Feminism Must Be Lived: An Interview With Sara Ahmed

Sara Ahmed. (Photo: Duke University Press)

By Jaskiran Dhillon, Truthout | Interview

What does it mean to be a modern feminist? In her new book, Sara Ahmed shows the connections between theory and practice, the academy and the everyday, home and work. Bitch Magazine says: “Beautifully written and persuasively argued, Living a Feminist Life, is not just an instant classic, but an essential read for intersectional feminists.” Order your copy today by making a donation to Truthout!

Sara Ahmed’s accessibly written and visionary Living a Feminist Life is a much-needed antidote to the disconnection between feminist thinking and being. The book has emerged against a political backdrop marked by the rise of the Trump regime, a historic Women’s March on Washington and International Women’s Strike, an increase in the visibility of feminist activism on social media and the rise of celebrity feminists. “Feminism,” as Ahmed remarks in the  opening pages, “is bringing people into the room.” The amplification of feminism, however, also demands that we stop to consider what being a feminist really means. Drawing on decades of experience as a feminist writer, scholar and activist, Ahmed takes us on this critical journey with candor, brilliance and a deep commitment to social transformation. Feminism, Ahmed contends, is not simply about participating in protests and rallies or writing theory in the academy. Nor is it to be understood as a responsibility that waxes and wanes with convenience. It is, above all else, about how to live.


From cover to cover, Ahmed urges us to keep our fists raised high as we move closer to a feminist vision of the future that unfolds in step with the active dismantling of our profoundly unjust and violent present. She reminds us to be intrepid and willful in our political resistance — to learn from the wisdom and knowledge of warrior women of color whose legacies, histories and experiences are etched on our contemporary path to justice and freedom (these issues have long existed). Ahmed challenges us to embody our feminist politics as a radical ethics of living in the everyday dimensions of our social world, to claim all spaces as political, and to strategically strike down the “brick walls” that blockade and stifle our movements. In short, Living a Feminist Life aims to both awaken and set free the “feminist killjoy” that resides in each of us.

Jaskiran Dhillon: Let’s begin with you elaborating on the central theme of the book — making feminism the practice of everyday life.

Sara Ahmed: I think of feminism as a life question; a question of how we live our lives given that the structures we wish to transform are structures that persist. We have to live with what we wish to transform. As a feminist working in the academy, though, I sensed that what was taught and known as “feminist theory” had become somewhat disconnected from the questions of how to live, and the questions themselves relegated to an earlier outdated style of feminism. I wanted to bring feminist theory, too, back to life — strengthening the ties between the inventive creation of feminist theory and living a life that sustains it.

To be a feminist is to be a feminist everywhere. Feminism is not a commitment that can be suspended when it is inconvenient. But that does not mean feminists share the same commitments or that it is always clear how that commitment should express itself! Work is part of everyday life. When we live a feminist life we are a feminist at work. Feminism means being attentive to power relations at home and at work, being willing to challenge abuses of power, being willing to support those who are challenging abuses of power. It means being aware of who is doing the work, especially the housework (in institutions, housework is called administration); it means striving to make workloads more equal (including by attending to how they are not); it means becoming attuned to who can access a space because of how it is arranged or inhabited (and who cannot). Feminism is about questioning everything about our shared social world. This is not an imposition. It is an invitation to open up what tends to work by being closed down.

I love the emphasis you place on the role of intergenerational knowledge in shaping feminist living. Who influenced your development as a feminist? 

My auntie Gulzar Bano was very important to me. She self-identified as a feminist; she was involved in the women’s movement in Pakistan. She believed strongly in what she called woman power. Her particular concern was literacy for girls. She was an inspiration, too, in how she lived her life. Because she did not get married and have children she was able to invest her time and energy in feminist projects of all kinds. She wrote feminist poetry: I cherish the collections in which her poems appeared as well as the books she published. Her words were always animated by her concern with the effects of violence and injustice. I think I learned the importance of writing our politics from her. She also developed a strong support network for women in the wider family; her sisters and nieces. Sometimes she used to call me her daughter; I think she saw us as deeply connected, as if my life was following in some way from hers. I hope so. She was my feminist auntie in all the ways that expression can have meaning. We all need feminist aunties!

What compelled you to write this book now? 

