Archive for February, 2011

Madison Is Our Cairo!

Posted in Guest Commentators with tags , , on February 24, 2011 by playthell
Workers protest in Madison
By: Dr, Peter Rachcliff

The People Take their Struggle to the Streets

With the Koch Brothers footing his campaign – and whose subservience to them has been verified by a reporter posing as one of the brothers who phoned the Governor in the heat of battle for an update on their master plan to crush public unions, recorded  the phone call, then put it on the internet – Scott Walker assumed the governorship of Wisconsin on January 7, 2011.   Predictably Walker’s first action as Governor was obeisance to the corporate class that that put him in office: he gave $140 million in tax breaks to businesses, including Wal-Mart, and then screamed “budget crisis!”

This move allowed him to introduce his “Budget Repair Bill,” which would require state workers to pay $5,000 – $7,000 a year towards their health insurance benefits and pensions. Uninformed public sector-bashing Walker supporters see this as an overdue come-down in public sector workers’ unfair advantages. But the scope of Walker’s bill is much broader than public sector wages, benefits and unions.

It is a salvo in the broader Republican war against working people and all unions, proposing radical positions in the Right’s plan to create a permanent under-class of non-unionized workers: 1) reduce public employee collective bargaining strictly to wages; 2) prohibit all public employee strikes (the National Guard is on stand-by in Madison); 3) eliminate automatic deductions for union dues; 4) limit collective bargaining contracts to one year; and finally, 5) require union members to vote each year to “re-certify” bargaining units. Of course, the bill also proposes cuts in public education and public services. And right behind Walker’s “Budget Repair Bill” is an additional bill to make Wisconsin a “Right-to-Work” state, which would severely limit the powers of private sector unions. The one-two punch.

Giddy with the alignment of Republicans behind him in the House and Senate, Walker called a special session to demand immediate passage of his “Budget Repair Bill.” Simultaneously, he sent a letter to every state worker warning that there would be no extensions of current contracts beyond March 13 – a decree which would eliminate collective bargaining. He declared all of this non-negotiable.   Walker has gotten a lot more than he refused to bargain for from the good people of Wisconsin. Resistance started with students at the University of Wisconsin who asserted their right to affordable public education. On Valentine’s Day, a thousand students marched to the Capitol and delivered cards reading: “Have a Heart. Don’t Tear UW Apart!”

Private sector and public sector union activists met in a forum the next day, committed to standing together, and called for public protests. By mid-Valentine’s Week, tens of thousands of teachers and other public employees called in sick and headed to the Capitol, joined by thousands of high school and university students. Even public employees who had been spared the changes of the proposed bill, such as fire fighters and police, joined the demonstrations. The ranks of protestors swelled from 20,000 on Wednesday to 35,000 on Thursday and an estimated 50,000 on Friday. Signs expressed their anger — “Kill the Bill!” – and also reflected their awareness of international citizens’ frustration with the “austerity” measures preached by the hoarding guardians of global capital: “I Went to Iraq and Came Back to Egypt,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Let’s Negotiate Like They Do in Egypt.”

In a rare display of legislative backbone, fourteen Democratic state legislators went AWOL and have been hiding out of reach of Wisconsin state police, denying the legislature the quorum it needs to conduct business. On the day Walker expected to be signing his bill, with 50,000 campers in the Capitol rotunda, the legislature announced its adjournment. Inspired surely by the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people standing up for regime change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and elsewhere, Wisconsinites had shut their government down.

America needs to remember who public sector workers are. Public sector workers are not on the dole: they are the worker bees of this Democracy, of the agencies which provide crucial services (roads, parks, schools, law enforcement, etc.). In 1935, during the Great Depression, when the U.S. Congress passed the Wagner Act (also known as the National Labor Relations Act), which guaranteed workers the right to unionize, three categories of workers were kept outside the law’s reach: farm workers, domestic workers, and public employees at all levels of government. While millions of private sector workers would organize for increased wages and benefits over the next two decades, positioning themselves to benefit from the economic growth of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, public sector employees fell behind.

Public employees realized the value of organization, and their membership in unions increased tenfold between 1955 and 1975. At key points in this period, public sector workers brought their lower-wage status to public attention, despite actually lacking the legal right to do so. In Memphis, Tennessee in 1968, municipal sanitation workers earning poverty wages struck. They provoked a civil rights upheaval which brought the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., to Memphis — where he was assassinated!

In 1970, tens of thousands of postal workers, some living on food stamps, struck in New York State. Their actions inspired other postal workers to strike across the country, which forced the government to reorganize the U.S. Postal Service and increase wages, recognize postal workers’ unions, allow them to bargain contracts, and institute grievance procedures and seniority systems for promotions. Public sector workers’ pressure on big city and state governments for new labor laws, recognition, and collective bargaining rights was increasingly successful. Federal employees, the outer, less-mobilized tier of public sector workers, also gained new status and rights thanks to the activism of their state and municipal counterparts.

By the late 1970s, though, the “social contract” between employers, labor, and the government was breaking. “Stagflation,” fiscal crises, and deindustrialization undercut first the manufacturing workers who made up the base of the labor movement in the private sector, and then ate at the gains of public sector workers. When Ronald Reagan fired more than 11,000 federally-employed air traffic controllers in 1981 for striking without the right to do so, he sent a signal that times had changed for all workers. Soon, deregulation, privatization, globalization, and contracting-out threatened the economic security of workers in both the private and public sectors.

This new political economy, called “neo-liberalism” because of its credo of the supremacy of the market, replaced the demand-driven Keynesian approach which had been foundational to the political economic policies from the New Deal onward. Employers increasingly turned their focus to cutting costs (energy, materials, taxes and overhead, and, especially, labor), while government, the public sector itself, became the target of media punditry and right-wing political hostility. Private sector workers faced permanent replacement if they dared to strike; strike activity declined.

In reports on “large” (more than 1,000 participants) strikes, the U.S. Department of Labor noted a drop from 300-400 strikes per year in the early 1970s to 25-35 per year in the 1990s; the current figure is less than 10 per year. Private sector employers increasingly have blocked union organizing efforts. The percentage of the U.S. unionized workforce shrank from over 30% in the 1950s to about 10% today.  The public employees and their supporters defying Governor Walker by sitting in the Capitol rotunda in Madison are crucial to our understanding of the stakes for workers in this moment and for the future. Public workers’ rate of unionization – 36% — is much higher than their private sector counterparts’ – about 7%. Public workers today make up more than half the ranks of organized labor.

Media and political advocates of neo-liberalism have encouraged more and more of the general public to think of ourselves as the “employers” of public employees rather than the recipients of the services they provide. Public workers’ compensation is derided as a drain on citizen’s taxes. Public employee unions’ bargaining strategies of deferring wages for improved benefits allows demagogues to paint these workers as the recipients of “Cadillac benefits.” As under- and unemployment grind so many in the general population down, with the attendant real fears of losing homes and dignity, the seemingly stable jobs in the public sector, with myths of inflated wages and benefits spun endlessly through the 24-hour news cycle, grate and gall.

Unions are “the anti-theft device for working people” as the saying goes – and bashing them has been central to the right-wing neo-liberal agenda in the U.S. since Reagan and PATCO. In Madison, the grassroots campaign to “Kill the Bill” is showing the world the ready alliance of all working people (95% of us) with unions, community-based organizations, faith groups and students. The Wisconsin conflict is being closely watched in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Indiana, where emboldened governors have introduced bills which would undercut public employees’ rights as well as their wages and benefits. Social networking sites reveal that people all over the world are watching Madison. One report on Monday, February 21, notes that supporters in 12 countries and 38 states have purchased more than 300 pizzas from Ian’s on State Street, to be delivered to Madison demonstrators.

