The Ideological Seeds of the Occuparty by Waris Husain

As the Occupy Wall Street protests slowly creep into every major city in the U.S., some have pointed to the futility of protesting, especially when the group is lacking a cohesive ideology. However, we know through the Tea Party that the energy generated from opposition protests can manifest into a new political force that can affect the American landscape. The entrance of the Tea Party has polarized the country’s decision-makers to a conservative angle, and it will take a focused effort by activists, lawyers, and writers alike as part of the OccuParty to challenge their effect. The formation of such a new party would require not only an attack on corporate domination, but also to force change in the government and require them to serve the interests of the “99%”, instead of the “1%”.

In this early stage it is dificult to surmise the ideology of Wall Street protesters, who range from labor union members to unemployed hipsters. However, there is a shared ideological message underlying demands by protestors for the government to increase taxes on corporations. This message controverts the Tea Party mantra, “Government can do no good” as the protestors are calling for more government to take more control over private actors. Such a demand is based on the belief that the government can indeed do “good”, but only when it is free from undue influences through lobbyists and corporate agents.

If one were only to focus on the financial institutions that have muted the voice of the 99%, this movement would have little effect on the decision-making in this country. It was democratic institutions, not companies, who passed laws that allowed for corporations to control the American landscape. It was the Supreme Court of this nation who created a legal fiction that gave corporations the same rights as an average citizen.  And thus, even if corporations are fostering corruption and buying favors, it is our democratic officials that are selling those favors.

While Tea Partiers point to this behavior as evidence that governments are inherently corrupt and can’t be trusted, their observation falls short. The central feature of a truly democratic government is that all decisions are based on the informed consent of the people. However, if there is a secret veil of corporate and lobbyist control over WashingtonD.C., then the public is no longer voting based on informed consent and is thus no longer engaged in a democratic process.

The secretive influence of corporations has further been set into law by the U.S. Supreme Court with the Citizen’s United decision that affirmed corporate personhood. This gives the same rights of political affiliation and free speech to corporations as average citizens receive under the Constitution. This means that Nike or McDonalds, worth billions of dollars, is considered a citizen just like you or I when it comes to campaign donations. Soon it will be impossible to run for elections without a corporate sponsor, and thus, it will also be impossible to serve the interests of voters when officials have corporate overlords.

Attacking these principles will serve the interests of the OccuParty by giving them a central unifying purpose: to restore our constitutional democracy by re-equipping citizens with informed consent. Such an action may be viewed as revolutionary by some, but is founded on the basic principle of the U.S. Constitution that requires the government to be subservient only to the people, not to secret interests. One should remember that eliminating corporate personhood would not violate the Constitution considering the document gave no rights or protections to corporations over common citizens.

Along with attacking the government for fostering corporate domination, the OccuParty will need to adopt an ideology concerning the rights of citizens. The protestors have by and large asserted that wealth must be redistributed, with greater access to social services like education and health care. The demands of theOccupy Wall Street protesters are diametrically opposed to the conservative world view that individual rights are supreme above all others. While some may assert that the demands are merely a fools hope, there is a political ideology that lies under the surface.

Germany’s constitution embodies a principle that may resonate with most of the protestors: as the State must respect the rights of the individual, but the individual must respect the rights of their community. From this basic idea, one can call for a redistribution of wealth because while one has the right to accumulate wealth, one does not have the right to do so without assisting their community. Under this perspective, one could advocate for individual rights like gay marriage because they do not negatively effect the rights of the community.

Though Tea Partiers tout Thomas Jefferson as a guardian for individual rights, they forget that Jefferson didn’t believe that the wealthy could accumulate wealth without owing a duty to assist their community. Rather, he purported that while the government cannot interfere with individual rights, people owe a duty to help their local communities. This means that the 1% elites should be required to assist their community by paying for programs like student loan forgiveness or universal health care, for example.

