Donald Trump: America Unmasked

24060018Less than one week to go before this mudslinging exercise is over and I – as an American transplant, am torn between voting my conscience or casting that single ballot in an effort to shore up a sham democracy against the American Mussolini.

First, I would like to make one thing clear. I am not a Hillary hater nor do I worry about color or gender when it comes to presidency. Most importantly, I do not care one cent about email-gate nor the four Americans killed in Benghazi under Hillary Clinton’s watch. Considering the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Libyans and Afghanis killed as a result of elective interventionism, I find it obscene to lament the loss of four Americans stationed as regime change operators in Libya. Call it cost of doing business the same way we write off non-American casualties. Basta!

At the same time I am amazed that so many are horrified at Trump as if he were an anomalous specimen who sprang out of nowhere – an orange wound festering like an unsightly mutation in an otherwise healthy democracy.

Au contraire, not only is he the misplaced embodiment of the same anti-establishment rage catalyzed by neo-liberal economic failures that brought out the Bernie supporters, but also the poster child for our revered American exceptionalism which has given us militarized police at home and the planetary mandate for preemptive strikes anywhere at any time.    What’s the matter? Is it the sanitized veneer customarily delivered by Wolf Blitzer you miss, or the wooden faced white house speaker and inside the beltway suits reassuring us that we are the good guys trying to keep America safe.

From the vantage point of someone who is still resisting the “Exceptional” Kool-Aid both candidates are the byproducts of the state of our democracy and every bit the unapologetic embodiment of our American values. Hillary, the face of the reviled establishment most of us say we hate but are too fearful to change; and Trump, the shameless child of the unbridled individualism we celebrate in this country; the product of every man for himself culture that worships the pursuit of success by amassing all things material; of money and power; of empty promises that peddles the dream that you too can be rich and successful, and can own anything, including beautiful woman. And that unlike our European socialist counterparts, there is no shame in flaunting boundless opulence at the penthouse of the most prestigious address in the very heart of the Capital City that put the “C” in “Capitalism”. Isn’t that the essence of the American dream?

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Now what exactly is Trump saying that is so shocking and repulsive? Build a wall across the border? Ship Mexicans back home? Ban Moslems from coming here? Or is it really the first time you hear that he who owns the gold commands the most pussies? Doesn’t anybody watch TV commercials anymore or do you folks simply TIVO and fast forward to the next act on the remote? How long do you think the advertising industry would last if delinked from the image of success and the promise of sex?

Simply scratch that puffed up bellicose surface of the Donald and you shall see what lies beneath the orange veneer is not that unfamiliar.

We were compartmentalizing and marginalizing each other long before Mr. Trump descended on that golden escalator? It takes just one look at our official forms to realize the systemic nature of these divisions. The red white and blue melting pot is a myth, at best we are a mosaic of hyphenated existences; a nation of a “white” dominant culture who believes itself to be the rightful owner of all things American, and a slew of hyphenated “others” – African-American, Native-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, all dutifully crossing the appropriate boxes on forms, owning our hyphenated labels, even signing petitions to create new labels where none exists, all the while struggling for equal rights, equal privilege and equal time.

The history of oppression stretches back from the gun slinging days of good guy cowboys against bad guy Indians, to the modern day systemic racism and violence against citizens of color by brutal force whether in Ferguson, Baton Rouge, NYC, Chicago, Baltimore, Charleston or elsewhere.

Since 9/11 Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense have jointly poured a staggering $39 billion into police force militarization, funding over 50,000 SWAT deployments a year, conducting combat style raids with assault weapons in our most vulnerable and underprivileged communities. Bringing violence and segregation home predates Mr. Trump whose hateful language simply mirrors policies already in place with either tacit approval of those at the helm, or very timid pushback as a result of an increasingly angry Black Lives Matter movement.

Today in the U.S. we have 2.3 million, mostly African American and Hispanic youth, caught in a largely privatized prison system, the highest rate of incarceration in the world, more than a four fold increase during the last three decades of both Republicans and Democrats and specifically as a result of policies enacted during the Clinton presidency. In light of the current trends, feigning horror at Trump’s divisive language seems disingenuous to say the least.

With regard to borders and walls, Trump is recycling old material. 2.5 million undocumented immigrants were deported just in the last eight years earning Obama the title “deporter-in-chief”; this represents a 23% increase in summary deportations compared to the Bush era – a trend that Mr. Trump would no doubt approve, but can take no credit for. Incidentally, despite the collective ridicule we heap on the idea of a wall on our southern border, this is a gentle reminder that Democrats and Republicans alike, have supported, even subsidized the Israeli Wall along the occupied West Bank without any qualms. Every American administration, Red or Blue, and Hillary Clinton in particular, has defended Israeli aggression each time Palestinians have shown even the slightest resistance to an immoral and brutal occupation. So – enough about the Wall. Hypocrisy has its limits.

As for the Muslim ban; after an illegal invasion of Iraq and blatant culpability in upending the Middle East as a result of two gulf wars, a 13 year U.S. lead embargo and years of occupation which generated 4 million displaced Iraqis; according to UNHCR, by 2007, U.S. had only taken in a mere 6,000 of these unfortunate souls; and each year after that, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the admission rates were limited to no more than a few hundred Iraqis.

And in Syria, in spite of our direct funding, aiding and complicity in a proxy war that devastated the country leading to millions fleeing American made weapons whether at the hands of ISIS, Al Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, FSA or others; less than 2,000 Syrians have so far been admitted and only after 18-24 months of arduous vetting. Apparently as Americans we demand unfettered access everywhere, but even the most unfortunate victims of our actions around the world have to suffer at least an additional two years before being considered. From over 4.5 million refugees reported by Amnesty International, the Migration Policy Institute in Washington DC states that only 10,000 Syrians have been proposed for admission to the U.S. – not exactly a full ban — but come on! trump

So, come November 8th, do vote. Consider all the options and vote for the candidate of your choice. But most important, no matter who you pick, don’t write off Trump as an inexplicable phenomenon from nowhere. The violence, the bullying, the sexism, racism, virtually every part of him that disgusts you represents a part of America, albeit without the window dressing we are accustomed to. The America where violence and sex are the main drivers, from our multi billion dollar film industry to the corporate stock markets. The America where our kids train competitively to shoot make-believe bad guys on video games, then grow up to hunt down real ones as drone operators. The America where owning a gun is a right, but health care a privilege; where the war on terror has blurred the lines between communities and war zones, and turned potential friends to feared terrorists. The America where even the Noble Peace Prize winning president is barred from apologizing when he travels to Hiroshima on the anniversary of the only atomic bombs ever dropped on humanity, yet is outraged when a boat flying its flag is detained when it veers into Iranian waters.

