Tag Archives: Avaaz

Gilets Jaunes, Avaaz, Macron & Facebook (or when grassroots ‘populism’ meets controlled opposition)

Gilet Jaunes

In late November last year a new grassroots movement took to the streets of Paris. Taking its name from the adopted emblematic apparel of hi-vis yellow vests which every French motorist is obliged to carry in their vehicles, early reports repeated the claim that the thousands of demonstrators had gathered for the rather limited mission of stopping the implementation a new fuel tax. As the weeks passed, however, and as the protests continued even after President Macron’s concessionary intervention to freeze the tax hike 1, it became evident that although elected to office just eighteen months previously, Macron was suddenly facing a very serious political crisis. One of the few political commentators to recognise the nature and the importance of the Gilets Jaunes was American author Diana Johnstone, who is based in Paris and wrote in early December:

Initial government responses showed that they weren’t listening. They dipped into their pool of clichés to denigrate something they didn’t want to bother to understand.

President Macron’s first reaction was to guilt-trip the protesters by invoking the globalists’ most powerful argument for imposing unpopular measures: global warming. Whatever small complaints people may have, he indicated, that is nothing compared to the future of the planet.

This did not impress people who, yes, have heard all about climate change and care as much as anyone for the environment, but who are obliged to retort: “I’m more worried about the end of the month than about the end of the world.”

After the second Yellow Vest Saturday, November 25, which saw more demonstrators and more tear gas, the Minister in charge of the budget, Gérard Darmanin, declared that what had demonstrated on the Champs-Elysée was “la peste brune”, the brown plague, meaning fascists. (For those who enjoy excoriating the French as racist, it should be noted that Darmanin is of Algerian working class origins). This remark caused an uproar of indignation that revealed just how great is public sympathy for the movement – over 70% approval by latest polls, even after uncontrolled vandalism. Macron’s Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, was obliged to declare that government communication had been badly managed. Of course, that is the familiar technocratic excuse: we are always right, but it is all a matter of our “communication”, not of the facts on the ground.

Maybe I have missed something, but of the many interviews I have listened to, I have not heard one word that would fall into the categories of “far right”, much less “fascism” – or even that indicated any particular preference in regard to political parties. These people are wholly concerned with concrete practical issues. Not a whiff of ideology – remarkable in Paris! 2

Click here to read Johnstone’s full article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron”.

Although there is a great deal of misrepresentation of the Gilets Jaunes, it isn’t very hard to trace their origins. We could go back fifty years to the same Paris streets and the anti-establishment uprising instigated by student protests that signalled the beginning of the end for Charles de Gaulle. However, there was a stronger ideological current in ’68 than now; the movement then stirred into being and driven by the purposefully obscure quasi-Marxist slogans of the Situationists, most famous for enigmatically declaring “Sous les pavés, la plage!” (“Under the pavement, the beach”).

Within a few decades following the dissolution of the Situationists, a more distinctly anti-capitalist movement began to emerge. Widely referred to at the time as anti-globalisation, for many years it was belittled and trivialised, characterised as directionless and quixotic. In fact it was simply ahead of its time, and with the millennium rapidly approaching, the mobilisation of many tens of thousands who steadily gathered outside the WTO convention in Seattle was about to seriously unsettle the western establishment.

On November 30th 1999, with the conference underway, the authorities reacted. Their response has since become a familiar one: blockades, pepper spray, tear gas and stun grenades rained down on what had been more or less peaceful demonstrations. Having provoked a response, the Mayor of Seattle, Paul Schell, subsequently declared a state of emergency, and then, the following day, State Governor, Gary Locke called in National Guardsmen to enforce a no-protest zone. At the height of what would later be known as the “Battle in Seattle” the streets were strewn with shattered glass just as the air was thick with teargas. The estimated costs to the city exceeded $20 million.

As it transpired, the protests Seattle represented the apogee of this first anti-globalisation movement, its growing strength abruptly snuffed out by the attacks on the World Trade Center. No movement so openly hostile to global trade could sustain itself in the immediate post-9/11 environment, and so it withered away as the peace movement would too; all anti-establishment causes becoming collateral damage. In fact it took nearly a decade for any comparable movement to re-emerge, and this time it was born in the shadow of the banking crisis and on the back of the “Arab Spring”.

It was not until 2011 before thousands in Spain and Greece finally took to the streets protesting against neo-liberalism and the “austerity measures” that were starting to cripple their economies and to undermine welfare and other state provision. This happened during the earliest days of this blog, and so I cut my teeth writing a sequence of articles which began with the first of the ‘los indignados’ protests on May 15th (also known as 15M). Shortly afterwards on July 25th, a small contingent of the burgeoning movement had embarked on a thousand mile march from Madrid to the European Parliament in Brussels in forlorn hopes of petitioning “the Troika” to end their measures.

Across the Atlantic, and inspired by popular uprisings now taking place around the Mediterranean (including the so-called Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt), Occupy Wall Street then commenced with its call for people to gather on September 17th. Just a month later, on Saturday October 15th (15-O), there was a coordinated day of international dissent called for by los indignados with rallies taking place not only in Spain (half a million in both Barcelona and Madrid), but also in Greece and the other “PIGS” (to use the vile and frankly racist acronym quite freely attached by the press), as well as in other major European cities and across the United States. The 15-O event actually sparked protests as far afield as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Mumbai, Canada, South America and Africa.

Click here to read a list of the 15-O Occupy protests around the world and here to read my own post about this first day of global outrage.

By the symbolic (if coincidental) date of November 5th, Occupy Sheffield sprang up too, when a small band of disillusioned strangers put together a makeshift protest camp outside the cathedral. Thus the Occupy movement that had been inspired by los indignados in Spring, and spread to Wall Street by mid-September, was within months recruiting fellow travellers in my home city as in other towns and cities of the UK including the capital.

For a brief moment, the Occupy movement became a global protest movement, and one that in superficial respects, resembles today’s Yellow Vest movement. It was horizontally structured, eschewed leadership and listed no formal demands. Finally, and in spite of its foundational and unswerving commitment to non-violence action, when the time came – in America especially – the police response was unrestrained and brutal. The largest encampment in Zuccotti Park would be swept aside within just a few hours on November 15th, scarcely two months after the protests had commenced.

It is true to say that los indignados slowly transformed into the new political party Podemos, and that the parallel protests in Greece likewise helped to trigger the rise of Syriza, however, once the last pockets of resistance were vanquished in other parts of the world, little more remained than a lasting slogan: “we are the 99%”. And so in spite of the tremendous enthusiasm and initial optimism, the revolution was cancelled. Doubtless in part it was doomed to fail if only because camping in the park – especially at the onset of Winter – was a desperately poor strategy to begin with, but more importantly, the movement had never managed to reach out to the wider populous, whether through trades unions, civil rights groups or by tuning in to the real concerns of disaffected groups beyond the large metropolitan centres.

I visited the camp at the Cathedral on a few occasions and at first was eagerly welcomed in, but as the weeks passed, the mood changed. The mix included students, the homeless, drop-outs and well-intentioned others, but rather than actively protesting, this in-crowd mostly spent their days cooking food, constructing shelters and sitting in meetings with comrades where decisions were made on a strict consensus basis, and nights hunkered down in tents or under tarpaulin. They had built makeshift libraries and hung up posters – I recall that one was for Avaaz – and they did workshops for anyone interested. In short, Occupy was always directed towards building a ‘community’ and as such was inward-looking. Outside the tents, the passersby passed by, and most were unimpressed by the genuine commitment shown by those who nightly sacrificed the warmth and comfort of a bed to sleep out on the streets.

Although the Gilets Jaunes are successors to the fin de siècle anti-globalisation movement that culminated in Seattle, and to the Occupy camps which disbanded a decade after, their anger is more palpable and their strength has been greatly reinforced due to support throughout the rural provinces. Unlike the earlier movements, the Gilets Jaunes are in fact marginalised in a different way: largely abandoned by the left-leaning intelligentsia, for better or worse, neither do they enjoy celebrity endorsements. Finally, at the extremes of the criticism they endure, they are disparaged as ‘populist’. This is actually their greatest strength, of course, and the biggest reason they are met with such hardline suppression by the authorities. It is also why both their political cause and the gatherings of thousands each weekend (especially when peace is maintained) have been dutifully downplayed by the corporate media.

In truth, this spontaneous and mostly leaderless movement is more straightforwardly working class, and it is this factor above others that singles it out and makes it significantly different from the earlier movements. Such an awakening of class consciousness also potentially makes it a genuine existential threat to the establishment.

Activist, writer and theoretical physicist, Jean Bricmont, a Belgian perhaps best known for his role in the ‘Sokal Affair’, is a leftist commentator who has actually participated in the Yellow Vest protests. In a recent interview with independent Algerian journalist, Mohsen Abdelmoumen, he outlined other ways in which the Gilets Jaunes radically differs from previous social uprisings:

[T]he movement is intensely patriotic – they sing the “Marseillaise”, wave the French flag, etc. It is an attitude that deeply disturbs the left.  The people show that they are attached to their country – as the Algerians are attached to Algeria, the French are attached to France –, which does not imply any hostility towards foreigners, but it implies a certain idea of national community and this is something that the left has hated for decades. It is the great problem of the left that it is cut off from the majority of people because it rejects this idea of a national community and puts forward its membership in Europe, globalization, etc. From this point of view, the left is completely cut off from the people.

According to Bricmont, the Gilets Jaunes confront the powers-that-be with what is for them an irresolvable crisis:

Yellow Vests ask such fundamental questions that no European government could answer them. Moreover, Macron is a prisoner of the European Union logic. He throws oil on the fire with his provocations, but the crisis is the result of decades of neoliberal politics, deindustrialization, destruction of public services, and so on.

Asked whether the emergence of the GJ movement is historical, Bricmont replies:

Yes, I think so, but it is very complicated to imagine the form by which the people would take power. They talk about the RIC (Citizens’ Initiative Referendum) and the European Union, but they are not at all clear on the latter issue. The problem is that it is a spontaneous and unorganized movement, so there are no leaders, no method for collective thought. There is collective thought developed by people discussing in the traffic circles and who think of alternatives, but the movement is not yet structured enough so that we could know where it will lead. I tend to think that we have to wait to know what will come of all this. For now, they are resisting, which is already remarkable, but where it will go, I do not know. 3

Click here to read the full interview in the American Herald Tribune.

Interestingly, although leaderless, as far back as December 5th a set of demands purporting to be an ‘official’ Yellow Vest manifesto appeared:

Soon after a translated version appeared too:

For alternative leftist analysis of the movement we may also turn to Serge Halimi, editorial director of Le Monde diplomatique, whose thoughts were published by Counterpunch on January 8th. Halimi writes:

The sudden emergence of the yellow vests, just as miraculous and much more powerful, demonstrates the gradual impoverishment of an ever-larger section of society. It also demonstrates the feeling of absolute defiance towards — almost disgust at — the usual channels of representation: the movement has no leaders or spokespeople, rejects political parties, keeps its distance from unions, ignores intellectuals and hates the media. This probably explains its popularity, which it managed to retain even after violence any other government would have capitalised on. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “Forgotten France Rises Up”.

Another article that shines some clearer light on the rise of the Gilets Jaunes was written by Max Parry and published in Counterpunch on January 4th. He writes:

In less than two months, the yellow vests (“gilets jaunes”) movement in France has reshaped the political landscape in Europe. For a seventh straight week, demonstrations continued across the country even after concessions from a cowing President Emmanuel Macron while inspiring a wave of similar gatherings in neighboring states like Belgium and the Netherlands. Just as el-Sisi’s dictatorship banned the sale of high-visibility vests to prevent copycat rallies in Egypt, corporate media has predictably worked overtime trying to demonize the spontaneous and mostly leaderless working class movement in the hopes it will not spread elsewhere.

The media oligopoly initially attempted to ignore the insurrection altogether, but when forced to reckon with the yellow vests they maligned the incendiary marchers using horseshoe theory to suggest a confluence between far left and far right supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen. To the surprise of no one, mainstream pundits have also stoked fears of ‘Russian interference’ behind the unrest. We can assume that if the safety vests were ready-made off the assembly line of NGOs like the raised fist flags of Serbia’s OTPOR! movement, the presstitutes would be telling a different story.

And he addresses the reason behind the mostly silent response coming from progressives within America:

While the media’s conspicuous blackout of coverage is partly to blame, the deafening silence from across the Atlantic in the United States is really because of the lack of class consciousness on its political left. With the exception of Occupy Wall Street, the American left has been so preoccupied with an endless race to the bottom in the two party ‘culture wars’ it is unable to comprehend an upheaval undivided by the contaminants of identity politics. A political opposition that isn’t fractured on social issues is simply unimaginable. Not to say the masses in France are exempt from the internal contradictions of the working class, but the fetishization of lifestyle politics in the U.S. has truly become its weakness. […]

In today’s political climate, it is easy to forget that there have been periods where the American left was actually engaged with the crisis of global capitalism. In what seems like aeons ago, the anti-globalization movement in the wake of NAFTA culminated in huge protests in Seattle in 1999 which saw nearly 50,000 march against the World Trade Organization. Following the 2008 financial collapse, it briefly reemerged in the Occupy movement which was also swiftly put down by corporate-state repression. Currently, the political space once inhabited by the anti-globalization left has been supplanted by the ‘anti-globalist’ rhetoric mostly associated with right-wing populism.

Globalism and globalization may have qualitatively different meanings, but they nevertheless are interrelated. Although it is shortsighted, there are core accuracies in the former’s narrative that should be acknowledged. The idea of a shadowy world government isn’t exclusively adhered to by anti-establishment conservatives and it is right to suspect there is a worldwide cabal of secretive billionaire power brokers controlling events behind the scenes. There is indeed a ‘new world order’ with zero regard for the sovereignty of nation states, just as there is a ‘deep state.’ However, it is a ruling class not of paranoiac imagination but real life, and a right-wing billionaire like Robert Mercer is as much a globalist as George Soros.

Ever since capitalism emerged it has always been global. The current economic crisis is its latest cyclical downturn, impoverishing and alienating working people whose increasing hardship is what has led to the trending rejection of the EU. Imperialism has exported capital leading to the destruction of jobs in the home sectors of Western nations while outsourcing them to the third world. Over time, deep disgruntlement among the working class has grown toward an economic system that is clearly rigged against them, where the skewed distribution of capital gains and widespread tax evasion on the part of big business is camouflaged as buoyant economic growth. When it came crashing down in the last recession, the financial institutions responsible were bailed out using tax payer money instead of facing any consequences. Such grotesque unfairness has only been amplified by the austerity further transferring the burden from the 1% to the poor. 5

Click here to read the full article entitled “Why France’s Yellow Vest Protests Are Ignored by ‘The Resistance’ in the U.S.”

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“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” said Gandhi (or possibly somebody else 6), but that was old school in any case. In today’s ‘post-truth’ era, ‘they’ have been enabled both to ignore and to fight you simultaneously. And just as the Occupy movement was forcibly dismantled with the cameras turned away, so on the streets of France another unreported crackdown is being carried out right now.

On January 28th, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, who has “been keeping close track of the events linked to the ‘yellow vest’ movement in France since mid-November 2018” made an official visit to Paris, prompted by what she describes as an “increasing number of violent incidents, reported by a very large number of media outlets, confirmed by information passed on to her by national human rights bodies and borne out by evidence received directly by her Office”. A month later on February 26th, she released her damning report on “the circumstances of the use of force by law enforcement officers and some demonstrators, and assess[ing] the human rights situation in the context of the various forms of action linked to the yellow vest movement.” The following summary is directly quoted from that report (further extracts are reprinted in the footnote):

[A]ccording to figures from the Ministry of the Interior 12 122 LBD rounds [i.e., rubber bullets], 1428 instant tear gas grenades and 4942 hand-held sting grenades were fired or thrown between the beginning of the yellow vest movement and 4 February 2019. She is concerned at the high level of use of these so-called intermediate weapons despite the fact that their deployment is restricted and they can cause serious injury. The Commissioner notes that according to a count carried out by an independent journalist, at the time of writing, the three types of intermediate weapon referred to above had been involved in 253 of 428 reports made to him by persons claiming to be victims of police violence, which he himself had documented and cross-checked, confirming a high prevalence of LBDs, accounting for 193 of these cases. The count highlighted 38 wounds to upper limbs including 5 lost hands, 52 wounds to lower limbs, 3 wounds to the genitals and 189 head wounds including 20 people who have lost an eye.

In conclusion she says:

The Commissioner is extremely concerned about the number of serious, concurring and credible allegations of police violence causing mutilation and serious injury, particularly to the head. She considers that head wounds caused by LBD [rubber bullets] fire show a disproportionate use of force and the unsuitability of this type of weapon in the context of operations aimed at maintaining public order. 7

Investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley has witnessed the police violence first-hand and has been running regular columns throughout the already five months since the GJ first took to the streets. Back on January 31st, she reported:

Since the 24th November 2018 the violence witnessed on the streets of cities across France has escalated dramatically. One French independent journalist, David Dufresnes, has been recording all infractions committed by police and security forces and tweeting them to the Interior Ministry while giving interviews to a huge number of French media channels to raise awareness of the police brutality during peaceful protests. In the tweet below, infraction number 362 dated 26/1/2019, an off duty soldier is reported to be hit in the head by a police LBD40 rubber bullet as he is leaving a restaurant in Montpelier on his way to the nightclub with two of his colleagues:

Link to Tweet and video here.

Dufresnes has recorded 157 injuries to the head including 18 who have lost an eye, fractures of the jaw and comas in the most severe cases. 11 hand injuries, in 4 cases resulting in the loss of a hand. 8 back injuries, 28 injuries to the upper body, 40 lower limb injuries, 3 injuries to the genital area, 48 unspecified injuries and 55 cases of intimidation, insults, repression of press freedom infractions. One eighty-year-old was murdered on the 1st December 2018 in Marseilles – Zineb Redouane was killed when a tear gas grenade was thrown in her face by the security forces. According to Dufresnes this is the list of the more serious injuries, an estimated 2000 – 3000 more GJs have been “lightly” injured during the protests since November 2018.

Record of some of the appalling injuries inflicted upon unarmed civilians by police forces across France. (Photo: Desarmons.net)

Dufresnes argues that the police have already lost control of the situation and can no longer be legitimately claiming to “maintain law and order”. In one interview Dufresnes points out that the use of 10,000 tear gas grenades on one day of protests points to a “panic” situation among the security forces. During “Acte XI” of the protests on the 26th January the elderly man, Eric, in the photo below was hit on the head by a police truncheon in Marseilles. He has three fractures and is forced to eat only liquid food from the left side of his mouth for three weeks, according to his brother.

On February 11th, Venessa Beeley delivered a presentation at the Mot Dag Conference in Oslo and provided a powerful testimony of the state sanctioned violence against unarmed civilians in French cities:

Having cited other instances of entirely innocent protesters who have been maimed or otherwise seriously injured, Beeley writes:

Effectively the Gilets Jaunes have exposed Macron and his government for what it is. Macron is the President who was elected by the globalists, the capitalists and the ruling elite to protect their interests. A book recently published, authored by Francois-Xavier Bourmand, entitled “Emmanuel Macron the Banker who would be King” has investigated the corporatocracy who ensured Macron’s election win in order to expand their interests globally and to convert France from Republic into Plutocracy at the expense of the “dispensables”, the “little people”.

During one confrontation with a citizen at one of the Grand Debates, Macron is asked why he has failed to fulfill his pre-election promise of “no more SDF (homeless) on the streets of France – 580 SDF died on the streets of France in 2018. Rather than show compassion for the poverty-stricken and homeless, Macron defends his policies with accountant-speak, informing the audience that the elite must be protected in order to provide jobs for the “poor”.

If indeed Macron’s coterie in government are pushing for confrontation between the people and the security forces and introducing increasingly repressive measures to up the pressure on the protestors rather than trying to defuse matters, it is really ten minutes before midnight in France. The insanity of Macron supporting the “uprising” in Venezuela while sanctioning vicious reprisals against his own people at home is glaringly obvious to all but Macron and his backers. That is because Macron is doing his job and his job is to manufacture the conditions in which the privileged, wealthy ruling elite can thrive and further their globalist ambitions which includes military adventurism and resource theft from target nations that include Venezuela and Syria.

