Trump’s demand to ban Muslim immigration was extreme, but not outside the mainstream

There are many analyses of the incoming Trump administration, examining the reasons for his electoral victory, the racism and Islamophobia that he deployed to win votes, his populist appeals to the American working class, the emboldened position of the alternative right, and the ultra-rightist nature of his incoming cabinet. It is no exaggeration to state, for instance, that his chief-of-staff, the man Trump turns to first for political advice, is an outright fascist.

It is not difficult to ascertain that the leading personnel of the Trump regime, composed of billionaires, ex-generals and ultra-rightist psychopaths, are going to make life harder for the American working class – and by that we mean people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. For instance, Trump has selected Jeff Sessions to be the new attorney general.

Who is Jeff Sessions? A lawyer with a lifelong background in opposing African American civil rights, a veteran career racist with deep sympathies for the Confederate South. It is interesting to note that Sessions opposed the removal of Confederate flags and symbols from government buildings, having been named after a Confederate slave-owning general who fought for the defence of segregation and slavery. It is difficult to ascertain how Sessions, on his way to becoming the top lawmaker in the land, will defend the civil rights of all Americans.

You may easily find the reams of commentary written about the Trump administration, and its political character. There is no question that Trump himself, America’s version of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, represents the nakedly aggressive, obnoxious character of American capitalist politics. Trump, a billionaire businessman with a history of bankruptcy and dubious business dealings, began as a ‘joke’ candidate, much like Berlusconi.

Similarly to the latter, Trump has provided a lightning rod for ultra-rightist, fascistic elements and white nationalists to aggregate, now going by the name of Alternative Right. In line with Berlusconi, Trump has proven himself to be a serial sex pest, boasting about his sexual conquests, advocating a puerile machismo that is symptomatic of his misogynistic view of the world.

There are many aspects of the Trump administration to analyse, however, let us focus on one – an issue that has widespread implications for the maintenance of democratic rights and civil liberties in the United States. Trump, back in December 2015 while on the campaign trail, made the announcement that his government would ban Muslim immigration on the grounds of protecting America’s national security.

His proposal, made in the heat of the electoral race, attracted widespread and heavy condemnation – and that was perfectly sound. His vulgar and semi-fascistic rhetoric exposed the iron fist beneath the velvet glove, and exposed the continuing rightward evolution of the American political system. Democratic and civil liberties are being undermined, and Trump’s proposal was further proof that American democracy is in serious decline.

Internment – as American as apple pie

The chorus of condemnation, issued by major political and media figures, largely followed the line that Trump’s policy proposal was ‘unAmerican’ and a direct violation of America’s democratic traditions. This line is actually quite fictitious – Trump’s position is extreme, but well within the mainstream of American political life, located in the discussions and philosophy of the American Republican party. Targeting ethnic and racial minorities for profiling, registering them, and interning them in detention centres is a practice that has a long tradition in American history. Let us listen to the words of Sarah Aziz, associate professor of law at Texas A&M University:

Trump’s desire to keep Muslims out of America goes back two centuries. The Naturalization Act of 1790 barred Muslims from citizenship because only white people were eligible. Muslims were viewed as either black slaves, who were not considered full persons, or Turks and Arabs who were deemed enemies of white Christianity – a hallmark of American citizenship.

Even after the end of slavery, Muslims continued to be excluded. Immigration laws in the late 19th and early 20th centuries sought to exclude Chinese, Japanese and other Asians. Whiteness was still the prerequisite for naturalized citizenship. Islam was associated with Asiatic cultures deemed antithetical to American values.

What makes the contemporary period different is the exclusive focus on Islam and Muslims as the primary threat to American life – as opposed to Muslims being caught up in anti-black or anti-Asian prejudice. Mirroring the historic racist rhetoric against the Chinese and Japanese, a critical mass of Americans view Muslims as disloyal, suspicious, dangerous and possessing a culture deemed irreconcilable with American norms.

Carl Higbie, a Trump advisor, made positive reference in an interview to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two, and spoke of it as a legitimate measure when faced with wartime conditions. He went on to suggest that today, in these times of Islamic-inspired aggression, a registry of Muslim Americans is needed to keep track of America’s enemies. Higbie’s comments correspond to Trump’s own statements about this issue in the past. His comments were strongly denounced by civil rights activists, Asian American groups, Islamic American organisations and various politicians. For instance:

Representative Mark Takano, a Japanese-American and Democrat from California whose parents and grandparents were imprisoned during World War II, said in a statement on Thursday that the comments reflected “an alarming resurgence of racism and xenophobia in our political discourse.” He called on Mr. Trump to denounce them.

It is interesting that the spectre of Japanese American internment has been raised at this time, considering that current Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, visited Pearl Harbour at the end of December 2016. While not apologising for the World War Two attack, Abe expressed his regrets for the deaths and trauma caused, and wished to mend fences with the United States. In the wake of that attack, the US government issued orders to incarcerate 120 000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps, rationalised by the fear that they may become a hostile presence, or aid the official enemy in some way. This mass incarceration was implemented by presidential executive order 9066.

Why is this important? We should remember that while today’s Republicans and conservative politicians are positively referencing the precedent of Japanese American internment, it was New Deal Democrats and liberals who devised and enacted these measures. Extreme, but not outside of the mainstream…….

In a moving and extensive account, Jessie Kindig, visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University, wrote how the origins of the view that Japanese Americans are a hostile and alien influence predated World War Two and Pearl Harbour:

As early as 1936, during the Japanese imperial expansion into the Pacific, President Franklin Roosevelt had written to the military’s Joint Board chief advocating the “obvious thought” of creating a “special list” of Japanese citizens and non-citizens in Hawaii so they might be “placed in a concentration camp in the event of trouble.” Roosevelt’s suggestion flew in the face of more than a decade of government surveillance that saw little possibility of Japanese-American communities allying with imperial Japan. Regardless, the president’s fears were “obvious” to him because of a much longer history of racial exclusion that had made Asian people seem foreign to the United States.

The idea that Japanese Americans were a conglomerated, suspicious element within the body politic thus had a long history before World War II.

George Takei, Japanese American actor, author and activist best known for his long-running role on the Star Trek series, wrote of his experiences being interned in a detention camp with his parents:

Stop and consider these words. The internment was a dark chapter of American history, in which 120,000 people, including me and my family, lost our homes, our livelihoods, and our freedoms because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. Higbie speaks of the internment in the abstract, as a “precedent” or a policy, ignoring the true human tragedy that occurred.

I was just a child of 5 when we were forced at gunpoint from our home and sent first to live in a horse stable at a local race track, a family of five crammed into a single smelly stall. It was a devastating blow to my parents, who had worked so hard to buy a house and raise a family in Los Angeles. After several weeks, they sent us much farther away, 1,000 miles to the east by rail car, the blinds of our train cars pulled for our own protection, they said. We disembarked in the fetid swamps of Arkansas at the Rohwer Relocation Center. Really, it was a prison: Armed guards looked down upon us from sentry towers; their guns pointed inward at us; searchlights lit pathways at night. We understood. We were not to leave.