Liberals in America have long-complained about the lack of a viable leftist party that embodied the interests of Democrats and Independents alike, though the Green Party and Libertarians have tried in the past. In order to do this, the OccuParty should take actions both on the street and in court to challenge undue influence by elites on our democracy, and the subsequent lack of informed consent by the people. Further, the party should advocate for a hybrid individual-community rights system as an overarching ideology. Though politics in America has taken a conservative turn with the influence of the Tea Party, the OccuParty could serve as a bastion for liberal philosophy and restore democratic order to this nation at a critical time.

All Power to the 99%.

BBC: New Protests in Hama after Syria’s Crackdown leaves hundreds dead

 

Tens of thousands of people have protested across Syria, days after the bloody crackdown on the city of Hama where the opposition had taken control. Video said to be of Damascus showed crowds in a central district chanting: “Hama, we are with you until death” and “[President] Bashar [al-Assad] leave”.

In a suburb of the city, at least four protesters were shot dead by security forces on Friday, reports say. In a broadcast from Hama, State TV said the city was under government control.  Hama residents and human rights groups accuse the army of killing more than 100 civilians in a bombardment of the city, a focus of the protests against Mr Assad’s rule.

As many as 2,000 people may have been killed by security forces since opponents of President Assad’s autocratic rule took to the streets in March. Protesters were inspired by the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Mr Assad has promised reforms, but blames the violence on “armed criminal gangs” backed by unspecified foreign powers. Access to events in Syria has been severely restricted for international journalists and it is rarely possible to verify accounts by witnesses and opposition activists.

Marching in the heat

Activists had called for more protests after prayers on Friday, with one web user posting a message saying: “God is with us, are you?” Video posted by activists purports to show protesters marching through the Midan district of the Syrian capital, close to the Old City. Clapping their hands, they chanted, “We don’t want you Bashar”.

In another district of the capital, Qadam, protesters carried a banner reading: “Bashar is slaughtering the people and the international community is silent.”  Security forces opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas in several cities, activists said.  At least four people were reportedly killed in the Damascus suburb of Irbin, with a further 10 wounded.

Abdel Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights, told AFP news agency that 30,000 people had marched in the city of Deir al-Zour despite extreme heat. Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused security forces of killing some 2,000 people since March. Residents of Hama, which has become a focal point of protests, told reporters that there had been more gunfire and shelling early on Friday.

Snipers and tanks have been firing on civilians and food and medicine supplies are running low, witnesses say. But the Syrian TV report showed pictures of armed men hiding behind cars and claimed the army had quelled a rebellion. The report showed deserted streets with flimsy barricades and piles of rubble. Later, the reporter went into buildings that appeared to have been destroyed in an explosion.

The UN Security Council issued a statement this week condemning the crackdown.  Russia, traditionally an ally of Syria, also joined the criticism, with President Dmitry Medvedev saying Mr Assad would “face a sad fate” unless he urgently carried out reforms and reconciled with the opposition.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says Mr Medvedev’s statement may give the government pause for thought, but there has been no change in the attitude on the ground.

New Tibetian Prime Minister to Assume Dalai Lama’s Political Duties

Lobsang Sangay , a Harvard University academic, has been elected prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile andwill take on the political role previously played by the Dalai Lama. Lobsang Sangay won 55% of the votes cast by Tibetans around the world. He defeated two candidates for the role, Tenzin Tethong and Tashi Wangdi.

Mr Sangay must now assume the political functions of the Dalai Lama, who said in March he wanted to devolve this responsibility to an elected official. The Dalai Lama will retain his role as Tibetan spiritual leader.

‘Middle way’

The elections were held in March and the result announced on Wednesday in Dharamsala, India, where the Tibetan government-in-exile is based. “The Election Commission of the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama has declared Dr Lobsang Sangay as the third kalon tripa,” Election Commissioner Jampal Thosang announced, using the Tibetan term for prime minister.

Almost 83,400 Tibetan exiles were eligible to vote and more than 49,000 ballots were cast, he said. Tenzin Tethong, a former representative of the Dalai Lama in the US, got 37.4% of the vote and Tashi Wangdi, a government-in-exile bureaucrat, received 6.4%.