Violence will escalate in France because it is state-sanctioned. Unless the police wake up to their manipulation by the state and join forces with the GJs there is a risk of a serious confrontation in the very near future.

Click here to read Vanessa Beeley’s full article published on Patreon.

On January 28th, Vanessa Beeley, was interviewed on The Last American Vagabond about the “Yellow Vests” movement. She discussed the media suppression, police brutality and its subsequent cover up, and also spoke about the orchestration of an alternative so-called ‘Red Scarf’ resistance movement:

Then on March 10th, Vanessa Beeley appeared as a guest on George Galloway’s RT show ‘Sputnik’, were she again talked about the ‘Yellow Vest’ protests and the media silence:

Protests on consecutive weekends have now passed more than a hundred days, and with no sign at all that the movement is ready to fade away, the Macron government has been stepping up its strong-arm measures, including the deployment of the army on the streets of Paris. This latest move is justified on the basis of an abrupt escalation in violence and vandalism during the 18th act of the protests. However, as wsws.org reported on Thursday 21st, the crackdown comes in spite of widescale evidence of police collusion with black bloc and other agitators:

The escalation of repression by the Macron government after Saturday’s clashes with protesters on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, during the 18th weekly “yellow vest” protests, raises the most serious questions as to the government’s role. No evidence has been provided that the violence was caused by “yellow Vest” protesters. But the Élysée is seeking to tear up the right to protest on the basis of these murky events, which sections of the state apparatus itself have attributed to far-right forces.

On Monday, the government announced that protests could be banned in areas where violence had previously occurred, if police declare that “extreme elements” could be present among the protesters. But it is precisely the question of the police’s own role that is raised by Saturday’s events, which saw numerous buildings set on fire, notably Fouquet’s restaurant.

The police, which were filmed ransacking the merchandise store of the Paris Saint-Germain football club, are now threatening the “yellow vests” with a major escalation of violence. Frédéric Lagache, the general secretary of the Alliance police union which is tied to neo-fascists, called for the injuring of demonstrators: “We should be willing to clash with them and maybe cause some injuries. We’re not going up against choir-boys.”

The incriminating footage of alleged police looting can be found here:

[A] segment of a video originally live-streamed by Rémy Buisine, a journalist for the French news site Brut, has gone viral, garnering more than three million views. The footage shows an officer a few metres from the PSG shop entrance carefully folding what looks like club jerseys or white sweatshirts and putting them into a black bag.

Buisine is heard commenting that “some items were…” before being brusquely interrupted. As the camera shakes, Buisine says that he was clubbed by a police officer with a baton, although that isn’t clearly shown in the video. 8

The same wsws.org article continues:

On Saturday, the Socialist Party mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, reacted to the violence by declaring: “What I saw tonight were extreme right groups who want to destabilize democracy, and groups of looters.”

She also pointed to the responsibility of police for the violence that erupted on the Champs-Élysées: “It ought to be possible to take control of a situation like the one we just passed through.”

Naturally, Hidalgo chose her words and took care not to express herself in a way that would raise questions as to the role of the state machine, of which she is herself an important cog. But it is necessary to ask the questions which are directly posed by such statements.

If far-right groups are indeed responsible, then which far-right groups are they? Who are their leaders, and who gave orders to set different shops and buildings on fire? Are there ties between the far-right groups that ransacked the Champs-Élysées, according to Hidalgo, and those, for example, who are now appealing the conviction of their ex-members for the fascist murder of Clement Méric?

Given the vast powers that the state has to monitor electronic communications and mobile phones, how is it possible that they do not know the identities of those responsible?

And if, as Hidalgo claims, the responsibility for the violence lies with far-right forces that threaten democracy, what conclusions should one draw about the role of the government? Why are Macron and his ministers silent about the role of the far right, besides the fact that this discredits their claim that the “yellow vests” and those who support them—some 70 percent of the French population—are responsible for the violence? 9

Click here to read the full report entitled “Unanswered questions on French police role in Saturday ‘yellow vest’ clashes”.

On Saturday 23rd, ‘We Are Change’ released an extended interview with an anonymous Gilets Jaunes spokesman “Bob” who spoke to Luke Rudkowski about the violence of the previous weekend’s “18th Act”; the psychological problems suffered by police officers; the use of a new type of unknown ‘teargas’ agent; the deployment of troops; and the callous manipulation of the narrative by Macron. Both parts of the interview are embedded below [warning: the introductory music is unnecessarily loud]:

In short, fighting against what have been, for the most part, peaceful protests is in the long run a losing strategy, so it has been essential to denigrate the entire ‘Yellow Vest’ movement by tarnishing its reputation, whether by means agents provocateurs (Vanessa Beeley reported on this in early February) or else by branding its supporters as racists, or more specifically, accusing them of antisemitism – an increasingly prevalent trend which usefully serves also to reverse an otherwise defensive posture needed to protect Israel. As independent journalist Jonathan Cook wrote in an excellent piece entitled “France’s Macron leads the way as western leaders malevolently confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism”:

Macron’s sleight of hand [“his repeated conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism”] has a related and more specifically self-serving agenda, however, as has become clear in the wider misuse – or weaponisation – of antisemitism slurs in Europe and the US.

Macron is faced with a popular revolt known as the Yellow Vests, or Gilets Jaunes, that has taken over high streets for many months. The protests are rocking his government.

Like other recent grassroots insurrections, such as the Occupy movement, the Yellow Vests is leaderless and its demands difficult to decipher. It represents more a mood, a spreading dissatisfaction with an out-of-touch political system that, since the financial meltdown a decade ago, has looked chronically broken and unreformable.

The Yellow Vests embody a grievance desperately searching to hitch its wagon to a new political star, a different and fairer vision of how our societies could be organised.

The movement’s very inarticulateness has been its power and its threat. Those frustrated with austerity policies, those angry at an arrogant, unresponsive political and financial elite, those craving a return to a clearer sense of Frenchness can all seek shelter under its banner.

But equally it has also allowed Macron and the French elite to project on to the Yellow Vests any kind of malevolent motive that best serves their efforts to demonize the movement. A charge spokespeople for the movement deny.

And given the rising tide of nativist, far-right movements across Europe, casting the Yellow Vests as antisemitic has proved difficult to resist for the embattled French president.

Just as Macron has presented leftwing and anti-racism activists supporting BDS as in cahoots with neo-Nazis, he has lumped together the Yellow Vests with far-right white nationalists. Much of the French media have happily recycled this mischief. 10

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

There are few satirists who puncture the convoluted pomposity of today’s febrile political climate quite so astutely as playwright and novelist CJ Hopkins. Lately he has gone to town on the virulence of what he calls the “Anti-Semitic Pandemic” and in his most recent piece, wryly retraces its spread from latent seeds within British Labour Party out to the streets of Paris:

Emergency measures are now in effect. A full-scale Labour Party lockdown is imminent. Anyone not already infected is being advised to flee the party, denounce anyone who hasn’t done so as “a Hitler-loving Corbyn-sympathizer,” and prophylactically apologize for any critical statements they might have made about Israel, or “elites,” or “global capitalism,” or “bankers,” or anything else that anyone can construe as anti-Semitism (preferably in the pages of The Guardian).

Nor has the Continent been spared! What at first appeared to be a series of spontaneous protests against Emmanuel Macron, economic austerity, and global capitalism by the so-called “Yellow Vests” in France has now been officially diagnosed as a nationwide anti-Semitism outbreak. In a heroic attempt to contain the outbreak, Macron has dispatched his security forces to shoot the eyes out of unarmed women, pepper spray paraplegics in wheelchairs, and just generally beat bloody hell out of everyone.

Strangely, none of these tactics have worked, so France has decided to join the USA, the UK, Germany, and the rest of the empire in defining anti-Zionism as form of anti-Semitism, such that anyone implying that Israel is in any way inherently racist, or a quasi-fascist Apartheid state, or making jokes about “elites” or “bankers,” can be detained and prosecuted for committing a “hate-crime.” 11

Click here to read CJ Hopkin’s complete essay.

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Avaaz

On March 12th, Avaaz released a lengthy report entitled “Yellow Vests Flooded By Fake News: Over 100M Views of Disinformation on Facebook”. The cover page features the image below:

What this image is depicting is not entirely clear, however I suggest that we try to dissect it to see if we can uncover an underlying message. To begin then, who are the two screaming victims meant to represent and why are they in the throes of such extreme agony? Moreover, what is the unseen agency pulling at their strings? To my eyes the torment and the envisaged tormenter are conflated, deliberately so given how there is no other visible cause for their trauma. Presumably then the subliminal message is that the pain that is felt and expressed by the Yellows Vests is both the outcome and an expression of one source: ‘fake news’. Of course the main purveyor of this dread ‘fake news’ is then made clear in the accompanying caption:

“Avaaz calls on Facebook to Correct the Record ahead of EU Elections – with an in-depth study showing how fake news surrounding the Yellow Vests reached over 100 million views, and how Russia fueled the divide.”

[bold highlight added]

In short, Russia is to blame, and not just for somehow orchestrating mass demonstrations across France that have been ongoing since November, but for bringing such grief to the French people by generating and stoking their rage. You see the people who go out on the streets in their tens of thousands are actually dupes of the Kremlin – empty-headed pawns in a game that goes on entirely above their heads:

Yes, the image above is another one lifted from the pages of Avaaz’s report, and as if their message isn’t plain enough, there is a further accompanying statement that clarifies:

This new in-depth study by the global citizens’ movement Avaaz shows for the first time the unprecedented scale at which the Yellow Vest movement has been impacted by disinformation. According to its findings, fake news surrounding the French Yellow Vest movement has reached an estimated 105 million views on Facebook alone, in a country with just over 35 million Facebook monthly active users. 12

The report then highlights three prime examples of the kinds of disinformation inflaming the French protests:

• a post with images including bleeding ‘Yellow Vest protesters,’ which media and government allegedly hid from the public – when some of the photos were actually taken at different protests near Madrid or in Catalonia (136,818 shares, 3,511,456 est. views)

• a video of French President Macron dancing in the Middle East “while France suffers,” when the video was actually taken over a month before, during the Summit for the Francophonie in Armenia (183,390 shares, 5,700,000 views)

• an image of a Yellow Vest protest in Paris, with a caption alleging that the image had been censored on Facebook or elsewhere; Le Monde fact-checkers debunked the claim that the photo or the caption were deleted (349,403 shares, 8,967,432 est. Views 13

I wish to consider each of these items in turn, starting with the photo of an injured protester who is mistakenly identified as a victim of the recent violence in France when in fact she was a previous victim of police brutality in Madrid. It was late February when Avaaz launched their initial campaign on the back of this deception. The email they sent reads (and bold highlights are preserved from the original):

“This shocking photo of a young woman, left beaten and bleeding by police at a protest, went viral on social media in France.

It’s the sort of thing Avaaz might launch an urgent campaign on.

So let’s pause there, if only to bookmark this first claim before continuing…

“But there’s just one problem – the image has nothing to do with France. It was taken in Madrid, years ago. It’s fake. Untrue. A lie.

And it’s dangerous.

Where to begin? Well surely the first point is that the image is not in any literal sense fake at all. Indeed, no-one is actually claiming that the image has been photoshopped. All that is ‘fake’ is that it happened in a different place and another time when evidently – and in spite of all their frantic virtue signalling – Avaaz did not bother to launch a campaign in response to it. No, they waited. And it was not until they could reuse the image to push a new agenda when they finally decided to direct the world’s attention to it.

Now it might be the case that they simply hadn’t seen this image before, although if so, then one wonders how they so promptly identified it as “fake” upon its re-emergence. Although none of this really matters. The fact is, as Avaaz know full well, the Gilet’s Jaunes protesters have also been repeatedly “beaten, bloody and terrified” in staggering numbers by French police; many left permanently blinded or as amputees. I have covered this above, however, the following extract is taken from a mainstream article that published by the New Statesman as early as January 30th, and thus a whole month prior to the Avaaz email:

In the video that has stunned France, Paris’s Place de la Bastille is relatively calm, with gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protesters scattered around the square. Jérôme Rodrigues, a pacifist yellow vest figure, is filming 26 January’s “Act XI” on Facebook Live, greeting fellow yellow vests as his “family”, reminding them that they are “authorised” to be there (unlike previous ones, this march had been declared to the authorities) and regretting reports of violence elsewhere. At the nine-minute mark, police start closing in. An explosion goes off. Seconds later, Rodrigues falls to the ground, badly hurt in the eye as his friends call for help. The video has been watched more than 2.2 million times in less than a week.

Rodrigues, who may remain blind in one eye, is among dozens of protesters who have been severely injured by the French police since the start of the yellow vests movement last autumn. Unlike violence against the police, which has been sharply condemned by the government in several speeches — including president Emmanuel Macron’s new year’s address, in which he described protesters as a “hateful crowd” — police brutality against protesters went largely ignored by the authorities for months. Rodrigues’s footage, and his prominent standing within the movement, has shone a light on police violence and the horrific injuries their weapons have caused since the first protests in November. 14

Click here to read the full article entitled “The French police’s brutality against the gilets jaunes can no longer be denied”.

A similar report entitled “Police violence against gilets jaunes sparks broad backlash” was published by the New Internationalist literally one day before the Avaaz email arrived. It begins:

Since that now infamous Act 2 protest in Paris on the 24th of November in which the first riots erupted on the Champs Elysee, the gilets jaunes, or ‘yellow vests’, have been met by an increasingly heavy handed police response. The 15th of December in Paris saw this reach an absurd peak when there were 2,200 protestors on the streets and over 8,000 police. They were ubiquitous. On the 15th they were so numerous that they could consistently split groups of gilets jaunes from merging to form a bigger mass. Ironically, this was one of the calmer weekends in terms of crowd numbers, police violence and casseur presence. Other times though the police response was devastating.

Jacques Pezet, fact-checking Journalist for the CheckNews division of Liberation had, as of the 30th of January counted 144 verifiable cases of gilets jaunes and journalists severely injured by the riot police. At least 14 victims have lost an eye and 92 of the 144 have been shot by flashballs. Flashballs are rubber bullets fired from a tube like weapon with the stopping power of a .38 calibre handgun. At close range, as the French CRS (riot police) have used them, they can be particularly damaging. This violent misconduct by the CRS has sparked a wave of activism and created a new movement against police brutality within the gilets jaunes. 15

Click here to read the full New Internationalist article.

So when Christoph Schott at Avaaz warns us that “Disinformation like this has the power to turn protest violent…” I know that he is being duplicitous. That what he is saying is fake, untrue, a lie… and that it’s dangerous. Because that genuinely “shocking photo of a young woman” in Madrid was really nothing more than a decoy to draw attention from the horrific violence of the French police and the hundreds of victims like these:

Record of injuries from police use of disproportionate force against unarmed civilians during GJ protests. (Photo: Desarmons.net)

Now let us turn to Avaaz’s second example of “dangerous” disinformation: a video which purportedly shows Macron dancing “while France suffers”, but as Avaaz rightly contends, was in fact filmed during an event which took place on October 11th, and so roughly one month prior to the GJ protests. Here’s an upload for anyone who’s remotely interested in watching Macron strut his stuff:

The implication Avaaz makes here is that news of Macron’s detachment from the plight of the ordinary French citizen has been at best exaggerated and at worst fabricated. Yet once again this seriously and knowingly misses the essential point. So try this instead. Type into Google the words, “Macron let them eat cake” and then count the hits yourself. I will merely present a sample of the various tweets and articles you will instantly be linked to:

Instead of the confident leader, lecturing and preening on the global stage, he is barricaded in his palace, a sort of latter-day Marie Antoinette. French people can’t afford diesel? Let them buy Teslas. Others might compare him to Nero, fiddling with emission targets while Paris burns. 16

From an article published by The Spectator in December appropriately entitled “Let them buy Teslas! How Macron provoked an uprising”.

Also back in December, The Economist weighed in with this tweet:

And meanwhile the Guardian published:

It is feasible – indeed, desirable – to use the tax system to tackle climate change, but only if the hit to living standards is fully offset by cuts in other taxes. Otherwise it is simply more of the austerity that voters everywhere are rejecting. And it is politically suicidal to be known as the president of the wealthy and then tell voters angry about rising fuel prices to car share or take public transport. That’s not De Gaulle, that’s Marie Antoinette and “let them eat cake”.17

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “Macron’s politics look to Blair and Clinton. The backlash was inevitable.”

The backlash was indeed inevitable, and is nothing to do with the sorts of shadowy puppetry that are alluded to by Avaaz. Furthermore, Macron may or may not have been dancing during the protest, however, as Paris burned last weekend, he was most definitely in the Alps skiing:

Mr Macron was forced to cut short a skiing holiday and return to the capital as an 18th consecutive Saturday of demonstrations by the gilets jaunes or yellow vests turned into a riot on the Champs-Elysées. 18

Let them eat, drink and après-ski!

*

Macron

Nominally anti-fascist, in reality, Avaaz is more straightforwardly pro-establishment globalist. While on the one hand it actively manufactures consent for pro-western regime change operations, on the other, it quietly supports neoliberal “centrism”. As its co-founding President and Executive Director, Ricken Patel, told the euobserver in an interview given last July:

“I think the people of Europe stand with Merkel. That doesn’t mean that every right-wing voter in Bavaria stands with Merkel’s positions, but the majority of people in Germany, and the majority people in Europe, stand behind her and she needs to lead with confidence, and with boldness, and with creativity to execute the solutions she is offering, because the other side is not offering any solutions.”

“They are offering fantasies and unworkable solutions and things that would destroy the laws and the values of the European project and liberal democracy. And I think she should continue to lead boldly.” 19

As with Merkel, so with Emmanuel Macron. Indeed, here is a campaign Avaaz ran in the lead up to the French presidential elections in 2017:

In less than 4 weeks, France will have a new President, and he or she will have an immense impact on how we work together to build the world most of us want to see.

We’re figuring out our next steps for engaging the 4 million-strong Avaaz community across France, and we need your help. If the election was held tomorrow, would you vote for Emmanuel Macron? If yes, sign the form!

Avaaz then released this video on its facebook page:

But the meddling in foreign elections doesn’t end here, because there is also Avaaz’s army of ‘elves’, who, as I discussed in a previous post, are in reality simply Cass Sunstein’s unwitting little helpers:

*

Facebook

This brings me to Avaaz’s third and final highlighted instance of “disinformation” that is purportedly fuelling the current outrage in France. It takes the form of “an image of a Yellow Vest protest in Paris, with a caption alleging that the image had been censored on Facebook or elsewhere”. According to Avaaz, “Le Monde fact-checkers debunked the claim that the photo or the caption were deleted”. Now, rather than delving into this specific allegation which I see little reason to doubt, it is more worthwhile to consider this allegation in fuller context.

Firstly it is vital to understand how this entire Avaaz campaign is absolutely intent on lessening the impact of political content distributed on Facebook, and thus rather blatantly guilty of the kind of censorship it here alleges didn’t happen. It is important to stress therefore that Facebook is already charged with helping to silence political dissent, and that there is an abundance of available evidence to find the company fully guilty on that count.

In fact, it is nearly a year since Facebook first revealed its previously secret rules for censoring posts. As Forbes reported:

The company has come in for a fair amount of criticism over the years for taking down perfectly innocuous content – everything from photos of classical statues to the famous picture of a napalmed child in Vietnam.

Now, users whose content has been taken down will be notified and given the chance to ask for a review; reviews will normally be carried out within 24 hours.

The policy will initially apply only to nudity or sexual activity, hate speech and graphic violence, says [VP of global product management Monika] Bickert.

But, she adds, “We are working to extend this process further, by supporting more violation types, giving people the opportunity to provide more context that could help us make the right decision, and making appeals available not just for content that was taken down, but also for content that was reported and left up.” 20

In response to Facebook’s announcement of its censorship policy, the ACLU cautioned against what it saw as a clampdown on free speech:

If Facebook gives itself broader censorship powers, it will inevitably take down important speech and silence already marginalized voices. We’ve seen this before. Last year, when activists of color and white people posted the exact same content, Facebook moderators censored only the activists of color. When Black women posted screenshots and descriptions of racist abuse, Facebook moderators suspended their accounts or deleted their posts. And when people used Facebook as a tool to document their experiences of police violence, Facebook chose to shut down their livestreams. The ACLU’s own Facebook post about censorship of a public statue was also inappropriately censored by Facebook.

Facebook has shown us that it does a bad job of moderating “hateful” or “offensive” posts, even when its intentions are good. Facebook will do no better at serving as the arbiter of truth versus misinformation, and we should remain wary of its power to deprioritize certain posts or to moderate content in other ways that fall short of censorship. 21

Click here to read the ACLU statement in full.

More recently, and as it transpires immediately prior to the Gilets Jaunes protests, Facebook then announced a fresh censorship drive:

People need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook. It’s why we have a policy banning coordinated inauthentic behavior — networks of accounts or Pages working to mislead others about who they are, and what they are doing. This year, we’ve enforced this policy against many Pages, Groups and accounts created to stir up political debate, including in the US, the Middle East, Russia and the UK. But the bulk of the inauthentic activity we see on Facebook is spam that’s typically motivated by money, not politics. And the people behind it are adapting their behavior as our enforcement improves.

The statement was made last October and continues:

Topics like natural disasters or celebrity gossip have been popular ways to generate clickbait. But today, these networks increasingly use sensational political content – regardless of its political slant – to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site. And like the politically motivated activity we’ve seen, the “news” stories or opinions these accounts and Pages share are often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate. This is why it’s so important we look at these actors’ behavior – such as whether they’re using fake accounts or repeatedly posting spam – rather than their content when deciding which of these accounts, Pages or Groups to remove.

Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior. Given the activity we’ve seen — and its timing ahead of the US midterm elections — we wanted to give some details about the types of behavior that led to this action. 22

Click here to read the Facebook statement in full.

As the Guardian reported at the time:

As a private entity, Facebook can enforce its terms however it sees fit, says the ACLU attorney Vera Eidelman. But this can have serious free speech consequences, especially if the social network is selectively enforcing its terms based on the content of the pages.

“Drawing the line between ‘real’ and ‘inauthentic’ views is a difficult enterprise that could put everything from important political parody to genuine but outlandish views on the chopping block,” says Eidelman. “It could also chill individuals who only feel safe speaking out anonymously or pseudonymously.” 23

The same article, which entitled “Facebook accused of censorship after hundreds of US political pages purged” , interviewed Matt Mountain, the pseudonym of a disabled veteran who operated six leftwing pages subsequently purged, and Brian Kolfage, another disabled veteran who administered the Right Wing News page as well as three other conservative pages that were also removed. Kolfage said:

“I’ve talked with Facebook maybe 50 times in the last few months… Not once did they ever say we broke any rules or did something wrong. If they had an issue, they could have brought it up. We had a really close working relationship. That’s why this whole thing is a complete shock.”

‘Mountain’ told the Guardian:

“I don’t think Facebook wants to fix this… I think they just want politics out, unless it’s coming from the mainstream media.”

Predictably, the piece ends:

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full Guardian article

*

Real ‘fake news’

Every major U.S. war of the last several decades has begun the same way: the U.S. government fabricates an inflammatory, emotionally provocative lie which large U.S. media outlets uncritically treat as truth while refusing at air questioning or dissent, thus inflaming primal anger against the country the U.S. wants to attack. That’s how we got the Vietnam War (North Vietnam attacks U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin); the Gulf War (Saddam ripped babies from incubators); and, of course, the war in Iraq (Saddam had WMDs and formed an alliance with Al Qaeda).

This was exactly the tactic used on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces.

Writes Glenn Greenwald at the top of a very detailed exposé of the latest US government lies to bring about a regime change. The truth was finally admitted by The New York Times a fortnight later – by which time the official story was deeply lodged in people’s minds – and you will find a video and accompanying article about it behind their paywall. Here is their belated headline:

The NYT piece gives proof that the convoys were in fact torched by anti-Maduro protesters, exactly as many independent reporters including Max Blumenthal were reporting on the day, however, as with the disclosure of other fake news stories perpetuated in the mainstream media, and unlike the original lies, the NYT retraction did not grab the wider headlines.  Although CNN, The Telegraph and the BBC all ran the original fake news story, they left NYT alone to publicly retract it.

As Greenwald points out in reference to the evidence for what really happened:

Those last two tweets [embedded below] – using video footage to debunk the lies spread by Marco Rubio, CNN and the U.S. Government – happen to be from a correspondent with RT America. Please tell me: who was acting here as lying propagandists and agents of State TV, and who was acting like a journalist trying to understand and report the truth?

So everything the New York Times so proudly reported last night has been known for weeks, and was already reported in great detail, using extensive evidence, by a large number of people. But because those people are generally skeptical of the U.S. Government’s claims and critical of its foreign policy, they were ignored and mocked and are generally barred from appearing on television, while the liars from the U.S. Government and their allies in the corporate media were, as usual, given a platform to spread their lies without any challenge or dissent, just like the manual for how to maintain State TV instructs. 24

Click here to read Glenn Greenwald’s excellent article entitled “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda”.

*

Final thoughts

Barring the singular exception of the West’s most unconscionable war, the Saudi-led genocide of Yemen, Avaaz has never seen an imperialist intervention, ‘colour revolution’, or other regime change operation it didn’t approve of. It campaigned vigorously for the ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya – this, the weasel word euphemism for airstrikes – and soon after Libya was bombed backed into the dark ages, demanded a ‘no-fly zone’ over Syria (read more here and here).

Less well-advertised, Avaaz was also deeply involved in Iran’s failed ‘Green Revolution’:

During the 2009 Green Movement uprising in Iran, for example, Avaaz set up a network of proxy servers to allow protesters to post videos from the streets. 25

Then in 2017, Avaaz went a step further when it financially backed its own candidate in the race for Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia. The candidate in question happened to be none other than former congressman Tom Perriello, one of Avaaz’s original founders, who, it was divulged, received a donation from Avaaz of $230,000. As the Washington Post reported:

As a 501(c)(4) charity, Avaaz is not required to disclose its individual donors, which it says come from among nearly 45 million members in 194 countries. The organization says it accepts no money from governments or corporations and itemizes any donations greater than $5,000 on its tax filing; in 2016, 26 such donations were reported, representing 0.7 percent of Avaaz’s total revenue.

Perriello co-founded Avaaz with two colleagues who had helped him start an earlier nonprofit called Res Publica, which was aimed at promoting international justice on behalf of the religious left, as Perriello told the National Catholic Reporter in 2004. One of those colleagues, Ricken Patel, a Canadian, is now Avaaz’s executive director. The organization was formed in collaboration with MoveOn.org, the Democratic online activist group that has received funding from billionaire George Soros — who also is a major Perriello campaign contributor. 26

Click here to read the full article published by the Washington Post.

Today Avaaz is fully in league with Bush-era hawk John Bolton, the unapologetic cheerleader for the Iraq War, and Elliot Abrahams, who aided death squads throughout Latin America and was afterwards convicted following his involvement in the Iran-Contra Scandal. In unison with “like-minded leaders” (in the words of John Bolton 27), President Ivan Duque of Colombia, and Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, Avaaz is assisting in the attempted overthrow of the elected government of Venezuela. The empire has seldom been more brazen when it comes to singling out its latest “axis of evil” (i.e., Bolton’s “troika of tyranny”: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua), yet this self-proclaimed non-partisan people’s movement is eager to lend support in the guise of faux-humanitarianism that distracts from US imperialism and bolsters the neo-con cause:

The image is captured from a translation of its Spanish campaign but you can also find the same campaign in English here:

It is also backing baseless claims that last year’s presidential elections were invalid.

Meanwhile, Avaaz is once again meddling closer to home. In the name of stemming the tide of ‘fake news’ it is preparing the way for greater internet censorship. As they concede in the report:

RT France has massively invested in coverage of the Yellow Vest protests, including hour-long live coverage videos, and as a result, dominated the debate about Yellow Vests on YouTube in France more than any other YouTube channel, let alone mainstream media.

If you imagined that “a global citizens movement” (as Avaaz markets itself) would be in favour of more rather than less coverage of the mass demonstrations across France and so would applaud RT or any other media outlet for providing it, you would be wrong. The fact is that they wish to bury any news of a popular uprising, smothering the truth with overblown allegations of ‘fake news’. So if you still haven’t figured it out, then allow me to spell it out instead: in contrast to the Gilets Jaunes themselves, Avaaz is not and never has been a grassroots movement. It was astroturfed from the get-go to provide controlled opposition, whilst its newest departure into ‘fake news’ surveillance represents a more sinister turn. Once again, I encourage every person of goodwill to unsubscribe from the Avaaz mailing list. I shall remain nominally affiliated just to keep an eye on future machinations – just so that you won’t have to.

*

1

France’s gilets jaunes (yellow vests) have vowed to continue their high-profile protest campaign after forcing the French government into a U-turn on a controversial rise in fuel tax.

The movement behind three weeks of increasingly violent protests across the country declared it wanted more concessions from France’s leaders and would not accept “crumbs”.

From an article entitled “Gilets Jaunes protests in France to continue despite fuel tax U-turn” written by Kim Willsher, published in the Guardian on December 4, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/04/french-government-to-suspend-fuel-tax-increase-say-reports 

2 From an article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron” written by Diana Johnstone, published in Consortium News on December 5, 2018. https://consortiumnews.com/2018/12/05/yellow-vests-rise-against-neo-liberal-king-macron/ 

3 From an article entitled “Dr. Jean Bricmont: ‘Yellow Vests Ask Such Fundamental Questions that No European Government Could Answer Them” written by Mohsen Abdelmoumen, published in American Herald Tribune on February 22, 2019. https://ahtribune.com/interview/2903-jean-bricmont.html

4 From an article entitled “Forgotten France Rises Up” written by Serge Halimi, translated by George Miller, published in Counterpunch on January 8, 2019.. https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/01/08/forgotten-france-rises-up/  

5 From an article entitled “Why France’s Yellow Vest Protests Are Ignored by ‘The Resistance’ in the U.S.” written by Max Parry, published in Counterpunch on January 4, 2019.  https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/01/04/why-frances-yellow-vest-protests-are-ignored-by-the-resistance-in-the-u-s/

6 Although in fact like so many of the best known quotes it is probably misattributed.

7

During her visit the Commissioner noted in particular that the validity of the use of rubber bullet launchers (LBDs) during demonstrations was contested by most of the people she met, who highlighted their unsuitability for the purposes of maintaining public order and the danger they posed in such contexts. In his report of December 2017 on maintaining public order with due regard for professional rules of conduct, the Defender of Rights recommended that a multidisciplinary study be carried out on the use of intermediate weapons and that LBDs should be removed from the range of equipment available to law enforcement agencies. The Commissioner notes that the Defender of Rights reiterated his recommendation for LBDs to be withdrawn in January 2019 and that many health professionals support him because of the sometimes irreversible injuries that can be caused by these weapons. Laurent Thines, Head of Neurosurgery at the University Hospital of Besançon, has even talked of the “extreme danger” of these launchers which he considers to have “all the features of weapons of war”. […]

The Commissioner notes that according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior 12 122 LBD rounds, 1428 instant tear gas grenades and 4942 hand-held sting grenades were fired or thrown between the beginning of the yellow vest movement and 4 February 2019. She is concerned at the high level of use of these so-called intermediate weapons despite the fact that their deployment is restricted and they can cause serious injury. The Commissioner notes that according to a count carried out by an independent journalist, at the time of writing, the three types of intermediate weapon referred to above had been involved in 253 of 428 reports made to him by persons claiming to be victims of police violence, which he himself had documented and cross-checked, confirming a high prevalence of LBDs, accounting for 193 of these cases. The count highlighted 38 wounds to upper limbs including 5 lost hands, 52 wounds to lower limbs, 3 wounds to the genitals and 189 head wounds including 20 people who have lost an eye. The Commissioner notes that many head wound victims attribute their injuries to intermediate weapons, particularly LBDs, whereas according to instructions reiterated by the Director General of the national police force on 16 January 2019, the use of LBDs must be “targeted”, with users aiming “only at the torso or the lower or upper limbs”. […]

[T]he Commissioner is concerned about the allegations of police violence targeting journalists which have been brought to her attention by professional journalists’ organisations and human rights groups and which are echoed by those of three photographers who claim that they were “deliberately” targeted by the police in Toulouse at a demonstration on 9 February 2019.

From a report by the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe published on February 26, 2019. https://rm.coe.int/commdh-2019-8-memorandum-france-en/1680932f57

8 From an article entitled “French police accused of stealing PSG jerseys during Yellow Vest lootings”, written by Pierre Hamdi, published in France 24: The Observers on March 19. 2019. https://observers.france24.com/en/20190319-france-social-media-accuse-police-stealing-psg-jerseys-yellow-vests

9 From an article entitled “Unanswered questions on French police role in Saturday’s ‘yellow vest’ clashes” written by Anthony Torres and Alex Lantier, published in wsws.org on March 21, 2019. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/03/21/fran-m21.html

10 From an article entitled “France’s Macron leads the way as western leaders malevolently confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism” written by Jonathan Cook, published in Mondoweiss on February 27, 2019. https://www.jonathan-cook.net/2019-02-27/france-macron-zionism-antisemitism/

11 From an article entitled “Anti-Semitism Pandemic!” written by CJ Hopkins, reprinted in OffGuardian on March 12, 2019. https://off-guardian.org/2019/03/12/anti-semitism-pandemic/

12 From an Avaaz report entitled “Yellow Vest Flooded By Fake News” published on March 12, 2019. https://g8fip1kplyr33r3krz5b97d1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/AVAAZ_YellowVests_100miofake.pdf.pdf.pdf

13 Ibid.

14 From an article entitled “The French police’s brutality against the gilets jaunes can no longer be denied” written by Pauline Bock, published in the New Statesman on January 30, 2019. https://www.newstatesman.com/world/europe/2019/01/french-police-s-brutality-against-gilets-jaunes-can-no-longer-be-denied

15 From an article entitled “Police violence against gilets jaunes sparks broad backlash” written by Oliver Haynes, published in the New Internationalist on February 27, 2019. https://newint.org/features/2019/02/27/police-violence-against-gilets-jaunes-sparks-broad-backlash

16 From an article published entitled “Let them buy Teslas! How Macron provoked an uprising” written by Jonathan Miller, published in The Spectator on December 8, 2018. https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/12/let-them-buy-teslas-how-macron-became-the-enemy-of-the-french/ 

17 From an article entitled “Macron’s politics look to Blair and Clinton. The backlash was inevitable” written by Larry Elliott, published in the Guardian on Decmeber 6, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/06/macron-clinton-blair-backlash

18 From an article entitled “Macron under renewed pressure after another weekend of violence” written by Harriet Agnew, published in the Financial Times on March 17, 2019. https://www.ft.com/content/b774a756-48a7-11e9-8b7f-d49067e0f50d

19 From an article entitled “EU populists not actually that ‘popular’, says global activist” written by Lisbeth Kirk, published in the euobserver on July 3, 2018. https://euobserver.com/political/142242

20 From an article entitled “Facebook Reveals Its Secret Rules For Censoring Posts” written by Emma Woollacott, published in Forbes magazine on April 24, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/emmawoollacott/2018/04/24/facebook-reveals-its-secret-rules-for-censoring-posts/#40a453b56da4

21 From an article entitled “Facebook Shouldn’t Censor Offensive Speech” written by Vera Eidelman, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, published by ACLU on July 20, 2018. https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/internet-speech/facebook-shouldnt-censor-offensive-speech

22 From a Facebook announcement entitled “Removing Additional Inauthentic Activity from Facebook” written by Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy and Oscar Rodriguez, Product Manager, posted by Facebook on October 11, 2018. https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/10/removing-inauthentic-activity/

23 From an article entitled “Facebook accused of censorship after hundreds of US political pages purged” written by Dan Tynan, published in the Guardian on October 17, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/16/facebook-political-activism-pages-inauthentic-behavior-censorship

24 From an article entitled “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda” written by Glenn Greenwald, published in The Intercept on March 10, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/03/10/nyts-expose-on-the-lies-about-burning-humanitarian-trucks-in-venezuela-shows-how-us-govt-and-media-spread-fake-news/

25 From an article entitled “How a New York City-Based Activist Group Became a Player in Syria”, written by Vivienne Walt, published in Time magazine on March 15, 2012. http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2109212,00.html

26 From an article entitled “‘Dark money’ vs. Corporate cash: Virginia Democratic rivals clash over funding” written by Gregory S. Schneider, published in the Washington Post on April 22, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/dark-money-vs-corporate-cash-democratic-rivals-clash-over-funding/2017/04/21/cc91253c-25d7-11e7-a1b3-faff0034e2de_story.html?utm_term=.6d47c0cae4ab

27

“The recent elections of like-minded leaders in key countries, including Ivan Duque in Colombia, and last weekend Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, are positive signs for the future of the region, and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent, and accountable governance,” Bolton said in his speech at Miami-Dade College.

From an article entitled “Bolton praises Bolsonaro while declaring ‘troika of tyranny’ in Latin America” written by Julian Borger, published in the Guardian on November 1, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/01/trump-admin-bolsonaro-praise-john-bolton-troika-tyranny-latin-america

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“This is a moment Avaaz was made for” (or cognitive infiltration for dummies)

Background:

“You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.”

— Naomi Wolf 1

The extract above is drawn from an excellent and extremely prescient article written by Naomi Wolf and published by the Guardian in 2007. It is entitled “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”.

In 2011, I produced an updated version by taking Wolf’s analytical breakdown of the Bush years, applying her identified sequence of steps to Obama’s term in office. Here is what I wrote under Step #8. Control the press:

Five years on, and the mainstream media is no less bridled; the same small corporate cartel, that is bent on privileging the special interests of a few powerful owners and sponsors, maintains its dominance. And although, in the meantime, the challenge from independent voices has been steadily on the rise via the internet, it is in precisely these areas of the “new media” where controls are now being brought in.

But applying restrictions requires justification, and so these latest attacks against freedom of speech are couched as a necessary response to what the government deems, and thus what the public is encouraged to believe, to be a threat.

Following which I reminded readers of the Machiavellian role played by Cass Sunstein (married to warmongering former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers), who, in September 2009, had been appointed as Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In 2008, Sunstein co-authored a paper with Adrian Vermeule, entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” in which they propose methods for dealing with the spread of faulty  information saying “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”:

“Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”

The authors also advocate other methods for muddying the waters such as the recruitment of “independent experts”:

“government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes… too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed.”

Indeed, they provide no less than five alternative responses that the US government might take to hinder and restrain such unwanted freedom of speech:

We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. 2

As I wrote in September 2011:

So which is the greater threat, a few people with alternative views and accounts, or the kinds of subversion of (or even outright clampdown on) free speech proposed, and now being put into effect by Cass Sunstein?

Simply being out of step with the official line is now enough to get you categorised as an “extremist”, and so a distinction that was once reserved for those who threatened the use of violent overthrow, is now directed against anyone who merely disagrees.

Click here to read my full post entitled “12 steps to tyranny – the state of America under Obama”.

Please note that everything above is reprinted in full from part 7 of an extended article entitled “spin, lies and propaganda from yesterday, today and tomorrow – 8 ways of looking at fake news” published in April 2017.

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“Avaaz’s Elves”

Yesterday I received the latest circular email from Avaaz (see screenshot in addendum), which calls upon its members to become actively engaged as “Citizen elves” in what Sunstein defines as ‘counterspeech’ (in fact usefully serving as “credible private parties” as outlined under item (4) of Sunstein’s list above):

Our movement is mobilising to defend democracy on all fronts:

    • hammering Facebook and others to clean up their sites by shutting down fake news and troll accounts;
    • pushing for governments to defend our democracies by passing laws to protect elections from interference;
    • disrupting disinformation online, setting up teams of citizen ‘Elves’ to take on Putin’s ‘trolls’;
    • battling the far right’s divisive narratives in country after country, as elections approach.

[colour highlight added]

The main justification given by Avaaz in calling for its members to engage in Sunstein-style cognitive infiltration are the same ones first rolled out to disguise the true reasons the Clinton campaign bombed. Those entirely unsubstantiated allegations that “Russia hacked the election” (later rebutted by such experts as William Binney) were afterwards repurposed both to keep Trump on his leash by derailing any attempts to restore US-Russian relations and also to clampdown on alternative media – as everyone who disavowed the sanctioned mainstream narrative was quickly branded a Russian troll. Keep in mind that ‘fake news’ is a meme that has been spread most virulently, not by Trump himself (although he is frequently credited with it), but by his opponents.

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“A moment Avaaz was made for”

The email from Avaaz was titled “This is a moment Avaaz was made for”, and in this regard I happen to believe we ought to take them seriously. After all, Avaaz is nothing like the grassroots campaign it takes such pains to promote itself as, but heavily astroturfed since its inception. It was founded for a purpose (and is allied to a consulting firm literally called Purpose Inc) as independent investigative journalist, Cory Morningstar, who has probed deeply into the organisation, explains:

Avaaz and GetUp co-founders Jeremy Heimans (CEO) and David Madden are also founders of the New York consulting firm, Purpose Inc.

Avaaz was created in part by MoveOn, a Democratic Party associated Political Action Committee (or PAC), formed in response to the impeachment of President Clinton. Avaaz and MoveOn are funded in part by convicted inside-trader and billionaire hedge fund mogul, George Soros.

Avaaz affiliate James Slezak is also identified as a co-founder and CEO of Purpose at its inception in 2009.

The secret behind the success of both Avaaz and Purpose is their reliance upon and expertise in behavioural change.

While the behavioural change tactics used by Avaaz are on public display, double-breasted, for-profit Purpose, with its non-profit arm, sells their expertise behind the scenes to further the interest of hegemony and capital. Whether it be a glossy campaign to help facilitate yet another illegal “humanitarian intervention” led by aggressive U.S. militarism (an oxymoron if there ever was one), or the creation of a new global “green” economy, Purpose is the consulting firm that the wolves of Wall Street and oligarchs alike depend upon to make it happen. 3

Click here to read the full article on Cory Morningstar’s website Wrong Kind of Green.

Morningstar also follows the money in another excellent article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”:

Avaaz states that they take “absolutely no money from governments or corporations…. While we received initial seed grants from partner organizations and charitable organizations, almost 90% of the Avaaz budget now comes [from] small online donations.” The 2009 Form 990 for George Soros’ Foundation to Promote Open Society reports (page 87) $300,000 in general support for Avaaz and an additional $300,000 to Avaaz for climate campaigning. […]

In addition to receiving funding from the Open Society Institute, Avaaz has publicly cited the Open Society Institute as their foundation partner. This admission by founder Ricken Patel is found on the www.soros.org website. [As discussed in part I, The Open Society Institute (renamed in 2011 to Open Society Foundations) is a private operating and grantmaking foundation founded by George Soros, who remains the chair. Soros is known best as a multibillionaire currency speculator, and of late, an avid supporter of Occupy Wall Street. Soros is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The CFR is essentially the promotional arm of the ruling elite in the U.S. Most all U.S. policy is initiated and written by the exclusive membership within the CFR.]

Avaaz utilized/utilizes their Open Society Institute relationship to distribute member donations via “Avaaz partners at the Open Society Institute.” 4

Click here to read this thorough examination of Avaaz‘s finances by Cory Morningstar.

In short, Avaaz is tightly allied to the Soros NGO empire – the same George Soros who has candidly admitted to his pivotal role in fomenting the colour revolutions across the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union. The same Soros who proudly says he backed the coup of 2014 in Ukraine. As he told CNN host Fareed Zakaria in May 2014:

“Well, I set up a foundation in Ukraine before Ukraine became independent of Russia. And the foundation has been functioning ever since and played an important part in events now.”

So when Avaaz warns me that “Russia’s President has forged an alliance with the far-right, and deployed an army of hackers and trolls, legions of fake social media accounts, and suitcases full of dirty money to sabotage our public debate and elections”, I hear little more than the hypocrisy of Soros who supported the fascists of the Maidan in Kiev.

And whilst Avaaz are writing to inform me that “The British people are calling out the Brexit scam”, another Soros-funded campaign group, Best for Britain, co-founded by Gina Miller, who took the UK government to court in 2016 over its triggering of the Article 50, are already busy rallying public opinion and encouraging MPs to vote against a Brexit deal.

Avaaz says:

The threat we’re up against is everywhere, but so are we. That threat is political, but we can be too when we need to be. That threat claims to be people-powered, but we’re the REAL people power.

About half of this is the truth and half is baloney, as is usually the case with Avaaz. Based on the evidence outlined above, I’ll leave readers to separate fact from fiction.

For more on Avaaz I strongly encourage readers to follow the links here and here to Cory Morningstar’s excellent investigative work and also to read this earlier extended post.

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Addendum: Screenshot of Avaaz email

*

1 “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” by Naomi Wolf, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2007.

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2064157,00.html

2 Conspiracy Theories by Cass Sunstein, Adrian Vermeule, published January 15, 2008. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585

3 From an article entitled “Syria: Avaaz, Purpose & The Art of Selling Hate for Empire” written by Cory Morningstar, published on September 17, 2014.

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2014/09/17/syria-avaaz-purpose-the-art-of-selling-hate-for-empire/

4 From an article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”, Part II, Section I, written by Cory Morningstar, published September 24, 2012. Another extract reads:

The 12 January 2012 RSVP event “Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring?” featured speakers from Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rosa Brooks of the New America Foundation, and none other than Tom Perriello, CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Perriello advanced his “ideology” during this lecture.

http://www.theartofannihilation.com/imperialist-pimps-of-militarism-protectors-of-the-oligarchy-trusted-facilitators-of-war-part-ii-section-i/

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astroturfing for regime change: frontline in the (newest) war on the antiwar movement

A lot of good work for charity…

On Thursday [Feb 4th], David Cameron and Angela Merkel joined with lesser lights Erna Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister, and the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah in London to host the “Supporting Syria & the Region 2016” conference.

Alongside many other luminaries including Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, European Council president, Donald Tusk, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, they were gathered – according to the “about” page of the official website – “to rise to the challenge of raising the money needed to help millions of people whose lives have been torn apart by the devastating civil war” by lending support to an “event built on 3 previous conferences that have been generously hosted in Kuwait.”

This hypertext link to “Kuwait” is intriguing to say the least. Following it you will read:

Kuwait is one of the world’s major international donors of humanitarian assistance and is both a pioneer and standard-bearer for the establishment of development funds in the Gulf region.

And:

Kuwait has increased its support for multilateral humanitarian action exponentially since the start of the crisis in Syria.

And how:

In September 2014, the United Nations, in recognition of Kuwait’s humanitarian efforts to bring together and galvanize the international community for the relief of the Syrian people, designated the State of Kuwait an “International Humanitarian Centre”.

Largesse that is indeed confirmed by an analysis paper published by the Brookings Institute back in December 2013. However, there is charity and there is charity…

Over the last two and a half years, Kuwait has emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s myriad rebel groups. These donors have taken advantage of Kuwait’s unique freedom of association and its relatively weak financial rules to channel money to some of the estimated 1,000 rebel brigades now fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. […]

From the early days of the Syrian uprising, Kuwait-based donors—including one group currently under U.S.sanction for terrorist financing—began to pressure Syrians to take up arms. The new brigades often adopted the ideological outlook of their donors. As the war dragged on and the civilian death toll rose, the path toward extremism became self-reinforcing. Today, there is evidence that Kuwaiti donors have backed rebels who have committed atrocities and who are either directly linked to al-Qa’ida or cooperate with its affiliated brigades on the ground. 1 [bold emphasis added]

*

Mission accomplished: the oil and the gold

Though the French-proposed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 claimed the no-fly zone implemented over Libya was to protect civilians, an April 2011 email sent to Hillary with the subject line “France’s client and Qaddafi’s gold” tells of less noble ambitions.

The email identifies French President Nicholas Sarkozy as leading the attack on Libya with five specific purposes in mind: to obtain Libyan oil, ensure French influence in the region, increase Sarkozy’s reputation domestically, assert French military power, and to prevent Gaddafi’s influence in what is considered “Francophone Africa.”

Most astounding is the lengthy section delineating the huge threat that Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves, estimated at “143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver,” posed to the French franc (CFA) circulating as a prime African currency. In place of the noble sounding “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine fed to the public, there is this “confidential” explanation of what was really driving the war [emphasis mine]:

This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).

(Source Comment: According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.)

Though this internal email aims to summarize the motivating factors driving France’s (and by implication NATO’s) intervention in Libya, it is interesting to note that saving civilian lives is conspicuously absent from the briefing.

Instead, the great fear reported is that Libya might lead North Africa into a high degree of economic independence with a new pan-African currency.

French intelligence “discovered” a Libyan initiative to freely compete with European currency through a local alternative, and this had to be subverted through military aggression. 2

The quoted document can be read in full at the U.S. Dept of State FOIA virtual reading room.

Click here to the full article “Hillary’s Dirty War in Libya” at Global Research.

Thus, to prevent Libya slipping outside the global financial stranglehold held by western financiers, the French led the way for Nato to unleash a barrage of “shock and awe” air strikes under cover of the dusted down UN “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine and a “no-fly zone”. This opened the way to the seizure and control of national resources including Libyan oil, and, if this recently declassified memo is accurate, Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves which were “intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency”.

The motive was always regime change and scare stories such as the one about Viagra-fuelled mass rape dutifully planted by our ever complaisant media, although quickly debunked, still served as an adequate pretext for “intervention”. Nato’s attack on Libya had nothing to do with saving lives:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week said she was “deeply concerned” that Gaddafi’s troops were participating in widespread rape in Libya. “Rape, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, and even so-called ‘virginity tests’ have taken place in countries throughout the region,” she said.

Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, says that “we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped”. 3

Compare this with today’s callous indifference toward the plight of ordinary Libyans suffering the lawless mayhem of life in a failed state overrun with Salafist warlords. It isn’t hard to understand why. The west has “won” that war: the transnationals got what they wanted. “We came, we saw, he died”, as Hillary famously gloated. With Gaddafi dead, the real mission was indeed accomplished: the spoils were “ours”.

So ended one more episode in an already tedious and dreadful tale…

Read more about western motives for war on Iraq in this earlier post.

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Solidarity with refugees

By late Summer 2014, however, the exodus of refugees from war-torn Libya had become so great that the British government felt compelled to take action. And act it did, in accordance with its genuine concerns:

Britain will not support any future search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, claiming they simply encourage more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing, Foreign Office ministers have quietly announced.

So Cameron and his government washed their hands of all responsibility. The “swarm of people” – Cameron’s own obscene description 4 – fleeing from a war in Libya that he had personally helped to ignite, needed to be held back whatever the human costs. Indeed, as the Guardian article of late 2014 continues:

Refugee and human rights organisations reacted with anger to the official British refusal to support a sustained European search and rescue operation to prevent further mass migrant drownings, saying it would contribute to more people dying needlessly on Europe’s doorstep. […]

The British Refugee Council chief executive, Maurice Wren, responding to the Foreign Office refusal to take part in future search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean said: “The British government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war.

“People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life-rings; boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames. The only outcome of withdrawing help will be to witness more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.

“The answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.” 5

However, these faceless boat-people were about to be given their humanity back, if only momentarily. It would take the horror of seeing the washed up body of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. An image of war that lodged in our minds and stirred feelings of sorrow and compassion more effectively than any amount of pictures of ruined buildings or grainy videos of air strikes. Almost at a stroke, the public perception of the “immigrant crisis” was altered. 6

Little more than a week later on Saturday 12th September, the Solidarity with Refugees event kicked off at Park Lane and headed to Downing Street “with speeches in Parliament Square from a number of politicians and public figures including Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected leader of the Labour party, and musician and activist Billy Bragg.”

In fact, Jeremy Corbyn had only been elected Labour leader a couple of hours earlier. Yet, almost immediately thereafter, and in characteristic fashion, he turned his back on the clamouring press hounds (who had done their best to ignore him up until then), barely acknowledging their presence at all, and made a short journey to speak instead to a mass rally in Parliament Square:

Parliament Square was packed with Corbyn supporters waving banners reading “refugees welcome” and other messages of support. They cheered and chanted “Jez we can, Jez we can” as he took to the stage hours after being voted Labour leader and demanded that the government recognise its “obligations in law”.

Corbyn said: “Recognise your obligations to help people which you’re required to do by law, that would be good. But above all, open your hearts and open your minds and open your attitude towards supporting people who are desperate, who need somewhere safe to live, want to contribute to our society, and are human beings just like all of us. Together in peace, together in justice, together in humanity, that surely must be our way forward.” 7

I wasn’t amongst the crowds, but I had lent a little support to the occasion by promoting the “Solidarity with Refugees” rally here on this blog in the preceding days. The announcement copied directly from a Stop the War Coalition email read (in part):

Stop the War has come together with many other organisations to call for a national demonstration in London. We are also urging our members, supporters and groups to take any action they can on that day where they live, alongside anti-racist and refugee groups.

Successive British governments have spent billions on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, plus on covert intervention in Syria. The outcome has been destruction of infrastructure across the Middle East, the growth of terrorism in the region, and the displacement of millions.

Their only solution is further war, even though it is increasingly obvious that this option is only creating yet more chaos. Just as we oppose wars, we try to show solidarity with its victims.

At the bottom of the page there was an accompanying list of those “other organisations” (also available on facebook):

National day of action called by Stand up to Racism, BARAC, Stop the War Coalition, Migrant Rights Network War on Want, Peoples Assembly Against Austerity, Movement Against Xenophobia, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism and Black Out London.

However, if you follow the link from the Guardian instead (find it above), it takes you to a somewhat different list of key organisations posted on an alternative facebook page. This altered roll call reads in full as follows:

Supported by Syria Solidarity Movement, the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Amnesty International, Stand Up to Racism, BARAC, Stop the War Coalition, Migrant Rights Network, War on Want, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Movement Against Xenophobia, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism, Black Out London, Emergency UK, Student Action for Refugees, London2Calais, British Syrian Medical Society, Avaaz.

There are a number of variations between these lists, but I wish primarily to draw attention to two changes in particular (as highlighted). Firstly, at the head of this extended list there is a relatively unknown organisation called the “Syria Solidarity Movement”. Secondly, there is Avaaz.

Now, had I realised Avaaz were in any way connected to this action, I would not have promoted it, regardless of the endorsement of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) and Jeremy Corbyn. Why? Because Avaaz is not, and never has been, any part of the antiwar movement – in fact, of all the prominent campaign groups, Avaaz was foremost in calling for military action against Libya. Having played a prominent role in bringing about the destruction of Libya, rather than offering up apologies, Avaaz then promptly demanded another Nato “no-fly zone” over Syria. (Read more here.)

So the presence of Avaaz at any event raises my suspicions. But then we also have the “Syria Solidarity Movement” at the top of the list – so who are they?

*

Syrian solidarity and the lesser known “IS Network”

The [Solidarity with Refugees] protest was set up less than two weeks ago by Ros Ereira, 38, from north London. The former television producer, who currently spends much of her time looking after her toddler daughter, created a Facebook page on 1 September calling for today’s protest. Within a week tens of thousands of people had pledged they would come and she had the logistical support of major organisations including Amnesty, Stop the War, the Refugee Council and Syria Solidarity UK.

According to the same article in The Independent:

Ms Ereira said: “I was looking for a demonstration ahead of the European summit and when I couldn’t find anything my friends encouraged me to set up something of my own. I thought it would just be my friends and now unexpectedly 90,000 people have said they’re going to come.”

Abdulaziz Almashi, 30, co-founder of Syria Solidarity UK, will be among those leading the rally. Mr Almashi is a computer science PhD student who came to the UK from Syria in 2009 to study. He still has brothers in Syria working as a doctor and a dentist in field hospitals. “Syrians have been abandoned totally by the international community,” he said. “If the international community doesn’t want to stop the massacres in Syria, the least they can do is accept refugees.” 8

In fact, Abdulaziz Almashi, who shared the podium with Ros Ereira at the rally, was a co-organiser of the rally, as London’s Evening Standard makes clearer. 9  And this where the story starts to gets interesting…

For just who is Abdulaziz Almashi and the campaign group Syria Solidarity UK? Well, type “Syria Solidarity UK” into google and the top link brings up a site with domain name http://www.syriauk.org/.

Click on that link and you open the Syria Solidarity UK website which also calls itself the “Syria Solidarity Movement UK” or more simply “Syria Solidarity Movement”. The site also takes you to a facebook page for “Syria Solidarity Movement”. In short, “Syria Solidarity UK” (co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi) and the “Syria Solidarity Movement” (most prominent amongst the supporters of the “Solidarity for Refugees” rally) turn out to be the same organisation – or if there is any difference between them then I entirely fail to discern it.

As human rights groups go, this particular “Syria Solidarity Movement” is a relative newcomer, and certainly not to be confused with an entirely unconnected campaign group that shares an identical name – more on this later. The first sightings I could find appear in the articles of a similarly greenhorn Trotskyite website called “International Socialist Network”, which chose the ill-fated abbreviated acronym “IS”. 10

 

This lesser known “IS Network” formed from a splinter group of the Socialist Workers Party but then quickly became defunct, having “voted unanimously to dissolve itself in April 2015” less than two years after its formation in June 2013. “Sharing a rage and a desire for change is not enough to hold an organisation together in the long term,” they wrote in a solemn swansong.

But a year prior to their dissolution, IS Network posted this:

The Syria Solidarity Movement is a new organisation created by Syrian and socialist activists after the conference “Syria in the context of the Arab Uprisings”. Its [sic] an attempt to provide much belated solidarity for the Syrian revolution from the socialist and workers movement in Britain.

We’re currently trying to link up all the different student groups and activists who have been doing solidarity work on Syria in isolation, and build a cohesive movement which can begin to counter some of the slanders and lies which have dogged the Syrian revolution since it began.

And to be clear here: this initial call to recruit activists to establish a “Syria Solidarity Movement” contains a hypertext link to the same organisation later “co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi”.

The post then continues:

The main [lie] is that somehow what has happened in Syria isn’t a genuine revolution, or that its revolutionary potential has disappeared following the escalation of the military conflict. This is false. […]

We will do what we can to rectify this by promoting links between student organisations, trade unions and solidarity campaigns in Britain, and the civil opposition on the ground in Syria which still keeps alive the spirit of the revolution.

We have working groups for students, trade union activists, humanitarian aid and media. If you wish to volunteer for any, please contact us. 11

Later other “radical leftist” groups went on to promote this new offshoot called the “Syria Solidarity Movement”.

For instance, on September 10th (a few days prior to the rally in London), RS21 (short for revolutionary socialism in the 21st century, which is just a different splinter group made up of disaffected SWP members) wrote:

Suddenly, everyone is talking about Syria. Saturday’s demonstration will be in solidarity with all refugees, but a Syrian refugee is one of the key organisers. Campaigners from the Syria Solidarity Movement UK and Stop the War Coalition are among those involved in the planning, along with many other organisations. Everyone should welcome this commitment to unity against the government’s treatment of refugees and other migrants.

The article also adds a different piece of the jigsaw (since if Abdulaziz Almashi is one co-founder of the group, then who else works alongside him?):

As part of an ongoing discussion, Mark Boothroyd, who was a founding member of the Syria Solidarity Movement UK, argues that the mainstream anti-war movement has failed Syrian revolutionaries struggling against a brutal dictatorship. 12 [bold highlight as original]

Following the links (or my footnotes), it turns out that Mark Boothroyd was, in fact, the author of the previously quoted IS Network recruitment drive which had encouraged activists to join the new “Syria Solidarity Movement” (see above).

Later, in November 2015, the (supposedly) alternative magazine Left Foot Forward wrote:

“The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria.” 13

(With link retained – which connects, of course, back to the Syria Solidarity UK website.)

By December, Peter Tatchell, someone I once admired, was also linking arms with Syria Solidarity UK.

Then, on December 9th, a letter appeared in the Guardian. It was provocatively entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” and signed by (amongst others but in the order as published) Abdulaziz Almashi Syria Solidarity UK,  Peter Tatchell human rights campaigner, Darren Johnson Green party London assembly member (although not by Caroline Lucas), Muzna Al-Naib Syria Solidarity UK, and Mark Boothroyd Syria Solidarity UK.

It begins:

We write as previous strong supporters of the Stop the War Coalition and applaud its mobilisation against the disastrous UK and US attack on Iraq. Sadly, since then, on the issue of Syria, StWC has lost its moral compass and authority.