Come November 8th, do vote. Vote Hillary, if you believe it is time to shatter that glass ceiling, no matter who the female, or if you believe that she might deliver a few incremental changes after she has paid back her real constituents, the ones who delivered her the Whitehouse. Truth of the matter is that she probably will, if the political costs are not too high. But it would be a sad day if after the millions who demanded a revolution, the hopeful Bernie supporters, as well as the deluded Trump supporters, that we end up shoring up the same corrupt establishment which has given us this crisis.

It would be ironic, if after the dust settles we realize instead of recognizing Trumpism as a symptom of all that is wrong with our political system, we further entrench it, taking refuge in its safeness, seeking comfort in the illusion of stability. Because we did not have the courage to imagine something different.

I can almost hear Hillary now: “Come back to mommy. I told you it was scary out there.”

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The Tehrangeles Lobby: with friends like this …

The Tehrangeles Lobby: with friends like this …11737801_10206062894304821_5789867230595668089_n

In the year 2000 I took a trip to Cuba with my then long-haired musician husband. We were on the last leg of our marriage and hoped that celebrating the millennium on a tropical island frozen in time might jumpstart our dying romance. It was worth a shot! Besides, the Y2K techno-doom was looming and we had to seek third world refuge.

I booked a spartan room at the Santa Clara in the center of the historic district, and made a list of all things fabulous to see around the island. Cuba had been under an embargo for decades and as much as I believed in the injustice of sanctions, I knew that once American style democracy arrived in its full golden arched glory, gone would be the charm that had made Cuba the cultural treasure that it was. I had to get there before Ronald.

After a connecting flight through Cancun, we arrived along with a group of Americans who were exercising their freedom of choice by ignoring state department directives not to visit Havana. The Cuban immigration stamped entries on a separate piece of paper smirking at the irony of the great American democracy forbidding its citizens to enter a country on account of that country forbidding its citizens to leave.

The embargo had been in place for decades yet the Castro regime did not show any signs of caving; the island had steadily gotten more impoverished especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, and an organic economy had sprung up around tourism, Cigars and Salsa.

The hot topic of the day was Elian!   Remember him? — The little boy who was fished out of the sea after his boat capsized and his mother drowned. Overnight he became the symbol of resistance for the Miami Cubans who were pouring money into a publicity blitz to rescue the child from the horrors of communism.   This was his chance they said.   Meanwhile back on the island, his biological father wanted him back.

Every night pictures of Elian plastered U.S. news with toys, video games and new clothes that only his affluent American relatives could give him.   On the streets of Havana, Cubans cursed their Miami counterparts as crazy idiots who compared material things with the love of a father.

I walked into a rally in the center of town where pamphlets were distributed from a plane urging Cubans to rise up against their government. A manicero was selling peanuts on the steps nearby.

My Spanish was not perfect but the disdain on the street was obvious. “Why won’t they leave us alone?” Said one; “They already left Cuba and took their money.” Said another “They have their own lives in Miami. What do they want from us?” …”Son Locos!” They are crazy!!

During the two-week visit we talked to many Cubans. We discussed life, music, culture — but mostly politics! I was surprised at their awareness of the world. From the taxi driver to the hotel attendant and the random Havanero in a café, the very mention of Iran peeked interest and sympathy.   “Iran! Wonderful! Which city are you from? Isfahan? Shiraz? Tehran? Or Mashad? …” Followed by “I am so sorry for your people. We are the same. Both castigated by America.”

Sure they were eager to tap into outside opportunities, but no one expressed sympathy or approval, neither for the embargo nor for the Cuban expats, who seemed to be on automatic pilot making life more difficult for them. “When you go to America, please tell them to stop this embargo. Tell them we are suffering.”

Across the spectrum of pro and anti Castro, no one, not even the paranoid civil servant living on his ration card, the one who locked the front door and dropped to a whisper when he spoke of “Uncle” Fidel, supported the embargo. Not one person told me they were happy to endure the daily suffering if it meant bringing an end to the Castro regime.

This year, amidst the outrage of the Miami Cubans, as the American flag is once again hoisted in Havana; a parallel drama unfolds around the Iranian Nuclear Deal.

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On the eve of the agreement, as thousands came out in jubilation, faces painted with the bright colors of the U.S. and Iranian flags; as families honked and danced in the streets, holding up messages of peace and friendship with the U.S; some Iranian Americans responded with contempt: “… they jubilated when the Shah left and Khomeini arrived as well”; They sneered.

As the entire Republican block and many democrats in Congress trip over each other pandering to Netanyahu’s bogus demands in defiance of their own president; incredibly, they have found unlikely partners within the Iranian Diaspora who are ostensibly more concerned about conjured threats to Israel, than imminent ones to their own compatriots.

Among the older generation of Iranian Americans, those who consider themselves prematurely plucked from the “golden era” of the Shah and catapulted to the manicured streets of Beverly Hills, many have rallied behind the craziest of Republicans and the Israeli Lobby to denounce the deal as a “bad” deal. A “good” deal, they say – rather rudely I might add — is one that refuses any dealings with the mullahs. A “good” deal, is one offered as a mirage that never materializes. It’s a deal of endless sanctions designed to cripple Iranians into rising up against the regime. Because – they say – this is the most evil of all evil regimes of all time. A good deal demands total capitulation – capitulation of a sovereign nation – the nation of their forefathers to an empire already implicated in the implosion of much of the Middle East.

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Others rallied behind the likes of the “Shah’s of Sunset” Iranian-American actor who has publicly and repeatedly expressed his preference to bomb Iran – clear indication that fervent consumption of Reality Television leaves little room for processing actual news from the real world, the one with daily reports of death and destruction, the one showing the stream of refugees in the aftermath of foreign interventions. “We need surgical military strikes inside Iran;” said a conservative Iranian blogger on a radio interview as though speaking of a quick outpatient nip and tuck.

Like the Cuban republicans who have managed to re-invent the Cuba of a murderous Battista as paradise lost; many in our anti-regime Diaspora have drawn on the binary notions of good and evil to elevate the pre-revolution Iran to a utopia overseen by a benevolent Shahanshah ousted prematurely by international conspiracy.

This begs the question; why then collude with the same self-interested foreign agents to engineer another regime change? Have the Western powers suddenly found their inner humanitarians after the devastating carnage of their “democracy building” adventures? — 1953 Iran … the Congo … Chile ….Central America, Indonesia … and now Middle East and North Africa?

And if the revolution was indeed a popular uprising — an organic movement that was then hijacked by the Islamic right — isn’t what we are witnessing part and parcel of Iran’s own learning curve in building a pluralistic political system? The regime change anti-deal hawks would say no!   This is the second Arab invasion: First in 651; then again in 1979.

The total dissociative nature of this narrative explains the ridiculous alliance of the pro-sanctions Iranians with Israel. It falls under the brilliant political rubric: “The enemy of my enemy has got to be my friend!” – never mind this friend’s 200 plus undeclared nuclear arsenal; their discrimination against Arab Israelis and “lesser Jews” from Africa; their illegal occupation of Palestinian lands; and their pariah status in the U.N. – permanently a single veto away from being sanctioned or referred to the ICC.