The 42-year-old winner is an Indian-born legal expert who has never lived in Tibet. His father fled Tibet in 1959, the same year as the Dalai Lama. He says he will move to Dharamsala to serve as prime minister and that he supports the Dalai Lama’s stance on ties with China. “What His Holiness stands for is the ‘Middle Way’, which is genuine autonomy within China or within the framework of the Chinese constitution,” he told the BBC earlier this month.

“If Tibetans are granted genuine autonomy then his Holiness the Dalai Lama said he is willing to accept Tibet as part of China.”  In a victory statement on Wednesday, he said he took comfort in the fact that the handover was taking place while the Dalai Lama “is healthy and available to watch over us”. “I urge every Tibetan and friend of Tibet to join me in our common cause to alleviate the suffering of Tibetans in occupied Tibet and to return His Holiness to his rightful place,” he said.

Daunting task

An official told Reuters news agency that the Dalai Lama was “very happy” that people had taken “a very active part in the election process”.  The 76-year-old monk announced in March that he wanted an elected official to assume some of his responsibilities, saying that such a move was in the best interests of the Tibetan people.

Analysts say he aims to ensure that even if China’s government tries to select the next Dalai Lama, the Tibetans will have an elected leader they can look to who is outside China and beyond the Communist Party’s control.  The BBC’s Mark Dummett says Lobsang Sangay has the daunting task of trying to keep the issue of Tibet alive while the man who embodies the struggle for Tibetan rights gradually steps back from the limelight. He has been elected head of a government which no country recognises and will face in China an opponent which has shown no sign of wanting to compromise, our correspondent adds.

A Chilling account of the brutal clampdown in Bahrain

Published in The Guardian.

sanabis police

Since the Gulf soldiers came to Bahrain, life in the Shia villages and suburbs of the capital, Manama, has been non-stop intimidation, violence and threats. Even trying to move around in normal ways has become life-threatening. They are trying to beat down the opposition with a long campaign against us.

I live in one of the villages near Manama. One night about 7.30pm, I parked in front of my father-in-law’s house and walked towards the door, when at least 50 armed and masked thugs – they were not in security forces uniform – appeared from one of the village lanes and told me to stop, pointing their shotguns at me. I ran away and they followed, but I managed to hide in one of the houses and they did not see me. I heard them talking to each other, saying: “Don’t worry, we will find him.” I was taking a look from the window and they stayed at the car park opposite the house I was hiding in, and they were smashing the windows of parked cars and wrecking and stealing from them. Some had Saudi accents; they are very different from Bahraini and easy to tell.

At 8pm most nights people go up on their roofs and chant Allahu Akbar [“God is greatest”] and the thugs start shooting randomly in the air and at the top of the roofs. That night the area was covered with tear-gas grenades and rubber bullets, while the roads around the house were deserted except for thugs. Later that night (I was unable to leave the house I was in), we heard a group of people, 100 or more, chanting: “Bahrain is free, Gulf Shield out.” I was watching from the rooftop when the riot police ran in from a main road and started shooting rubber bullets and tear-gas cartridges.

I hid inside the house while the demonstrators ran away from the shooting and in 30 minutes I saw riot police, with armed civilians among them, roaming around the lanes and roads by the house I was hiding in. They managed to catch two people, aged no more than 30, and were beating them up badly, swearing at them all the time and cursing the Shia clerics, saying: “Where is al-Khomeini now? Where is al-Sistani, you Shia dogs?” They took them away. I managed to take a photograph of the blood on the floor after the beating and there was so much. I am sure the man must have died.

They [the security forces] can tell the Shias from Sunnis because of the birth town shown on the ID cards, and also sometimes by the name. I get stopped and searched at many checkpoints and always asked the same questions: “Are you Shia? Were you at Lulu Square [the demonstrators’ name for the protest camp at Pearl roundabout that has since been demolished]?” And all kinds of other sectarian questions.

At the checkpoint by Bahrain Mall, which is the entrance to the village of Daih, the man in charge had a Saudi accent, but he was masked, in civilian clothes with an automatic rifle. My card was taken away with another officer to check my name against a list. They have pictures and names of all the people at Lulu and on the demonstrations and have posted them on Facebook with notices saying: “Bring these people to justice, they are guilty people.”