The experience that most shaped the book was the experience of supporting students through a process of testifying in multiple inquiries into sexual harassment and sexual misconduct at the college in England where I worked. That experience brought so much home to me; how traumatic it can be to testify to what is traumatic; how difficult it is made to bring a complaint against a person or a group of people who have more power by virtue of their position within an organization; how even feminists can be silent about abuses of power happening in their own organizations; how organizations will do anything to protect their reputation. This was an experience of “coming up against wall after wall,” as I described in the book. And I was taught again (I am sure I will be taught again) that to identify a problem is to become the location of that problem. It is because of the costs of exposing institutional violence (including the violence of how institutions conceal the violence) that we need to build feminist shelters, places to go.

Young people are crucial to social movements fighting colonial violence in all its forms. Is there a key takeaway for young feminists?

The figure of the feminist killjoy: She is an insight and she is insightful! She starts as a stereotype of feminists — that feminists take the joy out of things. But when we claim her, she gives us energy, sometimes even joy. So often we are warned about the dangers of feminism: how feminism will make you unhappy, lonely, less successful. It might be that in becoming a feminist you revisit what you want your life to be; you might ask whether the versions of success and happiness that are available to you are ones you agree with. But whatever: Don’t be warned off. Power often works through warnings — I have learned this by how students are warned about how complaining of harassment would damage themselves as well as others. Warning often implies that the only option is to get used to it. It is so important that young feminists don’t get used to it. Don’t normalize it. We can accept that feminism comes with risks. There are consequences that we will have to live with; anti-feminism is a world we live in. Part of being a feminist is finding others who will be your support system. And remember, being a feminist gives you knowledge: We know so much from what emerges in response to the issues and experiences we bring up. This does not mean [that] as feminists we are always right! Becoming a feminist is about opening up what your life can be; an opening that is a connection to the feminists who came before.

The book concludes with a feminist survival kit of sorts (Killjoy Survival Kit) as well as a set of principles to help guide and anchor feminist living (Killjoy Manifesto). How can these be drawn upon to craft concrete strategies of political resistance in the era of Trump?

I could give a very long answer to this question! But let me just point to a few things. My killjoy survival kit was very much inspired by the work of Audre Lorde, who wrote so powerfully about how caring for oneself can be an act of political warfare. She was writing as a Black lesbian mother warrior woman who had breast cancer. She was writing from an experience of profound political as well as bodily fragility. Lorde shows how survival can be a strategy of resistance; the work we do to be can be a strategy of resistance. And resistance can take many forms; it is not only about being part of a march, though marching matters. Resistance can be what happens when you challenge racist views that are presented at a family table. It can be the moment you snap, and don’t put up with a violence you have endured. It can be how you communicate your rage about a system within a system; whether it is through the words you send out or how you use your body to announce your disagreement, perhaps by striking, perhaps by occupying spaces and disrupting how they are ordinarily used.

We might have to use different methods to get the message out, to counter the state’s story with stories of the injustice, say, of anti-immigrant violenceIslamophobiaanti-Black racism and persistent colonial violence against Indigenous communities. We need to keep doing the work. Work where you are. Don’t let the problem appear only “there;” it is here. Speak out from where you are. Do what you can, given your own resources and capacities. Work with people who get you. Talk. Shout. Be.

How does your blueprint for “living a feminist life” differ from “institutional diversity” (a catch phrase in most universities)?

Institutional diversity is often how organizations claim diversity without doing anything. It is often about using bodies of color as evidence of diversity. Institutional diversity is racism represented in a happier form. For feminists of color, “institutional diversity” is another brick wall. An example from my research: an organization’s response to a research project that showed that the organization was perceived as white was to produce a new prospectus with more colorful faces. You can change the image to keep the thing. Diversity [then] becomes how an organization stays white. Our work is about exposing the mechanisms that enable the structures to be reproduced, and diversity can be one of those mechanisms.

At one point you say: “So much political work begins with moments of disorientation.” As an educator who views teaching as a political act, this really resonates. Can you expand further?

That part of the book is a development of some of the ideas I first presented in Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (2006). When we are at home in the world, or when a world has been built to accommodate us, it tends to recede, becoming background. We know where we are; we know how to find things. Orientation is often the experience of not having a crisis about orientation! But when things move around, or you enter a world not built to accommodate you, things become strange, slant-wise, queer even. To question a world, or when the world becomes something you question, you proceed from a sense of being thrown. When things get thrown in the air, who knows what can happen.

What is your feminist vision for justice and freedom?

I have spent so much of my time describing how the world is; how injustices often work in ways that are not always tangible, how some can be worn down and worn out by what is necessary to exist. For me, a feminist vision of freedom has to be about freedom for all; not about passing one person’s exhaustion onto another. It has to be about freedom from violence whether that violence is perpetrated by individuals, organizations, the police or the state. It has to be about freedom to decide on how to organize a life; freedom to access and inhabit spaces with others; freedom to express one’s own identity as gendered beings in one’s own terms; freedom as creating the conditions so we can participate in each other’s freedom. As such, a feminist vision of freedom and justice has to be about staying close to the ground, close to what is: Our vision comes out of the struggles to exist.