What the signatories to this letter share, it seems, is the opinion that war in Syria remains ‘revolutionary’ in character (in the Marxist sense); their condemnation of StWC continuing as follows:

As well as systematically ignoring war crimes committed by the Assad regime, StWC often misrepresents the opposition to Assad as being largely composed of jihadi extremists and agents of imperialism; marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny. 14 [bold emphasis added]

But this characterisation both of “the rebels” and the antiwar movement is demonstrably false. For the (armed) opposition to Assad is indeed “largely composed of jihadi extremists” having infiltrated as a fifth column during the very earliest stages of the conflict. That the opposition is comprised of mercenaries and terrorists is now well-documented (as I have previously shown). It is also easy to establish that these same jihadist groups have been bankrolled by our Gulf State allies and greatly assisted by Nato member Turkey. So they are indeed “agents of imperialism” (if, perhaps, unwitting ones) in a proxy war between, on the one hand, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and more broadly the US, Nato and Israel against Russia.

Moreover, the charge that StWC is “marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny” may provide a clever smokescreen, but it is also execrable nonsense. All it actually means is their own opinion has been marginalised, which is hardly surprising, since those leading the attack against StWC are neither “non-aligned” nor honest brokers for peace.

And this is why in the concluding sentences they talk only of the “Syrian people’s struggle against the war being inflicted on them by both Isis and Assad” 15 failing to include any mention whatsoever of the extraordinary array of jihadist factions fighting alongside the lesser forces of so-called Free Syrian Army (which is itself a dubious conglomeration of Islamist militia). There is no mention even of Jabhat al-Nusra – Syria’s main branch of al-Qaeda.

This is what Mark Boothroyd, co-founder of the “Syria Solidarity Movement” and signatory to the Guardian letter, concluded an extended piece he wrote in praise of “the rebels”:

For these reasons, whatever happens, the rebels will keep fighting. Spokesperson for Ahrar Al-Sham, Ahmad Qura Ali commented:

The regime continuing and Assad staying is a failure….It also demonstrates disrespect towards the sacrifices of the Syrian people and, even more importantly, irreverence towards the will of the Syrian people,” 16

Boothroyd’s tacit endorsement of Ahrar Al-Sham (amongst other ‘rebel factions’) tells us a great deal. For Ahrar Al-Sham (literally “Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant”) is indeed leading “the revolution” as one of the largest brigades in this so-called “moderate opposition”. And yet, Ahrar Al-Sham describes itself – on its own website – in the following manner [translation courtesy of Al Jazeera]:

“The Islamic Movement of Free Men of the Levant is an Islamist, reformist, innovative and comprehensive movement. It is integrated with the Islamic Front and is a comprehensive and Islamic military, political and social formation. It aims to completely overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and build an Islamic state whose only sovereign, reference, ruler, direction, and individual, societal and nationwide unifier is Allah Almighty’s Sharia (law)”. 17

This is the “revolution” Mark Boothroyd and comrades are backing today.

*

Syrian Solidarity UK: leading the pro-war advocates

Earlier I outlined what you will find if you type “Syria Solidarity UK” into google. But what if instead you type “Syria Solidarity Movement” – that other name for the same organisation? The top link then turns out not to be the campaign group co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi and Mark Boothroyd, but a totally different and unrelated “Syria Solidarity Movement”. An organisation that adopted the domain name syriasolidaritymovement.org long before Almashi and Boothroyd decided to create their alternative.

So the immediate and most obvious question is this: why adopt the name of a pre-existing campaign organisation? An odd decision made odder since it automatically denies you ownership of a matching domain name. Indeed, can there be any rational explanation other than here is a case of deliberate identity theft? A new campaign group, with an outlook diametrically opposed to its rival, set up deliberately to overwrite it. Not conduct befitting a benign human rights organisation.

More surprising, maybe (please judge for yourself), is how factions of the erstwhile ‘radical left’ have fallen lockstep in line with establishment demands voiced by our corporate media who demand “intervention” in Syria. But then, once you delve into the articles above, a common theme emerges: the same one expounded in that front-running article published by IS Network (quoted above) “to counter some of the slanders and lies which have dogged the Syrian revolution since it began… that somehow what has happened in Syria isn’t a genuine revolution”. This stated goal of “keep[ing] alive the spirit of the revolution” is ostensibly the reason RS21, Left Foot Forward, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation are backing this new “Syrian Solidarity Movement”:

The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria. Our membership is made up of Syrians and friends of Syrians. Our positions are led by the needs and demands of Syrians suffering brutally at the hands of a criminal regime. 18

The above statement under the title “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians”, was penned by Syria Solidarity UK but published by Left Foot Forward. And what follows is another hit piece aimed squarely at the Stop the War Coalition in which the organisation accuses StWC of excluding “Syrians from discussion of their own country” and then lying about it. Yet in reality, this tiny group which has somehow managed to get tremendous media attention (more in a moment) has latched on to StWC in a deeply parasitical fashion. Here, for instance is Abdulaziz Almashi, co-founder of “Syria Solidarity Movement”, giving a soapbox speech outside the BBC before joining a Stop the War march on December 12th (a month to the day after his organisation published the statement above which lambasts StWC):

The problem is this: what is an organisation that openly calls “for action to protect civilians in Syria, including limited military action to enforce a no-bombing zone”19 doing at an antiwar rally in the first place? Worse, why is their co-founder provocatively waving the flag of “rebel armies” comprised of and affiliated to Islamist militia groups that were armed, trained and funded by western governments and their Gulf State allies? The answer Abdulaziz Almashi gives to all these questions is this one: “listen to Syrians”. A three word refrain that begins his speech, just as in sloganised form it lends legitimacy and moral authority to his whole Syria Solidarity UK campaign.

Moreover, as a slogan it is as fraudulent as it is deliberately dishonest. There is no singular Syrian voice. How could there be? Not that the gulf between pro- and anti-government sides is the razor sharp divide of Shia versus Sunni we are encouraged to believe. In fact, most of those who support the government including fighters in the Syrian Army are Sunni not Shia. 20 And if we are really to “listen to Syrians” then we will find a wide range of opinions (as you would from any other nation), although only a minority of those living in Syria who support these so-called “rebel groups”, which are indeed sectarian. What the majority desire instead, besides a rapid return to law and order, is the restoration of Syria as a secular society:

[T]he results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation. Qatar’s royal family has taken one of the most hawkish lines against Assad – the emir has just called for Arab troops to intervene – so it was good that The Doha Debates published the poll on its website. The pity is that it was ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.

That comes from an article by Jonathan Steele published by the Guardian more than four years ago in January 2012. He continues:

The key finding was that while most Arabs outside Syria feel the president should resign, attitudes in the country are different. Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war – a spectre that is not theoretical as it is for those who live outside Syria’s borders. What is less good news for the Assad regime is that the poll also found that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future. 21

Click here to read Jonathan Steele’s full article entitled “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media”.

Reliable polls of the Syrian people are hard to find but a subsequent ones from May 2013 based on Nato data and published by the World Tribune also reported widespread support for Assad compared with almost none for the opposition. 22 Likewise, a more recent survey conducted last summer by ORB International, a U.K.-based market research firm, published in the Washington Post on September 15th, found only 21% of Syrians said they “prefer life now than under Assad”; 79% said “foreign fighters made the war worse” and; significantly, 49% “oppose US coalition air strikes”. 23 Once again, this is far from the ringing endorsement for “intervention” claimed by supporters of “Syria Solidarity Movement”.

So there are two points to highlight here. Firstly, the so-called “Syria Solidarity Movement” of Abdulaziz Almashi is not about “Syrian solidarity” at all. Indeed, rather than taking an impartial stance, it allies itself with the entire coalition of the anti-Assad forces (with the singular exception of ISIS from which it sensibly distances itself). Secondly, although it portrays itself as a human rights organisation, it is actually a pro-war movement – openly so once one delves into any of its literature – yet on occasions when it suits, it feigns an antiwar position.

In fact, once we consider the background and origins of “Syria Solidarity Movement” in any detail, it begins to look very much like a Trojan Horse set up to infiltrate and embarrass the antiwar movement. It is surely noteworthy, therefore, that both the BBC and Channel 4 have given this otherwise inconsequential and fledging organisation considerable airtime.

On November 5th, for instance, Muzna Al-Naib of Syria Solidarity UK was allowed ten minutes on BBC’s Daily Politics show to interrogate Labour MP Diane Abbott about StWC’s alleged “silencing of Syrians” when a few supporters of the group disrupted a public meeting. Throughout the studio debate, presenter Andrew Neil does his best to chaperone Muzna Al-Naib. Her political stance is never questioned and neither did he challenge the highly confrontational approach of the protesters (one of whom was the very non-Syrian Peter Tatchell):

(Incidentally, Diane Abbott comes across quite badly in this interview – not for the first time in her political career – but then so, in my opinion, does the unnervingly self-satisfied Muzna Al-Naib and insufferably smug host Andrew Neil.)

Here is Muzna Al-Naib again, now sat beside two likeminded compatriots answering softball questions on Channel 4 news on November 30th. The tone of the report is peremptorily favourable from the outset: “South London, where we’ve come to hear from Syrians, who know most about Syria, but whose voice is heard least… what do Syrian’s themselves actually think?” Direct echoes of the tendentious refrain of Syria Solidarity UK itself:

And here is Abdulaziz Almashi interviewed (a little more vigorously) by BBC news on December 23rd:

In little more than a year then, two representatives of the group (one a co-founder) have reached a television audience of millions and on at least three occasions. One has to marvel at such rapid success. What’s their secret…?

*

Avaaz and Purpose Inc.

In one of the very first posts put up by the Syria Solidarity UK website, published in March 2015, there are two closely affiliated organisations that are hypertext linked. Here is the concluding section of the relevant article:

Following the 16 March [chlorine gas] attacks, Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, have called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria to stop further air attacks on civilians by the Assad regime. You can sign a petition in support on their website, www.whitehelmets.org.

Press release from The Syria Campaign.

See the syria2015.org.uk site for more on our 4th Anniversary March demand for a no-fly zone. 24

Each of the links above leads to a webpage that loudly calls for a “no-fly zone”. No great surprise given that at every turn of their own campaign this demand for western “intervention” is repeated. For example, this photo features prominently on the “about” page:

But what about those linked-in organisations: the “White Helmets” and “The Syria Campaign” – groups that also feature prominently as sidebar links beneath the heading ‘resources’? Cory Morningstar, an independent investigative journalist, has located the lynchpin. She writes:

The New York public relations firm Purpose has created at least four anti-Assad NGOs/campaigns: The White Helmets, Free Syrian Voices, The Syria Campaign and March Campaign #withSyria.

Adding that:

Purpose Inc. (with its co-founders) is a favourite of high-finance websites such as The Economist and Forbes and sells its consulting services and branding/marketing campaigns to Google, Audi, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many others that comprise the world’s most powerful corporations and institutions. In 2012, it raised $3m from investors. “Ford Foundation, which has given Purpose’s non-profit arm a grant, reckons it is shaping up to be “one of the blue-chip social organisations of the future.” 25

Click here to read the full article.

So is there evidence supporting Morningstar’s accusations of astroturfing? Well, this is where my own trail had also been inadvertently leading – but then it soon seems that all roads lead to Purpose Inc.

The Syria Campaign is a non-profit organisation registered as a company in the United Kingdom as The Voices Project—company number 8825761. (You can’t be a registered charity in the UK if most of your work is campaigning.)

We have a Governing Board who are legally responsible for the organisation and oversee strategy and finance for The Syria Campaign. The board members are Daniel Gorman, Ben Stewart, Sawsan Asfari, Tim Dixon and Lina de Sergie. [Bold highlights added]

That was taken from “about” on The Syria Campaign website. It continues:

The Syria Campaign is fiercely independent and accepts no money from governments, corporations or anyone directly involved in the Syrian conflict. This allows us full autonomy to advocate for whatever is needed to save lives.

Seed funding for The Syria Campaign was provided by The Asfari Foundation with supporting funds from other Syrian donors across the world who are frustrated by global inaction on Syria. [bold highlight added]

Following the trail a little further brings up who is behind “The Voices Project” (Avaaz also means “voice” by the way). It is a registered company and so comparatively easy enough to find some further answers:

The Voices Project 26 has a registered office address at c/o Paul A. Hill & Co, 3 Bull Lane, St Ives, Cambridgeshire [a firm of charter accountants who specialise in “tax services”] and eight current officers who are Sawsan Asfari (appointed 17 July 2015), Timothy Edwin Dixon (appointed 8 September 2014), Daniel Gorman (appointed 17 July 2015), John Jackson (appointed 8 September 2014), Salma Kahale (appointed 17 July 2015), Lina Sergie Attar (appointed 17 July 2015), Ben John Stewart (appointed 17 July 2015) and, last but not least, Jeremy Heimans (appointed 24 December 2013). 27

Most of those named tally with the board members declared by The Syria Campaign, but there are two exceptions – both highlighted above – Timothy Edwin Dixon 28 and Jeremy Heimans. Two names which alongside John Jackson (also highlighted) also form part of a different team:

Meet the team on a mission: when it comes to moving people towards action, we’re the experts.

A little of the blurb that greets you at the organisation called Purpose. And beneath the blurb are pictures of the shiny, happy people who work there including Jeremy Heimans, who is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer; Tim Dixon, listed as both Chief Political Strategist and Managing Director of Purpose Europe 29; and John Jackson, a Senior Advisor.

“Purpose moves people to remake the world” it says on a different webpage with rolling footage of an unnamed actor (Middle Eastern in appearance) being gently unblown up, a young child actress tinkering with a handgun in such a curious manner as to cause you to want to grab it off her, and a debonair couple, the black man eyeing an untouchable white companion. The message is this: we are cool, we are sophisticates, we are right on! It is a message determined to enter your mind like a maddening but seductive whisper.

On the “about” page, Purpose tells us more:

We create new organizations and ventures to tackle issues where mass participation and collective action can unlock big change.

This it admits with unflinching candour before adding how when it comes to their ‘philosophy’, Purpose deals in “Pragmatic Idealism”:

We take the world as it is in order to help make it what it ought to be. We challenge power when we need to—but that’s not all we do. We proudly collaborate with the public and private sectors, old and new power, allies and adversaries—all with eyes wide open.

And there is much more:

WE BUILD MOVEMENTS

Purpose creates new movements, brands and organizations from the ground up to address complex global challenges. We apply this experience as movement creators to our work with progressive companies, nonprofits and philanthropies, helping them to put purpose and participation at the heart of what they do.

BUILD

We deploy our award-winning creative campaigning and technology capabilities to launch new brands, technology products and social movements that stand out.

ACT

We rapidly prototype campaigns to scale and deepen engagement in our movements. We execute at all levels of ambition, directing some of the largest public engagement campaigns in the world today.

Then at the bottom of this page they provide a list of “Selected Partners” which includes Google, Audi, Ben & Jerry’s, alongside campaign groups including Walk Free, Oxfam, ACLU and – as you might expect – The Syria Campaign.

The business [Purpose.com] was co-founded by Jeremy Heimans, who calls himself a “movement entrepreneur”. Mr Heimans previously co-founded Avaaz, a campaigning group focused on poor countries, and GetUp!, a citizens’-rights group in his native Australia. Those were charities. Purpose aims to make profits, though not necessarily to maximise them. Like another big petitions business, Change.org, it is structured as a B Corporation, the American legal term for a for-profit company with a social mission. It has a non-profit arm, which incubates protests and accepts donations. This is cross-subsidised by its for-profit arm, which makes money in a variety of ways.

It sells consulting services to big companies such as Google and Audi, and to charities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. It helps them to build mass movements to support their favourite causes. Audi, for example, wants to design and promote machines to dispense clean water in India, a market where it hopes to burnish its car brand. Purpose also hopes to develop a business promoting “new economy” products such as solar energy. It will recommend to its members that they buy solar power from such-and-such a provider. In return, it will charge a referral fee. 30 [bold emphasis added]

From a puff piece published in The Economist entitled “Profit with Purpose”, under the caption “The business of campaigning”, which also lazily admits that “Grassroots movements have usually been built, as the name implies, from the bottom up.” To which the polite response is: codswallop! – there is absolutely no “usually” about it.

In short then, Purpose Inc is the PR firm behind Avaaz and all of its related campaign groups.

*

The White Helmets

You might think that after seeing the consequences of their campaign for “freedom and democracy” in Libya, journalists like Nicholas Kristof and “humanitarian campaigners” like Avaaz would have some qualms.

writes Rick Sterling (co-founder of the original Syria Solidarity Movement), as he attempts to disentangle the misinformation surrounding the White Helmets, Avaaz, war-advocate Nicholas Kristof and their joint calls for a Syria no-fly zone. He continues:

Unfortunately they have learned nothing. They have generally not been held to account, with a few nice exceptions such as this Greenwald/Hussain article. And now they are at it again. Many well-intentioned but naive members of the U.S. and international public are again being duped into signing an Avaaz petition based on fraud and misinformation. If the campaign succeeds in leading to a No Fly Zone in Syria, it will result in vastly increased war, mayhem and bloodshed.

The following illustration shows the sequence and trail of deceit leading to Avaaz’s call for a No Fly Zone in Syria.

Sterling then provides further background on the emergence of the so-called White Helmets:

White Helmets is the newly minted name for “Syrian Civil Defence”. Despite the name, Syria Civil Defence was not created by Syrians nor does it serve Syria.  Rather it was created by the UK and USA in 2013. Civilians from rebel controlled territory were paid to go to Turkey to receive some training in rescue operations. The program was managed by James Le Mesurier, a former British soldier and private contractor whose company is based in Dubai.

The trainees are said to be ‘nonpartisan’ but only work in rebel-controlled areas of Idlib (now controlled by Nusra/Al Queda) and Aleppo. There are widely divergent claims regarding the number of people trained by the White Helmets and the number of people rescued.  The numbers are probably highly exaggerated especially since rebel-controlled territories have few civilians. A doctor who recently served in a rebel-controlled area of Aleppo described it as a ghost town. The White Helmets work primarily with the rebel group Jabat al Nusra (Al Queda in Syria). Video of the recent alleged chlorine gas attacks starts with the White Helmet logo and continues with the logo of Nusra. In reality, White Helmets is a small rescue team for Nusra/Al Queda.

But White Helmets primary function is propaganda. White Helmets demonizes the Assad government and encourages direct foreign intervention. A White Helmet leader wrote a recent Washington Post editorial. White Helmets are also very active on social media with presence on Twitter, Facebook etc. According to their website, to contact White Helmets email The Syria Campaign which underscores the relationship. [bold emphasis added]

He also outlines the important role played by Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times:

The “White Helmets” campaign has been highly successful because of uncritical media promotion. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times was an advocate of the NATO/US attack on Libya. According to him, villagers who had been shot, injured and their homes destroyed were not bitter, they were thankful! “Hugs from Libyans” is how he viewed it.  It was, of course, nonsense, helping to pave the way in the invasion and destruction of the country.

Now Kristof is uncritically promoting the White Helmets, aiding and abetting their political and propaganda message seeking foreign intervention in Syria. 31

Click here to read Sterling’s full article entitled “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators”, published in Dissident Voice on April 9, 2015.

*

War on the antiwar movement

[But] Does the most hardened peacenik really believe that Iraqis currently enjoy more liberty and delight than they would if Saddam were brought down?

So wrote neo-con apologist Julie Burchill in her Guardian column as the Iraq War got underway. The same rant continues:

Surely this is the most self-obsessed anti-war protest ever. NOT IN MY NAME! That’s the giveaway. Who gives a stuff about their wet, white, western names? See how they write them so solemnly in a list on the bottom of the letters they send to the papers. And the ones that add their brats’ names are the worst – a grotesque spin on Baby On Board, except they think that this gives them extra humanity points not just on the motorway, but in the whole wide weeping, striving, yearning world. We don’t know the precious names of the countless numbers Saddam has killed. We’re talking about a people – lots of them parents – subjected to an endless vista of death and torture, a country in which freedom can never be won without help from outside.

Contrasting British servicemen and women with the appeasers, it is hard not to laugh. Are these two sides even the same species, let alone the same nationality? On one hand the selflessness and internationalism of the soldiers; on the other the Whites-First isolationism of the protesters. Excuse me, who are the idealists here?

Her antiwar invective then hisses to a climax in which she projects a picture of post-intervention Iraq that could hardly be more a variance with the horror of events as they unfolded and the chaos that remains:

What these supreme egotists achieve by putting themselves at the centre of every crisis is to make the Iraqi people effectively disappear. NOT IN MY NAME! is western imperialism of the sneakiest sort, putting our clean hands before the freedom of an enslaved people. But even those whose anti-war protests started in good faith now know that when Saddam’s regime comes tumbling down, thousands of Iraqis will dance and sing with joy before the TV cameras, and thank our armed forces for giving them back their lives. 32

It is Burchill, of course, who was most guilty of “western imperialism of the sneakiest sort”. Burchill, who through such naked propaganda supplied ammunition to snidely undercut the goodwill of the millions brandishing antiwar banners. The method is all in her slippery abuse of the English language: turning peacemakers into “peaceniks”, into “anti-war nuts” and, best of all, into “appeasers”.

So compare Burchill’s warmongering propaganda of a decade past to that more recent open letter written by Abdulaziz Almashi, Peter Tatchell and others published by the Guardian last December (and already quoted above):

Stop the War has failed to organise or support protests against the Assad dictatorship and the regime’s massacre of peaceful democracy protesters in 2011 – and since. Nor has it shown solidarity with the non-violent Syrian civil society movements for democracy and human rights and with the millions of innocent civilians killed, wounded and displaced by Assad’s barrel bombs and torture chambers. It portrays Isis as the main threat to Syrians, despite Assad killing at least six times more civilians. 33

The rhetoric is more crafted and less abrasive than in Burchill’s rant but the insinuation is entirely unaltered. That those attached to the cause of ending the war are merely the secret appeasers of a dictator. A still more uncanny similarity is how this recent onslaught against the antiwar opposition came so hot on the heels of another Commons vote for airstrikes. 34 And after David Cameron’s shameless characterisation of the peace movement — Jeremy Corbyn (such a prominent figure in StWC) very much included — as “terrorist sympathisers”.

As Tariq Ali (another founder member of StWC) wrote in response:

Since Corbyn is a founder member of Stop the War, the propaganda assault is essentially designed to weaken and destroy him.

The article entitled “The assault on Stop the War is really aimed at Jeremy Corbyn” published by The Independent, continues:

Stop the War was founded in different times [to previous peace movements]. It is and has been a coalition of individuals and organisations with differing views on many issues. This is as it should be and always has been with broad single-issue campaigns. It does NOT take positions on the demerits or otherwise of the Taliban, Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad. It is in favour of the withdrawal of ALL foreign troops (this includes the Russians) and bomber jets. The arguments against the war deployed by Stop the War are not all that different from some conservative columnists who cannot be bullied: Simon Jenkins, Peter Hitchens, Peter Oborne. None of the three are Corbynistas.  […]

The “moral compass” of the anti-war movement has not shifted. It is no better or worse since the day it was founded. Meanwhile the wars continue.

Click here to read Tariq Ali’s full article.

Following that Commons debate, the media were falling over themselves in rival bids to talk up what Tariq Ali rightly describes as “Hilary Benn’s pathetic pro-war speech (he voted for the Iraq war as well)”; relishing the chance to open up the fractures not so latent within the parliamentary Labour Party. Such swooning media focus on Benn’s opportunistic betrayal and forlorn attempt to appear Churchillian meant that Corbyn’s more measured speech was totally overshadowed:

[Notice: the video embedded above was taken down from youtube within 24 hours of posting this article — an alternative version can be found at the end of the article]

If the press had been more attentive, however, they may have drawn attention to a message received from a Syrian in Corbyn’s constituency by the name of Abdulaziz Almashi. He has asked me, said Corbyn, if the Prime Minister is able to guarantee the safety of his family when “your air force drops bombs on my city” [19.20 mins]. 35 And yes, this is Abdulaziz Almashi who leads the campaign demanding a “no-fly zone” over Syria, and whose organisation has been so scathing of StWC.

It would have been more honourable to deliver the message instead to the sympathetic ear of Cameron – a person who also wants “intervention” – even if in the eyes of the PM, Syrians living in exile, like Almashi, are just “a bunch of migrants” 36 – to quote his most recent outburst of casual bigotry. And Cameron does have more important matters on his mind too:

Instead, Almashi chose to spin Corbyn a line, hoping to be mistaken, as he was, for a fellow anti-war activist. It was a small propaganda coup that he instantly backed up by posting on the website of (please note) The Syria Campaign a message headed:

“Corbyn quoted me in Parliament today. Not bombing Raqqa [ISIS stronghold] isn’t enough. We must take positive action.”37

“Positive action” is code, of course, for regime change – just like “no-fly zone”.

It seems that Abdulaziz Almashi and the “Syria Solidarity Movement” he fronts will use any ploy to get attention. But then, given the intense media spotlight on his organisation’s earlier altercation with StWC, quoting from Almashi must be seen as a serious error of judgement on the part of Jeremy Corbyn too. And faced by so many adversaries in all quarters, he ought to take great care to avoid more serious stings in the future.

Click here to read an official ten-point response by the StWC to “the chorus of attacks” that was published on December 9th and entitled “It is the war party that has a reputation problem, not Stop the War”.

*

Concluding remarks

The war in Syria is hardly less inextricably wrapped up with the war in Libya than it is with the war in bordering Iraq. All three are products of western “intervention” and all three nations are now overrun with Salafist gangs. But there are important differences too.

The West’s role in the “shock and awe” annihilation of Iraq was an overt act of aggression and flagrantly illegal. Those most publicly responsible for orchestrating the fall of Baghdad have been justly disgraced. After the assault on Libya, however, an equivalently illegal act of western adventurism, that was likewise predicated upon a demonstrably false pretext, and set upon nothing short of regime change, the perpetrators suffered little to no opprobrium. A craftily negotiated UN resolution, quickly violated, provided useful cover. In general, the lies surrounding Libya have been much better concealed.

Meanwhile, this other grinding war in Syria, has been inflamed by terrorist militias closely affiliated to those now running rampant in Libya and Iraq, who are sponsored by Gulf State allies (including Kuwait) and often with the clandestine support of the Nato powers (Turkey in particular). In other words, in Syria the West has consistently led from behind, taking even greater care to cover its tracks. Otherwise, as I wrote at the top, this repeating tale is one as tedious as it is atrocious.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and not forgetting Yemen: this is really one war. A series of overlapping and interconnected battles for resources: oil, pipelines, finance, you name it. Wars to bring about regime change. Wars to capture and hold territory. And the one truly significant difference between old-fashioned imperialism and this swankier post-modern variant is in the branding. The public relations has stepped up a gear; it had too. So there is more guile to today’s propaganda, which is packaged and marketed using sophisticated strategies, then delivered into our homes via the new technologies and an increasingly complaisant media.

And the stated rationale for war is nowadays less haughty and considerably more liberal. Flag planting is out, as is any talk of “the white man’s burden”, and in their stead is ‘grassroots’ petitioning for “humanitarian intervention”. All the spin and the layers of gloss providing cover for the same old racket General Smedley Butler warned about more than seventy years ago. So here is a nice summary of how the same racket functions today:

Promoting the imperial social media fad of equivocating on US and NATO invasions that destroy entire societies, ostensibly because the current head of state is ruthless or corrupt, Avaaz apologists neglect the growing list of countries where these invasions have made things worse. Indeed, I am at a loss to find a country in my lifetime (1952-present) where US military aggression — either directly or through proxy mercenaries and US-financed and trained death squads — made things better.

Of course, if you look at militarism as a market-oriented strategy, then making war or creating armed mayhem is just part of doing business. With the crippling financial sanctions available to the US through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, invasion is just for show — part of the expected social spectacle — that routinely transfers wealth from the U.S. Treasury to Wall Street and the military industrial complex. 38

Click here to read the full article by Jay Taber published by wrongkindofgreen.org on Christmas Day.

The horrors of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya alone ought to be enough proof, if proof is actually needed, that western “intervention” is a failure (for the victims caught in the crossfire and trapped on the ground). Those calling for another “no fly zone”, as Abdulaziz Almashi and his friends on the radical left do, either have appalling amnesia, or else are acting in extremely bad faith.

*

Update:

Here is a different upload of Jeremy Corbyn’s Commons speech on December 2, 2015. In this version, Corbyn speaks about the letter from Abdulaziz Almashi at 18:30 mins in:

*

1 From an analysis paper entitled “Playing with Fire: Why Private Gulf Financing for Syria’s Extremist Rebels Risks Igniting Sectarian Conflict at Home” written by Elizabeth Dickinson, published by the Brookings Institute in December 2013.

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2013/12/06%20private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson/private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson.pdf

2 From an article entitled “Hillary’s Dirty War in Libya: New Emails Reveal Propaganda, Executions, Coveting Libyan Oil and Gold” written by Brad Hoff, published by Global Research on January 4, 2015. http://www.globalresearch.ca/hillarys-dirty-war-in-libya-new-emails-reveal-propaganda-executions-coveting-libyan-oil-and-gold/5499358

3 From an article entitled “Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as a weapon of war” written by Patrick Cockburn, published in The Independent on June 23, 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/amnesty-questions-claim-that-gaddafi-ordered-rape-as-weapon-of-war-2302037.html

4

Speaking during a visit to Vietnam, Cameron told ITV News attempts to enter the UK had increased because “you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live”.

From an article entitled “Calais crisis: Cameron condemned for ‘dehumanising’ description of migrants” written by Jessica Elgot and Matthew Taylor, published in the Guardian on July 30, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/30/david-cameron-migrant-swarm-language-condemned

5 From an article entitled “UK axes support for Mediterranean migrant rescue operation” written by Alan Travis, published in the Guardian on October 27, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/27/uk-mediterranean-migrant-rescue-plan

6 Little Alan Kurdi’s limp body on that Turkish beach sparked many reactions. In response, some appealed for a humane European-wide policy towards refugees, while dreamers implored us all to imagine, John Lennon-like, “a world without borders”. Meanwhile, as the media lurched into one of its periodic feeding frenzies, the most callous opportunists used a personal tragedy to claim just cause for an intensified bombing campaign. Rupert Murdoch’s mouthpiece The Sun on Sunday ran with this deplorable headline:

For Aylan – Exclusive poll: 52% say bomb Syria now

On which side in the Syrian conflict this contrived 52% – of the staff inside the News Corp office, perhaps? – believed Britain ought to bomb was less clear. Two years earlier in the aftermath of the Ghouta massacre, it had been Assad in the crosshairs when he was declared guilty of the ordering the killing. The charge against him (and the Syria Army) was based upon reputation and has never been substantiated, but calls to bomb the Syrian regime became a matter of urgency. Had air strikes been sanctioned, then Syria, like Libya before, would now be overrun by jihadist “rebels”: a diabolical outcome, but no great surprise to the policymakers at the Pentagon or in the White House.

Instead, a miracle occurred. A (very nearly) unprecedented antiwar vote against any British government stopped this stampede to war in its tracks. It would be Ed Miliband’s finest moment as Labour leader (although largely forgotten) and briefly clipped the wings of the UK war party. In response, Russia then stepped forward to help broker a deal which led to the complete dismantlement of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Another little remembered act of peacemaking. But then, a year after America’s war against ISIS, Russia joined the military campaign (extending air strikes to other terrorist groups). This jolted Britain into joining the conflict. So three months after the death of Alan Kurdi and Murdoch’s sabre-rattling headline, new excuses were found. “Britain has got its mojo back!” These are the words of our Chancellor, George Osborne, when he visited the Council on Foreign Relations in the immediate days after the vote. And the CFR applauded.

7 From an article entitled “Thousands join Solidarity with Refugees rally in London” written by Nadia Khomani and Chris Johnston, published in the Guardian on September 12, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/12/london-rally-solidarity-with-refugees

8 From an article entitled “Refugee solidarity march in London set to attract some unlikely protesters” written by Emily Dugan, published in The Independent on September 11, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-solidary-march-in-london-set-to-attract-some-unlikely-protesters-10497351.html

9

In the event description on Facebook, organisers Ros Ereira and Abdulaziz Almashi wrote: “We have to ensure that refugees can reach Europe safely. There needs to be either official safe transport provided, or if people could apply for asylum from outside the EU they would be able to enter by official routes…”

From an article entitled “London refugee rally: Tens of thousands to join demonstration and call for action to tackle crisis” published by the London Evening Standard on September 3, 2015. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/london-refugee-rally-tens-of-thousands-plan-to-join-demonstration-and-call-for-action-to-tackle-a2926581.html

10

Within three months of the demise of the IS Network, Islamist fighters who were formerly called ISIL/ISIS had “declared the areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria as a new Islamic state” and “now simply refer[red] to itself as The Islamic State”.

Quotes from an article entitled “Iraq crisis: ISIS declares its territories a new Islamic state with ‘restoration of caliphate’ in Middle East” written by Adam Withnail, published in The Independent on June 30, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-declares-new-islamic-state-in-middle-east-with-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-as-emir-removing-iraq-and-9571374.html

11 From an article entitled “NOTE ON THE NEWLY FORMED SYRIA SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT” written by Mark Boothroyd, published by International Socialist Network on March 21, 2014. http://internationalsocialistnetwork.org/index.php/ideas-and-arguments/organisation/swp-crisis/international/375-note-on-the-newly-formed-syria-solidarity-movement

12 From an article entitled “The Syrian Revolution and the crisis of the anti-war movement” published by rs21 on September 10, 2015. http://rs21.org.uk/2015/09/10/the-syrian-revolution-and-the-crisis-of-the-anti-war-movement/

13 From an article entitled “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to the Syrians” published by Left Foot Forward on November 12, 2015. http://leftfootforward.org/2015/11/why-stop-the-war-dont-want-to-listen-to-syrians/

14 From an article entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” published by the Guardian on December 9, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/09/stop-the-war-faces-a-coalition-of-critics?CMP=share_btn_tw

15 Ibid.

16 From an article entitled “Can the revolution in Syria survive an imperial carve up?” written by Mark Boothroyd, published by Pulse magazine on October 7, 2015. http://pulsemedia.org/2015/10/07/can-the-revolution-in-syria-survive-an-imperial-carve-up/

17 From the Ahrar al-Sham official webpage: http://ahraralsham.net/?page_id=4195, translated from the original Arabic, which read:

حركة أحرار الشام الإسلامية حركة إسلامية إصلاحية تجديدية شاملة، أحد الفصائل المنضوية والمندمجة ضمن الجبهة الإسلامية وهي تكوين عسكري، سياسي، اجتماعي، إسلامي شامل، يهدف إلى إسقاط النظام الأسدي
في سورية إسقاطاً كاملاً، وبناء دولة إسلامية، تكون السيادة فيها لشرع الله -عز وجلَّ- وحده مرجعاً وحاكماً وموجهاً وناظماً لتصرفات الفرد والمجتمع والدولة

From an article entitled “Syrian Revolution’s Path after Attacks on Ahrar al-Sham” written by Malak Chabkoun, published by Al Jazeera on September 17, 2014. http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2014/09/20149147499306405.htm#a2

18 From an article entitled “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians” published by Left Foot Forward on November 12, 2015. http://leftfootforward.org/2015/11/why-stop-the-war-dont-want-to-listen-to-syrians/

19 Ibid.

20

Sunni Muslims make up 70% of Syria’s 25 million people and it is they who fill the ranks of the rebellion against Assad’s minority Alawite regime, considered apostates by Sunni clerics. Yet one reason why Assad remains in power despite being outnumbered by a rival sect is that many Sunnis are on his side, and their support is aiding his survival, say analysts and rebels.

“If Sunnis were united behind the rebels, trust me, Bashar would’ve fallen within days,” says Abu Qays, an anti-regime Syrian activist in the eastern city of Deir e-Zor who uses a nickname for security reasons.

From an article entitled “Sunnis fill rebel tanks, but also prop up Assad regime” written by Michael Pizzi and Nuha Shabaan, published in USA Today on August 1, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/08/01/syria-sunnis-assad/2599927/

21 From an article entitled “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media” written by Jonathan Steele published in the Guardian on January 17, 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jan/17/syrians-support-assad-western-propaganda

22

In May 2013, the US-based World Tribune reported, based on NATO data, that 70% of Syrians support Assad. The same piece suggested that 20% of Syrians surveyed felt neutral about the conflict, and only 10% supported the opposition. This figure has not been scrutinised, or even discussed, by most media sources.

From an article entitled “The Missing Question: Who Supports Assad?” written by Sophie Stewart-Bloch, published in the Huffington Post on December 30, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sophie-stewartbloch/syria-conflict-assad_b_4507894.html

23

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/15/one-in-five-syrians-say-islamic-state-is-a-good-thing-poll-says/

24 From an article entitled “Syria Civil Defence ‘White Helmets’ call for No-Fly Zone following chemical attack” published by Syria Solidarity UK on March 18, 2015. http://www.syriauk.org/2015/03/syria-civil-defence-white-helmets-call.html

25 From an article entitled “SYRIA: AVAAZ, PURPOSE & THE ART OF SELLING HATE FOR EMPIRE” written by Cory Morningstar, published on wrongkindofgreen.org on September 17, 2014. http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2014/09/17/syria-avaaz-purpose-the-art-of-selling-hate-for-empire/

26

The Voices Project was founded on 24 Dec 2013 and has its registered office in Cambridgeshire. The organisation’s status is listed as “Active” and it currently has 8 directors. The company’s first director was Mr Jeremy Heimans. The Voices Project does not have any subsidiaries.

Registered Address

C/o Paul A. Hill & Co
3 Bull Lane
St Ives
Cambridgeshire
PE27 5AX
United Kingdom

https://www.duedil.com/company/08825761/the-voices-project

27 https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/08825761/officers

28

The first position as a director we have on file for Mr Timothy Edwin Dixon was in 2014 at The Voices Project. His most recent directorship is with Purpose Europe Limited where he holds the position of “Managing director”. This company has been around since 21 Dec 2012. In total, Timothy has held 2 directorships, all of which are current. [bold highlight added]

https://www.duedil.com/director/919096216/timothy-edwin-dixon

29

Purpose Europe Limited was registered on 21 Dec 2012 with its registered office in Cambridgeshire. The business has a status listed as “Active” and it currently has 3 directors. The company’s first directors were Purpose Global Llc, Mr Simon Peter Willis. Purpose Europe Limited has no subsidiaries.

Registered Address

3 Bull Lane
St. Ives
Cambridgeshire
PE27 5AX
United Kingdom

https://www.duedil.com/company/08340026/purpose-europe-limited

30 From an article entitled “Profit with Purpose” published by The Economist on January 26, 2013. http://www.economist.com/news/business/21570763-how-profit-firm-fosters-protest-profit-purpose

31 From an article entitled “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators” written by Rick Sterling, published in Dissident Voice on April 9, 2015. http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/04/seven-steps-of-highly-effective-manipulators/

32 From an article entitled “Don’t take my name in vain” written by Julie Burchill, published in the Guardian on March 29, 2003. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2003/mar/29/antiwar.uk

33 From an article entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” published by the Guardian on December 9, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/09/stop-the-war-faces-a-coalition-of-critics?CMP=share_btn_tw

34 (Last time around) British Parliamentary approval for the invasion of Iraq had been granted in a series of two votes on 18 March 2003. Burchill’s attack on the antiwar protesters was published in the Guardian on March 19th. And the invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003. (This time) Parliamentary approval for airstrikes in Syria granted on December 2, 2015. Letter castigating StWC was published by the Guardian on December 9.

35 From an article entitled “Assad’s UK Syrian exiles demand a voice” written by Shaun Ley, published by BBC news on December 10, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35026975

36

David Cameron has been accused of using inflammatory language about refugees after referring to people in camps at Calais as a “bunch of migrants”.

The prime minister made the comments in the House of Commons on Wednesday as he criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s call for Britain to do more to help refugees in French camps.

Pointing at the Labour leader and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, Cameron said: “The idea that those two right honourable gentlemen would stand up to anyone in this regard is laughable. Look at their record over the last week.

“They met with the unions and gave them flying pickets. They met with the Argentinians, they gave them the Falkland Islands. They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais, they said they could all come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hardworking taxpayers.”

From an article entitled “Cameron’s ‘bunch of migrants’ jibe is callous and dehumanising, say MPs” written by Rowena Mason and Frances Perraudin, published in the Guardian on January 27, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/27/david-cameron-bunch-of-migrants-jibe-pmqs-callous-dehumanising

37 https://diary.thesyriacampaign.org/corbyn-quoted-me-in-parliament-today/

38 From an article entitled “Imperial Social Media: Avaaz and the arms dealers” written by Jay Taber on December 25, 2015. http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2015/12/28/imperial-social-media-avaaz-and-the-arms-merchants/

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Syria

Avaaz: manufacturing consent for wars since 2011

Four years ago I received an email from the internet campaign group Avaaz which read:

“Together, we’ve sent 450,000 emails to the UN Security Council, “overwhelming” the Council President and helping to win targeted sanctions and a justice process for the Libyan people. Now, to stop the bloodshed, we need a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.” [Bold as in the original.]

Of course, that no-fly zone was Nato’s justification for a war – “no-fly zone” means war. So the bloodshed wasn’t about to be stopped, it was about to begin in earnest:

The foreign media has largely ceased to cover Libya because it rightly believes it is too dangerous for journalists to go there. Yet I remember a moment in the early summer of 2011 in the frontline south of Benghazi when there were more reporters and camera crews present than there were rebel militiamen. Cameramen used to ask fellow foreign journalists to move aside when they were filming so that this did not become too apparent. In reality, Gaddafi’s overthrow was very much Nato’s doing, with Libyan militiamen mopping up.

Executing regime change in Libya cost the lives of an estimated 20,000 people: but this was only the immediate death toll, and as a civil war rages on, the final figure keeps rising, indefinitely and seemingly inexorably. And the number of victims will go on rising for so long as there is lawlessness and chaos in a country now completely overrun with terrorists and warlords. So what was started with a “no-fly zone” is ending with a hell on earth: abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Given their unpardonable role in instigating this entirely avoidable human catastrophe, does it come as any surprise when, with “mission accomplished”, the media chose to turn its back on the carnage in Libya? Patrick Cockburn, who wrote the article from which the above quote is taken, has been a rare exception to the rule. A journalist who was not so quick to swallow the official line, he has since been committed to telling the bigger story, which includes the falsity of Nato’s original justifications for air strikes:

Human rights organisations have had a much better record in Libya than the media since the start of the uprising in 2011. They discovered that there was no evidence for several highly publicised atrocities supposedly carried out by Gaddafi’s forces that were used to fuel popular support for the air war in the US, Britain, France and elsewhere. These included the story of the mass rape of women by Gaddafi’s troops that Amnesty International exposed as being without foundation. The uniformed bodies of government soldiers were described by rebel spokesmen as being men shot because they were about to defect to the opposition. Video film showed the soldiers still alive as rebel prisoners so it must have been the rebels who had executed them and put the blame on the government.

So here is a pattern that repeats with uncanny consistency, and with the mainstream media’s failure to discover and report on the truth also recurring with near parallel regularity. We had the ‘Babies out of incubators’ story in Kuwait, and then those WMDs in Iraq that, as Bush Jnr joked, “have got to be here somewhere”, to offer just two very well-established prior instances of the kinds of lies that have taken us to war.

Patrick Cockburn continues:

Foreign governments and media alike have good reason to forget what they said and did in Libya in 2011, because the aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi has been so appalling. The extent of the calamity is made clear by two reports on the present state of the country, one by Amnesty International called “Libya: Rule of the gun – abductions, torture and other militia abuses in western Libya” and a second by Human Rights Watch, focusing on the east of the country, called “Libya: Assassinations May Be Crimes Against Humanity”.1

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article published last November.

But accusations do not stop even at the deplorable roles played by “foreign governments and media alike”, but apply to all of the various warmongering parties at that time, and one of the groups we must also point the finger to is Avaaz. For it was Avaaz, more than any other campaign group, who pushed alongside Nato in their call for the “no-fly zone” which got the whole war going. To reiterate, since it is vitally important that this is understood, a “no-fly zone” always and without exception means war:

Clearly a no-fly zone makes foreign intervention sound rather humanitarian – putting the emphasis on stopping bombing, even though it could well lead to an escalation of violence.

No wonder, too, that it is rapidly becoming a key call of hawks on both sides of the Atlantic. The military hierarchy, with their budgets threatened by government cuts, surely cannot believe their luck – those who usually oppose wars are openly campaigning for more military involvement.2

So wrote John Hilary in an excellent article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” published on the cusp of “intervention”.

In response, Ben Wikler, a campaign director at Avaaz, posted a comment that included the following remarks:

Would imposing a no-fly zone lead to a full-blown international war? No-fly zones can mean a range of different things.

Wikler is wrong and Hilary correct: “no-fly zones” always mean war. And as a consequence, those at Avaaz like Ben Wikler now have blood on their hands – and yet are unrepentant.

Yes, as with most others who were directly or indirectly culpable, “foreign governments and media alike”, it seems Avaaz too are suffering from collective amnesia. Not only have they forgotten the terrible consequences of imposing a “no-fly zone” on Libya, but they also seem to have forgotten their own deliberate efforts when it came to bolstering public support for that “bloody and calamitous” (to use Cockburn’s words) “foreign intervention” (to use the weasel euphemisms of Nato and the West). Because instead of reflecting upon the failings of Nato’s air campaign four years ago, and without offering the slightest murmur of apology for backing it (not that apologies help at all), Avaaz are now calling upon their supporters to forget our murderous blundering of the recent past, with calls for the same action all over again… this time in Syria.

It was yesterday when I received the latest email from Avaaz. Don’t worry, I’m not a supporter (although the simple fact I receive their emails means by their own definition, I am presumably counted one), but after Libya I chose to remain on their mailing list simply to keep an eye on what they were doing. And (not for the first or the second time) they are selling us on more war:

The Syrian air force just dropped chlorine gas bombs on children. Their little bodies gasped for air on hospital stretchers as medics held back tears, and watched as they suffocated to death.

But today there is a chance to stop these barrel bomb murders with a targeted No Fly Zone.

The US, Turkey, UK, France and others are right now seriously considering a safe zone in Northern Syria. Advisers close to President Obama support it, but he is worried he won’t have public support. That’s where we come in.

Let’s tell him we don’t want a world that just watches as a dictator drops chemical weapons on families in the night. We want action.

One humanitarian worker said ‘I wish the world could see what I have seen with my eyes. It breaks your heart forever.’ Let’s show that the world cares — sign to support a life-saving No Fly Zone

Obviously, I am not supplying the link for this latest call to arms: “a[nother] life-saving No Fly Zone”.

After Avaaz called for war against Libya back in 2011, I wrote a restrained article. But I was too polite. When they called for war again following the sarin gas attack on Ghouta, I hesitated again and looked into the facts. They didn’t stack up (as I explained at length in another post). But nor did I damn Avaaz on that occasion, as I ought to have done, when with Libya already ablaze they set up a campaign like this (sorry that it’s hard to read):

 

Since that time it has become evident to the world (at least the one outside the Avaaz office) that it has been Syrian forces who have most successfully fought back against Islamist extremists (al-Qaeda, but now more often called ISIS) who not only use poison gas to murder their enemies and spread fear, but methods so barbaric and depraved – public mass beheadings, crucifixions and even cannibalism – that you wonder which century we are living in. But Avaaz push the blame for all of this killing back on to the Assad regime, just as the West (whose close allies continue to back the so-called “rebels”) have also tried to do. And Avaaz are now saying (once again) that escalating the conflict is the way to save the people of Syria – so don’t worry if it spreads the infection now called ISIS – more love bombs are the preferred Avaaz solution for every complex political situation:

“Today, Gadhafi is dead, and the Libyan people have their first chance for democratic, accountable governance in decades…. American casualties were zero. Insurgent fighters and the vast majority of the population have cheered the victory as liberation, and courageous Syrians who face daily threats of death for standing up to their own repressive regime have taken comfort in Gadhafi’s fall. These accomplishments are no small feats for those who care about human dignity, democracy, and stability….

Progressives often demand action in the face of abject human suffering, but we know from recent history that in some situations moral condemnation, economic sanctions, or ex-post tribunals don’t save lives. Only force does.”

These are the self-congratulatory words of Tom Perriello, the co-founder of Avaaz, writing in late 2012. And he finishes the same piece:

We must realize that force is only one element of a coherent national security strategy and foreign policy. We must accept the reality—whether or not one accepts its merits—that other nations are more likely to perceive our motives to be self-interested than values-based. But in a world where egregious atrocities and grave threats exist, and where Kosovo and Libya have changed our sense of what’s now possible, the development of this next generation of power can be seen as a historically unique opportunity to reduce human suffering. 3

Independent investigative journalist, Cory Morningstar, who has probed very deeply into the organization says, “Make no mistake – this is the ideology at the helm of Avaaz.org.”

As she explains:

Tom Perriello is a long-time collaborator with Ricken Patel. Together, they co-founded Avaaz.org, Res Publica and FaithfulAmerica.org.

Perriello is a former U.S. Representative (represented the 5th District of Virginia from 2008 to 2010) and a founding member of the House Majority Leader’s National Security Working Group.

Perriello was also co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He worked for Reverend Dr. James Forbes on “prophetic justice” principles. Many of these organizations were created with the intent of creating a broad-based “religious left” movement. […]

Despite the carefully crafted language and images that tug at your emotions, such NGOs were created for and exist for one primary purpose – to protect and further American policy and interests, under the guise of philanthropy and humanitarianism.

As Cory Morningstar also points out:

In December 2011, Perriello disclosed that he served as special adviser to the international war crimes prosecutor and has spent extensive time in 2011 in Egypt and the Middle East researching the Arab Spring. Therefore, based on this disclosure alone, there can be no doubt that the deliberate strategy being advanced by Avaaz cannot be based upon any type of ignorance or naïveté. 4

“It breaks your heart forever.” That was the heading under which yesterday’s email arrived and the way it signed off went as follows: “With hope, John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest of the Avaaz team”. And this is how they come again with further ploys to prick your conscience. So do please remember before you click on their pastel-coloured links or forward those ‘messages’ to your own friends, how they beat the drums to war on two earlier occasions. In 2013, when they last called for the bombing of Syria (but the war party were halted in their mission), and in 2011 when they first aided Nato’s grand deception and helped to bring unremitting horrors to the innocent people of Libya. Keep in mind too, how lacking in guilt they have been in light of their own imploring role during the run up to the full “shock and awe” display over Tripoli.

Because John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest… are really not our friends. They are humanitarian hawks, who are in the business of manufacturing consent for every Nato “intervention”. Indeed, I would like to ask John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest, in good faith, just how do you sleep at night?

Click here to read a thorough examination of Avaaz put together by independent investigative journalist Cory Morningstar.

*

Additional:

Here is an open letter I constructed in Summer 2012, but then decided not to post:

Dear Ricken, Eli and the whole Avaaz team,

By your own rather loose definition, I have been a member of Avaaz now for several years. In other words I responded to one of your campaigns many moons ago, and have never subsequently withdrawn my name from your mailing list. I believe that under your own terms, I am thus one of the many millions of your ‘members’. You presume that all those like me who are ‘in the Avaaz community’ support your various campaigns simply because we are on your contact list, although in my own case, this is absolutely not the case. I have ceased to support any of the Avaaz campaigns since you pushed for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya, and from this time on, have kept up with your campaign messages simply to keep an eye on you. I vowed never again to sign any of your petitions on the grounds that I do not wish to be a supporter of any organisation that backs an aggressive and expansionist war.

The most common criticism of Avaaz, and other internet campaign groups, is that it encourages ‘slacktivism’, which is indeed a very valid concern:

Sites such as Avaaz, suggested Micah White in the Guardian last year, often only deal with middle-of-the-road causes, to the exclusion of niche interests: “They are the Walmart of activism . . . and silence underfunded radical voices.” More infamously, internet theorist Evgeny Morozov has called the likes of Avaaz “Slacktivists”, claiming that they encourage previously tenacious activists to become lazy and complacent.

There’s also the issue of breadth. Clicktivist websites often cover a range of issues that have little thematic or geographical relation to each other, which leaves them open to accusations of dilettantism.

Click here to read Patrick Kingsey’s full article in the Guardian.

Ricken Patel’s response to Kingsley is to point to their campaign against Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB:

“Our activism played a critical role in delaying the BskyB deal until the recent scandal was able to kill it,” Avaaz‘s founder, New York-based Ricken Patel, tells me via Skype. 5

So is this really the best example Avaaz has to offer? Since the BSkyB deal would undoubtedly have been stymied for all sorts of other reasons, not least of which were the various phone hacking scandals, and most shockingly, in the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone. This more than anything killed off the Murdoch bid for BSkyB.

We might also give a little grudging credit to Business Secretary Vince Cable, who in late 2010 revealed privately to undercover reporters that he was ‘declaring war’ on Rupert Murdoch. This caused such a storm that Tory leader David Cameron came out against Cable, describing his comments as “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”, whilst Labour leader Ed Miliband immediately followed suite saying that he would have gone further and sacked Cable 6. In any case, Murdoch was coming under attack from many fronts (including, as shown by Cable’s example, a maverick offensive from inside the government), and so there were already growing calls for a review of the BskyB deal. As it turns out, the deal itself was seriously compromised by a conflict of interests involving Ofcom Chairman Colette Bowe, not that this widely reported – I wrote a post on it just before the deal suddenly collapsed. In fact, I had tried in vain to get a number of politicians to look into this aspect of the case, but none at all even bothered to reply. The story the media were telling quickly moved on, and so the role of Ofcom remains more or less unscrutinised.

But I have a far bigger problem with Avaaz than simply the matter of its lack of effectiveness. Since even if Avaaz has achieved nothing concrete whatsoever, which might well be the case, its growing prominence as a campaign group is undoubtedly helping to frame the protest agenda. Picking and choosing what are and aren’t important issues is dilettantism, yes, and also, potentially at least, “the manufacturing of dissent”. Avaaz‘s defence is that it is an independent body – oh, really?

Co-founder and Director of Avaaz, Ricken Patel said in 2011 “We have no ideology per se. Our mission is to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. Idealists of the world unite!”

“No ideology per se”? So what then are we to make of your association with another organisation called Res Publica, of which Patel is a fellow, and Eli Pariser has also been a member of the Advisor Board.

Res Publica (US) is described by wikipedia as “a US organization promoting ‘good governance, civic virtue and deliberative democracy.’”, though there is no article on the group itself, and nor, for that matter, any entry on Ricken Patel himself. If I visit the Res Publica website, however, the link I immediately find takes me straight to George Soros’ Open Democracy group and also the International Crisis Group of which Soros is again a member of the Executive Committee. The International Crisis Group that gets such glowing endorsements from peace-loving individuals as (and here I quote directly from the website):

President Bill Clinton (‘in the most troubled corners of the world, the eyes, the ears and the conscience of the global community’); successive U.S. Secretaries of State (Condoleezza Rice: ‘a widely respected and influential organisation’, Colin Powell: ‘a mirror for the conscience of the world’ and Madeleine Albright: ‘a full-service conflict prevention organisation’); and former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke (‘a brilliant idea… beautifully implemented’ with reports like CrisisWatch ‘better than anything I saw in government’).

Whilst according to Res Publica‘s own website Ricken Patel has himself “consulted for the International Crisis Group, the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation…”

To cut to the quick then, Avaaz claims to independence are simply a sham. Whether foundation funded or not, you are undeniably foundation affiliated. Which brings me to your recent campaigns.

In a letter which I received on Wednesday 11th January, you wrote, typically vaingloriously, about the significance of Avaaz in bringing about and supporting the uprisings of Arab Spring:

Across the Arab world, people power has toppled dictator after dictator, and our amazing Avaaz community has been at the heart of these struggles for democracy, breaking the media blackouts imposed by corrupt leaders, empowering citizen journalists, providing vital emergency relief to communities under siege, and helping protect hundreds of activists and their families from regime thugs.

When all that I can actually recall is some jumping on the bandwagon and your support for the ‘shock and awe’ assault that we saw lighting up the skies over Tripoli. Gaddafi was ousted, of course, much as Saddam Hussein had been by the Bush administration, and likewise, the country remains in chaos. But does the removal of any dictator justify the killing of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people in the first months of the Libyan war – these figures according to Cherif Bassiouni, who led a U.N. Human Rights Council mission to Tripoli and rebel-held areas in late April. 7 Figures that officially rose to 25,000 people killed and 60,000 injured, after the attacks on Gaddafi’s besieged hometown of Sirte. 8 The true overall casualties of the Libyan war remain unknown, as they do in Iraq, although a conservative estimate is that around 30,000 people lost their lives. Avaaz, since you called for this, you must wash some of that blood from your own hands.

Now you are calling for ‘action’ against Syria, on the basis this time of your own report which finds that “crimes against humanity were committed by high-level members of the Assad regime”. Now, let me say that I do not in the least doubt that the Assad regime is involved in the secret detainment and torture of its opponents. The terrible truth is that such human rights abuses are routinely carried out all across the Middle East, and in many places on behalf or in collusion with Western security services such as the CIA. Back in September 2010, PolitiFact.com wrote about the Obama administration’s record on so-called “extraordinary renditions” [from wikipedia with footnote preserved]:

The administration has announced new procedural safeguards concerning individuals who are sent to foreign countries. President Obama also promised to shut down the CIA-run “black sites,” and there seems to be anecdotal evidence that extreme renditions are not happening, at least not as much as they did during the Bush administration. Still, human rights groups say that these safeguards are inadequate and that the DOJ Task Force recommendations still allow the U.S. to send individuals to foreign countries.[158]

Whilst back in April 2009, on the basis of what he had witnessed in Uzbekistan, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004, Craig Murray, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture”. In answers to questions, he explained to the committee how the UK government disguises its complicity and that he believed it has, in effect, helped to create “a market for torture”:

If I may refer to the documents on waterboarding and other torture techniques released recently in the United States on the orders of President Obama, if we are continuing to receive, as we are, all the intelligence reports put out by the CIA we are complicit in a huge amount of torture. I was seeing just a little corner in Uzbekistan. [p. 73]

I think the essence of the government’s position is that if you receive intelligence material from people who torture, be it CIA waterboarding, or torture by the Uzbek authorities or anywhere else, you can do so ad infinitum knowing that it may come from torture and you are still not complicit. [bottom p. 74]

Their position remains the one outlined by Sir Michael Wood, and it was put to me that if we receive intelligence from torture we were not complicit as long as we did not do the torture ourselves or encouraged it. I argue that we are creating a market for torture and that there were pay-offs to the Uzbeks for their intelligence co-operation and pay-offs to other countries for that torture. I think that a market for torture is a worthwhile concept in discussing the government’s attitude. [p. 75]

The government do not volunteer the fact that they very happily accept this information. I make it absolutely plain that I am talking of hundreds of pieces of intelligence every year that have come from hundreds of people who suffer the most vicious torture. We are talking about people screaming in agony in cells and our government’s willingness to accept the fruits of that in the form of hundreds of such reports every year. I want the Joint committee to be absolutely plain about that. [bot p.75] 9

Click here to watch all of parts of Craig Murray’s testimony.

Here is the introduction to Amnesty International‘s Report from last year:

Over 100 suspects in security-related offences were detained in 2010. The legal status and conditions of imprisonment of thousands of security detainees arrested in previous years, including prisoners of conscience, remained shrouded in secrecy. At least two detainees died in custody, possibly as a result of torture, and new information came to light about methods of torture and other ill-treatment used against security detainees. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, particularly flogging, continued to be imposed and carried out. Women and girls remained subject to discrimination and violence, with some cases receiving wide media attention. Both Christians and Muslims were arrested for expressing their religious beliefs.

But not for Syria – for Saudi Arabia report-2011.

And it continues:

Saudi Arabian forces involved in a conflict in northern Yemen carried out attacks that appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. Foreign migrant workers were exploited and abused by their employers. The authorities violated the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. At least 27 prisoners were executed, markedly fewer than in the two preceding years.

Further down we read that:

At least 140 prisoners were under sentence of death, including some sentenced for offences not involving violence, such as apostasy and sorcery.

Not that Amnesty‘s report on Syria report-2011 is any less deplorable:

The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody. The government failed to clarify the fate of 49 prisoners missing since a violent incident in 2008 at Saydnaya Military Prison, and took no steps to account for thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in earlier years. Women were subject to discrimination and gender-based violence; at least 22 people, mostly women, were victims of so-called honour killings. Members of the Kurdish minority continued to be denied equal access to economic, social and cultural rights. At least 17 people were executed, including a woman alleged to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse.

