Saturday, June 7, 2014

On June 12th, get out and vote: A message to Ontario's Muslim Community

by S N Smith

(June 8, 2014) – In 2011, only 49.2 per cent of eligible Ontarians bothered to vote — a record low. This is totally unacceptable. 

We, as a community residing in this great province, cannot afford to fail to have our voices heard.

On June 12th, be sure to cast your vote in Ontario’s provincial election.

Study the issues as closely as you can, weigh your decision carefully and vote for who you feel would best serve this province.

It is not only your future, but that of your children and their children you need to consider. 

Even if you don’t support any party, it is important to show up at the polls and at least “decline your vote.”

The process of declining is very straightforward and you can read how to do it here

Of course, declining to vote should be your last resort and you should never not vote as that is not being a good citizen. 

People in other parts of the world are literally suffering and dying to have what we have here — freedom and democratic elections in a safe political environment.

Although the way we choose our leaders may not be perfect — and I personally support proportional representation – our system is light years ahead of many nations that are weighed down by brutal dictators who crush their own people and snuff out any attempts at fostering real democracy. 

On June 12th, we owe it to our suffering brothers and sisters to vote, thus demonstrating that what they are fighting for there, we value and put into practice here in Canada. 

[S N Smith is an active member of Ottawa's Muslim community and blogs at: 

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im: Islam and the secular state: Rethinking apostasy and Sharia

The context of a truly secular state, along with the protection of freedoms and rights it affords, are necessary to be a Muslim by choice and conviction, which is the only valid way of being a Muslim, says Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im.

June 8, 2014

There are two Islamic reforms that are urgently needed: to transform the attitudes of Muslims regarding apostasy, and to promote the legitimacy of a secular state that does not claim to enforce Shari’a as state law or policy. Both reforms, crucially, must be supported by an Islamic argument to make them acceptable to Muslims.

It is therefore necessary to combine these two issues by clarifying the relationship between Islam and the state, while at the same time seeking to achieve fundamental reform of certain aspects of Shari’a because of its powerful influence on Muslims everywhere, even when it is not enforced by the state as such. Let me deal with these in turn.

The problem of apostasy and the principle of freedom

The imposition of the death penalty for apostasy and related offences is not unique to Islam – it existed in Judaism and Christianity, and was widely practised under the latter in the mediaeval period. Yet these notions have been effectively eliminated from any current Jewish or Christian discourse, and there is no possibility of imposing the death penalty for these crimes in the modern context of these societies. In contrast, such punishments remain entrenched in Islamic jurisprudence and those found guilty of these offences can still be sentenced to death in countries like Pakistan and Sudan.

The more pressing question, I believe, is not how Islamic societies can “catch up” with their Jewish and Christian counterparts in this regard, but rather how Islamic jurisprudence can be revised as an internal Islamic imperative. How, in other words, can traditional notions of apostasy be seen as incompatible with the Islamic conception of religious freedom, rather than as contrary to international human rights norms which some Muslims regard as impositions from Western countries?

The Arabic word riddah, commonly translated as apostasy, literally means to “turn back.” In Islamic law, riddah is understood to be reverting from the religion of Islam to kufr(unbelief), whether intentionally or by necessary implication. The vast majority of classical Muslim scholars agree that once a person becomes a Muslim by his or her free choice, there is no way by which he or she can change religion.

According to such scholars, ways in which riddah may occur include denial of the existence of God or the attributes of God, denial of a particular messenger of God, denial of a principle that is established as a matter of religion (such as the obligation to pray five times a day or fast during the month of Ramadan), declaring prohibited what is manifestly permitted (halal), or declaring permitted what is manifestly prohibited (haram). But since some of these issues have always been the subject of significant and persistent disagreement among Muslim scholars, it is difficult to establish the definitive and categorical view by which all other views are to be judged.

Moreover, apostasy is said to apply whenever a person is deemed to have reverted from Islam, by an intentional or blasphemous belief, act or utterance. For instance, the first category is supposed to include: doubts about the existence of God or about the message of the Prophet Muhammad or any other prophet; doubts about the Qur’an, the Day of Judgment, the existence of paradise and hell; doubts about the eternity of God; and doubt about any point of belief on which there is consensus (ijma) among Muslims, such as the attributes of God.

It would therefore logically follow that where there is no consensus on an issue, apostasy is not possible on that count. Yet, as a matter of fact, there is no consensus on many of the issues included in the list of various scholars and schools. For example, there is significant disagreement among those early scholars on God’s attributes, which mean that one can be condemned as an apostate for accepting or rejecting an attribute of God according to the views of one scholar that is asserted or denied by another scholar.

An obvious problem with the notion of apostasy is that, while the Qur’an repeatedly condemns apostasy as a religious sin, it does not provide any punishment for it in this life (as can be seen in verses 2:217, 4:90, 5:54, 59, 16:108 and 47:25). In fact, the Qur’an clearly contemplates situations where an apostate continues to live among the Muslim community and engaged in repeated apostasy, rather than being put to death for the first time they commit this alleged crime. For example, verse 4:137 of the Qur’an can be translated as follows: “Those who believed, then disbelieved, then believed, and then disbelieved [once more] and became more committed to disbelief, God will not forgive them or guide them to the righteous pathway.”

Moreover, the value of protecting the possibility of dissent and difference can be appreciated in terms of the relationship of heresy to the authenticity and rejuvenation of religious life. Obviously, many heresies simply perish and disappear, but there is no orthodoxy that was not a heresy when it started. From this perspective, every religious community should safeguard the psychological and social as well as legal possibility of heresy and disagreement among its members, because that is the best indicator of the honesty and authenticity of the beliefs and practice within that community.

Believers must always remain within their religious community completely voluntarily or leave by their free choice – there is simply no value for any purpose in coerced religious belief or practice. Unfortunately, the harsh legal consequences of failure to respect freedom of religion and confusion and fluidity over the concepts and terms used to suppress this freedom in the Islamic context are far from theoretical or historical.

For example, members of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan were considered a religious minority within Islam, governed by Muslim personal law in the area of family law, allowed to contest elections as Muslims and to assume public office reserved for Muslims. In 1974, the Government of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto amended Article 260 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan in order to declare all Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims, thereby denying them all the legal benefits of being classified as Muslims.

In 1984, the President Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law regime added new sections 298B and 298-C to the Pakistan Penal Code of 1860, and amended the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1898 and West Pakistan Press and Publications Ordinance of 1963 Penal to punish with up to three years imprisonment for any member of the Ahadmiyya community who uses certain expressions which are characteristics of their religious faith, or use the Muslim call for payer, or identifies himself or herself as a Muslim.

