Category: War

We all have so much work to do

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: ‘Trump is where he is because of his appeal to racism’

By Donald McRae, Friday 8 December 2017 13.26 EST

 

Like all people my age I find the passage of time so startling,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says with a quiet smile. The 70-year-old remains the highest points-scorer in the history of the NBA and, having won six championships and been picked for a record 19 All-Star Games, he is regarded widely as being second only to Michael Jordan when the greatest basketball players of all time are listed. Yet no one in American sport today can match Kareem’s political and cultural impact over 50 years.

In the 90 minutes since he knocked on my hotel room door in Los Angeles, Abdul-Jabbar has recounted a dizzying personal history which stretches from conducting his first-ever interview with Martin Luther King in Harlem, when he was just 17, to receiving a hand-written insult from Donald Trump in 2015. We move from Colin Kaepernick calling him last week to the moment when, aged 20, Kareem was the youngest man invited to the Cleveland Summit – as the leading black athletes in 1967 gathered to meet Muhammad Ali to decide whether they would support him after he had been stripped of his world title and banned from boxing for rejecting the draft during the Vietnam War.

Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has been shut out of the NFL for his refusal to stand for the US national anthem, is engaged in a different struggle. But, after being banished unofficially from football for going down on a bended knee in protest against racism and police brutality, Kaepernick has one of his staunchest allies in Abdul-Jabbar.

At the Cleveland Summit Abdul-Jabbar was called Lew Alcindor, for he had not converted to Islam then, and he became one of Ali’s ardent supporters. When Ali convinced his fellow athletes he was right to stand against the US government, the young basketball star knew he needed to make his more reticent voice heard. He has stayed true to that conviction ever since.

“We’re talking about 50 years since the Cleveland Summit, wow,” Abdul-Jabbar exclaims. “We were tense about what we were going to do and Ali was the opposite. He said: ‘We’ve got to fight this in court and I’m going to start a speaking tour.’ Ali had figured out what he had to do in order to make the dollars – while fighting the case was essential to his identity. Bill Russell [the great Boston Celtics player] said: ‘I’ve got no concerns about Ali. It’s the rest of us I’m worried about.’ Ali had such conviction but he was cracking jokes and asking us if we were going to be as dumb as Wilt Chamberlain [another basketball great who played for the Philadelphia 76ers]. Wilt wanted to box Ali. Oh my God.”

Abdul-Jabbar’s face creases with laughter before he becomes more serious again. “Black Americans wanted to protect Ali because he spoke for us when we had no voice. When he said: ‘Ain’t no Viet Cong ever called me the N-word’, we figured that one out real quick. Ali was a winner and people supported him because of his class as a human being. But some of the things we fought against then are still happening. Each generation faces these same old problems.”

The previous evening, when I had sat next to Abdul-Jabbar at the Los Angeles Press Club awards, the past echoed again. Abdul-Jabbar received two prizes – the Legend Award and Columnist of the Year for his work in the Hollywood Reporter. Other award winners included Tippi Hedren, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds, and the New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey who broke the Harvey Weinstein story two months ago. As if to prove that the past can be played over and over again in a contemporary loop, we saw footage of Hedren saying how she would not accept the sexual bullying of Hitchcock in the 1960s just before Kantor and Twohey described how they earned the trust of women who had been abused by Weinstein.

Abdul-Jabbar explained quietly to me how much of an ordeal he found such occasions. He was happiest talking about John Coltrane or Sherlock Holmes, James Baldwin or Bruce Lee, but people kept coming over to ask for a selfie or a book to be signed while, all evening, comic references were made to his height. Abdul-Jabbar is 7ft 2in and he looked two feet taller than Hedren on the red carpet.

The following morning, as he stretches out his long legs, I tell Kareem how I winced each time another wise-crack was made about his height. “I can tell you I was six-foot-two, aged 12, when the questions started,” Abdul-Jabbar says. “‘How’s the weather up there?’ I should write down all the things people said when affected by my height. One of the funniest was at an airport and this little boy of five looked at my feet in amazement. I said: ‘Hey, how you’re doing?’ He just said: ‘You must be very old – because you’ve got very big shoes.’ For him the older you were, the bigger your shoes. That’s the best I’ve heard.”

In his simple but often beautiful and profound new book, Becoming Kareem, Abdul-Jabbar writes poignantly: “My skin made me a symbol, my height made me a target.”

Race has been the primary issue which Abdul-Jabbar has confronted every day. In another absorbing Abdul-Jabbar book published this year, Coach Wooden and Me, he celebrates his friendship with the man who helped him win an unprecedented three NCAA championship titles with UCLA. They lost only two games in his three years on campus as UCLA established themselves as the greatest team in the history of college basketball and Wooden, a white midwesterner, and Kareem, a black kid from New York, forged a bond that lasted a half-century. Yet, amid their shared morality and decency, race remained an unresolved issue between them.

Wooden was mortified when a little old lady stared up at the teenage Kareem and said: “I’ve never seen a nigger that tall.” Even though he would later say that he learnt more about man’s inhumanity to man by witnessing all his protégé endured over the years, Wooden’s memory of that encounter softened the woman’s racial insult by saying that she had called Kareem “a big black freak.”

Abdul-Jabbar nods. “He would never see a little grey-haired lady using such language. When it doesn’t affect your life it’s hard for you to see. Men don’t understand what attractive women go through. We don’t get on a bus and have somebody squeeze our breast. We have no idea how bad it can be. For people to understand your predicament you’ve got to figure out how to convey that reality. It takes time.”

