wrote, “Words matter.  Language is a neutral reality; it can be used to hurt or to mend, to shame or to love, to tear down or to raise up.” The book is a collage of tweets, speeches, and statements by the 45th President of the United States and weaves together an overview of the how the 45th President of the United States chooses to communicate, represent himself, and represent the Office of the President.  Each entry catches his choice (and indeed the current American capacity) to tear down others and his propensity to equivocate moral and personal condemnation of persons with whom he disagrees with on policy.

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Yes, Leon Mugesera called for Tutsi’s to be killed and sent up river. Other Hutu extremists called Tutsis “cockroaches” that needed to be stamped out. Presumed racial superiority and hate, whether it be Hutu, Nazi, or White American must be relegated to history. Otherwise, if we embrace the language of dehumanization, we are replacing US President Abraham Lincoln with Confederate VP Alexander Stephens, replacing Bobby Kennedy with George Wallace, and replacing US Representative Tom Lantos, who survived the Holocaust, with the former White House strategist, Steve Bannon, who said to wear the label of “racist” as “a badge of honor.”

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On March 15, 2016, I posted the following parody of Martin Niemoller’s famous poem on Facebook and submitted it to the Providence Journal. I received back an email from Ed Achorn, the editor of the Journal, arguing that the parody if invalid since no one has yet ‘come for the Mexicans.’

The New America?

In America, they came first for the Mexicans,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Mexican;

And then they came for the Muslims,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Muslim;

And then they came for the African-Americans,

And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t an African-American;

And then they came for me . . .

And there was no one left to speak for me….

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We have lost the understanding that at the other end of each sound bite, text, tweet, email, and phone call, at the other end there is a person. It is not about “The” Blacks, “The” Jews, “The” Gays, “The” Muslims, “The” Liberals, “The” Democrats, “The” Republicans, or “The” Conservatives. It is about, and always should be about our fellow Americans and, indeed, our fellow humans.

There is still time to reject racist rhetoric and return to respectful discourse.

And the time is now.

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/28/624416635/what-happens-when-groups-of-people-are-described-as-animals

https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/04/20/603884872/an-anti-immigration-speech-divided-britain-50-years-ago-it-still-echoes-today

https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/29/us/racial-rhetoric/index.html

 

May Madness

The 2005 film Sometimes in April is a powerful reminder of the Rwandan Genocide that began in April 1994. There’s something about April, I suppose: the Armenian Genocide too began in April; and the Siege of Sarajevo, which many consider to be the beginning of the Bosnian Genocide, began in April as well. Three of the six most well-known genocides began in the same month…

But May isn’t much better…

May 17, 1984, Bhiwandi riots began when Hindus placed a saffron flag on top of a mosque… 278 dead. And in 1987, from March, through the entire month of May, and to June, riots occurred between Muslim and Hindu Indians in Meerut and resulted in the death of more than 350 people.

Yes, the Bhiwandi riots began when Hindus placed a saffron flag on top of a mosque? First of all, who cares, right? It’s just a flag? And, on the other hand, who would tarnish a religious building with the religious symbols of another religion? Disgusting insensitivity and hatred. It reminds me of swastikas on synagogues and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon flying an Israeli flag from the home he bought in the Muslim Old City of Jerusalem.

And, specifically, on this day, May 22, 1987, forty-two men were massacred by the Indian military in the Hashimpura neighborhood of Meerut, the state of UP. The victims were shot, and their bodies were dumped in water canals; a few days later dead bodies were found floating in the canals. The trials were delayed for decades and, on March 21, 2015, the verdict was returned, and the Tis Hazari Court in Delhi acquitted the 16 soldiers accused in the Hashimpura Massacre, due to “insufficient evidence.”

Fortunately, some semblance of justice and responsibility, in May 2015, the UP government announced a compensation equivalent to $US 500,000 to the family of each victim.

But the violence in the India haven’t stopped. Years later, but also in May, the 2006 Vadodara Dargah riots occurred in the state of Gujarat in India. The 2006 Riots were caused by the municipal council’s decision to remove a 300-year-old Sufi dargah (shrine). An independent people’s commission has stated that the police had targeted Muslims during the incident…. eight people were killed and forty-two injured, 16 of these were from police shooting.

