Germans, too, demand referendum – for independence from U.S. yoke

 Thousands protest NSA spying in Germany

Thousands protest NSA spying in Germany

 

Protesters march in Berlin against internet surveillance by intelligence agencies,

chanting “freedom instead of fear”.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Berlin in protests against Internet surveillance activities by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies, and the German government’s perceived lax reaction to them.

Organisers, among them the opposition Greens, The Left and Pirates parties, said 20,000 people turned out in Saturday’s demonstration.

Police would not confirm the figure, saying only their “tally differs from that of the organisers”.

The protest was organised under the slogan “Freedom Rather Than Fear” and demonstrators carried banners saying: “Stop spying on us” and, more sarcastically: “Thanks to PRISM (the US government’s vast data collection programme) the government finally knows what the people want”.

“Intelligence agencies like the NSA shamelessly spy on telephone conversations and Internet connections… our government, one of whose key roles is the protection from harm, sends off soothing explanations,” said one protester, Kai-Uwe Steffens.

On Thursday, newly leaked documents alleged that US and British intelligence agencies have cracked the encryption that secures a wide range of online communications, including emails, banking transactions and phone conversations.

The documents provided by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden to The New York Times, ProPublica and The Guardian newspaper suggest that the spy agencies are able to decipher data even with the supposedly secure encryption designed to make it private.

While Europe is still in the process of consolidating and expanding its Union to cover each of the former east European Soviet states in its fold, several of its nation states are experiencing a season of referendum and secession demands. Thus, you have Scottish demanding to secede from England, Flemings from Belgium, Catalonians from Spain, and Venetians from Italy. Crimean example could only energize their resolve.

Crimeans may consider themselves lucky to have realized their wish without any bloodshed. But the influence it cast over the Russian-speaking majority in the Eastern Ukraine, prompting them to follow the Crimeans lead, has pitched Russia against US and EU with a potential to turn Ukraine into a vicious war theater and throw the whole world back into the Cold War era uncertainty and instability.

US and EU, while ruling out any military response, have already imposed some for-show-type sanctions (to appease domestic audiences) on Russia following Crimean accession, and are now repeatedly threatening to impose sweeping economic and financial sanctions if it doesn’t stop supporting pro-Russians in the Eastern Ukraine. Meantime, US and NATO started moving military assets and troops to Black Sea and some NATO-member countries close to Russia ostensibly to reassure allies there.

However, Russia is showing no signs of backing down and has warned of counter measures against the West. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has now issued a chilling warning of repeating Georgia if its interests in Ukraine are “attacked.”

EU may be in unison with the US on harping about hitting Russia with damaging economic costs but experts warn that EU is likely to suffer more from such a course than Russia. A look at the nature of economic relations between EU and Russia, for example by the New York Times and BBC, reveals that because of EU’s energy dependence on Russia (30% gas, 35% petroleum) economic sanctions could prove more disruptive in terms of industrial production and social cost for EU than Russia. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania could be left high and dry as they import nearl00y 100% of their energy requirements from Russia.

But it is Germany – the “EU’s economic powerhouse” – that will have far reaching negative impact on its own as well as, through trade linkages, on the overall EU economy. It is dependent on Russian energy sources (gas, oil and coal) more than any other EU country and will find itself in dire straits with no alternative energy source in sight for the foreseeable future. Der Spiegel estimates the country is at the risk of losing 300,000 jobs – a punishing demand on a population already suffering high unemployment. Headlining its report as ‘Economic War with Russia: A High Price for German Business’ Spiegel echoed German industry and public concern.

Brussels’ public posturing apart, EU member states do not seem to be wholly for the sanctions path. For instance, BBC mentions of “An official document, photographed as a senior official carried it into a meeting in Downing Street in March 2014, said the UK “should not support for now trade sanctions or close London’s financial centre to Russians””  This is about the US’ most loyal European ally. Likewise, Spiegel report, mentioned above, reveals, “Members of the German government are keen to point out that many Eastern European politicians speak in far less radical terms behind closed doors than they do when addressing their citizens.”