Abdul-Jabbar made his first high-profile statement against the predicament of all African Americans when, in 1968, he boycotted the Olympic Games in Mexico. After race riots in Newark and Detroit, and the assassination of King in April 1968, he knew he could not represent his country. “Dr Harry Edwards [the civil rights activist] helped me realise how much power I had. The Olympics are a great event but what happened overwhelmed any patriotism. I had to make a stand. I wanted the country to live up to the words of the founding fathers – and make sure they applied to people of colour and to women. I was trying to hold America to that standard.”

The athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos took another path of protest. They competed in the Olympic 200m in Mexico and, after they had won gold and bronze, raised their gloved fists in a black power salute on the podium. “I was glad somebody with some political consciousness had gone to Mexico,” Abdul-Jabbar says, “so I was very supportive of them.”

Does Kaepernick’s situation mirror those same issues? “Yeah. The whole issue of equal treatment under the law is still being worked out here because for so long our political and legal culture has denied black Americans equal treatment. But I was surprised Kaepernick had that awareness. It made me think: ‘I wonder how many other NFL athletes are also aware?’ From there it has bloomed. This generation has a very good idea on how to confront racism. I talked to Colin a couple of days ago on the phone and I’m really proud of him. He’s filed an issue with the Players Association about the owners colluding to keep him from working. That’s the best legal approach to it. I hope he prevails.”

Over dinner the night before, he intimated that Kaepernick knew he would never play in the NFL again. “We didn’t get that deep into it,” he says now, “but he has an idea that is what’s going down. But he’s moved on. He hadn’t prepared for this but he coped with different twists and turns. Some of the owners in the NFL are sympathetic, some aren’t. It’s gone back and forth. But he appreciates the fact that kids in high school have taken an interest. So he got something done and this generation’s athletes are now more aware of civil rights.”

Kaepernick has been voted GQ’s Citizen of the Year, the runner-up in Time magazine’s Person of the Year and this week he received Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. Considering the way Kaepernick “has never wavered in his commitment”, Abdul-Jabbar writes in Sports Illustrated that: “I have never been prouder to be an American … On November 30, it was reported that 40 NFL players and league officials had reached an agreement for the league to provide approximately $90m between now and 2023 for activism endeavors important to African American communities. Clearly, this is the result of Colin’s one-knee revolution and of the many players and coaches he inspired to join him. That is some serious impact … Were my old friend [Ali] still alive, I know he would be proud that Colin is continuing this tradition of being a selfless warrior for social justice.”

In my hotel room, Abdul-Jabbar is more specific in linking tragedy and a deepening social conscience. “I don’t know how anybody could not be moved by some of the things we’ve seen. Remember the footage of [12-year-old] Tamir Rice getting killed [in Cleveland [in 2014]. The car stops and the cop stands up and executes Tamir Rice. It took two seconds. It’s so unbelievably brutal you have to do something about it.

“LeBron James and other guys in the NBA all had something to say about such crimes [James and leading players wore I Can’t Breathe T-shirts in December 2014 to protest against the police killing of Eric Garner, another black man]. They weren’t talking as athletes. They were talking as parents because that could have been their kid.”

If the NFL appears to have actively ended Kaepernick’s career, what does Abdul-Jabbar feel about the NBA’s politics? “The NBA has been wonderful. I came into the NBA and went to Milwaukee [where he won his first championship before winning five more with the LA Lakers]. Milwaukee had the first black general manager in professional sports [Wayne Embry in 1972]. And the NBA’s outreach for coaches, general managers and women has been exemplary. The NBA has been on the edge of change. I was hoping the NFL might do the same because some of the owners were taking the knee. But they’re making an example of Colin. It’s not right. Let him go out there and succeed or fail on the field like any other great athlete.”

Abdul-Jabbar smiles shyly when I ask him about his first interview – with Martin Luther King 53 years ago. “As a journalist I started out interviewing Dr King. Whoa! By that point [1964], Dr King was a serious icon and I was thrilled he gave me a really good earnest answer. Moments like that affect your life. But my first real experience of being drawn into the civil rights movement came when I read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.”

Has he seen I Am Not Your Negro – Raoul Peck’s 2016 documentary of Baldwin? “It’s wonderful. I saw it two weeks after the Trump election. It was menacing for my soul. It made me think of how bad things were for James Baldwin. But remember him speaking at Cambridge [University] and the reception he got? Oh man, amazing! I kept telling people: ‘Trump is an asshole but go and see this film. Trump doesn’t matter because we’ve got work to do.’”

In 2015, after Abdul-Jabbar wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post, condemning Trump’s attempts to bully the press, the future president sent him a scrawled note: “Kareem – now I know why the press always treated you so badly. They couldn’t stand you. The fact is you don’t have a clue about life and what has to be done to make America great again.”

Abdul-Jabbar smiles when I say that schoolyard taunt is a long way from the oratory of King or Malcolm X. “If you judge yourself by your enemies I’m doing great. Trump’s not going to change. He knows he is where he is because of his appeal to racism and xenophobia. The people that want to divide the country are in his camp. They want to go back to the 18th century.

“Trump wants to move us back to 1952 but he’s not Eisenhower – who was the type of Republican that cared about the whole nation. Even George Bush Sr and George W Bush’s idea of fellow citizens did not exclude people of colour. George W’s cabinet looked like America. It had Condoleezza Rice and the Mexican American gentleman who was the attorney general [Alberto Gonzales] and Colin Powell. Women had important positions in his administration. Even though I did not like his policies, he wasn’t exclusionary.

“Look what’s going on with Trump in Alabama [where the president supports Roy Moore in the state senate election despite his favoured candidate being accused of multiple sexual assaults of under-age girls]. You have a guy like him but he’s going to vote the way you want politically. That’s more important than what he’s accused of? People with that frightening viewpoint are still fighting a civil war. They have to be contained.”

