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Continue ReadingDear WW4 REPORT Readers: 

Issue #. 131. March 2007

Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog IRAN: THE LEFT OPPOSITION SPEAKS An Interview with Bina Darabzand of Salam Democrat Against Bush, Against Ahmadinejad, For Oaxaca by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT SUFISM: THE MIDWAY BETWEEN EXTREMISMS Indigenous North Africa Between Jihad and… Read moreIssue #. 131. March 2007


from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

On Jan. 29 residents of Camiri, a city in the southwest of Bolivia’s eastern Santa Cruz department, began a civic strike and blockaded a main highway connecting the country with Argentina and Paraguay. The action, which stranded hundreds of people and some 400 vehicles, was led by the Camiri Civic Committee in an effort to make the government of leftist president Evo Morales intensify the nationalization of gas and petroleum production it had announced last May 1. The committee’s demands included the opening of a local office of Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB), the state-owned energy company, and stepping up plans to nationalize two oil refineries operated by the Brazilian state energy company, Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras).

Camiri residents escalated the protest on Feb. 2 by seizing control of a pumping facility operated by the international Transredes company and forcing the employees there to close a pipeline that supplies La Paz, Santa Cruz and other Bolivian cities. On Feb. 3, 15 hours after the pipeline was closed, with a loss of $500,000 in revenue, soldiers and police agents took control of the facility in a struggle which left 12 people injured, two of them by bullets.

On Feb. 5 residents lifted the blockade and began clearing rocks and logs off the highway after government and Civic Committee negotiators reached an agreement which largely met the committee’s demands. The government also promised to build a gas separation plant in the area and to move towards taking over the Chaco and Andina companies, which belonged to YPFB until the energy industry was privatized in 1996. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Feb. 5, 6 from EFE, Upside Down World, Feb. 13; La Jornada, Mexico, Feb. 10; Inter Press Service, Feb. 6; Associated Press, Feb. 4)

President Morales stepped up the pace of nationalization in the metal mining and processing sector on Feb. 9 by signing a decree giving the government control of the Vinto tin smelting complex, operated by Sinchi Wayra, a subsidiary of the Swiss-owned Glencore International AG. Morales sent 200 soldiers to occupy the plant.

The Vinto facility was privatized in 2001 when the government sold it to Allied Deals, which later sold it to Compania Minera del Sur (COMSUR), a private mining company whose largest stockholder at the time was former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (1993-1997 and 2002-2003). Glencore bought it for $100 million in 2004. Morales is reportedly counting on $10 million from Venezuela to help build infrastructure that the Corporacion Minera de Bolivia (COMIBOL), the state-owned mining company, needs to operate plants like Vinto. (Upside Down World, Feb. 13; Taipei Times, Feb. 11 from AP; LJ, Feb. 10)

Meanwhile, tensions continue between unionized COMIBOL employees and the miners in the small cooperatives that sprang up after much of the mining sector was privatized in the 1990s; the cooperatives now employ some 55,000 independent miners. (Upside Down World, Feb. 13) In October a dispute at the Posokoni hill tin mine in Huanuni, in the southwestern department of Oruro, turned violent; 16 people were killed and 61 injured in the fighting between miners.

The Morales government is trying to reestablish control over more of the mining industry with a planned increase in taxes on private mining. On Feb. 6 as many as 20,000 miners from the cooperatives marched through the streets of La Paz, setting off hundreds of sticks of dynamite and paralyzing the city. The government was willing to negotiate the tax increases, but the protesters refused to meet with officials until they released seven protesters that had been arrested near the city of El Alto, 12 kilometers west of La Paz, on Feb. 5 and Feb. 6 with a total of 285 sticks of dynamite in their possession. (ED-LP, Feb. 7 from AP)

The miners continued to occupy streets around La Paz’s San Francisco plaza on Feb. 7, blocking traffic and government buildings and setting off dynamite. When a group of police agents attempted to arrest people with dynamite, the miners beat up two agents and held others briefly as hostages. Despite the violence, during the day talks started with the government, which agreed to exempt the 536 Bolivian mining cooperatives from the tax and to give them a $10 million subsidy and two of the six seats on COMIBOL’s board of directors. The government says that of the $1.044 billion Bolivia made from mineral exports in 2006, only $45 million went to the state through taxes; the government wants to raise this to $80 million a year. (La Capital, La Paz, Feb. 7 from DPA; ED-LP, Feb. 8 from EFE)

Miners from the cooperatives planned new protests at the Posokoni mine starting on Feb. 4; they insisted that these actions would remain peaceful. In the week of Feb. 11, dozens of the miners and their families took the protest to the streets of La Paz, where they carried out a hunger strike, wrote signs in their own blood and symbolically crucified and buried themselves. The government insists that the Posokoni mine, the country’s richest tin mine, will be entirely under COMIBOL’s control but that the cooperatives will have access to other sites. The government is offering to pay about $187 a month to the private miners who have been removed from Posokoni until they can find work at the new sites. (Diario Las Americas, Miami, Feb. 17 from EFE)

A leader from Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS) party claims the cooperative miners are being manipulated by political forces. Gustavo Torrico, head of the MAS group in the Chamber of Deputies, told the Cuba news agency Prensa Latina that one of the people behind the recent actions is Jaime Villalobos, who was a mining minister under Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. (PL, Feb. 17)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 18, 2007


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #129, January 2007

See related story, this issue:

The Fractious Struggle for South America’s Resources
by April Howard, Upside Down World

From our weblog:

Bolivia: deadly unrest over autonomy plan
WW4 REPORT, Jan. 12, 2007


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007 Reprinting permissible with attribution



Indigenous North Africa Between Jihad and Imperialism

by Toufik Amayas Mostefaou

My heart
Has become capable
Of taking all sorts of forms,
It is
For gazelles
And Monastery for the monk,
Temple of idols
Kaaba for the pilgrim.
It is the tables of the Torah
The Book of the Koran.
It professes the religion of love
Whatever the place
Toward which
Its caravans wend.
And love
My law
And love
My faith.

—Ibn Arabi, of Andalusia and North Africa, 1165-1240 CE, Sufi

Questions relating to “modernity” and “tradition” have occupied Muslim thinkers—people such as Jamal Addin Al-Afghani, Rashid Ridha, Abd Arrahman Al-Qawakibi, etc.—for the good part of the twentieth century. They continue to exert a considerable force on contemporary Islamic discourse, especially in questions relating to citizenship, forms of government and economic and social organization.

At the beginning of the 21st century, societies with a strong Islamic heritage are facing tough choices between modernity, tradition, democracy, absolute monarchy, Islamism, secularism, imperialism and nationalism (Amazigh, Arabic, Kurdish, etc)…

These struggles are ubiquitous throughout the Muslim world. Whether one goes to Saudi Arabia with its absolute monarchy or Turkey with its official secularism, or to the Indian subcontinent with its millennia-old traditions, questions about “Islamic tradition” (with whatever that may imply), modernity and democracy keep resurfacing to the fore of academic and public discourses. The Islamic world is a geographically vast area that straddles more than two continents, and it will be difficult to address any issues related to it without being trapped in some form or another of analytical reductionism. But even with such a huge structural constraint facing anyone writing about history, there is a lot one can discern from an account of how the past has shaped the present and how the present informs the future.

It is in this context that I write about the history of Sufism in Kabylia, the mountain homeland of Algeria’s largest group of indigenous Imazighen (Berbers), and about how Sufism can provide us with a normative framework in the twenty-first century to transcend the clash of ideologies—especially when one sees the world being reduced cartoonistically into two opposing sides: Western hegemonic imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism.

For some ideologists and politicians the choice is exclusive, either the Imperialist side or the Wahhabist one and the submission to the dictates of Sharia. From this direct and frontal opposition will result the Clash of Civilizations, a new cold war, a new confrontation of interests. The world can’t contain two belligerent ideologies that exclude each other, that want to dominate the entire planet and submit it to its own rule and culture.

But the relationship between “imperialists” and “Islamists” has been quite complex and their recent clash is more of an ephemeral episode in a world shaped and reshaped by the interplay of different factors—among which ideology is not necessarily the dominant one. To prove this point one may point to many events in recent history, the most illustrative of which is the war in Afghanistan that occurred in the aftermath of Russian invasion of 1979. At that time, “jihadists” were portrayed as freedom fighters in Western media, and they were an ally for Western countries allied against communist threat.

As a direct consequence of this opposition, Muslims found themselves trapped in a tornado of dilemmas and conflicting interests: aspiration for democracy and social justice attracts them to occidental values; the Wahhabis threaten them with hudud (penalties prescribed by sharia law) and divine punishments if they don’t obey and come back to the orthodox way. This complex situation can be worse in the extreme for religious and ethnic minorities living in large Muslim majority—such as the Amazighs in North Africa.

The beginning of the 21st century has been torn by extreme violence and hardening positions in the two antagonist visions of the world: imperialism, the rule of free markets and military dominance from the occidental side; Islamism and religious extremism in the Middle East, Far East and some African countries. The battlefield has extended to the Internet, media and mosques. The polarization is so serious that some Muslims born in occidental countries are being alienated and join extremist movements. They no longer believe in the occidental values—for them, Europe and the USA are only about money, and are oppressing Muslims and Arabs. For many young Muslims, religion is now more about having personal identity and fighting against oppressors and infidels than about spirituality and personal evolution.