Since the rationalisation of such persecution is alleged to be “Islamic,” it is therefore necessary to challenge such violations of freed of religion from the same Islamic perspective. In particular, the Qur’an neither defined apostasy and related concepts in legal terms, nor imposed a punishment for any of them in this life. These issues should be taken as matters of freedom of conscience, rather than capital crimes. But that possibility of re-interpretation must begin with a clear acknowledgement of the traditional position, despite all its ambiguities and contradictions.

An Islamic reform methodology that I find to be appropriate for achieving the necessary degree of reform is that proposed by Ustadh Mahmoud Mohamed Taha. The premise of Ustadh Mahmoud’s methodology is that the earlier universal message of Islam of peaceful propagation and non-discrimination was contained in parts of the Qur’an that were revealed in Mecca (610-22). But when the Prophet migrated with his few persecuted followers to Medina in 622, the Qur’an had to provide for the concrete needs of the emerging community, which had to struggle for survival in an extremely harsh and violent environment.

It is clear that traditional Shari’a principles, like apostasy, were in fact concessions to the social and economic realities of the time, and not the message Islam intended for humanity at large into the indefinite future. Since those principles were developed by early Muslim jurists applying their own methodology of interpretation that was not sanctioned as such in the Qur’an or Sunnaof the Prophet, different conclusions can be drawn by applying a new methodology.

This analysis, I believe, provides a coherent and systematic methodology of interpretation of the totality of the Qur’an and Sunna, instead of the arbitrary selectivity used some other modern reformers who fail to explain what happens to the verses they choose to overlook.

While traditional conceptions of apostasy and related notions were accepted as valid by earlier Muslims in the historical context of the formative stages of Shari’a, that is no longer true today. The individual and collective orientations of Muslims today, I believe, are probably different from those of earlier generations because of the radical transformation of existential and material circumstances of today compared to those of the past.

In contrast to the localised traditional existence of past Islamic societies, Muslims today live in multi-religious nation-states which are fully incorporated into a globalised world of political, economic and security interdependence, and constantly experiencing the effects of mutual social/cultural influence with non-Islamic societies. While some individual Muslims may still choose to advocate traditional notions of community and conditionality of rights, the reality of the pluralistic national and international political communities of today support entitlement to freedom of belief as a human right rather than a conditional right of membership of a religious community.

If the benefits of freedom of belief are available only to believers who are accepted as such, what is the rationale for having a right to freedom of belief at all? The right to freedom of belief is needed, and can be claimed, only by nonbelievers and believers who are not accepted as such by the community in question.

Shari’a, the secular state and the practice of civic reason

This brings me directly to the related issue of the relationship of Muslims to the secular state. I, as a Muslim, need a secular state and the protection of my freedoms of speech and religion, along with other human rights, in order to be a Muslim by choice and conviction, which is the only valid way of being a Muslim.

Consequently, I would argue that the very idea of an Islamic state enforcing Shari’a as positive law is, in fact, both conceptually untenable and practically counterproductive from an Islamic point of view:

* It is untenable because, once principles of Shari’a are enacted as positive law of a state, they cease to be the religious law of Islam and become the political will of that state. In other words, given the wide diversity of opinion among classical scholars and schools of thought, enacting any of those principles as positive law will have to select among competing views that are regarded as equally legitimate from an Islamic perspective. Since that selection will be made by whoever happens to be in control of the state, the outcome will be political, rather than religious as such.

* It is counterproductive because it will necessarily deny some Muslims their religious freedom of choice among those views.

What I am calling for is the institutional separation of religion and the state, while recognising and regulating the unavoidable connectedness of religion and politics – not only because religious values invariably influence political behaviour, but also in order to enable them to do so through the democratic process, just as non-believers may seek to advance their philosophical or ideological views.

Mediating this tension between the need to separate religion from the state despite the connectedness of religion and politics can take place through the distinction between the state and politics. The state should be the more settled and deliberate operational side of self-governance, while politics is the dynamic process of making choices among competing policy options. The state and politics may be seen as two sides of the same coin, but they cannot and should not be completely fused into each other.

It is necessary to ensure that the state is not simply a complete reflection of daily politics because it must be able to mediate and adjudicate among competing views of policy, which require it to remain relatively independent from different political forces in society. Still, complete independence of state and politics is not possible because those who control the state come to power and keep it through politics, whether by means of a democratic process or not. In other words, officials of the state will always act politically in implementing their own agenda and maintaining the allegiance of those who support them.

The critical need to separate state and religion, while regulating the interconnectedness of religion and politics, requires that proposed policy or legislation must be founded on what I call “civic reason,” which consists of two elements:
the rationale and purpose of public policy or legislation must be based on the sort of reasoning that the generality of citizens can accept or reject, and make counter-proposals through public debate; such reasons must be publicly and openly debated, rather than being assumed to follow from personal beliefs and motivation of citizens or officials (it is not possible, of course, to control inner motivation and intentions of the political behaviour of people, but the objective should be to promote and encourage civic reasons and reasoning, while diminishing the exclusive influence of personal religious beliefs, over time).

I would also emphasise that the operation of civic reason in the negotiation of the relationship of religion and the state should be safeguarded by principles of constitutionalism, human rights and citizenship. The consistent and institutional application of these principles ensures the ability of all citizens equally and freely to participate in the political process, and protects them against discrimination on such grounds as religion or belief.

With the protection provided by such safeguards, citizens will be more likely to contribute to the formulation of public policy and legislation, including objection to proposals made by others, in accordance with the requirements of civic reason. Religious believers, including Muslims, can make proposals emerging from their religious beliefs, provided they are also presented to other on the basis of reasons they can accept or reject.

The access of citizens to civic reason debates will vary according to the differences in their socio-economic status, political experience or ability to maximise use of resources, to build alliances and so forth. But such factors are reasons for more fair and inclusive application of the principle, rather than for abandoning it.

With greater appreciation for the value and credibility of the civic reason process itself, religious believers will have more opportunity for promoting their religious beliefs through the regular political process without threatening those citizens who do not share their religious beliefs. This balance is likely to be achieved precisely because religious views will not be directly enforced through the coercive power of the state without being mediated through fair and transparent political contestations and subject to constitutional and human rights safeguards, as noted earlier.