The writers at Liberation News published a thoughtful article, back in February 2016, about the internment of Japanese Americans. They wrote of the history of anti-Asian racism, and its parallels with the current upsurge of anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia. They wrote that:

In the late 19th century, U.S. Congress decided to discourage Japanese immigration, prohibit naturalization of Japanese immigrants and curtail land ownership by Japanese. By 1924, the U.S. government banned virtually all immigration from Japan. Several states including California banned marriages between white people and people of Asian descent, only permitting the latter to marry other people of color.

As World War Two proceeded, and Japan began to expand its military conquests in Asia, the Roosevelt administration compiled a Custodian Detention Index (CDI), which was a list of potential ‘enemy aliens’ – basically, Japanese Americans who were considered a security risk. While the State Department confirmed in 1941 that there was no “Japanese problem’, racial profiling and exclusionary measured directed against the Japanese American community continued.

While these issues are of historical value, they have direct relevance for today. Not too long ago, Retired US General Wesley Clark, putative candidate for the Democrat party in 2004, suggested establishing internment camps for ‘radicalised Americans’. How exactly that radicalisation is to be defined, and how the authorities go about identifying a ‘radicalised’ person as opposed to a ‘moderate’, Clark did not elaborate.

Clark, a high-profile supporter of former Democrat Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, reflects the thinking that is taking hold among official circles. While Trump was met with heavy condemnation when he suggested similar ideas, Clark’s comments were met with silence. Mass detention of political opponents has less to do with security, and more to do with tightening the grip of the US ruling class over the bulk of the population.

Former US Supreme Court Justice, the late Antonin Scalia, when discussing the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two, made the following comment:

“[Y]ou are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again.”

He was talking to students at the University of Hawaii in February 2014 with regards to the Korematsu decision. The US Supreme Court, in 1944, decided that the mass internment of Japanese Americans was constitutional on the grounds of ‘military urgency’. The name of the decision was taken from the two Japanese Americans who launched a legal challenge to the mass incarceration – Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi. Scalia stated that while the Korematsu decision was wrong, it was naive to think that mass detention could not happen again. While the American government did apologise for the Korematsu case in 1988, the toxic ideas that underpin it have resurfaced in a big way in the current political context of Islamophobia and the demonisation of the Islamic American community.

The response of the US ruling class to any modern-day challenges is to recycle the old, poisonous and discredited ideas from the darkest chapters of America’s history. Trumpism and its ideas are horrid, but they are not without precedent. Trumpism may be a monstrous formation, but it was incubated in the culture and practices of neoliberal capitalism. John Passant, former tax commissioner, lecturer and now PhD student, summed it up best when he described Trump’s victory as one of the morbid symptoms of neoliberalism. The doctrine of austerity and neoliberalism has not just given us morbid symptoms, but has successfully produced the monstrous toxic mix of Trumpism. Trump’s ideas may represent a break from the Obama-Clinton centrist project, but they are also a continuity of its most extreme permutation.

The Grinch at Christmas; reflections from a Red Diaper Baby

The following series of articles, prompted by reflections around the Christmas-holiday season, will contain a mixture of the personal and political. So if you wish to skip this article, that is perfectly okay. I do not wish to bore anybody with details of my own memories and life story. However, I do believe that our personal and individual lives are deeply interconnected with, and influenced by, the political, social and cultural circumstances in which we find ourselves. The Christmas holidays in Australia are usually a time for reflecting over the year gone by, recollecting precious memories and learning the lessons of our life experiences.

This will be the first in a series of upcoming articles. Stay tuned.

For those who celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday – more power and joy to you. Those from non-Christian faith groups, and those who choose to celebrate in a non-denominational or secular way – more power and joy to you. The title of this essay includes reference to The Grinch, a fictional character from a children’s story written by Dr Seuss. The Grinch is a misanthropic, green, furry recluse, that attempts to steal the joy and happiness from the Christmas occasion. Yes, it is a cartoon character – but we can learn from it. There is a grinch that is stealing Christmas, but it is not a small, grumpy animal, but an ideology. We will get to this ideology later, the doctrine that is at the heart of our problems.

The Grinch - image courtesy of Wikipedia
The Grinch – image courtesy of Wikipedia

 

For now, all I ask is that you consider not only my own biases, but that you also consider your own as I compile a series of recollections. These subjects are not necessarily the most important, or the most topical – there are many issues that we could cover from 2016 – Trump, Brexit, the ongoing conflict in Syria, ultra-right populism, Venezuela – the list could go on. However, I wish to summarise the issues that are important to my sense of identity and well-being. As I stated earlier, if you wish to skip this article, then please do so – no worries on my part.

Reporting on spending – reporting on poverty

In November this year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australians will be spending huge amounts of money on Christmas shopping. The article by Lucy Cormack is entitled “Australia to spend $8.8 billion on Christmas presents, more than half on credit”. The writer examines the spending habits of different groups of Australian shoppers, and how most of the 8.8 billion dollars will be spent on credit. For instance, you may read in the article that:

The Christmas spending survey found that the biggest spenders this festive season will be in NSW, where shoppers will part with $2.9 billion.

In a close second, Victorians are expected to spend $2.3 billion this Christmas, followed by Queensland ($1.7 billion), Western Australia ($1 billion) and South Australia ($615 million).

The survey referred to in the above quote is one conducted by the peer-to-peer lending company SocietyOne.

Santa Claus and presents - image courtesy of ACW blog
Santa Claus and presents – image courtesy of ACW blog

It is useful to report on Christmas spending and the retail behaviour of customers, just as it is important to report on the daily gyrations and fluctuations of the stock market. Millions of Australians are shareholder-investors, even if only through their managed superannuation funds. But this leaves us with a huge question – why do we not report on poverty, unemployment, and inequality in the same way we do on the stock market?

That question is not my own; it comes from an article in Talking Point Memo online magazine entitled “What If We Reported On Poverty The Way We Report On The Stock Market?” The author, Sean McElwee, is elaborating on the American situation with regard to inequality and poverty, but his observations have equal relevance for the Australian context as well. Millions upon millions of Americans face a life of destitution, or near-penury, struggling with meeting day-to-day living costs, all the while wages stagnate and corporate profits increase.

While it is important to report the progress of the stock market, the media can shape and distort our perceptions of economic reality, and present us with a picture of upward social mobility. In fact, the majority of Americans, since the 2008 capitalist economic meltdown, are facing more perilous circumstances and greater financial insecurity. McElwee observes that the economic divide is widening, and it finds greater expression in the growing racial divide:

While the stock market has been humming along and corporate profits rebounded quickly, unemployment remains stubbornly high and wages low. At the same time, the recovery has been divided across racial lines, with the racial wealth gap in 2013 even larger than before the Great Recession. But news reports tend to downplay race gaps in unemployment, what Reniqua Allen calls the “permanent recession,” focusing on the broad indicator. Newspapers and television anchors treat stock prices as though they are a symbol of broad prosperity, rather than a symbol that the rich are getting richer.