These inflammatory discourses make some Muslims feel that they are before a hard choice: either join religious extremism and save their Nation from the devilish imperialism, or uproot themselves from their Islamic values and jump into the welcoming hands of libertine and oppressive imperialism.

Our interest will be focused on the native Amazigh ethnicity in North Africa to show the potentialities that Sufism has to adapt and to survive in a very resistive culture where orthodox Islam failed to take root. We will also explore the hope that Sufism brings for the existence of a tolerant and spiritual Islam, in harmony with what we can call modern values.

Because of its strategic location between three continents, North Africa has been the target of many invasions throughout its history, and its native Amazigh people (Imazighen in the plural) have become very effective warriors as a result. The last military struggle was that undertaken against French colonialism that spanned the years from 1830 to 1962. But in contrast to all the invading forces that stayed for short or prolonged periods and then left, the Arabs who invaded the region in the 7th century stayed.

In contrast to the typical image of this invasion drawn by Arabs, the Imazighen did not receive Arabs as liberators. The process of Islamization in North Africa was not momentous, but has taken many centuries, and in some respects it is still taking place today.

All the invading powers that tried, to different degrees, to annex North Africa politically or religiously have generally had very little success. Phoenicians appropriated the Amazigh goddess Tanit. Saturn, conceived as an African god, dethroned Jupiter in the local Roman Pantheon. And in the Christian era, Amazighs opposed St Paul’s version of Christianity and adopted Arian monotheism.

Arius (c. 250-336 CE, of Alexandria) was an early Amazigh Christian theologian, who taught that the Son of God was not eternal, and was subordinate to God the Father (a view known generally as Arianism). Theologically, Arius’ view of creation shared strong parallels to both neo-Platonism and Gnosticism. He taught that God did not create matter directly, but via the Logos, thus giving Christ the unique status as the only being created directly by God, yet subject to the Father. Gnosticism, in nearly all of its forms, taught some form of dualism, that matter is inherently evil, and the spirit inherently good. Therefore there had to be a mediating process through which God created that world, because good cannot create evil. This distinct view of transcendence is one of the foundational presuppositions of Arius’ thought.

The Arians were opposed to St Augustine’s Church and created an African one under the leadership of St Donate. This resistance to foreign religious subjugation is quite indicative of the attachment of Imazighen to their ancestral beliefs (cults of ancestors and leaders, a Spirit living and appearing on a daily basis to humans, personified trees, Earth and Mother Godesses, et cetera). Although he attracted considerable support at the time (and since), Arius’ views were declared heretical at the Council of Nicaea, leading to the formation of the Nicene Creed.

Upon its arrival in their midst, Islam faced serious resistance from Imazighen. Muslims took power by force and imposed the monarchy of Mo’awiya ibnu Abi Sofian, the, governor of Syria who was dispached by Caliph Umar to conquer North Africa. His reign was marked by suppression of any opposition to his diktat. He sent his armies to other countries to make futuh’at (campaigns of conquest, literally “opening”) and jihad in the name of God to give legitimacy to his rule.

Almost one century after the first invasion, most of the cities were submitted to the new rulers, but the mountains and the rural areas remained independent and faithful to their earlier religions (paganism, Christianity or Judaism). Shortly after the fall of the Amazigh land under Islamic rule, the jizya fiscal system was introduced, impsoing special taxes on non-Muslims. In order to avoid paying this huge amount of money to the Umayyad Caliphate’s central government in Damascus, a large part of Amazighs chose the conversion to the new religion. Surprisingly, Umayyad kings refused to suppress these taxes even after conversion of Amazighs. This led to defections to Kharijite sect, and the Berber Revolt of 740-43 CE. The key Amazigh victory at the Battle of the Nobles (Ma’rakatu al Ashraf), turned the tide, and Arab rulers were driven out of North Africa. Amazigh land got its independence from the Islamic Caliphate and was called by Arabs al Maghrib al Islami (Muslim occident) in contrast to al Maghrib al Masih’i (Christian occident).

As dynastic struggles shook the Islamic world, local rulers might be formally loyal to the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, the displaced Umayyad Caliphate in Iberia or the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt. But the Amazigh really ruled themselves, and changed sides according to their interests. The Amazigh dynasties of the Almohads and the Almoravides eventaully proclaimed their own Caliphate in Iberia.

The succession struggles following the death of the fourth caliph, Ali, in 661 led to a profusion of schisms in Islam. To oppose the Sunni diktat and to make a definitive clear cut with Arab imperialism and the oppressive Umayyad regime, Amazighs adopted Kharijism and later the Ismaili Shi’ism of the Fatimid Caliphate, a more tolerant branch of Islam. There was also a more radical answer among Amazighs: the creation of an Amazigh religion where God is Amazigh, speaks Amazigh and speaks to Amazighs only—the Barghawata heresy, which held sway on the Atlantic coast of Morocco from the Berber Revolt through the 11th century. Apostasy and revolts against Islam were frequent to the point that The Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun, the great North African historian, reported twelve apostasies of Amazighs.

Islam never managed to penetrate by force into Kabylia. It was only in the 10th century that Islam started to penetrate peacefully into Kabylian Mountains thanks to Shi’a missionaries. This led to the adoption of Shi’a Islam by the Kutama, one of the principal Amazigh tribes of Kabylia Mountains, and the creation of the unique Shi’a Caliphate: the Fatimid Dynasty. Sunni extremists wanted to uproot the previous faith and replace it with a hostile Arabian version of Islam incompatible with Kabylian traditions. Shi’a Islam, holding that Caliph Ali inherited the esoteric explanation of Islam from the Prophet Muhammad, spread naturally all over Kabylia—to the point that even today we can find traces of the Shi’a Islam in Kabylia. Ali is singled among the followers and companions of the Prophet Muhammad, and Ashura festivals are observed under the name of Taachurt. These commemorations include “un-Islamic” traditions, like kids wearing masks and going from one house to an other collecting sweets and cakes. Later in the day there is a visit to the village mausoleum for a short pilgrimage

The Shi’a period was short in Kabylia, but it led to a peaceful cohabitation of a spiritual Islam with the original traditions of the natives. In the 11th century, Almohads, an occidental Amazigh dynasty, conquered much of North Africa and imposed a new version of Sunni Islam with a strong Amazigh signature but with a strict, rigorist and authoritarian stamp. They swept away several other kingdoms and completed the homogenization and total conversion of most of the Amazighs to Sunni Islam. The Almohads’ arrival was the end of the Barghawata dynasty and the fall of Shi’ism in the Amazigh lands. Ibadites (descendants of the Kharajites), Christians, Jews and pagans survived only in very small communities.

But the Almohads’ conquest of power coincided with the diffusion of a highly spiritual Islam: Sufism. Most Sufi tariqas (paths or brotherhoods) claim Ali their first master, and that was initiated into esoteric Islam from Prophet Muhammad. To some extent, both branches of Islam (Sunni and Shi’ite) recognize Sufis as saints and devoted Muslims. But there are exceptions—the Hanbalites (a rigorist Sunni school) and extremists who see Sufis as deviants, heretics and kafirs (unbelievers). The history of Islam is full of executions and excommunications of Sufis—the most famous case being the public execution of Mansur Hallaj in Bagdad in 922.

Even if puritan dynasties managed to get rid of the Barghawata kingdom and to convert the last Jewish and Christian tribes, the austerity of official Sunni Islam had little appeal outside the mosques and schools of the cities. Rural cults survived the triumph of orthodoxy in the twelfth century despite the efforts of the Almoravids and Almohads to stamp them out. This survival is quite impressive and astonishing.

Sufism spread in cities but even more quickly in rural areas. So, in the countryside, Sufis and wandering marabouts, or holy people, drew a large and devoted following. These men and women were believed to possess baraka (divine and special grace), or to be able to channel it to others. In life, marabouts offered spiritual guidance, arbitrated disputes, and often wielded political power. After death, their followers erected domed tombs that became sites of pilgrimage.

There are many such Sufi shrines in Algeria. In most cases, these sites have a sacred tree, a rock, a totem or a geological formation that increase their power in the eyes of North Africans (both Amazigh and Arab). The sacralisation of natural phenomena is in complete harmony with the Amazigh pre-Islamic faith and beliefs that have survived Arab invasion. In fact, some mausoleums of Sufi saints are pre-Islamic sacred sites. They can be graves of village founders. In some cases, after the Sufi’s death, the baraka might be transmitted to an object. The care of this totem is handled by descendants of that wali (saint), or is shared among the oldest families of the village.

As in the other parts of the Muslim world, Sufism was opposed in North Africa by both reformist movements such as the Islah, which advocated for the rights of Algerians under the French colonization, and extremists such as the Salafiya and Wahabiya movements. The Islah movement, initiated by a group of Islamic scholars or ulema (‘Abd al-Hamid b. Badis, Bashir al-Ibrahimi), won the support of secular reformists and agitated against both French rule and Sufi brotherhoods in the 1930s. After independence in 1962, the Algerian state imposed its own nationalist ideology and barred Sufis from religious power. Nevertheless, most of the Sufi brotherhoods quietly continued practicing their rituals.