Under this narrative, the Palestinian cause is dismissed as self-inflicted, IDF is hailed as heroes and republicans like Scott Walker, Cotton, and Trump are supported in the hopes that 2016 will usher a leader more like Netanyahu than Obama.

Human Rights, they say, is their main concern, yet the mere mention of Jimmy Carter, the one President who made human rights the centerpiece of his foreign policy is enough to send them into a raging fit of expletives. It was under Carter’s watch, they say, and due to his insistence on the “ridiculous” issue of human rights that the floodgates of the revolution were cracked open. Interesting logic!

For now, the Nuclear Deal is preserved by the minimum number of democrats who are doing the right thing albeit for all the wrong reasons. Iran has been branded with the worst labels; anti-Semitic; terrorist; medieval; human rights violator and existential threat to the “free world” – code for the U.S., Israel and its close allies who simply wish to consolidate their faltering influence in the region.

The neo-con Iranians are the perfect addition to the U.S. – Israel anti-Iran camp, legitimizing what in essence has nothing to do with Human Rights or even a Nuclear Bomb since no rational player will spend years developing a single bomb, only to hit a target armed with 200.

This month, as our representatives in congress make the excruciating choice between their allegiance to Israel and their duties as elected American officials, Iranians have their own internal debates which have created a rift reminiscent of the Cuban crisis. The conversations I had in Havana could very well have been in Persian.

This group, mostly based in Southern California, like their Cuban counterparts in Miami, will soon become the butt of every joke if they don’t stop living in a fantasy world of their past and instead focus on scenes of jubilating crowds on the streets of Iran if democracy and human rights are truly their concerns.

Because, after everything is said and done, there is nothing more debilitating to the Human Rights of ordinary people than “crippling sanctions”; nothing more disruptive to democratic principles than foreign engineered “regime change”; and nothing more dangerous than toppling one of the sole standing stable governments in a region already burning in flames.

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Iran…Deal!…Deal!

By: Firouzeh Afsharnia
News broke out over the weekend that a deal was finally struck in beautiful lakeside Geneva.

Well.  Technically, it’s a deal to work towards a deal in six months. So you might argue what’s the big deal?   But after 34 years of silent treatment, crippling sanctions and relentless threats of war by irresponsible crazies with way too much clout in the U.S. Congress; a deal to have a deal is a really big deal.

Within minutes the airwaves filled up with news, chatter and commentary; everyone claiming to have their finger on the left or right pulse of the truth.

Joy and relief on one side; rebuke and disgust on the other.  The indefatigable NIAC duo, Trita Parsi and Reza Marashi provided minute by minute updates for what played more suspenseful than a Hollywood blockbuster, and finally posted “Congratulations!” — then their ecstatic beaming photos captioned: “….if you’re wondering how happy we are!”

I clicked that “like” button over and over, more than anytime I remember, brimming with optimism in spite of my reservations toward the Islamic regime — even feeling a certain fondness for Mr. Zarif, who in a PR video earlier that week, had extended a reconciliatory hand in tandem with stressing mutual respect and insisting on all rights to peaceful enrichment for his nation under the NPT.  I liked his tone.

The text of the agreement was released. Iran would dilute their stockpile of enriched uranium; halt the installation of new centrifuges as well as the construction of the Arak reactor site; and allow intrusive international inspections by the IAEA.

Sounds like a giant step. Whether it was the force of sanctions or the voice of the moderates, Presidents Rouhani and Obama both claimed victory. Whoever needs to pat themselves on the back — be my guest. That’s the nature of good diplomacy.

Conservative hawks denounced the accord as a sell out!  What exactly was being sold out is unclear since the ultimate deal is months away. The Saudis vying for regional dominance rushed to stand with Israel — a laughable alliance in itself — warning the White House against negotiating with the dangerous Iranians in cynical disregard to the fact that one is the prime incubator of the Jihadi movement, complicit in the continuing Syrian carnage and holder of the most dismal of human rights records; the other, serial violator of international law and of basic human rights of millions in the occupied territories.

Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” after his intense lobby offensive failed to derail the talks. He drew on Jewish history – again – to invoke Israel’s security concerns, evidently clueless to the basic principle that the security of Israel without the security of its neighbors is a fantasy. John Bolton, the mother of all – sorry – the father of all intransigent war hawks called for nothing short of bombing Iran.

Predictably, the U.S. congress scrambled for a new round of sanctions at the run up to negotiations, leading one to believe that not one of them has passed a test in Diplomacy 101.  Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois went so far as to say …Israel is the reason he ran for the Senate. ”… I am totally dedicated to the survival of the state of Israel.”  Surely this is treason if you substitute any other name for “Israel.”

If the chorus line of the belligerents should prove anything, it is the one truism that concern for human rights in Iran is not on anyone’s agenda.   Not really.  Not even for many in the Iranian diaspora who seem more entangled in an ideological debate over Persian vs. Arab; and Moslem vs. Zoroastrian; and whose most hated American President in U.S. History is Jimmy Carter – the only President who ran on a platform of human rights.

Many in the diaspora have instead found new love for the State of Israel on the premise that the enemy of their enemy must surely be their friend. They echo the same tired old hard lines on permanent replay by the neo-cons who’s foreign policy rhetoric is all of two words: Sanctions and War.  Why not!  Some argue.  Anything to dislodge the Mullahs.  Then our people shall be free!  “Inshallah the day will come to see a mullah hanging from every tree on Pahlavi Street.”   — An interesting strategy towards Democracy.

The voices are clear.   On one side, proponents of peace and moderation looking for a way out of a 34 year old impasse with an ear to the wave of reform and view to new possibilities.

On the other; the intransigence of ideology, real-politik and self-interest.  From the hard line coalition of Netanyahu in the Knesset posturing against a permanent enemy; to the U.S. congress who depends on campaign support from the powerful AIPAC; — from Gulf nations vying for regional dominance to the U.S. war economy aching for another fix; — and finally to members within Iran’s own diaspora who hate the Islamic Republic more than they love their fellow Iranians – each have their own rationale, and none of it about the rights of those living under artificial hardships imposed by a foreign government.  New York times reported even the currency traders in Tehran Manouchehri Square are hoping for more sanctions. They say the Ahmadinejad days were fantastic for business.

But if there is a global barometer on this subject, Financial Times headlines provided a clue when it reported first thing this week that Iran nuclear deal pushed oil prices lower.  And Reuters news flash came in that Israeli stocks gained. They do say markets know best.

Meanwhile within hours of the deal, the haunting bold letters of the Green movement – WHERE IS MY VOTE – again went viral; this time with the letters amended: …….HERE IS MY VOTE !

Here Is My Vote!