In Australia, the picture of inequality and poverty is no less troubling. The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has been consistently documenting the growth of inequality in Australia, even though as a country our collective wealth has increased over the last several decades. Back in 2015, in their report on “Inequality in Australia: A Nation Divided”, ACOSS found that while Australia’s economy and GDP has grown since the 1970s, a person in the top 20 percent income group has around five times as much income as someone in the bottom 20 percent. The growth in employment in the 1970s and 1980s has offset income inequality somewhat, but the stagnation in wages has meant that income inequality has steadily increased. As the ACOSS report notes; “Over the 25 years to 2010, real wages increased by 50% on average, but by 14% for those in the bottom 10% compared with 72% for those in the top 10%.’

The situation regarding wealth inequality is no better; “The top 10% of households own 45% of all wealth, most of the remainder of wealth is owned by the next 50% of households, while the bottom 40% of households own just 5% of all wealth.” Back in 2014, Will Morrow wrote an article for the WSWS web site that Forbes magazine published a list of Australia’s 50 wealthiest people, celebrating their riches and intending for the billionaire bounty to continue. Their combined wealth, back in 2014, was worth $US101.9 billion. Why shouldn’t we celebrate their wealth? Morrow elaborates the relevant background:

Put into context, the wealth of these 50 individuals is $US5 billion more than the federal government’s entire budgetary spending on healthcare, education, public transport and housing in 2013, and more than three times the combined annual gross domestic product of eight countries in the South Pacific region—East Timor, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati—inhabited by more than ten million people.

For all the talk about Australia being an egalitarian land of the ‘fair go’, we are rapidly becoming a vastly unequal nation:

Wealth and income inequalty - image courtesy of The Conversation
Wealth and income inequality – image courtesy of The Conversation

Before this is dismissed as Bolshevik Soviet propaganda from the Kremlin, let’s listen to the words of The Conversation online magazine:

As you would expect, Australia as a whole has become much wealthier since 1970: the total stock of capital has grown twice as fast as national income during the decades since then.

But what is more striking is the marked increase in wealth inequality over the same time. We have become collectively richer but much more unequal.

A reasonable estimate is that, currently, the poorest 40% of Australian households effectively have no wealth at all: about half of them actually have negative net wealth because of their personal debts. At the opposite pole, the wealthiest 10% have more than half the nation’s total household wealth. The top 1% alone have at least 15% of the total wealth.

Red Diaper Baby

I have fond memories of Christmas, and we spent happy times growing up as a red diaper baby. What does that mean? I took that expression from a book, published back in 2004, called “Red Diapers: Growing up in the Communist Left”. The book is a collection of writings about the experiences of those children whose parents were members of the Communist Party, or who were affiliated with leftist and socialist organisations. The book obviously covers the American experience; I have adopted that term for myself in the Australian context. I am a red diaper baby, the only-child of socialist-minded parents. My late father was an active socialist, and never wavered in his convictions. He was a humanitarian socialist and loving parent.

Before anybody becomes concerned about my childhood, let me clarify. No, my late father never forced me to memorise Das Kapital. No, he never neglected me, and I was never left wanting for anything. Yes, he scolded me when I misbehaved. Yes, he helped me with my school homework. Yes, he took me on family outings, visits and social activities. Every year, the primary school I attended (Catholic school) held an Easter hat parade, where each student would bring a creation of their arts-minded parents. The ultimate prize? A large chocolate egg. My father designed a pharaonic-style hat, mimicking the headdress of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs. I won a huge chocolate egg – for the most original hat in the parade.

As I grew into adolescence, I wanted my own independent life, and adopted the “oh dad, go away” attitude – the teenager that wants to avoid the social embarrassment of being seen with the ‘uncool’ dad. Yes, he told me silly dad jokes, and had a lively and engaging personality. Yes, he bought me toys for Christmas. Yes, there were times when we clashed; we had our sad moments, conflicts and resentments. Hey, until today, when I think of my father and the bad times, I catch myself curling my hands into fists and getting ready to hit. But he also taught me about the way the world works, that we need to be active citizens, not just passive consumers. I remember his compassion, sincerity and generosity.

He displayed an unceasing passion for, and interest in, the Arab and Islamic worlds, having kept the Islamic statement of faith on the dining buffet table. It was a small picture, with gold writing on a black background. He kept a copy of the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian Islamist philosopher. He kept a portrait of the late Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, on prominent display in the lounge room. The portrait, showing Nasser holding his hand to his cheek, was flanked by the Islamic declaration, the Shahada. Unlike the vast majority of the Egyptian-Armenian gusano-types, he respected the Arab and Muslim as an equal, while choosing not to necessarily worship in the Islamic way. He strongly identified with, and supported, the Palestinian cause – not only for the purpose of self-determination, but also as a struggle against the influence of imperialism in the Middle East.

He had the portraits of Marx and Lenin hanging in his study – and a smaller one of Joseph Stalin. He kept a close watch on developments in global politics, the role of Australian capitalism as a deputy sheriff of the United States, and rejected the rampant consumerism and mind-numbing celebrity-worship culture that pervades Australian society. He saw the deleterious effects of the ideology that underpins our current socioeconomic system – neoliberalism. The Grinch that is ruining Christmas for everyone is the destructive philosophy of ultra-competitive individualism. As George Monbiot explained in his article, referred to earlier in this piece:

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Yes, I know that the Soviet Union was disbanded by the Gorbachev leadership in 1991, and that Russia has been a capitalist country since then. Yes, I know that Vladimir Putin – the Charles de Gaulle equivalent of the Russian federation – is a fiercely nationalist right wing politician. No, he is not going to restore the USSR. No, he is not a secret communist, hellbent on covertly resurrecting the Communist apparatus. It is possible to chew gum and walk at the same time – Putin, like de Gaulle, is anti-American imperialism, but not anti-imperialist.

It is possible to oppose the capitalist regime in the Kremlin, and reject the anti-Russia hysteria that is gripping large sections of the American capitalist class. We will get to that subject in another article – it is on the To Do list. There are many reasons why I have remain a loyal red diaper baby – too many to elaborate here. As a short answer, I will recycle the words of the late Eugene V Debs, an American socialist, whose words have striking relevance for today:

Image courtesy of AZ quotes.
Image courtesy of AZ quotes.

Every Christmas, I remember how my late father clashed with the Egyptian-Armenian gusanos during our visits, and how he never backed down. The gusanos are victims of their own bigotry, as they celebrate the cruise missiles that imperialism fires at the Arab and Islamic countries. But that is okay, because they taught me valuable lessons – in how to cravenly capitulate to the seemingly seductive allure of imperial might. After this lesson, I can safely file away the opinions and ideas of the gusano-types in the appropriate storage facility.

Every Christmas, I remember my late father – and am proud to have grown up a red diaper baby.

I would not change that for anything in the world.