Who votes to close a religious site in a city known for its religious strife? Yes, Gujarat is the same state that was home to the 1969 and 2002 Gujarat riots as well.

But the crimes against humanity and genocide in the Indian subcontinent is not all religiously-based war crimes, in the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide, Muslims killed Muslims over, at least at face-value, over language. May 5, 1971, the Gopalpur Massacre occurred when Muslim Pakistani forces murdered 195 Bengali Muslim workers at a sugar factor. And on May 20, 1971, many thousands of Bengali Hindu refugees were murdered in the Chuknagar massacre by Pakistani forces. Why? Religion? Language? Bloodlust? Probably all three….

Some much violence. So much hate and ignorance. Demographic tribalism and identity politics at its worst.

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May is not a good month for the continent of Asia. Also in this month of May, specifically May 21, 1864, Russia declared an end to the Russo-Circassian War after the scorched earth campaign initiated in 1862 under General Yevdokimov.  When the Circassian people refused to convert to Christianity from Islam, almost the entire population was forced into exile from their North Caucasus homeland.  More than 1.5 million Circassians were expelled — 90% of the total population at the time.  Most of them perished en route, victims of disease, hunger, and exhaustion. And, among the Circassians that stayed behind? Chechnyans. And you wonder why so many Chechnyans hate the Russians so much. As a war against civilians, forced transfer of populations, within the context of both ethnic and religious differences… another genocide. May 21st is designated as the Circassian Day of Mourning and recognizes the Circassian Genocide.  And just a few years ago, the 2014 Sochi Olympics were held on former Circassian land which caused an outcry from Circassian people as well as humans rights activists worldwide.

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From the Caucasus Mountains of western Asia, across the Indian subcontinent, to southeast Asia. In Cambodia, May 20, is The Day of Remembrance. Formerly called the National Day of Hatred, it commemorates the Cambodian genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled the country between 1975 and 1979; specifically, the date was selected since it marked the beginning of mass killings by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge…

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While the German Genocide, or Holocaust, started on that November night of Broken Glass and the Darfur Genocide began on a dusty February day in 2003… three well-known genocides all began Sometime in April… but unfortunately, genocide is more ordinary than extraordinary. May marks the beginning of the Palestinian Diaspora in 1948, the lesser known Greek Genocide, the Circassian Genocide, the more well-known Cambodian Genocide, as well as continuous violence in India and several massacres of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide.

Genocide is not a competition, and if we could see how pathetically ordinary it is in our human history, perhaps we could turn the corner and recognize one another as sister and brother, no matter race, ethnicity, nationality, or creed. Remember the sins of the past, remember that today is tomorrow’s yesterday. The choices we make today will be looked back upon tomorrow.

 

The Schindlers of the World May 19th

On this day, May 19, 1909, Nicholas George Winton (May 19, 1909 – July 1, 2015) was born in Wertheim, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. a British humanitarian who organized the rescue of 669 children, most of them Jewish, from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport (German for “children transportation”). Winton found homes for the children and arranged for their safe passage to Britain. The world found out about his work over 40 years later, in 1988. The British press dubbed him the “British Schindler.”

The Schindlers of the World

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Sardari, Sugihara, Vrba, Bartali, Fry, Yolga, Wallenberg, Sousa Mendes, Sendler…

All sister and brothers of Winton:

An Italian Catholic, A Japanese Shinto, a Polish Catholic woman, a Turkish Muslim and an Iranian Muslim; an American Protestant, A Swedish Lutheran, a Portuguese Catholic, and a Slovak Jew…. 6 religions, different genders, nationalities, and races…

What do these names all have in common?

They have all been given the honorific title of Schindler… If that’s not enough, think about what that says about Oskar Schindler himself? Having your name made into a title? Like Julius Caesar’s name became the title for Roman Emperors, Schindler’s name has become the term for the Caesar’s of Peace.