The ’80s were more favorable to Sufis. Some zawiyas (local headquarters of the brotherhoods) resumed open activity; regional branches of brotherhoods re-established contact with each other. Some which had been accused in state propaganda of collaboration with French had their reputation officially rehabilitated, lauded for their role in the diffusion of Islam in the region. The new recognition of Sufism by the state was attested by the 1991 establishment of a the National Association of the Zawiyas.

The official view of Sufism in Algerian society changed under the threat from Islamism—the Salafists, inspired by the Wahhabis of Arabia. While the ’30s witnessed a condemnation of mysticism in the name of reason, in the ’80s the state became tolerant of Sufism to show that they were not against Islam, and to encourage an alternative that was non-violent and distinctly Algerian. Intellectuals who sympathized with this religious trend were legitimized.

In the ’90s, a wave of Islamist violence and terrorism, and consequent government repression, claimed many thousands of lives in Algeria. But in the Kabylia Mountains, Salafi Islam won very little support, and Islamist political parties gained almost no ground. There were several reactions to the shock of the ’90s Islamist explosions. Some in Kabylia simply rejected Islam and everything that has linked the Amazigh to the Arabs (Islam and Arabic language); a few converted to Christianity. Others came back to Sufism as an indigenous cultural reference, or just because of the tolerance and the spiritual dimension of this mystical Islam.

Aspirations to a better life, modernity and freedom, inevitably raise the question of Islam’s compatibility with these values. Modernity, as imperialism sees it, is taking our world to the edge of destruction. In the name of democracy and free trade, countries are being attacked, elected governments overthrown and local economies destroyed. The effects of industrialization and savage misuse of natural resources have not only been an economically unbalanced world (with extremely rich capitalists and an extremely poor underprivileged class). This conception of modernity ultimately threatens human existence. For the first time, the human race has to decide on its own existence! Do we want to exist, or do we decide to destroy our planet and its ecological balance.

The race for material wealth, immediate pleasures and the accumulation of commodities is exhausting our planet. Imperialism has become a threat to civilization and human existence, not just national sovereignty. If Islamic terrorism threatens a number of governments, and violates human rights in many areas, imperialism in its contemporary face is a threat not only to the whole of humanity, but also to trees, rivers, animals… Our ecosystem is victim of an imperialism unleashed as never before, that refuses to recognize its role in the climate changes our planet is experiencing. We can clearly say: Modernity no longer means the reign of reason, but the gratification of needs and the satiation of desires. Imperialism and capitalism are turning back against two pillars of modernity and their own existence: reason and science. In the same way, Islamic extremism is turning against its own roots and source: spirituality and mercy.

This simple observation makes us say that Islamism on the one hand, and globalization and imperialism on the other are identical from the point of view of mechanism and principle. Both want to dominate the world and submit humanity to their sole law: their proper and extremist view of religion and God, or the reign of the sacred trio capital-market-free trade.

Opposing or resisting the Islamists’ fight for a new caliphate is a clear sign, for them, of heresy or idolatry. Extremists’ fatwas make it licit to kill every opponent, even if they are innocent civilians. Their argument in such a cases is that innocent victims will go directly to paradise and the kafir will burn for eternity in hell fire.

This dichotomy of “with us or against us” is not unique to the Islamists, but it is shared with the imperialists, as shown in George Bush’s infamous pronouncement after the attacks of September 11: “You are with us or with the terrorists.” Effectively, the imperialists’ forces were unleashed and sent to fight against their alter ego “Islamists” in different part of the world. All this is done in the name of Justice and the spread of Democracy and Freedom. Exactly as Islamists kill in the name of Divine justice and the spread of the Good way of life (under the shari’a law).

Astonishingly, this comparison between these two extremisms reveals the same basis and goals behind their mutual atrocities and arrogance: material gains and physical pleasures. For imperialism and capitalism the sole God is Capital. All means to defend “free markets” are acceptable and justifiable. Stability and social order are necessary for the growth of trade and capital. For this pragmatic reason, dictators and authoritarian regimes are obstacles to “international order” if they assert national control of their natural resources, but if they offer access they became allies.

The Islamists’ God offers them cities of gold and silver with a harem of 72 virgins each in Paradise, the only condition being to follow sharia law (as interpreted in the fatwas of the sheikhs and mullahs) and to die for it as a mujahid. Unfortunately, the way to this paradise is paved with the bodies of innocent civilians and naive Muslims. They see the divine reward and their struggle (terrorist activities) as a business transaction with God. A well known adage is: “Isn’t trading with God the best trade?”

Finally, it all comes down to selling and buying. Capitalists and Islamists have the same goal: maximum gains. For the first category, the reward is earthly; for the second it is an afterlife reward.

The Kabyles adopted Sufi Islam while keeping their identity and tradition. For centuries, these Muslims of the Kabylia Mountains lived their lives as farmers, working their ancestral lands, making jewelry, harvesting wheat and collecting fruits. They lived also their lives as Muslims devoted to the One God of Islam. They made a distance between themselves and the religious clergy, forbidding them from interfering in their earthly life. As the Amazigh saying goes: Igenni n Rebbi, ma t-tamurt n vav-is (Heaven belongs to God, Earth belongs to those who cultivate it). They kept their reverence for their Mother, the land that gave birth to all beings, and where they shall all return. They had a balance between their faith in Islam and their ancestral identity. They were peaceful as long as they were not attacked.

Maybe this is the way, not only for Amazigh of Kabylia, but for all the inhabitants of North Africa.


See also:

Paradoxical Legacies of the Militant Mystics
by Khaleb Khazari-El
WW4 REPORT #123, July 2006

Berber Boycott in Restive Region Signals Continued Struggle
by Zighen Ayml
WW4 REPORT #113, November 2005

From our weblog:

NYT: North Africa “staging ground for terror”
WW4 REPORT, Feb. 21, 2007


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Justice Department Scores One Against the FARC

by Paul Wolf, WW4 REPORT

February 20, a federal jury in Washington DC found Anayibe Rojas Valderama (Sonia), Antonio Celis and Juan Diego Giraldo guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine into the US, and of manufacturing or distributing cocaine, knowing or intending that it would be imported into the US. The charges carry a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years, and a maximum of 30 years under the US-Colombia extradition treaty. The precise sentence will be determined in another proceeding to be held on May 4. Whatever the outcome, it will be a long time, longer than any Colombian would ever serve in his or her own country for these crimes.

It was Sonia who was the political figure and real target in this case. If only Giraldo and Celis were involved, it is unlikely they would have been prosecuted at all. However, Sonia presented the opportunity to prove that a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was an international drug trafficker, and the government spared no expense to ensure the outcome.

Although the allegation that the FARC are “narco-guerrillas” is often made—the DEA claims the FARC is responsible for 90% of the cocaine entering the US—this maked the first time it has been proven in a court of law. There has certainly been no comparable case in the US. This is a landmark case against the FARC.

But the verdict in Sonia’s case was based almost entirely on the testimony of paid government informants. There was no physical evidence against Sonia, such as seized cocaine, fingerprints, photos, or even telephone calls that clearly referred to drugs.

Just Another Drug Case

Some may wonder why FARC leader Simon Trinidad achieved a hung jury in federal court in November, while Sonia was convicted. Three factors made Sonia’s case different from Simon Trinidad’s: the nature of the charges, the defendant’s connection to the alleged crime, and the context presented to the jury.

In Trinidad’s trial, a great deal of evidence was presented as to who are the FARC, and what are their goals. Much of it came from Simon Trinidad himself, who testified in his own defense. Ironically, Trinidad’s case was also bolstered by witnesses for the prosecution. Some jurors may have believed that it’s not legitimate to apply the laws of conspiracy and hostage-taking to the negotiator of a guerrilla army in the context of a prisoner exchange. It was very complicated for them.

On the other hand, in Sonia’s case, drug trafficking is never legal. It doesn’t matter who is doing it, whether there is an insurgency, or whether the insurgency is justified. Even the US CIA has drawn harsh criticism for working with drug traffickers to achieve its goals. Drug trafficking is simply not a legitimate activity, while hostage-taking could arguably be, in the context of a war. (Although the purpose of the hostage-taking must be to spare the lives of prisoners of war, not to ransom them for rewards.)

Sonia’s jury heard very little background about the war in Colombia. The defense called no witnesses, and only cross-examined the prosecution’s witnesses. Sonia’s lawyer said in opening arguments that Sonia was just a nurse, without any leadership role in the FARC, and lacked the education to manage the finances of the FARC’s 14th front. However, no evidence was presented to support any of this. The jury had to evaluate the statements of some 20 prosecution witnesses against the statements of Sonia’s lawyer. After the trial, it was still unclear to many who Sonia is, and what was her job within the FARC.

Bearing False Witness

The prosecutors in this case arrived bearing the testimony of three crucial witnesses. They have poisoned the well of Colombian politics with their efforts to portray the FARC as the primary source of Colombian cocaine. From now on, those on the right can refer to this case as proof that the FARC not only tax the drug trade in Colombia, but also control it. The problem is that the evidence presented consisted largely of paid government informant testimony.

The first witness, Rocio Alvarez, was a DEA informant paid more than $15,000 US per month for a period of a year, who lived in the house of Sonia’s brother, Farol, in Peñas, in Colombia’s Caqueta department. Although Rocio had minimal contacts with Sonia herself, she testified that Sonia’s brother was a major trafficker of coca paste in the town.