In the final analysis, religious beliefs are neither granted special privilege nor suppressed, which make the relationship between religion and the state more dynamic and its outcomes less predictable. My purpose here is to affirm that the secular state, as defined here, is more consistent with the inherent nature of Shari’a and history of Islamic societies than are false and counter-productive assertions of a so-called Islamic state or the alleged enforcement of Shari’a as state law. This view of the secular state neither depoliticises Islam nor relegates it to the so-called private domain.

My proposal is opposed to domineering visions of a universal history and future in which the “enlightened West” is leading all of humanity to the secularisation of the world, of which the secularity of the state is the logical outcome. In the conception of a secular state I am proposing, the influence of religion in the public domain is open to negotiation and contingent upon the free exercise of the human agency of all citizens, believers and unbelievers alike.

In essence, the proposed framework seeks to establish a sustainable and legitimate theoretical and institutional structure for an ongoing process, where perceptions of Shari’a and its interaction with principles of constitutionalism, secularism and democratic governance can be negotiated and debated, among different interlocutors in various societies.

In all societies – Western or non-Western – constitutionalism, democracy and the relationship between state, religion and politics, are highly contextual formations that are premised on contingent sociological and historical conditions, and entrenched through specific norms of cultural legitimacy. The model proposed here combines the regulation of the relationship between Islam and politics with the separation of Islam and state as the necessary medium for negotiating the relevance of Shari’a to public policy and law.

In this gradual and tentative process of consensus-building through civic reason, various combinations of persons and groups may agree on one issue but disagree on another, and consensus building efforts on any particular topic may fail or succeed, but none of that will be permanent and conclusive. Whatever happens to be the substantive outcome on any issue at any point in time, it is made – and can change – as the product of a process of civic reason based on the voluntary and free participation of all citizens.

For this process to continue and thrive, it is imperative that no particular view of Shari’a is to be coercively imposed in the name of Islam because that would inhibit free debate and contestation.

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law. His most recent books are Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a and Muslims and Global Justice.


Who is more exceptional: The United States or Russia?

William Blum -- June 7, 2014

I was going to write a commentary about President Obama’s speech to the graduating class at the US Military Academy (West Point) on May 28. When he speaks to a military audience the president is usually at his most nationalistic, jingoist, militaristic, and American-exceptionalist – wall-to-wall platitudes. But this talk was simply TOO nationalistic, jingoist, militaristic, and American-exceptionalist. (“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”) To go through it line by line in order to make my usual wise-ass remarks, would have been just too painful. However, if you’re in a masochistic mood and wish to read it, it can be found here.

Instead I offer you part of a commentary from Mr. Jan Oberg, Danish director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research in Lund, Sweden:

What is conspicuously lacking in the President’s West Point speech?

Any reasonably accurate appraisal of the world and the role of other nations.

A sense of humility and respect for allies and other countries in this world.

Every element of a grand strategy for America for its foreign and security policy and some kind of vision of what a better world would look like. This speech with all its tired, self-aggrandising rhetoric is a thin cover-up for the fact that there is no such vision or overall strategy.

Some little hint of reforms of existing institutions or new thinking about globalisation and global democratic decision-making.

Ideas and initiatives – stretched-out hands – to help the world move towards conflict-resolution in crisis areas such as Ukraine, Syria, Libya, China-Japan and Iran. Not a trace of creativity.

Ironically, on May 30 the Wall Street Journal published a long essay by Leon Aron, a Russia scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The essay took Russian president Vladimir Putin to task for claiming that Russia is exceptional. The piece was headed:

“Why Putin Says Russia Is Exceptional”

“Such claims have often heralded aggression abroad and harsh crackdowns at home.”

It states: “To Mr. Putin, in short, Russia was exceptional because it was emphatically not like the modern West – or not, in any event, like his caricature of a corrupt, morally benighted Europe and U.S. This was a bad omen, presaging the foreign policy gambits against Ukraine that now have the whole world guessing about Mr. Putin’s intentions.”

So the Wall Street Journal has no difficulty in ascertaining that a particular world leader sees his country as “exceptional”. And that such a perception can lead that leader or his country to engage in aggression abroad and crackdowns at home. The particular world leader so harshly judged in this manner by the Wall Street Journal is named Vladimir Putin, not Barack Obama. There’s a word for this kind of analysis – It’s called hypocrisy.

“Hypocrisy is anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised.” – Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoi, (1828-1910) Russian writer

Is hypocrisy a moral failing or a failing of the intellect?

The New Cold War is getting to look more and more like the old one, wherein neither side allows the other to get away with any propaganda point. Just compare any American television network to the Russian station broadcast in the United States – RT (formerly Russia Today). The contrast in coverage of the same news events is remarkable, and the stations attack and make fun of each other by name.

Another, even more important, feature to note is that in Cold War I the United States usually had to consider what the Soviet reaction would be to a planned American intervention in the Third World. This often served as a brake to one extent or another on Washington’s imperial adventures. Thus it was that only weeks after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the United States bombed and invaded Panama, inflicting thousands of casualties and widespread destruction, for the flimsiest – bordering on the non-existent – of reasons. The hostile Russian reaction to Washington’s clear involvement in the overthrow of the Ukrainian government in February of this year, followed by Washington’s significant irritation and defensiveness toward the Russian reaction, indicates that this Cold War brake may have a chance of returning. And for this we should be grateful.

After the “communist threat” had disappeared and the foreign policy of the United States continued absolutely unchanged, it meant that the Cold War revisionists had been vindicated – the conflict had not been about containing an evil called “communism”; it had been about American expansion, imperialism and capitalism. If the collapse of the Soviet Union did not result in any reduction in the American military budget, but rather was followed by large increases, it meant that the Cold War – from Washington’s perspective – had not been motivated by a fear of the Russians, but purely by ideology.

UN Blast of U.S. Human Rights Record Goes Mostly Unnoticed

U.S. media outlets have largely ignored a UN report noting America’s human rights violations.


On March 27, the United Nations published a report critical of the U.S. human rights record. The 11-page report highlights issues such as the NSA spying, the failure to close Guantánamo Bay detention camp, use of the death penalty and the American failure to comply with human rights agreements outside its borders. Unfortunately, the U.S. media has largely ignored this report.

The report was delivered by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)—one of the world’s most important human rights treaties, which was passed by the UN in 1976 and ratified by the United States in 1992. The Covenant calls upon treaty signatories to submit regular reports on the implementation of human rights in their countries. Following reports like these, the Committee typically expresses its concerns and makes recommendations, but treaty signatories, such as the United States, can ignore such recommendations without penalty.