Does he fear that Trump might win a second term? “I don’t think he can, but the rest of us had better organise and vote in 2020. I hope people stop him ruining our nation.”

Abdul-Jabbar also worries that college sport remains as exploitative as ever. “It’s a business and the coaches, the NCAA and universities make a lot of money and the athletes get exploited. They make billions of dollars for the whole system and don’t get any. I’m not saying they have to be wealthy but I think they should get a share of the incredible amount they generate.”

In Coach Wooden and Me, he writes of how, in the 1960s, he was famous at UCLA but dead broke. “Yeah. No cash. It’s ridiculous. Basketball and football fund everything. College sports do not function on the revenue from water polo or track and field or gymnastics. It’s all down to basketball and football. The athletes at Northwestern tried to organise a union and that’s how college athletes have to think. They need to unionise. If they can organise they can get a piece of the pie because they are the show.”

The legendary Michael Jordan never showed the social conscience of Abdul-Jabbar and other rare NBA activists like Craig Hodges. But Abdul-Jabbar is conciliatory towards Jordan and his commercially-driven contemporaries. “I was glad they became interested in being successful businessmen because their financial power makes a difference. I just felt they should leave a little room to help the causes they knew needed their help. But Jordan has come around. He gave some money to the NAACP for legal funds, thank goodness.”

Abdul-Jabbar defines himself as a writer now. As he reflects on his LA Press Club awards he says: “To be honoured by other writers is incredible. I’m a neophyte. I’m a rookie.”

He grins when I say he’s not doing not too badly for a rookie who has written 13 books, including novels about Mycoft Holmes – brother of Sherlock. “Yeah, but I still feel new to it and to get that recognition was wonderful. I was very flattered that the BBC came to interview me about Mycroft because the British are very protective of their culture. Arthur Conan Doyle is beyond an icon. So I was like, ‘Wow, maybe I am doing OK.’ When I was [an NBA] rookie somebody gave me a complete compilation of Doyle’s stories. I went from there.

“People were amazed because I always used to be reading before a game – whether it was Sherlock Holmes or Malcolm X, John Le Carré or James Baldwin. But that was one of the luxuries of being a professional athlete. You get lots of time to read. My team-mates did not read to the same extent but I’m a historian and some of the guys had big holes in their knowledge of black history. So I was the librarian for the team.”

I tell Abdul-Jabbar about my upcoming interview with Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics – and how the 21-year-old has the same thirst for reading and knowledge. While enthusiastic about the possibility of meeting Brown when the Celtics next visit LA, Abdul-Jabbar makes a wistful observation of a young sportsman’s intellectual curiosity. “He’s going to be lonely. Most of the guys are like: ‘Where are we going to party in this town? Where are the babes?’ So the fact that he has such broader interests is remarkable and wonderful.”

Abdul-Jabbar acknowledges that his own bookish nature and self-consciousness about his height, combined with a fierce sense of injustice, made him appear surly and aloof as a player. It also meant he was never offered the head-coach job he desired. “They didn’t think I could communicate and they didn’t take the time to get to know me. But I didn’t make it easy for them so some of that falls in my lap – absolutely. But it’s different now. People stop me in the street and want to talk about my articles. It’s amazing.”

Most of all, in his eighth decade, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar “loves to lose myself in my imagination. It’s a wonderful place to go when you’re old and creaky like me. I see myself working at this pace [writing at least a book a year] but it’s not like I have the hounds at my heels. Since my career ended I’ve been able to have friends and family. My new granddaughter will be three this month. She’s my very first [grandchild]. So my life has expanded in wonderful ways. But, still, we all have so much work to do. The work is a long way from being done.”

 

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/dec/08/kareem-abdul-jabbar-kaepernick-trump-interview

Photograph by Austin Hargrave (AUGUST).

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/12/08/we-all-have-so-much-work-to-do/

War

 

Hedd Wyn: the shepherd poet whose story shows the stupidity of war

By Giles Fraser, Thursday 9 November 2017

 

When the first world war broke out, the poet Ellis Humphrey Evans was working as a shepherd on the family hill farm in north Wales. Generally better known by his bardic name, Hedd Wyn, which means blessed peace in Welsh, Evans initially refused to sign up. While the Anglican establishment was calling on young men to do their duty for God and country, there were others, particularly in the Welsh nonconformist tradition, who refused this dangerous combination. “Why must I live in this grim age,” writes Evans in his poem War, “When, to a far horizon, God / Has ebbed away, and man, with rage / Now wields the sceptre and the rod.”

But when the army came for his younger brother, Evans took his place, despite his Christian pacifism – or perhaps even because of it. He joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. In France, trudging towards Passchendaele – a three-month battle that was concluded 100 years ago on Friday – Private Evans composed his final poem on the theme of the hero and posted it back home as an entry in the national Eisteddfod competition.

Twice in the last few months people have spoken to me movingly about Hedd Wyn. First was Paul Flynn, the veteran Labour MP for Newport West. Flynn’s father was a machine-gunner at Passchendaele. Believing all the nationalistic propaganda, he enlisted and fought through the worst of the mud and death. He survived, but was never the same again. Which is why, even at 82, Flynn still burns with righteous anger at the stupidity and pointlessness of war; and why he was so exercised when Tory MP Bill Cash foolishly described Passchendaele as “a wonderful battle” in a Commons debate earlier this year. As he was explaining to me what his father went through, Flynn reached for a copy of Hedd Wyn’s poems and started reading them out in Welsh – a language I do not understand. But the way he read was so intense, so focused, there was no mistaking the moral seriousness of what he was doing.