The second witness, Mauricio Moreno, was a retired officer of the Colombian National Police who found employment as the bodyguard of Gordo Andres, an alleged drug trafficker, and then as an informant against the FARC. Moreno testified as to his boss’ alleged drug transactions with Sonia, and to a bizarre plan to sell cocaine to paramilitaries, then steal it back from them and then export it to the United States.

The third witness, called “Juan Valdez,” supposedly captained the riverboat used by Sonia on a bi-weekly basis, over a two-year period, up and down the Rio Caguan, buying hundreds of tons of cocaine and returning hundreds of millions of dollars to the impoverished economy. Although the Colombian military controlled the river at that time, Valdez and Sonia supposedly made hundreds of enormous drug deals in a regular pattern. Valdez buried the valuable gringo dollars in various places in the jungle, marking trees with an X and drawing treasure maps.

Then there was Pedro Lopez, a “reinserted” (demobilized) ex-guerrilla from the 14th front who also claimed that Sonia was financial officer there. And finally, “Lechuga”—their man in Panama City, who says he spotted Sonia in the Seven Seas restaurant. Lechuga was allegedly an old time narcotrafficker, going back 20 years to the Noriega days.

The prosecution also showed videos and presented witnesses implicating Giraldo and Celis in various drug transactions—but not Sonia. Nevertheless, the picture presented as a whole portrayed Sonia as the ringleader of a vast narcotics trafficking conspiracy, and went largely unchallenged.

Barely Adequate Representation

Sonia and the others had court-appointed lawyers with limited resources, who were not experts on Colombia. Sonia’s own lawyer was totally unfamiliar with the politics of the region during the time of the charged conspiracy, and the improbability of what her client was accused of. Sonia’s bi-weekly trips up and down the Rio Caguan allegedly occurred during a time when the Colombian military closely controlled the river, in 2002 and ’03. This was after the government’s February 2002 re-taking the “demilitarized zone” ceded to the FARC for peace talks along the river, and the area was heavily patrolled against the guerillas. The scenario was, for any knowledgeable observer, virtually impossible. Yet Sonia’s attorney was not able to effectively challenge it. Moreover, Sonia’s lawyer stipulated (agreed with the prosecution) that 30 kilos of cocaine at issue in the case belonged to another member of the 14th Front of the FARC. Sonia visibly winced as this was announced.

In contrast, the prosecution had the full weight of the US and Colombian governments behind it—including numerous police and military officers, half a dozen paid informants, and thousands of documents and recorded telephone calls.

Right to Counsel

One of the problems with the cases of Simon Trinidad, Sonia, and other FARC members extradited to the US is that they are effectively prevented from hiring private lawyers. In Trinidad’s case, the violation of his right to counsel was grotesque. Born into a wealthy family, and allegedly the representative of a group earning hundreds of millions of dollars per year through various activities, Trinidad has been held incommunicado under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), without access to his private attorney, represented by public defenders who cannot possibly counter the immense resources marshaled by the prosecution. Lawyers who may have sought to represent him pro bono were barred from contacting him by the SAMs.

Similarly, in Sonia’s case, her attorney called no witnesses, had a minimal understanding of the context of the case, and could not effectively cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. While this kind of defense may be constitutional for the indigent, it is clearly insufficient in highly politicized trials such as Sonia’s.

The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution protects a person’s right to retain counsel of her choosing. Yet in cases involving the FARC, or indeed, any alleged terrorist or drug trafficking organization, private attorneys are dissuaded from representing these clients, due to fear of forfeiture of the attorneys fees. Defendants are left with appointed counsel with varying degrees of commitment and resources.

Over 75 years ago, the US Supreme Court observed in the famous Scottsboro Boys case (Powell v. Alabama, 1932): “It is hardly necessary to say that the right to counsel being conceded, a defendant should be afforded a fair opportunity to secure counsel of his own choice.” The right to retain private counsel serves to foster the trust between attorney and client that is necessary for the attorney to be a truly effective advocate. Not only are decisions crucial to the defendant’s liberty placed in counsel’s hands, but the defendant’s perception of the fairness of the process, and her willingness to acquiesce in its results, depend upon her confidence in her counsel’s dedication, loyalty, and ability. Counsel is too readily perceived as the government’s agent rather than her own.

The government spends vast sums of money to try defendants accused of crime, and of course will devote greater resources to complex cases in which the political stakes are high. Precisely for this reason, there are few defendants charged with crime who fail to hire the best lawyers they can get to prepare and present their defenses. But when the government provides for appointed counsel, there is no guarantee that levels of compensation and staffing will be even average. Where cases are complex, trials long, and stakes high, that problem is exacerbated. Without the defendant’s right to retain private counsel, the government too readily can defeat its adversaries simply by outspending them.

Our system of criminal justice is predicated on an equal and adversarial presentation of the case, equality of arms, and upon the trust that can exist only when counsel is independent of the government. Without the right to counsel of choice, the effectiveness of our system is questionable. The cases of Simon Trinidad and Sonia typify this problem. One can only hope that in future FARC prosecutions—and more are on the way—the defendants will be given a fair chance. Otherwise, every aspect of these trials can be deemed political.


See also:

Simon Trinidad Prosecution as Terror War Test Case
by Paul Wolf
WW4 REPORT #127, November 2006

From our weblog:

James Petras replies to FARC
WW4 REPORT, Feb. 26, 2007


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



The Fractious Struggle for South America’s Resources

by April Howard, Upside Down World

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales was arguably elected on the platform of nationalization. A country-wide protest deposed president Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada in 2003, and then kicked former vice-president Carlos Mesa out of the presidential palace in 2005.

Protesters demanded the nationalization of the 48 trillion cubic feet of natural gas estimated to be in Bolivian reserves, the second largest reserves in South America after Venezuela’s. However, the road since Morales’ presidential victory in January 2006 has been anything but smooth. Morales supposedly “nationalized” Bolivian gas in a highly dramatized ceremony on May 1, 2006. But the process has been slow and complicated, and has left many citizens unsatisfied.

Under the new policy, the state energy company Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) would pay foreign companies for their services, offering near 50% of the value of production in smaller fields, and 18% in the largest fields. Social leaders complain that this plan is not a true nationalization, though the state company has little funding of its own with which to develop infrastructure. The re-negotiation of contracts with companies was left until the 11th hour, and did not show much organization or finesse on the part of the Morales administration. Two energy ministers have resigned since the “nationalization,” and now the renegotiated contracts have been suspended indefinitely in the face of lack of funds and infrastructure in YPFB.

The first weeks of February have seen continued drama in Bolivia’s struggle over the nationalization of natural resources in the mining and gas sectors. Beginning in the last days of January, protesters blockaded the main highway and took control of a gas pumping plant outside Camiri, Santa Cruz department, forcing employees of pipeline operator Transredes to shut off gas flow to Bolivia’s largest cities of La Paz and Santa Cruz. Protesters demanded that Morales expand nationalization of the country’s petroleum reserves and expand state petroleum operations in the south.

Specifically, protesters demanded that YPFB build a local headquarters in their town. The project was in the planning stages before Morales took office, but was cancelled as the administration reorganized the state company. Protesters also pressured Morales to expropriate two Brazilian-owned Petrobras refineries, as he announced he would last September, but retracted due to international criticism.

On February 6, the eighth day of the protest, after 12 demonstrators were injured in clashes with security forces and $500,000 in losses to fuel suppliers, a government commission and the Civic Committee of Camiri came to an agreement to open a new YPFB headquarters and a gas separation plant in the town, as well as to expand nationalization in southern regions.

The next day, February 7, Morales was forced to meet with representatives of mining cooperatives—private ventures which sell to the state company COMIBOL, as well as other companies—who demanded the repeal of a new mining tax proposed by the government. Conflicts between cooperative and state miners lead to 16 deaths last October in the mining town of Huanuni. The concept of nationalization is complicated in the mining sector, where cooperatives resulting from the collapse of the state industry have gained power and numbers in the last 20 years. Mining is dangerous and often terminal work in both cooperative and state ventures, and when talk of nationalization comes up, it has set miners against each other rather than empowering either sector.

Now, the cooperative miners marched into La Paz, tossing dynamite—as is usual in mining protests. According to the miners, the new tax would have created increases of between 50 and 160 percent to miners’ costs, without figuring in the different circumstances of small undertakings and large mining companies, nor another tax that cooperative already miners pay. The agreement made with Morales stated that the new tax would not be applied to cooperatives and that the government would grant $10 million in funds to the 536 Bolivian mining cooperatives (incorporating some 55,000 independent miners). Also, the cooperatives will be given a third of the six seats on the board of directors of the state mining company, COMIBOL.

The week wasn’t over, however. On February 9, Morales sent 200 soldiers to occupy the Swiss-owned Vinto Smelting complex. Morales signed a decree to nationalize the smelting complex, with no plans in the near future to compensate the company. “The Vinto Metallurgical Complex returns to the control of the Bolivian state with all its current shares, allowing the [state] Vinto Metallurgical Company to assume immediate administrative, technical, legal and financial control,” the decree read. Glencore International of Switzerland, the former owners of the smelter, purchased it from Compañía Minera del Sur (COMSUR)—whose owners include former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada—for a value of $100 million. Morales’ plan counts on $10 million from Venezuela in order to create infrastructure for COMIBOL.