With regard to NSA surveillance, the Committee expressed concerns about the violations of privacy that occurred in the collection of private communications of U.S. and non-U.S. citizens. The report questions whether the current oversight system of the NSA’s activities effectively protects the rights of those affected. The U.N. report asks the United States to take all necessary precautions to ensure that the surveillance activities—both within and outside of its borders—comply with the ICCPR. Moreover, the UN recommends that current NSA oversight procedures be reformed to limit invasions into an individual’s private communications.

Meanwhile, in relation to Guantánamo Bay, the Committee praised Obama’s commitment to close the facility. But it criticized the administration’s failure to provide a timeline in which this will occur. “The State party should expedite the transfer of detainees designated for transfer,” the paper reads, and “ensure either their trial or immediate release, and the closure of the Guantánamo facility.”

Addressing the human rights of prison inmates, the Committee denounced the poor detention conditions in death row facilities and the use of prolonged solitary confinement, particularly in pretrial detention cases. It then asked the U.S. government to monitor detention conditions and impose strict limits on the use of solitary confinement.

While the release of the report was covered in the international media—The Guardian published a number of articles, as did Al Jazeera America—the report was largely ignored by mainstream U.S. media, with the exception of The New York Times and theAssociated Press.

The U.N. report was released amid Washington’s efforts to stop Moscow from seizing eastern Ukraine. Earlier last month,Obama told Putin that his actions were a “breach of international law, including Russia’s obligation under the UN Charter, and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine.” Yet, since 1995, the U.S. government has argued that it doesn’t have to comply with the Covenant outside of its borders and has used this claim to justify actions in conflict zones. As José Luis Díaz, a representative of Amnesty International at the UN, pointed out in an interview with Al Jazeera, “The United States is adept at demanding human rights change from other governments while failing to meet international standards itself.”

In spite of the Committee’s negative assessment, the United States has not always been a laggard with regard to human rights treaties. Following the creation of the UN, the United States was a world leader in the development of human rights. The ICCPR—as well as other human rights agreements—incorporated U.S. human rights terminology and constitutional approaches. Since the creation of the U.N. Charter in 1945, the number of states that have signed international human rights accords has grown dramatically—an increase that suggests we are one step closer to the universal recognition of human rights norms.

Nonetheless, human rights agreements such as the ICCPR have many shortcomings. For one thing, when the United States ratified the Covenant, the Senate implemented a number of complex reservations, understandings and declarations that have hampered the enforcement of the agreement at a national level. Additionally, many studies acknowledge that the impact of human rights treaties is unclear. Some political scientists have gone further and suggested that signing agreements such as the ICCPR does not have a direct impact on the state’s behavior. Countries such as the Central African Republic in 1981; Equatorial Guinea in 1987; Somalia in 1990; Sudan in 1986; and Syria, as the former Syrian Arab Republic in 1969 are all signatories to the Covenant. These nations are also among the 10 countries with the lowest rating for political rights and civil liberties, according to the Freedom House—a United States-based NGO dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world.

But despite its shortcomings, the Covenant provides countries with a standard against which they can measure, evaluate and re-examine their national laws, policies and practices. Additionally, it is able to generate information about states' human rights records and direct the attention of the international community toward human rights abuses. Thus, even though the Covenant has limited powers and relies on voluntary compliance, it serves as a platform to establish human rights norms and to spotlight countries that violate those norms.

It’s possible that Washington isn’t fully complying with the ICCPR because U.S. breaches of human rights accords are not on the scale of what is happening in countries such as the Central African Republic or Syria. Similarly, this might also explain the lack of coverage of the U.N. report on U.S. outlets. But what the U.S. media fail to understand is that by deciding not to inform the public of American violations of international human rights agreements, they protect the government from being held accountable and strip the Covenant of one of its main powers over rogue states—the power to name and shame.

Beyond the Perks: The Overlooked Human Cost of Coffee

By Alex Liccione, Global Correspondent for Safe World

Cof·fee: noun, often attributive \ˈkȯ-fē, ˈkä-\ a dark brown drink made from ground coffee beans and boiled water.

By dictionary definition, coffee sounds unremarkably simple, but to most of us, coffee means bounds more than this scant set of words. Coffee is the magic elixir that wakes us up come sunrise and in contrast, sings us to sleep after a drawn out day. It keeps us and our frost bitten hands warm during those frigid nights and has even been known to inspire a song or two from musicians by the likes of The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Bob Marley.

Coffee is such a major part of our daily lives, yet many of us have never paused to ponder over how our beloved drink reached our mugs. The answer just might very well astound you.

The Origin of Coffee

Unlike its definition, the history of coffee is complex leaving much room for debate. According to legend, the origin of coffee dates back to 13th century Ethiopia where a goatherd named Kaldi first discovered the plant upon witnessing his goats’ jovial behavior after consuming some of its berries. By the 15th century, coffee was cultivated and traded for the first time starting in Yemen and later spreading across the region and beyond.

Today, trailing solely behind petroleum, coffee is the second most valuable traded commodity in the world. With an industry comprising of approximately 25 million farmers and coffee workers in more than 50 countries worldwide, it's safe to say Kaldi's goats had impeccable taste.
Human Rights and Coffee

The actual process of coffee production is multifaceted involving many steps and individuals. Much of its production involves plantation workers tending to and harvesting coffee plants by hand. Unfortunately, like many other agricultural endeavors, human rights violations plague the coffee production industry with atrocious working and living conditions, incredibly low wages, forced labor, limited to no access to healthcare and education, and child labor being commonplace.

Despite being a highly traded commodity, a 2013 report by the Fairtrade Foundation reported that coffee growers only receive approximately 7-10 percent of the supermarket retail price of coffee while the retailer in turn receives 33 percent - roughly four times as much profit as the individuals who arduously grew the product. To put it in another perspective, Avivara reports that for every $3.25 latte sold in the United States, approximately 1 penny of that transaction ends up in the hands of the individuals who grew and harvested the coffee beans.

As the four dominating multi-national corporations in the coffee industry (Kraft General Foods, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble and Sara Lee) continue to make $1 billion and above in annual sales, the actual individuals involved on the plantation level struggle to survive and continue to live in an unbreakable cycle of inhumane violations and poverty. 
Coffee Production – Guatemala

From Asia to Africa to the Americas, coffee production is not isolated to one part of the world. However, when examined on a country by country basis, the International Coffee Organization reports that the majority of the world’s coffee is produced in Latin America which congruently is also home to many of the top coffee producing countries worldwide. Among these top producing countries is Guatemala.