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/24/israel-condemns-iran-nuclear-deal-binyamin-netanyahu

http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/11/john-bolton-only-option-iran-war

http://www.salon.com/2013/11/21/exclusive_gop_senator_unloads_in_private_call/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/21/world/middleeast/money-traders-fret-over-possible-us-iran-pact.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/24/us-israel-markets-iran-idUSBRE9AN0CC20131124

9/11 …we shall not forget

by: Firouzeh Afsharnia

Another 9/11 anniversary has come and gone.   Flags were hoisted, solemn words of remembrance were uttered, pictures of the fallen were hung on virtual and real walls; and the words….”…we shall not forget” were heard over and over, even as the war on terror rages on and the White House makes a case for an imminent strike against Syria that could most certainly bring about willful death to others.

12 years have passed since the day the world grieved with us, held up candles in silent mourning across the globe and stood with us in solidarity, friend and foe alike, condemning the attacks as a crime against all humanity, against all that we hold dear, just and decent.   How did we transform such abundance of good will to a lecture on the importance of international law, merits of peaceful dialogue and a plea to “…return to the path of civilized settlement”  — by an autocratic, human rights usurping ex-KGB agent no less?

The past decades have been marked by periods of unspeakable violence.   Two world wars, genocides, protracted armed conflicts, man made and natural disasters have lead to unprecedented human devastation leaving us all with tales of human tragedy and injustice we shall not forget; and yet it seems we have done little but transform these events into more tragedy.

The first World War, the war to end all wars, ended in the defeat and humiliation of the Germans at the Versailles convention leading to the rise of nationalism and the Nazi mobilization which destroyed Europe and incinerated millions based on misguided principals of Aryan exceptionalism.

The allied armies emerged victorious over the evils of fascist tyranny only to install the Cold War order across Asia, Africa and Latin America, arming and funding client states which tortured and maimed their own citizens, waging proxy wars ostensibly to uphold “righteous” causes, though not before dropping two atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The fall of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War, far from ushering in a new era of peace and cooperation, unleashed decades of repressed grievances and flooded the world with arms and ammunition, the majority of which were traded by the same guarantors of global peace who sit on the Security Council.

As the African continent grapples with hacked bodies, rape, massacre and death of millions from Mali and Sudan to the Congo, CAR and beyond, the Arab spring has turned to cold ashen winter, the budding promise of democracy chocked under the dictatorial armies of the past regimes and the ruthless fundamentalism which has emerged after decades of political and economic injustice and metastasized through the endless war on terror.

This week – as we marked the anniversary of 9/11 to commemorate the fallen, we are engaged in yet another open ended threat to bolster our credibility as if the past 12 years of heavy handed, expanded militarism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and beyond have not made it amply clear that the U.S. is credible in the single minded pursuit of its own brand of exceptionalism which lectures, demands and strikes at will all the while immunizing itself against accountability to International institutions like the ICC, as well as to its own citizens if they threaten to blow the whistle.

This week the main drivers of the attack on Syria – Israel, U.S.  hawks, and humanitarian interventionists alike, continue to make their case invoking human tragedies past and present …reminders of what we must not forget.

Israel will lobby through the powerful AIPAC, pushing for a strike while evoking images of gassed victims in the Holocaust, even as they hold millions of Palestinians under open-ended occupation in ghetto like existence, and work toward ever more crippling sanctions against 75 million Iranians.

Obama’s close circle of liberal advisors like Samantha Power and Susan Rice will push for intervention conjuring memories of the Rwandan genocide while they turn a blind eye to the current support of that same government for the looting and pillaging rebels in Eastern Congo.

The Rwandan state, a poster child for the interventionists and a symbol of what the world must not forget; having defeated the Hutu genociders, for its part has steadily taken up authoritarian measures, stripping human rights, repressing political opposition as enemies of state, sponsoring assassinations of dissidents abroad; and has enshrined “genocide denial” as a crime punishable by imprisonment.

This week pictures of the 1400 dead lying on the cold floor in Syria will be brandished in our living rooms reminding us of all that we must not forget, while images of those killed by drones, missiles and bombs in Afghanistan and Yemen are filtered out.

This week we continue to make our case, reliving the trauma of 9/11 to give us the mandate to pursue justice and national interests whenever and wherever, to create new traumas.

On this anniversary of 9/11, I mourn all those who died innocent and in vain, whether in Syria, New York, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Yemen, or in concentration camps across Europe, with the hopes that we finally stop living traumas of the past — instead focus on preventing new ones.

Persian 101: The Art of Diplomacy

For those of you not familiar with Iranian culture and mind set, last week’s presidential elections with over 72% turnout serves as a mini lesson into the subtleties of Persian temperament and multilayered subtext.

Lesson number one in the art of diplomacy: Do not criticize undesirable behavior.  Instead, encourage and congratulate what you wish to see as final outcome. Persians are by nature pleasers and would much rather extend a hand of friendship, kiss and make up and let bygones be bygones. You just have to know which button to push.

Hassan Rouhani secured the 7th presidency of Iran with 18 million votes, over 50% of the electorate, running on a campaign of “Hope and Wisdom” — a slogan reminiscent of the euphoric 2008 election of Obama who ran on a promise of “Hope and Change”, in the Iranian case “Wisdom” being the operative word.

Foto Credit: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty image

“Thank you for choosing Hope and Wisdom.”  Rouhani opened his first press conference, congratulating the good people of Iran for having opted for reconciliation, collective interest and rational response. This, he said, was a signal to the world that the people of Iran are declaring solidarity, extending trust and choosing moderation, rule of law, respect and civility instead of self interest and belligerence — a clever opening, moving to close the gaping fissures created during the Ahmadinejad years, and ease the bitterness ensuing the violent crackdowns of the previous election.

To be sure, in a time when so much of the Middle East and beyond is burning in violent conflict from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, not to mention the recent unrest in Turkey; previously known as an exotic oasis of stability, Iranians have laid down a reconciliatory card through moderation, a sure set back for the sanction hawks who have been working steadily towards an imminent implosion.

Lesson number two in the art of diplomacy: Be all things to all people. “If anyone has been alienated in the past, we must find out why and include them.”

Mr. Rouhani’s first press conference presented us with a complex and intriguing character.   In spite of the austere clerical garb and Turban, he exuded a light and personable charm. He spoke in rational and pragmatic terms laced with a glint of humor, even a twinkle in his eyes.  He spoke of inclusiveness, mutual respect, economic growth, importance of civil engagement and justice.   He reached out to the gulf countries, in specific to Saudi Arabia as allies with common interests and history. He hinted at the possibility of progress on the enrichment issue if dialogue and negotiations are pursued on a platform of respect and recognition of international rights rather than cruel and outdated methods of sanctions and threats.  He even extended a cooperation hand to his adversaries; to all persons qualified whether from the old guard or new.

Our very own Obama, I thought – ok –minus the beard; minus the turban; a little rounder perhaps; but the national euphoria was an uncanny echo of the 2008 U.S. elections.  At that time people celebrated in the streets from sea to shining sea, sang the theme to Darth Vader and waved good-bye and good riddance to Bush and Cheney.  This week in Iran, videos went viral within minutes of the election results showing millions rejoicing all across the provinces; men and women dancing to the audible chants of Ahmadi Bye! Bye!