A few weeks later, I mentioned how moving I had found this to Rowan Williams, whom I had gone to visit in Cambridge. At the name of Hedd Wyn his eyes lit up. He took me into his study, where, on the bookshelf, he showed me an image of the great Welsh poet painted in the form of an orthodox icon. I knew very little about this poet beforehand, but it was clear this young shepherd from Trawsfynydd had profoundly touched the lives of many.

Hedd Wyn was killed on the first day of Passchendaele. “It was a nosecap shell in his stomach,” wrote a soldier, with him on Pilckem Ridge in the notorious Ypres salient. During the 100 days of the battle of Passchedaele, the allies gained just five miles of ground. For this they lost 310,000 men; the Germans 260,000.

A few weeks after Hedd Wyn’s death, the poem that he’d sent back from France – as tradition has it, submitted anonymously under a pseudonym – won the coveted bard’s chair at the National Eisteddfod. The prime minister, David Lloyd George, was in attendance. As the trumpets sounded, they called on the winning poet to reveal himself. After three such attempts, the archdruid stepped forward and gave the grim news that Evans had been killed in action six weeks before. The empty chair was draped in a black sheet. To this day it is remembered as the Eisteddfod of the black chair.

I will stand in silence with my poppy during the act of remembrance. But I am always conscious that remembrance is a little too easily purloined by those who want to celebrate precisely the sort of militarism and nationalistic chauvinism that led so many young men to pointless deaths. So during the silence, I will be thinking of a peace-loving man walking the hills with his sheep and hundreds of thousands like him whose lives were needlessly taken by the failure of politicians to figure out a better way for human beings to live with their differences. And I will think of that empty black chair, a haunting symbol of the total futility of war.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2017/nov/09/hedd-wyn-the-shepherd-poet-whose-story-shows-the-stupidity-of-war

Photograph of stretcher-bearers struggling in mud to carry a wounded man to safety on Pilckem Ridge, Ypres, on 1 August 1917. The day before, Hedd Wyn had been killed in this area. IWM/Getty Images.

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/11/21/war/

Distinguished intellectual tradition

Let’s be honest about the Second Amendment

By Matthew Walther, October 6, 2017

 

The Second Amendment clearly and definitively does not say what so many gun-rights absolutists in America claim it does. This is interesting when you consider conservatives’ otherwise consistent adherence to constitutional originalism.

Consider, for instance, that one of the soundest, if clearly not the most persuasive, arguments made against legalized abortion in this country is that the actual text of the 14th Amendment, so far from containing some kind of ethereal right to privacy that extends to child murder under appropriately clandestine conditions, is a straightforward brief for protecting the lives of all persons, including those in utero.

In order to accept this position, you have to imagine that when you read the Constitution, what matters is the text itself, not your prejudices or preferences. Does a given statue do something that the text forbids? No? Then it is constitutional, which is not the same thing as laudable or sensible or not downright evil. Affirming that a piece of law is “constitutional” is a very low bar to clear in moral terms; it is the legal equivalent of being asked how lunch was and responding “carbon-based.”

For a variety of reasons, American liberals have, often with an eye on its historical shortcomings, come largely to reject this approach to jurisprudence. Conservatives have not. Originalism is a litmus to which every Republican nominee to the Supreme Court in my lifetime has been subjected. An entire parallel industry has grown up in the legal profession around the philosophy. Thinking in originalist terms is second nature for American conservatives.

This is why it’s so bizarre when the Second Amendment is trotted out by conservatives in defense of the virtually unlimited rights of firearm enthusiasts to purchase, decorate, modify, load, play dress-up with, and occasionally shoot a vast array of tools manufactured for the sole purpose of taking human life with grim efficiency. From an originalist reading of the text, it is not automatically clear that individuals in their private capacity have a right to own so much as a squirt gun.

Let us remind ourselves exactly what the Second Amendment says: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” No fair-minded adult reader could possibly hope to reconcile these 27 words with the fanatical views of the Second Amendment Foundation and the National Rifle Association.

Which is not to say that the amendment disqualifies them either; rather, it is silent on the subject. This is a provision about state militias, the 18th-century ancestor of our armed forces, as The Federalist No. 29 makes clear. Translated into 21st-century American, all this means is that we should have a military. Guess what? We’ve got one already, one that is far more capable of providing for “the security of a free state” than any ragtag bunch of firearm-hoarding hobbyists. Not even 10,000 of this country’s most dedicated Halo LARPers could defend this country against a Russian or Chinese invasion — but just one of them can kill dozens of people in a matter of seconds using firearms and ammunition that can be legally purchased with relative ease.

None of this should actually be a problem for gun fanatics. They are free to make any arguments they wish in favor of their pet cause. But they cannot, if they are being intellectually honest, pretend that their opponents lose automatically because of the Second Amendment. According to our constitutional settlement, the question of what, if any, regulations should govern the private ownership and use of machine guns, pistols, javelins, nunchaku, rapiers, catapults, and nuclear warheads is one that is left to the prudence of our democratically elected legislators at the local, state, and federal level.

There is, in fact, only one really good argument in favor of a broad understanding — one that goes beyond rifles for hunting and hobby shooting and handguns in some circumstances for basic protection — of gun rights in this country. It is what you find if you scratch any Second Amendment absolutist, and it has a basis in the English Bill of Rights, which ex-post-facto justified the Protestant overthrow of that country’s rightful Catholic monarch.

If the argument is that you need guns that are technically not the same ones Marines use to kill terrorists but just tricked out to inspire the same amount of fear in onlookers and fire nearly as fast for some hitherto-unspecified moment when it will become necessary to put on war paint and lay siege to Washington, congratulations: You are working in the distinguished intellectual tradition of Jefferson Davis, Ted Kaczynski, and Timothy McVeigh, among other giants of modern conservative thought.

Do you need guns for the second American civil war? Make that argument if you want. It would be, if nothing else, a great deal more interesting than telling lies about a 200-some-year-old piece of parchment.