As one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, approximately 60 percent of the population of Guatemala lives in poverty. The most vulnerable populations include individuals in their youth and those residing in rural areas. Within these rural areas, the highest concentration of poverty occurs within indigenous communities.

A 2012 report by International Fund for Agricultural Development on rural poverty in Guatemala reported that in a country where the indigenous peoples make up 40 percent of the total population, 7 in 10 individuals of indigenous descent live in poverty. With limited or non-existent options, many of these indigenous peoples labor on coffee plantations in order to survive. As most of these individuals exclusively work on plantations during high season when an increase in laborers is necessary, they are treated inferior comparative to others by way of receiving even lower wages, inadequate food and housing, and the list goes on.

The poor treatment of indigenous peoples in the coffee industry of Guatemala is not a recent occurrence. Such actions date back to the introduction of coffee to the country during the 19th century.

As coffee production began to flourish in the 1870's, an exponentially high increase in demand led to the expropriation of lands of the indigenous Maya under the regime of Liberal Dictator Justo Rufino Barrios. With the mentality that any land that was not used for producing coffee, sugar, or cocoa was considered "tierras baldías" (idle land), he proceeded to convert the stolen indigenous lands into plantations where he subsequently forced the Mayans to work.

In time, large coffee producers and the Guatemalan government came together to officially enforce a debt slavery system that legitimized using Mayans for forced labor. Despite their refusal to work on the confiscated lands, they were ultimately forced to labor for long hours in horrid conditions for low pay or face severe consequences including death.

Moving forward into the 20th century, under the dictatorship of Jorge Ubico, the debt slavery system was replaced with new vagrancy laws which ultimately increased the influence of the central government. However, these new laws had no concern for the welfare of the Mayans and continued to enforce labor upon them.
Coffee Production – Worldwide

Today, the environment surrounding the coffee production industry has remained comparable to these historic roots with human rights violations being endured by plantation workers, both of indigenous and non-indigenous descent, in Guatemala and worldwide.

A 2012 Human Rights Watch report on Vietnam cited incidents of forced labor on coffee plantations for human rights, political, and religious activists, as well as other detainees in detention centers within the country. The coffee produced as a result of this forced labor is supplied to various companies that in turn sell it abroad unbeknownst to the consumers buying the product off supermarket shelves.

In Ethiopia, the International Labor Organization reports widespread use of child labor in the production of coffee and other agricultural products within the country. On average, these children work for 15 hours a day, 7 days a week and begin working as early as 6 years old. Of these children forced into labor, between 41-50 percent do not receive any monetary compensation. Most child laborers are not allowed to see their families on a regular basis and go as long as five years or more without a visit. Beyond these horrific conditions, many of these children are also victims of physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

The human rights violations taking place in Vietnam and Ethiopia are just a few examples of the harsh realities perpetuating in the coffee production industry today worldwide.
A Global Problem

Despite common misconceptions, human rights violations against individuals working in the coffee production industry not only occur within developing countries, but in developed countries as well.

A 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Labor highlighted the discovery of widespread labor violations against 150 coffee plantation workers in Hawaii, USA. Investigations underwent in 2012 concluded that these workers were paid below federal hourly minimum wage and were not paid for all hours worked including overtime.

Incidences of child labor were also reported. The results of these findings culminated in the payment of $63,000 in back wages for the 150 workers and more than $42,000 in civil money penalties. This incident highlighted the fact that corruption and violations within the industry are not country specific; human rights violations against coffee plantation workers happen in all corners of the world and need to be addressed on a global scale.
Fair Trade Coffee

In response to the poor working conditions and mass poverty faced by workers in developing countries, the fair trade movement began in the 1940’s when visionary businesswoman Edna Ruth Byler started the non-profit organization Ten Thousand Villages. Both historically and presently, the organization provides economic opportunities in the North American market for artisans in developing countries with the goal of eradicating poverty.

By the 1980’s, the fair trade movement shifted attention towards agricultural products, the first two commodities being coffee and tea. Today, with the creation of Fairtrade International (FLO) and the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), Fair Trade is now a global trade model and certification that allows for consumers to identify products such as coffee, tea, sugar, flowers, juices and more that were produced and traded in an ethical manner.

Fair Trade certified organizations offer better prices to producers for their products, as well as improved terms of trade between producers and buyers. When a product such as coffee bears the FLO or WFTO Fair Trade label, it means that the organization buying the product has met a set of standards involving their relationship with the producer in order to become certified as a Fair Trade organization. These standards span from not using forced or child labor, maintaining good working conditions and paying fair wages to plantation workers on the part of the producer to transparency, accountability, payment of fair prices for products and trading with concern for the well-being of the producers on the part of the organization buying the product. Like the origins of the fair trade movement, the ultimate goal of the Fair Trade model and certifications is to reduce poverty and better the livelihoods of plantation workers wordwide.

As a consumer, you can help realize these goals by choosing to buy coffee with a Fair Trade label from your local supermarkets or coffee shops.
Positive Results

A 2006 case-study analysis of seven small-scale Fair Trade coffee producers in Latin America concluded that Fair Trade has successfully enhanced the well-being of thousands of small-scale farmers in the region. One of the greatest benefits of Fair Trade reported was the increased economic benefits and stability it provided to coffee producers. These benefits can be seen in the case of Fair Trade coffee producer Majomut of Mexico.

Under the Fair Trade model, Majomut receives $1,700 for approximately 1500 lbs of Fair Trade coffee it produces compared to the paid street rate of $550, amounting to the receipt of more than double the price. Other benefits cited in the case-study analysis include increased social stability, greater access to technical training for workers, as well as improved access to education for workers and their families.

Focusing away from Latin America, the benefits of Fair Trade have been realized in all regions of the world.

FLO reports that in 2012, farmers and workers in India received an additional $3.3 million as Fairtrade Premium than what they would have received within the standard market for products such as rice, tea, cotton, spices, and coffee. This economic byproduct has made a difference not only in the lives of the workers in India, but has also allowed for them to invest in their communities allowing others to reap the benefits of Fair Trade. By increasing consumer support and demand for fairly traded coffee and additional products, the benefits and goals of the fair trade movement will continue to grow and be achieved at greater levels.
Going Forward

The Fair Trade model for coffee production has been supported and alternatively criticized by many.