The soft spoken cleric vowed not to allow insults hurled at anyone and promised to advance the cause of cooperation and inclusiveness presenting himself as the man who could be all things to all people; the sole cleric on the panel of candidates, with the name Rouhani – literally meaning “spiritual” – bringing back the lost legitimacy of the supreme leader who this time allowed a genuine tally of the votes; running on the reformist agenda through the backing of Rafsanjani and Khatami; and reminding the international community of his pragmatic approach to the nuclear issue.

Lesson number three in the art of diplomacy: When faced with hostile adversaries; the calmer, the more reasonable you are, the crazier the adversary will seem.

In no time at all, even as it was clear that Rouhani had the backing and support of the majority of the electorates, even as he publicly announced there would be more transparency, even as he reminded the world that never had the world been closer to a nuclear deal than during his tenure as chief negotiator in 2005 before the deal was torpedoed by the US and the UK and that he would work to reopen the talks on a platform of respect and recognition of sovereign rights, Netanyahu dismissed his victory as irrelevant, his promises as wishful thinking, and issued a warning that international pressure must continue on Iran “…to stop their program by any means.”

The white house in turn praised Iranians for their participation in the process but did not congratulate Dr. Rouhani, instead focused on reminding everyone that the elections took place “…against the backdrop of a lack of transparency, censorship of the media and intimidating security environment;” maintaining their big brother, stick in the hand posture which has proved futile and ineffective to say the least — hardly diplomatic if indeed a rapprochement is sought, leading one to believe that either the Iran experts in Washington need a refresher course or U.S. is singularly focused on regime change and simply using the enrichment issue as a pretext.

"Hope and Wisdom" foto credit: Saeed Karimi Nejad

“Hope and Wisdom” is Rouhani’s promise.   It turns out Rouhani may be talking to the U.S. and Israel as much as his own people.

It is not clear how Mr. Rouhani’s presidency will evolve.  Is his message of “Wisdom” rather than “Change” meant as a clue not to expect radical departure from what has been policy till now.  Will he turn out to be “window dressing”, like Khatami before him.   After all, the office of the presidency has its limitations, as even Obama supporters have come to find out judging by the debate on the drones, Guantanamo, NSA eavesdropping and the expanded war on terror – which – granted has been rebranded in the post-Bush era, yet continues full force.

But since the sanctions and hard lines taken against Iran have produced nothing, why not take lesson number one from the new president and practice a little Persian diplomacy.   Extend a hand of good will and burden Dr. Rouhani with the collective confidence that finally the one with the key to unlocking the troubles has arrived.

Iranian Elections: An Exercise in Civility within Restrictions

by: Negin Fazeli

I have just come back from Iran where I witnessed the pre and post presidential elections. This will not be a piece on the fairness of elections nor a judgment on the governing bodies currently ruling Iran. Let’s just say that we all agree that elections that disqualify most candidates from the get go are not fair by any international standards.

If we can, for a moment though, put this fact aside, there are many interesting things to be noted about elections in Iran. For those of us living abroad, in particular in the United States, the difference of approach is remarkable. To begin with, the actual candidates are not identified until about a month before the elections in Iran. Compare this with the never ending campaigning that goes on in the U.S. for two or more years prior to an election, thereby directing all the energy, money, and effort of the candidates toward getting elected or re-elected as the case may be; rather than toward the business of governing and putting forward legislation.  The short time period makes for a quick, but powerful and effective campaign.   I think whatever a candidate needs to say can be said over the period of one month prior to an election and there is no need for a two year drag during which many positions change.

During my stay in Iran, three debates were held between the eight vetted candidates, one of which ran four hours long.  I ended up watching bits and pieces in three locations! Interestingly enough, even though the candidates were ‘pre-qualified’, based on some pre-determined criteria, giving the impression that all of them must be made from the same cloth, their opinions ran the gamut on different topics.

Everything from the economy, poverty, internal infrastructure, and the nuclear issue was discussed and a range of views were put forward by each candidate. Arguments were heated and the difference of opinion covered a wide spectrum.  It was interesting to watch as candidates discussed everything from the lack of ‘joy’ in society to the shame that marks the nation resulting from how the last election was conducted. This was particularly interesting indeed as touchy feely subjects never had a place at the table before this election.  At some point one of the candidates said “We (referring to the country’s mighty decision makers) have to stop the practice of branding university students with stars (referring to the process of marking students with a star which in turn leads to their expulsion as a result of unwelcome political activity)”; he said, “Universities are where human beings are formed, where they become adults. It is their function to question and to protest, what other point is there?” Again, Interesting!  At some point, I was not sure I was in the Islamic Republic of Iran, watching State run TV.

Throughout the debates, political prisoners, the press, student protests, and personal freedoms were discussed just as vehemently as economic and nuclear issues. For eight hand-picked, conforming candidates, there certainly was not much conformity to be found.

In addition to the debates, which were animated but civilized for the most part, the State run TV offered free air time to each candidate to present and defend his platform. There was no need to raise money to generate airtime spots, no need to bow to big interest and its money so that a candidate could be heard. Campaign Finance Reform, what is that? Time was given to each candidate for free so that no one had to make deals with the devil to buy that time.

As far as the election itself, it began to take shape at the eleventh hour.  For two weeks prior to E-day, I asked everyone I met, the street sweeper, the cabbie, the bank teller, the businessman and the housewife the same question: who will you vote for? The resounding answer was ‘no one’; followed by something like ‘did you not see what happened last time around? One of their own will win, Velayti or Qalibaaf (both conservative candidates) of course. What is the point of voting?’ Every single person I met had decided to boycott the election to show disapproval of the process after what had taken place four years ago — what had been known as the ‘Stolen Election’.

At times, it did not seem an election was taking place except for the pleas on TV urging people to vote and exercise their right. Some print and TV spots carried the following message: ‘your vote means an affirmation of our Nation (system) and of Islam’. I don’t know if this was to encourage voting or perhaps a reverse psychology move to have people stay away!

The only two people I met who were going to vote were one eternal optimist, the kind which is hard to find in Iran these days, and one eternal pessimist who has turned pessimism into an art form. Both fall in the critical age of 30-45; both knew something we didn’t know!

We had two days to go until Election Day. Out of the eight vetted candidates two were reform seeking and the other six were hard line conservatives. The conservatives have begun to call themselves “Osulgara” — meaning “Principles Driven”. One of the conservative candidates dropped out, leaving the rest of the ‘highly principled conservatives’ in the race — one of these candidates, I was sure, would drive the country into war — an Iranian Neocon.