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In no particular order, the other Schindlers:

The American Schindler: Vivian Fry

Varian Mackey Fry died in Reading, Connecticut. Fry (October 15, 1907 – September 13, 1967) was an American journalist. While working as a foreign correspondent for the American journal The Living Age, Fry visited Berlin in 1935, and personally witnessed Nazi abuse against Jews on more than one occasion, which turned him into an ardent anti-Nazi. He said in 1945, “I could not remain idle as long as I had any chances at all of saving even a few of its intended victims.” Following his visit to Berlin, Fry wrote about the savage treatment of Jews by Hitler’s regime in the New York Times in 1935. Fry began and ran a rescue network in Vichy France that helped approximately 2,000 to 4,000 anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees to escape Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. He is known as the “American Schindler.”

The True Italian Schindler: Gino Bartali

For years, Giovanni Palatucci was considered the Italian Schindler. Sadly, it was discovered that his claims of helping Jews were a fraud. In fact, he was covertly helping in the deportation of Jews.

Gino Bartali (July 18, 1914 – May 5, 2000), on the other hand, was a world champion cyclist. Bartali used his fame to carry messages and documents to the Italian Resistance. Bartali cycled from Florence through Tuscany, Umbria, and Marche, sometimes traveling as far afield as Rome, all the while wearing the racing jersey emblazoned with his name. Neither the Fascist police nor the German troops wanted to risk upsetting the Italian people by arresting Bartali.

Bartali earned respect for his work in helping Jews who were being persecuted by the Nazis during the time of the Italian Social Republic. It emerged in December 2010 that Bartali had hidden a Jewish family in his cellar and, according to one of the survivors, and, by doing so, had saved their lives.

The Hungarian Schindler: Rudolf Vrba

Rudolf Vrba is known for his escape from the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II and for co-writing the Vrba–Wetzler report. The Vrba–Wetzler report provided some of the most detailed information about the mass murder taking Auschwitz.  Material from the Vrba–Wetzler appeared in newspapers and radio broadcasts in the United States and Europe throughout June and into July 1944, prompting world leaders to appeal to Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy to halt the deportations. On July 7th Horthy ordered an end to the deportations, fearing he would be held responsible after the war.  While 437,000 Jews had been deported, constituting almost the entire Jewish population of the Hungarian countryside, but another 200,000 living in Budapest were saved. In many ways, these are the “Vrba Jews” as much as the German Jews saved by Oscar Schindler are known as Schindler Jews, or Schindlerjuden.

The Iranian Schindler: Abdol Hossein Sardari

Abdol Hossein Sardari عبدالحسین سرداری was born in Tehran, Iran, (c. 1914) and died in Nottingham, UK (1981). Sardari was an Iranian statesman and diplomat who saved the lives of many Jews during the Holocaust. He is known as the “Schindler of Iran.”

The Japanese Schindler: Chiune Sugihara 

Chiune Sugihara 杉原 千畝 (January 1, 1900 – 31 July 31, 1986) died in Tokyo, Japan. Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat who served as Vice-Consul for the Empire of Japan in Lithuania. During World War II, he helped between 10,000 and 40,000 Jews leave the country by issuing transit visas so that they could travel to Japanese territory, risking his career and his family’s lives. The Jews who escaped were refugees from German-occupied Western Poland or Russian-occupied Eastern Poland, as well as residents of Lithuania. In 1985, Israel named him to the Righteous Among the Nations.

The Polish Schindler: Eugene Lazowski was a Polish medical doctor who saved thousands of Polish Jews during World War II by creating a fake epidemic which played on German phobias about hygiene.

After Lazowski’s friend Dr .Stanisław Matulewicz discovered that by injecting a healthy person with a vaccine of dead bacteria, that person would test positive for epidemic typhus without experiencing the symptoms, the two doctors hatched a secret plan to save about a dozen villages in the vicinity of Rozwadów and Zbydniów not only from forced labor exploitation, but also Nazi extermination. Germans were terrified of the disease because it was highly contagious. Those infected with typhus were not sent to Nazi concentration camps. Instead, when a sufficient number of people were infected, the Germans would quarantine the entire area. However, the Germans would not enter the FLECKFIEBER zone, fearing the disease would spread to them also. In this way, while Dr. Lazowski and Dr. Matulewicz did not hide Jewish families, they were able to spare 8,000 people from 12 ghettos from summary executions and inevitable deportations to concentration camps. Jews who tested positive for typhus were summarily massacred by the Nazis, so doctors injected the non-Jewish population in neighborhoods surrounding the ghettos, knowing that a possibility of widespread outbreak inside would cause Germans to abandon the area and thus spare local Jews in the process.