Whether in Cairo Or Madison

Workers Of the World Unite!

The throngs in Tahrir Square stayed and swelled until Mubarak left the country and Suleiman stepped back from the podium. Egyptian people know they have just begun their pursuit of regime change and democratic process. In fact, it is the union movement in Egypt which now joins with the youth to propose the structure of long-term change. Yesterday, a Cairo demonstrator displayed his sign for all on Face Book and Twitter to see: “Cairo and Madison: One World. One Pain.” Through ingenuity and vision, the truth is coming out of Libya, despite a complete information blackout.

The right-wing spin on Madison as hippies trashing the Capitol is refuted hourly by images of the volunteer crews of teachers gathering recyclables and the widely-circulated Madison Police Department’s thank you to the citizens for decorum in pursuit of their right to protest. These new alliances made in the streets and rotundas are unions – spontaneous versions of the structured unions which gather workers’ concerns and advocate for them so workers can do their jobs safely and sustainably. From Madison to Cairo and beyond, as dis-organization organizes, working people are feeling their common cause and asserting their majority rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.




Dr. Peter Rachleff

Professor of Labor History

McAlister College, St. Paul Minnesota

February 24, 2011

From Rebellion to Revolution?

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on February 23, 2011 by playthell

The Righteous Wrath of the People

As the situation in Libya rapidly deteriorates we are on the verge of witnessing the first of the populist rebellions in the Arab world rapidly metamorphose into a revolution.  In fact, the activist said they want to henceforth be called “revolutionaries” not demonstrators.”  However I use “revolution” in the narrowest sense of the term: to totally overthrow a system of power and authority and replace it with another.  Yet in its more expansive meaning Revolution implies a great leap forward in the socio/economic relations of a nation, progress; the creation of a new order which dramatically elevates the standard of living and quality of life for the masses.

By this definition we cannot say for sure that what we are witnessing unfold in Libya thus far is a revolutionary change that will bring true progress to the people of that country.  As the former Regis Professor of History at Oxford, Dr. Hugh Trevor-Roper, has reminded us: one barbarian succeeding another barbarian does not make history. In other words, there must be some movement in the ideas that shape our society to signify progressive development.  Likewise, in the case of revolutions, there must be a dramatic move forward in relations between those who held power and created the conditions that led to the revolution, and those who were the victims that rose up in revolt.  In the contemporary Muslim world it is hard to know what will replace the despotisms that are being overthrown by the confused headless host we call “the people.”  What is certain is that things are quickly coming to a head in Libya, as both sides are taking up arms.

There are reports from reliable sources that certain dissident elements in the army have opened their arsenals and are arming the rebels.  Other military men are deserting their posts or refusing to follow orders – such as the two Air Force pilots who defected with their planes to Malta rather than bomb their fellow citizens. Libyan diplomats abroad are defecting from the murderous Quadaffi regime and joining the rebellion.  Clearly the process of revolution has begun.  However it takes more than guns to make a revolution; once must have a revolutionary ideology that defines radical goals. Thus far I see no evidence of this.  Beyond toppling Quadaffi, the goals of the enraged but leaderless masses are a grand mystery.

Mummar Quadaffi – the military autocrat who has ruled Libya with an iron fist during its entire period of independence from France – which spans over forty years now, has vowed not to budge from his position as President of the nation.  Dressed in weird garb and looking every bit the space cadet that he is, Quadaffi called the protestors “dope addicts,” “American agents,” “and “traitors” and called upon his supporters to attack them in their houses!   Quadaffi has also vowed to martyr himself – which means he plans go out in a hail of gunfire – rather than leave Libya and retreat into exile! From the present  stage of the burgeoning crisis it looks like something akin to a civil war is rapidly approaching.

Given the violent morass that Libyan society has become, with all authority breaking down, the guys with the guns are emerging as the deciders of the future. This may yet turn out to be a situation where the autocrat you know is preferable to the theocrat you don’t know. This has been the basis of US support for these despotisms throughout the region, and it has served American interests well….until now!  This is because such arrangements never served the interests of the people in these countries…only a select elite, who were corrupted by the nature of the deal.  America entered into a Faustian bargain with these murderous blaggards and thieves and now there’s the Devil to pay.

Pan-Arabist Mad Man Mummar Quadaffi

The Masquerade is Over: But he doesn’t get it!

Of course, when this policy of uncritically supporting tyrants in the Arab world was formulated, the communist were the enemy of choice. The US even supported Muslim fundamentalist, because they were virulently anti-communist. That’s why the US government declared the Afghan Mujahidin – who became the “Taliban” – “freedom Fighters” and the CIA ended up training Osama bin Laden in terrorist tactics to fight the Russian communist.  Since the fall of communism the American elite quickly found another enemy, the Islamic Jihadists, which American policy largely created.

Not simply by their clandestine training and arming of Muslim forces to fight the Russian atheists in Afghanistan, but by the decision to garrison American troops in Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden, a man worth hundreds of millions who walked away from a life of luxury to fight for Al Islam, was enraged by the presence of swine eating infidels on sacred Muslim soil where the Khabba, Islam’s holiest shrine, is entombed.  This is when Osama declared the Saudi Royal family to be apostates and declared Jihad against them and their allies. As the foremost supporters and protectors of this moribund medieval regime we were first on his hit list!  The manifestation of his wrath was rained upon us on 9/11.  And thanks to the Republican blunders posing as tough guys “Osama been forgotten” is still running around in the mountains

However in the eyes of the Jihadists all of the regimes in the Islamic world who are not living under Sharia law are apostates!  Yet the only nation in the world that is living under Sharia, Iran, is also unacceptable to Al Qaeda because they are Shiites rather than Sunnis!  This kind of thinking is a measure of the madness we face in trying to evaluate the situation in the Middle East.  That Quadaffi is a mad man is apparent to anyone who does not suffer with madness themselves; yet he has maintained stability in a nation crisscrossed with clan loyalties and potential religious conflicts based on esoteric theological disputes that date back to the glory days of the Islamic Caliphate in the middle ages.

While right wingers in the US argue that the US shouldn’t support the popular movement sweeping the Arab world because they have been faithful US puppets to US interests, they offer no policy options to counter the policies of the Obama Administration. This is because their cupboard is bare; they don’t have any alternative options.  They fact is that the US is a helpless giant, a colossus with feet of clay, when faced with the present popular democratic upheavals in the Mid-East.  We are already bogged down in quagmires in two Muslim countries which we are trying our best to extricate ourselves from with some semblance of military honor.  So it is apparent to this writer that any thought of military intervention to suppress the popular uprisings is an insane and self destructive fantasy.

However the mindless cheerleading on the left, where the argument is that President Obama should inject the power and prestige of the US into this internal crisis of the Arab world, standing firmly on the side of the raging mobs, may also prove to be a castle built on shifting sands. The assumptions upon which this course of action is justified are as intellectually shaky as the mindless ranting on the right. With a Psychotic megalomaniac like Quadaffi anything can happen. For instance, he is quite capable of blowing up the oil pipe lines, which would drive oil prices through the roof and spark an economic crisis throughout the world.  Alas, preventing this from happening has been the principal objective of American policy in the region.  It is the source of all our sins against the Arabs…which are myriad and now have come back to plague us.

