Posts Tagged ‘UNESCO’

William Blum on the Economic Reasons behind the New Cold War

December 8, 2017

William Blum, the veteran and very highly informed critic of American imperialism, has put up a new edition of his Anti-Empire Report. This is, as usual, well worth reading. In it he attacks the new Cold War being fought with Russia, and reminds us of the stupidity and hysteria of the first.

Blum does a great job of critiquing the claim that the Russians interfered in the American election. He points out that the American intelligence services actually know how to disguise the true origins of Tweets, and questions the motives imputed to the Russians. He states that the Russians presumably don’t think that America is a banana republic, which can be easily influenced and its government overthrown by an outside power. He also questions the veracity of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Clapper is one of those claiming that the Russians did influence the election. But as Blum reminds us, Clapper himself is a liar. He lied to Congress when he was asked if the American intelligence apparatus was spying on its citizens. He said ‘No’. The answer, as revealed by Edward Snowden, was very definitely ‘Yes’.

He then gives a long list of instances from the First Cold War where people were unfairly accused of Communism and persecuted. For example, in 1948 the Pittsburgh Press published the names, addresses and places of work of 1,000 people, who had signed the form backing the former vice-president, Henry Wallace’s campaign for the presidency, as Wallace was running for the Progressive Party.

Then there’s the case of the member of a local school board, who decided that the tale of Robin Hood should be banned, because he was a ‘Communist’. Which is good going, considering that the tales of Robin Hood date from the 14th/15th centuries and are about a hero who lived in the 13th – six centuries before Karl Marx. However, this woman wasn’t the only one to dislike the tales for political reasons. The compiler of a children’s book of stories about heroes deliberately left him out in favour of Clym of Clough, a similar archer outlaw, but from ‘Bonnie Carlisle’, partly because Hood was too well-known, but also because he thought there was something ‘political’ about the stories.

Blum also covers the way Conservatives claimed that the USSR was responsible for the rise in drug abuse in America, and was deliberately creating it in order to undermine American society. He also states that the Russians were also trying to destroy America through fluoridation of the water. As General Jack D. Ripper says in Dr. Strangelove: ‘We must keep our bodily fluids pure.’

Then there are the pronouncements that American universities were all under Communist influence, and the reason why American sports teams were also failing was because of Communist influence.

The anti-Communist hysteria was also used to denounce and vilify the United Nations. Blum writes

1952: A campaign against the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) because it was tainted with “atheism and communism”, and was “subversive” because it preached internationalism. Any attempt to introduce an international point of view in the schools was seen as undermining patriotism and loyalty to the United States. A bill in the US Senate, clearly aimed at UNESCO, called for a ban on the funding of “any international agency that directly or indirectly promoted one-world government or world citizenship.” There was also opposition to UNESCO’s association with the UN Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds that it was trying to replace the American Bill of Rights with a less liberty-giving covenant of human rights.

Oh yes, and rock and roll, pop music and the Beatles were also seen as part of a Communist plot to destroy American moral fibre. A few decades later, in the 1980s, the same right-wing pastors were saying the same thing, though this time the tendency was to blame Satanists rather than Commies.

And the list goes on, including instances from the 1980s when visiting Russians were subjected hostility and abuse because they were perceived as a danger to the US, thanks to films like Rambo and Red Dawn.

The report ends with Blum discussing Al Franken, a Democrat politician and broadcaster, who is now accused of sexual assault. Blum argues that the real issue that should get people angry at Franken is the fact that he backed the Iraq War, and went out there to entertain the troops, showing that he was perfectly happy with the illegal and bloody invasion of another country.

He also reveals that the list of people, who have been on RT, was compiled by a Czech organisation with the name European Values, which produced the report
The Kremlin’s Platform for ‘Useful Idiots’ in the West: An Overview of RT’s Editorial Strategy and Evidence of Impact. Blum states that it’s not exhaustive, as he’s been on it five times, and they haven’t mentioned him.

He also notes the RT’s Facebook page has four million followers and that it claims to be ‘the most watched news network’. It’s YouTube channel has two million likes. And so is this the reason why the American authorities have thrown away freedom of the press and forced it to register as a foreign agent.

He also comments on the way Theresa May has also got in on the act of blaming the Russians for everything, and is accusing them of interfering in Brexit.

