In War, Truth is the First Casualty

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” – Aeschylus
 
 
“Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” – Noam Chomsky, Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda
 
 
“We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.” – Edward Bernays, Propaganda
          Since President Trump’s assassination of Iranian General Qasam Soleimani in Iraq, I’ve seen some well meaning people sharing a video entitled “My 2 cents on current events” on social media. It is by Iranian-American Saghar Erica Kasraie. In the video Kasraie states she is a “human rights activist” and proclaims that Iranians are celebrating the assassination of Soleimani. She then goes on to thank President Trump for this illegal and brazen act of war. I couldn’t help but be reminded of another “viral video” that was circulated by Venezuelan-American comedian Joanna Hausmann when the US was targeting Venezuela for a coup against Maduro last year. She also praised the American led actions against the country, albeit in a manner more appealing to her progressive audience.
          Then it was revealed that Hausmann wasn’t just a “justice seeking” Venezuelan of the diaspora. Her father was the former Venezuelan Minister of Planning and former Head of the Presidential Office of Coordination and Planning when that country was a rightwing dictatorship. Her family was clearly a part of the ruling class establishment before a socialist government was legally elected by the Venezuelan people. So this should serve as a caution when we hear anyone parroting the US State Department and thanking American presidents for taking unilateral military actions.
          What is not being said about Kasraie is that she is a conservative Christian evangelical who has been involved in rightwing politics in Washington DC for years. She worked for the Institute of World Politics, a neo- conservative think tank which prides itself on holding the private library of former CIA director William Casey, and touts the notorious, fascist supporting Sebastian Gorka as being one of its faculty. To be sure, Kasraie is much less a human rights activist, and more an asset of the US State Department and the CIA; and shares much in common with rightwing Venezuelan-Americans and Cuban-Americans who have aligned with the most hawkish figures in the American Empire likely because they lost their privileged status in their former countries.
          Without a doubt, the Iranian theocracy has a long history of brutal repression. Crackdowns on dissidents and protesters have been reprehensible, and its persecution of women and other minorities should be condemned. But it was the US that started this nightmare when the CIA orchestrated a coup against the democratically elected president, Mohammed Mosaddegh, and installed the brutal regime of the Shah in 1953. Mosaddegh’s “crime” was attempting to bring a fair share of Iran’s petroleum profits to the people of Iran, rather than most of it going to wealthy American and British oil companies. When the Iranian people ousted the Shah a theocracy sadly took its place, but since then the country has been under a ruthless assault, led by the US, for decades. It is surrounded by dozens of American military bases and has endured crippling sanctions which have devastated working people and the poor throughout the country. The latest sanctions have virtually ground the economy to a halt. With all this in mind it should be clear that this assassination was merely the culmination of an ongoing war against Iran. A war whose casualties we may never be able to fathom.
          To be sure, Soleimani was a beloved figure by many in Iran because he was seen as winning many victories against ISIS. Whether or not this is a misguided belief is not germane. If Iran assassinated Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, both of them war criminals by any definition of the term, the American people, especially conservative Americans, would be outraged. But since the US is an empire, it enjoys total immunity. It even refuses to allow its own military personnel to face charges for war crimes at the Hague. And the sad reality is that the actions of the US have only emboldened reactionary forces within the Iranian government itself. It is a blow to real democracy movements and human rights activists in the country. Add to this Trump’s unhinged threats against sites of cultural importance to Iranian society, and it becomes clear that the US has lost any gains it supposedly may have made toward solidarity with the Iranian people.
          Since the latest escalation of tensions, disinformation about Iran is clearly being ramped up. With the past as a guide, we can anticipate the American mainstream media parroting State Department talking points and demonizing anyone who dissents as a “supporter of terrorists.” But when the American Empire wages war under the guise of “human rights” the hypocrisy is staggering. After all, its closest allies in the region commit gross human rights abuses, whether it be the murderous medieval kingdom of Saudi Arabia which funds jihadist militants and madrassas, beheads men for homosexuality and women accused of witchcraft, and is leading a genocidal war against Yemen. Or the apartheid government of Israel that has blockaded Gaza in what amounts to an open air prison, demolishes Palestinian homes in the West Bank in favor of illegal settlements, or imprisons children as young as 8 years old. Or the military junta in Egypt that has criminalized free speech and mercilessly persecutes journalists and political dissidents.
          The hypocrisy in relation to their own crimes is equally breathtaking. The propaganda machine wants us to forget how the US military was going to “liberate” the women of Afghanistan. But twenty years later the Taliban is still a major force in the country, and hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, maimed and displaced by the invasion and entrenched occupation. They want us to forget that they bombed Libya, a nation that once had the highest standard of living in Africa, into the Stone Age because of the “evil” Gaddafi. Now that country is in ruins and hosts a modern day slave trade that has largely fueled the refugee crisis in the region. They want us to forget how that after the US “liberated” Iraq from Saddam Hussein, the US committed war crimes in Abu Ghraib, Fallujah and elsewhere, and the country was plunged into intractable poverty where corruption and crime are rampant, and the public has suffered from constant attacks from ISIS and other militant groups. And now, with the apparent, unintentional and horrific downing of the Ukraine International Airlines flight that killed 176 people by Iranian forces, they want us to forget that the US shot down an Iranian passenger jet in 1988 killing 290 people, and never apologized for that act of reprehensible cruelty.
          Viral videos, like the one made by Kasraie, serve the propaganda machine of Washington by making it appear to ordinary Americans that the Iranian people welcome a US military attack or even invasion. They are designed to cloak American belligerence in platitudes about human rights. But any grievances that the Iranian people may have with their government will never be solved by US military interventions, they will only worsen them. Indeed, there are countless examples of the US military using humanitarian or social justice issues to hide the true motivation for all American forays: hegemonic domination on behalf of the interests of capital. As recent exposes about Cambridge Analytica have revealed, this machine of disinformation and obfuscation is slick and technologically advanced, with social media being the new frontier to be exploited. And this is a dangerous ruse that might well precede yet another needless bloodbath.
– Kenn Orphan, January 2020

