Chavez and Ahmadinejad; Morales and Garcia

Chavez once again cemented those relations with Iranian premier Ahmadinejad. Receiving a warm welcome in Tehran, Chavez said that their country’s diplomatic relations are based on common goals – a snide remark based upon anti-Americanism, putting to one side any thought about progressive goals and values.

Some optimists still reckon Chavez’ relationship is beneficial to his aims of receiving energy, now that Iran are set with help from the Russians, and Venezuela is planning to have its first power station.

Since the election of Ahmadinejad, the two countries have signed 80 bilateral agreements.

The kind words and extended hug shared between the two leaders sets to remind us just how far the relationship between the Islamic Republic and the Bolivarian revolutionaries has come; simultaneously reminding us how saturated has Chavez’ idea of socialism become.

Though on more exciting news, across the way between Bolivia and Peru, Evo Morales – President of Bolivia and ally of Chavez – has just secured a small port about 10 miles from Peru’s southern port of Ilo, meaning Bolivia will have its doors open to “an international port, to the use of the ocean for global trade and for Bolivian products to have better access to global markets,” in the words of Morales.

He said: “Bolivia, sooner or later, will return to the sea.”

This will also be a boost to relations between the more Conservative Alan Garcia, Peru’s premier, and the socialist Evo.

Comparing the two stories, it’s not simply that socialists (Morales, Chavez) can’t and shouldn’t get along diplomatically with conservatives (Garcia, Ahmadinejad), but that socialists should not, and cannot, be aligned with dangerous fools.

Opposition towards Ashtiani’s execution is no conspiracy

In an attempt to demonstrate western hypocrisy, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – President of Iran – has spoken out at the lack of uproar levelled against the US and the execution of Teresa Lewis, the women convicted of plotting to kill her husband, Julian Lewis, and her stepson, Charles Lewis.

This tactic by the Iranian premier is designed to deflect criticism over Iran’s decision to prosecute Mohamedi Sakineh Ashtiani.

Reports in the BBC say no final decision on Ashtiani’s fate has been made, though some media outlets such as Mehr, a semi-official Tehran news agency, are reporting the judiciary in Iran as having convicted her of murdering her husband which carries the penalty of execution by hanging.

However reports from Isna suggest she has been given a 10-year prison sentence for complicity in her husband’s death.  

During his UN speech, Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying Ashtiani would not be sentenced to stoning, something he vowed to oversee in an interview with former UK Member of Parliament George Galloway recently.

But there had been no willing by Ahmadinejad to allow Ashtiani the opportunity to emigrate to Brazil or Turkey, where both President Lula and President Erdogan were willing to assist.

The charge levelled at Ahmadinejad that he has done far too little still holds. His office was quiet when it was revealed Mohammad Mostafaei, the lawyer of Ashtiani and human rights expert, fled the country after an arrest warrant had been issued against him.

Nor did the President appear to show any public distress when authorities arrested Mostafaei’s wife and brother-in-law, ransacked his office and carried out interrogation methods.

Today a media lens message board post discussed the case of Ashtiani. Some posters echoed the sentiments of Ahmadinejad saying this is only one case among many, and questioning why the same level of outcry had been absent in other cases; exemplifying the case of Al-Janabi, the 14 year old girl who was gang raped, killed and set on fire by U.S. troops in Mahmudiya, Iraq, in 2006.

Oliver Kamm, the Times leader writer and columnist, called the comments “Sub-Chomskyite” on his twitter feed.

There is no Western-designed plot to single out Iran, and even if there was, the most effective campaigns to save Ashtiani’s life have come through grassroots activism such as from Avaaz and the International Committee Against Stoningby no means front organisations for imperialism, or groups whose interest it is to engage in armed conflict with Iran in the future.

The excuse being spun by Ahmadinejad that Iran is being treated unfairly is down to the extreme measures with which they choose to condemn innocent people such as Ashtiani. Even under Islamic law – professed to be the mode practiced in Iranadultery cannot be satisfactorily proven before the perpetrator has confessed under free conditions on three separate occasions, or if four males, whom the court are happy to trust, actually witness the act of penetration.