But what I found interesting was this piece, where quotes another writer on the real reason the Americans are stoking another Cold War:

Writer John Wight has described the new Cold War as being “in response to Russia’s recovery from the demise of the Soviet Union and the failed attempt to turn the country into a wholly owned subsidiary of Washington via the imposition of free market economic shock treatment thereafter.”

https://williamblum.org/aer/read/153

This makes sense of a lot of murky episodes from the Cold War. I think Lobster has also commented several times on the way Conservative have accused the USSR of causing the drug crisis. I distinctly remember one of the columnist for Reader’s Digest, Clare Somebody, running this story in the 1980s. If memory serves me right, she also claimed that the Russians were doing so in cahoots with Iran. The Iranian theocracy are a bunch of thugs, but somehow I don’t think they can be accused of causing mass drug addiction in the West. They’re too busy fighting their own. I can’t remember the woman’s surname, but I do remember that she turned up later as one of the neocons frantically backing George W. Bush.

As for the campaign against the United Nations on the grounds that internationalism is unpatriotic, that’s still very much the stance of the Republicans in America. It’s part and parcel of the culture of American exceptionalism, which angrily denounces and rejects any attempt to hold America accountable to international justice, while upholding America’s right to interfere in everybody else’s affairs and overthrow their governments. ‘Cause America is a ‘shining city on a hill’ etc.

As for wishing to bring down Putin, because he’s shaken off the chains of American economic imperialism, that’s more than plausible. American big business and the state poured tens of millions into Yeltsin’s election campaign back in the 1990s, including his crash privatisation of the Russian economy. Which just about destroyed it. In which case, it shows that Lenin was right all those decades ago, when he described how pre-Revolutionary Russia was enchained by western economic imperialism. And perhaps the world, or at least, anybody who does not want their country to be bought up by American capitalism, should be grateful to the Archiplut for showing that a nation can defy American capitalism.

Advertisements

RT: Trump Puts Israel’s Interests Above America’s in Withdrawal from UNESCO

October 20, 2017

In this short video from RT America, they interview Max Blumenthal on the withdrawal this week from the United Nations’ cultural organisation, UNESCO, by America and Israel. The two countries have claimed that the organisation is profoundly anti-Semitic. He says that the Israelis would far rather have been in the organisation, haranguing it from inside. Blumenthal states that Israel was more or less forced to leave the organisation against its own wishes by Trump’s decision to quit. He makes the point that Washington would never have left it, if they thought it was biased against France or Spain. He also says that America owes UNESCO $500 million, which it now no longer has to pay back. The bigger question, he also suggests, is why Israel was ever allowed into the UN in the first place, considering its Talibanesque destruction of Palestinian archaeology and historic monuments. He also states that the present coalition government in Israel, led by Likud, includes the 3rd Temple Foundation, who would like to tear down the al-Aqsa Mosque in order to rebuild Solomon’s Temple. The mosque is the third holiest in Islam, and its destruction would start a war throughout the region.

The programme then discusses Trump’s decertification of the nuclear deal this week with Iran. One of the foreign policy advisors, Ben Rhodes, has said that Trump’s withdrawal from UNESCO, his decertification of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and his threatened withdrawals against NAFTA, the TPP and other international agreements, means that no other country will trust America. Blumenthal also comments that Trump’s decertification will strengthen the hand of the hardliners inside the Iranian government, against the current liberalisation that the country is going through. He also makes the point that Trump’s decision has been influenced by ‘Israel-first’ billionaires, like Sheldon Adelson, who have contributed millions to his campaign.

The news that the Likudnik coalition includes maniacs, who would like to destroy the al-Aqsa, or Dome of the Rock, Mosque is terrifying. There have been several attempts by Jewish extremists to destroy the Mosque already in the hope that by doing so they will start an apocalyptic war that will lead to the restoration of the Temple and the coming of the Messiah. The same belief is held by some of the extreme right-wing Christian Fundamentalists, who hope that it will bring about Christ’s return to Earth. This apocalypticism is one of the main influences behind Christian Zionism.

I’ve read, however, that the Mosque isn’t built over the remains of Solomon’s Temple. Stephen Runciman, in his History of the Crusades, states that the mosque was built where the caliph Omar prayed after conquering Palestine. Omar did not pray at a site already venerated by the country’s Jewish and Christian inhabitants, as he realised his followers would want to turn it into a mosque. So he deliberately chose a place outside the Temple precincts, where rubbish was dumped.