Nationalization has caught the news in Venezuela too, as president Hugo Chavez has directed a smoother nationalization of Venezuela’s largest private electric company by having the state buy a controlling stake in Electricidad de Caracas (EDC) on February 8. The EDC stake was bought from US-based owner AES Corp., for $739 million. Possibly up for future nationalization are smaller companies in the electrical sector, oil projects (think Chevron and Exxon Mobil), as well as the country’s largest telephone company, CA Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela, CANTV, 28.5 percent-owned by New York-based Verizon Communications Incorporated.

While these countries struggle to renegotiate the meaning of “nationalization,” often with limited resources as a result of years of pillaging by foreign companies, Washington’s opinion of these projects is expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who accused Chavez of “destroying his own country” economically and politically. Chavez is operating from a position of prosperous and developed industries, which might account for his more successful nationalization projects. Meanwhile, Bolivian gas and mining industries suffer from a historic lack of infrastructure and investment. Morales can be criticized for his lack of expertise in nationalization projects, but with so few successful precedents, and a consistently conflictive social situation, he can be recognized for his efforts so far. Of course, he well knows what happened to the last president who refused to fully nationalize.


This story first appeared February 13 in Upside Down World, a website uncovering activism and politics in Latin America, where April Howard is an editor.

See also:

Still Waiting for Public Control of Hydrocarbons
by Gretchen Gordon, Upside Down World

From our weblog:

Bolivia: deadly unrest over autonomy plan
WW4 REPORT, Jan. 12, 2007

Miners’ strife in Bolivia leaves nine dead
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 9, 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



The Vietnam GI Revolt & Iraq

by Michael I. Niman, Art Voice, Buffalo, NY

The name Vietnam is back in our vocabulary, as we seem to be developing an interest in history—or at least in the history of wars that just would not end. Americans seem to be catching on that if we ignore history, we’re condemned to repeat it. The problem is that certain crucial elements of the Vietnam story have been censored from our national memory.

The unfortunate reality is that people aren’t suddenly interested in Vietnam because, like Iraq, it’s a war we had no legitimate reason for entering. No. If that were the issue, Vietnam would have returned more strongly to the national zeitgeist back in 2002 as the Bush administration and the national media were beating the drums for war. The reality is that if the US had been able to pacify Iraq easily and grab whatever spoils the neo-con crowd lusted after, people wouldn’t be talking about Vietnam. Sadly, this isn’t a groundswell of moral indignation. It’s just that in Iraq, like in Vietnam, we seem to be losing.

We’re losing in Iraq on many counts: We control less and less of the country; the violence we are supposedly trying to quell is instead escalating; reconstruction has been largely a failure; and Iraqis, instead of enjoying freedom from tyranny, are living in a state of abject deprivation and terror.

Losing breeds discontent. It’s like Argentina’s 1982 invasion of Britain’s Falkland Islands colony. The Argentines ousted their dictatorship after Argentina lost that war, not because the war was wrong but because they lost it. This is why revisionist American history texts never use the word “lost” in connection with the Vietnam war. It just sort of ended. And now the Vietnamese make Nikes.

Vietnam Redux?

Iraq is not Vietnam, however. We’re dealing with a different geopolitical situation—more a north-south global conflict than an east-west one. Vietnam’s significance, the hawks argued, was political. Iraq’s significance, of course, is oil.

What is the same is that we’re bogged down in a war with no achievable objective, right or wrong, no exit plan and no end in sight. Put the words “quagmire” and “Iraq” into a Lexis/Nexis news database search of major American newspapers and you’ll come up with 649 articles published in the last six months.

Current Vietnam myths don’t accurately address why and how that war ended. First there was the “peace with honor” line pushed by Richard Nixon. Then there was the blame game. We could have “won” if we weren’t wimps—with “winning,” one assumes, meaning destroying Vietnam in its entirety and forcing the US-created South Vietnamese dictatorship on whatever poor souls survived a thermonuclear holocaust. (“Bomb Hanoi” was the pro-war battle cry.) Then there was the admission that the war was lost, but with the caveat that it was lost at home. The peaceniks ruined our will to “stay the course.” This theory gives the peace movement full blame or credit for finally ending the war, depending on how you look at it.

History, however, is far more complex. Ultimately the war ended because the US armed forces just stopped fighting. A 1975 study published in The Journal of Social Issues documents how US troops, proportionally, opposed the war more than college students. In the end, some troops rioted, a few killed their commanding officers (fratricide emerged as the leading cause of death for lieutenants), up to 33,000 a year went AWOL and an overwhelming number of active-duty grunts refused orders and simply would not fight. The military was in shambles. It was impossible to continue the ground war, while the air war was politically untenable without the ground war to justify it.

The Spitting Myth

The war ended when the peace movement and the military became one and the same. In fact, returning soldiers played a pivotal role in building the peace movement. Veterans placed anti-war ads in newspapers as early as 1965. That’s the forbidden history we cannot know—because it’s the formula for ending wars. The revisionist history paints a picture of gung-ho patriotic soldiers being “spit upon” by “traitorous anti-American” peace activists. For the last 20 years, peace activists have had to contend with this image of self-righteous, violent, troop-hating hypocrisy.

For the pro-war crowd, the image of the hippie spitting on the returning soldier has become the iconic image of the Vietnam war. Oddly, however, this “image” exists despite the absence of any photographic evidence of a single spitting incident. Vietnam veteran and sociology professor Jerry Lembcke spent years chasing this myth, eventually writing a comprehensive historical study, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, published by NYU Press (1998).

Lembcke found an odd similarity to many of the spitting stories. The incident often happened to returning soldiers as they arrived at the San Francisco airport, with a young hippie woman doing the spitting. In doing his research, however, he found no news stories about soldiers being spit upon, even though the press was generally hostile to the anti-war movement. Likewise, he couldn’t find any official reports documenting such incidents, though stories of pro-war demonstrators spitting on peace activists were plentiful. And even though the supposed incidents usually occurred in well policed airports, no one was arrested for spitting on a vet.

Even odder, there are no reports of any veteran retaliating physically against a spitter, as if after months or years of fighting, returning vets suddenly embraced pacifism in the face of humiliating abuse. And despite the supposed predictability surrounding the alleged incidents—you know, hippie women loitering around the San Francisco airport waiting for uniformed soldiers to arrive—no one was ever able to produce photo of a spitting incident.

Lembcke writes: “Not only is there no evidence that these acts of hostility against veterans ever occurred, there is no evidence that anyone at the time thought they were occurring.” In fact, he adds: “Ninety-nine percent of the veterans polled soon after returning described their reception by close friends and family as friendly, while 94 percent said the reception from people their own age who had not served in the armed forces was [also] friendly.” Lembcke’s study shows that “stories of veterans being abused by anti-war activists only surfaced years after the abuses were alleged to have happened.” Most of these stories emerged after the popular Rambo films and other movies strengthened this myth and created a collective conscious memory of events that do not seem to have transpired—or at least did not transpire on any significant level.

Myths of soldiers being abused by peace activists have long been mainstays in pro-war propaganda, with early examples coming from the Nazis, who compared their opponents to mythological peace activists who supposedly attacked and degraded returning veterans from World War I. This turned out to be a winning formula for marginalizing dissent and has been used around the world ever since.

Hanoi Jane and the GI Uprising

Then there’s the Hanoi Jane myth: Like the other peace activists who hated our troops, Jane Fonda was a traitor.

It’s a little-known fact that Fonda went to military bases, like her pro-war nemesis Bob Hope, as an entertainer performing in front of as many as 60,000 soldiers at a single event—a number that would have turned Hope green with envy. Fonda toured with anti-war activists who appeared with her on stage. And the GI audience cheered wildly as they performed their “Fuck the Army” show. Pro-war soldiers—and there were plenty of those as well—hated her. It’s their voice that we hear almost exclusively today, building the myth of a schism between the peace movement and the grunts fighting the Vietnam war. With this media-enhanced stigma hanging over her head, Fonda refrained from speaking at anti-war rallies for 34 years—until January 27, 2007. She feared her presence and the association with this persistent myth would hurt the peace movement.

Another lost piece of history is the story of the GI underground press. According to the Department of Defense, active-duty, Vietnam-era service personnel had published 245 anti-war newsletters and newspapers by 1972, with their editors, writers, distributors and even readers risking court-martial and jail. There was even a GI-run pirate anti-war radio station operating for a short time in Saigon. Government officials took the threat of the GI peace movement extremely seriously, going so far as to court-martial an officer in 1971 for distributing copies of the Declaration of Independence at McChord Air Force Base in Washington state. The base’s underground newspaper reported the case.

That same year, 380 military and civilian police were called in to Travis Air Force Base in California to combat an anti-war rebellion that resulted in the burning of the Officer’s Club and the arrest of 135 GIs. Also in 1971, the Armed Forces Journal published a study entitled “The Collapse of the Armed Forces,” documenting a virtual global uprising by US combat troops. Government studies produced at this time document that 32% of active-duty service personnel participated in some form of resistance ranging from going AWOL to attacking officers. A report issued by the Army documents 86 officers murdered by their troops in that one branch of the service. Attacks injured another 700.