Dutton’s remarks, and being told to go back to where I come from – a constant refrain my whole life

Australia’s current Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, made a number of ignorant and bigoted comments in recent weeks regarding the presence of Lebanese Muslims in Australia. He stated that the Liberal Party Prime Minister in the 1970s, Malcolm Fraser, made a mistake in allowing Lebanese to settle in the country, because a proportion of their grandchildren have been guilty of terrorism-related offences. Linking a particular ethnic group to terrorism, Dutton promoted xenophobic sentiments, and his boss, current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has stated his support for the Immigration Minister. As Omar Bensaidi, a philosophy and law student at Western Sydney University, explained in an article for The Guardian newspaper, Dutton’s misguided remarks did not appear out of thin air:

He is just another voice who continues to espouse a “common sense” political incorrectness that is somehow deemed heroic. He again privileges a baseless white anxiety that has, by force of repetition, and by the astounding rise of Donald Trump, come to turn the word “immigrant” into a threat or mistake.

New Zealand – the small nation that is mightily important

Australia – it is high time to stop treating New Zealand as a second-rate cousin.

New Zealand is a beautiful, picturesque country. I had the wonderful privilege of traveling through both the North and South Islands of New Zealand, immediately prior to the terrible earthquake that devastated the east coast of the southern island. We will get to the earthquake in a later article, not the current one – stay tuned. However, firstly, it is necessary to dispense with some Australian-manufactured stereotypes and myths about the ostensibly poorer cousins across the Tasman Sea.

Australians have a long history of ridiculing our compatriots across the sea – jokes about the Kiwis abound in Australia. The sporting rivalry is fierce – whether it is the long-standing competition in the cricket, or the clashes between the Wallabies and the All Blacks in the rugby union; there is no shortage of ferocious opposition. The BuzzFeed news service carried an article entitled “32 Reasons Why Australia And New Zealand Share The World’s Fiercest Rivalry”, in which the author explains that while Australia may feel overconfident with regards to the size of the country, New Zealand wins hands-down when it comes to breathtaking landscape.

Australians built attractions, such as the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Tower, to rival the natural wonders of New Zealand. The latter responded by building the SkyTower in Auckland, which is taller than any building in Australia…….and on and on the rivalry goes.

Aotearoa
Aotearoa – courtesy of Maori.com

However, setting aside the stereotypes that frequently infect any discussion between Australians and New Zealanders, let us take a closer look at Aotearoa – the land of the long white cloud. The similarities between the two British-sponsored settler-colonial states on either side of the Tasman far outweigh any purported differences. The origins of both colonies as outposts of British capitalism, and their historical characteristics as New Britannia settlements, weigh heavily on the current features of the two nations.

Let us not forget, that without the participation of New Zealand, there would be no Anzacs. Last year was the centenary of the Anzac landings, and New Zealand hosted its share of commemorative activities to remember those New Zealanders who served, and never returned. This year, Anzac exhibits were given prominence (as they are usually are) in celebrations about the role of New Zealand troops in British wars overseas.  In Wellington Museum, there were long queues to view the Great War exhibition, which detailed the history of New Zealand’s contribution to the British empire’s military campaigns in World War One.

New Zealand, like Australia, has a long history of serving as a mercenary force, firstly for the British empire, and currently aligning itself with the goals of the United States. The United Kingdom was the industrial juggernaut that stood at the apex of the British empire, it was the dominions, like New Zealand, which became more British than Britain and loyally participated in British expeditionary forces wherever the Empire deemed necessary. Chris Trotter, political and social commentator for the New Zealand media outlet Stuff, wrote an article placing the current participation of New Zealand troops in the Middle East within a historical context. Trotter remarked that:

Since the late-19th century, this country has happily marched in the great expeditionary columns that have trudged their way across the dry and dusty regions of the world. From the South African veldt to the Sinai desert, the Kiwis’ broad-brimmed hats have dutifully bobbed along behind the pith helmets of their Imperial British mentors.

That sounds familiar to Australian readers.

Chris Trotter’s article “New Zealand’s only Middle Eastern exit strategy – leave now” elaborates that troops from New Zealand participated in the mad scramble for colonial possessions in the wake of the Ottoman Turkish empire’s defeat in World War One. Britain wanted to acquire the land of Palestine, and throughout 1917-1918, took steps to forcibly take the country, with the willing participation of soldiers from New Zealand:

All New Zealanders know about their country’s role in the invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. Less well known is the role that Kiwis and Aussies played in driving the British Lion’s blood-stained claws into the carcass of the Ottoman Empire’s Middle Eastern provinces – especially Palestine – between 1916 and 1918.

The New Zealand Government’s reticence about drawing Arab attention to the role this country played in the emergence of the State of Israel is entirely understandable. What purpose would be served by reminding Arab historians about the Kiwi and Aussie troops responsible for the deaths of more than 200 Palestinian men and boys in the tiny village of Surafend in 1918? Or about the fulsome vote of thanks delivered to the Antipodeans by residents of the nearby Jewish settlement of Richon Le Zion?

Dredging up these historical incidents might prompt Egyptian historians to investigate the role played by the New Zealand and Australian mounted infantry in suppressing the Egyptian nationalist revolt against British domination which exploded in the final months of 1918 – a task made much easier by the Antipodeans’ already fearsome reputation for brutality against Arab civilians.

Questions might be asked about whether or not New Zealand’s behaviour towards the Islamic world has changed all that much over the course of the past 100 years. True, the British Empire is no longer the dominant global superpower, but its American successor would appear to be no less persuasive when it comes to drawing the Antipodeans back into the marching columns of imperial adventures.

Once again, Australian readers would recognise the eerie similarities between themselves and their compatriots across the Tasman Sea.

Generated by IJG JPEG Library
US Vice President Joe Biden and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key – courtesy of Getty images

In July 2016, US Vice President Joe Biden turned up in New Zealand for a series of wide-ranging meetings with the political leaders in Aotearoa. Biden’s stopover was aimed at ensuring that New Zealand aligns itself unequivocally with the ambitions of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. Biden, who had visited Sydney Australia prior to his arrival in New Zealand, made menacing speeches about the power of the United States, and in particular its naval forces with respect to China. Bellicose and belligerent, Biden was in full form as he elaborated that the US was intent on achieving the status of the dominant power in Asia, and was not going to budge an inch.

However, the cowardly bully is never confident without satraps behind him. Biden wanted to ensure that New Zealand remained fully committed to the United States. Wellington has lined up with the Americans, but has also pursued its own economic interests by maintained friendly and burgeoning relations with Beijing. New Zealand’s minister of defence, Gerry Brownlee, maintained that while his government cooperates with the United States, it was not going to give up its lucrative connections with China. He stated that New Zealand’s defence relationships with the United States and China were not mutually exclusive.

In a further strengthening of American-New Zealand military ties, Biden confirmed that a US warship would be visiting the latter country as part of the New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations. The US military will neither confirm nor deny if the warship contains nuclear warheads – and the New Zealand government stated that it will not ask. That marks a reversal of the long-term commitment of New Zealand to keep the country nuclear-weapons free, since the decision by the Lange government in the 1980s to ban nuclear weapons from the country’s territory.

