politics of cyberspace
From anonymous radical-right xenophobes in Britain came the call to make April 3 "Punish a Muslim Day." Letters were sent through the mail to addresses across England, calling for violent attacks on Muslims. The sick mailings assigned a point score for levels of violence from "Verbally abuse a Muslim" (10 points) to "Beat up a Muslim" (100 points) to "Burn or bomb a mosque" (1,000 points) to "Nuke Mecca" (2,500 points) Police were on alert, and women who wear the hijab were advised to stay home. No actual attacks were reported. There were also reports that some of the letters had arrived at New York addresses, causing the city's Muslim community to mobilize and the NYPD to beef up security. (BBC News, WPIX) The Daily News reports that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined multi-faith leaders at a press conference to condemn the threats. His comments there were laudable in intent, but revealing in their wording: "Our message must be just as loud. Not punish a Muslim, let's embrace a Muslim, let's embrace a Christian, let's embrace a person of Jewish faith, let's embrace the diversity that this city has to offer."
In Episode Six of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg reads and discusses selections from CS Lewis' classic work The Abolition of Man, and explores its relevance in light of the contemporary dilemmas posed by biotech and artificial intelligence. Conservative Christian moralist Lewis paradoxically developed a quasi-anarchist critique of technological society, with ideas closely mirroring those of his contemporary George Orwell—despite the fact that the two were on opposite sides of the political divide. But Lewis went beyond even Orwell's dark vision in foreseeing an actual end to humanity itself, as it has been understood for millennia, and its replacement by a conditioned post-humanity stripped of all dignity and reason. Recent technological "advances" have made this possible more literally and completely than Lewis could have imagined. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Following the announcement that China's Communist Party has proposed scrapping term limits for the presidency, effectively setting Xi Jinping up as president for life, the online reaction within the People's Republic was initially voluble and irreverent. But authorities quickly cracked down, barring certain words and phrases from Sina Weibo search results. The absurd overkill in what was blocked betrays an obvious fear of the masses on the part of China's ruling elite. California-based China Digital Times of course informs us that the very titles of George Orwell's novels 1984 and Animal Farm have been suppressed. This is hardly surprising. It's almost heartening that despots around the world still find Orwell so dangerous that they have to ban him. But some other samples of the verboten verbiage are more revealing—and enigmatic.
Amnesty International on Feb. 21 criticized a Bahrain court for sentencing the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, to five years in prison for posts he made on Twitter in 2015. Rajab is currently serving a separate sentence for his comments in interviews in 2015 and 2016. On Feb. 22, a post on Rajab's Twitter account revealed that he will not be appealing this five-year sentence and will not take further legal action on this matter. Rajab's tweets and retweets resulting in his current sentence alleged acts of torture in Bahrain's Jaw Prison and also related to the killing of civilians in the conflict in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition that also includes Bahrain.
Journalist Dan Young speaks with CounterVortex editor Bill Weinberg in an interview for Northern California's KNYO. They discuss the prospects for resisting the global vortex of ecological collapse, totalitarianism and permanent war—and supporting indigenous and autonomy struggles, popular democracy, and peace initiatives. Weinberg traces his own political evolution through the Cold War endgame of the Reagan era, the Lower East Side squatter scene, the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, 9-11 and the "Global War on Terrorism," to the Arab Revolution, the Syrian war and the current dilemma. The discussion touches on the abysmal politics of the contemporary American left, the urgent need for international solidarity across Great Power "spheres of influence," the contradictions and challenges posed by digital technology, and the possibilities for a decent future for humanity on Planet Earth.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Jan. 25 advanced the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock to two minutes of midnight from its previous two-and-a-half minutes. "In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II," the Bulletin said in a statement. Finding that the "greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm," the statement of course cited the crisis over North Korea's atomic program, but also ongoing military exercises along the borders of NATO, upgrading of nuclear arsenals by the US and Russia, tensions over the South China Sea, a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and uncertainty about continued US support for the Iran nuclear deal. These threats are worsened by "a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions."
Note just how far things have deteriorated. The Washington Post on Dec. 25 ran a piece, "Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options," citing FBI sources to the effect that one "Alice Donovan," who wrote several pieces for Counterpunch over the past year, was actually a "probable Russian troll." Although her initial e-mail to Counterpunch said "I'm a beginner freelance journalist," the implication is "she" (who knows?) was really part of a Kremlin-directed propaganda campaign. In a retort, "Go Ask Alice: the Curious Case of 'Alice Donovan'," Counterpunch editor Jeffrey St. Clair responds with one of the most refreshingly blatant displays of cynicism we've seen in a while:
A court in China on Dec. 26 convicted a prominent online activist and a human rights lawyer on subversion charges, after holding them for two years. Activist Wu Gan, known on social media as "Super Vulgar Butcher," and lawyer Xie Yang, were arrested during the "Black Friday" or "709 Crackdown" on rights campaigners and their supporters in 2015. In separate trials, Wu was sentenced to eight years in prison—the harshest term yet for anyone targeted in the crackdown—while Xie was exempted from criminal punishment after pleading guilty to the charges. He was released on bail earlier this year. In its verdict, the Tianjin No 2 Intermediate People's Court said that Wu had attempted to overthrow China's system by conspiring with "illegal religious practitioners," "professional petitioners" and lawyers. The statement said Wu and his co-conspirators "use 'defending rights' and 'performance arts' as a disguise...to defame state institutions and attack the national system set by the constitution."