Here is another ZNet Free Update. You can add and/or remove addresses
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The site is being regularly updated, as always, and we hope you will
visit soon. This message, however, I wanted to convey two essays.
First we have a report from Rahul Mahajan, from Baghdad. He is a regular
ZNet Commentator, in our Sustainer commentary program, and indeed, this
essay is tonight's sustainer commentary from that program. To get a
sustainer commentary every night, and to get access to the sustainer
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please consider becoming a ZNet Sustainer. The link to find out more is
The second essay included below is another in our series of author
inteviews, this time with Bob Jensen about his new book, Citizens of the
Empire. We hope you will read the interview and seriously consider
making Bob's work a part of your library!
Report from Baghdad -- Opening the Gates of Hell
By Rahul Mahajan
Before the Iraq war, at a meeting of the Arab League, Secretary General
Amr Moussa famously said that a U.S. war on Iraq would "open the gates
In Iraq, those gates are yawning wider than they ever have before -- at
least for the United States.
"Sunni and Shi'a are now one hand, together against the Americans," a
man on the street in the mostly Shi'a slum of Shuala on the west side of
Baghdad told me, as we conversed in the shadow of a burnt-out American
tank transporter. Those sentiments were echoed at the local headquarters
of Moqtada al-Sadr's organization, which had one day previously come
under assault from U.S. forces.
And, indeed, everyone in the area agreed that when those forces were
driven from Shuala, it was done by Sunni and Shi'a fighting together --
and by unorganized local inhabitants, not al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.
Whether or not the resistance here grows to a scale that the United
States cannot control -- and this is more in the hands of Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani than of Paul Bremer or George Bush -- it is
already clear that the events of the last ten days mark a critical
turning point in the occupation of Iraq.
We're being told a convenient and self-serving story about those events.
In that story, a few barbaric "isolated extremists" from the "Saddamist
stronghold" of Falluja killed four contractors who were guarding food
convoys in an act of unprovoked lawlessness. Moqtada al-Sadr is fighting
the U.S. forces right now because, in the words of George Bush, he
decided that "rather than allow democracy to flourish, he's going to
The truth is rather different. Falluja, although heavily Sunni Arab, was
hardly in Saddam's pocket. Its imams got into trouble for refusing to
obey his orders to praise him personally during prayers. Many
inhabitants were Salafists (Wahhabism is a subset of Salafism), a group
singled out for political persecution by Saddam.
In fact, during the war, Falluja was not a hotbed of resistance. Its
turn to resistance started on April 28, when U.S. troops opened fire on
a group of 100 to 200 peaceful protesters, killing 15. They claimed they
were returning gunfire, but Human Rights Watch investigated and found
that the bullet holes in the area were inconsistent with that story --
and, furthermore, every Iraqi witness maintained that the crowd was
unarmed. Two days later, another three protesters were killed.
These incidents caused many people in the area to join the resistance,
forming their own groups (see an interview with one in the San Francisco
Chronicle here --
Violence back and forth and frequent collective punishment measures
levied on the twon quickly turned it into a place seething with anger
against the occupation -- to an even greater degree than other places.
The most recent incident, in which four mercenaries from Blackwater
Security, a company formed by ex-Navy Seals (Blackwater people are
performing many of the same functions as soldiers in Iraq and do get
involved in combat), did not arise in a vacuum. In fact, just the week
before, U.S. Marines had mounted heavy raids on Fallujah, killing at
least seven civilians, including a cameraman. Residents spoke of this as
the reason for the attack on the Blackwater people and the gruesome
spectacle that followed.
With the recent fighting in Falluja, cordoning off the city, in which 12
Marines, two other soldiers, and at least 66 Iraqis were killed, there
is no chance to get off this track in the foreseeable future.
