Linda Mamoun

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Israel Bars UN Human Rights Watchdog From Occupied Territories

"It's important not to view history as a mere creature of geopolitical forces. Popular resistance has altered the course of history. The decolonization movement, the antiapartheid movement, the movements to free the peoples of Eastern Europe from Soviet domination are all examples of struggles that seemed to defy the geopolitical structures that existed."
-Richard Falk


In the course of a scholarly life that has spanned more than five decades and includes fifty-four books and dozens more articles, Richard Falk has received a great deal of criticism--from the right and from the left. Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton, is considered one of the world's most prominent critics of US interventionism. This distinction alone would explain why he is disliked by many foreign policy hawks. But some of Falk's positions in recent years--such as his support for the US invasion of Afghanistan and his call for an independent investigation of 9/11--have also drawn the ire of those on the left. More controversial than anything, perhaps, has been his criticism of Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza. Our conversation addressed all of these issues, homing in on Falk's appointment in March by the United Nations to be the special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories.

Falk is the very model of a distinguished academic. He has a habit of carefully nodding his head as he talks. There is a measured cadence in his speech, which suggests a sense of calm. Falk knows that he won't be The Decider in future peace negotiations, but he hopes that his investigation of Israel's occupation policies will provide the international community, and the next administration, with information that will support those negotiations. Looking ahead, Falk remarked, "The new American President will be challenged by the legacy of the Bush approach to the Middle East but also presented with opportunities to move forward--but only if future policies are based on respect for international law."

In addition to serving on a UN Human Rights Inquiry Commission for the Palestinian Territories in 2001, Falk has been a visiting distinguished professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This past year he also held the Leo Block Professorship at the University of Denver Korbel School of International Studies. I spoke with him after a series of lectures in Denver on academic freedom, global governance and the occupation of Iraq.

Linda Mamoun: Last year you wrote a widely circulated article, "Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust." Since the article's publication you have been assailed for using "extraordinary language" in criticizing Israeli policy, most recently in a BBC interview.

Richard Falk: The BBC interview as it was broadcast eliminated some things I said that were qualifications. The references to the Holocaust and to the Nazi policies were not meant to be literal comparisons but were intended to show that the policies being pursued, in Gaza in particular, had holocaustal implications if they were not changed. And the mind-set of holding an entire people responsible for opposition and resistance embodies a kind of collective punishment psychology that was very characteristic of the way the Nazis justified what they did to the Jewish people. But my intention was based on the feeling that you have to shout to be heard, and perhaps that was not the best way to make the argument. I would be quite prepared to abandon that terminology but not prepared to alter my concern about the character of the policies being pursued.

LM: In your role as special rapporteur, you will report to the new UN Human Rights Council. How do you respond to those who say that this agency is, to quote the April 24 issue of The Economist, "just as politicised, and just as intent on one-sided Israel-bashing, as its predecessor"?

RF: The question implies that John Dugard, the prior special rapporteur, was engaged in "one-sided Israel bashing." But Dugard, a distinguished professor of international law, is admired throughout the world for his nonpartisan professionalism. It is being objective to report the facts as they are and then to interpret them from the perspective of international humanitarian law. If these facts point to the persistent violation of international rules, then their legal interpretation is bound to be one-sided and critical of the violator. It's diversionary to dismiss a critical account of contested behavior because it is not "balanced." If the reality is unbalanced, so must its assessment be.

LM: So you're saying that Dugard's reports were balanced. Is the UN's global approach balanced? More specifically, has the Human Rights Council established itself as an organization that investigates human rights abuses in a broad range of conflict zones, or is there some truth to the assertion that it singles out Israel?

RF: The Human Rights Council is often accused of being overly selective, too critical of Israel, too lenient with respect to a variety of Third World countries. There is no doubt that any political institution will establish priorities based on the concerns of its membership. From this perspective it's not surprising that a focus should be placed on Israel and the Palestinian plight. After all, the UN has a special responsibility for Palestine that goes back to its effort to partition the mandate for the territory in 1947. From the UN perspective this unconsummated effort to address the future of both Palestinians and Israelis is, in a sense, the greatest unresolved issue on the UN agenda. Beyond this, the prolonged Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is unprecedented in international experience and has produced immense Palestinian suffering. It should also be noted that the HRC has appointed special rapporteurs for other situations of severe human rights concern, including North Korea and Myanmar.