Then something happened that changed everything.  Mr. Khatami, a beloved yet weak, former Reformist president, asked Mr. Aref, the Stanford-educated, former head of Tehran University, to step out in favor of the only other Reformist, Mr. Rohani, so that the votes could be consolidated behind one candidate on the left (left of the very right may be more apt in Iran). Mr. Aref took himself out of the race and this was the flame that ignited what was to finally become an election just two days before people were to take to the polls. With one reformist candidate left, up against the ‘principles-driven’ ones, people started to ponder boycotting the boycott and going to the polls. Two nights before the election, finally there was action, chanting, gatherings and lots of music and celebrations in favor of Mr. Rohani’s presidency. Lethargic attitudes were slowly being taken over by a mild glimpse of hope that perhaps, just perhaps… it was possible to defeat the conservatives this time around.

Iranians went to the polls in school and places of worship all over the country and abroad. Although the numbers did not reach the over eighty percent ones like the last time, it was still a respectable election with over seventy percent of eligible voters taking part.  Friday, the weekend day in Iran, was Election Day which is a good day to go to the polls. There is nothing else to do but vote! In fact, something I have never understood in the US is why elections are held on Tuesdays when people have a hard time making it to the polling stations between work and school etc… Even though it was Friday and people were off and the polls opened at 8:00 AM, there were such long lines that the election committee extended the voting hours by two hours to accommodate all those who wished to vote.

Polls closed, the counting began and I unfortunately had to jump on a plane. By the time I reached Istanbul, the reformist candidate was in the lead. By the time I landed in Los Angeles, he had won.

What seemed an impossibility just two short weeks prior, had now become a reality. There was no run off as the conspiracy theorist had predicted. The conspiracy theory went something like this … the reformist candidate would make it to a run-off to appease the Nation and give a sense of legitimacy, but the result of the run-off election would come later putting the conservative in office and no one would be the wiser. The system will win, yet again. However, Mr. Rohani, the Reformist candidate won by over 50% of the votes, guaranteeing his place as the next president of Iran and eliminating the need for a run-off.  Conspiracy theorists couldn’t have predicted this and everyone I talked to was a conspiracy theorist – well except the one eternal optimist.

Well done Mr. Optimist!

As a side note, it is important to note that local elections were taking place at the same time and scores of women were running for city councils in every city. It will be some time before one can run for president, but this was a good start, I thought.  To my untrained eye, the month leading up to the election can be summed up as utter indifference, wild suspicion turning into cautious speculation, quiet deliberation, hesitant action and a final explosive victory.

Now only if the first step of candidate elimination could be eliminated, we could perhaps have a model for elections, short, sweet, to the point, intelligent with mass participation.

 

 

Negin Fazeli: June 2013

The Trouble with Activism

It was a double bill.  An Israeli singer and an Iranian who I had heard perform on numerous occasions before that day at this new venue. My ticket named a famous celebrity as the presenter – a producer to the stars, practically the Godfather of the recording industry and the patron saint of who’s who on the A-list.   So I figured it must be a marketing plug.  Probably Mr. Big Shot sat on some board and had graciously lent his name to one among many events on the season’s calendar.  After all, the entire cultural scene in this town runs on philanthropy and celebrity horse trading rather than Uncle Sam’s love for the arts who, judging by those head shots pasted all over the country jabbing his finger in my face and yours, is probably more interested in fine arsenal rather than fine jazz – much less in obscure world music from the rural Middle East. 

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the celebrity producer, in the flesh, a little older and a little heavier than his TV persona, walk up on that stage, slightly hunched, and dressed in his finest, festooned with a blue silk scarf to make the introductions.

He said he was so happy and moved to be presenting an Israeli artist along with an Iranian.  Really?  I am sitting in the audience puzzled as to why that is interesting — more interesting than say an artist from Zimbabwe with an Iranian. Or an Eskimo with the Israeli.  It goes to show the power of music, he said, clasping his hands in reverence.  That despite all their differences, music is the language of peace and can bring people together. Shalom. Salaam ….

Peace? Between Iranians and the Israelis? Does he mean the Jews and Persians?  Jews and Arabs? Israelis and the Arabs?  The Palestinians? One never knows with celebrity activists.

For a while it seemed that an adopted African child was an absolute must have accessory to a designer outfit just in case one was caught off guard walking out of Kitson’s by the paparazzi. But with all the modern day upheavals; the Arab spring, the Syrian revolution, the poor Afghani women sequestered inside their burqa – (now that we know what the heck a burqa is, never mind that they have been wrapped in that thing for centuries) – with the mass rapes in eastern Congo; the Maasai land grab in Tanzania; oil exploitation by Shell in the Niger delta; Yanomami evictions from their ancestral land in the Brazilian Amazon; oppression of the Nepalese Dalit; the Tibetans, Burmese, Darfuries ….and did you know that the Saudi women can’t even drive?… well — Its practically a supermarket out there!

A giant outlet of pet causes, discount and premium brand raison d’etres right for every pocketbook — the privileged Brentwood dweller wishing to get a whiff of the exotic from the safety of her security patrolled, pesticide-free, air conditioned mansion without missing a single Pilates class; the suburban minivan-driving soccer mom wanting to escape the routine of humdrum PTA meetings, Costco hoarding exercises and Wednesday nights at the in-laws; and of course that constant mother lode of activism — the idealistic college kid who has channeled all his frustrations growing up in a dysfunctional family with an abusive or absent parent into saving the world whose army of middle men sit ready at call centers tethered to donate buttons happy to help pay his way into his inner humanitarian through a simplistic, ready packed and pre-digested narrative to fund raise, validate mainstream agenda, and stamp that free-trade locally grown designer-diet, free of guilt in spite of its higher price tag because an undisclosed amount is going to some tribe with an unpronounceable name in the middle of a war zone.

Excuse me, but since when are the people of Iran and the people of Israel at war with each other and in need of peace, understanding and a hearty sing-along? If you can’t recognize a conflict for what it is – namely a pissing contest on the highest levels to wield influence over the cradle of civilization – nowadays simply the cradle of strategic trade routes and bottomless oil and gas fields, kindly refrain from opining on the subject, let alone using our position and status to give it oxygen.  Because you know what?  You may actually be breathing life into a non-existent problem; worse – diverting from the actual one.   In other words, if you can’t be bothered to read an in depth analysis from all angels – and I don’t mean listening to Wolf Blitzer on an infinite CNN loop – then stop.  Do no harm.

But in the event you should find yourself in the position of wanting to engage in the fine art of political activism, here are a few thoughts.

Did you know that over 80,000 homeless wander the streets right here in Los Angeles, or that we in the U.S. incarcerate a larger number of our own people than any other country – that’s a quarter of all documented prisoners in the world.

Did you know that the prisons are privatized and that their lobbies, like all other lobbies in this great democracy have short-circuited the system, passing laws to maximize sentencing terms for profit?

Did you know that The U.S. is among the top five countries carrying out executions along with Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and China. And did you know that once the hysteria around the Boston Marathon bombing subsides and the main stream media is done mourning the lives of the three victims and dissecting the two suspects ad-nauseam, there will still be a violent crime committed in this country every 25.3 seconds,  that’s up to 30 gun related deaths, 162 injuries, not to mention 53 suicides each day.