We are approaching the word-limit of this article, so let’s make some last observations. We briefly alluded earlier on to the earthquake that hit New Zealand’s south island in November 2016 – we will get to that subject in the next article. That earthquake had complex causes, but relates to the fact that the south island straddles the boundary between two continental plates – the Australian and the Pacific. The constant pushing and shoving between these plates pushes up rock strata to create mountain ranges, such as the Southern Alps. The tectonic dragon – as the New Yorker explains – is alive and well in New Zealand. Forty miles off the coast of Wellington is the Hikurangi Trench, where the Pacific plate moves westward underneath the Australian plate. However, on the South Island, the Australian plate is moving eastward and submerging beneath the Pacific plate.

Southern Alps - image courtesy of Wikipedia
Southern Alps – image courtesy of Wikipedia

We will get to all of that in the next article – stay tuned.

However, there are other human-induced earthquakes that have rocked New Zealand, and their effects are just as devastating. The political earthquake that is neoliberal capitalism has left its imprint on the people of New Zealand, destroying lives and leaving behind shattered wreckage in its wake. Cutbacks to employment, reducing social security, pushing people off welfare in a punitive drive to allegedly balance the budget books, has resulted in social dislocation and increasing poverty in the country. While focusing on forcing increasing numbers of people off welfare may make the books look like they are balanced, it fails to take into account the full social and economic costs of doing so.

Most of the corporate media have been in hysterics about the political earthquakes of Trump and Brexit – these have implications for New Zealand as well. However, we will leave that for the next installment. While everyone is screaming shrieks of desperation at the emergence of Trumpism in America (and Tory Brexit populism in the UK), let us all relax, have a drink, and maintain cool heads. No need for frenzied delirium at developments in Britain and the United States.

For now, let us emphasise that what a nation chooses to remember and forget from its history helps to shape its identity. Vincent O’Malley, historian and writer from New Zealand, referred to this proclivity when writing about the British-Maori wars. The Anzac episode is heavily promoted and commemorated – the Maori are left forgotten, homeless on the streets of Auckland, detritus left behind by the neoliberal project and ignored by us Australian tourists as we enjoy the glitzy shops of Queen Street. The Polynesian Maori nations fought tremendous wars in order to be recognised as sovereign people in their country. Walking down the streets of Auckland, as we gave our last New Zealand dollars to the homeless, we came to realise that the Maori deserve better than trite homilies about ‘not living in the past’ and ‘just get over it’.

This is not to suggest that there has been no progress at all in the fight for Maori self-determination and cultural identity – by no means. But when an earthquake hits, it wreaks destruction – and it takes concerted effort to rebuild from the wreckage. In a twist of irony, it is us Australians that like to complain about the mythical ‘Kiwi layabout’, that breed of white New Zealander that comes to our shores purely to live off our supposedly highly generous social security system. If only the first boat person to arrive in Australia, Captain Cook, had been told to turn around and go back to where he came from, the history of Australia (and New Zealand) would be remarkably different.

There is a social and political earthquake shaking New Zealand – the trading of our ethics and social values for money in a neoliberal society. As the authors of Socialist Voice Aotearoa put it – we are witnessing the demise of compassionate New Zealand for money, and we must halt its decline.  When social values and cross-cultural community solidarity decline, we see the rise of homelessness, social disruption and human misery. New Zealand may be far away from Europe, the United States and Britain, but its fate is inextricably bound up with the processes of neoliberal globalisation that has been carried across the world. New Zealand may be geographically small, but its characteristics and destiny are mightily important for all of us.

Cecil Rhodes must fall, but Mahatma Gandhi must stand – two statues and two controversies

In October of this year, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was removed from the grounds of the University of Ghana, only a few months after it had been erected there as a presentation from the visiting Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee. This statue was removed after a petition by Ghanaian scholars and academics, who pointed out that Gandhi, during is stay in South Africa, made racist statement towards black Africans, and that his example was inappropriate for modern-day Ghanaians. In an article for The Guardian newspaper, Jason Burke elaborates on the reasons why the petitioners were outraged by the prominence of the Gandhi statue:

The petition states “it is better to stand up for our dignity than to kowtow to the wishes of a burgeoning Eurasian super power”, and quotes passages written by Gandhi which say Indians are “infinitely superior” to black Africans.

More than 1,000 people signed the petition, which claimed that not only was Gandhi racist towards black South Africans when he lived in South Africa as a young man, but that he campaigned for the maintenance of India’s caste system, an ancient social hierarchy that still defines the status in that country of hundreds of millions of people.

The Gandhi statue - the target for removal amid claims Gandhi was racist towards black Africans
The Gandhi statue – the target for removal amid claims Gandhi was racist towards black Africans

Gandhi’s life in South Africa, where he worked as a barrister defending the rights of the Indian community, is the subject of numerous scholarly works and articles. He spent twenty-one years of his life there, confronting an apartheid regime of strict racial discrimination, long before the authorities in Pretoria used the word ‘apartheid’ to describe their racially stratified society. His South African period is of especially relevance – why? This controversy around the Gandhi statue in Ghana arrives hot on the heels of a similar dispute that erupted back in March 2015 – Rhodes Must Fall.

Students and lecturers from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, began a campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes, British empire-builder and racist entrepreneur-coloniser, from their campus. The campaign to remove the statue began a series of thoughtful and serious questions about the decolonisation of education, the progress (or lack thereof) of racial and economic equality in the post-apartheid South Africa, and the nature and role of the former British empire. A vociferous campaigner for British imperial rule, Rhodes founded the British South Africa Mining Company for the purpose of exploiting the rich mineral wealth of southern Africa.

Rhodes, whose name was given to the country of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) openly expressed his motivations for empire-building – the superiority of the English people, as he saw it. He loudly and repeatedly expressed the view that British settler-colonialism was the highest priority for the British people, because the British were the ‘first race’ in the world. He made plain his disdain for whom he viewed as lesser races, namely, the black African people.

Cecil Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town
Cecil Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town – removed in April 2015 after student protests

Dying in 1902, Rhodes was unrepentant to the end, never wavering in his view that blacks must be ruled over by a class of wealthy whites. His history is one of racial hatred, treachery and deception in amassing enormous reserves of wealth and waging vicious wars against millions of black Africans. Rhodes is remembered today, if at all, for funding the scholarship that bears his name. Such a programme was intended to fund the brightest and best students from all of Britain’s colonial possessions, for the purpose of studying at elite British educational institutions. Australians can appreciate the academic calibre of Rhodes scholars until today, having made a lasting impact on Australian society with their superior intellectual skills.