It would be unforgivable if the Human Rights Council overlooked charges of Israeli violation of international humanitarian law. Limitations of resources, geopolitical pressures and blind spots help explain why some other situations involving serious human rights abuse are not addressed with comparable seriousness. But my experience suggests that the HRC entrusts its special rapporteurs with complete freedom to report on a given situation and demands that they adhere to professional canons of impartiality in the discharge of their official duties.

LM: In April Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Arye Mekel, reacted to your appointment as special rapporteur, saying, "If he already believes Israel is like the Nazis, how fair will he be?" But the Israeli government and the Bush Administration routinely liken Hamas to the Nazi regime. Just recently, the Bush Administration compared dialogue with Hamas to appeasement of the Nazis. The irony of these statements has not been lost on those witnessing Israel's siege of Gaza, a siege that bears a striking number of similarities to past sieges widely condemned.

RF: Israel has been long relying on various forms of collective punishment to carry out its occupation policy. Collective punishment is not just a response to the Hamas victory in the elections of 2006. It's an extension of that. And it definitely seems in the Gaza case to have the intention of creating a set of political effects that, at minimum, destroy Hamas as a political movement and possibly, more ambitiously, induce Palestinians to give up their struggle by provoking feelings of abject humiliation and helplessness.

LM: What do you hope to achieve as special rapporteur?

RF: My hope, and the reason I accepted what I knew to be a difficult assignment, is to try as best I can to portray the human impacts of the policies being pursued by Israel in the course of the occupation, and to assess those policies by reference to applicable standards of international humanitarian law. And to do this as honestly and objectively as I'm capable of doing. Israel's official response to my appointment is to declare that it will not allow me to enter Israel or the Palestinian territories. This constraint, if it remains in effect, will, of course, limit my exposure to the direct realities. But I think it's quite possible to perform this role without that exposure. Barring my entry complicates my task but doesn't make it undoable.



LM: Do you think that Israel's decision will change?

RF: Well, I hope it will change, but I don't have any present reason to expect the Israeli government to change its position.

LM: This brings us back to the many challenges of global governance. How does the investigation of Israeli policies in the occupied territories fit into the construct of global governance?

RF: Well, I think that it's part of what I would call the normative architecture of world order. There is an attempt to monitor, from a human rights and international humanitarian law perspective, certain sensitive conflict zones in the world. One of the most sensitive conflict zones, perhaps the most sensitive conflict zone, is occupied Palestine. In that sense, one could argue that this is a minimal effort to expose a wider segment of the world to the realities of what this occupation entails.

Global governance is a construct that is understood in many different ways. Certainly one aspect is the assessment of compliance with international humanitarian law. I suppose one way of describing my role is to monitor that compliance or identify areas of violation or noncompliance.

LM: Certain UN organizations seem to be much more successful than others. The World Food Program and the World Health Organization, for instance, have been extremely successful over the years. But human rights efforts, particularly with respect to Israel and Palestine, have historically been quite unsuccessful. Is that a direct result of US influence?

RF: Yes, there is no question that the UN is at its weakest when it encounters important geopolitical opposition, and the United States is responsible for organizing that geopolitical opposition in relation to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So it does expose the UN to vulnerability. A kind of geopolitical veto power exists that definitely limits what the UN can effectively do within its mandate to uphold international human rights.

At the same time, a lot of political developments have occurred that defy the political will of the United States and defied expectations of observers of the global scene. No one anticipated the peaceful transformation of South Africa. No one anticipated the defeat of the United States in the Vietnam War or its defeat in the current Iraq War. It's important not to make the opposite error, which is to view history as a mere creature of these geopolitical forces. Popular resistance has altered the course of history. The decolonization movement, the antiapartheid movement, the movements to free the peoples of Eastern Europe from Soviet domination--all are examples of struggles that seemed to defy the geopolitical structures that existed. So I think it's important to appreciate the obstacles but not to be too intimidated by them.

LM: Do you see a fair resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within your lifetime?