 

http://theweek.com/articles/729051/lets-honest-about-second-amendment

Photo (Hi-Story/Alamy Stock Photo): http://api.theweek.com/sites/default/files/styles/tw_image_9_4/public/JWBG64.jpg

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/10/06/distinguished-intellectual-tradition/

Hands-off relationship with the truth

Sebastian Gorka, the West Wing’s Phony Foreign-Policy Guru

By Bob Dreyfuss, August 10, 2017

 

The Breitbart News headline, back in November 2014, rang like a five-alarm fire bell: MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD OVERRUNS NATIONAL CATHEDRAL IN DC. Its author, Breitbart’s national-security editor, was Dr. Sebastian L. v. Gorka, who currently occupies a top White House post as “deputy assistant” to President Donald Trump. And like just about anything Gorka has said or written, the Breitbart headline was wrong in every way. It wasn’t the Muslim Brotherhood at all, and no one overran anything. Despite his characteristic hyperventilation, the event in question was a dignified, interfaith prayer service organized jointly by the leaders of Washington National Cathedral and five mainstream Muslim organizations seeking to unite “voices of moderation.”

But critics charge that Gorka’s hyperbole and his hands-off relationship with the truth have lately sent his stock skyrocketing with the president. Renowned for his disdain for the media and his blithe readiness to defend Trump to the last tweet, Gorka – who apparently tools around Washington in a Mustang with a license plate that reads ART [OF] WAR – has become a nearly ubiquitous presence on television and radio as a spokesman for the White House. “Did you see Gorka?” Trump reportedly said after Gorka took part in figurative fisticuffs on CNN. “So great. I mean, really, truly great!”

Gorka views himself as a “utility infielder, especially in the field of counterterrorism,” and claims to provide behind-the-scenes advice to Trump on how to fight terrorism, while serving under the wing of Steve Bannon, his former boss at Breitbart. “It’s surreal and quite horrifying that someone who’s such an amateur has reached such heights,” says David Ucko, associate professor in the Department of War and Conflict Studies at National Defense University. Adds Michael S. Smith II, a veteran terrorism analyst who’s had unpleasant run-ins with Gorka, “This is not somebody who should be working anywhere near the White House.” Even more bluntly, a colleague of Smith’s, Cindy Storer, an ex-CIA terrorism analyst, said, “He’s nuts.”

It’s not easy to find out exactly what Gorka does in the White House for his $155,000 salary. In terms of policy, according to The New York Times, Trump’s recent pro-Saudi Arabia tilt was “driven by two advisers, Stephen K. Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.” But a former top White House official tells Rolling Stone, “His only job appears to be to go on talk radio or Fox News to defend the indefensible.” That he does constantly, spinning the administration’s confused, roller-coaster ride of a foreign policy; slamming “the fake-news industrial complex,” on CNN; supporting a Supreme Court decision as “a slap in the face” to critics of Trump’s Muslim travel ban, on talk radio; and, on MSNBC, explaining Donald Trump Jr.’s secret meeting with a team of Russians peddling dirt as “a massive nothingburger.”

Early this year, his wife and partner, Katharine Cornell Gorka, took up a post at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where she is now an adviser to the department’s policy office. Almost as soon as they entered the Trump administration, the Gorkas absorbed withering incoming fire from national-security experts and in a series of exposés in LobeLog.com and The Forward, a progressive Jewish periodical. By late April, White House sources told The New York Times and The Washington Post that Gorka was on the way out. Yet so far – likely thanks to support from Bannon – both Gorkas have defiantly stayed in place. According to one insider, Gorka’s dubious qualifications may have saved him. “The White House tried to find him a job at another agency,” says the source. But no luck: “Nobody wanted him.”

In person, Gorka is always nattily attired, sporting a distinguished-looking splash of facial hair to go with his precise, deep-baritone, British-accented English. Insisting everywhere that he be referred to as “doctor,” Gorka began his rise with a 2008 Ph.D. awarded by little-known Corvinus University of Budapest, an institution that several scholars who spoke to Rolling Stone described as having a questionable reputation. “Corvinus is pretty low-tier, maybe third- or fourth-tier,” says Daniel Nexon, a scholar at Georgetown University who has reviewed Gorka’s dissertation. “He might as well have mail-ordered his Ph.D.” Nexon ran its text through plagiarism software and found that portions of it were “repurposed.”

“Gorka’s thesis is about as legitimate as if he had been awarded it by Trump University,” says Andrew Reynolds, a professor at the University of North Carolina who looked into Gorka’s background. He says that of the three people who served as endorsers of Gorka’s Ph.D., two didn’t have any academic credentials whatsoever, and a third was György Schöpflin, a right-wing Hungarian politician who, Reynolds adds, was a Gorka family friend and once suggested studding a Hungarian border fence with pig heads to send a message to Muslim refugees. (Gorka said later that Schöpflin was “making a joke”; Gorka, whom Rolling Stone reached out to repeatedly, declined to comment for this article.)

Perhaps even more worrisome, Gorka’s thesis proposed a dramatic restructuring of the national-security apparatus to create a police state. He suggests a radical reform of “internal barriers between the police force, the army and various intelligence services.” This could also be seen as the start of a Gestapo-like, all-powerful national system of repression. “That’s about as Nazi Germany- or Soviet Union-like a proposal as I’ve ever heard,” says Patrick Eddington of the conservative Cato Institute. “The net effect would be to suspend the Bill of Rights, if his proposal ever saw the light of day.”