It seems very unlikely that Ashtiani confessed to her husband’s murder under free conditions. Amnesty International, in August, reported that:

televised “confessions” have repeatedly been used by the Iranian authorities to incriminate individuals in custody. Many have later retracted these “confessions”, stating that they were coerced to make them, sometimes under torture or other ill-treatment.

The case of Ashtiani is a reminder of the suspect justice system operating in Iran. It is a foolish position to take, thinking opposition towards her execution is somehow a justification of similar methods used in the US; in fact hostility towards state sanctioned murder ought to be levelled against any country operating it.

A day of protest

In the Islamic Republic of Iran 150 people have been put to death by stoning in the last 31 years, according to Farshad Hosseini. Yesterday, a cohort of activists set up a stall in Trafalgar Square to protest the decision to execute Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani at the hands of the Iranian judiciary – and to show their opposition to stonings full stop.

Stoning is not only inhumane, but is apparently disapporived of OFFICIALLY in Iran. Before his death in 2006, the then Minister of Justice and spokesman for the Judiciary, Mr. Jamal Karimi-Rad, became the first Iranian judicial authority to comment in reaction to the Stop Stoning Forever campaign – formed of various women’s rights organisations to see stoning as a form of punishment for adultery in Iran abolished. He denied that stoning took place in Iran, brushing aside examples where judge’s have sentenced it, often with little in the way of evidence.

Mr Jamal Karimi-Rad’s comments did demonstrate then an official disapproval of stoning, however flimsy it was, consistent with the ban on stoning ordered by the Head of Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi, in December 2002.

It beggars belief. The thing that could knock some sense into Ahmadinejad’s regime in Iran is that the execution case is making Iran look bad – not that justice is being perverted in such a foul way. But, of course, for Ashtiani’s family, this reason is better than none.

In reply to a comrade in arms

My comrade in arms, and all round good egg, Harpy Marx, has written a post with me in mind today – well, I’m mentioned at the very least.

It’s in response to a blog I wrote in response to one written by Laurie Penny on women’s rights and the cod-feminist narrative for entering into Afghanistan.

I have replied to the response to the response by HM (response to the response – do keep up) on her comments thread.

For purposes of posterity I recall that response here:

It goes without saying that women’s rights under the Taliban was dreadful, reports emerged last year that women’s rights were put back a few notches before the election when Karzai resorted to dreadful inter-marriage rape – beyond the pale – just to notch up a few Shia votes.

But I detect two things with the argument that the imperialists made it worse: a) that we’re simply unable to hold our hands up and say there are people in Afghanistan who really want to make women’s lives tough – we have to explain this away by inserting the imperialists into the picture, and b) it follows logically that when “foreign imperial invaders” enter a country, a set of things will necessarily happen, like suicide bombing will increase, like Taliban membership will rise, and that women’s rights will be set back further.

They both look like this to me: unpalatable Afghans have only become so unpalatable because of the Americans.

Now of course it is not that simple, rather it is because of these unpalatable types, the size, the power and the networks of these unpalatable types that justifies a military effort by NATO forces to strengthen the Afghan state and army to contain the Taliban where it had no chance of doing so before, and it also necessitates the need to empower Pakistan for the reason that on the border between the two countries is where the Taliban are at its most effective and bloody – setting women back hundreds of years.

I’ll throw my hands up and say, most unorthodox I know, as a staunch socialist, but I think intervention in Afghanistan is justified; what grows in Afghanistan and Pakistan puts into jeopardy peace on this earth as much as any imperialist strategy.

The difference is that I don’t think the US went in too fussed about this myself; I think they wanted to get Osama, eventually they thought that Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaeda – both flawed – but yet, crucially, I think whether neoconservatives were behind the the venture into Afghanistan or pinko lefty peaceniks, eventually the bubble that had been created by global terror networks al-Qaeda and the Taliban would have burst and necessitated NATO forces of all stripes to enter and strengthen the armies of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to beat a domestic problem and contain a global one (which terror cells pose now).