RF: I couldn't predict a just solution for the Palestinian self-determination struggle within my lifetime. On the other hand, some of these historical developments that I've mentioned, I couldn't have predicted either. So I'm quite aware of the limitations of historical foresight. And therefore I believe the struggle to achieve a more just resolution of the conflict is worthwhile precisely because we don't know what will shift the balance of opposed forces in such a way as to make possible what had seemed unlikely, if not impossible, from an earlier point of view.

It's not out of the question for there to be developments in Israel that will make its leadership more receptive to a genuine solution. A lot can happen in a situation as complicated as this that defy our pessimism about what is possible at the present. This doesn't mean that we have any basis for being unduly optimistic. It just means that there is sufficient uncertainty and many reasons to be disturbed by the present set of circumstances. So there is a strong case to be made for doing all that is possible to ensure a better future for the Palestinians and the Israelis.

LM: Although there doesn't seem to be much cause for optimism here in the United States, many of us are wondering if the next administration will forge a new path in its policy toward Israel and Palestine.

RF: I don't see very many positive prospects. Despite the pretensions of being a constitutional democracy, we've basically created a structure of affinity with Israel that disallows mainstream political figures to question that affinity even in constructive ways. So I don't have the political imagination to see how any of these candidates will, when they occupy the presidency, have either the courage or the incentive to challenge this very constraining public opinion. But America is not the world, and there's much more open debate elsewhere, including even in Israel. And one shouldn't underestimate the degree to which the furious response to Jimmy Carter's efforts to engage Hamas is partly an acknowledgment of the importance of what he's saying and doing. One shouldn't endow the hostile reactions with supremacy over the public discourse. And Carter hasn't entirely been shut out in the mainstream media. He was interviewed by Larry King. He was given a lot of coverage in op-eds for the New York Times and the Washington Post. So the reaction to what he's been doing and saying is a much more mixed one, I think.

There is growing uneasiness underneath this unconditional support for Israel. There is a kind of uneasiness that US policy isn't really in America's national interest, and it's not a just policy. This has made the organized pro-Israel forces very nervous, so they are extremely reactive to any sign that the American consensus, on an official level, is being challenged. But I wouldn't exaggerate their success in dominating the public space.

LM: Because of your own statements in the public sphere over the years, you have the honor of being included in David Horowitz's list of the 101 Most Dangerous Academics. Would you say that your statements have had the desired effect?

RF: Well, I hope that they have allowed more people to appreciate some of the neglected and controversial aspects of what is taking place. To the extent that I consider myself a person dedicated to knowledge and to a scholarly life, my statements are guided by a commitment to truth-seeking, both within the university and within society. And this extends especially to issues that are not being addressed truthfully by the media or by the governmental institutions that are responsible for forming national policy.

LM: One such issue: you have said that there is reason to question the government's official explanation for 9/11. How has the left reacted to your skepticism?

RF: I think that there is a great deal of suspicion directed at anyone who is skeptical about the official explanation for 9/11. I have not, in fact, been very much involved with the so-called 9/11 truth movement. By coincidence, I happen to be a longtime friend of a man named David Ray Griffin, a much-respected philosopher of religion, who has become convinced that the official explanation is false. I have a lot of respect for him, and I wrote the foreword to his original book, The New Pearl Harbor. But that's really the extent of my involvement. I don't have an independent view on how best to understand the 9/11 attacks. I haven't looked at the evidence sufficiently to say more than that the 9/11 Commission didn't do a good job of dispelling the several plausible grounds for suspicions that exist. There are unanswered questions that deserve to be answered, and the public should have the benefit of that kind of clarification.

The left particularly is nervous about being seen as supportive of conspiracy theory. And to the extent that there is an incentive to discredit my role--partly because of the Israel/Palestine context-- there's also a tendency to exaggerate my involvement with this set of issues. But if you look carefully at what I've been writing and what I've been doing, you'll see that I've really had very minimal contact, and I've not been involved in the 9/11 movement at all. Some people have tried to get me involved, and I've resisted, not because I don't think it's important to raise these issues but because they're not my own priorities.