In 1972 the House Armed Services Committee reported hundreds of cases of sabotage disabling Navy equipment, including major instances of arson on two ships. The vessel dispatched to replace one of these fire-damaged ships was delayed by an onboard riot. Another ship was disabled a few weeks later by a strike. Meanwhile court-martialed service personnel were rioting in military stockades around the world.

As 1972 rolled to a close, it became clear to the Nixon administration that “staying the course” in Vietnam was no longer an option. More and more, the war the military was fighting was not against the Vietnamese. We had met the enemy and he was us.

Iraq War Soldiers Want Out

Fast-forward to Iraq. A Le Moyne College/Zogby poll conducted last February found that 72% of active duty military personnel wanted a complete pullout from Iraq by the end of 2006. On January 27, 2007, a contingent of active-duty service personnel marched as participants in the massive anti-war rally in Washington, DC. That week 1,171 active-duty service personnel signed an “Appeal for Redress” demanding that the US Congress support an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Sixty percent of the signatories had fought in Iraq.

When you join the military you in effect waive your constitutional rights as an American—including the right to free speech. Active-duty military personnel can’t show “disrespect” for the president or their commanding officers. Nor can they make statements that “subvert the mission of the military” or wear their uniform when protesting. And the Defense Department’s “Guidelines for Handling Dissent and Protest Among Members of the Armed Forces” prohibits activities such as petitioning Congress. Hence the service members’ statement was an “Appeal for Redress” and not a petition—a gray area that works when the petitioner is joined by 1,170 others. We call this a critical mass.

There are also a growing number of in-your-face deserters living both in Canada and underground in the US. One such war resister, Carl Webb, went so far as to maintain a Web site while he was on the run. The military ended this embarrassing situation not by finding and prosecuting him, but by discharging him, albeit dishonorably.

The All-“Volunteer” Armed Forces

Speculation about a Vietnam-style GI uprising is often tempered by the argument that in the Vietnam war era, most soldiers were reluctant draftees. Today we have an all-volunteer military. The inference is that the military is now a career choice and that today’s fighters are gung-ho to excel.

The counter-argument is that we do in fact have a draft today. The skyrocketing cost of a college education coupled with cuts in student aid, and the disappearance of good entry-level jobs in the US economy, has created an economic draft. As a result, the vast majority of Iraq and Afghanistan casualties come from poor and working-class backgrounds.

Former NBC News correspondent Peter Laufer, author of Mission Rejected: US Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq (Chelsea Green, 2006), interviews military resisters such as AWOL soldier Ryan Johnson, who says he joined because he was poor, describing himself as “a guy who made a wrong decision who wants a forklift job.” Another told Laufer that he couldn’t support his family on a McDonald’s salary. In effect, while we might not ave an official military draft, the new Wal Mart economy has stepped up to the plate to keep the supply of cannon fodder coming.

Then there’s the “stopgap” draft. The military reserves the right to “call up,” or draft, military veterans who have served their time and earned honorable discharges, but technically remain in what the Pentagon calls the Independent Ready Reserves. These draftees, people who served and chose to leave military life only to be put back in against their will, make up the angriest and most vocal group of today’s military resisters. That’s because they, like their Vietnam predecessors, are clearly draftees.

People who feel that today’s volunteer military is less likely to engage in resistance and disobedience need to look back at another little-known fact about the Vietnam war. According to David Cortright, author of Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War (Haymarket Books, 2005), enlisted troops were more likely to resist fighting than were draftees. Many joined out of patriotism and were sorely disappointed with the reality on the ground in Vietnam. Others, like today’s volunteers, were victims of an economic draft.

Also, during the Vietnam war, once soldiers served on one tour of duty, they were done with Vietnam. In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, however, almost one third of the 1.4 million service members who were deployed to the war zones were deployed at least twice—and many considered their second rounds more or less as a draft.

And finally, there’s the National Guard—the “weekend warriors,” many attracted by educational benefits, who signed up primarily to serve their communities during natural disasters. The National Guard was never a part of the Vietnam equation. It’s where George W. Bush hid out during the Vietnam war, before finally going AWOL himself.

Today National Guard troops from all 50 states and Puerto Rico are dying in Afghanistan and Iraq. Others are having their lives upended. They didn’t sign up for this. In effect, they, like the stopgap veterans, are draftees. And for the most part they don’t support this war or this president.

Our Not-So-Free Press

Reporting on military resistance puts journalists in the middle of a minefield. The political and economic pressure to ignore this story and just go with the yellow ribbons is enormous. Anti-war activity by active military personnel, in most cases, is illegal, even when it’s nonviolent and no property is threatened. Encouraging such activity is also illegal—and potentially dangerous in a country whose press freedoms are in a freefall. The US, once a beacon of free speech, is now ranked by the international journalism group Reporters Without Borders as 53rd in press freedom, tied with Botswana, Croatia and Tonga. It is legal to report, for example, on soldiers going AWOL, but is illegal to encourage, in print or otherwise, soldiers to go AWOL or to otherwise resist military duties.

What we can legally say is that resistance to war by active-duty military personnel, like fighting in war, is a brave act. Conscientious objection to war takes courage. Saying no is no more cowardly than saying yes to something you feel is wrong. Resisting the command to put your own life in peril when you don’t see a reason to do so is an expression of sanity. We have a right to support sanity over insanity.


This story first appeared February 1 in Art Voice of Buffalo, NY. It was inspired by the award-winning documentary film Sir! No Sir!

It is also archived at Michael Niman’s website,


Sir! No Sir! web site

Carl Webb web site

From our weblog

Military families to Congress: cut the funds
WW4 REPORT, Feb. 17, 2007

Beirut Jane distorts her history
WW4 REPORT, July 26, 2005


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingWHO’LL STOP THE WAR? 


An Interview with Bina Darabzand of Salam Democrat
Against Bush, Against Ahmadinejad, For Oaxaca

by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT

On December 12, 2006, as the Holocaust revisionism conference called by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opened in Tehran, small but angry groups of students held protests—against both the conference and Ahmadinejad, burning his picture and chanting “down with the dictator.” Scores of students marched at the Amir Kabir University of Technology (formerly Tehran Polytechnic), Tehran University and Sanandaj University in Kordistan province.

Among the organizers of the protests was Bina Darabzand, a leftist thinker and longtime veteran of Iran’s student movement. Born into what he calls a “left-oriented political family” in Tehran in 1957, Darabzand was involved in protest movements against the Shah from his youth. In 1978, he returned home from studies in the US and UK—where he was a representative abroad of the Confederation of Iranian Students—to participate in the Iranian revolution. After Ayatollah Khomeini took power, he was forced into exile, but returned to Iran again in 1986, and has since been working to build a radical left opposition. Since 1997, when the election of President Mohammad Khatami brought a supposedly more open atmosphere, he has been arrested four times—most recently in July 2004, when he was imprisoned for two years on fabricated charges of slandering governmental officials and organizing underground cells.

By the time of his release six months ago, the hard-liner Ahmadinejad was in power for just over a year. But Darabzand has immediately resumed his political activities, creating the website Salam Democrat as a voice for radical left ideas and news from movements in the outside world in Farsi. It has recently launched a page with updates on the struggle in Oaxaca, Mexico.

On February 13, Bina Darabzand spoke by telephone from Tehran with WW4 REPORT Editor Bill Weinberg over the airwaves of New York’s WBAI Radio.

BW: Bina, welcome aboard. For starters, what’s the name of your organization?

BD: Well, actually, there are no organization right now, because of the repression that we are facing here. Since the so-called Revolution, which was really the victory of the anti-revolution forces in 1979, we’ve lost five or six thousand of our comrades—executed, or imprisoned, and thousands more who left the country. So we have had very little chance to organize ourselves. However, in the past couple of years the social movements have been arising again and we’ve been able to come out from the underground, slowly finding each other and trying to organize ourselves into groups. But, as you know, for the left movement it is not as easy as for the liberals to get together. Because we have to unite on a revolutionary agenda. And right now we are working towards that.

BW: Well, you have an organization called Salam Democrat…

BD: Salam Democrat actually is a website. A group of people have gathered together to facilitate expressing these ideas. Then we can formalize them as an agenda that our movement needs right now to unite around.

BW: You make reference on your website to the “Iranian radical-left young student movement”…

BD: As a tendency, made up of intellectuals and elements of the student movement, you can consider it the revolutionary left—as opposed to the social democratic way of working, or the reactionary so-called left such as Fidel, Chavez and so forth. We are faithful to the Marxist-Leninist line, we are for the revolutionary change of society into a government of direct democracy by the people. So there is a very young and energetic tendency within the student movement which calls itself the radical left, which is a part of this revolutionary current.

BW: What are the various points of unity and divergence within the general student movement?

BD: You have to consider that the student movement is a mass movement and there are few specific organizations or ideologies. But the parties and organizations influence the student unions. The most important influences right now on the student movement that did the action against Ahmadinejad at the Polytechnic University and Tehran University, and which continues to protest, are the radical left and the radical liberals, who are the followers of people like [Akbar] Ganji and [Ali] Afshari and so on, who want to change the structure of the government.