I’m happy to accept that the strategy hasn’t been always successful in Afghanistan, but I refuse to accept that because NATO forces entered the country, that by causality, so women’s rights have suffered – my finger most directly is pointing towards domestic movements in those countries who have had a historical part to play in putting women back a 1000 years.

A reply to Laurie Penny on women’s rights and war

Laurie Penny, true to form, has written a fantastic, detailed blog entry for the staggers today about the hypocrisy of the UK government, or the west in general, using women’s rights as a narrative and justification for war.

I wanted to reply with hyperlinks on the comments thread, but was unable, so I will do so here.

Firstly I wanted to find agreement with Laurie; I’m never quite sure what the criteria for deportation is in our home office, where we deport homosexuals and send them away with the message “just keep yourself quiet now” but give amnesty to others for seemingly trivial reasons. I certainly think the way in which we approach this subject should change. 

I also worry that all international campaigns must solely be down to whichever issue gets the loudest shouters; a few people have said on here that people are stoned all the time (which didn’t mean it was excusable, it just meant why do our ears perk up at Ashtani – it’s a fair question; I’ve done the same regarding the Ashtani case ) and their fate should not rest on the fact that governments worldwide have to wait until a shouting crowd overthrows their complacency.

Where I don’t agree with Laurie: as I say I think the system of deportation is mangled, but it would be hard to substantiate the claim that a dismissal of women’s rights informs it, so where I do think there is hypocrisy, it’s achieved by a stupid system that listens to the loudest voice rather than a sexist one.

In our stupid world of binaries I would like to remind us all of two things: just because you were against this war, doesn’t mean you aren’t throwing your weight against laws that are sexist. By which I mean, look at the non-grilling George Galloway, foremost UK anti-war campaigner, gives President Ahmadinejad below ( about four minutes in ) – I seriously question Galloway’s sincerity here, contextualising his question by calling those against the stoning as “enemies”.

The second thing: there is no reason why individuals cannot be for the war in Afghanistan for instance, with, in the back of their mind, women’s rights which should be given to all women, and not just be given importance in the West. A woman’s right is not a decadent thing of rich nations, but should be bestowed across the world, and it will not come from Ahmadinejad and the like.

For the reasons given above, I’m not won over by the article – however I still regard the debate that Laurie is instigating as important.

Erdogan in Iran

Since David Cameron met with Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, a lot of talk has focused upon the Turkish prime minister and his appeals to “moderate” politics.

Many column inches were devoted to expressing uncertainty about Erdogan. Nick Cohen referred to him as the “supposedly “moderate” Islamist prime minister,” while Melanie Phillips noted he is “no secular Ataturk but an Islamic extremist”.

Erdogan does have a very colourful past. He was friends at university with the Islamist Necmettin Erbakan, who became Turkish prime minister from 1996 to 1997 after being pressured to step down, and later banned from politics.

Despite brushes with the law in the eighties, during the coup, in the nineties Erdogan became a popular mayor in Istanbul, receiving glowing praise even from critics who felt he wasn’t corrupt like other politicians.

In 1998, he disturbed the secular sentimentalities of many in Turkish society by reading a very telling Islamic poem which includes the lines: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers…”

This earned him 10 months in jail for incitement to religious hatred – of which he served four.

Since entering office he has had his fair share of secular opponents but has attested to a damascene-esque conversion from hardliner Islamist to a more moderate position, although this image has not been helped by, among other things, a recent refusal to join the EU in supporting charges of crimes against humanity in Darfur, which the International Criminal Court has brought against Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.

(I don’t suppose the fact that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has named his grandson after Erdogan will go down well among some either)

In large part owing to his equal distance between the West and the East, Erdogan has earned for himself the position of kingmaker in recent years, notably with Iran and the rest of the world. He came out as supporting Iran by saying it should not be the sole target in the nuclear dispute, and was seen as a crucial figure being able to speak to both President Obama and Ahmadinejad on the subject.