Now; in case you do decide on that fundraiser, here’s also an idea for an opening concert:  An evening of songs for peace and understanding – a double bill — An upcoming young Chechen duo along with a band from the Czech Republic!

….Now that is what I call interesting.

 

A Special Relationship: Musings of a Hyphenated American…

The Washington-AIPAC love-fest season is once again upon us.   The New York Times’ featured article sports a picture of Biden and Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, in loving embrace pledging support and allegiance, unconditional and eternal. Kiss! Kiss!

All talk of settlement freeze is shelved for the moment as the most formidable Washington Lobby – for all intent and purposes, agents of a foreign country – push for yet more resolutions choking Iran; seek blanket agreement for congressional backing of whatever measure Israel deems necessary to pursue their interests; and secure their 3.1 billion yearly aid even as sequestration threatens American jobs and economic recovery.   Not bad! If the forefathers could see the turn this democracy has taken, they would be thrilled I’m sure.

My reaction as a hyphenated American is pure horror!   My Persian side – because of the double standard applied to policy issues and the mess it has created by selective meddling in my region.  My American side — because of the constant hemorrhage of resource, blood and money due to this “special relationship” which seems only to benefit the Israeli hardliners and political aspirees in the U.S. Congress. My Persian side – because of the chokehold the sanctions impose on 70 million innocent Iranians destroying generations through lack of opportunities and basic needs; my American side — because it squanders any good will I presume to project in terms of standing up for human rights and democracy to my Persian side. On both fronts, this special relationship pits me against the world and my ideals; my hyphenated existence; and etches ever more deep scars of cynicism in the myth of exceptionalism my adopted country preaches day after day.

In a day and age where my American government routinely throws about terminology invoking notions of “Homeland”, “Patriotism” and “Security”, I wonder how so many of my compatriots can promptly pin their lapels with the American flag, applaud multiple invasions squandering over a trillion dollars at the first breach of air space on 9/11; yet remain unphased by our elected officials who routinely pledge allegiance to the Israeli flag; get fitted for a yarmulke and pose for photographs at the wailing wall before every election; and unreservedly throw about terms like “unconditional support” when support means continued undermining of the rights of other people, of international law and of our own national interests.

The peace process is all but dead in the face of continuing settlements on occupied land thanks to this alliance that extends blanket diplomatic immunity to Israel no matter how outrageous the act. Instead, the focus is squarely diverted on nonexistent nuclear ambitions of Iran even as experts fail to find evidence of such intentions.  The former director of IAEA, Hans Blix, has once again gone on record to confirm that Iran has not violated the NPT; that there is no evidence that Iran has plans to weaponize and that military threats based on mere suspicion is not justified. Yet the hysteria around nuclear threats seems to have a life of its own, continuing to escalate on autopilot as Israel and the U.S. bond in front of cameras just in case anyone had doubts as to how special, special was.

Advocates of this relationship say things will change organically.   Look – J Street is the answer to AIPAC and slowly we are witnessing criticism of Israel and this unique relationship creep into pop culture and mainstream discourse.   Journalists, thinkers, artists have taken a bolder approach to questioning the nature of this relationship and who it is really benefiting.  The recent SNL sketch and the spirited debate over Chuck Hagel’s confirmation are good examples.   The New York Times itself opened the article half-mockingly by referring to the “thunderous ovations” and “slick videos” of the annual conference captioning the Biden – Barak huddle, reminiscent of the 1970’s Brezhnev – Honecker embrace.

This week at the conference there was no mention of settlements. No mention of peace talks.  Instead standing ovations of the 13,000 strong friends of Israel, delighting at promises of military action against Iran.

“From the bottom of my heart, and with the clarity of my brain, words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail.” Netanyahu declared. Well, he should know, he is an authority on serial non-compliance yet shielded from action by a special friend who finds it more expedient to tackle the fall out rather than the root problem.

Soon President Obama will be making a visit to Israel – a first American president to go to Jerusalem. It is sure to ruffle some Palestinian feathers who dream of making part of this city their homeland. Contrary to his first term when he pushed for a halt to illegal settlements as a precursor to meaningful peace talks, there will be no more mention of a freeze.  There will be no criticism of Israel for the oppression of Palestinians on occupied land.  There will be no demands for compliance with U.N. resolutions.

Obama is going to Jerusalem to show that the American President does not bluff.  At least not when it comes to Iran.

Last Encore at the U.N.

“I speak on behalf of an angry people…” Mahmoud Abbas; 67th GA address; New York.

The yearly orations and political posturing at the disempowered assembly hall of the United Nations are over.   Once again the elected and non-elected leaders of the new world order used their thirty minutes in the sun to lecture, to scare, to grandstand, to remind – and in the case of the Palestinians, to implore for justice in front of a powerless albeit sympathetic audience who have been forced to turn their attention to phantom warnings of one non-existent bomb by a madman in the Middle East who is making daily threats of imminent attacks. And I don’t mean Ahmadinejad.   In fact, if you suspend disbelief and look past the glaring duplicity of what his own government represents, all that talk of Rumi, poetry, and harmony between the children of Adam may have even given you the warm fuzzies, especially when followed by the ramblings of this year’s comic relief – Wyle Bibi Coyote.

Too bad political leaders are often deaf to their own preachings, as if reading from a script written by an alter ego in a foreign language.  This year’s dueling event at the GA address was also marked by breathtaking hypocrisy as the Iranian leader orated on the interdependence of all human beings as limbs of the same body and lamented the killing of Bin-Laden without legal due process, while hundreds of political activists languish in Tehran prisons, and homosexuals find themselves to be endangered species in their own land.

Ahmadinejad spoke of equality and Justice, apparently drawing a blank on the condition of women who live as second-class citizens, segregated — indeed considered half their hairy counterparts in the eyes of Islamic law.   And for those thriving on Israel hate-talk, he denounced the “Zionist regime” as a fake government, yet failing to address the irony of his own ascent to a second term in the now famous “where-is-my-vote” 2009 fraudulent elections.

Not to be outdone, Bibi drew on history to rebut the “fake” label by mapping out thousands of years of Jewish roots in the Middle East – blond and blue eyed included – evidently seeing no paradox in uprooting millions from the same land and relegated to ghetto existence. Then he reached out to garner world empathy for the primordial Jewish dream of return, knowing fully well these are the policies denying the same dream to millions of Palestinians in their homeland.

He mocked the outdated Islamic orders of the neighboring states as throwbacks to the medieval ages, all the while quoting Abraham, Isaiah and Jeremiah; framing Jewish claim to the land of Israel in biblical terms; and he postured as the region’s only force of modernity, technology and progress as if the nuclear advances in Iran were resulting from black market dealings, rather then fruits of achievements of a highly educated population in the fields of math and sciences.