But, not satisfied with this massive problem with the Sunni, the CPA
chose the same time to pick a fight with the Shi'a followers of Moqtada
Whatever al-Sadr's views about democracy may be, Bush's claim that he
started this violence to derail democracy is ridiculous. First of all,
for all of al-Sadr's firebrand rhetoric, he and his followers had always
stopped short of overt violence against the occupying forces. Second,
the incident that precipitated this whole round of violence was the
closing of his newspaper, al-Hawza, a blatantly undemocratic act. In
fact, the paper was not closed for directly advocating violence, but
simply for reporting one eyewitness claim that a supposed car bombing
that killed numerous volunteers for the New Iraqi defense forces was
actually done by plane (and therefore by the United States).
In general, there is no quicker way to get an Iraqi to laugh than to
talk about how the United States is bringing freedom or democracy to the
country. It's standard when talking about the latest problem the
Americans cause, to say derisively, "This is the freedom." When I asked
Rasool Gurawi, a spokesman at the al-Sadr office in Thawra, the slum of
two million that is perhaps al-Sadr's strongest base of support, about
Bush's claims, he said, "This is democracy? Attacking peaceful
Killing people and destroying buildings?"
As the occupation simultaneously loses control in Basra, Najaf, Kerbala,
Nasiriyah, Kufa, Kut, Diwaniyah, and in Thawra, Shuala, and Kadhimiyah
in Baghdad, Bremer and Bush have backed off a little. Instead of wanting
al-Sadr for his political role, they now say he is wanted in connection
with the murder of Shi'a cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei last April. And,
indeed, one of the other precipitating factors in the recent violence
was the arrest of Mustafa Yacoubi, a top Sadr aide, for the same
killing. They even say it has nothing to do with them -- an Iraqi judge,
acting independently, issued the warrant.
This explanation isn't getting very far with anyone here. It's already
been revealed that the warrants were written long ago and have been
sitting unused until the right time. In fact, claimed Gurawi, the Iraqi
Minister of Justice proclaimed publicly that he had no information about
Sadr's or Yacoubi's involvement with al-Khoei and that they were not
wanted by the Iraqi government.
Whatever the case, the administration's militaristic response and hollow
rhetoric cut no ice with any Iraqis here, and are certain simply to
exacerbate a situation that has already spun out of control for the
Although the situation with Fallujah seems to have been mostly
happenstance (of the kind that was inevitable with the constant
skirmishing), the signs seem to indicate that the move against al-Sadr's
people was deliberately timed. If so, it was presumably an attempt to
squeeze him out of the political sphere before the token "transfer of
sovereignty" on June 30.
It has backfired in the way that anyone who reads the newspapers himself
instead of having them explained to him by aides could have predicted.
When three U.S. soldiers were killed in the Kadhimiyah district of
Baghdad yesterday, that was a clear sign. Although al-Sadr supporters
are probably a majority in Thawra and a very sizeable minority in
Shuala, his influence had always been negligible in Kadhimiyah.
Even though the violence that has broken out is major news right now, in
a sense it's not the real story. The killing of over 100 people in the
last ten days is a tragedy, but so is everyday life under the
The people in the Shi'a slums of Baghdad who are now furiously resisting
the Americans hate Saddam with a passion to this day. They suffered
under his repression and they also suffered from neglect, especially
under the sanctions -- scarce resources and repairs went to politically
more favored areas. They expected great improvements when the United
States took over.
Shaykh Sadun al-Shemary, a former member of the Iraqi army who
participated in the 1991 uprising and now a spokesman for the al-Sadr
organization in Shuala, told me, "Things are exactly the same as in
Saddam's time -- maybe worse."
That is all you need to know about the occupation of Iraq.
Rahul Mahajan is the publisher of the weblog Empire Notes
(http://www.empirenotes.org <http://www.empirenotes.org/> ) and is
currently writing and blogging from Baghdad. His latest book is "Full
Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond." He can be reached at
Interviewing Robert Jensen about his new book,
Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity.
Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, "Citizens of the Empire:
The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity, is about? What is it trying to
In general terms, Citizens of the Empire is about the post-9/11
political landscape that left/progressive activists in the United States
have to negotiate. The first section looks at the political rhetoric and
ideology that we are up against -- claims that (1) the United States is
"the greatest nation on earth," (2) we must "support the troops because
they defend our freedom," and (3) patriotism is a virtue. I try to take
apart those claims -- which usually are made very emotionally -- with
logic and offer rhetorical strategies for combating them.
The second section looks at the paradox that I call "more freedom, less
democracy" -- the coexistence of fairly broad freedoms in contemporary
United States (at least for most of us in the privileged sectors) with
an incredibly degraded and debased political culture. I review some of
the history of the 20th century to explain that paradox, and then take
specific aim at the role of the universities in contributing to those
Finally, in the third section, I look at the costs of empire -- to
people around the world, to the non-human world, and to ourselves. The
book ends with a discussion of organizing strategies and hope. I talk
about why, even in the face of concentrated power and deeply entrenched
systems of oppression, there are reasons to be hopeful. We need to have
realistic expectations and a long-term view, but if one looks at history
there are lots of reasons for hope.
Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the
content come from? What went into making the book what it is?
Especially since 9/11, I have been writing a lot about foreign policy,
media, and politics in general. About half of the book draws on that
material, much of which first appeared on ZNet. The other half of the
book is new, written after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Although I'm a university professor, this book is quite consciously
written for a general audience. When I got tenure, I abandoned
traditional scholarly writing -- not because I didn't enjoy or didn't
think it isn't sometimes valuable, but because it seemed to me that more
professors should try to make scholarship and political dialogue
accessible to as many people as possible.
What are your hopes for "Citizens of the Empire"? What do you hope it
will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and
aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success?
I have two main goals with this book. First, I hope that
left/progressive/anti-empire activists who read it will find it both
challenging and reassuring. Some of the ideas I put out, especially in
the first section, can be contentious, and I would like it to spark
debate and discussion within the movement. At the same time, I hope the
book will bolster activists' sense of the importance of our work. In
short, we need to both challenge each other at the same time that we
remind each other how important it is to keep at the task of building a
movement to resist the U.S. empire.
Second, I hope this book gets into the hands of people who are NOT
politically active. It's a book I would like activists to read, and then
pass along to friends and family who aren't politically engaged, or are
not sympathetic to left values and politics. My favorite comment about
the book to date comes from the Publishers Weekly review, which said:
"It is up to the citizens of the empire, Jensen says, to 'build
movements that can transform people's opposition into political power.'
That sounds like a tall order, but Jensen's use of personal anecdotes,
analogies and in-your-face common sense makes the reading easy and his
request sound doable, even logical."
Imagine that -- a left analysis that makes political change sound
possible, and even logical! It may be a backhanded compliment, but I'll
Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at
and a founding member for the Nowar Collective www.nowarcollective.com
<BLOCKED::http://www.nowarcollective.com/> . He can be reached at
[EMAIL PROTECTED] <BLOCKED::mailto:[EMAIL PROTECTED]> .
For more information on CITIZENS OF THE EMPIRE: THE STRUGGLE TO CLAIM
OUR HUMANITY, go to http://www.citylights.com/CLpubRE.html#citizens
<BLOCKED::http://www.citylights.com/CLpubRE.html#citizens> It's always
good to buy books from independent bookstores when possible. But if you
prefer to order from Amazon.com, please consider using a program that
allows groups to earn a small percentage of books sales that go through
the group's web site. I work with a progressive grassroots organization
in Austin, TX, called the Third Coast Activist Resource Center, which
will benefit if you order through the link on our books page:
<BLOCKED::http://thirdcoastactivist.org/books.html> Just click on the
book cover to go to the Amazon.com site.
The main page of the group also is a good place to keep up with current
news about U.S. foreign policy:
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