We name the conditions that make justice and freedom impossible: white supremacy, racism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia; ways of differentiating between the value and life chances of persons that are central to late capitalism. Naming the conditions is more about using words. Naming is also noticing. So much violence is reproduced by not being noticed. So often, when you name what is not noticed you are judged as being negative. I have also observed from working to change these conditions within universities that sometimes the requirement to be positive, to provide a solution, to be practical or useful can become another means by which the conditions are made invisible. Naming these conditions, naming them again, knowing about them; working out their effects: It is a life project. Our visions, what we are for, can come from the wear and tear of what we come up against.

What do you hope white feminists learn from this book?

This book is not addressed to white feminists. If it is addressed to any group of feminists it is addressed to feminists of color, who are often positioned as interrupting a conversation that starts with white women. Interruption comes from rupture, break. For me, feminism of color is how I start the conversation. But this is not to say I don’t hope white feminists learn something!

Edited for mb3-org.com

Net neutrality rules all but doomed as fact starts teardown

The laws governing an open internet may not be laws much longer.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 on a proposal to strip out the existing regulations that govern net neutrality, or the concept that all internet traffic must be treated equally. This is an initial vote that opens the issue up for comments. The FCC will entertain public input until August, and hold a final vote later this year. But given the Republican majority on the commission, a vote to remove the existing rules is a virtual certainty.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed to head the commission by President Donald Trump, voted alongside fellow Republican Michael O’Rielly in support of the proposal, while Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn voted against it. There are typically five members on the commission, but two have yet to be appointed.

Today’s vote represents the first significant step toward dismantling regulations that have been in place since 2015, potentially changing the way the internet works. Proponents (Democrats, internet companies and consumer advocacy groups) argue that the rules were necessary to ensure that internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast couldn’t play favorites or charge more for faster access, while critics (Republicans, ISPs) said the rules were too onerous and stifled innovation and investment in infrastructure.

This move has been a pet project of Pai. He argued that Title II, a component of the existing rules that places the internet service providers under utility-style rules, isn’t necessary.

“The internet wasn’t broken in 2015,” he said during the FCC meeting. “We were not living in a digital dystopia.”

Public policy group Consumer Union called the vote “chilling.”

“Eliminating the Open Internet Order takes away the internet’s level playing field and would allow a select few corporations to choose winners and losers, preventing consumers from accessing the content that they want, when they want it,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union.

Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota called it “a major step toward destroying the internet as we know it.”

The issue flared up over the past few weeks after Pai floated the proposal ahead of the vote. It was enough to spur comedian John Oliver to devote a segment to net neutrality, imploring viewers of his show “Last Week Tonight” to send their comments in support of the rules. The show even created the shortcutwww.gofccyourself.com to help viewers bypass at least five steps to reach the correct comments page.

The FCC website shut down shortly after, but the agency blamed it onbotnets that sent a flood of false comments.

Comcast and trade groups like the Telecommunications Industry Association gave Thursday’s vote a thumbs-up.

“We applaud Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly for remaining focused on creating a light touch regulatory environment that is pro-consumer, pro-investment and pro-innovation, especially with the present partisan political rhetoric and debate,” David Cohen, chief diversity officer for Comcast, said in a blog post.

The internet service providers had previously mounted a legal challenge to the rules, but a federal appeals court last year upheld the FCC’s 2015 regulations, and last week it threw out a request to rehear the case.

Source: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/net-neutrality-rules-all-but-doomed-as-fcc-starts-teardown/ar-BBBh81Y?OCID=ansmsnnews11

The U.S. Trying to Make War — Not Peace — In Syria

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The U.S. has long asserted itself as a peacemaker in the ongoing war in Syria, attempting to paint the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, as the root cause of the conflict. At the same time, the United States government maintains that peace would be impossible without American interference, which, of course, comes with the added aim of ousting Assad.

However, anyone who has been following the conflict closely should know this is not the case – at all. Never mind that the U.S. openly destroyed Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, to name a few; America’s conduct in Syria has been far from peaceful.

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. planned to take out the Assad government well before the conflict began in 2011. According to cables obtained by Wikileaks, the U.S. planned this operation at least as far back as 2006. That proposal sought to force Assad to overreact to the threat of extremists crossing over into the country and manufacture the crisis in order for the U.S. to involve itself militarily. Another leak, this time from the Hillary Clinton email archive, showed the U.S. wanted to topple Assad to undermine Iranian influence and ensure Israel could retain its nuclear monopoly.