LM: Your current priorities, I assume, involve the monitoring efforts in Palestine. In your lectures, you have suggested that a prerequisite for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the resolution of the US war in Iraq.

RF: I wouldn't say that the resolution of the Iraq War is a prerequisite so much as it provides a better atmosphere for diplomacy addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Closer to a prerequisite is a change in the political climate in Israel, particularly a change in the leadership. As far as I can tell, the Palestinian leadership, even the more radical Palestinian leadership associated with Hamas, would be receptive to Israeli diplomatic moves that combined a withdrawal from the occupied territories with the establishment of a long-term cease-fire. Conditions are, in many respects, ripe for creating a better short-term reality for both peoples and better long-term prospects for security and peace.

LM: Last question: how does Afghanistan fit into the geopolitical picture, and is it correct to say that your position on Afghanistan has changed since the US invasion?

RF: As far as Afghanistan is concerned, I wrote some articles after the 9/11 attacks that supported the belief that the Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan posed a continuing threat. In my opinion, this provided the United States with a reasonably convincing rationale under international law for attacking Afghanistan, particularly given the very limited legitimacy that the Taliban government possessed. It was only recognized by three governments in the world, and two of them withdrew their recognition after the 9/11 attacks. The one country that maintained a diplomatic connection, and that only for the sake of convenience, was Pakistan. Other Islamic states had no diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, including Iran. That said, I think the way the war was prosecuted was very disturbing--legally, morally and politically. And I now think that the quick embrace of a war paradigm by the US government in response to 9/11 was a very fundamental mistake in responding to the threats posed by the attacks.

In a broader sense, Afghanistan launched the neoconservative post-9/11 grand strategy. It's important to appreciate that this strategy was not focused on counterterrorist objectives but seemed to focus on establishing American control over the Middle East for reasons of oil, nonproliferation policies, long-term protection of Israel and containment of political Islam. These goals depended on victory in Iraq, which now seems unlikely.

Future policy should promote a regional security framework that includes Israel and Iran, and should be based on a prohibition of all weapons of mass destruction, including those currently possessed by Israel. The policy should move toward a far more balanced approach to peace between Israel and Palestine, an approach that either envisages a single democratic state for both peoples or two equally sovereign states that could come into being only after the Israeli settlements were substantially dismantled and the Israeli security wall totally removed from Palestinian territory.

The Farrakhan Distraction

Monday began with President Clinton firmly denouncing Mr. Farrakhan and ended with Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich both following suit and attacking Mr. Clinton for not denouncing Mr. Farrakhan by name. Perhaps tomorrow Phil Gramm will accompany his attack on Mr. Farrakhan with an attack on Mr. Dole for not attacking Mr. Farrakhan at greater length. The game can be played indefinitely with short-term political profit, since no white candidate is ever going to lose by decrying the Nation of Islam. But what exactly is being accomplished? Yes, Mr. Farrakhan is a menace and must be watched vigilantly. Still, white America makes a fetish of him at its own peril.

The passage above was written by New York Times columnist Frank Rich on Oct. 18, 1995, two days after the Million Man March. Just weeks after the impassioned O.J. Simpson trial, millions around the country watched the televised rally, hearts beating with trepidation, vicarious adrenalin flowing, as hundreds of thousands of black men led by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan convened on the Capitol. The march was a major success for Farrakhan. Participation was high, and in the months following the march, grass-roots efforts to increase black male voter registration and community involvement paid off. But Farrakhan himself wasn't able to claim the national spotlight again for almost 13 years. Not until his name was bandied about before a national television audience during Tuesday's MSNBC Democratic primary debate.

Watching the debate, it appeared that Sen. Hillary Clinton had learned from her husband's rhetorical mistakes after the Million Man March. She was now the one denouncing her rival for failing to denounce Farrakhan strenuously enough. But her rival, a man who has spent his life challenging social divides, is running a campaign for the presidency that threatens to undermine many of our nation's divisions, and in the process, hate speech itself, whether it emanates from Farrakhan or from someone else. Which is why all of the attempts to torpedo Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign are of serious concern.