BW: Can you tell us more about these figures?

BD: Ganji was an imprisoned journalist who right now is travelling in Europe and the United States. And Afshari was a student until a couple of years ago, and he of course is also now in the United States.

BW: Does the radical left tendency also have visible leaders?

BD: As for the radical left movement, we don’t really have faces we can present. We are basically all at the same level of theoretical and organizational capabilities. Everybody right now is a leader and cadre. However, one of our most famous leaders is Dr. Naser Zarafshan, who has won many international prizes for his activities and writings. But he has been in prison for the last four years.

BW: On what charge?

BD: He was the lawyer in the Chain Murder case [series of assassinations and disappearances of dissident intellectuals]. He charged the Iranian security police with murders of the opposition in 1999, ’98. And since he was very serious in doing his job, they made up some charges, such as carrying a handgun illegally, spreading lies, releasing secret information, and things like that.

BW: So he is an attorney as well as a political thinker and theorist…

BD: Yes, he has a law degree.

BW: So is there any party or organization, even in exile, which you adhere to?

BD: No, there is no organization abroad that has our line. We are Marxist-Leninist, and we are trying to follow the Leninist line that was followed in the Russian Revolution. We are trying to follow models such as the Soviet government of the first decade before Stalin dissolved the soviets. This is basically our goal.

BW: How freely are you able to operate? I imagine its a pretty repressive atmosphere.

BD: There is no freedom whatsoever. Those of us who are known to the security forces are picked up from time to time, and imprisoned for months in solitary, or for years in political blocs. The last time I was picked up was July 2004, and I was released two years later, just last summer. I spent the first two months of my confinement in solitary, blindfolded. Every week, one of us is picked up, for no apparent reason, with no formal charges. You can say we are just kidnapped—beaten, tortured. But this is the cost that we have to pay.

BW: Well, when you were picked up in the summer of 2004, what was the ostensible charge? Was there any kind of formal legal process?

BD: The legal process is a sham. The judge is ordered by the security forces what judgement to make. There is no legal representation. Nothing. Five minutes in court, and you are convicted.

Of course, that is if they want to keep you more than a few months. If they just keep you a few months in solitary—which happens to one of us ever year—there are no formal charges. They let us go when they are tired of trying to get information out of us.

The last time, when they held me for two years, they charged me with organizing underground cells and publishing lies about the government. Of course, they were both fabricated.

BW: Is there much of a confluence between the student movement and the labor struggles, the fight for women’s rights and free expression generally?

BD: For the first 25 years after the 1979 fall of the revolution, social movements were at a stand-still. We were just a bunch of intellectuals fighting for freedom of expression and assembly and so on. But in the past two years, the student movement, the feminist movement and the labor movement are arising again, which has given us a chance to come out from the underground.

However, the labor movement right now is at the guild stages and not very political. We are present in the feminist movement, but the leadership of that movement is still in the hands of the liberals. We are most deeply rooted and have the most influence and positions of leadership in the student, youth and intellectual movements right now. And we have gained this position because of the historical credibility of the left and the martyrs that we have given for the emancipation of our people.

BW: How are you able to get your ideas across? Do you have your own newspapers, or access to the radio waves?

BD: We are not allowed to have newspapers. There is some student literature, but as soon as they cross the red line, they are closed down and the people involved thrown in prison. We have the Internet, and that’s just about it.

Some of the leaders abroad have good access to the international media, satellite TV and so forth, but they don’t share it with us. They just rely on us for us reports to give themselves some credibility and show they are linked to the student movement here. We do not want any connection with the liberal groups in exile, although with the leftists we do have connections. But they haven’t given us much help.

BW: I note that you make reference to the “fall of the revolution in 1979.” Do you believe there was a legitimate revolution which took place between the fall of the Shah and the establishment of the ayatollah state?

BD: Of course. There was a revolution that started in 1974 and continued on until 1979. Just a few days ago we had the ceremony for the 22nd of Bahman [Feb. 11], commemorating the Islamic Revolution, which was actually the victory of the counter-revolution. So we had five years of revolution before the reactionary forces, in agreement with the Americans an the other Western countries, suppressed the revolution.

BW: Well, certainly the perception is that Khomeini’s revolution, whatever else you want to say about it, was opposed to the West. There was the whole hostage crisis in 1979-80…

BD: Not at all, at first. At first, it wasn’t so. As you recall, at that time we had two blocs, the Soviet bloc and the American bloc, two imperialists ruling the world, “superpowers” as they were called then. The American government, and all the Western governments, met in Guadeloupe [emergency G7 summit, January 1979]. The liberals in Iran got the United States government and the Western powers to support the Khomeini forces, because the other option would have been the left movement, which was very strong. And, as they convinced the West, that would have meant Soviet influence in Iran. So at first there was cooperation between the Western powers and the Iranian liberals and the reactionary Islamists.

But after the take-over the embassy and the position that the Iranian government at that time took—because it had to, otherwise it would have lost the masses that it had gathered—went towards anti-Americanism. The atmosphere changed. I believe that Carter and Reagan made a hell of a mistake by making an enemy of these people and not understanding their position in this situation.

But their anti-Americanism wasn’t in the sense of wanting to keep America out—they just didn’t want to sell themselves too cheap. And this still is going on. The Iranian government is a capitalist government, very much interested in to get involved in the capitalist world and globalization. However, it does not want to sell itself as cheap as the Shah sold himself, and that’s the only problem. The Americans want a puppet government like the Shah, but these people want to be treated as equal partners. That is the only thing that is keeping them apart from each other.

BW: Let’s talk about the current situation and the showdown over the nuclear development issue. How do you view this whole crisis?

BD: Well, it was the United States government during the Shah’s time that allowed the Iranian nuclear facilities to be built. However, with the problems that they have with this government, the US and the West are worried that Iran will develop an atomic bomb.

As far as the left is concerned, we are for peace and against weapons of mass destruction. We believe that our people have more immediate needs than atomic bombs. And at the same time we believe in the “zero alternative” and global disarmament, rather than new countries getting nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.

However, we believe in the right of our people to gain the knowledge and techniques of nuclear physics and nuclear energy. And we don’t think that the US—which is the only government to have used an atomic bomb, twice, without any concern over the human lives that were lost, and still continues with all kinds of weapons of mass destruction programs, and has been continuously at war in different parts of the world since World War II—is in the place of ethical authority on this subject. We consider the anti-war movement of the United States more acceptable to us than the position of the United States government on this subject.

BW: Putting aside the question of weapons, how do you feel about the pursuit of nuclear power in Iran—or anywhere, for that matter?

BD: Nuclear power is our right. And definitely, if there is a leftist government, we will continue with the energy program.

BW: Well here in New York City, some of us have been struggling for many years to get our own local nuclear plant at a place called Indian Point closed down, because we consider that it poses an unacceptable risk—not only in terms of an accident, but the ongoing contamination from routine emissions, nuclear waste and so on. So I wonder if there’s a perception that maybe nuclear power just isn’t the way to go.

BD: We do understand that. But we have to gain the knowledge and techniques of nuclear physics. Because many other branches of science and technology arise from the knowledge of nuclear physics. As far as building the plants is concerned, we are for the environment, and we will not use nuclear energy unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. We don’t have that much hydro-electric power here because we don’t have that much water. Of course, we do have potential for wind power. But I am not right now in the position to know all the details about our capabilities, and whether we should continue with our few nuclear power plants.

BW: Let’s talk about the protests against Ahmadinejad’s conference on the Holocaust. Israel’s exploitation of the Holocaust for propaganda purposes makes this a complicated issue for many. I’d like to hear your perspective.

BD: The people of the United States should know that the government in Iran and the personalities of this government are not representing the Iranian people and their views. The Holocaust was a genocide that should be condemned by all humanity. And definitely it was an historical fact, and there is no doubt about it. This is the view of the majority—and, I would say, almost all—of the Iranian people who are at all familiar with the world and the history of World War II. Ahmadinejad’s position on the Holocaust is definitely not ours.

And meddling in the international political sphere such as the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon and other parts of the world—we don’t think this is our place. We think the Israel-Palestinian conflict is their own concern, and it seems that they will reach an agreement if the Iranian government doesn’t meddle by supporting Islamic Jihad and so on. It is not our position to tell them what to do and what not to do. The Israelis and Palestinians should work it out themselves. The same thing with Lebanon. The various sectors of Lebanese society have shown that they can live in peace. It seems that it is Iranian and Syrian agitation that is causing these conflicts that they have to flare up into armed conflicts.

We are for unity and peace in the Middle East and all over the world. This is not only the position of the left, but the position of the liberals as well and the position of the whole people of Iran. So the Iranian government is not actually representing the Iranian view on this matter.

BW: Moving the question much closer to the borders of your own country—what about the US occupation of Iraq? The White House is accusing Iran of supporting the insurgents in Iraq. And I certainly hope not, but there seems to be an imminent threat of armed US aggression against your country.

BD: We don’t believe there is much threat of armed US aggression, even though we have seen what they have done without the acceptance of their own people in other parts of the world. The rhetoric of “no options are out of consideration”—well, I heard that during Reagan’s time too. We do not think that the United States is in the position to do this.