The certifications have indeed reduced poverty and minimized human rights violations on many small plantations and cooperatives worldwide. However, seasonal workers such as the indigenous peoples of Guatemala most often have not experienced these benefits and continue to work in poor conditions for low wages. As fairly trade coffee accounts for only a small fraction of worldwide coffee sales, the lack of demand for the ethically grown product often results in coffee producers selling their products to other buyers for lower prices. As a byproduct, many coffee plantation workers’ wages continue to be minimal.

Changes indeed need to be made to the Fair Trade model to optimize and spread its benefits. However, the positive impacts of FLO, WFTO, and Fair Trade certified organizations and producers along with the awareness they have raised has made the model worth advocating for. You can find fairly traded coffee options at your local supermarkets and coffee shops, and if by chance they do not sell it, request for them to do so.

As consumers, choosing to support and buy coffee and other fairly traded products is a step towards a more just world. So the next time you order a cup of coffee, request for one milk, two sugars, and zero human rights violations to be included; the taste will indeed be sweeter.

The future of Fair Trade coffee: dilemmas facing Latin America’s small-scale producers by Douglas J. Murray, Laura T. Raynolds, and Peter J. Taylor

Alex Liccione works in the field of higher education/civic engagement in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She is also an active writer/advocate for women's rights with specific focuses on indigenous rights, as well as equal access to education for women and minority groups.

She has lived and worked on four continents throughout her life which has given her a global perspective that she incorporates throughout her work and everyday life.

Alex holds a master's degree in Sustainable Economic Development and Responsible Management from the United Nations Mandated University for Peace.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Open the gates to uprooted Syrians


Last updated Thursday, May. 29 2014,

António Guterres is UN High Commissioner for Refugees and former prime minister of Portugal. Mr. Guterres's lecture and a discussion moderated by Globe and Mail editor-in-chief David Walmsley at the Global Centre for Pluralism can be viewed live at 6:30 ET. This article is an abstract of the lecture.

Societies across the globe are becoming multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious. Like it or not, we cannot stop this trend; it is inevitable.

We do have a choice, however, in how we approach this. Do we embrace diversity as a source of strength, or do we play the populist game and make it a source of fear? I believe tolerance is the only responsible option.

Canada provides a compelling example of the benefits of multicultural life when nurtured by good governance, strong civic institutions and respectful policies. It is a model celebrated worldwide and cherished by many at home.

Yet we have seen how easy it is to throw tolerance off course. In my part of the world, Europe, anti-immigration and xenophobic parties have taken advantage of the economic crisis to rapidly gain influence, and mainstream parties have been unable, or even unwilling, to stop them.

This is deeply worrying. With an average fertility rate of 1.5 children per woman, Europe needs immigration to maintain its economy and pay the pensions of its aging population. Without immigration, many of our communities would become unsustainable.

Recently, I visited the Central African Republic, a country where just a year ago Christians and Muslims lived side by side. Today, it is one of the world’s most dangerous places, with men, women and children driven from their homes and killed just because of their religion. Thousands of people are dead and nearly 700,000 have been forcibly displaced. It took unscrupulous individuals looking for short-term gains to make this happen.

When faith or ethnicity is exploited for political purposes, tensions can quickly rise, creating a dangerous dynamic. Intolerance is like a genie that becomes impossible to control once out of the bottle.

That is why we celebrate models such as Canada, where tolerance and reason remain strong. We must stand together against any kind of manipulation that leads to hatred, whether it is rooted in political populism, radical nationalism or religious fundamentalism.

It isn’t easy. Globalization has been unfair, and many people have been left out. Physical and legal barriers are not enough to stand in the way of people fleeing persecution and violence, or simply looking for a better life. Border controls alone do not work, but they do play into the hands of traffickers and smugglers.

Globally, we need a system that welcomes diversity and distributes the benefits of globalization more widely. That means co-operation among countries of origin, transit and destination, and concerted efforts to identify opportunities for legal migration.

It also means doing more to prevent conflict and build peace so that when people move they do so out of choice, not necessity. And it means building strong global systems for when things go wrong.

Irrespective of cultural, religious or ethnic differences, men and women around the world share a common value: that we should protect and shelter strangers in need.

Today, more people are uprooted by violence, persecution and war than at any time since the Second World War. Nearly three million Syrians have fled their country in little more than three years. And more than one million of them are in neighbouring Lebanon, which has the highest concentration of refugees in the world.

Canada is fortunate to be far from today’s main sources of conflict and displacement. Most refugees find safety and help in neighbouring countries, which are showing generosity well beyond their means. In fact, about 86 per cent of the world’s refugees live in developing countries, compared with 70 per cent a decade ago.

But globalization has led to global population movements, including the displacement of refugees. It remains important, therefore, that people in need of international protection can seek and find asylum anywhere in the world.

Canada has a proud history of welcoming refugees and its resettlement program is one of the largest. It offers refugees who can no longer stay in their first country of asylum an opportunity to rebuild their lives. I encourage Canada to resettle a large number of Syrian refugees, helping to ease the disproportionate burden shouldered by neighbouring countries and setting an example to the rest of the world.

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“there is no such thing as fundamentalist art”–(or, fighting the creative battle within)

June 6, 2014 By Peter Enns 

I’m now reading for the second time in 4 months an amazing book by Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. Pressfield is probably best known for being the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance.

I’m reading the book–again–because I am having trouble breaking through the blocks to win my inner creative battle.

For me that creative battle is sitting down to write. For others it is painting, dieting, exercise, education, entrepreneurial ventures–pretty much anything you deep down want to do but, for some reason, feel blocked from doing.

Pressfield names this block, this destructive force, “Resistance,” and his explanation for what Resistance is, why we all have it, and what can be done about it is brilliantly insightful and at times snortingly HIGH-larious. The dude is funny.

For me at least, virtually every page has a quotable sentence or paragraph–beginning already in the preface written by Robert McKee, who describes his own creative paralysis: “Some years ago I was as blocked as a Calcutta sewer…” (p. ii).

I want to share with you a quote from one portion of the book that struck me in particular: “Resistance and Fundamentalism” (pp. 33-37). You have to read the whole book up to this point to catch the full impact, but even on its own, you might find this very insightful.

Pressfield, by the way, does not have Christian fundamentalism specifically in his sights (though one can hardly be blamed for making that connection). Pressfield is addressing any sort fundamentlist outlook on life, i.e., that which is hostile to the life of art/creativity.