Be that as it may, the Rhodes Must Fall campaign highlighted the importance of addressing racial and economic iniquities, not for the purpose of self-flagellation, but for the purpose of redressing historical grievances. Rhodes and his role in creating the regional dominance of the British empire should never be erased from the historical memory – Rhodes Must Fall wants the world to know his crimes for the purpose of re-evaluating the legend that has surrounded Rhodes and his impact since his death. Every historical figure, including Rhodes and Gandhi, accumulate a vast body of myths and half-truths after they pass on – whether deliberate hagiography or the product of rose-tinted views of their work. Each person must be evaluated, if only to fully appreciate their achievements and weaknesses. Rhodes was a racist land-hungry imperialist, and for that reason, his statue must fall.

If that is case, should not Gandhi’s statue also fall? Did he not make racist comments and statement about black Africans during his time in South Africa? Did he not support the British empire, going so far as to work as a stretcher-bearer for British forces in their war against the Boers in the early part of the twentieth century? Gandhi himself created and joined the Indian Ambulance Corps for the express purpose of providing service to the British military forces during the Boer War.

Mahatma Gandhi in the uniform of a sergeant as the leader of Indian Ambulance Corps. During the Boer War of 1899 and the Zulu Rebellion of 1906. He donned the Khaki uniform and set his mission of mercy and brought help and succour to many a wounded soldier.
Mahatma Gandhi in the uniform of a sergeant as the leader of Indian Ambulance Corps.

Gandhi, during his South African stay, made numerous statements that can only be interpreted as racist comments against black Africans. He was only concerned with the status of the Indian community in that country, and sought to improve their standing by cooperating with the British authorities. He intended to prove to his white counterparts that the Indian was unjustly dismissed as a ‘savage’ and ‘brute’, no better than a kaffir – the latter a derogatory term referring to black Africans. For instance, in his voluminous writings, you may find statements such as this:

A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.

In 1904, he wrote to the authorities in Johannesburg to complain about the mixing of Indians and Kaffirs in an unhealthy slum section denoted ‘Coolie location’, and he claimed that disease and epidemics would surely persist if this unsanitary mixing continue. Gandhi made various statements denouncing the heathen-beliefs of the black Africans, and strenuously sought to distinguish the Indian as an educated and civilised contributor to the British empire, unlike the ostensibly primitive black African. In 1893, soon after arriving in Natal, Gandhi wrote that:

“I venture to point out that both the English and the Indians spring from a common stock, called the Indo-Aryan. … A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.

He arrived in what was then Natal colony, South Africa, in May 1893 an inexperienced and politically immature lawyer. He persistently couched his appeals to British authority in terms of the superior values of the Indian – in contrast to the black African. There is no question that Gandhi absorbed and reflected the prejudiced attitudes and values of his day and community. Gandhi’s grandson and biographer, Rajmohan Gandhi, admitted that his famous grandfather was at times ignorant and prejudiced about black Africans. As the author E S Reddy stated in an article for The Wire magazine:

The class and colour prejudices Gandhi carried from India were reinforced by those of the merchants and the white officers he dealt with. In countering the arguments of the white racists, he tried to show that Indians, unlike the Africans, had an ancient civilisation. He used the language of the whites, which was offensive to Africans, and referred to them as ‘kaffirs.’

Gandhi in Johannesburg 1905
Gandhi in Johannesburg seated in front of his law practice – 1905

Throughout his stay, he witnessed the many injustices done to the black African community, and the exploitative nature of the British empire. As he matured in years and political outlook, he began to take steps on the path that made him an agent of social and political change. Gandhi developed and refined the doctrines and practices of non-violent civil resistance which are today an inspiration for political leaders and people world-wide. Indeed, it is worth recalling the words of Nelson Mandela, and his analysis of Gandhi. For instance, in 1995, after his release from prison, Mandela wrote the following:

Gandhi must be forgiven those prejudices and judged in the context of the time and circumstances. We are looking here at the young Gandhi, still to become Mahatma, when he was without any human prejudice save that in favour of truth and justice.”

He also stated in 2003 that:

Gandhi’s political technique and elements of the nonviolent philosophy developed during his stay in Johannesburg became the enduring legacy for the continuing struggle against racial discrimination in South Africa. (Speech made during the unveiling of the statue of Gandhi in Johannesburg in October 2003)

As Gandhi took up the cause of his community in South Africa, he began to recognise the injustices of the racially and economically stratified society against which he and his supporters were fighting. The Boer war (1899-1902), during which the British armed forces committed numerous atrocities on the white South African minority, was a politically awakening experience for those who emerged from this trauma – Gandhi included. Non-white political organisations, paradoxically, were given a boost by the bitter experiences of this war. As the South African statelets – Natal, Transvaal and so on – moved towards establishing a national entity in the early years of the 1900s, the non-white communities found themselves collectively marginalised. In this context, witnessing the brutality of white-only rule against the indigenous and non-white populations served as a political awakening for the young Gandhi.

As the Indian community mobilised for their rights in the new South Africa, Gandhi started to widen his political horizons, declaring in a speech that:

South Africa would probably be a howling wilderness without the Africans…”

“If we look into the future, is it not a heritage we have to leave to posterity that all the different races commingle and produce a civilisation that perhaps the world has not yet seen.

In 1912, the South African Native National Congress was formed – the predecessor of the African National Congress. Gandhi welcomed this development, and never sought to impose his example or leadership upon it. He only offered his philosophy of satyagraha – insistence on truth – as a method to combat racial oppression.

Years later, after Gandhi had returned to India to struggle against the British rule over his native country, he made statements to demonstrate that his interest in and support for South Africa never wavered. In a speech to Oxford university in 1931, he declared:

As there has been an awakening in India, even so there will be an awakening in South Africa with its vastly richer resources – natural, mineral and human. The mighty English look quite pygmies before the mighty races of Africa. They are noble savages after all, you will say. They are certainly noble, but no savages and in the course of a few years the Western nations may cease to find in Africa a dumping ground for their wares.

Gandhi surrounded by his supporters - August 1942
Gandhi surrounded by his supporters – August 1942

Having learnt from the experience of anti-colonial nationalism, Gandhi applied himself to the struggle in India for home rule. One of his lifelong comrades and staunchest supporters, Jawaharlal Nehru, not only learned from Gandhi’s example, but applied it to all oppressed groups. From the 1920s onwards, Nehru advocated the necessity of uniting on a multi-ethnic and pluralist basis, including oppressed people of all colours in the struggle against colonialism. He went on to become the first post-independence Indian prime minister, as well as the architect and leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The non- aligned anti-colonial movements encompassed all races and ethnic groups for the common purpose of self-determination. One of the main exponents and practitioners of anti-colonial liberation was a black African political leader, Kwame Nkrumah – who lead his country, today known as Ghana, to independence. Nkrumah was a socialist and pan-Africanist, who derived inspiration from numerous sources. One of the sources from which he learned and drew inspiration was Mahatma Gandhi, whose doctrines of non-violence and non-cooperation profoundly influenced the Ghanaian anti-colonial campaign. It is obviously up to the authorities at the University of Ghana to decide whether or not to keep the statue of Gandhi on their campus. No-one can dispute that. However, rejecting Gandhi’s example would be a huge disservice to all those – from all races – who drew inspiration from the Gandhian model in their own anti-colonial struggles for self-determination.