Denouncements and their opposite, endorsements, serve as ideological cues for voters deciding among political candidates. They're a way to transmit information about a candidate's ideological leanings, not only within an organization but also to other voters in the general electorate. In the presidential nominating contests, an endorsement by an important labor union would presumably compel a large swath of liberal voters to support a particular candidate. In contrast, an endorsement by Louis Farrakhan, a known anti-Semite, would likely encourage only a small subset of voters while repelling, or at least provoking uncertainty in, the vast majority of others. With this same logic, one would think that a denouncement of Farrakhan would have mass appeal. It might alienate the thousands scattered across the country who respect Farrakhan, but a strong enough condemnation would resonate with the millions who detest him and garner support from the politicians, media and other opinion leaders who blithely force the Farrakhan litmus test year after year.

People watching the Democratic primary debate on Tuesday may not have heard about Farrakhan's speech two days earlier at the annual Nation of Islam convention and his strong words of praise for Obama, and few would have considered its impact. But co-moderator and NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert spelled it out quite clearly. Russert's repeated questioning of Obama on the endorsement and his relationship to Farrakhan was felt by many to constitute the debate's most cringe-worthy moment. If Russert had moved on after his initial question about Obama's relationship with Farrakhan, that would have been standard fare. But he didn't.

Since Obama answered Russert's initial question in unequivocal terms -- strongly denouncing Farrakhan's support -- Russert's repeated attempts to establish a linkage between the two men should be seen as baiting. Any association at all between Obama and the vilified Nation of Islam leader is certain to tar Obama's reputation. And since references to Louis Farrakhan play into larger cultural stereotypes about race and religion, Russert's grilling of Obama about his relationship to Farrakhan raised the specter of electability yet again. When you add in Clinton's labeling of the Obama camp as a cult, Russert's invocation of Louis Farrakhan -- considered by many to be nothing more than a bigoted black leader of a separatist cult -- serves to further link the two men in viewers' minds, reinforcing the negative whisper campaigns surrounding Obama for the last year. Considering that Obama himself is nothing if not inclusive, it was all the more disheartening to see the repeated attempts to link him with Farrakhan, one of our nation's most divisive figures.

Yet the racial and religious lines that divide America, and the bigotry that exists, are hardly the sole work of Louis Farrakhan and other Nation of Islam members. While Russert was hectoring Obama about his relationship with Farrakhan, he was -- whatever his intentions -- carrying forward a smear campaign that has been waged against Obama since the beginning of his run for the Democratic nomination. The irony, of course, is that this campaign against Obama -- conducted in part through chain emails and the dissemination of false background reports and misleading photographs -- is itself based on religious hatred -- against Muslims. But it is clear that Russert has no interest in the anti-Muslim bigotry that has been on display this primary season.

In the United States, a country historically determined to classify and condemn those deemed to be fringe elements, Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam provoke enormous opposition. Founded in 1931, the Nation of Islam should be seen in the long tradition of African-American resistance, similar to other movements and leaders from the NAACP to the Black Panthers, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Malcolm X. Always contentious, the Nation of Islam has inscribed itself on the American mind. Unlike more mainstream African-American groups, however, Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam are often used by politicians and the media to buttress the current social system through the rhetorical establishment of clear ideological boundaries between Farrakhan and other such racial "bigots" and the larger "racial democracy" of America. An unintended consequence of the widespread criticism is that Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam use their demonization to further build their movement and repudiate the broader culture.