This quote is from pp. 34-36 and I have maintained Pressfield’s paragraph divisions.

Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed. Its spawning ground is the wreckage of political and military defeat, as Hebrew fundamentalism arose during the Babylonian captivity, as white Christian fundamentalism appeared in the American South during Reconstruction, as the notion of the Master Race evolved in Germany following World War I. In such desperate times, the vanquished race would perish without a doctrine that restored hope and pride. Islamic fundamentalism ascends from the same landscape of despair and possesses the same tremendous and potent appeal.

What exactly is this despair? It is the despair of freedom. The dislocation and emasculation experienced by the individual cut free from the familiar andcomforting structures of the tribe and the clan, the village and the family.

It is the state of modern life.

The fundamentalists (or, more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both of them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction. Even the structures he builds, his schools and networks of organization, are dedicated to annihilation, of his enemies and of himself.

But the fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He experiences it as temptation to sin. Resistance to the fundamentalist is the call of the Evil one, seeking to seduce him from his virtue. The fundamentalist is consumed with Satan, whom he loves as he loves death. Is it coincidence that the suicide bombers of the World Trade Center frequented strip clubs during their training, or that they conceived of their reward as a squadron of virgin brides and the license to ravish them in the fleshpots of heaven?….

To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.

Islam and Dialogue in Northern Ireland

by Harrison Akins -- June 6, 2014

As the sun shone brightly as our plane touched down in Belfast after arriving from Edinburgh, I had no idea of the storm we were landing in.

I was traveling with my professor, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, on a new study, Journey into Europe, examining Islam in Europe in collaboration with our UK partner the Muslims, Trust and Cultural Dialogue project. We were arriving in Belfast for Ambassador Ahmed to give the 2nd Annual Harri Holkeri Lecture at Queen’s University Belfast on May 29, hosted by the Institute of the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice and its director Professor Hastings Donnan.

I was coming to Belfast for the first time aware of the problems this region had faced during the Troubles but largely unaware of the new challenges emerging in regards to the Muslim and immigrant communities. Just days before arriving in Northern Ireland, a local pastor named James McConnell had announced from his pulpit at the Metropolitan Tabernacle that the religion of Islam was “satanic” and stated that Muslims were “heathens” and he did not trust them. A statement of support by Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson stoked the controversy around Pastor McConnell’s statements further. Having only been in Belfast for a matter of hours, Ambassador Ahmed was inundated with interview requests from BBC’s Good Morning Ulster, BBC Northern Ireland television, and UTV.  For a region which has experienced such horrific violence in its history, these statements only serve as reminders of wounds still healing, wounds which lie upon religious lines.

These comments demonstrated the unfamiliarity, fear, and mistrust which is too often associated with the Muslim community in the United Kingdom. As a prelude to Ambassador Ahmed’s lecture, it also demonstrated the vital need for the spirit that is infused in the Annual Harri Holkeri Lecture—peace, understanding, and reconciliation. The lecture series was named in honor of the former Prime Minister of Finland and his important role in the Northern Ireland peace process and forging the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Held in the iconic Council Chamber at Queen’s University Belfast, the packed audience for Ambassador Ahmed’s lecture, titled “Islam, Peace Building, and Conflict Transformation”, was overflowing with people standing in the back and spilling into the reception area to watch. The audience included leading scholars, politicians, journalists, and Lords, such as Lord Rana, as well as a varied religious landscape of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus.

Professor James McElnay, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Postgraduates, welcomed the audience. The lecture series was then introduced by Minister Leena Gardemeister, the deputy head of mission for the Finnish Embassy in London before Professor McElnay warmly introduced Ambassador Ahmed.

Knowledge and compassion was at the heart of Ambassador Ahmed’s message in his lecture. He stressed the need for knowing and understanding the Other as a means of reconciling differences and conflict. Discussing Pastor McConnell’s comments, Ambassador Ahmed contrasted his message to those of Dr. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury who we recently interviewed for the Journey into Europe project. Dr. Williams told us while sitting with him in the Master’s Lodge of Magdalene College in Cambridge, “The phenomenon of Islamophobia reflects…waking up and thinking ‘I don’t know what my neighbor is thinking. They could be thinking anything. They could be planning anything.’ When you realize you’ve not really gotten close to your neighbors, you can either panic or you can say, ‘It’s time I started, isn’t it.’ So either you react by projecting all sorts of mysterious and terrible things onto them or you sit with them and listen.”

Likewise, Ambassador Ahmed contrasted the position that First Minister Peter Robinson of Northern Ireland took in supporting the divisive statements of Pastor McConnell with that of the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond. Having recently met the Scottish First Minister at his office in Scottish Parliament along with his External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf, it was clear to us that Alex Salmond works to reach out to minority groups and make them feel at home in Scotland and a part of one nation. He argued that there is no incompatibility between Scottish identity and Islam.

These ideas of dialogue and understanding resonated with the multicultural audience during the question and answer session moderated by Dr. William Crawley, a Broadcastor with BBC Northern Ireland. The response from the Institute’s Director, Professor Hastings Donnan, was equally positive as he expressed appreciation for Ambassador Ahmed’s lecture at Queen’s University Belfast. He wrote, “As always, you did a wonderful job and presented an inspirational counterpoint to the news that has been preoccupying the local media here since the beginning of the week.  It was great to have such a distinguished public intellectual deliver this prestigious lecture and everyone I have talked to since is singing your praises.”

This lecture could not have been timelier for Northern Ireland, a fact noted by many of the guests at the lecture. As Northern Ireland continues to deal with the controversies around Islam, immigration, multiculturalism and identity, they should heed the spirit of peace and dialogue with which Ambassador Ahmed gave his lecture and learn lessons from their own history in order to building stronger bridges between faiths and communities in a peaceful society.

Harrison Akins is an Ibn Khaldun Chair Research Fellow at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC. He is currently accompanying Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, on his latest field project Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Empire.

Lynch Mob Rule as Bowe Bergdahl's Hometown Surrenders to the Terrorists

By Donn Marten  -- June 6, 2014 

This is a pretty dismal day to live in America or more accurately to live in The Homeland. The America that we knew has been gone for quite some time now although enough remains - at least in cosmetic terms to pretend that one day it may come back - that is not going to happen. The vicious, sleazy, politically motivated and most of all cowardly attacks on Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the US Army prisoner of war just released from five years of captivity in a deal that Obama struck with the Taliban is evidence that any vestiges of a free and fair country are now gone. The haters have always been there but this disgusting display of venom is a place where even a cynic like myself didn't think that they would go. It is so completely anti-American, even Naziesque that it will leave a coating of toxic scum upon all of us long after Bergdahl's name has faded from the media and the never ending traveling carnival of perversion of political hacks and media assassins have found newly vulnerable prey to ambush and rip apart.