For two weeks after the attack on Lulu we kept seeing a military aircraft (a US-built F-16 type) every day at about 7.30pm, flying low over the villages, backing up the police helicopters which we see over our heads all day long in the villages. We hear shooting every day at 8pm and 10pm when the chanting starts on the rooftops. 

 The army and riot police have begun to destroy the Shia matams [mosques] in some villages, even those where there was no protest that day. They say they are looking for arms, but the only ones they’ve shown were obviously put there by them – they are government-issue weapons. The demolitions took place in broad daylight in the morning, with bulldozers.

In Karanh village at 4pm one day last week, demonstrators marched towards the entrance of the village on the main road, and they were faced with heavy firing from the riot police and masked armed civilians. They managed to get hold of three people whom they handcuffed, covered their faces with a canvas bag (like in Guantánamo) and started beating them up in a very brutal way. In the village of Daih we demonstrated at the front of the village, and as we reached the main road the riot police attacked us with tear gas and rubber bullets and shotguns…

In Sanabis, there was no sign of any protest, and as I was walking I was shocked to see riot police cars followed by unmarked cars entering the village fast and shooting randomly. They stopped near a school and about 100 armed riot police and masked armed civilians came out, roaming around the village shooting at anything that moved. They ran after a group of people who were walking by and they entered one of the houses after seeing someone running inside, and they arrested him and beat him.

Over the past week, three of my cousins have been arrested and they are all teachers, two women and one man, who is the headteacher of a school, along with 50 other full-time teachers. They have all been arrested in their classrooms for joining the strike and signing a petition to remove the education minister. Tanks were surrounding the school and riot police entered and arrested them.

My young brother, 15, was coming back from school last Sunday, and the bus had been stopped at a checkpoint and the riot police entered. The officer had a Saudi accent and he asked the whole bus: “Which of you went to Lulu Square? You are Shia dogs, why is there no photo of King Hamad in the bus?”  He asked the other officers to check the books of random students to see if the photo of King Hamad was there (all school books have his photo) and they found a number of students who ripped or damaged the photo. They started to beat them up inside the bus and then arrested them and threatened the other students. “The bus will be searched every day and we had better see the king’s photo inside the bus tomorrow, otherwise you will not go home.”

The same day I drove by the same checkpoint just after my brother arrived home and saw four teenagers with their heads covered by bags lying on their stomachs at 2pm under the hot sun, with their shirts removed and getting random kicks by the officers. I went towards a backstreet and tried to take a video, but a police car spotted me and started shooting birdshot. I ran away inside the village and they came after me. I hid in one of the private compounds and saw riot police running, looking for me.

Later that day I managed to get home and it was confirmed that the arrested students returned home after they got beaten up. They refused to be photographed, as they were threatened by the police. Now they do not use the school bus, as they are afraid they will be stopped.

I went with my mother to the military hospital by Hamad Town for her regular check-up – she has cardiac problems. That hospital is the only one in Bahrain with specialist heart doctors. When I approached the main entrance, I and my mother were asked by Bahraini security for our IDs and medical cards. When they saw them, another masked officer approached the car with a Saudi accent and asked the officer: “Who is this? What’s going on?” The Bahraini whispered something to him and the Saudi officer shouted at me:“Are you Shia?” And he kicked the car and said: “Get out of here, dog.” I did not reply and turned the car around and went back home. My mother did not do her monthly check-up and we will have to go outside Bahrain for that.

In Salmaniya medical complex [which has been under military occupation for three weeks], a cousin of mine worked at the appointments centre. After his shift he left the hospital and police stopped him at the exit, checked his ID card and noticed his Shia name. They accused him of racism for not giving appointments to Sunnis and beat him up.

He asked his family to collect him because he was bleeding from his eyes and feeling dizzy. He did not get any medical treatment as it was impossible to reach any hospital without being questioned, especially when he is injured. He is still at home and does not go to work and it seems he lost an eye. Many doctors have been arrested for treating injured people. The opposition says that 720 people have been arrested since 15 March. Many have been beaten, four have died in detention and 210 are still missing. But who knows really how many?

They say that we are spies for Iran, but nobody here wants to be ruled from Iran. We are Shia, but we are also Arabs, not Persians. We do not want help from Iran. We want democracy in our own country.

Nigeria’s New Vote “Will Change Country”

Published in BBC

Preliminary parliamentary poll results revealing big losses for the ruling party show Nigeria “has changed”, an analyst has told the BBC.  “It tells a story to every politician: You can no longer take Nigerians for granted,” Victor Burubo said. High-profile PDP casualties include speaker of the lower house Dimeji Bankole and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s daughter in the senate.

Despite some violence, observers said Saturday’s poll was well-conducted. The initial vote had to be postponed from 2 April after voting material failed to reach many areas. Previous elections since the return to civilian rule in 1999 have been marred by widespread fraud and intimidation.  Elections for the presidency and state governorships were also delayed and are now to be held on 16 and 26 April respectively.

With more than 70% of preliminary results announced at a state level, President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has suffered significant losses.  The party that has dominated politics since the military returned to barracks has so far taken 59 seats in the 109-member senate and 140 seats in the 360-member House of Representatives.

Correspondents say it is not clear whether the PDP will lose its absolute majority in both houses as voting in some 13-14% of parliamentary constituencies – where polling had begun on 2 April – has been delayed until 26 April.  The party has lost out to two newly formed parties, the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the south-west and to the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in parts of the north.

There was another embarrassing loss for the PDP in the northern state of Katsina where Maryam Yar’Adua, daughter of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, failed in her bid get into the House of Representatives. But Mr Burubo, who leads the National Ijaw Council in the southern oil-rich Niger Delta, said the PDP’s bad showing on a parliamentary level would not affect the presidential vote.  “I have a feeling that a good number of areas where the PDP has been beaten will still revert to the PDP candidates, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and his running mate Sambo because of who they are are – not just because of the party,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

Waris Husain: From Washington to Tripoli- Lessons in Revolution

            In discussing the options to intervene in nations like Libya where political dissidents are attempting to free themselves from despotism, the American Revolution provides several lessons for the Jasmine Revolutionaries. The first correlation one can draw between the two movements is the similar tyrannical and imperial rule that preceded them. Secondly, Arab revolutionaries should understand the significance of the American Revolutionaries having created the Declaration of Independence at the outset of their agitation. Finally, the French intervention which assisted the U.S. in its war against the British monarchy shows us how a self-serving intervention by a foreign power can still net a positive result for the nation it is helping.

            The first similarity between the revolutions taking place across the Middle East / Africa and the American Revolution was that they were both inspired by the tyranny of their ruling power. One must draw a distinction as the U.S. was ruled by an English Monarchy who lived thousands of miles away while places like Libya are ruled by their own home-grown dictators. While post-colonial leaders like Ghaddafi are home-grown despots, they have used the same techniques to rule the people as their colonial masters.

The favorite method of the English and French during their colonial hay-day was the ‘divide-and- conquer’ strategy, which has been adopted by many African and Arab dictators. This strategy aims at stoking tensions and internal wars between tribes or ethnicities, in order to divert attention from the Colonial powers’ unjust exploitation of the colony. The British attempted this with the American colonies in order to distract people from realizing the increasingly steep levels of taxes being levied on the colonists without any representation awarded to them in Parliament. Dictators like Ghaddafi and Mubarak used these tactics to hide their own system of corruption, nepotism, and tyrannical violence.