Like the gift that kept on giving, Clinton’s leaked emails also showed she was well aware that close allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar were directly sponsoring ISIS. However, ISIS is just one of the groups battling the Syrian government. Reports have shown that the rest of the organizations — which are largely backed by the U.S. — are no better than ISIS, anyway.

According to the Washington Post, under the Obama administration, the CIA was spending at least $1 billion per year training Syrian rebels. A special PBS report found that the CIA was teaching these rebels blatant war crimes and terror tactics.

Without going into too much detail regarding Washington’s contribution to the violence in Syria, the fact remains that the U.S. has had no meaningful involvement in any plans for peace. In 2012, Russia put forward a proposal whereby Assad would stand down as part of a potential peace deal. The U.S. rejected it because they wanted to see Assad fall in a manner similar to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya ( they were certain he was about to fall in a short amount of time, anyway).

A ceasefire was organized in the final quarter of 2016, which was immediately disrupted by the U.S. military’s decision to strike Syrian troops directly in what resulted in an outright massacre. The air strikes also paved the way for a timely ISIS offensive. Given that a recent report by a leading British agency found the Syrian government was the most heavily engaged entity fighting ISIS last year, it should have been no surprise to the U.S.-led coalition that ISIS would benefit from such a strike.

At the end of last year, Russia, Iran, and Turkey brokered an arrangement of their own (completely without America’s input) that was actually appearing to be holding for a time. But at the start of this year, al-Qaeda-linked rebels backed by the U.S. were busy burrowing tunnels into the Syrian capital and wreaking havoc across the country. The U.S. clearly had no plans to honor Russia and Iran’s proposals.

Similarly, before Donald J. Trump’s decision to officially strike the Syrian government in response to a chemical weapons attack — one the president attributed to Assad though experts have seriously questioned if there is any evidence to support this claim — peace talks were supposed to have commenced. They fell completely flat. Instead, Trump struck a Syrian airbase (albeit quite ineffectively), and reports indicated that ISIS again used this strike to launch an offensive of their own.

Evidently, Washington’s “solutions” almost always lead to more violence, not less of it.

America’s problem with peace initiatives to date, of course, is that with the assistance of Russia and Iran, Assad has shown no signs of going anywhere anytime soon. This is a deal-breaker for the anti-Assad alliance, spearheaded by Washington. In their eyes, there can be no “peace” in Syria until Assad is removed — as if Assad’s fall from power is a magic wand that can be waved to produce lasting prosperity for Syria. Has the U.S. even considered how a U.S.-Saudi-installed puppet government is going to be able to hold onto power in Syria without violently confronting al-Qaeda and ISIS? A Saudi puppet is already struggling to hold onto power in Yemen, and the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are insisting on his reinstatement with brutal and horrific force.

In recent developments, Russia has borrowed an arrangement previously advanced by the Trump administration. Russia has signaled its intent to create so-called “safe zones” within Syria. On the face of it, the U.S. should welcome the proposal, given they proposed it first. However, the fact is that because the proposal entails that coalition planes cannot fly within these safe zones — so as to provide maximum protection against civilian casualties — the U.S. does not welcome it. Nevertheless, given that Airwars has documented an increasing number of civilian casualties committed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Syria, this proposal appears to be a sound idea.

Therefore, it is no surprise that Washington has completely rejected this proposal even though the benefits of this plan have been almost immediate. As one commentator put it, the violence in Syria has been “sharply reduced” as a result.

Not that it needs explaining to the U.S. military, but if Syria, with the help of its allies, wants to prevent the U.S. from bombing its territory, they are perfectly within their rights to do so. Washington is the one violating international law by bombing Syria without a U.N. mandate or official permission from the Syrian government (how often do you see the media report on this glaring issue?).

So, will Washington accept this legal fact, admit defeat, and allow the violence to de-escalate?

Not quite. Instead, the U.S. is running its annual military drills with an often overlooked member of the anti-Assad alliance, Jordan, on the Syrian border. In fact, a regional outlet reported that U.S., U.K. and Jordanian troops are mobilizing across the Jordanian border with Syria in what looks like preparation for a full-blown invasion.

To add further, the U.S. has also made the controversial decision to arm the Kurdish fighters in Syria with heavy weaponry, a move that is completely opposed by NATO member Turkey, which has spent much of its energy bombing these Kurdish positions.