The collapse of our political system has been evident for quite some time now -- any country that manages to not only elect but re-elect charlatans like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama is one that is thoroughly fucked. Throw in a corrupt gaggle of incompetents, perverts, clowns, criminals, de-facto lobbyists, racists, cranks and religious fanatics in the US Congress and top it off with the cherry on the sh*t cake of a Supreme Court that is a rubber stamp on corporate looting, torturing people, mass warrantless surveillance and the restricting press freedom and you have a land destined for the scrapheap of history and hellbent at getting there as quickly as possible. The real problem is that the journey there is going to be one of great pain and if the past five days of 24/7 "Two Minutes Hate" piled upon Bergdahl and his family are any indication it will be one that must be navigated through a gauntlet of apple pie authoritarians who will make Hitler's brownshirts look like pikers when the sh*t hits the fan and they are the ones who are brought in as muscle to protect the corrupt system.

The nadir of our post September 11, 2001 descent into the abyss of fear, loathing and moral bankruptcy is that the berserkers - as instigated by the neocons and their fully weaponized media machine have intimidated Sgt. Bergdahl's home Idaho hometown of Hailey to cancel the celebration of his release after threats of violence became too much of a danger to the citizenry. The small mountain town, with a population of around 8,000 faced the very real possibility of being descended upon by hordes of revved up right-wing goons who would not have been satisfied until Hailey was ransacked and burned to the ground. While one can't blame the city for calling off the event - the safety of residents is first and foremost - it sets a very dangerous precedent in that this time the terrorists won. When a wild animal catches the scent of blood it will keep on running rogue and killing until it has been stopped by the use of equivalent force which is not going to happen. The thugs are far too valuable to the oligarchy to reign them in now, especially with the potential for social collapse if the US-EU-NATO Axis of Aggression continue to push towards a war with Russia.

But I digress.

The predatory attacks on Bergdahl, a proxy for the hated Obama has been building to a crescendo all week with absolutely no resistance from any national leadership figures, religious leaders or rational voices within the system. They have been content to continue to pour more gasoline on the fire to see just how much that it can burn and then step back to marvel at their destruction like pyromaniacs. This is sheer vengeance and the real reasons behind this horrific bursting of the festering, pus-filled wart on the ass of America is explained pretty well by's always excellent Justin Raimondo whose recent column entitled "Hating on Bowe Bergdahl" exposes the arsonists behind this latest and greatest pyre of hate. I excerpt the following:

Embittered by double defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, driven out of both countries with their tails between their legs, the War Party is looking for scapegoats, and has found one in the least likely place -- the ranks of the US Army. That's right: the "support the troops" contingent is now intent on re-torturing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a 26-year-old Idaho native held captive by the Taliban for five horrific years.

A concerted campaign, stage-managed by "Republican strategists" -- i.e. Richard Grenell, former Romney foreign policy consultant fired for being too gay -- is pitting some of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's former comrades against the just-released prisoner-of-war. The former claim Bergdahl is a "traitor" who deserted his post: a 2012 Rolling Stone piece by Michael Hastings implies as much. Yet we really don't know what happened: in a Taliban propaganda video Bergdahl says he was caught after he "lagged behind" on patrol. And this US government cable posted by WikiLeaks contains intercepted Taliban communications hailing his capture and claiming it occurred in the course of an attack on Bergdahl's base while he was using a latrine.

We don't yet know the circumstances of his capture, and so these calls for prosecution are premature, to say the least. Not that legal niceties like evidence matter to the baying wolves of the neocon media: they want vengeance for the war they lost and were widely blamed for. Having lost on the battlefield in Afghanistan, the War Party is seeking a victory on the home front.

The persecution of Bowe Bergdahl is just the first chapter in the neocons' ongoing revisionist history of the Afghan war. And we know the theme of this work of fiction from the very first act: it's a tired replay of the old "we-were-stabbed-in-the-back" myth promulgated by failed Napoleons in every country. In the American version, they said -- and still say -- the same thing about the Vietnam war -- we were prevented from winning by squeamish liberals and anti-American war protesters, who secretly (and not so secretly) supported the Commie cause.

Now of course it is the usual anti-Muslim, anti-American hatemongers like the insipid shreiker Pamela Geller as well as the bottom-feeding scum at Front Page Magazine, the Stormfront for neocons that along with FOX News are leading the pack in working to incite pogroms in the US. Some Republicans who actually hailed the freeing of Sergeant Bergdahl until the Khmer Rouge enforcers of the Red Elephant Team forced them to purge any such sentiment or face exile or worse. Pol Pot Palin - who thrives on being the high priestess of cultural populist American dumb-assery has predictably crawled out from under her rock to feed the hate machine and the Canadian born Senator Ted Cruz is pounding the pulpit over new legislation barring any further transfers from the torture gulag at Guantanamo Bay. The haters eat it up too and the very real prospect that they are finally getting close to the peak of their long, hard fought struggle up the American political Mount Everest now that they may have finally found their Fuhrer in Cruz has them in a supremely orgasmic state.

In the ongoing vilification of Sergeant Bergdahl and his family we can see all that America has been transformed into by travelers, ideologues, war profiteers and the swine who serve them as they eat away at the foundations of this once great country like a column of ravenous Formosan termites. America has failed the moral test of modern times of simply preventing the spread of fascism - which on the 7oth anniversary of D-Day begs the question as to why so much blood has been sacrificed in vain only to allow what our grandfathers and great-grandfathers defeated in World War II to take root in The Homeland? That will be a question that will keep historians busy for decades.

As for the right-wing lynch mobs - when it all comes down to it and if Bowe Bergdahl did walk off his post in Afghanistan then that only makes him a deserter which in the hierarchy of what passes for "patriotism" towers above the chickenhawks who never had the guts to serve in the first place.

Donn Marten is a free lance writer, activist and consultant who resides in West Central Florida.

I am a concerned progressive who has serious problems with the tragic turn that our society has taken. Of primary importance is the the total corruption of our institutions first and foremost our political system. This would not have been possible without the complicity of a corrupt corporate media and it is imperative to use the alternative media to circumvent the propaganda and get the truth out.