The point, of course, is not to defend Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam but to look at the discourse surrounding the group and its leader in order to investigate exactly what is being debated and what is absent from the debate, and to begin to understand how violently prejudicial language -- toward blacks, Jews, Muslims and a host of other historically oppressed groups -- becomes normalized in our society and used for political ends. Literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr., writing about Louis Farrakhan in The New Yorker (April and May, 1996), explains:
Farrakhan believes all this [Jewish] conspiracy stuff, and thinks he's just telling it like it is. He must realize that such talk goes down well with inner-city audiences hungry for secret histories that explain how things went wrong. He turns mainstream criticism to his advantage, winning ovations by representing himself as the persecuted truth teller. But turnabout isn't always fair play, and the fact that Farrakhan is a black American only makes his deafness to historical context all the more dismaying. Within his own lifetime, one of every three Jews on the face of the earth died at the hands of a regime suffused by the same language about nefarious Jewish influence ... Farrakhan is a man of unhealthy fixations, but the reciprocal fixation on Farrakhan that you find in the so-called mainstream is a sign of our own impoverished political culture.
Russert's persistent questioning of Obama during the debate Tuesday night lends credence to Gates' critique of American political culture, as do the facile representations of Farrakhan in the media. In the New York Times, Farrakhan is often compared to Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Sadaam Hussein -- and Newt Gingrich. More generally, he is characterized as a demagogue, racist, firebrand, hater, bigot, hatemonger, separatist and extremist, and as anti-Semitic, anti-white, anti-Catholic, sexist, homophobic, hypocritical, callous, twisted, pathological, misguided, fiery, incendiary, reactionary, faithless, evil, malicious, malevolent, divisive, dangerous, unscrupulous, selfish, self-promoting and self-serving. He is often rumored to be the murderer of Malcolm X. Farrakhan's rhetoric is described as vile, chilling, fascist, booming, rambling, arcane, sulfurous, abstruse, convoluted, meaningless, frightening and, quoting Rich, prone to "lunatic digressions into crypto-mysticism and self-deification" (Oct. 17, 1995).

In turn, the Nation of Islam -- including Farrakhan, Malcolm X, founder Elijah Muhammad, and hundreds of other voices heard in the group's newspaper The Final Call -- refers to white society as racist, colonialist, imperialist, unjust, hypocritical, rotten, deceptive and wicked, and as consisting of white devils, demons, bigots, haters, enslavers and murderers. Farrakhan has also referred to Jews (most often) as well as Arabs, Koreans, Vietnamese and any group that has profited in black neighborhoods and failed to reinvest as "bloodsuckers." A pronounced animus toward Jews underlies much of Louis Farrakhan's rhetoric. The "bloodsucker" reference is common. In a speech aired on C-Span in February 1996, Farrakhan addressed Jews directly: "You are sucking the blood of Americans. You are ruling the government." Farrakhan's most notorious claim may be that Judaism is a "gutter religion."

All of this explains why Obama and others are called on to condemn Farrakhan in an unequivocal way. The history of Jewish persecution, the Holocaust and the words of other demagogues who were not condemned strongly enough strongly influence how Farrakhan is seen by most Americans.

In a New York Review of Books essay published the month after the Million Man March, writer Daryl Pinckney examines such rhetoric:
A key to unity these days is a group's perception of itself as being disliked and surrounded. Fear is a part of the fund-raising for Jewish groups and Jewish charities. Exploiting that fear has been a part of Farrakhan's career. It was clear, for instance, that the Anti-Defamation League would not let his baiting remarks over the years go unchallenged, but had Farrakhan gone on about white people in general all this time, he would not have gotten half the attention. He wanted a way to inject himself into public consciousness. He could then advertise the reactions as part of his dynamism.
Religious groups are not the only sectors of society to feel embattled and to organize around perceived threat. In the post-Sept. 11 political culture, many see the world in divisive terms. The real threat to these people may be an inclusive president, and it's clear that Obama represents a generation that wants to be inclusive.

Russert's doubts about Obama's efforts to distance himself from Farrakhan's divisiveness and his insistence that Obama use the word "reject" rather than "denounce" was seen by many (on television, radio and in the blogosphere) as unjustifiably divisive and ultimately proved futile since Obama, ever inclusive, conceded. But aside from forcing Obama in a rhetorical corner, Russert's approach was also divisive, because it forced Obama to distance himself from those in the black community who accept Farrakhan, and because Russert neglected to address any issues of concern for this community, further marginalizing its role in the public debate. Frank Rich's writing on the political establishment's reaction to the Million Man March describes the same dynamic:
By continuing to fixate on Farrakhan rather than the legitimate concerns of the 400,000 marchers, white politicians only give their nemesis more credibility and power. It is the failure of the entire political establishment to heed the spiraling crisis of the black underclass in the first place that gave the extremist Mr. Farrakhan his opening to seize a resonant mainstream issue as his own.
Although Louis Farrakhan signifies very different things in different communities of interpretation, no presidential candidate can prevail if seen by the majority as having any association with the Nation of Islam leader. Rich sums this up by saying, "At a time when white Americans can't agree among ourselves on anything, here at last is one opinion that unites us all, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, rich and poor: Louis Farrakhan is a hate-filled demagogue with a divisive, separatist ideology and an appalling record of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and homophobia."