Portrait Of A Madman!

He has vowed to turn the streets red with blood!!


Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 23, 2011

It’s Time for A National Strike!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , on February 21, 2011 by playthell

Union Workers Demonstrating in Wisconsin


Notes on the Class War

As strange as it seems, I get the feeling these days that we could well be witnessing the demise of the American labor movement.  One thing is for certain; there right-wing forces led by the Republican Party, and their Tea Party storm troopers, who are determined to destroy the right to collective bargaining in the United States.  We saw this clearly when they tried to use the financial crisis to abrogate United Auto Workers’ contracts with the auto industry. This would have destroyed one of the largest unions in the private sector.  Only the resistance of the Democrats prevented this from going down.

The frontline in this fight to preserve organized labor just now is Wisconsin, a quintessential union state where the newly elected Republican Governor, Scott Walker, is determined to abrogate the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions.  Tens of thousands of union members and their supporters, led by the teacher’s union, have taken to the streets. Their will to resist and fight the powers of the corporate dominated state has been stiffened by the pugnacious posture of the governor, who provoked the fight with his outrageous demands.

This new crop of Tea Party Republicans was elected to office on far right platforms and came in spoiling for a fight.  As shameless shills for the filthy rich, they are determined to break the back of organized labor by whatever means necessary.  It is clear that their disagreement with the union goes far beyond the budgetary matters that they used to provoke this fight, since the unions have capitulated to their monetary demands without a fight.  It is the right to collective bargaining – the raison d’être of labor unions – that is the sole issue under dispute.   Hence the representatives of public unions are correct in their conclusion that the governor is out to destroy unionization of the public sector in Wisconsin, they are also right in their decision to fight!

Fireman March In support of Fellow Workers

Some of the unions that supported Walker like the firemen and Police, whom he deviously exempted from the proposed law to abrogate collective bargaining rights, are now coming out against him; casting their lot with fellow unionist.  For instance, when the leader of the fireman’s union, a Mr. Mitchell, was told that the Governor had 19, 000 e-mails from “the silent majority” in Wisconsin he cynically replied “Wow—19,000! That’s cute. If I had a cat, it could cough up 19,000 anti-Walker emails right now.” Then he looked around at the burgeoning crowds and observed: “I think I have 19,000 people behind me,” said Mitchell. Pointing to one edge of the massive audience arrayed before him, he said: “And 20,000 there.”

Tracey Fuller, President of the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association, issued a statement condemning Governor Walker’s actions in which he openly expresses regret for having supported him in the past election.  Written in capital letters for emphasis Mr. fuller said:”I SPECIFICALLY REGRET THE ENDORSEMENT OF THE WISCONSIN TROOPER’S ASSOCIATION FOR GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER.  I REGRET THE GOVERNOR’S DECISION TO ‘ENDORSE’ THE TROOPERS AND INSPECTORS OF THE WISCONSIN STATE PATROL. I REGRET BEING THE RECIPIENT OF ANY OF THE PRECIEVED BENEFITS PROVIDED BY THE GOVERNOR’S ANNOINTING”

Ironically, there are probably a lot of union members in Wisconsin who are feeling the same way, as they realize that this is a mess that they made for themselves.  Hyped up by Tea Party propaganda, and having an attitude toward President Obama – whom  Rush, and Sean, and Bill and Glenn has convinced them is a “communist, fascist, racist, undercover Arab jihadist” – they voted for the Republicans just to show that elitist coon shacked up in the White House, who done  stole our country,  what’s what!  Marching behind the banner “We want our country back!” they proceeded to elect Republicans in a stampede to the right.  Well…as the bible says: “Ye shall reap what ye sow!”  Thus the mess organized labor is facing, not just in Wisconsin but across the country, may well be proof of the old political science axiom: “A people will eventually get the kind of government they deserve!

Having worked to elect these Tea Party buffoons, white workers must be asking: “what now?”  Considering the fact that the dignity of labor is being besmirched by right-wing media provocateurs, and their bargaining rights are under assault by right-wing politicians, there is nothing to do but fight!  They have literally nothing to lose but the chains that bind them to a system which throws            them away like toilet paper once they are used up.   This will be the fate of any group of workers who are deprived of bargaining rights.

In order to devise a strategy to fight this assault on their right to organize – which would throw the working class back to the dark ages before the passage of the 1937 Wagner Act – the unions must conduct a serious survey of the situation and the assess the relationship of forces arrayed against them.  Upon close inspection several things become clear: There is a conspiracy between Republican politicians and the most reactionary elements of the filthy rich, the pugnacious plutocracy, to destroy organized labor and defund the Democratic Party.  Others have written about this effort so it is well documented.

The defunding of ACORN was a terrible blow to the chances of poor and powerless people affectively participating in the political system.  Although ACORN was officially non-partisan, once the poor become politically educated they vote for the party that represents their interests – which is the Democrats.  This is clearly demonstrated in the Wisconsin case, where only the decision by Democratic lawmakers to flee into Illinois has prevented the anti-union Republican plan from becoming law.  The Republicans understand that workers educated by ACORN vote Democratic; that’s why they launched such a vicious plan of attack to discredit them.  Once they succeeded in destroying ACORN, the Republicans began to go after the main source of Democratic Party support, organized labor.

Now that the class war is out in the open, what should organized labor do?  Considering that they are arrayed against the vast wealth of the corporate class such as sinister billionaires like the Koch brothers – who are determined to turn the majority of Americans who neither belong to a union, or a union household, against them – they had better come together in a United Front and let the country know what life will be like if they elect enemies of organized labor to office.  No justice…no peace!  That must be the new marching mantra of labor.  And the best way to dramatize what this will mean is to organize a national strike!

Radical unionist need not wait for their leadership to act.  In fact, public sector unions will fare better if they are wildcat strikes!  That way the union leadership cannot be held accountable for these actions.   American workers should take a lesson from the masses of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, etc and turn to the internet and face book to organize.  They don’t need to meet anywhere; they can send all instructions by e-mail and post it on face book.  They should also set up a website that can be easily accessed from links in e-mails or posts on face book.  Organized labor has all of the elements necessary to whip up a mass movement faster than they are doing in the mid-east…all they need is the will to exercise their power!

Unions should take this moment in history to teach Americans a lesson about the power of organized labor that the nation will not soon forget…nor want to experience again.  They should put aside the usual conceit that it is only Americans who have lessons to teach the rest of the world about popular democracy, and take a lesson from the populist masses in the Middle East who are bring tyrants to heel.  One need only listen to the rancid rhetoric on the right, and the policies they are trying to implement that would render unions impotent, to know that this is a life and death struggle for unionism in America.  And the battle of Wisconsin is the frontline in what may turn out to be a protracted war with the forces of right wing reaction.

The People Seize Their House!

The workers Flood the State Capitol

Since it is obvious that the Republican assault on labor is national, Labor must respond with a national action.  It’s time to let Americans know what the country will look like when the working class decides to really fight back!  It’s time for a national strike of all unionized labor – public and private – to let the nation know that they are indispensable to the proper functioning of this country.  No justice!  No peace!!!

Keepin it real!!