Of late, questions were asked as to whether he would be one to condemn Iran for its decision to stone to death Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Burak Bekdil for the Hurriyet Daily noted that Erdogen never hesitates to condemn alleged Jewish and Western conspiracies, but here “has failed to intercede with his good friend Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has the power to pardon the condemned.”

However, the international civic organisation Avaaz today writes that:

“President Lula [Brazilian President, whose recent appeal to Iran to send its condemned women to Brazil was shrugged off by Ahmadinejad last week] and Prime Minister Erdoğan are allies and mediators with Iran who enjoy great respect there, and both countries have condemned the case. Now, we need to push them to deploy all their diplomatic forces and persuade Iran to free Sakineh and stop stoning forever.” (The above text is from an email message from Avaaz)

Burak Bekdil then wrote, with a positive tone this time:

“We know by evidence that Mr. Erdogan has a soft spot for Muslims being subjected to cruelty in all corners of the world, and Ms. Ashtiani is a Muslim lady. Besides, Ms. Ashtiani speaks Turkish, not Farsi; and perhaps Mr. Erdogan would view her as kin? Above all, Mr. Erdogan has brotherly relations with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who can pardon her.”

I’m tempted to agree with columnists dubious of Erdogan. His efforts to engage with terrorist groups such as Hezbollah is one thing, but to suggest – as he has – that “It’s not possible for a Muslim to commit genocide,” shortly before welcoming Omar al-Bashir to Turkey, should not be looked upon favourably.

But through whatever reason, he may have the political influence to change Ahmadinejad’s mind on the stoning of Astiani, and despite his character and background, we can only hope that this new found will of his to save this women comes to fruition.

The Poverty of Hugo Chávez

Hugo Chávez claimed to weep when he opened up the coffin of his political hero, Simón Bolívar, as investigations were under way in Venezuela to check no ‘foul play’ was involved in his death.

But the exhuming of Bolívar provides us with the analogy of the day with which Chávez should look into his own political mission.

While opening up Bolívar, Chávez should open himself up, and take a look at the state of his Bolívarian revolution, and the world in which he tries to operate that revolution.

The 21st century socialism of Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador appeal against the years of bullying from the US of its mineral wealth, now largely turned on its head owing to nationalisation programmes, and the re-appropriation of wealth back into poor cities and welfare initiatives – once little more than a fantasy.

Although Cuba is an ally of Venezuela, Communism on the little island stands for something rather different historically. Once economically dependent on the Soviet Union, Castro’s Cuba became isolated on its demise, the problem of which became further exasperated by the USA’s trade embargo, though this did not put the political structure of Cuba and support for Castro into jeopardy (in fact during the revolution, through to the Bay of Pigs invasion, the embargo and other instigations of American aggression only made the Cubans appreciate their governance more).

Latin American socialism does not pursue the same end game as the USSR, but that is not to say Chávez has not engaged in the pursuit of expansionism predicated, where not on socialism, on anti-Americanism. This has most dubiously found him aligned with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Along with the Iran-tractor project in Venezuela, Iran loaned Bolivia $230m to set up a state cement company to curb the concentration of profit under Evo Morales’ watch. Left-wingers across the globe chose not to kick up a fuss about this. After all ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America) – the economic model set up by Chávez to resist the relentless pursuits of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) – was still in its early stages, at the time only having 6 countries on board.

That was until Chávez started praising Ahmadinejad personally at a similar time as praising Robert Mugabe, and pondering whether Idi Amin was just a misunderstood patriot.