During the decade and a half Gorka spent in Hungary, he was enmeshed in a web of ultraright, anti-Semitic and even Nazi-like parties, politicians and media outlets. For most of the 2000s, the Gorkas ran a think tank in Budapest called the Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security (ITDIS). For funding, Gorka received at least $27,650 in U.S. federal grants, according to government records. “We worked for ourselves,” Katharine Gorka tells Rolling Stone.

In the mid-2000s, Hungary’s left-leaning government found itself besieged by right-wing street protests. Many of the protesters were affiliated with ultranationalist leader Viktor Orbán, who’s been called a “neo-fascist dictator” by Sen. John McCain, and who leads Hungary today. Gorka served as adviser to Orbán, and later wrote for an overtly anti-Semitic newspaper, Magyar Demokrata. By all accounts, Gorka’s own writing and statements at the time included no anti-Semitic comments, and neither The Forward nor other reporters who’ve investigated his background in Hungary have turned up any evidence that Gorka himself participated in anything that could be called anti-Jewish. “What you can say for sure is that he was allied with people who have very extremist views,” says Péter Krekó of the Political Capital Institute in Hungary. “He was an opportunist, and he cooperated with figures who were very marginal.”

For his part, Gorka denies any knowledge of the anti-Semitic backgrounds of his colleagues. Katharine Gorka says that all of the charges about her husband’s years in Hungary have been debunked. “He has never in any way been associated with the far right,” she says. “One of the reasons why we left Hungary was because of Sebastian’s discomfort with the far right.”

Yet these denials are hard to square with Gorka’s family background. Having fled Hungary for London after 1956, Gorka’s parents joined a raucous mix of anti-Communist, right-wing exiles, including those who belonged to the Order of Knights (Vitézi Rend), an organization with an unsavory past. Vitézi Rend was created by the Nazi-backed ruler of Hungary, and many of its members were involved in the slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust. Today, members of the Order fall under an immigration watch by the State Department on groups that have violated human rights. Gorka and his father were reported to have joined (Katharine says this is false). And in photographs, Gorka has been spotted sporting a Vitézi Rend medal that, he insisted, he wore only to honor his father.

 

Since this affiliation was exposed by The Forward, Gorka has been engulfed in a storm of criticism, with members of Congress writing the White House to demand that he be fired. “Our main concern is that Dr. Gorka is a member of certain anti-Semitic Nazi groups such as Vitézi Rend,” says Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat. “There’s a lot of evidence that he was a member: He swore a lifelong loyalty, he’s used the honorific initial v., he’s been photographed with some of their insignia.” So far, Nadler and his colleagues haven’t heard back from the White House.

In 2008, the Gorkas moved to the United States. They established a network of organizations in the Virginia area: the Westminster Institute, the Council on Global Security, the Threat Knowledge Group and TheGorkaBriefing.com. According to Katharine Gorka, the council was a nonprofit “doing work on extremism,” and the Threat Knowledge Group was a business “providing training to law enforcement and the military.” Katharine founded the Westminster Institute as a think tank to do research “on the rise of radical Islam.”

In his published biographies, Gorka provides a long list of places where he peddled his views, including the FBI, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, the National Counterterrorism Center, West Point and more. Gorka’s most-touted position was a two-year stint at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. James Joyner, a retired Army officer and associate professor of strategic studies at MCU, who saw Gorka in action, wasn’t impressed, saying that Gorka was hardly an academic: “He’s kind of the guy you see on TV. He’s bombastic.” Gorka’s views, adds Joyner, were well out of the mainstream. “To the Bush administration’s credit, one thing that they got right was, they said, ‘This is not a war against Islam.’ But Gorka is like, ‘No, these people are very dominant within the religion, their religion leads this way, and even though most Muslims aren’t terrorists, they at least lean that way.’ And that’s wrong.”

In many lectures, Gorka lumps together Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban, Iran’s clerical rulers and the Muslim Brotherhood in one box: as proponents of a world-dominating Muslim caliphate that must be crushed. Even the differences between Sunnis and Shiites don’t faze him. “Today, the Global Jihad has two brands,” he wrote for Breitbart. “It is a war of the ‘Sunni Coke’ versus the ‘Shia Pepsi.’ ” Gorka insists that everyone in Washington is wrong, and only he understands the fearsome nature of the enemy. “He is speaking the truth, and if you disagree with it,” Joyner says, “you’re an idiot.”

Mia Bloom, a widely published expert on terrorism and a professor at Georgia State University, recalls an encounter with Gorka on a terrorism panel at the Defense Intelligence Agency. “Gorka knows virtually nothing,” she says. “His views are a mixture of Islamophobia and racism. We’d been given questions in advance, we were paid for our appearance, and he just bullshitted his way through it – and he brought books to sell!” All of which is why Paul Pillar, a former national intelligence officer for the Middle East, says Gorka is too dangerous to be allowed to remain in the White House: “Gorka represents an intolerance that offends American values and is likely to gain the United States more enemies than friends.”

 

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/sebastian-gorka-the-west-wings-phony-foreign-policy-guru-w496912

Photograph (modified) of Sebastian Gorka, Deputy Assistant to President Trump, talking with people in the Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, during a ceremony commemorating Israeli Independence Day (by Susan Walsh, AP). https://thinkprogress.org/white-house-defends-silence-on-mosque-bombing-says-it-might-have-been-faked-by-liberals-718226415223/

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/08/11/hands-off-relationship-with-the-truth/

Self-deception started early

Howard Zinn’s July 4 Wisdom Stands the Test of Time

By Howard Zinn, July 4, 2017

 

 

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism—that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder—one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking—cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on— have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours—huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction—what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early.

When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession.”

When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: “It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day.”

On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our “Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence.” After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: “We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country.”

It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war.

 


 

We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, “to civilize and Christianize” the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.”

We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.

Yet they are victims, too, of our government’s lies.