How Wisconsin workers feel about their Republican Governor




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 21, 2011

Firestorm In The Persian Gulf!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , on February 18, 2011 by playthell

Protesting government violence in Bharain

On Populist Revolt and Social Media

It is clear that we are witnessing epochal change in the strategic Persian Gulf region, and it is occurring at blinding speed.  The Internet and social media have changed the way those who wish to build a mass movement communicate and facilitate organization. To appreciate the magnitude of this development, we need only consider the way mass mobilization was accomplished in the past. When Frederick Douglass was inciting Americans to rise up and abolish slavery through a mass movement, he was working with very different tools.  As any craftsman knows, one’s skills are enhanced by the tools one uses.

Men like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison – who provoked a bloody Civil War that eradicated African slavery and transformed the nation – were confined to the written word and public oratory. They had no mechanized printing presses or broadcast facilities.  After all, electricity had not been harnessed.  Thus they often composed their propaganda screeds by candlelight, writing with goose quill pens.  Then they had to set each letter in type on the printing board, swab it down with ink, and churn the broadsheets out by hand…one by one.

After this clumsy and time consuming process they bundled the papers up and delivered some to local subscribers by horse and carriage; and mailed them in bunches to churches and abolitionists organizations to be distributed to readers around the country. By the time of the Russian Communist Revolution in 1917, things had changed but little, although they had the wireless telegraph and telephones.  Communications were not much improved for the Chinese Communist, who organized the greatest mass transformative movement in history.  Although broadcasting and electric printing presses that could turn out large numbers of papers were available during the Chinese Revolution, as well as telephones, they were unavailable to guerillas hiding in the hinterland and mountains.

Mao Tse Tung, the brilliant theoretician that guided the revolution, described the movement as the moment when “the Chinese people stood up!”  But it took the Communist revolutionaries 30 years to get them to do it.  Today revolutionaries armed with the new media can send out a tweet, or post an instruction on Facebook, and speak to millions of people instantly!  This development represents a quantum leap in the ability of skilled organizers to mobilize masses of aggrieved people looking for a way to actively express their grievances.  It is proving to be an irresistible force.

Although the princes and potentates who rule the Persian Gulf despotisms may try to disconnect from the internet, there is no guarantee that they shall succeed.  The Egyptian government managed to shut down the internet by disabling the computers that route Egyptian users to the World Wide Web; but they had to restore use after a few days because it was wreaking havoc on the Egyptian economy. It is estimated that Egyptian businesses lost millions of dollars during the five day shutdown.  In the aftermath  computer engineers in Egypt have been analyzing every aspect of what happened, and they are looking for ways to prevent it from happening again.

There are many ways to access the World Wide Web, and legions of brilliant guerilla hackers will readily come to their aid in getting around government attempts to block access.  Only the Chinese seems have the means to block the internet at will, by erecting  an insurmountable firewall.  That’s why the desperate despots in the Gulf are doing a macabre dance in the dark trying to figure their next move.  As my grandfather would say: “Them boys don’t know whether to shit or go blind!”  And neither does the US government; who was caught off guard by these mass populist revolts just like their allies in the Gulf Shiekdoms.

On top of all the other mess he inherited from his predecessor, which includes two full scale wars in the region, President Obama is now confronted with the possibility that the entire American empire in the Middle East could crumble while he can do nothing but watch!   This Mid-East mess might well prove to be his undoing as well as the Arab despots; who are the lynch pin of American policy in the region.  Already we can see the scenario unfolding by which this could happen, as right wing verbal arsonists on WABC radio and FOX Television spew out lunatic conspiracy theories which place President Obama in league with the Islamic Jihadists plotting to destroy America.

As absurd as such accusations are – Frankly, I think they are an abuse of the right of free speech and border on treason – there are millions of ignorant racist whites who believe every word of these scurrilous lies.  Even the Republican pollster Frank Luntz was shocked, when half a room of Republicans he recently surveyed said they believed President Obama is a secret Muslim, and that it determines his foreign policy choices in the Middle East.  What is even more disturbing is that the percentage of people in the survey group who believe this dangerous nonsense reflects the opinion of Republicans nationally.

As disappointing as the response of rank and file Republicans are, the real scandal in all this was pointed out by former General Colin Powell.  “So what if the President is a Muslim?” he asks.  He then pointed out that a trip to military cemeteries’ will reveal the names of Muslim/Americans who have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan – which are obviously Muslim countries.  Hence to argue that to be a Muslim implies disloyalty to the US is a slap in the face of all Muslims fighting in the US military.  Especially since this is a sacrifice that many of the so-called Tea Party “patriots,” who are driving the Republican agenda, have not seen fit to make in spite of their jingoistic rhetoric.

Alas, the wise General’s advice fell on the deaf ears of these hard core racists, whose hatred of the President and paranoia about Muslims – many of whom look like they could be the brothers of Barack Hussein Obama – have driven them into a dream state divorced from reality and stuck on stupid!  The tragedy of this state of affairs is that this kind of Muslim bashing is a great recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. It proves their claim that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are essentially a clash of religions, a modern crusade by the Anglo-Saxons and their minions.  Even Saddam Hussein, an avowed foe of the Islamic Jihadists, said as much:” Our problem is with the Anglo-Saxons.”

These people, whose choice for President, John McCain, bragged about not knowing how to send an E-mail, still don’t fully understand the power and global reach of the Internet. They don’t grasp the fact that the “World Wide Web” brings us all together in a global village where we instantaneously experience events happening on the other side of the world.  Hence the slanders and insults that Republicans, and the untutored racist mob that support them, constantly level at Muslims are instantly re-played all over the Islamic world.  They are reported on the Muslim satellite television networks like Al Jazzera and Al Arabia and broadcast to every nook and cranny of the Muslim world.  Should any Muslim fail to see the continuous broadcast of these buffoons in real time, Al Qaeda will make sure that videos featuring these clueless charlatans find their way to the Internet.

This is also true of the crimes now being committed against the demonstrators by Arab despots who are terrified by the display of people power across the Islamic Mid-East.  In Bahrain the conflict is intensified by an age old ethnic struggle as the minority Sunni aristocracy resorts to naked violence against the Shiite majority.  This is a situation that may well result in the most widespread violence we have yet seen during the present populist uprising.

As I write the soldiers have fired upon the crowds again in Bahrain, killing and wounding demonstrators and burning the tents they used to camp out at the protests sites.  The reason this is possible in Bahrain but not Egypt is instructive.  Unlike Egypt, where the army is composed of citizen/soldier conscripts, the Bahrainian army is largely composed of foreigners.  Thus while the slogan of the Egyptian protestors is “The army and the people are one,” in Bahrain the army is loyal to the King!

However, as I have observed in an earlier commentary: The dynamics of social movements are such that an increase in government violence against citizens demanding reform converts them into radical movements with revolutionary goals. We need only look at the escalation of demands from the protesters in Bahrain to observe this dynamic in action.  In the beginning of the demonstrations a few days ago the protesters were demanding democratic reforms that are taken for granted in every western country.  Now, after blood has been shed from assaults by the army and police, they are demanding the overthrow of the monarchy and a rewriting of the Constitution!

Righteous Anger In Yeman!

Instable and explosive as Nitro Glycerin

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Yemen – where President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been in office for 32 years, two years longer than Mubarak in Egypt – is no doubt propelled by the growing sense among all the oppressed populations living under Islamic despotisms that their cause is one.  The conflict here may soon surpass any violence that may arise in Bahrain, because the government is already fighting a secessionist movement and Al Qaeda cells are rampant in the country.

Thus the clashes between the anti-government demonstrators and pro-government forces presents an opportunity for armed disciplined forces like Al Qaeda and the secessionists to wreak havoc and eventually seize or subvert the leadership of this burgeoning movement.  The internet is facilitating this process, extending the power of subversive forces like never before in history.