The Female Schindler: Irena Sendlerowa

Irena Sendlerowa (more commonly known as Irena Sendler) was a Polish nurse, humanitarian and social worker who served in the Polish Underground in German-occupied Warsaw during World War II, and was head of the children’s section of Żegota, the Polish Council to Aid Jews Irena has often been referred to as “the female Oskar Schindler” in her native Poland for her daring and ingenuity in saving the lives of more than 2,500 Jews (most of them children) in German-occupied Poland during WW II.

The Portuguese Schindler: Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches 

Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches was a Portuguese consul during World War II. As the Portuguese consul-general in the French city of Bordeaux, he defied the orders of António de Oliveira Salazar’s Estado Novo regime, issuing visas and passports to an undetermined number of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, including Jews. For this, Sousa Mendes was punished by the Salazar regime with one year’s suspension on half-pay, but afterwards, he kept on receiving his full consul salary until his death in 1954. For his efforts to save Jewish refugees, Sousa Mendes was recognized by Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, the first diplomat to be so honored, in 1966. He has also been called the “Portuguese Schindler.”

The Swedish Schindler: Raoul Wallenberg

Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg (August 4, 1912 – July 31, 1947) was a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat, and humanitarian who save tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust from German Nazis and Hungarian Fascists during the later stages of WWII. While serving as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest (July – December 1944), Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory. On January 17, 1945, during the Siege of Budapest by the Red Army, Wallenberg was detained on suspicion of espionage and subsequently disappeared. He was later reported to have died on July 17, 1947, while imprisoned by the KGB secret police in the Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters.

The Turkish Schindler: Namık Kemal Yolga 

Namık Kemal Yolga (1914 – 2001) was a Turkish diplomat and statesman. During World War II, Yolga was the Vice-Consul at the Turkish Embassy in Paris, France. His efforts to save the lives of Turkish Jews from the Nazi concentration camps earned him the title of “Turkish Schindler,” and he received recognition from the Turkish and Israeli governments in the late 20th century.

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The Schindler’s of the World

Proof that humanity is not just an example of the capacity to harm, we have the capacity for good as well.

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Yes, on this day, May 19, 1909, Nicholas Winton was born in Wertheim, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. a British humanitarian who organized the rescue of 669 children, most of them Jewish, from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport (German for “children transportation”).

On July 1, 2015, Sir Nicholas George Winton, Member of the Order of the British Empire, died at Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, Berkshire, England…

Would that the world may never need the Schindler’s of the World Again.

SLAM ~ May 16th

On this day, May 16, 1983, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (also known as the Sudan People’s Army Movement, or SLAM) began their rebellion against the Sudanese government. This Sudan People’s Army Movement began a civil war that culminated in both the Darfur Genocide as well as ultimately the independence of South Sudan.

Within Sudan are the northern Sudanese Arab Muslims, southern Sudanese African Christians, and western Sudanese African Muslims.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has based his rule on war.  As noted earlier, the Second Sudanese Civil War had been a conflict between the Northern Muslims and the Southern Christians.  The Darfur Conflict came as a result of many factors.  To an extent, Fighting a war can centralize authority, unify the population (to an extent), can eliminate political rivals and reduces the net population of military age men.  Just as when the Spanish conquest of the Iberian peninsula ended in 1492 and military age men looked for new lands to conquer (i.e., the Americas), after the Second Sudanese Civil War, al-Bashir needed a new enemy to deflect attention from his autocratic rule.