The United States government is after political and economic domination in the region for the benefit of the US ruling class, and the Iranian government is also after a good share of the market of the area. But the Iranian government is not going to push the conflict to the point of actually having to face the American military. Eventually they will come to some understanding. And since the interest of the US government in the region is dominance and not democracy or terrorism, if the Iranian government shows some sign of actually trying to work it out with the United States, I don’t believe the United States will stick to its position…

BW: So you are optimistic…

BD: Following American politics, we see that even the most die-hard Republicans that were for the Iraqi war are actually disassociating themselves from that line. And from the Iranian government’s point of view, they know that any military confrontation with the United States will mean their fall. So they’re not going to take it to that point. Eventually, they’re going to come some agreement. That’s what we think.

If we believed that the United States government was really after the fight against terrorism and for democracy, we might not be so sure they will reach an agreement! But this is not the point. Anybody who has any understanding of the United States’ actions knows that this is only rhetoric.

BW: What are your views of the struggle which is underway in Iraq at the moment?

BD: Unfortunately, we don’t see a progressive line in Iraq. Of course, we oppose the war and we condemn aggression against any country. We do not think the United States should have attacked Iraq, or Afghanistan for that matter, and they should leave immediately. We have the same position as the American peace movement, and we hope the American peace movement will be effective enough to force a withdrawal on the United States ruling class.

BW: Do you see any progressive forces in Iraq at all that we can support?

BD: I don’t see any. I don’t see any progressive forces that have been able to be seriously counted.

BW: You are aware of the Iraq Freedom Congress and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq?

BD: I don’t believe they have the power of ruling. I don’t see the potential for that now. However, the Iraqi situation being so acute right now, its very dynamic. It is possible that some of the progressive forces will be able to come up the ranks and form an alternative for their country.

BW: I think on the left here in the United States there is some suspicion that the protest movements in Iran are co-opted by the CIA or State Department or George Soros. So I’m curious whether the tone in the anti-Ahmadinejad protests was generally anti-imperialist.

BD: As far as the Iranian revolutionary and radical left is concerned—the growing left movement in Iran which has organized anti-government and anti-Ahmadinejad protests—we are all anti-imperialist. We are opposed to the United States and all imperialism. We are against neoliberal policies—which, of course, the Iranian government is also following. They are actually implementing all the neoliberal policies of the IMF and the World Bank, which we are totally against. We see the result within Iranian society, so the working class is very much against these neoliberal polcies.

So I don’t consider the Iranian left to be co-opted. However, some of the radical liberals that were also involved in anti-Ahmadinejad protests are pro-American. Yet, since they know the mood of the people, they are not openly for America. For instance, we see Mr. Ganji, who is one of their leaders, comes to the United States but does not meet—openly, of course—with United States officials. Or Mr. Afshari—he’s living in the United States. When the Iranian opposition in the United States, mostly monarchists and Reza Pahlavi’s people, go to the meetings with the State Department, Afshari does not go. Simply because the mood in Iran is totally anti-imperialism. And if they are seen to be dealing with the United States, that would be political suicide. But they are after the peaceful revolutions or the “color” revolutions of the Yugoslavia model or the ex-Soviet republics model—which of course is impossible in Iran, because it is a military regime. There is a military force which is in the core of the ruling class in Iran, and they are not going to stand aside and allow a power change.

BW: So what strategy could work in Iran?

BD: Only a mass revolution. Which is what we are after. We are organizing in the feminist movement, the workers’ movements, the student movements, to that goal. It has to come from within.

BW: Let’s talk about yours views on Latin America. How did you find out about the struggle in Oaxaca?

BD: The Industrial Workers of the World sent a communique out, one of their members [Eric Larson] was surrounded in Oaxaca. So we supported them with a message on our website. But as we found out more about the situation in Oaxaca we became very much interested.

There are two important reasons that we are monitoring Oaxaca and all of Latin America. First of all, we believe that their fight is our fight. They are in the same boat as Iranians. Even though the Iranian regime does not want to sell itself cheap, it is a capitalist state and would like very much to be part of global capitalism. They are implementing all of the IMF and World Bank recommendations—privatization, no control over prices or wages, open borders for imports, and so on. So we are facing the same problems from the same sources. That is why we believe that we are fighting the same war on different fronts. This is the most important reason.

The second reason is that—whether the Oaxacan people are conscious of this fact or not—by creating APPO [the Popular People’s Assembly of Oaxaca], they have re-introduced the model of the Athens democratic republic of 2,500 years ago, as the Paris Commune did, and as the Russian soviets did in the first decade of the Revolution. We would like to study this carefully as a living model. The Paris Commune, the soviets and the Athens republic are to us only theoretical, we can only read about it and think about it. However, in Oaxaca we are actually monitoring a living model of the kind of alternative government that we are going to be proposing to our people. And we are learning a lot about it.

For instance, today we got the information that APPO has decided not to take sides with any political party in the Mexican electoral system. And they have decided that any representative of theirs who decides to run for office has to resign as a representative of APPO. Now we believe that if the soviets in 1917 Russia would have taken this same position, then the Stalin clique couldn’t have gained power within the soviets to dissolve them later on.

So we are trying to learn from the movement of popular assemblies in Oaxaca to inform our own proposals to the Iranian people.

BW: Well, there’s one very obvious contradiction as far as Latin America and the struggle against US dominance there is concerned for the struggle in Iran. And that is the very pro-Iran stance of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and the whole bloc which is emerging around him, which now also includes Evo Morales in Bolivia and so on…

BD: Well, this does give the liberals a good propaganda tool. However, for the revolutionary left in Iran and the radical left of the student movement, we consider people like Fidel Castro and Chavez and Morales as a reactionary force using Marxist ideology the same way the Iranian government uses Islam to fool the people and to gain control. We do not consider them as leftists or Marxist-Leninists in a revolutionary sense. And we disassociate ourselves from them. This is what we take to the Iranian people, and we explain to them, they understand.

If you actually look into what Chavez and Morales are doing, they are actually implementing the liberal course in their own countries. As far as the form of government is concerned, they are not going for assemblies, like the soviets, as Marxist-Leninists should. They are maintaining the form and hierarchy of a liberal government. We consider them as representatives of the capitalists, and not the working class.

BW: And yet they have made moves to nationalize resources and fund social programs…

BD: Nationalization is not Marxist-Leninist! Socialization is Marxist-Leninist. Nationalization, as under Stalin, will only end up in state capitalism, as we have in Iran. Only through assemblies becoming the government, and the sole government of the land, can nationalization be socialization. When the people of one country have control over their resources and the means of production—and not a few politicians in the liberal sense of government—only then can you have socialism.

BW: How have you been able to follow the struggle in Oaxaca? Is it covered at all in the newspapers in Iran?

BD: Not at all. The only source of information is the Salam Democrat site. Nobody is presenting information or analysis about Oaxaca except Salam Democrat and our group.

BW: I assume you are aware of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas.

BD: Of course. We think they have grown to be a very deep-rooted and effective force in Mexican politics. In their “Other Campaign,” they went all across the Mexican country trying to identify the different movements they can unite with, and this was very effective. We believe they had a lot to do with propagating the assembly model throughout Mexico.

Of course, it comes from the Indian culture, and they might think that they are actually trying to go back to the origins of their culture. However, this is the same thing that landlords of the 13th and 14th century in England thought—that they were trying to go back to the old feudal laws. But in actuality, they were pushing capitalism and the power of the bourgeoisie. Similarly, the indigenous people in Mexico—the Zapatistas and Oaxacans and the rest of them—they might think they are going back to their cultural origins through these assemblies, but in actuality they are moving towards socialism.

BW: I think they understand that it is actually a confluence of the two tendencies.

BD: That is perfect! Because what is lacking in all the world is the self-consciousness of the people, knowing what power they have and knowing that they can rule themselves—this is the main issue of the left all around the world. To bring this self-confidence and self-realization within the people.

BW: What kind of solidarity or unity would you like to build with radical left forces here in the United States?

BD: The unity of the international left comes from the unity of the working class of the world. We feel much closer to the United States left and progressive groups than we feel towards the Iranian capitalists and their organizations. However, we have been separated from our comrades in the American and international left for nearly the last 30 years. And we are not any where near the level of organization as when we had these close connections with the American left…

BW: You’re speaking about the 1970s, I assume…

BD: Yes, then we had the Confederation of Iranian Students, with very close ties to the American progressive groups. Right up until the Iranian Revolution.

BW: How can we begin to rebuild this sort of thing?

BD: That’s just what I was going to speak about. The first thing is, we need to re-familiarize ourselves with each other, with more dialogue and more cooperation in international issues such as the movement against globalization of capital, the anti-war movement, and support of peoples in struggle such as in Latin America, through groups such as the Oaxaca Study Action Group. Slowly, slowly, we can re-familiarize again and rebuild our ties.



Oaxaca Study Action Group (OSAG)

IWW statement on Eric Larson in Oaxaca

Iran: New government fails to address dire human rights situation
Amnesty International, February 2006

From our weblog:

Iranian solidarity with Oaxaca
WW4 REPORT, Jan. 20, 2007

Iran: protesters condemn Holocaust conference
WW4 REPORT, Dec. 12, 2006

Oil prices rise as Iran nuclear deadline passes
WW4 REPORT, Feb. 27, 2007


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution