February 29, 2012

Slavery By Another Name is Unknown History

People want to believe in something. What makes them feel better is preferred to that that makes them uncomfortable, so sometimes reality is not preferable. 

As Black History Month draws to a close, I wanted to help promote this program, aired on PBS recently. It's painful to think that these conditions existed in our country not so long ago, as recently as in 1950s, and it's a history that many Americans don't know or want to know about.

If one is to understand politics in the US since the colonial times, the issue of race and slavery is of fundamental importance. Even since WW2, elections, the law, and the trajectory of the political parties, all have been influenced by this reality. The Democratic Party used to be the party of slavery and segregation until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s when it traded place with the Republican Party. The latter, through its Southern strategy made the South a fortress and a solid base for electoral victories. 

This, however, has been changing, as Obama proved that a Democrat who's not from the South can win. Furthermore, the Southern states aren't as "red" as they used to be, like North Carolina, northern Virginia, etc. With other western states turning into swingers, the road to the White House doesn't have to go via the South at all nowadays.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party is beholden to a shrinking base that is also out of the mainstream America. Add to this the activism of another extreme element--the Tea parties and even the libertarians--and you have a recipe for disaster. Did I mention immigration and how Hispanics have been trending Democratic?...

Again, the PBS program, Slavery By Another Name, is worth a watch. In the video above there's the promo of this program, plus earlier discussions with Bill Moyers and the author of the book upon which the PBS program was based. 

February 26, 2012

Syrian Regime Supporters: Political dissonance?


Many of the conflicts, both inter nations and intra states, would not exist had consistent yardsticks been applied and had we interested parties been driven by the logic of “what is good for the goose is good for the gander”. Unfortunately this is not the case and never will be.

Obviously the above is not meant to justify the rationalization that the supporters of the Syrian Ba’ath are using to justify acts that they would have opposed had these acts been committed by other states or by an opposing group. One of the strongest cases in support of this point is the absolute derision that greeted the George Bush declaration of the right for pre-emptive strikes by practically all nations but later on the application of this contemptuous logic was adopted and acted upon  by many a nation.

I think that these efforts to accept an action at one time and oppose it at another stem from the tendency to arrive at a position and then find means of justifying it i.e. reverse engineering. This tendency to act irrationally is described by psychologists as Political dissonance. This is simply the inability to think logically whenever the facts do not agree with our preconceived cognition. Professor Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Princeton University explains it this way: “what they’re really doing is inventing facts or ignoring facts so that they can rationalize decisions they’ve already made.”

The above is very evident if one reviews the various stages that the arguments by the regime supporters in Syria have gone through over the past year. They started by stating emphatically that the Arab spring will not find its way into Syria since the Syrian people are totally satisfied with their lot and are confident that the Syrian dictatorship will reform itself out of existence :-) . Then once the demonstrations started the supporters dismissed all of them as being the work of, literally speaking,  a few hundred dissatisfied individuals. But as the demonstrations grew and spread then the participants were accused of being foreign agents. When the authorities decided to hit back hard by employing tanks and heavy machine gun fire against civilians in residential neighbourhoods the regime supporters argued that this level of response was perfectly acceptable since the government forces have not employed even 10% of the fire power at their disposal (what a scary logic is that?).

All throughout this metamorphosis the language used was also undergoing change. It evolved from a handful of losers to foreign agents to traitors and along the way the cause of these “losers” started being described as having some legitimacy but only if they would submit to the dictates of their tormentors. No wonder cognitive dissonance is described as a malady that cannot be corrected since the suspicion is that it is hard wired into people.

Regime supporters are at the moment using every opportunity to demonize the uprising by pointing to its use of arms as being proof that those that are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice are doing so for the benefit of foreigners. That is laughable when the opposition was in essence driven into armed struggle by the policies of the regime itself that saw fit to marshal its military against dissenters. Unfortunately the Syrian opposition has played into the hands of the Syrian government by taking up arms in self defense. I wish that the opposition could have stayed peaceful and had instead concentrated on civil disobedience measures. But the fact that they did not is a disagreement about tactics and not goals. This is ultimately the weakness of the regime supporters. They are willing to keep adopting different arguments to justify and rationalize any policies adopted by the regime to suppress demonstrators, violate human rights, support armed struggle outside Syria and continue the brutal, cruel and deadly oppression of those that dare ask for a better life and a more democratic one.