Despite American paranoia, the primary targets of the Jihadists in Al Qaeda are the leaders of the Islamic countries that are presently in revolt.  In their eyes all of these secular leaders are apostates – i.e. heretics – who governments are violating the commandments of Allah – a point I shall elaborate on a a future commentary.  The US became a target of the Jihadists because we support these despots – especially the Saudi royal family – for our own reasons: The unimpeded flow of oil at favorable prices and maintaining the naval base at Bahrain, which is critical to strategic US objectives in the region.   Since the uprisings began the US has another critical security interests alas: How to protect almost 7,000 American military personal living and their families living there.

Given the massive resources provided by the US to the government 0f Bahrain, it is clear to everyone in the Arab world that the corrupt monarchy could not survive without American backing.  Hence when they use violence against unarmed citizens, their actions supply fuel for those who want to set fire to their corrupt regimes and blow up another American city too. The global reach of social media will insure that everybody in the region knows of the King’s crimes in real time. And they will be spurred to action against their own despots in a gesture of soidarity.

There is strength in numbers, and once the people feel their power it is a Herculean task to turn them around.  “I Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody  Turn Me Around” was one of the theme songs of the great civil rights movement that transformed American society in the mid-twentieth century from and openly apartheid country based on white supremacy, to a nation that put a black family in the White House!  When an  entire  people adopt this view in earnest, and are willing to fight and die for it, the entire anachronistic power structure of the Middle East could, like humpty dumpty, have a great fall.  And all the King’s Horses…and all the King’s Men, won’t be able to  put Humpty back together again!

This is the new reality that has every tyrant in the region looking for cover…but there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.  And, amazingly, the entire struggle that’s transforming the region is being largely directed on Facebook!




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 18, 2011

On Racism and the Arabs!

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , on February 15, 2011 by playthell

  The chief obsession of the “Arabian Nights”


 Excerpt from an essay on my Debate with Chris Hitchens

Aside from my general concern for the plight of women under Islamic fundamentalist rule – a legitimate concern for the father of two bright, feisty and independent minded daughters – there is also the question of the deeply ingrained anti-black racism that runs throughout Arab culture.  In spite of the romantic fantasies of black American Muslims who identify with Islamic civilization, the fact is that while a few black men rose to prominence in Arab Islamic civilization – and Africans built empires based on an Islamic foundation – the general image of black men in Arab culture is as slaves and sex fiends whose prowess in the boudoir beguiles their women into committing adultery and thus makes them a threat to domestic tranquility.  It is a point of view that mirrors the racial attitudes of the American south at its lowest point when black men were routinely enslaved, castrated and murdered with impunity.

This vision of black men is a fundamental theme in the epic tales A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, in fact it sets the events in motion that supplies the raison d’être for Scheherazade’s fascinating tales.The evidence can be found in the first tale of this Arabic epic, especially the famous 1850 translation by the great British explorer, adventurer and Arabist Sir Richard Burton.  Titled The Story of King Shahryar and his Brother, the tale recounts how two mythical Persian kings, Shahryar and his younger brother Shah Zaman, were driven to madness due to their discovery that both of their queens were doing the wild thing with black men in clandestine liaisons.  The depiction of these black men is that of bestial slaves, yet these women, the wives of kings, found them irresistible.

Consider the following passage, which recounts King Shah Zaman’s discovery of his wife’s infidelity when he made an unannounced return to his palace after setting out on a journey across the desert to visit his brother Shahryar.  “But when the night was half-spent he bethought him that he had forgotten in his palace somewhat which he should have brought with him, so he returned privily and entered his apartments, where he found the Queen, his wife, asleep on his own carpet bed embracing with both arms a black cook of loathsome aspect and foul with kitchen grease and grime. When he saw this the world waxed black before his sight and he said: ‘If such case happen while I am yet within sight of the city, what will be the doings of this damned whore during my long absence at my brother’s court?’ So he drew his scimitar and cutting the two in four pieces with a single blow, left them on the carpet and returned presently to his camp without letting anyone know of what had happened.”

In this passage at the beginning of the text we can see the fear and contempt for women; the racist hostility and sexual terror born of a hysterical fear of the erotic prowess of black men; and the conviction that black men should be their slaves.  All of the things I detest about Islamic Arab culture.  Even Bilal, the black man with the beautiful voice who sang the chants calling the faithful to prayer was the Prophet Muhammad’s slave.  The sexual humiliation of Arab royalty by black slaves who bone their queens is repeated a short while later when Zaman arrives at Samyrar’s kingdom and sequesters himself in a suite in the palace to grieve, unable to tell anyone of his great shame.

Then one day Shah Zaman looks out of his window and beholds: “a postern of the palace, which was carefully kept private, swung open, and out of it is came twenty slave girls surrounding his brother’s wife, who was wondrous fair, a model of beauty and comeliness and symmetry and perfect loveliness, and who paced with the grace of a gazelle which panteth for the cooling stream. Thereupon Shah Zaman drew back from the window, but he kept the bevy in sight, espying them from a place whence he could not be espied.

They walked under the very lattice and advanced a little way into the garden till they came to a jetting fountain a-middlemost a great basin of water. Then they stripped off their clothes, and behold, ten of them were women, concubines of the King, and the other ten were white slaves. Then they all paired off, each with each. But the Queen, who was left alone, presently cried out in a loud voice, ‘Here to me, O my lord Saeed!’

And then sprang with a drop leap from one of the trees a big slobbering blackamoor with rolling eyes which showed the whites, a truly hideous sight. He walked boldly up to her and threw his arms round her neck while she embraced him as warmly. Then he bussed her and winding his legs round hers, as a button loop clasps a button, he threw her and enjoyed her.”  Shocked to the quick Shah Zaman laments, “My brother is a greater King among the Kings than I am, yet this infamy goeth on in his very palace, and his wife is in love with that filthiest of filthy slaves. But this only showeth that they all do it and that there is no woman but who cuckoldeth her husband.”

After one more experience involving a sexual tryst between a white Arab woman and a giant black “Jinni” with magical powers, the brothers conclude that there is nothing a man can do to prevent being dishonored by the sexual promiscuity of women.  So they decided to return to their kingdom and behead every woman after deflowering her.  Only in this way can they be sure their manly honor would not be disgraced.  That’s how Scheherazade came to tell these tales for a thousand nights; by leaving the king on a cliff hanger – ala modern soap operas – he would be so anxious to hear the next episode he would order that she be kept alive for another night.

This text is obviously the product of a culture that is racist, sexist/paternalistic, and terrified of black masculinity.  Thus it is not a culture I care to champion. For one thing, the hysterical fear of black male sexual prowess led to the practice of genital mutilation of black men.  In the American south castration was employed as a punishment for black men charged with certain offenses and its objective was pacification through terror.  But in the Islamic world it was a routine practice that created a class of black eunuchs.

There is also the reference to King Shah Zaman ruling over a “barbarian kingdom,” which is how they referred to non-Islamic peoples – especially peoples with polytheistic religions as was to be found all over Africa.  That they were not alone in this attitude in the world of the middle-ages does not mitigate their racist attitudes toward black people in my eyes.