How many times have we heard President Bush tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for “liberty,” for “democracy”?

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on September 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

 

http://progressive.org/dispatches/howard-zinn-s-july-4-wisdom-stands-test-time/

Portrait of Howard Zinn by Robert Shetterly. https://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/portraits/howard-zinn

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/07/05/self-deception-started-early/

America’s first civil war

The Scars of Our Nation’s Violent Birth

By George Will, July 1, 2017 8:00 PM

 

Philadelphia — Some American history museums belabor visitors with this message: You shall know the truth and it shall make you feel ashamed of, but oh-so-superior to, your wretched ancestors. The new Museum of the American Revolution is better than that. Located near Independence Hall, it celebrates the luminous ideas affirmed there 241 Julys ago, but it does not flinch from this fact: The war that began at Lexington and Concord 14 months before the Declaration of Independence was America’s first civil war. And it had all the messiness and nastiness that always accompany protracted fratricide.

Among its many interesting artifacts — weapons, uniforms, documents — the museum’s great possession is the tent George Washington used from 1778 to 1783, which on its long, winding path to the museum was owned by Robert E. Lee’s wife and was later sold to raise money for Confederate widows. The museum makes rather more than is necessary of the Oneida Indian Nation’s contributions to American independence but, then, the Oneidas are now in the casino business and contributed $10 million to the museum.

The museum has one of those “immersive” exhibits wherein visitors hear the cannon and feel the vibrations of battle. It would, however, be a more convincing experience of war if enemies were trying to impale the visitors with this war’s most lethal device, the bayonet.

Never mind. There are limits to what realities a museum can, or should try to, convey. This probably bothers those who are properly intent on making us face the worst facts. Consider, for example, Holger Hoock’s recently published Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth.

He writes in the manner of current academics, who are forever “unmasking” this and that. He offers “an unvarnished portrait” of revolutionary violence in order to purge the “popular memory” of “romanticized notions” and end the “whitewashing and selective remembering and forgetting” and — herewith the inevitable academic trope — the “privileging” of patriots’ perspectives.

Hoock is, however, right to document the harrowing violence, often opportunistic and sadistic, that was “fundamental” to how both sides experienced “America’s founding moment.” The war caused “proportionately more” deaths — from battle, captivity, and disease — than any war other than that of 1861–65. The perhaps 37,000 deaths were five times more per capita than America lost in World War II. Sixty-thousand loyalists became refugees. “The dislocated proportion of the American population exceeded that of the French in their revolution.” The economic decline “lasted for 15 years in a crisis unmatched until the Great Depression.”

After the second civil war, William Tecumseh Sherman declared that “war is hell.” Hoock demonstrates that this was true even when battle casualties (only 23 patriots died at Yorktown) were small by modern standards. He is, however, mistaken in suggesting that he is uniquely sensitive to our founding mayhem. Consider two recent books that examine the anarchic violence on both sides.

Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution (2013) recounts a patriot mob’s long torture, in January 1774, of loyalist John Malcom, a Boston customs officer, who was tarred and feathered: The crowd dislocated his arm while tearing off his clothes, then daubed his skin with steaming tar that parboiled his flesh. Paraded for many hours through Boston’s two feet of snow, beaten, whipped, and finally dumped “like a log” at his home, where “his tarred flesh started to peel off in ’steaks.’”

Alan Taylor’s American Revolutions: A Continental History (2016) hammers home the war’s human costs. A Connecticut critic of the Continental Congress was tarred, carried to a sty, and covered with hog’s dung, some of which was forced down his throat. Connecticut loyalists were imprisoned in a copper mine, in darkness 120 feet underground. Georgia patriots knocked a loyalist unconscious, “tied him to a tree, tarred his legs, and set them on fire” and then partially scalped him. Some courts ordered loyalists “branded on the face or cut off their ears” to make them recognizable.

This small, efficient new museum will stimulate public understanding by quickening interest in books like these. Its bookstore includes The Last Muster, a treasure of photographs displayed in the museum. They are of people who were born before the Revolution and lived to sit in front of cameras. An unquenchable dignity radiates from the visage of nattily dressed Caesar, who was born in 1737, and was owned as a slave by four generations of a New York family until his death in 1852, shortly before a new birth of freedom in our complicated country.

 

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/449162/american-revolution-museum-fourth-july-independence-day-violent-history

Painting of John Trumbull’s “The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton” (January 3, 1777). https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7d/The_Death_of_General_Mercer_at_the_Battle_of_Princeton_January_3_1777.jpeg

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/07/02/americas-first-civil-war/

We expect people to die.

The destruction of the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul is another example of the ‘culturecide’ we’ve become so used to

By Robert Fisk, Thursday 29 June 2017 12:45 BST

 

Over the years, I’ve almost lost count of the priceless treasures of art and antiquity which I’ve seen with my own eyes – and which now lie in pieces.

Fourteen years ago, racing across Mosul to see the building where US forces had just shot dead the sons of Saddam Hussein, I glimpsed the “hunchback” minaret of the 12th century al-Nuri mosque looming over the old city, built by Nur al-Din Mahmoud Zangi, an Arab hero who united the Arabs against the Crusaders. Gone, my lords and ladies, in just a few seconds, scarcely a week ago. We blamed Isis. Isis blamed a US air strike.

Back in 2012, I ran past the 12th century minaret of the Umayyad mosque in Aleppo, pounding down the road towards the ancient Citadel as bullets buzzed up the streets. Within a year, the minaret was dust. We blamed the Syrian government for shelling it. The Syrians blamed al-Nusrah/al-Qaeda “terrorists”. All over Aleppo, they felt the ground tremble as the minaret fell.