As for the destruction of Palestinian monuments, I would have liked to know much more about this. The Israelis have destroyed immense numbers of Palestinian homes and villages as part of their campaign of ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Arabs. Blumenthal himself in the clip refers to the way Arab villages are being bulldozed in order to build settler colonies.

I am, however, aware that Muslims in Britain are very much aware, and very concerned about the closure of Palestinian mosques. I did part of my minor degree in religious studies, which included modules on Islam. One of the pieces of literature I read researching British Islam was the Muslim ‘parish’ magazine for the congregation in a British mosque. Apart from the local news, it also covered the closure of a mosque in Israel, and its conversion into a disco/ nightclub by the Israelis. This is to them a shocking sacrilege, and it would be to many other religions if their centres of worship were treated in this way.

The newsletter also reported that a local Christian church in the same area of the mosque had also been closed. This is something you definitely don’t hear about from the very pro-Israel Christian Zionist right. The impression these organisations try to give is that Israel is very positive towards Christianity, and that Christians are religiously obliged to give their absolute support to the country. As opposed to the Arabs, who are bitterly opposed to Christianity. Yet I can remember being told by a former local priest, that in his experience of visiting Israel and Syria, it was Syria that had a far more tolerant attitude towards Christian antiquities and those visiting them.

I don’t mention this in order to stir up any kind of religious hatred against Jews. I am very much aware that Jews have suffered horrendous persecution by Christians down the centuries, and am very definitely opposed to it. I am merely trying to make the point that Christians in America and elsewhere are not being told the whole truth about the state of religious politics in Israel. They are being instead presented with a very biased and distorted account that places the blame almost wholly on Muslims.

ISIS Destruction of Antiquities and Respect for Archaeology in Iran

April 12, 2015

Nimrud Map

Map of Nimrud drawn in 1856 by Felix Jones

The Independent reported today that ISIS had released a video of themselves destroying the ancient Babylonian city of Nimrud. Its destruction was reported back in March, but this is the first time footage has been shown of it. The video shows the terrorists attacking the city and its antiquities with pneumatic drills, anglegrinders and sledgehammers. They then laid explosives, and blew the site up.

Irinia Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, the section of the UN that oversees the world’s cultural heritage, denounced the destruction, saying that the “deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime”.

I couldn’t agree more.

The Indie’s article can be read at: http://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/other/isis-video-shows-complete-destruction-of-ancient-city-of-nimrud-in-iraq/ar-AAaTuAG?ocid=OIE9HP

I’ve already blogged about ISIS’ destruction of Nimrud, and the other cultural treasures of Mosul, and the Christian and Muslim shrines to the patriarch Seth, revered by Moslems as the prophet Sheth, St. George and others. ISIS have claimed that they are destroying these antiquities because they are somehow blasphemous or un-Islamic. In fact, they are attacking them purely because these monuments don’t conform to their own, extremely narrow religious views. They’re a deliberate, calculated assault on the cultural heritage and identity of Iraq’s people. ISIS fear them because they present an alternative, secular national and religious pluralist identity to the absolute conformity ISIS wish to foist on them.

It’s also been suggested that more worldly, venal motives were involved in Nimrud’s destruction. ISIS may have been looting the site to raise money to buy more arms by selling the antiquities illegally. They levelled the city to disguise what they’d done. So their claim that they were destroying the city for religious reasons may have been just a load of lies to disguise what they really are: a bunch of thieves and grave robbers.

Archaeology in Iran

ISIS’ contempt for the region’s heritage contrasts with Iran, where, with some qualifications, archaeology is still valued. John Simpson in one of his books described the way an angry mob was ready to destroy the depictions of the Persian shahs at Naqsh-i-Rustem in the 1979 revolution, but were prevented from doing so by the carvings’ guard. He stopped them by telling them that they were instead depictions of Hassan and Hussein, the two sons of the Imam Ali, the founder of Shi’ism.

In the 1990s there was a minimal Western archaeological presence in Iran, though I believe it has been expanded since then. I once bumped into one of the lecturers in the archaeological department at Uni nearly ten years ago, who had just returned from excavating an early Islamic city in Iran.

And a few years ago the British Museum loaned the Cyrus Cylinder, shown below, to the Islamic Republic.

Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder records the conquest of Babylonia by the great Persian king Cyrus, or Kourash, as he is known in Persian. After the conquest, he issued an edict permitting the peoples exiled in Babylon to return to their homelands, returned their gods, and assisted in the reconstruction of their temples. These included the Jews, who returned to Israel, for which the Persians are praised in the Bible.

I was taught at College that Islam similarly regarded Zoroastrians as ‘Peoples of the Book’, who, like Jews and Christians, worshipped the one God, and whose worship was therefore protected.

British Museum’s loan of the Cylinder to Iran was of major diplomatic and cultural significance. Firstly, it was party of a general thaw in relations between Britain and the Islamic Republic. Secondly, it also showed the confidence that the Museum in the Cylinder’s safety. The repatriation of cultural artefacts looted by Western scholars from the other cultures around the world is a major issue in archaeology and the heritage sector. Many nations and ethnic groups are rightly angered at the appropriation of valuable or important religious items from their cultures, including human remains. A few years ago, for example, BBC 2 screened a series looking behind the scenes at the British Museum. Amongst the Museum’s other work, it showed the delicate negotiations surrounding the repatriation of the remains of Aboriginal Tasmanians to their descendants.

Other items remain, and their retention is immensely controversial. The Elgin Marbles is a case in point.

The Museum has, however, a policy of not returning antiquities to countries where their safety can’t be guaranteed. The looting and destruction of ancient monuments and archaeological finds is a real problem, particularly in the developing world. And it isn’t unknown here either. There have been digs in Britain, that have been wrecked and the finds looted by Nighthawks. There have also been a number of curators and museum directors, who have been caught illegally selling off objects from the very collections they were supposed to be maintaining.

The loan of the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran, by contrast, showed that the British authorities had every confidence that their fellows in Iran would respect and value it, and that Britain and Iran could have good relations in the exploration of that nation’s ancient past and its treasures.

This is another excellent reason why the Repugs are stupid to want another war with Iran. Apart from destabilising yet another nation and brutalising its people, purely for the profit of the oil and arms industries, it could result in the same destruction of antiquities as in Iraq.

And as in Iraq, the world would again be much the poorer.

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: Part 1 – Introduction

June 21, 2013

I’ve blogged a bit before on the great Christian civilisation of medieval Nubia in what is now the Sudan. This civilisation consisted of the three kingdoms of Nobatia, Merkuria and Alwa. Nobatia was situated in the area between the Nile’s first and second cataracts, with its capital at Faras or Pachoras. Makuria stretched from the third cataract to the Butana. Its capital was Old Dongola. It was amalgamated with Nobatia in the seventh century. Alwa was centred on its capital of soba far to the south. Alwa is its Arabic name. The Greeks called it alodia. The remains of extremely small churches and a limited number of burials suggest that there may have been a settled Christian presence in Nobatia in the early sixth century before the possible conversion of the pagan temple of Dendur into a church by the king Eirpanome in 550 AD. The Nobatian church was monophysite, like the modern Egyptian Coptic Church, which believes that Christ only had a single, divine nature. The Makurian church, however, was dyophysite. Like the modern Greek and Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and European Protestant churches, it believed that Christ had two natures. He was both human and divine. Nubia boasted numerous churches. Little is known about Alwa, but the Armenian traveller Abu Salih described it as possessing 400 churches. Archaeological excavations in Soba have uncovered very few buildings that may have been churches, and it is possible that Abu Salih had overestimated their number. One of the very earliest churches in Nubia was in Qasr Ibrim, which was created by the local Christian community in the fifth century through the conversion of the Meroetic temple of King Taharqa, dating from the seventh century B.C.

European and International Exploration and Archaeological Investigation

After its conquest by Islam in the 16th century, medieval Nubia was largely unknown in the West until a series of European explorers and archaeologists visited the area from the early 19th century onwards. One of the first was the great Swiss explorer Jacob Burckhardt, who made two expeditions to Nubia and travelled as far as the third cataract from 1813 to 1815. Burckhardt was the first to describe the Nubians’ way of life, and their faded memories of their ancient Christian past. Two tribes even then still claimed to be descended from the ancient Christian inhabitants. He saqw the remains of two public buildings, which were probably churches at Qasr Ibrim, and came across the remains of a chapel in one of the islands of the Batn el Hajar, lying between the second and third cataract. Later explorers included Count Vidua, Richard Lepsius, the archaeologist, Somers Clarke, and many others. Most of what is known about medieval Nubia comes from the great rescue operations to investigate its archaeology during the construction of the Aswan dam. The first of these was 1899,led by Clarke, and the second, much greater series of excavations in the ‘Save Nubia’ UNESCO campaign from 1960s onwards, caused by the construction of the High Dam and formation of Lake Nasser. These were done by teams of British, American, Polish and Dutch archaeologists.