The ancient Chinese who built the Great Wall saw themselves as the “Middle Kingdom,” the civilized center of the earth and all else the Barbarian fringes – including the England of George III, whom a 18th century Chinese Emperor addressed in an official communiqué as “O Barbarian King” when refusing George III’s entreaties to engage in trade with China.   But the Chinese’s ethnocentrism led them to wall themselves off from the rest of the world, not invade and colonize the lands of others like the Europeans and the Arabs.  Thus as a black man looking back on the history of my people with a Duboisian second sight, I wish a plague upon both their houses!

I recognize quite clearly that the Europeans and Arabs share a history of racist exploitation and violence against black people that continues in various forms until today.  In his comprehensive and timely book on the history of African slavery in the Islamic world, The Other Black Diaspora, Professor Paul Segal concludes “Both Christianity and Islam asserted the unique value of individual human beings, as created by God for his special purposes.  Yet, for their own special purposes, Christian and Muslim societies long sanctioned the capture, sale, ownership and use of men, women and children from black Africa.  We can never know the extent of the human cost.  Millions lost their lives…..”

The role of the Islamic Arabs in the African holocaust was first documented by the venerable Howard University historian Chancellor Williams in his book The Destruction of Black Civilization.  On several occasion I heard Dr. Williams argue that “black people should view the star and crescent the way Jews view the Swastika!”   There is also an extensivescholarly literature on the role that Jews played in the African slave trade and plantation slavery in the Americas.  A devastating portrait of the role Jews played in the enslavement of Africans in Dutch Guyana can be read in the first hand accounts of the Dutch slave hunter John Steadman: Narrative Of My Five Year Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam.


This blood stained legacy continues to influence relations between black Africans and these predatory Caucasian peoples at this very hour. Just look at the tragedy in the Sudan, where mixed blood Afro-Arabs who look like Colin Powell, a Caribbean mulatto – is engaging in attacks against black Africans that even so reasonable a man as Powell has called “genocide.”  However I notice that Mr. Hitchens’ voice has been tepid, if not dramatically silent, in calling for armed intervention in this crisis, although hundreds of thousands of lives could be lost in short order.

Arab Progressives?

Col. Ghadafi and President Nasser

Furthermore, I have found that even those Arab leaders who were considered “revolutionary” or “progressive,” like Colonel Kwadafi of Lybia, often hold condescending paternalistic attitudes toward African peoples.   One need look no further than his theoretical essay “The Blacks” which is a part of the Colonel’s political philosophy and global vision laid out in The Green Book, which is Libya’s version of Mao’s Red Book. In the early years of the African Independence movement, when a spirit of “Third World” solidarity was in the air, visionary leaders like Egypt’s Abdel Nasser and Ghana’s Kwame Nkruma sought to address the problem of Arab/African alienation and conflict by having Nkrumah take an Egyptian wife.   One presumes that it was not suggested that the Arab president take a black wife because Colonel Nasser was already married.  It was a well intended gesture but the extent to which this official Arab/African marriage accomplished its diplomatic mission remains a mystery.

A misguided  attempt  at African- Arab Unity?

Osaygefo Dr. Kwame Nkruma: First President Of Ghana with Arab Wife

Many Afro-American’s strongly identified with Arab militants in the Algerian Revolution due to the influence of the movie The Battle of Algiers and Franz Fanon’s searing treatise The Wretched of the Earth, written in the heat of a revolutionary war against French colonialism that lasted seven years and cost one and a half million Algerian lives.  But during the “World Festival of African Art” held in liberated Algeria, the world class saxophonist and Professor of music Archie Shepp recalls that black American males physically ejected Arab men from their parties and forbade them to return until they agreed to bring their Arab girlfriends to the party.  Well, that’s the last they saw of Yusef and Ramadan!  They disappeared almost as fast as the memory of the critical role black Fanon played in Algeria’s revolution.

Dr. Franz Fanon: Theoretician Of the Algerian Revolution

Anti-black racism is deeply embedded in Arab culture, and it remains to be seen if it will ever disappear.  The confessions I heard of repentant Arab slave masters and escaped black slaves at a meeting I attended along with Stanley Crouch at Columbia University a few years ago was not encouraging in this regard.  Sponsored by the international anti-slavery organization I Abolish!, it was an incredible eye opening experience.  Americans think of African slavery as a thing of the distant past, but not so in the Arab world, which has continuously engaged in enslaving Africans for 800 years and counting.  For Europeans, African Slavery was practiced for four centuries then it was history; but by some estimates there are still several million black slaves in the Islamic Arab world today.

The reformed Arab slave masters we heard from on this occasion were still in their twenties, and they confessed that they had concluded enslaving black people was wrong only after studying in France and learning about the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, which abolished slavery in France back in the 18th Century.  Thus it was not from the teachings of Islam that they were persuaded that slavery was wrong, but the ideas of the French enlightenment!  They also told a shocked audience that their parents thought they had lost their minds when they came back from France and told them that enslaving Africans was wrong.Another young Arab man told how he had lived all over the Arab world while growing up because his father was a diplomat.  He also told us how he had seen African slaves in every country they lived in except Iraq, because Saddam Hussein had outlawed the practice before they moved there!

Black Women In Maruitania Today

The victims of racial oppression and slavery!

According to to a January 6, 2011 statement from Human Rights Watch: “The Islamic Republic of Mauritania has more slaves per capita than any other nation on Earth… According to UN reports – confirmed by our Mauritanian abolitionist allies – slaves in Mauritania are the wholly owned property of masters, passed on through their estates, like furniture or cattle. Slave girls are given as wedding gifts.”


** These are the facts I intended to present if Christopher Hitchins attempted to cloud the issue by accusing me of being an ally of the Arab Jihadists during our debate on the Iraq War at the Great Hall in Cooper Union.  ( The debate can be seen on You Tube”)    He had effectively accused the British Parliamentarian George Galloway of this in a July 11, 2005 op-ed essay published in the rabidly right-wing New York Post titled “London: Stoics and Scalawags.” It was a hysterical screed covering half the page, and Hitchins shamelessly dubbed the MP “Saddam Hussein’s chief propagandists in Britain.”

The commentary above is an excerpt from my 110 page essay titled” The Emperor’s New Clothes: Notes on My Debate with Christopher Hitchens, a Silver Tongued Sophist!”  I was saving the essay to publish as part of a book, but since the great intellectual warrior has been diagnosed with terminal cancer I shall soon post the entire essay, which is a complex, multifaceted, intellectually rigorous  critical treatise.  However because of it’s length I may have to post it on a separate web site. Whatever pturns out to be the case, I’ll post a notice on facebook.

Double Click to hear Dr. Clarke lectures on Arab Racism

To hear a learned lecture on the Arab slave trade in Africans double click on link

This lecture is based on a wide range of authoritative sources including Arab scholars



The Evidence of Islamic Afro-Arabs Enslaving black Africans today!!!!




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 15, 2011

Rebellion Or Revolution?

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , on February 13, 2011 by playthell
David Throwing Stones at Goliath: Can he bring the giant down?

Notes on the Egyptian Crisis

Everywhere one turns we hear about the “revolution” in Egypt.  The partisans of this point of view premise their argument on the rather astonishing fact that President Honsi Mubarak has resigned his office of thirty years, caving to the non-negotiable demands of a million or more demonstrators who took to the streets in boisterous marches ominously demanding his resignation.

During Mr. Mubarak’s reign Egypt has been in a constant State of Emergency, which means that the government had dictatorial powers and made short work of dissidents. Torture was standard procedure if the intelligence forces believed the suspect had valuable information but was refusing to talk.  Hence they were widely feared and hated by the Egyptian people.

