Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

How Australia is importing Tea Party style politics

My weekly Guardian column:

It’s the swaggering and unthinking bravado that hits you. Australian prime minister Tony Abbott threatens to “shirtfront” Russian leader Vladimir Putin when he arrives in Australia for the G20. Moscow responds via Pravda by comparing Abbott to Pol Pot and Hitler. Australian senator Jacqui Lambie then praises Putin as a “strong leader” with “great values”.

This is what passes for mainstream political dialogue in 2014. It’s unsurprising that a recent Griffith University study found Australians are deeply disenchanted with the political process.

“We are no longer citizens, we no longer have leaders”, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden told The New Yorker last week: “We’re subjects, and we have rulers.”

He articulates a feeling many of us have about the modern world, of the political and media elites merely shifting deck chairs on the Titanic while powerful interests consolidate power and reduce our privacy. It’s inconceivable today that a leading Australian politician would publicly condemn ubiquitous, global spying undertaken by the US through the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance. Apart from showing the effectiveness of the US lobby, it’s a sad reflection on our unquestioning subservience to US military and commercial interests.

Daily politics is often little more than theatre designed to distract us from the real issues of the day. Because parochial politicians have little power or willingness to challenge the fundamentals of our world – mass surveillance, vulture capitalism and endless war against ever-changing enemies – they prefer playing verbal games in futile attempts to protect us from the vagaries and unpredictability of the outside world. They fail because they benefit too much by maintaining the existing, unequal economic order.

Too many reporters are happy to play along, endlessly debating whether “shirtfronting” is appropriate language for a prime minister to articulate. It’s not, but what matters is how Australia celebrates ignorance on issues of truly great importance.

Take the recent discussion around the Abbott government’s changes to terrorism and surveillance laws. Apart from being supported by the Labor opposition – frontbencher Anthony Albanese’s belated and pointless disquiet over the laws was political posturing of the most transparent kind since his party had already acquiesced with them – it appeared that most politicians who heard the words terrorism and ISIS just waved the legislation through.

This week’s ABC Q&A featured Labor MP Kate Ellis and Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer and neither woman could adequately explain it. Co-panellist Julian Burnside tweeted: “Tonight’s #Qanda showed that at least two MPs had not actually read or understood the national security legislation they supported.”

In a healthy political culture, unlike ours, O’Dwyer and Ellis would be slammed for giving away our freedoms so casually. But this won’t happen because shows like Q&A elevate the art of banal conversations to an artform by expecting all guests to have opinions on issues over which they have no clue. That’s “democracy in action”.

This is not an argument for only “experts” to be heard in our media, far too often these are the same people who advocate war against any Muslim entity, but a call for public accountability of elected officials and journalists. Instead, we’re expected to believe that News Corporation’s Daily Telegraph tabloid, in a new TV ad featuring Liberal premier Mike Baird, isn’t a shameless attempt to proudly claim that Murdoch’s journalists aren’t insiders.

After all, Rupert’s great vision, expressed again recently to G20 finance ministers, is damning socialism, praising deregulation, small government and unfettered capitalism. Such thinking has helped him and his mates handsomely.

Australia is undergoing a Tea party revolution without the colourful Confederate flags. Apparently a t-shirt that reads, “if you don’t love it, leave” is a stirring paean to patriotism. Thanks, Miranda Devine. Liberal backbencher Cory Bernardi, here seen suspiciously smiling while sitting alongside real-life Muslims, is one of the most effective spear-carriers for the local movement. Like its American cousins, supporters talk of small government (except when it comes to finding money for defence and bombing Islamic nations), endorse hyper partisanship, oppose action on climate change, distrust non-Christians and non-Zionists and embrace insularity.

The past is celebrated, the future is feared and the present is up for grabs. Bernardi’s recent statements about his fear of Muslims and the supposed security threats of the niqab or burqa were a perfect Tea party tactic, allowing xenophobia out of the bottle with its message spread by reliable media courtiers. Abbott then rushed in to restore order and condemn the move while still expressing unease with the head-wear.

While some dissenters vehemently oppose Abbott’s worldview and his willingness to utilise stereotypical macho imagery, in reality this problem is bipartisan. Getting past the inconsequential rhetoric flourishes, Labor and its journalistic supporters offer a remarkably similar vision of fealty to Washington’s dictates. One of the central ways to break this predictable cycle is resisting the dishonest and incendiary Murdoch agenda that rewards mates and celebrates a blokey, Anglosphere myopia. It’s no wonder his publications are so keen to dutifully join any conflict with a new Muslim foe.

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2SER AidWorks on Syria, ISIS, Gaza and human rights

I was interviewed this week by 2SER’s AidWorks about many issues of the day:

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Beware all the instant Islamist experts

My weekly Guardian column:

Nav K. Samir converted to Islam two years ago. He’s a young Sydney-based writer from an Indian background who recently featured in the successful new Facebook campaign, Australian Muslim Faces. Born into a Hindu family, Samir was attracted to the spiritual and intellectual life of Islam. At the age of 23, after six years of considering the switch, he became Muslim.

