A World to Win News Service for 4 February 2018 contains three articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.
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The weaponization and targets of the debate about “Polish death camps”
4 February 2018. A World to Win News Service. Poland’s parliament has passed a bill criminalizing the use of the term “Polish death camps” to refer to Auschwitz and other concentration camps located in Poland where about three million Jews and as many as three million other people were killed during World War 2. This law is a serious step in Poland’s march toward implementing fascism. At the same time, the widespread condemnation of this law has been marked by falsification and hypocrisy on a grand scale. The U.S., Israeli and other governments have condemned it only to further their own murderous objectives.
The bill, now awaiting the Polish president’s signature, threatens up to three years in prison for “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich”. People engaged in “artistic or scientific activities” could be exempted. But their fate would be up to a court system increasingly under the control of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), whose Interior Minister notoriously called a neo-Nazi march of tens of thousands last November a “beautiful sight”.
The law is a provocation, deliberately inviting criticism by the European Union and Israel, so as to paint Poland a victim. It was carefully written to withstand legal challenges. Narrowly considered and taken without context, it does not trample on the facts. It is incontestable that there was no Polish state at the time of the Holocaust. Unlike other countries that were invaded or otherwise dominated by Germany during the war, like Hungary, France, Norway, etc., the Nazis smashed the existing state and ruled Poland with no local collaborationist government. They considered Poles and all Slavs an inferior “race” only slightly better than Jews. Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death camps on Polish soil were entirely German operations.
As for the part about “the Polish nation”, while it might be arguable in court, the use of “nation” is mystical (implying that Poles who aided the Nazis should not be considered truly Polish), and leaves out the following basic facts.
Anti-Semitism played a basic part in the construction of Poland’s identity as a Catholic nation – an identity revived by its current government. Somewhat like white supremacy in the U.S., the exclusion and oppression of Jews were built into the structure of Polish society. Ordinary Poles committed mass violence against Jews long before the Nazi invasion, during the occupation, and even after the defeat of the occupying German army.
Accounts of Jews who survived the genocide describe the dilemma of desperately needing help to hide or flee, and yet not being able to trust the Poles around them. The problem was not that all non-Jewish Poles were anti-Semitic but there was usually no way of knowing in advance what any particular Polish person would do. Many betrayed Jews to the Nazis, some out of fear, others out of prejudice or greed. In one notorious case (Jedwabne, 1941), more than three hundred Jews were rounded up, locked in a barn and burned to death by their own neighbours without Nazi intervention.
Yet many Poles risked their lives or died to defend victims of the Nazis. For instance, the revolt of Jews imprisoned by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto would not have been able to hold out as long as it did without weapons and medical supplies smuggled in from the outside by some Polish underground forces and ordinary civilians. Polish families welcomed escapees from the ghetto into their apartments, taking care of them until they could recover from starvation, illness or wounds and resume their flight. If the Germans found them in someone’s home, all the family members and often the building concierge would be shot. To take one example, the Iwanska family living outside the ghetto walls was in charge of the sewer that was a main conduit for people and supplies. They also set up an infirmary in their flat. The parents learned that their young son had joined the Jewish resistance only when they found his corpse among the bodies of other fallen fighters they were helping bring out for burial. While one-sidedly absolving the “Polish nation”, the Polish government does not honour such heroes.
It’s right to put the main blame on the Nazis. But there is a great deal of hypocrisy on the part of the reactionaries criticising Poland for all this. The founders and early leaders of today’s German state included many people who had been complicit in the Nazi regime. Moreover, the US and UK refused to take action to stop the functioning of the death camps. Survivors of Auschwitz recount their feeling of utter abandonment when they saw British and American bombers flying overhead to hit targets considered strategic for the US and UK’s war aims. Those aims did not include saving lives by destroying the railway system carrying people to their death at the rate of tens of thousands a day. In ignoring these facts, most of the international condemnation of Poland for avoiding responsibility for the genocide is profoundly self-serving and dishonest.
The Polish government’s stance towards the Holocaust is the opposite of “Never again”. The point of this law is to wipe the slate clean and start out all over, exalting the unstained “Polish nation” – “Pure Poland, white Poland” as the neo-Nazi marchers in November chanted – burnishing the image of the Catholic fascism that is its ideology, and embracing calls for “a Moslem Holocaust” this time. Criticizing this regime for distorting history cannot evade the question of why this is happening now. Further, Poland can’t be treated as just an odd case, intrinsically and uniquely flawed. Its government is very conscious of its role as a spearhead of the fascist trend in Europe, now in power in Ukraine, Poland, Hungry, Slovakia and Austria, and strongly influencing “mainstream politics” in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy and other countries, including the UK. Perversely, the Trump administration has joined in criticizing this Polish law to advance its own fascist agenda and ideology. Like the new law itself, this requires explanation and context.
Trump has particularly close ties with the Polish government. His first overseas visit was to Warsaw, where unlike previous U.S. presidents and other heads of state, he skipped the formality of visiting Auschwitz. Poles understood his speech calling on them to “defend with your life” the fight for “family, for freedom, for country, and for God” as an encouragement of the fascist project. Why would the U.S. regime, headed by someone infamous for saying there are “fine people” among Nazis and other white supremacists, be bothered by this new law?
The reason was revealed by his vice president Mike Pence in a speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, around the same time that Poland’s parliament passed the bill. Pence, who calls himself a Catholic evangelical, frankly put forward the religious fundamentalist vision shared by Trump’s evangelical “base” as a whole, sanctifying Trump’s programme for a fascist country seeking to become “great again” on a world level even at the cost of nuclear war and the genocidal slaughter of millions, starting with Koreans. These “Christian Zionists”, as many call themselves, believe that we are entering the “end-times” of history, the second coming of Christ, soon to occur when Jews take over all of Jerusalem and accept him as their saviour. (At that time, those Jews who fail to convert to Christianity will be consigned to eternal flames like all other non-believers.) This ideology, with the apocalyptic wars it welcomes, is no less potentially genocidal in its implications than Nazism.
Of course, until that day, these people and their fuhrer Donald Trump will back the state of Israel, a key outpost needed for the U.S.’s world-crushing project. Christian and other varieties of fascism, and Zionism, are bound to be embroiled in doctrinal conflicts, but they are celebrating a marriage made in hell. Israeli leaders criticized the Polish law for criminalizing political and historical debate. But what are the chances that this argument will be applied to their own government for criminalizing debate about the origins of Israel, built on the expulsion and subjugation of the Palestinians!? And how can Israeli politicians scold Poland on free speech grounds when they recently made it illegal for anyone anywhere in the world to support the boycott of the Zionist state? (A position shared by the U.S. and France.)
People need to realize what’s going on with these supposedly “historical” debates. The point is not that history necessarily repeats itself, nor that we can understand our world today by searching for analogies from the past. But events in recent memory show what could happen – that the kind of things that at one moment seem unthinkable can, as contradictions tighten, come to pass. Looking at the aims behind today’s “historical” debate, we can see where the rise of fascism could take humanity. That’s how history will judge us – and what should determine our course of action.
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“Ode to the Sea” – Art from Guantanamo prison
4 February 2018. A World to Win News Service. This was an unusual art exhibition in many ways.
For one thing, the paintings, sculptures and installations made by Guantanamo prisoners were not on view in a gallery or museum. They were hung in a corridor in New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which unlike other art venues has neither an exorbitant admission fee nor an unspoken dress code, but does require visitors to have their ID details recorded. A policeman was posted at the show entrance. (The exhibition closed 28 January, but the visuals and texts can still be accessed at www.artfromguantanamo.com and www.postprintmagazine.com)
For another thing, as curator Erin Thompson points out in the catalogue, “Some of the detainees’ works look like art exercises produced by students anywhere – but they were made by men shackled to the floor of the art classroom.”
Further, for the eight artists included in this show, the sea means something very different than the kind of picturesque setting some people seek out as a suitable subject for open air painting. They didn’t seek their sea-side location at all. They were brought to Guantanamo in chains, some after months and even years of torture and solitary confinement, often beaten along the way, and when they got there, threatened with drowning. And despite the fact that since then they have spent 10 to 16 years in cells only a few meters from the water’s edge, they are not allowed to see the sea.
Their view of the bay is deliberately obstructed by fences covered with canvas. A prisoner quoted in the show texts says that when holes appeared and men tried to see through them, they saw more rows of covered fences. Only once, for a few days when a hurricane approached, were the tarps removed. For the most part, curator Thompson writes, these prisoners paint not what they see but what they wish they could see.
Thompson discusses why the sea – its waters and shores, sometimes soothing and sometimes devouring, and boats, sometimes nostalgic and sometimes terrifyingly empty – is such a major theme here, although not the only one. Seldom are there people in these works. We see hands and eyes, but rarely are full faces depicted.
One reason, of course, is that human portraits take more skill and imperfections ruin them. All the more because these prisoners most often work with brushes or their hands, not allowed to use pencils, palette knives or any other hard object. Thompson mentions that Islamic thought – all of these men are from Moslem-majority countries – often forbids human representation. She also says that many of the prisoners, particularly from Afghanistan, have never seen an ocean, and wanted to be shown what one looks like.
But the most striking reasons, she concludes, have to do with the conditions of their confinement. The U.S. military scrutinizes and scans every piece of paper leaving Guantanamo, supposedly to check for hidden messages. Any artwork considered to have political or ideological content is not allowed out. That means it’s forbidden to depict suffering. Prisoners understand that their artwork will be examined to determine their state of mind. Any display of anger – or any emotional expression the authorities deem a sign of a dangerous disposition – will be held against them. The majority of the 41 men remaining in Guantanamo have never been charged, and five have been “cleared for release” but remain imprisoned, so that any hope that they will not die there depends on the pleasure of the authorities.
No matter where any of these men may stand in relation to jihadi groups or Islamic fundamentalism in general, trends contending with Western imperialist domination with the goal of establishing extremely oppressive states and societies, that is not an apparent issue in any of the 36 pieces in this show. The underlying theme is how the criminal treatment inflicted on these prisoners has shaped how they see the world. For them the sea is a safe subject – and can serve as a screen on which their feelings, however deliberately muted, can be projected. Some of the pieces in this show are moving even if you didn’t know much about the context in which they were produced. A few are memorable.
One is by Ammar Al-Baluchi, a Kuwait-born Pakistani citizen held and tortured by the CIA for three and a half years before being brought to Guantanamo, where he is still being tortured, according to the UN Human Rights Office (Independent, 14 December 2017). His Vertigo at Guantanamo is an abstract drawing meant to show the sensations that have afflicted him since suffering brain damage during “enhanced interrogation”.
Ahmed Rabbani’s non-representational work is also powerfully evocative. A taxi driver from Karachi, he says, he has spent almost 13 years in Guantanamo after being detained and tortured by the CIA. He has gone on several hunger strikes to proclaim his innocence, and endured force-feeding through tubes inserted in a way meant to be very painful. He describes his Untitled (Binoculars Pointed at the Moon) as a response to his “infatuation” with the November 2016 “strange event where the moon was at its closest point to the earth since 70 years ago.” The catalogue adds, “The countless unseeing eyes at the end of binoculars seem to represent the authorities who have scrutinized every aspect of Rabbani’s life without, as he claims, understanding it at all.”
The show also includes more conventional but still effective work. Ghaleb Al-Binhani’s lighthouse has gone dark. Djamel Ameziane, a refugee from Algeria, made the watercolour Untitled (Shipwrecked Boat) after being held for five additional years, even though “cleared for release”, before being sent back to the country he had fled. He told his lawyers that at the time he felt like the empty, battered, storm-driven ship it depicts. Muhammad Ansi, the artist most represented in this show, also paints the sea as an all-consuming monster in Untitled (Storm at Sea). In Untitled (Alan Kurdi), after the famous photos of the drowned Syrian refugee child lying on a beach, the seething sea is not so much a force of nature as the tormented world where he and Alan and all of us live.
One last reason why this show was unique: Obama’s policy toward Guantanamo (and torture) was carefully ambiguous, as if it were an embarrassment and it would be best if the public didn’t think about it. Trump, the banner of Moslems and an extremely loud advocate of torture, has promised to “load it up” – making it emblematic of the way he intends to run the country and the world. Maybe that’s what this powerful exhibition was meant to warn about.
The show so enraged the U.S. military that it announced that from now on all art produced in its Caribbean hellhole would be considered government property. None of the art that has escaped can be sold, and no more will be allowed out. Journalists have been told that the U.S. government intends to burn it all. A few days after the exhibition closed, Trump announced the prison will be kept open for new arrivals
Protests in Mexico City against the fascist Trump/Pence regime
26 January 2018. A World to Win News Service. The following was posted in Spanish on Aurora Roja, voice of the Revolutionary Communist Organization (OCR), Mexico (aurora-roja.blogspot.com).
In unity with the large-scale protests in several cities in the U.S. on 20 January, a year after the the fascist Trump/Pence regime came into office, between 350 and 400 people marched in Mexico City, from Independence avenue to the U.S. embassy, where a protest rally was held. Participants included a large contingent of street vendors from the city of Puebla, about 45 students from a teachers’ college in Michoacan, organizations to defend migrants and the People’s Revolutionary Movement (MPR), among others.
Among the slogans heard were, “Get out Trump, get out [Mexican president] Peña, down with the whole system,” and “No, in the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist USA!”.Supporters of revolutionary communism chanted others as well, such as “Humanity needs communist revolution” and “The system has no solution to its crisis, the only solution is revolution!”
Among other solidarity messages, one was from a Brazilian. At the end the group Huizache Rap played. When we were leafleting, a man told us, “I was forced out of Veracruz. The drug dealers took everything I had. I went to the authorities, but I realized that the army is with the narcos. I had to leave for the capital. Here we’re working as best we can, but I’m feeling very bad…” This is only one of the innumerable crimes of the capitalist-imperialist world system.
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