The Darfur genocide occurred in western Sudan and is/was a conflict was between the Abbala (camel-herding) and Baggara/Baqqarah (cattle-herding) Shuwa Arabs on the one side and the Masalit, Zaghawa, and Fur ethnic peoples on the other side.  The Fur people are the most numerous in the region; in fact “Dar-fur” means “Abode of the Fur.”  The crisis is a combination of racial, agricultural, and political conflict.  The Abbala and Baggara people are nomadic Arabs who follow herds of camels and cattle.  For their part, Masalit and Fur people are Sub-Saharan African (Black Africans) and are sedentary farmers.  The other Sub-Saharan tribe, the Zaghawa, is comprised mainly of sheep pastoralists.  Similar to the land wars in the nineteenth century American West, these farmers and herders are in conflict over access to water as well as the issue of fences.  As both sides of combatants are Muslim, the issue is more a conflict of “Arabization” than the Muslim-Christian tension that has served as a basis for the Second Sudan Civil War.

The government soon began to attack the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit people, particularly in the Marrah Mountains. Both sides employed light cavalry tactics (horse, camel or Toyota Land Cruisers) for quick strikes.  The tactics also included ‘scorched earth policy’ “with livestock seized, grain stores attacked and looted, wells and watering places poisoned … [as well as] … forced population movements engineered to perpetuate dependency and control.

Adding fuel to the fire of nearly all African conflicts is the ‘low congruence’ between ethnic boundaries and state borders.  The Masalit and Zaghawa people live in both eastern Chad and western Sudan.  In fact, the dictator of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno, is Zaghawa.  For their part, the Abbala and Baggara share a common Arab background with the political leaders of Sudan, particularly dictator Omar al-Bashir.  These Arab tribesmen have formed the Janjaweed militia and received support from al-Bashir’s government.

To counter the threat from the Sudanese government, On this day, May 16, 1983, the Fur, Masalit, and the Wagi clan of the Zaghawa peoples formed The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army or Haraka Tahrir Sudan (abbreviated as either SLM or SLA). Although the roots of the Darfur conflict go back decades to 1983, eventually the Conflict grew into what we now recognize as the (2002 or 2003) Darfur Genocide and eventually to the independence of South Sudan.

May 14, 1948 & May 14, 2018

Why Trump was right to move the US Embassy:

Each sovereign nation-state has the right to determine its own capital. The Israeli government has declared Jerusalem to be its capital, therefore the US Embassy should be in Jerusalem.

Why Trump was wrong to move the US Embassy:

Israel’s legal authority of both West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem are questionable.

Historical Context

In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne recognized British authority for the Mandate for Palestine. This was a result of the defeat of the Central Powers (specifically the Ottoman Empire) in World War I, and the subsequent collapse of the Ottoman Empire as a functioning nation-state. Thus, the legal jurisdiction of Israel-Palestine belonged to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a mandate under the League of Nations and international law.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations (the successor regime to the League of Nations) adopted the Plan as Resolution 181(II), which recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and an international authority for the city of Jerusalem. This UN Partition Plan for Palestine recommended a partition of Mandatory Palestine at the end of the British Mandate. The resolution also recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency accepted the proposal with reservations, but the Arab Commission argued that partition violated the principals of national self-determination in the UN Charter which granted people the right to decide their own destiny.

Almost immediately after adoption of the Resolution by the General Assembly, a low-level civil war broke out and violence occurred by both religious groups. Adding to the complexity of the situation, post-World War II emigration of European Jews to the British Mandate for Palestine continued, which altered the population ratios in the Mandate.

On May 14, 1948, Jewish leaders in the Mandate for Palestine issued the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel in defiance of the United Nation as Resolution 181(II) which set the stage for the 1948 Arab–Israeli War (or the First Arab–Israeli War) between the State of Israel and a military coalition of Arab states and forming the second stage of the 1948 Palestine war. In the war, Israeli forces soundly defeated the Arab coalition and took complete control of West Jerusalem. As a result of the war, the State of Israel controlled both the area that the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 had recommended for the proposed Jewish state as well as almost 60% of the area of Arab state proposed by the 1948 Partition Plan, including Jaffa, Galilee, and some parts of the Negev Tel Aviv–Jerusalem road. Transjordan, today known as Jordan, took control of East Jerusalem as well as what was left of the British Mandate, and the Egyptian military took control of the Gaza Strip. At that point in history, at the Jericho Conference of 1948, Egypt and Transjordan could have created a Palestinian state out of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the rump Mandate, but no state was created. However, because the Israeli control of Jerusalem was a military conquest and violation of UN Resolution 181, the US Embassy was built in Tel Aviv, not West Jerusalem.

Fast forwarding to the Six-Day War of June 1967: On June 7, 1967, Israel captured the Old City of East Jerusalem. Again, because the West Bank and East Jerusalem were a military conquest, not a diplomatic agreement, neither US President Lyndon Johnson nor did his eight successors relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

International Law

Since World War I, territorial expansion by military victory has been unrecognized by international law. Period. That’s it really. It’s as simple as that. Since World War I, territorial expansion by military victory has been unrecognized by international law. For example:

  • The German invasion of Poland, etc.? Wrong.
  • The Japanese invasion of East Asian territories? Wrong.
  • North Korea’s invasion of South Korea? Wrong.
  • Morocco’s invasion of Western Sahara? Wrong.
  • Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait? Wrong.
  • Russian conquest of Crimea? Wrong

What makes the Israeli conquest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem any different?

Nothing under international law, that’s for sure, though I have heard this argument, that Israel was attacked, Israel did not initiate the war, so that makes it different; Essentially, the argument goes that it’s the Arabs fault because they started the war. If one has siblings, then we are all aware of the goading that can go on before conflict. Regardless, however, there is no legal basis for that argument, no international legal caveat that says if you get attacked, you can conquer the world legally…and, finally, it may be worth pointing out that the belligerents in the 1967 War were the nation-states of Jordan and the Arab Republic of Egypt Syria, and not the Palestinian people.

Which only leaves this argument to justify the Israeli occupation and annexation of the West Bank: God. Well, specifically, the Torah. Yes, the Jewish holy texts record that God gave the land of Canaan to the Israelites. Unfortunately for Israel’s case before the international community, religious texts are not exactly admissible in international proceedings. After all, would the international community accept the words of Shiva or Krishna as binding legal documents? Do Israeli Jews accept the Qur’an’s legal weight? In fact, didn’t the Allied Commander for the Pacific Theater in WWII, Douglas MacArthur, didn’t MacArthur demand that the head of the Shinto faith, Emperor Hirohito, publicly change/alter/denounce the dogma of that religious tradition that the Emperor was the descendant of the Sun Goddess?

It seems that accepting Jewish scripture as an international legal document is playing favorites with world religion. The repatriation of European Jews was a decision made from guilt and cultural prejudice. The decision was made in wanton disregard for the existing Arab population in the British Mandate of Palestine, like European disregard for indigenous populations around the world. The decision is also a complete rejection for the principals of self-determination and territorial integrity spelled out in the Treaty of Versailles. International law cannot, ought not, to be henpecked.

So, am I saying that the State of Israel does not have a right to exist? Am I being anti-Semitic?

No, categorically, no. That is not what I’m saying. In the first place, there is a difference between de juro and de facto. For example, when the convention of delegates that was assembled in Philadelphia 1787 was charged with revising the Articles of Confederation, not replacing the US government; the Articles themselves states that the Articles could only be altered unanimously, but only 12 of the 13 states participated in the Constitutional Convention. So, what, we’re now going to abolish the US Government? No, of course not.

Yes, Israel came into being in 1948 in a dubious legal situation. But there is an equally important point to be made that, throughout history, Stateless People have been persecuted. Today, the Rohingya, as well as the Roma/Gypsies, the Kurds, and others, and yes, the Jewish people themselves. Kicked out of their historical homeland in 70 CE by the Roman Empire, the Jews were stateless people for almost 1900 years… and now, because of the creation of a Jewish Homeland, the Palestinian people have no homeland. I don’t know about you, but as a kid, I was taught that “Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right.”