I met him earlier this year at the Lebanese Muslim association in Sydney and spoke with him recently about why he thinks a small number of young Muslims are attracted by the Isis message.

“There’s a lack of context, lack of spirituality and understanding, combined with impatience. Many Isis fighters are newly converted, newly pious … these men have grown a beard in three months and they don’t give Islam time to be understood.”

He is tired of having to defend his religion against bigots who take these instant Islamists to be the authentic representation of Islam.

“Keyboard warriors often ask: “Where is the universal Muslim condemnation of terror acts?” We’re distancing ourselves, so why do you keep asking? People just aren’t listening.”

“It’s been the same narrative of apology for decades and we’re sick of it. It’s like the probation the media is trying to grant me. I want to stand back, it’s got nothing to do with me and it’s nothing to do with Islam. I don’t need to come out and prove my innocence.”

The teenage converts – both male and female – who form much of Isis’ recruiting base in the West, are young and inexperienced. As a former Taliban “recruiter” remarked in early September, they targeted:

“People who didn’t know the religion as much. People who were converts, because converts would probably have problems with their parents at home, so they were more likely to stay in our company.”

Instant Islamists. And now we are suddenly deluged with instant experts on terrorism, too. Politicians and journalists compete for the snappiest sound bite on Islam, Isis and fundamentalism, mostly with little understanding of the issues.

We get fiery sermons from terrorism alarmists, lurid descriptions of apocalyptic death cults, pontificating war advocates who tell us that this new conflict against Isis will not be Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya, and bigotry dressed up as insight.

This instant expertise about Islam is mirrored by reporters who learned little from every past terrorism hysteria, and simply repeat the same, old tired tropes to the same, skeptical audience.

Then there are the “instant Muslims” – like the young, white reporter from The Daily Telegraph who dressed up in a niqab “in two different parts of Sydney to see how people would react”. Unsurprisingly, she felt alien and uncomfortable.

Mimicking Muslims is fair game. Portraying them as odd, un-Australian and weird is standard operating procedure for vast swathes of the mainstream media.

When actual Muslims do appear and question Western policy in the Middle East, like they did on last week’s Q&A, The Australian calls it“crass anti-Western propaganda”.

The current anti-terror campaign has to be one of the most hysterical demonisation campaigns of modern times, against a threat that virtually nobody had heard of a few months ago.

Now a new “threat” has appeared out of thin air: The Khorasan Group, a hardened cell of Syrian terrorists “too radical for al-Qaida” that appears to be completely fictional.

Everything has happened so quickly, as if by command. But there are some things about our newest war at home and abroad that aren’t instant: the constant downplaying of the role played by US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar in fuelling and funding Isis; the amnesia surrounding the radicalisation in US detention of Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – once, reportedly, a calm individual; and the emergence of Isis from the ashes of the disastrous Iraq war, a point well made by independent Australian MP Andrew Wilkie.

The ignorance of Australia’s elites is also deeply entrenched. A friend who works at one of Australia’s leading Muslim groups tells me that he’s contacted daily by journalists who demand to know what his organisation is doing to reduce the threat of terrorism – as if a Sydney-based Muslim is somehow responsible for Isis beheadings or mass rape.

It’s not difficult to show the diversity of the Muslim faith; take a look at Conor Ashleigh’s wonderful photography of a community in Newcastle. And it’s possible to treat radicalisation with the seriousness and context it demands, as The Saturday Paper’s Martin McKenzie-Murray did last week, in a forensic analysis of the killing of Abdul Numan Haider.

The pressure on the Australian Muslim community is immense, a feeling of being outsiders, exacerbated by a message that they’re different and under suspicion. Many Muslim women in particular feel disempowered and not trusted by the wider, white majority. Islamophobia is now unofficial government policy and some media’s central worldview.

Muslims have ample reason to be sceptical towards government and intelligence services; real journalists would investigate why. Sadly, most in the media are failing in their basic duty to question.

“Islam isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Samir says. His religion, just like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and others, is complex, contradictory and open to various interpretations – but figuring that out can’t be done in an instant.

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Inside the mind of ISIS

I’m currently in America, investigating disaster capitalism in privatised immigration detention for my 2015 Verso book.

I’ve been watching a lot of cable TV (lord knows why but I’m a masochist) and it’s been ISIS day and night (apart from mostly awful coverage of the killing of Michael Brown and white blindness on racism). Fox News is desperate for President Obama to bomb Muslims and ISIS is the current target in Syria and Iraq (host Justice Jeanine’s monologue reflects the bloodlust inside Murdoch’s station). The former head of Britain’s MI5 stated that the Iraq war massively increased the terror threat. What do you think attacking Iraq (again) and Syria (presumably with the assistance of the once-reviled and now loved Assad regime) will do? ISIS has grown because the Assad regime allowed it to surge, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Understanding the reality and rise of ISIS is clearly too difficult for many in the mainstream media though journalist Patrick Cockburn’s new book is one of the best primers. How to tackle ISIS extremism, especially in the wake of the shocking beheading of US reporter James Foley, brings clear challenges to the press. What to show, how to show it, what is propaganda?

This VICE News film on ISIS is remarkable, scary, intense and vital. Incredible access:

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Public talk on From Iraq to Gaza: The Politics of Fear

Last Friday I gave the following speech at Sydney’s Lebanese Muslim Association forum on terrorism, Gaza, ISIS and Western governments spreading fear and anger towards the Islamic faith. Labor MP Tony Burke and Liberal MP Craig Laundy both pledged to bring harmony to the community and yet both their parties have flamed bigotry. Government surveillance is clearly mostly targeted towards Muslims and honest politicians would acknowledge it.

Here’s my speech:

-       Thanks to Andrew Bolt and the Murdoch press for mentioning tonight’s event this week; it’s clearly a threat to public order to be critical of Israel and the “war on terror”.

-       It’s a shame there are no women on this panel discussing the effects of war, terrorism and the Middle East from the group that often suffers the most from counter-terrorism policies as well as Zionist and Muslim extremism.

-       We must resist fear without question.

-       We must resist the narrative being sold to us about Palestine and Israel, so-called Western “humanitarian intervention” and government spin over the supposed terrorist threat.

-       We must resist the pressure placed on vulnerable communities to accept collective guilt for the actions of a few. I believe the Muslim leadership needs to more vigorously refuse to co-operate so closely with governments and intelligence bodies that aim to bring mass surveillance on the Muslim and wider communities.

-       A recent report in the US, through documents leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, found that the NSA and FBI have been secretly monitoring for years thousands of Muslims with no connection to terrorism at all, along with a handful of potential extremists. Some of the most prominent Muslim spokespeople in the US are now suing the US government for being caught in an unaccountable system with no chance to defend themselves.

-       Another recent report, from another NSA whistle-blower, revealed that the Obama administration has placed over 680,000 people on its secretive Terrorist Screening Database with more than 40% of these individuals having no connection to terrorism.

-       With our closeness to the US, there’s every reason to believe the Muslim community in Australia is equally under suspicion. The Muslim response should not be acquiescence with the state, the AFP or ASIO but demands to know the evidence explaining why collective guilt has become the defacto policy from Canberra. It is unacceptable and does not make us safer.

-       Let’s speak out against the barbarity of ISIS and Al-Qaeda and understand why this hatred is brewing in our midst. It’s because of failings in education, language, parenthood, attention, imams, government actions, Western foreign policy hypocrisy and atrocities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Libya and beyond. We have a responsibility to challenge fundamentalism and understand its roots to reduce it.

-       I speak to you as an atheist, Jewish, Australian, proud of my heritage but ashamed of Israeli actions. A few years ago my friend Peter Slezak and I founded Independent Australian Jewish Voices to highlight the growth in Jewish dissent over the Middle East. Not all Jews are Zionists and increasingly across the world young Jews are speaking out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and wars in Gaza. Not in our name.

-       Jews who speak out against Israel are often demonised, harassed and threatened. But recent actions in Gaza, the brutality, death and destruction, have unleashed a growth in Jewish dissent around the world.

-       Anti-Semitism must never be tolerated. It must be challenged and crushed. This conflict isn’t about Jews versus Arabs. It’s about Zionism colonising Arab lands. Remember that many Jews are proudly Jewish and proudly anti-Zionist.

-      500 South African Jews, from a traditionally strongly Zionist community, recently signed a public letter that read in part: “Just as we resist anti-Semitism, we refuse to dehumanise Palestinians in order to make their deaths lighter on our collective conscience. We sign this statement in order to affirm their humanity and our own. We distance ourselves from South African Jewish organizations whose blind support for Israel’s disproportionate actions moves us further from a just resolution to the conflict.”

-       This is the kind of humane Judaism of which I can be proud.

-       One of the finest Israeli, Jewish journalists, Gideon Levy, explained this week what is at stake and why we must stay vigilant and outspoken: “A wave of animosity is washing over world public opinion. In contrast to the complacent, blind, smug Israeli public opinion, people abroad saw the pictures in Gaza and were aghast. No conscientious person could have remained unaffected. The shock was translated into hatred toward the state that did all that, and in extreme cases the hatred also awakened anti-Semitism from its lair. Yes, there is anti-Semitism in the world, even in the 21st century, and Israel has fuelled it. Israel provided it with abundant excuses for hatred. But not every anti-Israeli sentiment is anti-Semitism. The opposite is true – most of the criticism of Israel is still substantive and moral. Anti-Semitism, racist as any national hatred, popped up on the sidelines of this criticism – and Israel is indirectly responsible for its appearance.”

-       The media frames this issue as between two equal sides fighting over land and autonomy. The press says it’s “complicated”, that only certain perspectives should be heard, namely Zionist lobbyists and the occasional Palestinian or Arab. This is a lie. For too long, spokespeople from the Jewish establishment claim that their community speaks in one voice over Israel. They say they’re against terrorism and want peace. But what about state terrorism, unleashed by Israel and Australia and the US in Iraq and Afghanistan? Their dangerous tendency to conflate anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism leads to public skepticism over their cause.

-       In reality, this conflict is about occupation of Palestinian land, since 1948, and the legitimate rights of both Jews and Arabs to live in peace in Palestine. I have seen the reality of this situation with my own eyes in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and found warmth, resistance, hardship, destruction of neighbourhoods and a desire for peace. But there cannot be a true and sustainable peace without justice, the Palestinian Right of Return and an end to the decades-long occupation.

-       Shamefully, successive Australian governments have indulged Israeli actions for too long. As a result, Canberra is now a fringe player on the world stage, unable to even acknowledge that East Jerusalem is “occupied”. The rise of Israeli fascism, endorsed by the Israeli government, is largely ignored in the West.

-       But there is hope. The last ten years have seen an explosion of new media that allows a stunning diversity of views. During the recent Gaza conflict, we all consumed tweets, Facebook posts, blogs and mainstream news from countless sources inside Gaza. Some were Gazans, able to communicate their plight online to the world, and others were brave professional reporters, such as Jon Snow from Britain’s Channel 4, who were unafraid to document the horrors unleashed by Israel on the people of Gaza.

-       In Australia Palestinian writers and commentators are occasionally heard though far too rarely. There is still timidity. Here’s an example. I was recently asked to appear on a popular current affairs TV show to debate a Zionist lobbyist. The lobbyist refused to show up alongside me so the TV producer cut the segment. Without a strong pro-Israel voice it was deemed impossible to have the story. How many times is a pro-Israel voice appearing alone on our TV screens? Regularly. A robust discussion over Israel and Palestine is healthy and necessary within the Jewish community but just featuring a Jewish dissident, on my own, was clearly a bridge too far. Why not have a Jew and Palestinian discuss the issues calmly and passionately?

-       The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is surging in popularity. From public moves against Sodastream for operating a factory in the occupied territories to European countries selling stakes in Israeli banks that bankroll the occupation. I strongly support BDS and encourage its growth in Australia. I hope the Muslim community more fully embraces this non-violent tactic, by lobbying politicians, businesses and the media to force Israel and its financial and intellectual backers to pay a price for flouting international law.

-       Of course Israel isn’t the only guilty party in the Middle East. One of the most pernicious actors is the US-backed Saudi Arabia, spreading poisonous Wahabism across the world. Extremism lives in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Palestine, Egypt, Yemen and Iran. Do not be afraid to confront the radicals in our own communities, those who preach death, beheadings and violent jihad.

-       We must resist with purpose. 

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Israel a key source of global rise in anti-Semitism

Stinging Gideon Levy in Haaretz:

Israel is today the most dangerous place in the world for Jews. Since its establishment, more Jews were hurt in wars and terror attacks that took place in Israel than anywhere else. The war in Gaza took this one step backward – it endangered world Jews as well, as no other war has before it. The Jewish home, the national refuge, not only doesn’t provide refuge, but even threatens Jews everywhere else. When you tote up the results of the war, include that too in the loss column.

A wave of animosity is washing over world public opinion. In contrast to the complacent, blind, smug Israeli public opinion, people abroad saw the pictures in Gaza and were aghast. No conscientious person could have remained unaffected. The shock was translated into hatred toward the state that did all that, and in extreme cases the hatred also awakened anti-Semitism from its lair. Yes, there is anti-Semitism in the world, even in the 21st century, and Israel has fueled it. Israel provided it with abundant excuses for hatred.

But not every anti-Israeli sentiment is anti-Semitism. The opposite is true – most of the criticism of Israel is still substantive and moral. Anti-Semitism, racist as any national hatred, popped up on the sidelines of this criticism – and Israel is indirectly responsible for its appearance.

But Israel and the Diaspora Jewish establishment automatically tag any criticism as anti-Semitic. It’s an old trick – the burden of guilt is shifted from those who perpetrated the Gaza horrors to those who are tainted with so-called anti-Semitism. It’s not us, it’s you, anti-Semitic world. No matter what Israel does, the whole world is against it.

This is nonsense, of course. Just as not every policeman who gives a Jewish driver a traffic ticket is an anti-Semite, as the Jewish organizations try to put it, and not every robbery of a rabbi is a hate crime, so not every criticism of Israel is motivated by hatred of Jews.

These organizations have become the lightning rods of the criticism of Israel and they have brought it on themselves. This is the price of their blind support of Israel, their noisy propaganda campaigns in Israel’s name, their turning of every Jewish community center into a PR agency for Israel, and their unanimous support for everything Israel does. We’re all one people, they say. In that case, if every Jew who dares to censure Israel, even when it’s involved in brutal conduct, is a self-hating Jew – then everyone bears responsibility.