Modern Art and Film in Iran, a Cultural Treasure

Iran does not only possess priceless treasures from the ancient world. Art galleries and museums abound, many of them modern and containing pieces from Gauguin, Kandinsky, Miró, Pissaro, Monet, Léger, Picasso, Pollack, Van Gogh, Rivera and more. Here are some photos of the world renowned Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran.

Although the Pentagon has attempted to step back from Trump’s threats to destroy Iranian cultural sites, Trump himself has doubled down on them. Would these treasures be targeted?

#NoWarOnIran

 

Kenn Orphan   January 2020

Hafez: Political Satire is First Lost on Politicians

The Tomb of Hafez, which is located in the city of Shiraz, Iran, is widely regarded as a treasure of all humanity. Hafez was a poet in 14th century Persia, who wrote about love and mysticism. He is still beloved today by most Iranians. Besides being a poet, he was also a fierce critic of religious hypocrisy and corrupt politics and used satire to do so.

Although the Pentagon has attempted to step back from Trump’s threats to destroy Iranian cultural sites, Trump himself has doubled down on them. As satire is lost on most politicians, can we assume that this cultural site would also be a target for destruction?

#NoWarOnIran

Kenn Orphan    January 2020

Persepolis, a Threatened Cultural Site of Antiquity

Persepolis was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550-330 BC) until it was invaded, looted and destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. Today, the ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site, beloved not only by Iranians, but anyone who respects and appreciates history. Each year tens of thousands of tourists visit this marvelous city from the ancient world and archeologists are still unearthing treasures, while working to protect it from the ravages of climate change.

It has withstood 2500 years, so it would be a supreme and terrible irony if it were destroyed completely. But it is a place of great significance, and although the Pentagon has attempted to step back from Trump’s threats to destroy Iranian cultural sites, Trump himself has doubled down on them. Would this be targeted too?

#NoWarOnIran

 

Kenn Orphan  January 2020

More of Iran’s Cultural Sites

Iran contains many sites that are sacred to Jews, Christians and other faiths, including the tomb of Esther and Mordechai where thousands of Jews make pilgrimage each year. There are also cathedrals, monasteries and shrines that remain active today. Iran has the second largest population of Jews in the Middle East outside of Israel and is home to a large population of Christians as well. The same cannot be said of one of the United State’s greatest allies, Saudi Arabia, where all places of worship other than a strict version of Sunni Muslim are banned.