So, why is EU threatening to take a course against Russia that it knows its member countries are not willingly in favor, more so when it knows Russia has out rightly rejected any pressure tactics to force it on course correction?

The short answer is American pressure. And the long answer is the US’ belief to be the guide, mentor and bodyguard of its less than intelligent village cousins who need to be kept under the scare of Russian ghost to enjoy for itself the global sway. After all, isn’t it Europe from where the US’ pulls out its “international community” to threaten and subdue its enemies?

Ordinarily when the US wants the EU’s role in any of its dirty international game, Britain, with about 70% of Germany’s GDP, gets the leadership role – just because of its greater loyalty to the US interests. And German Chancellor together with fellow Germans get monitored and spied — economic prowess, NATO membership or personal phone calls from the US president notwithstanding!

But it is now Germany – not Britain or France-that is being called upon to play the leadership role on behalf of the EU in squeezing Russia. Why? Simply because the German economy is much more interlinked to Russian economy and therefore could create problems for Russia. So the lure of leadership role to Chancellor Angela Merkel. What happens to German economy and German population as a consequence need not be of concern. Well, perhaps they haven’t done enough atonement for their war sins committed 70 years back. In any case Merkel will be there to take the flak.

When Chancellor Merkel decides on this US call it would serve her and her people well to remind herself of one simple fact: The singular contribution that trade and business ties with Putin’s Russia played in making Germany the “economic powerhouse of the EU.”

She also needs to ponder if the seven decades of subservience and paying reparations isn’t long enough of shame for her people – a people who have given world so much through art, culture, philosophy, science and technology and are known for hard work — to deserve a final break with the past and live their life with their heads high. Fair play demands that if any country or people truly deserved German apologies and reparations Russia and its people stand at the top for they suffered far more death and destruction than any other country and people at the hands of Hitler. But their suffering was never acknowledged — like Native Americans – and they never resented or complained.

Ukrainian situation presents a unique opportunity for Chancellor Merkel to extricate her nation from the long suffered guilt and shame, and at the same time exorcise the Russian ghost from the European psyche for good, depriving the US the immediate opportunity of using this fake card. All that achieving this outcome warrants Chancellor Merkel to decline doing dirty work for Washington’s game plan against Russia.

Failure on her part to avail this opportunity has the potential to extract a heavy price from everyone else, more so from the Germany, to the benefit of just one country – the US.

Would Chancellor Merkel grab this opportunity? Very, very doubtful, if her reaction to her phone tapping by the US gives us any clue. She is no Dilema Rouseff who, unlike Merkel’s meek surrender (without an apology plus tamely swallowing additional humiliation of refusal to honor her request by President Obama for access to her NSA file), didn’t stop at fuming and fretting over her phone tapping but went ahead to avenge her own and her people’s hurt and humiliation and snubbed President Obama by cancelling her state visit to Washington. Not satisfied, she then signed a $4.5 billion deal for the supply of fighter planes with the Swedish Saab over Boeing. There is no saying if she would ever forgive the US.

However, this doesn’t preclude availability of other options for the Germans. To my understanding (am quite appreciative of how foolhardy it is on my part to say this), the best and most powerful, legally tenable and within the ambit of democratic norms is that the German public take the initiative to deal this matter themselves. It would require them muster courage and demand a referendum to decide whether to continue living with the imposed infamy and keep on playing to foreign dictates or throw away the 70 year old US yoke and redeem their right as a truly sovereign nation to decide their foreign, defense and economic policies without US fetters and dictates, and play their rightful role on the international geopolitical arena. ­

Good luck, Germany!

Red Hot Chili Peppers UPSET that their music was used to torture Guantánamo Bay prisoners

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Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith has vented his anger at US authorities after hearing that his band’s music was allegedly used to torture prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.