And, if that point doesn’t seem to have merit, let’s try an analogy. If the Native Americans rose up from every reservation and from all corners of the current United States, if Native Americans took up arms and waged war against the European-American population of the United States, would that be legitimate? After all, like the Jewish people, this land was Native American first. Again, there seems to be an inherent bias in how many Americans perceive the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

Zero-Sum versus Positive Sum

In addition, too many Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians view the situation as a Zero-Sum Game. In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game a situation in which each participant(s) gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the other participant(s). That’s not the only option. The falsity and limitation of Zero-Sum thinking is pointed out by the Nash Equilibrium, and perhaps more importantly, by Positive-Sum thinking.

One of the falsehoods in the general discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is the binary belief in Identity Politics. No, not all Israelis are opposed to the Two-State Solution; many Israelis recognize the dehumanizing conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And no, not all Palestinians are supporters of violence who deny the right of Israel to exist. Remember Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish murderer, not a Palestinian terrorist. If it seems that Palestinians are more angry and expressive of their feelings, ask yourself who was more angry and expressive in the American Civil Rights movement.

Conclusion

The United States has often neglected its potential as an arbiter for peace in the world, but not always. The American-brokered Good Friday Agreement is an example of US leadership in the world. Peace can happen when Americans recognize the right of both Palestinians and Israelis to self-determination. Peace can happen when settlements on the West Bank are not being constructed at the same time supposed negotiations occur. Peace can happen when the United States spends as much financial aid for Palestinian schools, hospitals, and police-training, as it sends in military hardware to Israel.

And, finally, peace will happen when Palestinians reject the politics of violence, and Israelis embrace the politics of humanitarianism.

The enemies of peace abound. They exist in the profit margins of the American military-industrial complex, and hidden corners of the Israeli government chambers; the enemies of peace exist in some of the madrasas and mosques of the West Bank and Gaza, just as much as they exist in the pulpits of many American Christian churches and some of the yeshivas of Israeli and America.

Yes, West Jerusalem is -and should be- the capital of Israel. But East Jerusalem should also be the capital of a Palestinian State as well. Opening one embassy, not two, was an expression of Zero Sum politics and an abdication of American leadership for peace in the world.

 

Of Elephants, Pornography, and Genocide

Happy birthday Mr. President! I’ll spare you my rendition of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy, after all, you’re dead.  In fact, 46 years deceased.  Regardless, happy birthday Mr. Truman.  May 8, 1884; that’s quite a long time ago.  May 8, 1884, to December 26, 1972, now that’s quite a life.  A very distinguished life, as well.  Fighting political corruption, V-E Day (on our birthday no less!), The Marshall Plan, Truman Doctrine, creation of NATO, creation of the United Nations, the integration of the military, recognition of Israel, the Berlin Airlift, the defense of Taiwan, the defense of South Korea, firing of General MacArthur, renovation of the White House, the firing of Attorney-General McGrath, and most importantly, the response to Paul Hume’s criticism of your daughter Margaret.  A very distinguished life.  I have admired you for many years, and I am very proud that we share a birthday, but there is that thing.  You know that.  It.  The decision.  The decision before Lebron James’ “The Decision.”  The one that killed 199,000 humans immediately, thousands more hibakusha from radiation sickness and cancer, and has also infected later generations with residual effects, such as anxiety and somatization.  That decision.  The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I know you think you made the best decision.  And I’m sure it was not an easy decision.  Nor do I envy that fact that you had to make that decision.  And I get it; I’ve heard all the rationalizations: punish Japan for Pearl Harbor; “They started it first;” it saved American soldiers lives; it avoided a protracted invasion; it was a prescient warning to the Soviet Union; it prevented Japan from being divided as Korea and Germany were divided; it was a necessary evil; it had to be done, after all, what choice did we have?  How about this one: we didn’t know how destructive it would be.  Well, you know what?  We should have.  And, after August 6th’s bombing of Hiroshima, we surely ought to have known.  After the bombing of Nagasaki, we knew.  Tsutomu Yamaguchi knew.  He survived both Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and later died of stomach cancer on January 4, 2010, at the age of 93.