Many times in the 1980s I walked through the Roman ruins of Palmyra, visited the Temple of Bel, gazed at the triumphal arch and walked on the theatre stage. When I returned in 2016 after the Syrian army had driven Isis from the ancient city, the arch had been destroyed with explosives and the temple was reduced to shards of stone, most of them only two or three inches in length. The theatre was undamaged though I noticed the end of a noose looped around a Roman column. This was Isis’s place of execution. Then Isis returned and recaptured Palmyra and this time they blew up the very centre of the theatre.

After the war broke out in Bosnia, I walked across the shining stones of Sinan’s 16th Ottoman bridge at Mostar. Within months, that which had stood for 427 years collapsed into the Neretva river under a salvo of Croatian artillery shells. It was exactly 3:27pm on November 9, 1993. I know the time because I still have the videotape of the destruction. I used to freeze-frame the tape and press the rewind button and rebuild the bridge, the spray falling back into the river, the old Turkish stones rising mystically upwards to recompose themselves in their magical span above the river. Its loss was mourned by the Bosnian Muslims – whose ancient mosques were crumbling under Serb gunfire – as the absence of the Mosul minaret is mourned by Iraqis.

The Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andric, in The Bridge on the Drina – surely one of the greatest European novels ever written – describes how “men learned from the angels of God how to build bridges, and therefore, after fountains, the greatest blessing is to build a bridge and the greatest sin to interfere with it…” But we are used to “the greatest sin”. “Culturecide” – the destruction of libraries, graveyards, cathedrals, mosques – became a feature of the Bosnian war. In Kosovo in 1999, the Christian Serbs destroyed ancient mosques. Then the Kosovar Muslims destroyed most of the Serb churches in the province. I saw many of them, before and after their immolation.

And “the greatest sin” has, of course, a hundred thousand precedents. Who now remembers the 5th century Buddhas of Bamiyan, blasted with explosives for 25 days by the Taliban in 2001 until they were rubble. Who even cares that the Saudis – whose Wahhabi iconoclasm did so much to inspire the Taliban and Isis – have destroyed many of the ancient sites associated with the Prophet and his family?

And then what of the Second World War, the destruction of the ancient centre of Rotterdam, Coventry Cathedral, the Wren churches of the City of London, the wrecking of renaissance Italy, the levelling of Warsaw, courtesy of the Luftwaffe, the Wehrmacht and the SS. And the RAF’s 1945 destruction of Dresden and the bombing of the Middle Ages basilicas of Germany’s cities. And the mass theft of renaissance art and the sacking of museums across Europe, courtesy of the Nazi party’s “cultural” elite. And then we have the Germans of the First World War to thank for the burning of the 15th century university and library of Louvain and the total demolition of the medieval Cloth Hall at Ypres.

And – yes, this can go on and on – we can still see the ruins of the churches and abbeys which incurred the incendiary fury of Henry VIII and then digress still further and ask why the Romans of the Middle Ages used the Coliseum as a quarry – just as the Ottoman authorities used the Crusader castle of Beirut as a quarry for their port extensions in the early 20th century. And then come the Goths, Ostrogoths and Visigoths, not to mention the early Muslim invaders who themselves even tried to destroy a stone Buddha; I’ve seen its reassembled body in a Dushanbe museum. And when I think of pre-history and Sumeria, I can only remember walking through the ancient cities of southern Iraq, dug up and pulverised by tomb robbers after the 2003 Anglo-American invasion, and the statues whose broken limbs I crunched over in the darkness of the looted Baghdad Museum.

We can sometimes reconstruct. The Ypres Cloth Hall was reconstituted exactly as it was. The Old City of Warsaw was rebuilt from old maps and photographs. The UN organised the rebuilding of the bridge at Mostar. The Saudis have paid for the reconstruction of Bosnia’s mosques. Basil Spence designed the new Coventry Cathedral. Warsaw is almost picture-perfect but the new Mostar bridge will take years to look like the weathered old masonry which a 16th century visitor described as “like a rainbow arch soaring up to the skies”. The Cloth Hall at Ypres looks magnificent. So is the post-war “medieval” city in Warsaw. The ghastly, concretised new mosques of Bosnia are a disgrace. And I’m not sure if Basil Spence’s new Coventry cathedral works today, either in faith or in art.

But now the problem. If a single human life is more precious than all the planets, why do we weep for the wreckage of Buddhas and Roman cities and churches and mosques and libraries? Of all the “-cides”, surely “culturecide” should be way down our list of priorities. Yet it’s clearly near the top – the UN waffles on about our children’s heritage. But I’ve never heard it better explained than in the words of a Croat woman, Slavenka Drakulic who wrote about this very question only a month after the destruction of the Stari Most bridge by her own Croat army. She recalled seeing a photograph of a middle-aged Bosnian woman “with a long, dark knife cut along her throat” and she asked herself why she felt more pain looking at the image of the destroyed bridge than that of the woman.

And this is what she concluded: “We expect people to die. We count on our own lives to end. The destruction of a monument to civilisation is something else. The bridge, in all its beauty and grace, was built to outlive us; it was an attempt to grasp eternity. Because it was the product of both individual creativity and collective experience, it transcended our individual destiny… You would think that nothing new could happen, that, after the concentration camps and the mass rapes, the ethnic cleansing… there would be no room left for imagination…”

And for Muslims, destiny and eternity are subjects of the Koran, which was first revealed to the Prophet on the 27th day of Ramadan, the “Laylat al-Qadr”, the Night of Power. It is the holiest night in the Muslim calendar. And it was on this night – this year – that the 12th century leaning minaret of Mosul was blasted to the ground.

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/mosul-minaret-mosque-iraq-isis-a7814366.html

Photograph of the al-Nuri mosque, blown up by Isis last week (AP).

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/06/29/we-expect-people-to-die/