Although the Pentagon has attempted to step back from Trump’s threats to destroy Iranian cultural sites, Trump himself has doubled down on them. These sites are considered a part of Iranian cultural heritage, would they be targeted too?

#NoWarOnIran

 

Kenn Orphan   January 2020

Isfahan, Another Cultural Site of Iran

In his 1930s travelogue, The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron wrote of this Iranian city: “Isfahan has become indelible, has insinuated its image into that gallery of places that everybody privately treasures. I gave it no help in doing so. The monuments have kept me too busy. One could explore for months without coming to the end of them. From the 11th century, architects and craftsmen have recorded the fortunes of the town, its changes of taste, government and belief. The buildings reflect these local circumstances; it is their charm, like the charm of most old towns. But a few illustrate the heights of art independently, and rank Isfahan among those rarer places, like Athens or Rome, which are the common refreshment of humanity.”

Although the Pentagon has attempted to step back from Trump’s threats to destroy Iranian cultural sites, Trump himself has doubled down on them. These sites are considered a part of Iranian cultural heritage, would they be targeted too?

#NoWarOnIran

Kenn Orphan   January, 2020

Trump’s War on Iran is not Against its Government, it is Against the Iranian People Themselves

Earlier today President Trump threatened via tweet to destroy Iran’s cultural sites. Let that sink in for a minute. A sitting president of the US has threatened to erase the cultural heritage of an entire people. This was the tactic of ISIS who blew up centuries old shrines, mosques, churches and Roman era ruins and the Taliban which demolished ancient towering statues of the Buddha. It is also a war crime under international law.

Iranian society reaches back 5000 years. Its art, culture and architecture have influenced countless societies and remain a treasure for all humanity. That a president would make such a threat should be chilling for anyone with a conscience. Trump’s war on Iran is not against its government, it is against the Iranian people themselves.

Kenn Orphan   January 2020

Pictured is the beautiful Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran. There are more sites listed in the attached website below:

https://mymodernmet.com/historical-architecture-iran/

While the World Burns, the Powerful Go on Holiday

Like so many these past few days, I have been stunned by the devastation across Australia. The photographs and videos of the fires sweeping through the countryside and surrounding towns and even the city of Sydney show a nation literally on fire. Terrified people clung to the bottoms of boat docks, neck deep in water to escape the flames. Thousands crowded on to beaches while the skies above became a Mars like orange hue.  At the time of my writing this at least 18 people are confirmed to have died, over 14 million acres scorched, and a half billion wild animals have perished. These numbers will almost certainly rise. Indeed, it has made even the most stoic of climate scientists tremble. The fires are unprecedented in scale, bigger than the fires in California or even the Amazon in 2019. And they are particularly alarming as this is only the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere.

Of course, deadly bushfire behemoths are not uncommon in Australia. In 1926, sixty people perished in south east Victoria. The Black Friday bushfires in 1939 claimed 71 lives. But the intensity of these incidents has increased as temperatures have steadily climbed over the 20th century. Then in 2009 the most devastating of fires took the lives of 173 people, scorched at least 450,000 hectares of land (1,100,000 acres), and killed hundreds of thousands of animals. Today’s fires have a new context that cannot be ignored. As climate change accelerates, so too does the pace and scale of its consequences.

While Australia has been reeling from devastating bushfires, just to the north thousands of Indonesians have been forced to flee for their lives too, but this time it is due to catastrophic flooding. In fact, the capital city itself is sinking into the ocean thanks to excessive extraction of ground water and rising seas. The government has made public its plan to relocate the capital to an inland area on the heavily forested island of Borneo, a grim prospect for the future of indigenous peoples and wildlife in that already beleaguered region. Indonesia is a world leader in the destruction of its own rainforests, much of it cleared or burned for global timber trade and to make way for profitable crops like palm oil. Its unbridled greed has decimated wildlife, including the endangered orangutan. And based on its corrupt history, the government will likely abandon the poorest of sinking Jakarta first.