This is not a solution that fosters peace. People can say what they want about Russia’s role in Syria, but the fact remains that whenever Russia looks more than capable of initiating a peace process of its own, the U.S. is hellbent on destroying such a process outright.

Clearly, it is not in America’s interests to reduce the violence in Syria. If peace were the ultimate goal, it wouldn’t really matter if the brutal Assad government retained its seat for a few more decades. Considering the level of violence that has plagued Syria, if an approach can reduce the level of violence drastically, surely that is the preferred option to be pursued to enable parties to come to the negotiating table to broker a political solution.

The only real alternative the Trump administration is offering is to watch the U.S. attempt to turn Syria into Libya, confronting Russia, Iran, and possibly China in the process.

Hungary: The End of Democratic Illusions?

The government-sponsored attack on the Central European University represents one more step in the country’s authoritarian drift.


In early April, Viktor Orbán’s hard-right government passed a law that would shut down, beginning the next semester, the Central European University (CEU), Hungary’s top social science and economics institution. After rumors about legislative action against the university, parliament passed the controversial bill. The law stipulates that a specific kind of institution — those with foreign affiliations, but educational activity only in Hungary, that grant degrees accepted both in Hungary and their country of origin — must obtain a bilateral governmental agreement to operate. As it happens, the only such major institution in Hungary is CEU.

The following weekend, around eighty thousand people took to the streets in Budapest. The demonstration lasted into the night, as thousands continued to march through the city. One recurring slogan pled with the country’s president János Áder not to sign “Lex CEU,” but he, a long-standing Orbán ally who belongs to the ruling party’s innermost circle, duly signed the law into effect. A spontaneous protest began at the president’s residence and again continued into the night. Two prominent antigovernment activists were arrested after trying to spray the building’s wall with water-based orange paint, as orange is the color of Fidesz, the governing party. Protests have been ongoing since.

George Soros, a Budapest native, founded the private, American-affiliated university in 1991. CEU’s endowment makes it the richest institution in Hungary, and probably the region, offering salaries and scholarships far higher than local universities. Elite Western institutions all recognize its degree programs. Soros stepped down as chairman of the CEU’s board ten years ago, and there have been no signs that he has interfered with the university’s appointments or governance since then.

Most CEU students either come from Hungary or other post-Soviet countries, and the university often functions as a gateway to Anglo-American academia or NGOs. The attack on the university, which a government spokesperson referred to as a “minor theater of war,” takes place amid never-ending anti-migrant campaigns. The government and its media apparatus have elevated Alex Jones–style paranoia to official state discourse, claiming that George Soros engineered the refugee crisis to destroy “Christian” Europe.

Hungary does look somewhat exotic these days, even in an Eastern European context, but its recent authoritarian turn fits well into the gallery of “limited democracies” that have managed the region’s oligarchic capitalism since 1990. Like other post-Soviet countries, these new governments have strong links with interwar authoritarian and semi-fascist regimes. In Hungary, the legitimization of the antisemitic Horthy regime is almost complete. In this context, Victor Orbán looks a lot like Franjo Tuđman, president of Croatia from 1990 to 1999; Vladimír Mečiar, three-time prime minister of Slovakia; and Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s Law and Justice Party.

Throughout the region, authoritarianism is rising. Romania’s permanent state of exception has allowed the secret service and segments of the judiciary to largely overrule electoral politics. The Baltic states openly identify with their former collaborationist regimes and make it difficult for Russian-speaking residents in their own country to obtain citizenship. Even core countries are experiencing an authoritarian retooling, and more repressive regimes have emerged in the semi-periphery, including Recep Erdoğan’s Turkey and post-Maidan Ukraine, where the Nazi far right directly participates in the government. Still, within central Eastern Europe, Hungary has arguably become the most extreme case.

Many Hungarians recognize that CEU’s closure is a milestone: direct state intervention in higher education to wipe out undesirable institutions based on political criteria represents a new evolutionary stage for Hungary’s authoritarian regime. Meanwhile, the state is also enacting a general dismantling of public education, irrespective of political affiliation. This disinvestment will damage even more lives than the attack on CEU.

A Minor Theater of War

Although CEU has served as an important hub of the post-1990 capitalist restoration’s institutional network, socialists should still support it. It has trained the liberal, and in some cases neoliberal, economic, political, and ideological managers of the post-Soviet region. But the bulk of CEU graduates move on to Western academia or NGOs — like graduates from any other academic institution in capitalist society.

At the same time, CEU has hired more radical scholars, especially in political science, philosophy, and its strong gender studies department, which has been the target of an especially vile campaign by the Orbán regime, than public universities in the country. It also runs some affirmative action initiatives, granting access to a small number of Roma students — again, unlike most Hungarian public universities.

