February 4th, 2003

flavored with age

The trial of anyarab

Yesterday, an Israeli military court sentenced Nabil Okal, a Palestinian, to 27 years in prison on the charge of being trained by al-Q'aeda to set up "sleeper cells" comprised of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. The story is here, accompanied by a photo that makes Okal look appropriately animalistic.

The fact that the trial was conducted by a military court is of no small importance. As I mention with nauseating frequency, an understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict is impossible without a fundamental grasp of the conditions under which they live. In addition to facing daily curfews, ruinous travel restrictions, economic discrimination, human rights abuses, and an inability to vote in national elections, the Palestinian people are not subject to the civil laws of the country in which they live. Since they are not Israeli citizens, they are not allowed the legal protections of Israeli law, and are thus subject to a nebulous structure of quasi-legitimate legislative jurisdiction.

In civil matters, they are under the aegis of the Palestinian Authority; but since that organization has no legitimate enforcement powers, let alone the gravitas of an authentic state, it's no wonder that Palestinian areas exist in a condition of near anarchy. In criminal matters -- or, more precisely, in criminal matters involving Israel -- they are, as a matter of course, arrested, tried and judged by the Israeli military.

Is Nabil Okal innocent? I have no idea. The fact that the military has failed to disclose if he actually succeeded in recruiting anyone for his "sleeper cells", let alone whether he, or anyone affiliated with him, ever carried out any attacks against Israel, would suggest that, if nothing else, the case against him is a bit shallow. It doesn't bear up to logic either; why would he need to learn bomb-making from al-Q'aeda? The Palestinians have proven quite adept at bomb-making on their own. Alas, we'll never know; the evidence against him, as is often the case in military trials, was secret. He'll spend close to as much time in jail as he has been alive based on evidence that neither he, his defense, nor your or I will ever see.

Why do I find this case so fascinating? Well, in part because it confirms my suspicions about Israel: that our "best friend in the middle east" is a propped-up oligarchy that practices a form of discrimination against its people that is indistinguishable from apartheid. Of course, in a world where a sixteen-year-old girl is deemed an anti-Semitic monster for daring to portray Israel in a less-than-flattering light, it's wise not to pursue this point too far. But even for the most dedicated neoconservative ideologues, it's hard to avoid the contradiction inherent in claiming that the sinister Levant hates democracy, when Israel seems none too enamored of it herself.

But perhaps more importantly, this could be our future. I am loath to engage in alarmism; we may be closer to fascism than we were this time two years ago, but the slope isn't as slippery as the guys with the ski hats and George Bush marionettes would have us think. On the other hand, the foundation has been laid. The USA Patriot Act represents the single biggest incursion into civil rights since those rights were won; executive decisions regarding military tribunals, prisoners of war and the use of secret evidence have placed us on an equal footing with the kind of countries we like to mention when we're painting worst case scenarios. The government has already detained hundreds -- HUNDREDS -- of people, some of them American citizens, and is holding them without trial, without charge, without access to an attorney. And anyone who does not believe that the Bush administration will use the flimsy case against Nabil Okal as "proof" that al-Q'aeda has infiltrated the borders of our democractic friend Israel hasn't been paying very close attention.

In the end, Okal is pretty fortunate. Usually, in cases like his, the government of Israel does not waste time and money on a trial; they simply wait until the accused is out in public and pitch a helicopter-launched rocket at him, and anyone who happens to be nearby when he meets Allah must be considered an acceptable loss. I don't know what you call that, exactly; the Israelis call it "removal"; some call it "assassination"; "terrorism", I think, would be a better word for it if we didn't reserve it for people without state power backing them up. I certainly don't call it "democracy". And as long as we hope to stay a democracy, we should steadfastly avoid following the example of Israel in matters of law.
flavored with age

Strange bedfellows

I've had a lot of political problems in my life. I don't like compromise, and politics is the art of compromise. I don't like liberals, and liberals are the people closest to my own political beliefs. And I'm an anarchist, which means I have zero chance, ever, of seeing my chosen political ideals enacted in any meaningful way. But one of the most nagging problems is that of co-option.

I'm always a bit curious when someone of a particular political ideology embraces someone of the opposite political ideology because the latter happens to say something that the former agrees with. As an example, look at Martin Luther King: the right hates MLK. Perhaps not as much as they did when the FBI called him "Martin Luther Coon"; but for the most part, there's a lot more agreement in the GOP's base with Trent Lott's sentiment that America would be better off if the civil rights era had been stopped in its tracks than any of them will publicly admit. But they love to quote him, laws! If I had a dollar for every neo-conservative pundit who trots out the "judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" line, I'd be able to afford a paid LiveJournal account. They're perfectly willing to discard the fact that MLK fought his whole life for racial equality, economic justice and (for lack of a better term) affirmative action just so they can throw on his sacred mantel in defense of their own OPPOSITION to affirmative action. There's plenty of Republicans who would talk up Malcolm X if they found a quote where he said blacks were lazy irresponsible criminals.

Similarly, the left loves to dress up in tough-guy talk and quote people like Ronald Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt in order to prove that just because they're against war doesn't mean that they don't think Saddam Hussein is another Hitler. They also like to trot out fiscal conservatives when the opposition is racking up big deficits; the fact that this sort of thing blows up in their face when it's time to spend money on social programs bothers them not at all when it's time to score points off the GOP.

This sort of thing bothers me. I don't think you can win a war of words (or a war of war, for that matter) by aping the rhetoric of your opponent. It drives me to distraction when the left uses the language of hawks to defend a dovish stance, or when it trots out the tired, inaccurate 'blood for oil' cliche. The proper path of opposition is granite-like, monolithic, unchanged opposition to the war; absolute, pure, unyielding resistance that allows no praise of the arguments of hawks. There should be no "but" after "we oppose war with Iraq". It discomfits me in the extreme to be ideologically aligned with people whose argument for peace is dressed up in conciliatory words for their foes.

But on the other hand, the point of opposing the war is to oppose the war, not to make me comfortable. A successful movement to cut off a disastrous, bloody, unneccessary war is worth as many moments of personal discomfort as you can heap on me. If I thought I could end war fever tomorrow by sticking an egg up my ass while wearing nothing but a tie-dyed t-shirt, I'd raid Ben & Jerry's wardrobe closet this very hour. I shouldn't care why people oppose the war; only that they do.

In the end, though, I can't shake the feeling of discomfort. I'm an anarchist, an anti-authoritarian, a non-joiner for a reason. I unreservedly throw my support into the movement against war, but when the hollering is over, I go home and pick over my reservations one by one. Paul Craig Roberts, the leading racist plutocrat of the neo-conservative punditocracy, is, to be kind, bugshit crazy; he sweats blood over the possibility of a darkie majority in America, and writes columns where he compares taxation of the rich to antebellum slavery and concludes that the latter was a better deal. On the other hand, he's one of the few right-wingers who has made vocal and convincing arguments against the erosion of civil rights in the war against terrorism. This makes me happy; I like to see one of the opposition on my team, even if it's for entirely the wrong reasons. But it doesn't change the fact that Paul Craig Roberts is a vile, bigoted, hateful rich bastard who has wet dreams of a tiny wealthy white minority being carried around in a golden rickshaw by low-paid dusky hordes who can't vote.

I'm glad the other side is on board from time to time. I'm glad my side exists, no matter how confused and flimsy their arguments may be at times. I'll march with them; I'll stand with them. But I'll be damned if I quote them.