He spoke of the sacredness of life, of democracy and protection of the rights of people – all except that of the Palestinians of course; and of those who may perish in the eventual elective attack he lobbies for on a daily basis. He went on to hail the Israeli humanitarian compassionate efforts in Japan, Haiti and elsewhere, while dismissing his government’s direct hand in sustaining the catastrophic conditions of 1.7 million sardine-packed inhabitants of the 140 sq mile Gaza strip – a place described as “hell on earth” by those who have seen it first hand.

And finally, he lobbies daily for the U.S. to go to war with Iran based on self proclaimed unilateral red lines, while denouncing the desperate lone appeals for statehood and self determination by the Palestinians at the United Nations, the only international forum for such a plea, as unilateral — therefore irrelevant.

This is how you wipe a country off a map

At the end, the leadership in Israel and Iran have more in common than they realize – both rooted in hypocrisy, each needing the other to self legitimize as the rightful upholders of justice and the protectors of the persecuted – two sides of the same coin, one drawing on centuries of shi’i martyrdom; the other, exploiting Jewish collective victimization — the Islamic Republic, enjoying a welcome distraction to its widespread human rights abuses; Israel diverting world attention to something other than illegal and expanding settlements on stolen land.

Bibi will sorely miss Ahmadinejad when he finishes his term next year.   Polarizing figures are crucial to political maneuvering and divisive posturing. Meanwhile, for me, the takeaway was the haunting words of Mahmoud Abbas on the podium alarming the world of impending catastrophe in the holy land.  “…I am here on behalf of an angry people. “ — a sober forewarning of what is to come.  If the recent events in the Middle East are any indication, the road map from hopelessness to violence and destruction should be self-evident, not that anyone’s listening.

I don’t know if Bibi’s red line on his toy bomb will get him the regime change he is hoping for, be it in the U.S. or Iran – but one thing is for sure, Islamic regime now has a great excuse to step up production towards a real bomb – after all, they say, there is a crazy man on the loose in the neighborhood.

Existential Threats and Trayvon Martin: The bumper sticker politics of fear.

The first season of the Trayvon Martin reality show is finally over. George Zimmerman is behind bars 45 days after the shooting of an unarmed African American teen-ager which snowballed into a national soul searching crisis as to whether Americans are closet racists.

Activists, celebrities and ordinary citizens stepped up to express their outrage and demand justice. Tweets from Justine Beiber and Spike Lee along with thousands of irate phone calls flooded the airwaves; and civil rights politicians like Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson came out to denounce the act as an egregious example of racial hate crime.  The Rainbow Push coalition held hands, singing “We Shall Overcome” and the “Million Hoodie March” rallied in cities across America.   In a short period of time, over 2 million signatures petitioned for the arrest of George Zimmerman who continued to invoke self-defense under the “Stand-Your-Ground” law, which expands the rights of citizens to use deadly force in any public space if they feel threatened – albeit by a small framed, unarmed, skittles chewing minor like Trayvon.

The law which has been promoted by the National Rifle Association and Republican politicians have now been passed in 25 States and since its enactment in 2005, “justifiable” murders have increased several fold – 36 in Florida, up from 12 just 5 years ago.  Had the other 24 been literally getting away with murder before the law, or are we getting jumpier as a nation?

Mayor Bloomberg says it is clear that the law has undermined the integrity of the justice system, made the country less safe, and that it is promoting a culture of impunity.  Others call it “kill at will” or “shoot first”.   The national debate is curiously timely considering the broader global context.

In the past ten years, since the attacks on the twin towers, the U.S. has been increasingly basing its foreign policy narrative on the concept of preventive and pre-emptive attacks.  Dick Cheney even went so far as to make a case for action with as little as one percent probability of a threat clearly ruling out leaving his house in case of encounter with a discarded banana peel – a fear many of us wish he had heeded. Over the course of the past decade what started as a deadly attack by a handful of non-state loosely aligned actors in New York City, has lead to the invasion of several countries, the death of hundreds of thousand, and the displacement of millions in the Middle East and beyond as America consistently “stood its ground”.

George Bush rightly stressed his war on terror was not anti-muslim; no more than the Trayvon Martin case is anti black.  Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and the proxy wars we wage in the horn of Africa and beyond are not about hate as much as they are about fear — fear that continues to get packaged and sold for political and economic gain by an increasingly violent America which uses violence as its principal currency as sure as it does its greenback.  We use violence as currency for entertainment, casually feeding it to our children in ever more brutal video games and demanding more of it in our movies — more than our European counterparts who seem to prefer sex – thanks to their Mediterranean DNA; and we use it as the prime currency to define ourselves as individuals whether at home, in our neighborhoods; or on the world stage by “standing our ground”, resolute and uncompromising no matter how asymmetric, intransigent and one sided our demands.

We nurture violence through the exploitation of fear by the right wing with links to a multi billion dollar arms industry which brings jobs to constituents who fund their Washington representatives to preserve their livelihoods; by the political machinery where each side postures as the more patriotic by being hardest on crime – hardest on terrorism; and mostly we nurture fear and violence by a disconnected public who gladly consumes the messages of a lazy and complicit media who mostly amplifies the conventional narrative of power without trying to reframe the conversation.

The Iraqi WMD wild goose chase quickly became “support our troops”; a multi billion dollar military expansion across the globe was sold as “peace through strength”; and the “war on terror” became the catch all phrase for the pursuit of all things evil by our heroic forces whose patriotism bars them from asking why.

The result is a polarized world with a clear “us” versus “them” narrative framed by fear, resolved through force. As the Trayvon Martin story plays itself on an endless loop on national channels, another round of “negotiations” to stop Iran from enriching uranium is taking place so that we may get over the election hump before bombing yet another country. Who knew election season could be so hazardous to your health.

As others more astute than myself have observed, and Mark Twain’s powerful reminder we choose to ignore, the rhetoric rhymes alarmingly with the argument for the Iraqi invasion – the mushroom cloud was it?  It is ironic how asymmetric “strength” can in fact lead to conflict rather than peace.  Even more ironic that the citizens of the strongest, most powerful country should be so ruled by fear that they should seek to eradicate even the smallest, most minute possibility of harm to the point that they would be scared out of their wits by a hoodie, or see a country with no evidence of a weapons program an existential threat to themselves and their ally who, between them, own over 8,000 nuclear warheads.

Barack Obama has successfully fended off an Israeli attack for the moment even as he embarks on non-starter negotiations, demanding the unreasonable even as he ratchets up “crippling sanctions” against 70 million Iranians.  Israel for its part is preparing for a strike by securing bases in Azerbaijan and unleashing AIPAC on the U.S. congress.

Following the tsunami of outrage against the injustice in the Trayvon Martin case, Mr. Obama finally broke his silence and offered this measured response:  “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.”

Mr. president, in this election season as you walk the fine line between your Nobel Peace Prize and your second term, consider seeing beyond color – beyond borders, to see every child, every where, as your own.