US officials speaking anonymously to Al Jazeera confirmed detailed techniques used by the CIA during the George Bush administration following the declassification process for the report on its own “enhanced interrogation” procedures used after September 11.

Among the techniques used to torture those suspected of being terrorists was exposure to the Californian band on repeat.

Speaking to Smith said: “I’ve heard that they use more… like, hard rock, metal… Our music’s positive man, it’s supposed to make people feel good and that’s… it’s very upsetting to me, I don’t like that at all. It’s bullshit.

“Maybe some people think our music’s annoying, I don’t care, but you know… (they) shouldn’t do that. They shouldn’t be doing any of that shit.”

One specific segment of the Senate Intelligence Committee report allegedly states that a suspect, named as Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn Abu Zubaydah, was subjected to the technique at a black site prison out of Guantánamo Bay between May and July in 2002.

Red Hot Chili Peppers music used to torture prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.

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Red Hot Chili Peppers music used to torture prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.

US officials speaking anonymously to Al Jazeera confirmed details techniques used by the CIA during the George Bush administration following the declassification process for the report on its own “enhanced interrogation” procedures used after September 11. Among the techniques used to torture those suspected of being terrorists was exposure to the Californian band on repeat.

One specific segment of the Senate Intelligence Committee report states that a suspect, named as Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn Abu Zubaydah, was subjected to the technique at a black site prison out of Guantánamo Bay between May and July in 2002.

The report also reveals the fact that Abu Zubaydah was stuffed into a pet crate and was shackled by his wrists to the ceiling of his cell as well as being subjected to an endless loop of loud music.

Earlier this year, industrial band Skinny Puppy revealed that they invoiced the US government after finding out that their music had allegedly been used as a ‘torture device’ at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Controversy over Red Hot Chili Peppers heats up

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Just as a cultural boycott was enforced on apartheid South Africa, so must one be enforced on Israel.

I was 10 years old when I stole my older brother’s cassette tape of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. In my small town in Massachusetts that fall, I traded in my air guitar for a much cooler air bass, rocking out to Flea’s rhythm on the hit single “Give It Away”. Twenty years later, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are still cranking out great music to a huge fan base and were just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

On September 10, the Chili Peppers are scheduled to play a concert in Tel Aviv, Israel. The decision has caused quite a stir. More than 7,000 people have signed a petition calling on the band to cancel its performance in Israel. More than a dozen groups around the world have written letters calling on the band to cancel the show. I work with one of those groups.

Why would I call on a band I loved so much as a child, a band I still listen to today, to cancel a concert?

In 1948, my pregnant grandmother, countless relatives, and 750,000 other Palestinians were displaced from their homeland, making way for the creation of the state of Israel. My grandmother never saw her birthplace again, never picked another piece of fruit from her orchard, but spoke and dreamed of a dignified return until her final breath in 2009. Palestinians continue to languish in refugee camps; four million live under a system of increasingly brutal Israeli occupation, and 1.5 million Palestinians are relegated to second-class status inside of a state that is falsely presented as a democracy.

Boycott, divest and sanction

In 2005, Palestinian civil society, consisting of more than 170 unions, women’s organisations, cultural groups, academic institutions and nearly every other facet of society, called for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the state of Israel until it complied with three basic demands based on international law: an end to occupation, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and equal rights for Palestinians living inside of the state of Israel. Following the ethical, effective, and rights-based approach of cultural boycott against apartheid in South Africa, tens of thousands of voices in support of Palestinian rights have stated clearly: it is time to take action for freedom, justice, and equality.

Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band scheduled to open for the Chili Peppers in Lebanon, cancelled its lucrative slot after band members were asked to pull out of the concert in protest to the Chili Peppers’ decision to play in Israel. A growing list of artists, including Bono, Santana, the late Gil Scott-Heron, Elvis Costello, Cat Power, the Klaxons, the Gorillaz, and the Pixies, have refused to cross the international picket line and have pulled out of scheduled shows. Roger Waters, frontman for Pink Floyd and human rights advocate, said the boycott call is “a perfectly legitimate, nonviolent… political tool” and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated in support of cultural boycott, “Just as we said during apartheid that it was inappropriate for international artists to perform in South Africa… it would be wrong… to perform in Israel.”