The United States and Britain enable the catastrophe that has engulfed Yemen today

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia, along with its Gulf State allies, has pursued a relentless bombing campaign and siege of the nation of Yemen, in order to influence the political order in that country. This Saudi war, which has targeted hospitals, schools, the electricity grid and civilian infrastructure in Yemen, has been prosecuted because of the fulsome military and political support provided to Riyadh by Britain and the United States. This forgotten war has been largely eclipsed by all the media attention on Syria. While American officials loudly and emphatically condemn the war crimes of Russian military forces in Aleppo, they have enabled their Saudi allies to commit atrocities on a national scale in Yemen with impunity.

As the Common Dreams magazine reported, the Saudi-led air forces – whose warplanes are refueled by the United States – carried out an air-strike on a funeral hall in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. At least 140 civilians were killed, and 500 were wounded. The Saudi aircraft struck that particular funeral hall because the attendees included high-level officials from the Houthi-led insurgent movement, the latter waging a long-term political and military struggle to achieve self-determination for Yemen. The air strike on the funeral hall procession represents a major escalation of the Saudi offensive against Yemen. In the Yemeni capital Sanaa, thousands took to the streets to protest this latest Saudi outrage. The leader of the rebel Houthi movement, Abdul-Malek Houthi, angrily denounced the attack, and stated that these kinds of airstrikes are being done with the weapons and permission of the United States.

The United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick (center, in light blue shirt) inspects a funeral hall on Monday, two days after it was destroyed in Sanaa, Yemen, in an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition. At least 140 people were killed.
The United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick (center, in light blue shirt) inspects a funeral hall on Monday, two days after it was destroyed in Sanaa, Yemen, in an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition. At least 140 people were killed.

 

Such an attack constitutes a war crime, and questions are being raised in the United States about American culpability for this crime. The Saudi authorities announced that they would investigate this bombing, and denied responsibility. However, it is clear that the funeral hall attack is only the latest in a long string of assaults on hospitals, markets and places where large groups of civilians congregate. National Public Radio elaborated upon how the United States has become an indispensable partner for the Saudi Arabian government in its offensive against the Yemeni Houthi movement. The war was intended to be a quick and decisive victory over the rebellious forces, with the Saudis installing their Yemeni proxy, current President Abed Mansour Hadi, in power. However, the war has ground on for much longer than anyone anticipated, and the Saudis – along with their American and British backers – find themselves stuck in a quagmire of their own making.

 

Yemenis shout slogans during a rally in Sana on Monday protesting Saudi-led airstrikes that hit a funeral hall. (Yahya Arhab / European Pressphoto Agency)
Yemenis shout slogans during a rally in Sana on Monday protesting Saudi-led airstrikes that hit a funeral hall. (Yahya Arhab / European Pressphoto Agency)

 

Abed Mansour Hadi, installed as President in 2012 as part of a Saudi and American sponsored agreement, is the preferred candidate of the outside powers. His installation was meant to reduce the political upheavals and revolutionary demands that led to the ousting of his predecessor, long-term Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. However, this peace process was artificial and superficial, with the Yemeni Houthis sweeping to power, taking over the capital and large portions of Yemen itself. Hadi was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia where he has remained ever since, despite an occasional and temporary foray by Hadi into the Yemeni city of Aden.

While the United States involvement in the specific funeral hall attack is criminal, it is only one part of the wider role the US (and Britain) have been playing in enabling the Saudi regime to devastate the country and population of Yemen. The Common Dreams magazine published an article by C J Werleman called ‘The American-Made Catastrophe in Yemen’. In this article, Werleman draws attention to the fact that the United States provides billions of dollars worth of military supplies to the Riyadh government.

US President Barack Obama has the dubious distinction of being the president that has shipped more weapons and munitions to Saudi Arabia than any of his predecessors – since 2009, Obama has provided 115 billion dollars worth of military equipment, training and supplies to the Saudi Arabian monarchy. The relationship between the Saudi and American governments has come under renewed scrutiny, not so much because of any qualms about the Saudi assault on Yemen, but because of American unease over the more egregious crimes of the Saudi war machine.

A Saudi military member stands next to a destroyed building in Aden, Yemen. (Photo: Ahmed Farwan/flickr/cc)
A Saudi military member stands next to a destroyed building in Aden, Yemen. (Photo: Ahmed Farwan/flickr/cc)

Not only has Saudi Arabia waged an aggressive aerial campaign, but has also implemented a naval blockade of Yemen since 2015. Saudi forces stop and search any maritime traffic heading towards the Yemeni ports, and turn back any shipping. The blocking of sea ports has added to the misery of ordinary Yemenis, with millions facing the prospect of starvation. Food scarcity has hit the children of Yemen particularly hard, and it is apparent that a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions is unfolding in the war-ravaged country. Unicef has reported on the dire situation on the ground, and it is the Yemeni children that are paying the heaviest price. In these terrible conditions, it is unsurprising that diseases such as cholera have broken out in Yemen.

It is noteworthy that American naval forces participate in this naval blockade of the country, and America has imposed financial sanctions of Yemen to interrupt the flow of goods and services to that nation. Britain and United States actively participate in intelligence gathering, provide targeting information and aerial refueling for the Saudi forces. American and British officers cooperate with their Saudi counterparts to coordinate attacks. The US Navy attacked and destroyed radar sites in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, after one of its warships was fired upon by missiles which the US claims originated from Houthi military forces. The Pentagon has signalled that it can directly intervene in Yemen, though that statement ignores the fact that the US has been heavily engaged in making the Saudi war on Yemen possible.

Despite all of these forces ranged against them, the Yemeni Houthis have remained defiant and resilient. The Hadi government, while officially recognised, has only a very thin base of domestic support. As the Saudis, and their imperialist enablers, haemorrhage money and credibility as they are bogged down in this tiny nation of Yemen, the outside world must speak out. As the United States and Britain stand behind their Saudi mercenary, we, the ninety-nine percent, must expose the system that rewards merchants of death. What kind of economic and political system enables profiteering from human misery and death? When arms sales and political alliances with fanatical warriors leads to a nightmarish scenario of destruction and heartbreak, it is surely time to hold those responsible for such criminal wars to account.

Colin Kaepernick sat down to make all of us consider what we stand for

The quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, refused to stand for the American national anthem prior to the commencement of an NFL game. Why should this small act of defiance generate so much controversy and debate?

Firstly, the NFL is huge business in the United States. A multibillion dollar extravaganza, the NFL, along with baseball and other national sports, are fused with unbridled patriotism in American popular culture. The national anthem is played as a matter of routine. Chris Hedges, long-term commentator and political writer, wrote in an article back in 2014 that sporting events have largely become mass religious ceremonies tied to blessing American wars and militarism. The virtual religious reverie of the sporting arena – typified by NFL games – is used to normalise inflated war budgets, cultivate public support for the US military forces, and reinforce public opinion in favour of endless wars overseas. He wrote that:

The heroes of war and the heroes of sport are indistinguishable in militarized societies. War is sold to a gullible public as a noble game. Few have the athletic prowess to play professional sports, but almost any young man or woman can go to a recruiter and sign up to be a military hero. The fusion of the military with baseball, along with the recruitment ads that appeared intermittently Saturday on the television screens mounted on green iron pillars throughout Fenway Park, caters to this illusion: Sign up. You will be part of a professional team.