But Rich goes on to ask, "Now that we've all said that as loud as we can, where do we go next?"

Do we continue facilitating the use of Farrakhan to torpedo important concerns and historic campaigns?

Weapons of Mass Persuasion

By March 19, the major TV networks had done their advance work well. After months of promotion, millions of U.S. viewers were united in eager anticipation of a prime time extravaganza. Perched on their couches, anxious for the catharsis of a neatly crushed Iraqi military, they watched with "shock and awe" as U.S. and British forces launched their long-awaited sequel -- Gulf War II.

However, due largely to advances in personal computing and electronic communications, opposition to the latest U.S.-led war also spread rapidly before it even began. Though much has been written about the impact of the Internet on antiwar organizing, little has been said about the advent of antiwar TV. Yet this relatively recent development has informed, expanded, and mobilized the ranks of the antiwar movement while engaging millions of others who otherwise would be forced to rely on the empty and often inaccurate drivel of mainstream TV. After years of concerted effort, activist media makers have built independent networks that reflect a commitment to progressive values, public education, and participatory democracy.

Alternative Analysis

National television outlets rarely if ever offer in-depth analysis of U.S. foreign and domestic policy, not to mention shows that document organized opposition to war. Filling this vacuum, as the 1990s began, was one of the first antiwar TV campaigns to air nationally: The Gulf War Crisis TV Project was the first series designed to mobilize people against U.S. imperialism in Iraq and the Middle East. Created through a wide collaboration of filmmakers, peace activists and war resisters, it was produced and distributed over public access TV by the Deep Dish collective and broadcast on the 90's Channel, the first full-time progressive network to air independent productions on cable systems around the country.

In 1995, when this independent network was forced off the air by TCI, then the world's largest cable system, 90's Channel co-founder John Schwartz launched a new initiative called Free Speech Television (FSTV). Unable to acquire a full-time cable channel, FSTV began distributing free progressive programming to a network of 50 community access cable stations across the country.

During this formative period, FSTV's content included a broad range of programs acquired from independent film and videomakers. America's Defense Monitor, one of the first series to air on FSTV, is still broadcast today. Produced by the Center for Defense Information, America's Defense Monitor presents critical analyses of U.S. foreign policy, military expansion, nuclear and conventional weapons, and international affairs.

At the edge of the new century, an unprecedented convergence of anti- globalization activists, video collectives, print journalists, and photographers at the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle created the first Independent Media Center (IMC). Enhancing audience access for journalists and videographers, it operated in collaboration with Paper Tiger TV, Deep Dish TV, Whispered Media, and Free Speech TV, and produced a daily televised report on the street protests and police repression surrounding that WTO meeting. The tremendous impact of the first IMC subsequently inspired the formation of others on every continent. Today there are over 100 IMC collectives, and thousands of new indy journalists who work with them to break through the corporate media blockade.

Coinciding with the birth of the IMC movement, another progressive network was born when WorldLink TV acquired a channel on DirecTV and DISH Network, as part of the new federally mandated public interest obligation. In 1998, after years of political and legal struggle by independent media advocates, the FCC began enforcing a requirement of the 1992 Cable Act requiring Direct Broadcast Satellite companies to set aside four to seven percent of their spectrum for non-commercial educational uses.

WorldLink presents alternative perspectives, news from around the world, and international cultural programming. One of its most provocative programs is Mosaic, a compilation of daily reports from dozens of TV stations throughout the Middle East. WorldLink also airs a regular program of media criticism hosted by Globalvision's Danny Schecter. In January 2000, Free Speech TV was awarded a full-time satellite channel on DISH Network, and since then has provided free programming to its community cable affiliates.

Responding to Crisis

The events of Sept. 11 and the U.S. government's war against Afghanistan compelled the independent media community to further solidify and expand its international network of activists, journalists, and filmmakers. Within nine days of the 2001 attacks, Free Speech TV began producing and broadcasting "World in Crisis," a top-of-the-hour news update that evolved into a half-hour weekly current affairs program. It provides a national outlet for people to speak out on peace, tolerance, and civil liberties.