Ask the Korean conscripted prisoners about the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Approximately 22,000 innocent Korean prisoners died in the atomic blasts. Mr. President, I know that the 9/11 Attacks happened many years after your death, but I assure you, it was a big deal.  The attacks have seared a place in our national psyche.  In denouncing the 9/11 attacks, it is often pointed out that -even if perpetrators were trying to kill Americans- more than 12% (372) of the fatalities from the victims were foreign nationals.  Three hundred and seventy-two foreign individuals died because al-Qaeda was trying to kill Americans.  And in August 1945, more than 22,000 non-Japanese died because Americans were trying to kill Japanese civilians.

I am particularly fascinated by those two terms, Mr. President.  Let’s take the second one first: Civilians; non-combatants: women, children, the elderly, teachers, policemen, excetera, excetera.  In fact, eight of those non-combatants were European prisoners-of-war (one British national, and seven Dutch nationals).  And one American soldier, Joe Kieyoomia, was captured by the Japanese Imperial forces and only survived Hiroshima because the falling wall of his cell shielded his body from the blast.  Now, I don’t want to get too Biblical on you here, because I know you’re a good Baptist man and you know your Bible.  So you already know that, in Genesis Chapter 18, God decides to not destroy the “exceedingly grave…wicked” people of Sodom and Gomorrah to save just ten righteous people; would that you could have had the same compassion, my President?

And that is just the term, “civilian.”  Honestly, I am even more concerned about the term “Japanese” when we discuss the almost quarter of a million Japanese civilians who perished in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I know that Germany had surrendered earlier that year, but I have to ask, would you have used an atomic bomb on Germany?  Would you have utterly destroyed the great cities of Berlin, Hamburg or Munich?  After all, Munich was the seat of Hitler’s early rise to power, perhaps “they deserved it too”?  I know we fire-bombed Dresden and did incalculable damage, but would we have vaporized a German city of innocent women, children and the elderly?  I feel that we would not.  I feel there is an inherent bias in the decision to bomb Japan and not Germany.  In the 1940s, a plurality of Americans were of German ancestry and most Americans were of European descent.  Europeans are Christian Caucasians, just like the power brokers in Washington, DC, were in the 1940s.

US Civil War General Sherman said it best: “War is hell.”  War is, by definition, violent and people die.  Innocent people die.  But, when you make decisions to spare the cities, civilian populations, and art work (think Albrecht Gaiswinkler and the real life Monument Men) of one racial/ethnic/religious group of people while, at the same time, not considering the human, historical, architectural and artistic heritage of another demographic group, it should start to become uncomfortable.  It should make people squirm.  It should start to raise questions.

Perhaps we shouldn’t condemn the leaders of the past.  After all, we are all products of the context and cultural biases of our time.  (For example, recently we have debated President Woodrow Wilson’s reputation and place in our history.)  Hindsight is 20/20; ex post facto logic and all that jazz.  Sparing condemnation, however, does not mean necessarily mean exoneration or impunity.  Mr. President, you gave the authorization that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings in an instant.  And you withheld that same bloodlust when it came to bombing European cities and population centers.  You discriminated your actions, at least in part, on the unique demographics of the target populations.

A few years after your decision, the United Nations (which you helped usher into existence) created a new international law known as the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  In this statute, genocide is defined as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”  (Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2, 1948).

Mr. President, I know you don’t know me as well as I know you; but I have to tell you that, right now, there are people out there rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, and saying something akin to “Oh, Tom; there you go again: genocide, genocide, genocide.”  I know it, now you know it too.  I get it.  But I hope you get it too; that is, I hope you can connect the dots.  As a people, as humans, we now have this term “genocide.”  This term has a legal definition and, it says, genocide is defined as killing either in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.  You, Mr. President, killed hundreds of thousands of people that all belonged to a national/ethnic/racial/religious group that was distinct, not just from your own and the majority of our country, but also distinct from the other belligerents in Europe who were treated much differently.

Much later, in 1964, a WWII veteran famously said that pornography was difficult to define, but, said LTJG Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”  That Lieutenant Junior Grade officer was Potter Stewart and he went on to become an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  Mr. President, I admire much of your work, but there is that one decision that I question.  In this case, there is an elephant in the room and, as another expression would have it, your decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki has failed the Elephant Test.

Happy 132nd birthday, my birthday twin,