What I have learned in my years as a spoken word performer is that art is not above politics. Reading my work in the Jim Crow South to an all-white audience would not have upended racism, nor would it have sparked a journey of introspection among the masses. The power of art lies with the oppressed, it wrote the freedom songs in South Africa, tuned the humming of prisoners in the H Blocks in Northern Ireland, and laced the chants against despotism in Tahrir Square.

Artists were targeted and shamed when they played Sun City in South Africa and lent aid to the image of the apartheid regime. This is why Boycott From Within, a group of Israelis, has called on the Chili Peppers to cancel their show. When art is used to bolster support for an oppressive state, when it is used to “present Israel’s prettier face” as an official for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs proclaimed in the New York Times, and when it used as a form of propaganda as stated by a former Israeli Foreign Ministry official – “I do not differentiate between hasbara [propaganda] and culture” – it is time for artists to end complicity.

Art alone cannot break down a wall that appropriates Palestinian land and resources, it cannot uproot illegal settlements, it cannot tear down checkpoints that restrict freedom of movement, it cannot release prisoners from administrative detention, and it cannot rebuild water wells. But artists and their art can inspire millions to take conscientious action against occupation and discrimination.

Towards justice

As the Chili Peppers concert date approaches, there are millions of people under Israeli rule who are unable to reach the concert simply because they are Palestinian. The Chili Peppers will not meet with Palestinians who worked in cultural centres attacked by the Israeli army, they will not hear the work of young recording artists who are separated by walls and checkpoints, and they won’t meet with the Palestinian hip hop artist who cancelled his tour because he was denied the right to leave his open-air prison. These details are left out of concert planning, but they are the daily reality for occupied, displaced, and oppressed Palestinians.

While I may not be that young kid strumming my air bass on my parents’ deck in Massachusetts, I still turn up the radio when the Chili Peppers come on. That is what makes writing these words so difficult. It is an easy choice to stand on the wrong side of history, when the history books have yet to be written. It is easy to call a show in Israel just another show when few accurately label Israel an apartheid state. At the moment, it still takes little effort to ignore the plight and call of millions of occupied Palestinians. But it is not the just stand. Martin Luther King once proclaimed, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.

King was right. This week, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have the option to bend toward justice or enable oppression.

Artscape – The creative forces behind many of the world’s headline stories

Al Jazeera’s Artscape gives expression to the creative forces behind many of the world’s headline stories. Across the globe people are using their voices, their imaginations and their visions to break down powerful barriers in their communities. From a small backroom theatre challenging a despotic regime, to the courage of individuals finding a voice; from the ancient traditions of the written word, to the power of photography; from the joy of expressing identity through dance and song, to those easing the pain of migration through music – Artscape brings us the rich colours and clear cadences of popular expression.

Bajamar Ballad
The fishing communities along Colombia’s Pacific coast are facing massive dislocation – and their only weapon is music.

Filmmaker: Ioan Grillo and John Dickie

For years, a group of 25,000 Afro-Colombian refugees and migrants have built a town on stilts over the sea at the edge of Buenaventura on Colombia’s Pacific coast.

Today, the Colombian government is attempting to relocate the entire community to an inland barrio so that it can develop a commercial port and tourist beaches.

Community leaders are trying to resist the eviction or at least fight for decent compensation as the move would not only rob residents of their homes but of their main livelihood – fishing.

To rally for the cause, activist Benildo Estupinan has organised local musicians and singers to compose songs that raise consciousness.

From that call, a collective of 30 singers and musicians was formed and given the name “Marcando Territorio” or Defending Territory. They are organising concerts, rallies and recording songs in defence of their homes and lives.

Witness : Artscape – Bajamar Ballad