Further, the institution hosts the only functional English-language social science library in Hungary, as publicly funded universities and libraries cannot afford to extensively purchase new academic books. Socialists should fight to preserve the valuable knowledge and research activity the institution houses.

CEU’s closure doesn’t stand alone — the government is also defunding public universities, exacerbating ethnic segregation in the school system, and generally rolling back what’s left of the welfare state. While CEU has participated in the region’s “neocolonial” development over the last three decades, this hardly argues against defending the institution, as its shutdown represents another step toward state disinvestment, authoritarianism, and inequality.

The pro-CEU protests have reflected the institution’s place in Hungary. Most of the country’s population had not even heard of CEU before, and mostly middle-class graduates and students in Budapest have joined demonstrations. But the general destruction of social infrastructure — of which shuttering CEU is only a “minor theater of war” — threatens the majority’s livelihood.

Unfortunately, most protesters have been unwilling to engage the broader strata of society, who suffer even more from the ongoing disinvestment of health care and public education. We should not contrast the attack on CEU with the country’s undemocratic policies and its generalized social crisis, as poverty and malnutrition hit record highs year after year. Instead, we must analyze them as aspects of the same authoritarian regime, which has settled in to manage Hungary’s oligarchic capitalism.

Organizers would have to highlight this unity for the protests to reach a critical level, rather than remaining a single-issue movement for relatively privileged groups. So far, nothing seems to indicate that things are moving in that direction. Instead, we hear chants of “Europe! Europe!” and “Russians go home!” (referring to Orbán’s recent rapprochement and nuclear power deal with Putin). Protesters have repeatedly tried to plant the European Union flag on public buildings, reflecting Eastern European liberalism’s self-colonizing “Europeanist” worldview. Worryingly, the anti-Russian and anti-Communist slogans, accusing Orbán of being Putin’s puppet and bringing back Soviet times, have become even more pronounced after the first few protests that had focused on the university’s closure. This is rather bizarre in a country that is a member of NATO and the European Union, with a far-right and rabidly anti-Communist government. By focusing on these issues, the protesters are making themselves vulnerable to the government’s populist rhetoric, which will portray them either as the spoiled children of the well-connected worried about their career prospects, or as foreign agents paid by George Soros.

The demonization of Soros marks another step in the regime’s evolution. The vulgar hate campaign against him has institutionalized thinly veiled antisemitic language, making it part of everyday life. Hungary might be exceptional in that both open and coded antisemitism shapes public discourse. If we replace the word “Soros” with “Jews” in the hundreds of dog-whistle statements the government’s spokespersons and supporters have made, we find the standard tropes of interwar antisemitism: alien parasites and rootless cosmopolitans conspiring against the nation.

We cannot imagine that Orbán and his minions are naive: these jaded cynics know exactly what they are doing. Hungary has a rich antisemitic tradition and many citizens remain susceptible to it. Indeed, the entire Hungarian right has worked to revive this language since 1990, and today it has moved to the level of everyday state discourse. We can find the same language, combining anticommunist and antisemitic imagery, in the rhetoric leading up to the removal of the great Marxist philosopher György Lukács’s statue from Budapest’s Szent István Park.

The Orbán regime is likely ramping up this discourse to fend off the intensifying threat of the far-right Jobbik party, which many suspect benefits from the financial support of Lajos Simicska, one of Hungary’s most powerful oligarchs. A former close friend turned Orbán’s deadly enemy, Simicska vowed to help Jobbik claim electoral victory in 2018 in return for regaining access to state coffers. Clearly, the government will pay any price to win this fight, completely ignoring the potential consequences of its anti-migrant, anti-Soros campaigns. By stoking xenophobia and racism, Orbán’s regime has created an almost civil war–like atmosphere in the country.

With a possible challenge from the far right and amid growing international instability, Orbán seems to have decided to put his political and media followers to the test, binding them irreversibly to his own fate. Those who follow him past this point of no return can hardly find a way back to normal society, which makes staying in power an existential necessity.

Most protesters, it seems, do not recognize or confront the fact that Hungary has, in all likelihood, long ago left the coordinates of parliamentary democracy. New liberal opposition groups, which emerged around the successful anti-Olympics campaign, still begin from the assumption that we can rid ourselves of this government at the next elections. But how plausible is this scenario?