The International Marxist Tendency, the fringe organisation led by Alan Woods in the UK with the closest relationship to Chávez and Venezuela, even republished a statement by the Venezuelan Revolutionary Marxist Current, which stated, in reply to statements made by Chávez in June 2009 regarding Iran:

On June 18, president Chávez once again congratulated Ahmadinejad on his reelection as a president and added the “solidarity of Venezuela in the face of the attack by world capitalism against the people of that country”. The Revolutionary Marxist Current in Venezuela, disagrees with this position and we would like to contribute to the debate with the above observations.

Their input made no difference. But the IMT continue to stand by Chávez, now simply referring to his alignment with Ahmadinejad as an error.

Chávez yesterday (16/07/10) made a statement regarding the suicide bombings claimed by Jundullah (an organisation based in Balochistan, Pakistan, fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran) in Zahedan, south-east Iran, which killed at least 27 people on Thursday the 15th.

He said:

The Venezuelan government and people express their deepest sympathy to the relatives of the victims of this coward crime, carried out with irrational hate against innocent people.

The authors of this savage crime will be subjected to the justice of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s authorities.

China’s People Daily mention that Chávez went on to stress “the “strong ties” between his country and Iran and voiced firm support to the Iranian people.”

Many on the left would point out that there is disparity between Chávez voicing support both for the justice of the Islamic Republic and the Iranian people – but, alas, there is a failure for Chávez to see this (it should be, thus, no surprise that recently Venezuela, as well as Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, announced their support for Iran’s nuclear programme – even amid the joke about helping Iran build a nuclear bomb).

This is in large part down to the fact that Chávez views his enemies’ enemies as his friends. Nowhere can this be better illustrated by Chávez’ praise for Carlos the Jackal (CtJ – whose real name is Ilich Ramírez Sánchez); a Venezuelan convict in prison in France, for crimes including a notorious raid on the OPEC HQ in Vienna resulting in the deaths of three people (is it a statement too far to remind ourselves that Iran is OPEC’s second largest oil producer).

What Chávez identified in CtJ was the 70s revolutionary, member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), rather than the creator of a series of bomb attacks designed for French newspapers who were considered pro-Israel, the failed assassination of Joseph Sieff – a Zionist businessman – and countless other near-successful acts terrorism.

Furthermore, CtJ, while in prison, authored a book discussing his conversion to a radical creed of Islam, and his support for Osama Bin Laden.

Chávez obviously should have been more careful with his words than to praise a murderer, but his admission is not without a little historical irony.

The link here is that with the demise of communism, and the fading out of revolutionary fervour in the two countries that survived its fall – Cuba and China – something else has to fill its place.

The French academic Gilles Kepel, in a lecture he gave to the LSE recently, discusses his view that the pull-out of the Red Army in Afghanistan circa 15 February 1989 was a “watershed event” and underlined the weakness of Soviet power, ending with the the fall of the Berlin Wall. Kepel’s further contention is that without the victory of political Islam, there might not have been the same exposure of weakness and “Gorbachev would probably have had more cards in his hand at the time”.

Henceforth, part of the demise of communism was political jihad in Afghanistan. Furthermore, political Islam, which found its new wave in this event, is the most likely candidate to have taken communism’s place in being the enemy of US-styled capitalism.

It is no small irony that Cuba and Iran share allies when the latter under Ahmadinejad has more to be grateful of from the political Islam that emerged victorious from Afghanistan (at the expense of the USSR who bankrolled Cuba) than it does the revolutionary workers who overthrew the Shah in the seventies, only to have that hijacked by fundamentalist mullahs afterwards.

Chávez’ brand of socialism of course is far too small to occupy that place, and socialism in the world is too small a contender in the game for the world.

He has chosen to broaden his punch by taking in anti-Americans of all excesses, this includes Ahmadinejad’s Islamic Republic – which is to socialism what Chávez is to speechlessness.

Chávez’ socialist project is relatively small, and will only play a small role in counter-hegemonic activities against “US imperialism”. But he even puts this in jeopardy by appealing to support from, and heaping praise upon, individuals and nations who are patently anti-socialist and anti-progressive. It is no wonder he praised Carlos the Jackal; the man is dreadfully confused.

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