Though both the revolutions in America and the Middle East share a common despotic environment from which they grow, the strategies of the two revolutionaries differ radically. By drafting the Declaration of Independence, the American revolutionaries were forced to come together and agree on the reasons for separating from the British crown and the modes by which to do it. The process of creating the document itself required there to be a shared purpose at the outset of the insurgency against the British amongst all participants which created cohesion and order. The Mid-East revolutions have happened at such a faster rate, that such planning and drafting of documents has not taken place, and the opposition forces have suffered due to this lack of shared vision,

The American Declaration began with a phrase to explain why such a document even needed to be written, as “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they [the revolutionaries] should declare the causes which impel them to the separation [from the English monarchy].”  This respect for the “opinions of man-kind” has not been shown by the Arab revolutionaries, who have not produced cohesive manifestos to let the world know exactly why they are revolting and how. This becomes especially important with regards to foreign intervention, as we see a squeamishness amongst the Western world to support an opposition group that has not expressed their motivations or plans for the future. 

Finally, many have criticized the American intervention in Libya as merely a political move not based on principles of democracy-promotion, especially as the U.S. ignores the plight of democracy promoters in oil-rich allied states like Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. Yet, as the world focuses on the hypocrisy of the U.S. action in Libya, one should take note that there has always been a self-serving hypocrisy amongst nations who assist revolutions in other nations.  

The American Revolution could not have been possible without covert support of the French, who were themselves ruled by a king at the time. Why would one king wish to aid insurgents hoping to topple another monarchy? The answer is simply that the French had less of an interest in the democratic cause of the American revolutionaries, and more of an interest in bleeding out their arch nemesis, the English.

While there was a shared belief amongst the elite of France and the U.S. in the Great Enlightenment and in principles of democracy, the French made a purely pragmatic foreign policy decision in assisting the American revolutionaries. It was this rivalry between France and England that provided the American revolutionaries with the guns, money, and supplies needed to defeat the British. Therefore, it didn’t matter what self-serving interests existed for the French, because the net result of their intervention was that the Americans freed themselves from colonial rule.

Thus, there are several lessons that can be learned between the American Revolution of 1776 and the upheaval across the Middle East. The inception of both movements comes from a tyrannical rule, whether in the form of Arab/African dictatorship or British colonial rule. The drafting of the Declaration of Independence by the American revolutionaries should be a model adopted by dissidents across the world as a means to join together under a singular document as well as express their views to the rest of the world. And while the world debates intervention, some will look to the French involvement in the American Revolution and will realize that the motivations of the interveners are less important than their actions. Most importantly, America should look at her own history before continuing to ignore the plight of activists in nations like Saudi Arabia, who are imprisoned and tortured for the doing exactly what the founders of our nation did.

Sovereign Of the Week: Anna Hazare (Fasting against corruption)

Hunger striking Indian activist Anna Hazare has called for mass protests by his supporters against corruption. The 72-year-old campaigner is on the fourth day of a fast to push for stringent new anti-corruption laws. He wants his followers to “fill India’s jails” in a mass campaign of non-violent civil disobedience on 13 April.

Thousands of people have joined Mr Hazare’s protest. In recent months India has been rocked by a string of corruption scandals. On Thursday, the government agreed to include civil society members in a new panel which Mr Hazare is demanding be set up to draft tighter anti-corruption legislation. But differences remain over who will lead the panel and whether it will have legal powers.

Mr Hazare has said he wants the “jail bharo” (fill the prison) movement to take place across India. “But you should participate in the agitation keeping in mind Mahatma Gandhi. There should be no violence anywhere,” he told his supporters.

India’s governing Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi has urged Mr Hazare to give up his fast. She said his views would receive the government’s “full attention” in the fight against corruption. Doctors are checking Mr Hazare twice a day to monitor his health. The 72-year-old says he will refuse food until the government accedes to his demands.

There has been widespread support for Mr Hazare with protests and hunger strikes reported across India. Some 2,000 people have joined the activist at the historic Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi, where he is conducting his fast. Correspondents say Mr Hazare has rallied people across the country disillusioned with the recent spate of scandals – he is highly respected as a social activist with an untarnished reputation.

Some of the recent corruption scandals to have angered Indians include a multi-billion dollar alleged telecoms scam, alleged financial malpractices in connection with the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and allegations that houses for war widows were diverted to civil servants.

Last month the head of the country’s anti-corruption watchdog was forced to resign by the Supreme Court on the grounds that he himself faced corruption charges.