The 2014 elections were already manipulated: opposition candidates faced restricted campaigning, the Fidesz party and Orbán refused to engage in any public debates, and Russian-style pseudo-opposition parties sprung up — not to mention the relentless propaganda machine that the state media has become. Does it seem plausible that the people who are now shutting down a university — and reportedly introducing a bill ruling NGOs “foreign-financed organizations” — will allow the electoral situation to get out of hand and then peacefully hand over power? The opposition must confront the prospect that it may not be able to remove the current government through an election.

If so, what follows? Force can only be met by force, but the opposition’s emotional, political, and organizational resources pale in comparison to the government’s. Historically, regime change in Hungary has happened thanks to external changes, and today that may be the likeliest — however unpalatable — scenario.

Orbán has taken recent steps that could endanger Hungary’s international relationships and the flow of the European Union cohesion funds that keep the country afloat. What strategy the similarly reckless and unpredictable new American administration will adopt vis-á-vis Eastern Europe remains to be seen, and may become the decisive factor in the fate of Orbán’s rule.

But we also cannot exclude scenarios that stabilize his control. After all, Erdoğan’s Turkey is a respected NATO ally, and Hungary remains in the periphery of most world leaders’ points of view. If destabilization deepens due to external pressures combined with domestic upheaval, not even Maidan-like scenarios seem impossible. The far-right Jobbik party has stayed largely silent in recent weeks; we cannot guess what, if anything, they are readying themselves for.

Readers expect articles like this to end on a hopeful note, proclaiming that working class militancy might still somehow arise and that society will surely defend itself. However, it is very difficult to see what the disorganized and unfunded radical left can do in Hungary at this moment, beyond maintaining its intellectual perspective and work. Right now, we can only hope that the protests continue and that more people come to a clearer understanding of the kind of power they are confronting. Who will draw conclusions from that and what they might be remains to be seen.




Unity and Hope: The Story of Palestine’s Hunger Strikers

by Anonymous

The hallucinations normally start after 4 weeks. Any time after that the body can experience potentially permanent damage to the bones, brain, and other internal organs.

Two weeks ago, over a thousand Palestinian prisoners submitted their bodies to these risks when they began a collective hunger strike on April 17th. Surviving on salt and water, the protest is directed at the “unlawful and cruel” conditions in the Israeli prison system, and the continued presence of the Israeli occupation.

According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, there are currently 6,300 Palestinian political prisoners confined within Israeli jails. 61 of those incarcerated are women, 300 are children, and 500 are confined under ‘Administrative Detention’, a protocol dating back to the British colonial mandate period, in which individuals can be imprisoned on the basis of secret evidence. Under international law, administrative detention is generally only permitted in times of crisis, but Israel has been in a state of emergency since 1949 and many prisoners have now been locked up for years without trial and without charge.

“I had four uncles in prison after the Second Intifada. They all suffered from terrible food and a lack of family visits. One of them was beaten badly on the face and had his shoulder broken by a guard”, Ali, a student from Tulkarem, told Novara Media. “The protest is against both the conditions in the prison and the entire occupation. All the prisoners are united in this, regardless of political party”.

Easing restrictions on family visits and phone calls are a key component of the prisoners’ demands. For those Palestinians arrested within the Occupied Territories, but incarcerated within Israel – a “flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, – family visits are highly difficult to co-ordinate due to their dependence on Israel for granting territorial access to each individual visitor. The prisoners are also fighting for access to items sent to them by family members (including books, magazines, clothing, and food), decent medical treatment, and an end to administrative detention, humiliating searches, solitary confinement and the night raids on prisoners’ cells that often involve beatings.

In a political climate where approximately 40% of men within the Palestinian Territories are at some point imprisoned or detained by Israel, the plight of today’s prisoners is one shared by the Palestinian people as a collective. Accordingly, on 27 April, schools, business, and even taxi drivers throughout the West Bank held a general strike in solidarity with those incarcerated. The strike has also prompted support across social media, particularly through the ‘Salt Water Challenge’ in which participants share videos of themselves drinking glasses of said mixture.

Protest tents have sprung up across the West Bank, and whilst these are normally covered in the banners of one particular political party, today they are adorned in insignia that reflect the broad spectrum of Palestinian political organization. Over the last decade, Palestinian politics has largely been characterized by factional infighting, and yet today’s hunger strikers are drawn from many different political parties (including Fatah, Hamas, and the PLP). This renewed unity has much to do with the protest’s organizer, Marwan Barghouti.