 

In many ways the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century might also prove to be the beginning of an unraveling of sorts. And this does not only pertain to the biosphere. Last month’s UN sponsored COP 25 (Conference of Parties) in Madrid, which aimed at addressing our climate catastrophe, was a complete sham much like similar conferences preceding it. Thousands of delegates were joined by hundreds of fossil fuel and banking industry lobbyists and profiteers. They not only attended the conference, but also led several of the meetings. The sickening irony of this was not lost on protesters, who walked out of rooms en masse with hands clasped over their ears once the oil men began speaking.

But around the world the most wealthy and powerful governments remain firmly in denial, and that denial is rooted in the interests of capital. In other words, the shortsighted profits for the moneyed few. As fires ravaged his country Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, for instance, spent the beginning of this disaster holidaying in Hawaii. But this apathy should come as no surprise since he had the gall to stand in the House of Representatives in 2017 clasping a lump of coal and declaring: “This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared. It won’t hurt you.” Now, three years later, it appears that those insensitive and downright stupid words have clearly come to haunt his government.

 

Only a couple months ago the world’s attention was on the fires in the Amazon. Fires that should not have occurred in a wet rainforest. Fires that have devastated fragile ecosystems and the indigenous communities that depend on them. Fires that were, in large part, intentionally set by loggers, miners and cattle ranchers under the approving gaze of the Bolsonaro regime. Today, mainstream media attention has moved to a different continent, but the scenario isn’t much different. There are very rich and very powerful people burning the house we all live in down to ash to make a quick buck, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they will create distractions, even deadly ones like war, to divert our attention and resources. Or they will simply fiddle, like Nero, or go on holiday when the flames get too close to their gilded mansions.

 

Kenn Orphan   January, 2020

 

Title photo credit: Adam Stevenson, Reuters. A kookaburra perches on a burnt tree in the aftermath of a bushfire in Wallabi Point, Australia, on Nov. 12, 2019. 

 

An Attack on One is an Attack on All

After a series of cowardly and terrible acts against Jewish communities in New York, London and elsewhere over this past Hanukkah, I was reminded of this historic photograph. It was taken by Rachel Posner, the wife of Rabbi Akiva Posner, in 1932 at their home in Kiel, Germany. It was only a month before Hitler came to power.
As fascism sadly made significant gains around the world this past year, defiance to social hatred, brutality and dehumanization, whether organized or not, is something that we must not take for granted. From the Amazon to the streets of Beirut, ordinary people have taken courageous stands against repression, often placing their very bodies on the line. But solidarity is the most important of values we have today. So even though there are those who will use these attacks as a tactic of divide and conquer, or who will resort to xenophobia and vilification of the ‘other’ to gain political points, the truth is that an attack on one is an attack on all.
Regardless of our faith or the absence of one, each of us has a menorah to place in our front windows. It makes no difference if the flags of hate loom larger than our emblem of defiance to them. After all, it might be a flickering candle of desperate hope. A light for the way out, for people you might not even know or ever meet.
Kenn Orphan   December 2019

Remembering Ram Dass

“We are all just walking each other home.” – Ram Dass, Richard Alpert (April 6, 1931 – December 22, 2019)

When I think of the marvelous life of Ram Dass I can think of so many gems of simple, yet extraordinary insight, wisdom and compassion. He is being dismissively referred to as a “New Age guru,” and he would probably laugh about that. But his life work was far more than being a guru. He worked with the dying and instilled a needed dignity and compassion to this field. And his teachings helped to enliven my spiritual life at a time when I was walking in a parched desert. A time when I felt there was no one to walk me home. He is part of the reason I entered into hospice care work.

In truth, there are so many quotes that I thought of, like “In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are on straight.” What a great understanding of the ego and theatre that defines our societal transactions. Or “Treat everyone you meet like God in drag.” I love that one especially since it isn’t merely about God in disguise, but God in drag. How fabulous is that?

And when he said “religions are founded by what mystics say when they come back; but what the mystics say is not the same as what happened to them,” my disillusioned eyes were opened. Religion is humanity’s very imperfect explanation of the transcendent. Then there was this: “We’re here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.” That one perfectly describes our existential situation, especially in a time where dehumanization is rife and nature has been reduced to a commodity or rendered a barcode.

But the above quote sums things up the best to me, because it isn’t just about our own path. Our path intersects with everyone elses path. And our task is not one of leader or guide, but one of companion, in solidarity.

“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.” – Ram Dass

Namaste

भगवान की गति.

Rest in peace, Baba.