Please correct me, but so far as I’m aware, Avaaz have been entirely silent in their condemnation of the human rights violations of either Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia (two countries that maintain very close ties with the US). Silent too when Saudi forces brutally cracked down on the Arab Spring protests in neighbouring Bahrain. So one could be forgiven for thinking that when Avaaz picks and chooses its fights, those it takes up are, if not always in the geo-strategic interests of the United States, then certainly never against those interests.

Back to your call for action against Syria and the letter continues:

We all had hoped that the Arab League’s monitoring mission could stop the violence, but they have been compromised and discredited. Despite witnessing Assad’s snipers first-hand, the monitors have just extended their observation period without a call for urgent action. This is allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action, while the regime’s pathetic defense for its despicable acts has been that it is fighting a terrorist insurgency, not a peaceful democracy movement.

Well, I’m not sure that anyone was expecting much from the Arab League, but can you really justify what you are saying here? That the violence now taking place in Syria is against an entirely “peaceful democracy movement” and that Syria is in no way facing a terrorist insurgency. Not that such an insurgency is entirely unjustified; after all one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But that both sides are involved in atrocities, since both sides are evidently armed and the rebels are undeniably backed by militant Islamist groups.

Making statements such as “allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action”, directly implies that these foreign powers are simply protecting their own selfish interests (which is, of course, true), whereas the US is intent only on defending freedom and human rights. Such a gross oversimplification and plain nonsense.

So far, I note, Avaaz have not called for direct ‘military intervention’ in Syria, unlike in the shameful case of Libya. But given the timing of this latest announcement and on the basis of past form, I’m expecting petitions for what amounts to war (such as the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya) will follow soon enough.

And so to your latest campaign, which I received by email on Tuesday 10th April. It begins:

Dear Friends,

Today is a big day for Avaaz. If you join in, Avaaz might just move from having a small team of 40 campaigners to having 40,000!!

Then goes on to explain how the reach of Avaaz will be broadened by encouraging everyone to write their own campaign petitions:

So, to unlock all the incredible potential of our community to change the world, we’ve developed our website tools and website to allow any Avaazer to instantly start their *own* online petitions, tell friends, and win campaigns.

The site just went live – will you give it a try? Think of a petition you’d like to start on any issue – something impacting your local community, some bad behaviour by a distant corporation, or a global cause that you think other Avaaz members would care about. If your petition takes off, it may become an Avaaz campaign – either to members in your area, or even to the whole world!

On the face of it, you are offering a way for everyone to be involved. But 40,000 petitions…? Is this really going to change the world? I have an idea that maybe just five or six might serve the purpose better – here are my suggestions for four:

  • a call for those responsible within the Bush administration and beyond to be charged with war crimes for deliberately leading us into an illegal war with Iraq
  • the criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity of George W Bush and others who have publicly admitted to their approval of the use of torture
  • the repeal of NDAA 2012 and the rolling back of the unconstitutional US Patriot and Homeland Security Acts
  • a criminal investigation into the rampant financial fraud that created the current global debt crisis

So consider me a member of the team once more. I’m putting those four campaigns out there. Or at least I would have before I’d read your ‘Terms of Use’. For it concerns me that “In order to further the mission of this site or the mission of Avaaz, we may use, copy, distribute or disclose this material to other parties” but you do not then go on to outline who those ‘other parties’ might be. And you say you will “Remove or refuse to post any User Contributions for any or no reason. This is a decision Avaaz will strive to make fairly, but ultimately it is a decision that is solely up to Avaaz to make.”

Since you reserve the right to “remove or refuse to post” without making a clear statement of your rules and without any commitment to providing justification for such censorship, I see little reason in bothering to try. Doubtless others will attempt to build campaigns on your platform for actions regarding the very serious issues I have outlined above, and should they achieve this, then I will try to lend support to those campaigns. Alternatively, should I fail to come across campaigns formed around these and related issues, I will presume, rightly or wrongly (this is “a decision that is solely up to me to make”), that Avaaz prefers not to support such initiatives. Either way, I will not holding my breath.

*

1 From an article entitled “The West is silent as Libya falls into the abyss” written by Patrick Cockburn, published by The Independent on November 2, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-west-is-silent-as-libya-falls-into-the-abyss-9833489.html

2 From an article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” written by John Hillary, published in the Guardian on March 10, 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/10/internet-activists-libya-no-fly-zone

3 From an article entitled “Humanitarian Intervention: Recognizing When, and Why, It Can Succeed” written by Tom Perriello, published in Issue #23 Democracy Journal in Winter 2012. http://www.democracyjournal.org/23/humanitarian-intervention-recognizing-when-and-why-it-can-succeed.php?page=all

4 From an article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”, Part II, Section I, written by Cory Morningstar, published September 24, 2012. Another extract reads:

The 12 January 2012 RSVP event “Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring?” featured speakers from Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rosa Brooks of the New America Foundation, and none other than Tom Perriello, CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Perriello advanced his “ideology” during this lecture.

http://theartofannihilation.com/imperialist-pimps-of-militarism-protectors-of-the-oligarchy-trusted-facilitators-of-war-part-ii-section-i/ 

5 From an article entitled “Avaaz: activism or ‘slacktivism’?” written by Patrick Kingsley, published in the Guardian on July 20, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/20/avaaz-activism-slactivism-clicktivism

6 From an article entitled “Vince Cable to stay on as Business Secretary” published by BBC news on December 21, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12053656

7 From an article entitled “Up to 15,000 killed in Libya war: U.N. Right expert” reported by Reuters on June 9. 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/09/us-libya-un-deaths-idUSTRE7584UY20110609

8 From an article entitled “Residents flee Gaddafi hometown”, written by Rory Mulholland and Jay Deshmukh, published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 3, 2011. http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/residents-flee-gaddafi-hometown-20111003-1l49x.html

9 From the uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture” on April 28, 2009. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/152/152.pdf

Please note that when I originally posted the article the link was to a different version of the document, but it turns out that the old link (below) has now expired. For this reason I have altered the page references in accordance with the new document.

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:nogix7L1-kIJ:www.craigmurray.org.uk/Uncorrected%2520Transcript%252028%2520April%252009.doc+craig+murray+evidence+parliamentary+slect+commitee&hl=en&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjfCqyleDnk_maooZDF7iGJ5MC68Lb9zNDi5PCH8_9PwlwCybyXYiCD-A1E-O_j9Z5XgnOsKsvguvirw4jqJW9zjuor_secSn7aw_X1JIxHxjLw0CZON7vwOcfitFM1bB8MOsaO&sig=AHIEtbScxyI2eTh3HF2MA_yGyeAcyTsoiQ

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50 days and counting: mass hunger strike at Guantánamo is being ignored and downplayed

It is a frankly staggering but barely reported fact that the majority of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay – 86 of the 166 – have actually been cleared by the Obama administration to leave. Indeed, only a tiny fraction of the remaining “detainees” – as few as 34 – are ever likely to be charged by the US government. Yet, in spite of this, the more than fifty percent being held without any charge against them, still see little or no prospect of release after more than a decade of false imprisonment.

To highlight their continuing plight some of these inmates (and I will return to numbers in a moment) decided to go on hunger strike. A mass protest that started on February 6th and which is now into its eighth week. So far, however, the mainstream media has mostly ignored their protest altogether, with only Russia Today consistently reporting on the deteriorating situation at Guantánamo.

Democracy Now! also featured a report just over a fortnight ago on Wednesday March 13th, and this is what Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights as well as counsel for Ghaleb Al-Bihani, one of the hunger strikers, told us back then:

He [Ghaleb Al-Bihani] said what we’ve heard from every other detainee who has communicated with his lawyer since February, which is that there is a large-scale hunger strike in Camp 6, which is the largest of the facilities at Guantánamo. That prison holds about 130 men. He said that almost everyone, except for a few who are sick and elderly, are on strike.

He himself had lost over 20 pounds. He is a diabetic. His blood glucose levels are fluctuating wildly. He told me that medical staff at Guantánamo have told him his life is in danger. And he and others want us to get the word out about this.

At this time, the official version was that “only five or six” prisoners were involved in the hunger strike, but here’s Pardiss Kebriaei again:

They have downplayed the scale of the strikes and have said that there are only a handful on strike and only a handful being tube-fed. It may be a matter of semantics: the way that Guantánamo authorities define people on hunger strike is largely discretionary.

But what we have heard from every habeas counsel who has been down to the base or communicated with their clients since February is the same, which is that there is a large-scale strike, men are refusing food.

Click here to read a complete transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

And here’s a more recent Russia Today article from Monday [March 25th]:

US officials initially denied that a strike was taking place at all.

“As you recall, they started off by saying, ‘no one is on hunger strike, just five or six people who have been on the hunger strike for many years’. Then that figure was revised up to 14 and now we are seeing the figure steadily increasing, but to nowhere near the extent that the prisoners’ lawyers are talking about,” investigative journalist and author of ‘The Guantanamo Files’ Andy Worthington told RT.

Currently the officially-acknowledged number of Gitmo detainees on hunger strike has reached 26 people, according to the US Defense Department. Eight of them are being force-fed, which means they are administered food in the form of a nutritional supplement through a hose snaked into their nose while they are restrained in a chair.1

Click here to read more from the same Russia Today report or to watch video of the report.

Hidden away on the BBC website, you can also find this report from yesterday:

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is urgently sending a doctor to Guantanamo Bay because of a growing hunger strike among detainees.

The ICRC says the doctor and another group member are flying to Guantanamo a week earlier than planned “because of the current tensions” there.2

The same BBC article also reports that officially 31 of the 166 prisoners are now on hunger strike. The official figures rising as news of the hunger strike slowly leaks out… but why so slowly. Here are the thoughts of outspoken British MP George Galloway talking on Russia Today (and published in the same article):

“Nobody else is talking about this subject. If this were happening in Russia, if people disappeared into an illegal black hole in Russia and were facing indefinite incarceration, without trial, without charge and without access of attorneys, we’d never hear the end of it. The Western media would be full of it. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, they’d be screaming from the rooftops of Westminster.

But because this is an American crime, they’re allowed to get away with it. Because the people that control the so-called mainstream media are fully on side with the agenda of the Obama administration.”

Whatever you may think about Galloway, it is hard to deny the truth of much that he has to say. And the fact that during the past fifty days, our own media outlets have consistently declined to draw any serious attention to this important story ought to be a cause for concern for all of us.

Incidentally, I happen to be on the emailing lists of both Amnesty International and Avaaz and neither organisation has sent any news about the mass hunger strike taking place at Guantánamo, let alone any campaigns calling for action to be taken. Shame on both organisations.

*

The following is a Russia Today report from January last year, marking the tenth anniversary of the opening of Gitmo at Guantánamo Bay:

1 From an article entitled “’Nobody else talking about this’: Gitmo inmate hunger strike goes on” published by Russia Today on March 25, 2013. http://rt.com/news/guantanamo-hunger-strike-media-786/

2 From a BBC new report entitled “Guantanamo hunger strike prompts urgent Red Cross visit” published on Mnarch 27, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-21958255

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the unbearable lightness of online petitions

We have reached an altogether desperate state of affairs. Whilst the Lib-Con coalition are greedily snatching every last penny from the poor so as to bail out their rich friends who run the hedge funds, Miliband jr is absent without leave, and the parliamentary Labour party are barely able to muster any opposition to the most savage government programme of cuts in living memory (arguing feebly that the cuts ought to fall less swiftly on our unfortunate heads). Differences between the parties have become quantitative rather than qualitative. Indeed, the public could be forgiven for thinking that we have been led into some kind of “three-in-one party state”, although in this, we are simply following the American example, political convergence in the US having occurred decades earlier, with the Democrats barely distinguishable from the Republicans during most of my lifetime.

It happens then, that as public concern becomes increasingly at odds with actual political will, and we slowly awaken to the realisation of our own political impotence with feelings of anger and frustration, we have begun to look for new and different ways to raise our voices. And, as it happens, there is a way. Quite literally at our fingertips, a new and outstanding mechanism for getting ourselves heard. The fastest, widest-reaching, and least restricted system of communications ever devised. The internet offers potential that few ever dreamed of, and it appears to be the perfect place to restart our democracy again. Can it deliver this promise, becoming the major catalyst for real and lasting changes to what remains a deplorably unfair world? I wait in hope. I write in hope. And in hope, I occasionally double-click my support to a variety of links for petitions from the ever-growing number of online pressure groups.

Yes, online pressure groups. It all started back in 1998 with the launch of MoveOn.org, which was set up to challenge the impeachment of Bill Clinton. A campaign that had originally been called “Censure and move on”, and called upon supporters to add their names to an online petition demanding: “Congress must Immediately Censure President Clinton and Move On to pressing issues facing the country.” Then, a few years later, after the attacks of 9/11, MoveOn.org found a different role, as representative voice of the peace movement. I must have added my own name to dozens of their petitions around this time.

Now I’m guessing that you very likely have an online petition for something or other waiting in your inbox at this very moment. Someone forwarded it to you, a friend perhaps (possibly me), and now you’re wondering whether to bother following the link and clicking your own assent. Does it actually make one jot of difference whether you open it or simply delete? After all, what discernible effect can a few personal details and the cursory click of your mouse have on those with the executive power to make actual policy decisions? Well petitions do occasionally work, no doubt, and at a local level, for instance, petitions have undoubtedly slowed the ever-expanding supermarket takeover of our high streets, stalling corporate progress just a little bit. An online petition is just a bit easier – though not that much easier – than the old-fashioned pen and ink variety. So online petitions undoubtedly have a limited impact. Have petitions ever seriously altered the wider course of government policy? Well, there was the small victory with the forests I suppose. And on an international level? You probably can’t think of any instances, but might as well click anyway, adding your own micron of persuasion or dissent.

But hold it. Perhaps it really was too easy. Do you feel, however slight, any nagging doubts? After all, I’d be surprised if you took much trouble in checking into who is actually running the campaign in question, let alone ascertaining the faces behind the faces: the foundations and individuals who provided funds to keep the campaign offices running. Or if you did, then I’m guessing you probably didn’t recognise many, if indeed any, of those faces. Perhaps the major donors didn’t want their faces shown. In the case of MoveOn.org, international financier George Soros certainly kept a low profile when, in 2004, he gave the organisation a sum in the region of £1.5 million (chicken feed to Soros but a small fortune to any growing pressure group).12

So now you’re on the mailing list. One petition after another, awaiting approval in your inbox. A whole host of internet pressure groups that you’d previously never heard of, run by groups of people you’ve never met and doubtless never will, all constantly tugging at your overly twisted arm for ongoing and renewed support. Fresh campaigns for new causes. And many of the causes you agree with, whilst others you may feel cautious about. You can be selective of course, but then by supporting the causes you approve of, aren’t you inadvertently lending support to the pressure group in a more general sense? So when MoveOn.org later put its burgeoning weight behind the Obama campaign, did my earlier support against the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, also help to carry the vote for Obama’s election into office?

Which brings me to Avaaz. “Avaaz is a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere”, says the website blurb, which sounds great, albeit in a kind of wishy-washy corporate-speak sort of fashion. Launched in 2007, it began as a direct off-shoot of MoveOn.org, though quickly outgrowing its parent organisation, as it became the fastest expanding of all internet pressure groups. According to its own website again, the aim of Avaaz (which simply means “voice”) is to “empower[s] millions of people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues”, which it achieves by setting overall priorities in accordance with results of its annual all-member polls. (And you can Click here to see the results of last year’s poll.) There is no agenda as such, no ideology, no corporate sponsors, but only a fresh approach to democracy. So is democracy effectively broadened on the basis of such internet polls? And can the world really be so radically reshaped, as Avaaz very boldly asserts, by means of regular email petitions? Co-founder and director, Ricken Patel, explained the mission of Avaaz to BBC HARDtalk in this interview broadcast in 2008.

Avaaz.org’s executive director, Ricken Patel, is interviewed by BBC’s Stephen Sackur on HARDtalk.

Back in March 2003, I put my name to a MoveOn.org emergency appeal to the UN Security Council which read: “The stakes couldn’t really be much higher. A war with Iraq could kill tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and inflame the Middle East. According to current plans, it would require an American occupation of the country for years to come. And it could escalate in ways that are horrifying to imagine.” Unfortunately that petition had no effect. It fell on deaf ears and the ensuing war cost not tens, but hundreds of thousands of lives, so many in fact, that our governments very quickly decided to stop counting. And now, almost exactly eight years on, I have received the following appeal from its offspring organisation, Avaaz: “Together, we’ve sent 450,000 emails to the UN Security Council, “overwhelming” the Council President and helping to win targeted sanctions and a justice process for the Libyan people. Now, to stop the bloodshed, we need a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.” [Bold as in the original.]

Of course, “a no-fly zone” is actually a euphemism for a military operation that necessarily involves an intensive bombing campaign to ensure the total destruction of a country’s air defences. Avaaz are saying this is a necessary measure to protect Libyans from the brutal oppression of the Gaddafi regime, which may be correct, though any talk of humanitarian intervention in Libya, or anywhere for that matter, rings a little hollow given our recent record of “humanitarian intervention” in other parts of the Middle East. So is there really nothing ideological in Avaaz’s sudden call to arms?

The email continues: “The head of NATO, meanwhile, has said that any effort to create a no-fly zone would first require a resolution from the UN. In many crises like this one, one UN country or another has vetoed strong positions — but with Libya, something different has already begun. The Security Council’s sanctions are real. UN Ambassadors say that representatives are “substantially united” that Qaddafi has to go. What’s needed now is another push from the world’s people. A resolution wouldn’t be a silver bullet — the enforcement of a no-fly zone would be dangerous and complex. But even the serious threat of one could show Qaddafi that his time is up.” Could it be that military intervention in Libya will require an occupation of the country for years to come? Or that it could escalate in ways that are horrifying to imagine? Is this what they mean by “dangerous and complex”? To get a better picture of what Avaaz might be meaning, I recommend watching their own award-winning short film “Stop the Clash of Civilisations”. This eye-catching animation paints the whole world as “dangerous and complex”, and as an infuriating confusion of shades of grey. The implication presumably being that right and wrong are matters only of opinion. With regards to where Avaaz actually stands politically, I felt none the wiser…

Avaaz currently claims to have a community of more than 7 million members, whilst admitting if pressed, that membership actually involves nothing more arduous than accepting the regular email drops (and having responded to past campaigns, presumably I too speak in the capacity of being an Avaaz member). They also claim to have “an ethic of servant leadership”; a statement of principle which can be read in two entirely different ways. They want us, of course, to understand that Avaaz are our servants, amplifying our voices and helping us to be heard, although it would be equally fair to say that “work[ing] with partners and experts to develop effective, member-driven campaign strategies”, means they may unwittingly be helping to lead the serfs by setting the agenda of their “partners and experts”.

The hard truth is that it actually makes no difference to the UN or the American or British governments what Avaaz demands, so be assured that the decision whether or not to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya was determined, as it always is, primarily on the basis of geostrategic interests. If two million people marching in London cannot change a government’s foreign policy, then what  sway do a few virtual signatures carry? When it comes to matters of such international importance, what pressure groups like Avaaz and MoveOn.org can and do achieve, however, is to help shape and inform sections of public opinion. Because Avaaz is really just another kind of brand. If we see the Avaaz logo on petition it helps to change how we feel about it. Understood this way, Avaaz is yet another small resonant component of the endlessly reverberating political echo chamber we now live in. But then, of course, you can always unsubscribe.

1 “Founded on millions of small donations, MoveOn.org hit the jackpot when it was embraced in 2004 by George Soros and his circle of rich friends, who later organized themselves into a loosely structured coalition known as the Democracy Alliance.” Click here to read full article from The Center for Public Integrity.

2 “The Democratic 527 organizations have drawn support from some wealthy liberals determined to defeat Bush. They include financier George Soros and his wife, Susan Weber Soros, who gave $5 million to ACT and $1.46 million to MoveOn.org; Peter B. Lewis, chief executive of the Progressive Corp., who gave $3 million to ACT and $500,000 to MoveOn; and Linda Pritzker, of the Hyatt hotel family, and her Sustainable World Corp., who gave $4 million to the joint fundraising committee.” Click here to read full article from the Washington Post.

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