Nubian Courts and Kings Styled on Byzantine Empire

Archaeological finds and inscriptions, including evidence from churches, indicate that Nubia had strong connections with the Byzantine Empire. Often these were stronger than its relationship with the Egyptian Coptic church to the north. Inscriptions found by J.W. Crowfoot in the region of ancient Mekuria in 1927 indicates that the Nubians used Greek and followed the Byzantine liturgy in their worship. Documents discovered and published the following year by F.Ll. Griffiths showed that the Mekurian court was also modelled on that of the Byzantine Empire. There were courtiers and officials with the Byzantine titles of meizoteros (mayor of the palace?), proto-meizoteros (premier super-mayor), domesticus, primacerius and eparchos. A graffito in mangled Greek at St. Simeon’s monastery, dating from 7th April 1322, records that the last Christian king of that part of Nubia, Kudanbes, styled himself ‘president of the Caesars’.

Construction of Nubian Churches

Nubian churches were mostly built of mud brick, which does not survive very well in the archaeological record. Otherwise churches were composed of fired, red brick on stone foundations. These were either of sandstone, or granite from the marginal areas near the desert. The roof, which could be either flat or vaulted, were supported by granite pillars. These were painted or plastered, and occasionally were covered with frescoes. Stone capitals, doorjambs and lintels were carved with a wide variety of motifs and designs which reached their zenith in the eighth century. These included fish, crosses, vine and palm leaves. Granite capitals have been found in Upper Nubia, but they are rare, and were probably robbed out for reuse after the buildings were abandoned. William Adams identified four phases in the evolution of Nubian church architecture from his work in Lower Nubia. In the first, earliest phase churches probably consisted of the Byzantine basilica type. These were rectangular buildings comprising a nave flanked by two aisles. The Byzantine influence on these churches suggest that the dyophysite Christian communities in Nubia were earlier than indicated by the historical sources. The next phase, termed Early Nubian by Adams, lasted from about 650-800. This still roughly followed the form of the classical basilica, but with some slight differences. These may have been the result of changes in the Nubian liturgy, or the deliberate creation of a separate architectural style by the churches’ builders.

The zenith of Nubian church architecture was reached in the next phase, the Classical Nubian, which lasted from roughly 800 to 1150. This was defined through the addition of a passage running across the east side of the church, leading from the baptistry in the south to the vestry on the north side of the church. These were probably constructed to allow the clergy to pass from one side of the church to the other without going through the sanctuary or heikal. In some churches of this type there was a brick wall between the sanctuary and the nave. This indicates that the ceremonies in the sanctuary was becoming more secret and spiritual, and so concealed from the view of the laity.

According to the Polish archaeologist, Wlodiemiercz Godlewski, who excavated Old Dongola, the first three phases also saw changes in the construction of the baptistry. These were usually located south-east of the nave or narthex. These originally possessed large, circular tanks into which the candidates for baptism could walk. These were gradually replaced by square fonts, which were placed on a pedestal or base, similar to those in modern western churches from the eleventh centuries onwards. It appears that there was thus a move away from large, public baptisms towards a smaller, more intimate ceremony.

During the last phase of church construction from around 1150 to 1400, churches became smaller. The earlier large tanks for baptism were not generally built in churches of this period, and the emphasis was now on the sanctuary. This suggests that the church interior was exclusively reserved for the clergy, and that the congregation were deliberately kept outside. It also indicates that baptisms were being conducted in the Nile, rather than in a special space within the architecture of the church. This may well have been produced by changes in the liturgy, or as a result of the position of Christianity in Nubia becoming increasingly endangered from Muslim and desert raider incursions from the north. It is possible that the Nubian church became increasingly orientated towards Byzantium after Muslim raiding and conquest made contact with the Egyptian Coptic church increasingly difficult.

Among the churches that have been excavated are those of West Arminna and the cruciform and granite column churches of Old Dongola. The monasteries that have also been revealed and investigated by archaeologists include those of Ghazali and Qasr el Wizz. I will talk about these in parts two and three of this essay.

Sources

William H.C. Frend, The Archaeology of Early Christianity: A History (London: Geoffrey Chapman 1996)

Niall Finneran, The Archaeology of Christianity in Africa (Brimscombe Port: Tempus 2002)