Quite a few Jews abroad sent me frightened messages during the war, pleading me to stop writing my articles, cease my criticism, because the anti-Semites use them. I replied to all of them that all my articles together haven’t affected Israel’s status as much as one news report from Gaza. I also know many who still harbor sympathy for Israel precisely because of the remnants here of a free society, one that allows criticism.

In any case, the address for the Jews’ fear should be the State of Israel. Many Jews now feel afraid. Part of the fear may be exaggerated, part of it is justified. It seems to me that being a Muslim in Europe is still harder than being a Jew. But in Paris, Jews don’t dare wear a kippa, in Belgium a woman wasn’t allowed into a store because she was Jewish and a French journalist who visited Algiers last week told me that the hatred for Israel and the Jews in France has reached an all-time high.

The address for all the complaints is Israel, because Israel is the one to blame for Gaza.

Whoever is afraid for the Jews’ fate, whoever is shocked by the anti-Semitic incidents, should have thought about it before taking Israel to another runaway war. The world isn’t always against Israel. Suffice it to remember Israel’s status during the Oslo period, when the entire world cheered it, including parts of the Arab world. This world will be happy to embrace Israel again, if this country only changes its bullying, domineering behavior.

Gevalt, anti-Semitism? Maybe. But Israel is supplying the fuse.

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My Sydney speech on Gaza and a different Jewish identity

Today I spoke at a large Sydney rally in support of Palestine, Gaza and a dissenting, non-violent Jewish perspective. I think there were only a handful of Jews in the predominantly Muslim and Arab crowd. I hope that more Jews begin to find their voice on this vital humanitarian issue and refuse to allow Israel to speak in our name.

Thanks to Rahaf Ahmed for filming my speech:

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On Utoya: book on murder, far-right, racism and hate

In 2011 Norwegian Anders Breivik murdered dozens of his countrymen and women in a rampage of hatred. 

Soon after, three Australians, Tad Tietze, Liz Humphrys and Guy Rundle, edited a collection, On Utoya, about the event. My chapter was about the growing connections between the far-right and Israel.

The e-book has now been released as a free PDF. They write:

On July 22, 2011, Anders Breivik, a Right-wing writer and activist, killed more than sixty young members of the Norwegian Labour Party on Utøya island. Captured alive, Breivik was more than willing to explain his actions as a ‘necessary atrocity’ designed to ‘wake up’ Europe to its betrayal by the Left, and its impending destruction through immigration and multiculturalism.

Following these events Guy Rundle, Tad Tietze and I collaborated to edit, within three months of the killings, On Utøya. The ebook was a challenge to anyone who would seek to portray the events in Norway as anything other than what they were – a violent mass assassination, directed against the Left, to terrorise people into silence and submission to a far-right and Islamophobic agenda. 

Since this time the essays have been reproduced and expanded on in numerous forms in the Australian and UK media, as well as in academic and psychiatric journals, by the authors.

Here we provide a free open access PDF version of the book for all to read, with essays by Anindya Bhattacharyya, Antony Loewenstein, Lizzie O’Shea, Richard Seymour, Jeff Sparrow and the editors.

The book can be downloaded from academia.edu, HERE.

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The toxic Greek brew of racism, fascism and hatred of refugees

My weekly Guardian column:

On a searing hot day last weekend I took the train an hour out of Athens to the Greek city of Corinth. There, one of the country’s largest detention centres sits behind high walls. It was the recent site of a mass hunger strike by asylum seekers, whose protest has now gone nation-wide.

I gained rare access to the Corinth centre with a former refugee as my guide. I spoke to Hazara men who had been imprisoned for as long as two years. We stood behind a fence topped with barbed wire while the detainees gathered on the other side, longing for discussion and human contact.

One man had been shot in the foot by a guard and the bullet remained inside his body. They all claimed to be the victims of physical and psychological abuse by the police. None of them wanted to remain in Greece because of the harsh conditions of their incarceration, and hoped to get to Germany or Sweden in the near future. After 15 minutes of hurried conversation, and despite our protests, we were eventually moved on by police.

Greece is on the frontline of European nations receiving desperate refugees from Africa and the Middle East. The poor conditions inside state-run facilities are well-documented. Many of the men who we spoke with in the Corinth centre had been swept up in Greece’s inhumane Operation Xenios Zeus, launched in 2012, to rid the streets of asylum seekers.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of those picked up were found to be in the country legally, the plan was an effective political fix to show the government was tough on “illegal” immigration. Detainees can now be held indefinitely. Detention centres are set to be privatised.

None of this could happen were it not for Greece’s fractious political climate. The recent European elections saw support surge for the far-right Golden Dawn, backing grow for the leftwing party Syriza and the deep denial (or is it shamefaced acceptance?) by the political class of bigotry among their Greek constituents.