While traditional places of worship remain empty on Sundays, the sporting arena is where religious fervour is expressed. The uniforms, caps, and paraphernalia of football (and baseball as Hedges wrote) form modern-day holy relics, preserved in the museums and halls of sporting fame across the land. The collective outpouring of euphoria is accompanied by, among other things, the singing of the national anthem. It is not unusual for military aircraft to stage flyovers prior to NFL games. The beauty, power and precision of the airplanes – according to the NFL – demonstrate the close fusion of sporting prowess and military heroism in the public mind. However, there is no mention of the horrific toll that war takes on the population. As Hedges reminds us:

War is not a sport. It is about killing. It is dirty, messy and deeply demoralizing. It brings with it trauma, lifelong wounds, loss and feelings of shame and guilt. It leaves bleeding or dead bodies on its fields. The pay is lousy. The working conditions are horrific. And those who come back from war are usually discarded. The veterans who died waiting for medical care from Veterans Affairs hospitals could, if they were alive, explain the difference between being a multimillion-dollar-a-year baseball star and a lance corporal home from Iraq or Afghanistan. At best, you are trotted out for a public event, as long as you read from the script they give you, the one designed to entice the naive into the military. Otherwise, you are forgotten.

The NFL crowds roar their enthusiastic approval during the prematch flyovers – the military that produces crippled and traumatised veterans, while libraries and schools close, and billions are allocated to ever-expanding military budgets. Back in 1991, in the aftermath of the First Gulf War, when the United States pummeled Iraq – the latter a military pipsqueak compared to the US – patriotic fervour was at an all-time high. Prior to the commencement of the SuperBowl that year, in Tampa, Florida, Whitney Houston – a black woman – sang a rousing rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Her talent was incredible and indisputable. Here was an America that had vanquished the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ – public opposition to overseas wars. America was patriotic and great again – what could be more emblematic than a black woman, surrounded by American flags, belting out the national anthem at the SuperBowl?

Decades later, America remains mired in the Iraqi quagmire struggling to turn defeat into something resembling a positive return on investment, the United States remains the starting point and epicentre of the terminal phase in the capitalist economic crisis, and a professional black American footballer refuses to stand for the national anthem. Kaepernick’s simple protest action has sent shock waves throughout American society, and his action has filtered through not only the sports world, but also into the political system. Kaepernick, and those who have stood by him throughout this controversy, are challenging the blind faith in patriotism, the latter that makes all of us ignore the ills plaguing the country. Police violence against African Americans is at epidemic proportions, and Kaepernick highlighted this issue as one of the reasons why he took the action he did.

Not only are police officers avoiding accountability for their murderous actions, the financial oligarchy that is responsible for the current economic downturn has also avoided facing the consequences of its culpability. Kaepernick’s action is gaining support not only from African Americans and supporters in the Black Lives Matter movement. American war veterans, white and black, are also organising support for the quarterback. They are refusing to join the violent right-wing backlash against Kaepernick, pointing out that military service does not blind them to the fact that African Americans are being assaulted and killed by brutal police forces across the country. Former US Army Ranger Rory Fanning expressed his support for Kaepernick, stating in an interview that:

Anyone who’s been to a sports event in this country, or seen one on television, knows full well the connection that is made between sports and military. From the national anthem to the jets flying overhead to the convenient trotting out soldiers to “thank them,” nationalism and “patriotism” is constantly forced down the throats of sports fans.

Many soldiers thought they were going overseas to sacrifice for freedom and democracy. But they are not seeing those ideals being practiced in this country.

Kaepernick’s protest is resonating with soldiers who feel like they’ve been lied to. One thing that has come across clearly from so many soldiers’ tweets and posts is that soldiers do not feel like they are risking their lives so the state can kill with impunity here in the United States.

Fanning added that while the United States kills people overseas with impunity, the same thing is happening inside the US itself. He explained that he had served in Afghanistan; however:

Then after returning from Afghanistan I saw how the security state had grown at home. I saw that the United States has the largest prison population in the history of the world, with African Americans (there are a lot of people of color in the military) being disproportionately incarcerated. Public schools are being gutted in every city. The media and politicians barely mention our endless trillion-dollar wars and drone operations.

Let us listen to what Kaepernick is trying to say about the condition of his own society, rather than wrap ourselves in the false mantle of wounded patriotism. He is using his status and fame as an NFL player to raise awareness about the legalised, systematic form of racist police violence and jarring economic inequalities. As Dave Zirin commented in his column about Kaepernick’s protest:

It is also pathetic that so many in the sports media, who a few months ago were praising the legacy of Muhammad Ali, are coming down so ferociously on Colin Kaepernick. As if sports and politics can mix only in the past tense, and racism is something that can only be discussed as a historical question. People can choose to agree or disagree with Kaepernick’s analysis or arguments, but they should deal with the reality of the facts he’s risking his career to bring into light.

Kaepernick’s true sin – if you can call it that – is to highlight the injustice of an economic and political system in which he has thrived. Make no mistake – Kaepernick acquired wealth and fame in the NFL structure, and is risking losing all of that in taking the stand that he did. He is willing to sacrifice millions in endorsements, corporate sponsorships and salary to raise awareness of, and take a stand against, the racist injustice of an unequal corporate state. Kaepernick has broken the silence around the bargain that successful athletes make with corporate America – remain silent about the racism in society, and enjoy your millions as you rise the sporting ladder.

The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States drew a false finish line beneath the question of racism. After all, has not racism ended with the rise of a black man (actually a biracial man) to the top political office in the land? Is not Kaepernick himself biracial and successful? What grounds for complaint does he have? It is interesting to point out that Kaepernick, being of biracial background, is not the first person with mixed ancestry to protest against racism. Malcolm X had white ancestors, those ancestors passing on their reddish hair and lighter skin to the main who rose up eloquently and bravely against racism. Frederick Douglass, the anti-slavery writer and activist;  W E B Du Bois, sociologist and the first African American to earn a PhD from Harvard University – both had white ancestors, and yet both became, each in their own generation, courageous and intelligent advocates for African Americans.

An elite composed of black faces is taken to indicate that America has resolved its racial divisions. Kaepernick reminds us that African Americans, regardless of whether or not individuals have ‘made it’, face a racist corporate state determined to defend its wealth and privileges at all costs. Kaepernick’s protest reminds us that human solidarity and empathy cannot be banished, while the fundamentalist doctrine of neoliberal austerity ravages the community. Individual success, while noteworthy, should not be acquired at the expense of societal resources. Kaepernick’s motivations are not unrealisable pipe-dreams; his colleagues in the NFL have taken their stand as well.