Since the major criticism of the uprising by the regime centers on the use of arms by the opposition then does that mean that the regime supporters would accept massive well organized civil disobedience activities instead? I don’t think so since I am of the opinion that if that was to take place then those who favour the status quo would change tactics and would paint the demonstrators as uneducated, unskilled and as being paid mercenaries of KSA, Qatar and the US. The regime supporters are not opposing the uprising because they have a disagreement with the methods but they are opposing the uprising simply because it is asking for a regime change, a cruel dictatorship that is willing to employ any method to continue its undemocratic rule.

Ultimately it is the Assad clan that is responsible for the current state of unrest in Syria and for the bloodshed. No amount of justification or rationalization can ever legitimize a dictatorship especially if one believes that rulers must have the consent of the governed.

February 01, 2012

Bashar is Solely Responsible For Syrian Bloodshed

by Ghassan Karam
It is always lamentable when killings become a common everyday occurrence and in particular when many of the victims are innocent civilians, children women, and old people. It is especially chilling when death and destruction becomes a daily affair by the forces that were meant to protect the population against foreign enemies and to guard their rights and privileges. It is especially disheartening when “evil” is rationalized as essential since that transforms a shameful and ignominious act into a trite one. That is the danger of allowing murder, and oppression to metamorphose into a sterilized, common and hackneyed accounting of those killed every day in cold blood by a ruthless dictatorship whose sole interest is to maintain its ability to oppress, exploit and abuse.

Taking away life of civilians of all ages, including children, by their own government just because they dared protest against tyranny is always wrong. Obviously, deontological philosophy will never permit such egregious acts since it is based on a profound understanding of our moral and ethical obligations to each other. But neither would consequentialism, its opposite, approve of murderous acts that would not prevent greater numbers of people to be killed in the future.

The irony of the daily horrendous events of loss of life in Syria is that the tragic loss of life is being used by those that are essentially responsible for it as an excuse and a rationale for them to continue their senseless spilling of innocent blood by ordering heavy artillery and tanks to level neighbourhoods that dared demonstrate for democracy and personal rights. It is paradoxical when the oppressors who had over forty years to adopt some reforms and let the sunshine into the dark and rotten dungeons that they have built start portraying themselves as reformers and as democrats. The foreign minister of this rotten regime, Walid Al Moualem, even declared that the Syrian Ba’ath gang is ready to teach the world a lesson in democracy. He has no shame, neither do his fellow conspirators. I wonder whether Mr. Al Moualem even knows what is the meaning of democracy, citizenship, human rights, diversity, personal responsibility… Obviously his Don; Bashar Assad does not, as it was made amply clear in his interview with Danish TV where he said that he implied that he is a dictator who knows best what is good for the Syrian people, their personal preferences be damned. It was also laughable when he told ABC TV , just a few months ago, that he was not in control of what goes on in Syria and so he must not be held accountable for the approximately 6000 lost lives, tens of thousands of prisoners, many city quarters across Syria demolished or an economy that is about to implode.

It is not uncommon for individuals to have a distorted vision of reality but when the preservation of such a vision  results in the deaths of thousands and the destruction of dreams then that paranoia and delusion cross a redline. The acts of the last year have made it amply clear that those in control of the Syrian government are driven purely by personal ambition to stay in power and to exercise their tyranny and oppression. Syria as a country that belongs to 22 million people is an alien idea to them since the country is a fiefdom for the Assads and their clan, a mentality based in a pure vision of personality cult worship and a party that is all knowing.

Is there a place for such tyranny and repression or do the citizens have the right and the moral obligation to put an end to a half a century of exploitation and abuse? It has been long in coming but finally the Syrian brothers have awoken from their slumber and have taken a stand for what is right and just. It is the Ba’ath and Bashar that have tried to exploit the situation over the past year in order to distract the revolutionaries from demanding what is rightfully theirs; the ability to decide their own destiny. Bashar could have avoided all this bloodshed had he declared his intension to hold free elections and to introduce meaningful reforms over a year ago. He chose not to do so only because he did not believe that the Syrian masses deserve to be treated with dignity. Let him reap what he has sown