It’s no accident that fascist organs are gaining strength in Greece, across Europe and the rest of the world. Even Indonesia is seeing Nazi chic. Many admire the positions of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, because they’re skilfully exploiting economic unease, unemployment and fear of immigrants and Islam. Greece has also seen the return of anti-Roma and anti-Jewish sentiment.

I met one of Golden Dawn’s leading MPs, Ilias Panagiotaros, outside Athens’ high court. He was accompanied by the party leader’s wife, Golden Dawn MP Eleni Zaroulia. Panagiotaros spoke with determined calm, saying that his party is surging in support in spite of it being investigated by the government as a possible criminal organisation. A few hours after we spoke, Zaroulia was placed under house arrest.

“The cases against GD leadership are 100% political persecution”, Panagiotaros explained. “Every GD MP believes in country and nation, heritage, pride and dignity.” A whistle-blower from inside the party recently revealed that the ultimate goal of the group was to create a “one-party state” and attacking immigrants was viewed as a “badge of honour”.

He praised Putin, said Russia would soon be the world’s leading super-power, liked Moscow’s monitoring of all NGOs (“99% of NGOs should face justice here and be in jail because they’re agents of globalisation”), accused all Muslim immigrants in Europe of being “jihadists” who “plan to take over Europe” and condemned the privatisation of public services (despite Golden Dawn MPs routinely backing the government in outsourcing policy).

He praised Israel and said he would like to copy its laws against “illegal immigration” and was equally effusive towards Australian prime minister Tony Abbott. He “has been tough on illegal immigration and I support his position”.

He claimed that all Muslim immigrants coming to Europe should go elsewhere. “If Syrians, Libyans or Iraqis need to go somewhere they should go to the US, the country that caused the wars in their countries. Let the US take these people in.”

I asked Panagiotaros about photos which emerged this week in a leading Greek paper of the currently imprisoned Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos saluting in front of the Nazi Swastika, and other party members’ nostalgia for Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess. He dismissed my concerns.

“So what if our leader was photographed next to a Nazi swastika 40 years ago?” he said. “If you ask every leader in Europe what they were doing decades ago you may find some interesting stories, too.”

I visited another leading Golden Dawn supporter, Dr Epaminondas Stathis, a retired orthopaedic surgeon and losing 2014 European election candidate. His home, an hour from Athens, is a mansion replete with large statues, candelabras, paintings on every wall in every room and many images of Jesus. He said that as he’s “been fighting for patriotic, nationalist ideas all my life”.

He explained that successive governments have for 40 years “destroyed the economy, closed farms and shops; we’ve had a humanitarian crisis for at least 10 years”. What Greece needs, he explained, was a party that respected Greek heritage.

The whiff of conspiracy against the group was never far from the surface, a view that is shared by many Greek citizens who have little faith in the government, media or legal system.

One of the great unreported reasons for the Greek crisis, and barely investigated by the local press except for independent journalist Apostolis Fotiadis, is the European Union’s imposition of disaster-capitalism policies. The aim is to weaken the sovereignty of member states, while allowing corporate interests to buy and exploit assets at low prices. Privatising so much of Greece has been a colossal failure and yet rightwing Greek politicians talk of continuing it. The country has become a giant fire sale, despite massive popular opposition.

These are the political conditions that almost guarantee disruption and unease. While corruption remains rampant and wages low – I’ve spoken to countless young Greeks who tell me that a reasonable wage here is around US$10,000 a year – the appeal of simple fixes, such as offered by Golden Dawn, will thrive. Whether alternative parties of the Left, in Greece and beyond in Europe, will capitalise on these tensions and resist Brussels-directed privatisation is the great challenge of the modern European project.

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ABC Radio discussion on faith, belief and politics

Last weekend I spoke at the Sydney Writer’s Festival and one of my panels was this fantastic event (recorded and played on ABC Radio’s Sunday Nights yesterday):

A Muslim-Christian-Muslim, a Jewish-Atheist and a Scientist-Atheist-Humanist walked into a room… for a conversation with John Cleary of Sunday Nights.

Writers Reza Aslan, Antony Loewenstein and Jim Al-Khalili have a diverse range of views on faith in a modern context, and on what it means to believe in something with or without religion.

They shared their perspectives with John Cleary at the Sydney Theatre Company on 22 May as part of the 2014 Sydney Writers’ Festival.

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Fighting the far-right is a duty for us all

My weekly Guardian column:

It was a pitiful sight. In Brisbane last Friday, the far-right Australia First party announced that it would rally on the streets in solidarity with Greece’s neo-Nazi aligned political organisation, Golden Dawn. In the end, less than 10 supporters arrived and faced off with around 200 unionists and members of the Antifa group shouting “immigrants are welcome, Nazis are not!”.

Before the rally, Australia First released a statement that called on the Greek government to “release from gaol the illegally imprisoned Golden Dawn members of parliament, including the leader of the Golden Dawn party, Nikolaos Michaloliakos.”