What began as a measure targeted to combat dangerous Muslim fanatics became a license to harass or arrest anyone who opposed the government’s monopoly of power.  Here we see the truth of Lord Acton’s axiom on power: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!”  Since the State Of Emergency was instituted in the aftermath of the assassination of Anwar Sadat, who was President just before Mubarak, most Egyptians agreed with the decision at the time.  But it has lasted far too long.

Most of the young Egyptians who are directing the uprising today were mere babes or yet unborn when the State Of Emergency was instituted.  Hence they have experienced the oppressive police state policies of President Mubarak all of their lives, without ever experiencing the fear of Muslim fundamentalism their parents felt. Ironically, this absence of fear is due precisely to those hated policies.

In the eyes the rebellious youths in the street the Mubarak government is simply a tyrannical cabal of unelected old men who have long since outlived their mandate or their purpose. They are viewed as an oppressive anachronism; men from another century, a blast from the past, who are blocking the path to progress. They are long past retirement age, and the enraged mobs in the streets of Egypt intend to retire them promptly.

The fact that the demonstrators have forced the President to resign in a police state is impressive; but the question remains: Does this constitute a revolution?  A revolution implies the overthrow of the old order and the institution of a new regime; on the other hand a rebellion is an uprising by the people whose purpose is to reform the system.  The latter phenomenon is what we are presently witnessing in Egypt.

For instance, the “revolutionaries” seem to regard the army as their friends, and thus far the military have stood back and allowed the people to express their collective rage.  In this instance the events in Egypt remind me of the events in Iran.  The thoughtful observer is compelled to wonder if other similarities will arise in the course of events.

One thing is certain: the military is now in charge. They have dissolved parliament and suspended the Constitution.  This places all power firmly in the Egyptian army.  But how can we declare this state of affairs a revolution when these are the same people who have been running Egypt all along?  For instance the Minister of Defense, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, who commands the military, is derisively called “Mubarak’s Poodle” by many junior officers as well as the rank and file soldiers.

Every leader of independent Egypt was a career military man who came directly from commanding the military into running the government: Abdel Gamal Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Muhammad Honsi Mubarak. Thus to view a complete takeover of all state functions by the military a revolution is an illusion; all we have seen thus far is a change of uniforms, not a real transfer of power: a rebellion not a revolution.

Although the military leaders have pledged to carry out the will of the people, talk is cheap.  As always the devil is in the details, and no details about how Egyptian society will be transformed from a military dictatorship to a democratic society, where rulers will rule only with the consent of the majority of the people expressed in free and fair elections, have been forthcoming.  What is apparent from the statements of the movement’s leaders, such as they are with this headless host, is that they are fairly clueless about matters of state power and what can emerge from the hurly burly of political struggle.

Among the most powerful voices to emerge from the dissidents is a collection of medical doctors, a business executive, and a couple of Nobel Laureates, one of whom is a Professor of chemistry.  Only Muhammad El Baradei, who is a career diplomat who won a Nobel Peace Prize, appears to have real knowledge of politics.

There are also men like Ayman Nour of the liberal secular GHAD Party and Mohammad Badie of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Should these civilian leaders come to a parting of the ways, these people will be no match for the military strong men.  And we shall soon see how they fare when theses forces come to an impasse. Dr. EL Baradei has issued an ultimatum to the military to meet certain demands on a deadline he has set or the demonstrations will resume.

What we can say for sure is that it is in the nature of military men to seek order above all else.  The resumption of mass demonstrations could disrupt their attempt to put the affairs of state in order – which, among other things, means restoring normal economic activity since their leadership is so heavily invested in the economy – and prompt the army to use force in maintaining law and order.

This could lead to a rapid and dramatic deterioration in the love fest between the army and the forces of popular democracy that will imperil the chances for orderly change.  In every populist revolt the catalyst that propels a rebellion into revolution is the behavior of the ruling princes and powers.

The Real Power In Egypt: SOS!

Which way will the army go?

If, for instance, the military decides to employ armed force against the demonstrators, their actions could become the catalyst that transforms the reformist rebellion into a real revolution…even if the vehicle for getting there is a protracted war.  This scenario means that revolutionary change will occur over time. It is the strategy that was successfully developed by Mao Tse Tung in the great Chinese Revolution, and could well be the process by which revolution is achieved in Egypt.

Yet there is no guarantee that it will result in a liberal, secular, western style democracy.  In my next commentary I will examine the forces that make up the opposition which would supply the leaders of an Egyptian revolution, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.


Playthell  Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 13, 2011

Which Way Egypt?

Posted in On Foreign Affairs on February 9, 2011 by playthell

The Great Mosque in Cairo

It is disconcerting to hear television news anchors that barely gave a thought to Egypt, or had any real idea where it was located on the map before this uprising, now boldly prognosticating about what is going to happen there.  Like a Greek chorus they echo the line that we need only demand that President Mubarak resign and disappear and all will be well in the cradle of civilization. They cheer the present unrest and insure us the democratic revolution is just around the corner.  This is all very touching but is it sage advice?

The more I listen to the shallow ahistorical analysis of this event gushing from the mouths of media cheerleaders, the more I think we should disregard their impassioned rhetoric and Proceed with caution.  In a mass uprising that is not centrally directed by any organized party; consuming a country with no tradition of participatory democracy, it is impossible to predict a democratic outcome. Especially when the most organized force among the rebels is a fundamentalist Islamic fraternity like the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a long and antagonistic history with the Egyptian government.

It is no accident that President Mubarak was quick to blame the Brotherhood for the unrest.  This could well be the paranoia of an old soldier who came to power after the assassination of his predecessor by Muslim fanatics, and who cannot remember a time when they did not represent a danger to the secular Egyptian state.  After all, he was two years old when the Brotherhood was founded, which means that they have been a part of the Egyptian scene all of his adult life – which as spanned 82 years, covering most of the twentieth century.

Unlike the young people who are rampaging through the streets of Egyptian cities demanding an open democratic society, certain that the fundamentalists pose no problem, Mubarak remembers a time when they posed a real threat to the building of a secular society in Egypt.  In the early days of modern Egyptian history, beginning with the success of the independence movement in 1952, Islamic fundamentalism was represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, who wanted to impose Sharia law in Egypt.  Only the military prevented them from plunging the country back to the middle ages!

The Brotherhood responded by trying to Assassinate Abdel Gamal Nasser, a military officer who had been trained in Britain and admired the progressive secular modern societies he saw in Europe.  Nasser replied to the Assassination attempt by publicly hanging their leader the great Islamic scholar Sayyid Guthb.  Thus began a protracted struggle between the Islamic theocrats and the secular autocrats that has lasted til this day.  As I write the news is breaking that today’s demonstrations are the largest ever.  Hence the situation is growing more volatile by the minute and could explode in any direction.

Those who are cavalier about the chances of the Muslim fundamentalist influencing the direction this movement will take, are ignorant of the dynamics of mass movements and the nature of revolutions.  To begin with, let us consider some of the factors that are essential to the success of mass transformative movements.  The most important elements in the growth of a movement are: A real and present enemy, a complex ideology that can be expressed in power packed slogans, a means of transmitting that ideology to large numbers of people, a source of financing one’s organization, followers who are willing to engage in face to face recruiting for the cause, and great charismatic revivalist (people blessed with the gift of oratory who can move the masses with the spoken word i.e. “preachers of the message.”