Immediately after 9/11, journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of the nationally syndicated radio program Democracy Now! also launched telecasts on Free Speech TV. Presenting news and critical analysis, Democracy Now! is a vital forum for many of those excluded from the mainstream media. Today, in the midst of yet another U.S. war, the show continues to serve as a lifeline for viewers who are angry at the government's policies at home and abroad.

In July 2002, World in Crisis evolved into FSTV's partner-driven Mobile-Eyes campaigns. For these national "teach-ins," FSTV focuses on a single issue and forms partnerships with social justice organizations seeking national press coverage. Action alerts created in cooperation with partner groups, along with public service announcements listing contact information, are broadcast as part of each Mobile-Eyes campaign.

FSTV's November 2002 campaign, Mobile-Eyes against Military Interventions, focused on the history of U.S. military interventions, the current U.S. role as sole superpower, and the movement to stop the war in Iraq. Among other programs, the series featured a roundtable discussion on the "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emptive strikes, footage from a CUNY teach-in, several recently released documentaries on U.S. policy in the Middle East, and coverage of 15 antiwar demonstrations from around the world. Partners included the American Friends Service Committee, International ANSWER, National Network to End the War in Iraq, and the Not In Our Name Project.

Critical Collaboration

FSTV's current campaign, Mobile-Eyes: Resisting War & Repression, has included live broadcasts (often with national radio simulcasts via Pacifica Radio) from the major antiwar demonstrations in New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Current partners include the Institute for Policy Studies, United for Peace & Justice, Global Exchange, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, along with partners from the military interventions campaign.

Shortly before the U.S. invaded Iraq, WorldLink TV launched The Active Opposition, a series hosted by actor and activist Peter Coyote. It features analysis and commentary on the Bush administration's war policies, critique of the mainstream media coverage, and recent footage from Middle East TV networks.

With the onset of war, both WorldLink and FSTV preempted their regular programming to provide round-the-clock coverage of the U.S.-led attacks as well as antiwar actions. FSTV collaborated with WorldLink TV and Pacifica Radio to produce two days of live coverage from the streets and studios of San Francisco, including interviews with leaders of the antiwar movement, and footage from Middle Eastern television networks on responses to the war abroad.

Since September 2002, Democracy Now!, Pacifica Radio, WorldLink TV, FSTV, Multimedia Group, and the INN Report, an alternative news magazine produced in collaboration with New York indymedia activists, have mounted what can only be described as a historic initiative to provide the international community with a front-row seat to some of the largest antiwar demonstrations since the Vietnam War. Live satellite uplink collaborations have shown millions of people in the U.S. and around the world that the country is not unified on the need for an invasion.

Toting camcorders, computers and satellite uplink equipment, people from independent media organizations are collaborating in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Not only are networks like Free Speech TV and WorldLink airing footage of peace rallies around the world, they're also offering the international community free coverage of U.S. antiwar mobilizations. In March alone, the coverage produced by Pacifica, FSTV and WorldLink was downlinked by the European Broadcast Union, a network of about 80 community radio and public television stations, and the Arab Radio and Television Network, which operates a dozen channels throughout the Middle East.

Expressing the hope that antiwar TV will continue to combat the distortions of the mainstream media, FSTV producer Brian Drolet says, "Most people around the world recognize that this war on Iraq, and the 12 years of bombings and sanctions that preceded it, has been orchestrated by a small number of ruling elites. But to the extent that it seems that all Americans are united behind this war, which is the image the US government tries to portray, Americans themselves -- innocent civilians -- become targets for people who are filled with anger for what the US government and corporations are doing."

Drolet argues that providing the world with the real story -- that many people in the U.S. don't support their government's belligerent policies, just as most people in Iraq didn't support the policies of Saddam Hussein -- will raise questions and legitimate the opposition before the lives of more innocent civilians in other countries are lost. The ultimate hope is that the cycle of violence can finally be stopped.

Linda Mamoun is the communications manager of Free Speech TV.

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