Golden Dawn are one of the most aggressive and successful fascist parties in Europe, surging into the Greek parliament and assaulting immigrants and minorities. They’re a sign of the times across Europe in the 21st century, with far-rightists becoming more mainstream as a reaction to the extreme austerity policies imposed by the European Union and global organisations in the wake of the financial crisis.

Not long ago, it was politically acceptable to blame Jewish people for economic uncertainty; today it’s migrants (often from a Muslim background) and asylum seekers. In Britain, the English Defence League (EDL) and some members of the popular UK Independence party (Ukip) are already manipulating public insecurity and targeting the vulnerable.

On the face of it, the paltry showing of far-right backers on Australian streets indicated that such views thankfully remain on the fringes of society. There’s no question that Australia has nothing like the formidable presence of a Golden Dawn or Ukip at the heart of its political system, but it’s worth noting the last years have seen a steady growth in disturbing far-right activity in Melbourne, Sydney and beyond (the anti-Islamic Australian Defence League, for example, is actively seeking to expand its membership). Although it remains on the edges, the broader movement is increasingly finding resonance with people who feel left out in our globalised world.

A key chronicler of these movements is Andy Fleming – he uses a pseudonym because he’s spent the last decade following extreme-right parties and groups on his blog, Slack Bastard. He describes himself as an “anarchist, blogger and writer with a particular interest in the far right.” I asked him if these groups are growing in Australia and he tells me that it remains marginal – but with a big potential for growth. He said:

“Both major parties have adopted exceptionally punitive measures with regards asylum seekers and refugees. These policies, and the politics which inform them, help to fuel the xenophobia which the far right feeds upon. In terms of growth, existing groups on the far right are struggling to capitalise upon this sentiment, both as a result of their own inadequacies but also because the audience they appeal to is often politically unengaged. The challenge for the far right is to develop the means to overcome this lack of political sophistication.”

The vast bulk of far-right activity occurs online. Golden Dawn has an office in Melbourne and an active presence there; its Facebook page explains the party’s public activities and online key supporters and fundraisers aren’t shy about their backing. Fleming argues that Golden Dawn has real potential to implant itself in the Greek Australian community, but that to do so, it will need to tone down its fascist image.

Fleming explains that the rhetoric by Golden Dawn and similar groups has shifted their target away from Judaism and towards Islam in recent decades for “pragmatic reasons”. But for others, he says, “antipathy towards Muslims is driven by genuine paranoia regarding Islam. In either case, both tendencies understand that Islamophobia sells: Muslims have been portrayed by important segments of the mass media and politics as a threat to Australian values and customs.”

One of the most prominent anti-Muslim organisations in the country is the Q Society. It hosted the prominent, Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders in 2013 and organised a conference this year in Melbourne with some of America’s leading Islamophobes. Its public face isn’t the crude racism so relished by other ideologically similar organisations, and yet some of its policies advocate Australia ending all Muslim immigration and removing the country from the UN Refugee Convention.

Debbie Robinson, president of the Q Society, tells me that her organisation opposes any groups that “espouse a racist or anti-Semitic element”, such as Golden Dawn and the Australia First party. So far so good, but then she explains that “we consider organisations propagating totalitarian ideologies like fascism, nationalism, communism and Islam as anti-democratic and often acting in violation of basic human rights.” It would then be fair to deduce that for the Q Society, Islam is akin to fascism.

Robinson says that her group’s strategy involves using citizen lobbyists to engage with politicians, schools and “other entities involved in the Islamisation process.”

If the Q Society isn’t flirting with violence, other far-right groups are. ABC TV’s 7.30 recently detailed the Australian Defence League (ADL) and its attacks on the Muslim community. There is growing evidence that Australians are most likely to be prejudiced against people of Middle Eastern background.

Sydney-based Muslim woman, Miran Hosny, writer and host of the weekly radio program The Y Factor, tells me that the intimidation of her community is worsening. She recalls a recent media story of a Sydney Muslim girl whose photo had been taken and posted on the ADL Facebook page without permission (Facebook eventually removed the image). “The ADL simply reacted by re-posting the photo onto Facebook along with a status asking its members to take photos of random Muslim women to humiliate them online”, she told me. “Hearing that definitely made me anxious. My commute home that day was very uncomfortable. I kept glancing around me, keeping an eye out for anyone who might be trying to snap a photo of me due to my hijab.”

Hosny argues that she’s noticed an increase in racist behaviour. “Previously, most Islamophobic encounters that my family and friends experienced took place in the CBD. But it feels like the ADL now has an increased presence in western Sydney, where many Muslims reside. Watching this right wing extremism take a grassroots grip on Sydney makes me even more frustrated about the proposed amendments to section 18C of the racial discrimination act.”

Fascism comes in various modern stripes and we can never be too vigilant against its insidious agenda.