Mohamed Mahdi Akef, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood

Since all mass movements are segmented in their social organization, which means that are divided into cells, the range of ideologies among the raging masses can cover a broad spectrum from the far right to the far left.  It all depends upon the nature of the movement.  Take the feminist movement for instance.  From the outset in the 19th century there were proper Christian women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who merely wanted the right to vote and have a fair chance with men to earn their daily bread and accumulate property, to radical women like Victoria Woodhull, who insisted on absolute equality for women.

She was a spiritual healer, the first woman to own a brokerage house on Wall Street – where most of her clients were madams of New York’s numerous whorehouse and their working girls, openly advocated “Free Love” and denounced marriage as a form of female prostitution where the John got the pussy and kept the money!  After the famous cartoonist Thomas Nast published a cartoon of her portrayed as a female Satan, Victoria blackmailed Henry Ward Beecher, the most celebrated Divine in the country and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, into introducing her in a lecture on “Free Love” to a standing room only crowd at in the Great Hall at Cooper Union.  She was also a newspaper publisher and threatened to expose all of the women he had screwed in his congregation on the front page of her paper!

Furthermore, Victoria completely flaunted the racial and sexual conventions of the time by running for President with Frederick Douglass as her running mate. A beautiful woman, she and Douglass, one of the handsomest men of his time, were rumored to be undercover lovers!  And she did nothing to dispel the rumors although it scandalized the proper white ladies like Susan Anthony. Yet all three of these women were legitimate representatives of “the women’s movement.” In the twentieth century the ideological spectrum of feminist thought ranges from leftist Marxist to reformist to fascist.

I’d bet my bottom dollar, even without having all the evidence at hand, that the ideological divisions within the mass populist movement in Egypt are just as dramatic…if not more so.   However from the clearly observable features of the movement certain things can be safely assumed.  We can tell what different factions are thinking by what they tell us in interviews and the slogans they employ.   We know therefore that there are educated, westernized, Cosmopolitan Egyptians like DR. El Barridi and the Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Dr. Ahmed Hassan Zewail – the the Linus Pauling Chair Professor Chemistry and Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology – who have hurried home to try and influence the movement toward a secular, liberal democracy like those in the leading nations of the West.

We also know however, that there are Islamic fundamentalists who are opposed to the very idea of the modern world; never mind the concept of liberal secular democracy.  They crop up from time to time; blowing up tourist in Egypt, smashing jumbo jets into skyscrapers in New York; commanding Al Qaeda forces: you name it!  The Egyptians have got it.  There are forces in Egypt who are organically linked to the global Jihad.  In fact, it is hard to imagine the present Jihad without Egyptians – so prominent has been their role. Then there is the Muslim Brotherhood.

The most dangerous of all the illusions is that the Muslim Brotherhood poses no danger.  Of the six elements that I mentioned which are essential to the development of a successful mass movement, the Muslim brotherhood has them all.  Plus they are the largest organized force outside of the military.  Hence no one can say with certainty that they will not emerge as a major force shaping the new Egyptian society if they are allowed to compete fairly for the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people.

Both the Bolsheviks who made the Russian Communist revolution, and the Chinese Communist Party, were small minorities of the population in their countries.  Like the communist the Muslim Brotherhood has all the ingredients for building a successful mass transformative movement. And the early twentieth Communists revolutionaries didn’t have the enormous advantages offered by Facebook and Twitter. Although people talk as if only the pro democracy forces have access to this mass communication technology, that’s a dangerous illusion!  The more fluid things become, and the traditional instruments of authority are undermined by volatile social forces, anything can happen.  Thus we should beware of those who are predicting rosy scenarios ahead for Egypt; alas it’s not nearly that cut and dry.


The Youths in The Muslim Brotherhood On the March!






Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 8, 2011

Why Some Egyptian Women Support Mubarak

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , on February 2, 2011 by playthell

Taliban Leader Mullah Omar: Is this Egypt’s future?


The democratic populist movement sweeping Islamic Arab countries in the mid-east seems to have popped up like a human tsunami; at a moment’s notice, and without warning.  It has filled autocratic leaders with anxiety from Saudi Arabia to Peking China.  However, contrary to the emerging popular narrative, this movement didn’t suddenly come out of nowhere; just as real tsunamis don’t just suddenly happen.  They are caused by a gradual buildup of powerful tectonic forces beneath the floor of a seemingly calm sea.  This is certainly the case with the massive social eruption we are witnessing in the Arab world today.

Already this movement has swept away a President in Tunisia and a Prime Minister in Lebanon. For the Mubarak regime in Egypt, which has spanned three decades, Judgment Day has also come. The verdict seems fairly unanimous: President Mubarak must go!  While the Obama Administration appears to concur with the verdict it is the sentence that worries them, and what will replace the Mubarak regime causes them deep concern.  As well it should.  And they are not the only ones who are concerned.

Yesterday we saw a demonstration by thoughtful and insightful Egyptian women expressing support for President Mubarak. Unlike those who applaud the chaos that has engulfed their country, these women fear for the future.  And why shouldn’t they?  Look at what has happened to the status of women in other Islamic countries where a secular autocrat backed by the military and secret police was overthrown. The position of women in Iran, who were involved in all aspects of the life of the country under the Shah – a secular autocrat with the best armed military in the Islamic world – plummeted after the Muslim fanatics took over. One distinguished female surgeon burned herself alive in a public square in Teheran to protest the growing oppression of women!

I heard the Doctor’s sister, who wrote a book about the surgeon’s ordeal trying to continue practicing her profession after the Islamic radicals took over, and she told a harrowing tale of life for women under Sharia Law.  The author appeared on WBAI, and the thing that left the strongest impression on me was the passion with which  American Muslim women  – especiall African Americans – denounced her for telling the truth about the lives of women under Sharia Law.  What had disturbed the American Muslims was the author’s contention that the mistreatment of women under Islamic law is rooted in the teachings of the Koran about women, something she elaborates on at lenght in a close reading of the text, and thus their oppression is inevitable wherever religious Muslims are allowed to run a country and make that country’s laws.

The record is irrefutable. When the “Northern Alliance” was formed to oppose the Taliban in Afghanistan, one of its leaders reminisced about seeing his mother and her girlfriends walking around Kabul in miniskirts during the 1960’s and 70’s.  And women were working in all kinds of professions.  When the Taliban took over women were driven from their jobs, banned from the classrooms as students or teachers, confined to their homes and forbidden to leave without male consent.  They were forced to cover themselves in veils, with only slits for their eyes, whenever they were allowed to leave the house.  Those women  who defied the Taliban’s rules were summarily whipped by men with sticks on the streets.

Before the American invasion of Iraq women were more advanced than anywhere in the Arab world.  Under Sadam Hussein there were violations of the rights of the general population, but women were not singled out for oppression and abuse the way they are in the Arab countries where Islamic ideas define gender relations.  In Saudi Arabia, America’s closest ally in the Arab world next to Egypt, women are not even allowed to drive cars!

Considering the fact that when open elections are held in Muslim countries  the Islamic parties are as likely to win as not, participatory popular democracy is a risky business, especially for women.  It is a grab bag where you don’t know what you may get!   By any objective measure the status of women in Iraq, and everywhere else in the world,  has deteriorated dramatically as Islamic groups have become more prominent.  This is why many educated women in the Arab world are worried about what these populist uprisings will ultimately bring.


Afghan Women on the Street Under Taliban Rule

What educated Egyptian women fear






Playthell Benjamin

February 2, 2011

Harlem, New York