Arrested in 2002 and currently serving five life sentences for murders supposedly organized during the Second Intifada (though the fairness of the 2004 trial and the establishment of any guilt have since been discredited), Marwan Barghouti, 58, is considered by many to be the only Palestinian political figure with both the charisma and integrity needed to unite the nation in the face of rampant Israeli settlement construction. In fact, polls suggest that Fatah party member Barghouti is the most popular choice amongst Palestinians to succeed current President and Fatah party leader, 82-year old Mahmoud Abbas. It is Barghouti leading the strike and it was Barghouti who recently declared to the world that “rights are not bestowed by an oppressor” and that “hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available” in an 16 April Op-Ed in the New York Times.

Whilst most Palestinians are fully supportive of the prisoners’ struggle, some remain skeptical of Barghouti’s self-appointed leadership role. Suspecting a form of politicking to be lying behind the protest, there are those that point to the outcome of Fatah’s February conference, in which the imprisoned Barghouti failed to be appointed to any significant leadership position, as the underlying personal motivation behind the call for a strike. Mousa, a teacher from Til, told Novara Media: ‘Whilst I stand with the prisoners we have to see this for what it is. It is Barghouti saying to Fatah: watch this. I’m still here. I’m still the one who can make a difference-Fatah are now just riding the wave”.

Barghouti’s confrontational approach to the Israeli occupation is certainly at odds with the current President’s focus on negotiation. In fact, Abbas was reportedly ‘outraged’ upon hearing of Barghouti’s call for a ‘Day of Rage’ on 28 April, the day after the General Strike. A public call to confront the Israeli Defence Force and “clash with the occupier at all friction points” is however no small order, and it was the first time that Fatah has openly called for popular resistance to the occupation since 2000. Lacking the political clout to openly defy the call, which resulted in dozens of injured protesters across the West Bank, the timing of the demonstration may also be adding to Abbas’ anxiety, with a long-organized meeting with US President Trump scheduled less than a week later for 3 May.

So what does the future hold for the hunger strikers themselves? First exercised in 1968, Palestinian hunger strikes are not uncommon and those held in recent years have yielded some positive results. In 2012 thousands of prisoners refused food for nearly a month and won some limitations on administrative detention, an end to prolonged isolation, and the resumption of family visits to those prisoners from Gaza. “Modest” concessions were also obtained in 2014 following the longest mass hunger strike to date, again directed against administrative detention. However, in both of these cases there has been some form of communication, and thereby negotiation, with the Israeli Prison Service. For today’s protest, this does not appear to be the case.

Concerning the current strike, the Israeli Prison Service has been directed both by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Security Minister Gilad Erdan to completely ignore the demands of the prisoners. Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has gone one step further, suggesting the adoption of the “Margaret Thatcher” approach (allowing prisoners to die in their cells), a proposal complemented by Knesset member Oren Hazan’s observation that “there is room in the earth for all of their corpses.” Members of the far-right Jewish Home Party, a faction currently forming part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, also held a barbecue outside of Ofer Prison on April 18th in the hope that the smell of grilled meat would add to the prisoners’ struggle. Avihai Greenwald, chairman of the party’s youth group, stated that “We wish these terrorists luck in their hunger strike. They should take it all the way.”

Within the prison walls, the prison establishment itself has responded to the strike by confiscating personal belongings and clothes, forcibly transferring prisoners, banning access to televisions, and placing dozens of inmates in solitary confinement. The use of police dogs and the seizing of the Qur’an from prisoners in Nitzan and Ramla prisons has also been reported.

Whilst the Israeli government has been quick to announce any updates on prisoners breaking the strike, the “battle of empty stomachs” shows no sign of ending soon with hundreds of other inmates now reportedly joining the protest in solidarity. Whatever the outcome, dead prisoners will not be well received by the Palestinians, and with the 50th Anniversary of both the 1967 War and the resulting occupation fast approaching, this strike may well be the start of a renewed round of heightened conflict. 



Published 5th May 2017

Edited for mb3-org.com

The Constitution and Conscience: NSA’s Thomas Drake (Video)

Rise Up Times

A talk by Thomas Drake, a veteran of the Air Force and Navy, who was working as a senior executive in the National Security Agency when surveillance policy changed in the aftermath of 9-11 in ways that violated both the Constitution and his conscience.

He spoke out on secret mass ‘Collect-it-all’ electronic surveillance and the multibillion-dollar fraud and intelligence failures within the NSA. He was the first U.S. whistleblower to be charged under the Espionage Act since Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 and faced 35 years in prison. A program that he exposed was later confirmed by the NSA to have been a waste of over a billion dollars. He was among the first to expose to the public the mass surveillance of US citizens which still continues in various forms.

Sponsored by:
Tackling Torture at the Top Committee of Women Against Military Madness
The Coming Home Collaborative
Veterans for Peace…

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