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We know too little about US drone attacks

My weekly Guardian column:

The news that the US had killed two Australian “militants” in a drone strike was announced in mid-April. Christopher Havard and “Muslim bin John”, who also held New Zealand citizenship, were allegedly killed by a CIA-led airstrike in eastern Yemen in November last year.

Readers were given little concrete information, apart from a “counter-terrorism source” who claimed that both men were foot soldiers for Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, though they may also have been collateral damage (the real target being other terror heads).

The Australian government claimed ignorance of the entire operation. “There was no Australian involvement in, or prior awareness of, the operation”, a spokesman said. New Zealand prime minister John Key released some more details, saying that the country’s GCSB spies had been authorised to spy on him. “I knew that he had gone there [to Yemen] and gone to a terrorist training camp”, he stated.

Since publication of these bare facts, little new information has emerged from the government or other sources – except for some reporting in The Australian about Havard’s apparent transformation after he converted to Islam in his early 20s and went to Yemen to teach English. The paper editorialised in support of the strike: “to be killed in this way is regrettable”, it wrote, but obliterating civilians without a trial was acceptable because “such attacks have done much to stop the terrorists committing even more atrocities.” There was no condemnation of the scores of civilians killed by drones since 9/11.

It’s of course morally convenient to believe that the death of these men will make the world a safer place by removing “threats” without the need to place western soldiers in harm’s way – this is, after all, the apparently compelling logic of drone warfare. But it’s a myth challenged by the former drone pilots featured in the recently released documentary Drone, in which ex-Air Force pilot Michael Haas explains that:

‘You never know who you’re killing, because you never actually see a face. You just have a silhouette. They don’t have to take a shot. They don’t have to bear that burden. I’m the one that has to bear that burden.”

Yet, uncertainty be damned, the Australian government seems to keep on supporting the CIA killings with most of the media following without question.

Fairfax Media headlined one story “Abbott government defends drone strike that killed two Australian Al-Qaeda militants” without challenging that the two men were, indeed, militants or affiliated with Al-Qaida – they may or may not have been, but innocent civilians have been killed by drones before. The sentence “alleged militants, according to the government” never appeared in the article (this is a relatively common habit in journalism – see for example this essential take-down of a New York Times report on drone killings in Yemen).

I’ve reported independently from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and accurate journalism requires finding reliable sources on the ground (or corresponding with individuals through email, phone, encryption or Twitter) who can confirm or challenge the official version. It’s not rocket science, though definitive information can be scarce in a war zone.

In the last days I’ve reached out to various sources in Yemen (some of the best are herehere and here) and asked Sanaa-based Baraa Shiban to comment. His answer is revealing. “The lack of transparency has became a fixed strategy for the US in its drone war. The US announced recently the death of almost 30 militants in a training camp in Abyan, south of Yemen, but can’t release a single name; this tells it all.”

Taking the word of security sources and the state, when this information is so often wrong or deliberately skewed by anonymous officials who strategically leak to justify their counter-terrorism policies, is sadly all too common. “We don’t know the facts” is not a shameful statement. To be skeptical shouldn’t be a flaw, but an asset.

The desultory lack of debate over this latest drone attack is a sadly familiar tale (former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser lent a rare voice of criticism, saying Australians assisting the US drone program could face crimes against humanity charges). The Lowy Institute’s Rodger Shanahan, former army officer and Australian diplomat, offered a commonly-held view of the deaths: “If it is confirmed that these Australian citizens were members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and were not deliberately targeted”, he wrote, “then I don’t think either the Australian government or public will lose much sleep over their passing.”

This misses the point entirely. The two men are dead, so arguments about the legality of their assassination should surely have happened before the US fired its missiles. Shanahan expressed confidence without evidence that Australia “would not allow the deliberate targeting of one of its citizens by another power.” This is a familiar refrain echoed by governments, too: that if you’re standing, sitting or socialising with militants, with or without your knowledge, your life could be in jeopardy.

The effect of this random violence, along with the devastating signature strike policy – drone attacks based on “suspicious” behaviour without knowing names or identities of people – is well documented. In Yemen, hatred of the US, along with major social and political tensions, is growing amongst a poor and scared population.

Although the Yemeni regime works openly alongside Washington in its war against perceived enemies (unlike Pakistan, which many say behaves in a similar way but feigns opposition to appease the angry masses) the death of dozens of alleged Al-Qaida militants and civilians at a major base in the remote southern mountains last week will only inflame tensions in the nation.

Let us not forget that the US drone program, massively accelerated under the Obama administration, is mired in secrecy. Earlier this month, a US federal appeals court ordered the government to release legal advice relating to the killings of three US citizens in Yemen in 2011. The American Civil Liberties Union correctly argued that it was unacceptable for the US to both claim the program was classified and yet leak selective information to favoured journalists to “paint the program in the most favourable light.”

The latest killing of two Australian citizens is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning. If these men were threats to national security, then the public deserves to know why and the legal backing behind it. The countless lies during the “war on terror” warrants skepticism of official claims.

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