Against the Current, No. 31, March/April 1991

— The Editors

ON JANUARY 16, the U.S. war machine launched the attack, pinpointing with precise technological accuracy its most sensitive targets: the living rooms of 100 million people in the United States as they watched the nightly network news and the following prime-time specials. By morning, resistance to the war seemed to be crumbling as polls indicated the pro-war majority grew overnight to eight-five percent Following the initial euphoria, it seemed that only a mopping-up operation would be needed for ultimate victory.

That day, however, the antiwar movement was already mobilizing in emergency demonstrations in the streets of dozens of cities. By January 19, a hundred thousand marched in Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles; and the following week on January 26, the combined strength of the mass mobilization in Washington and the West Coast approached half a million....

— Bob Fitch

WHETHER ITS A maggot in the soup on the Battleship Potemkin or a baby who is shot in her bassinet in a Brooklyn tenement, it doesn't take a political event to start a political crisis But whenever the establishment seeks to run its affairs in the same old way and mass pressure blocks their accustomed channels, the potential for a crisis begins to build.

In New York City, we may have seen the very beginning of such a period. In response to the six shootings of children in July 1990 and the twenty-four cabbies slain so far this year, demands surfaced for Mayor David Dinkins to do something to stop the carnage...

MARCH 8 is International Women's Day. Like May Day it is an anniversary that grew out of U.S. working-class experience. Initiated by socialist women to call attention to the specific problems of working women, it was first celebrated in 1909. It was especially important in mobilizing U.S. working women in the fight for suffrage.

During World War I, the women's movement in Germany held the first antiwar demonstration with a march to prison, to express solidarity with Rosa Luxemburg, a leading socialist imprisoned for her antiwar views. And in 1917, a women textile workers' demonstration for bread and peace unexpectedly triggered the Russian Revolution that overthrew the Tsar....

— Catherine Sameh

ADVENTURE. White, hot sand. Exotic smells, sights and sounds. This is what thousands of young American men are encountering in the Middle East. Dan Rather can hardly contain his glee while regularly reporting on the status of our brave boys in far away lands.

Fear and apprehension. Tears and kisses. Guilt and uncertainty. This is the baggage that military women carry with them when they get shipped out Men go to war as men Many have just left behind their boyhood dreams when they quickly come face to face with manhood's high price. Women go to war as workers, yes, but first and foremost as mothers—juggling job and family....

— Johanna Brenner

IN 1988 CONGRESS passed the Family Support Act, the most recent of many schemes to "reform welfare" by forcing recipients—in this case single mothers with young children—to work. The act's passage reflects a significant shift in the liberal position on welfare policy, since conservatives have always favored programs in which single mothers are required either to find work or work in exchange for welfare benefits. In the past, liberals opposed compulsory work programs, while supporting voluntary training and work experience programs that would help mothers become self-supporting once their children reached school-age.

Since 1971, Congress has required the states to register women with school-age children in training- work experience, or job search programs. But until now, women with children under six have generally been exempt from these requirements. The new law requires states to enroll mothers with children over three years old in training, work experience, and job search programs and allows states to make participation in such programs mandatory for mothers of children as young as one-year old....

— Mechthild Nagel
Blood at the Root:
Motherhood, Sexuality and Male Dominance
By Ann Ferguson
Pandora Press, 1989, 299 pages, $14.95.

IN BLOODAT THE ROOT Ann Ferguson presents "a 'fri-systems' theory of the semi-autonomous yet interdependent workings of racism, patriarchy and capitalism in contemporary U.S. society which incorporates yet tries to go beyond the insights of classical Marxism, Freudianism and radical feminism?

Ferguson critically reviews these theories of social dominance. She argues that they are reductionistic in their analyses of society's oppressive structures and notes that they fail to explain the phenomenon of women's contradictory position in the United States today....

— interview with Janice Terry

Janice Terry, a professor at Eastern Michigan University specializing in Middle Eastern history and politics, spoke with David Finkel of the ATC editorial board during the first week of the war.

Against the Current: Based on the assumption of a United Stales victory in this roar, but not knowing yet how long or costly the roar might be. I'd like to know your thoughts on the future of the region as the U.S. policy planners might envisage it. Can we start with the prospects for Iraq in particular?

Janice Terry: I think the United States has been determined from the beginning that this was to be a war against Iraq—over the issue of Saddam Hussein, perhaps but in essence against Iraq. The first aim then has been to destroy the infrastructure, to prevent Iraq from being a major industrial power in the region....

— interview with Ana Ameri

Anan Amen is the national president of Palestine Aid Society, a charitable and educational organization dedicated to material support of Palestinian institutions and preservatlion of Palestinian culture. She spoke with David Finkel of ATC during the first week of the war.

ATC: Looking to the future of the Middle East, what do you think is the U.S. government's plan and what does it hold in store for the Palestinian struggle?

Anan Ameri: With what had happened in Eastern Europe, the winds of democracy were, coming to the Middle East. We were seeing this in Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia—people demanding elections, for instance. This development probably scared the United States administration and regimes like Saudi Arabia....

— interview with Ali Javadi

All Javadi is a labor activist, coordinator of the Labor Committee on Iran, and a member of AFT Local 1990 in Los Angeles. He spoke with David Finkel of the Against the Current editorial beard during the first week of the rear.

ATC: From an Iranian revolutionary working-class perspective, what do you think this war is about and what does it mean?

All JavadI: I don't think the massive lineup of 600,000 soldiers, thousands of tanks and aircraft equipped with sophisticated devices are there to defend the national sovereignty of Kuwait, or even to guarantee the flow of oil....

— interview with Jessica Daher

Jessica Daher is a regional staff person for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADCJ in Detroit. She was interviewed during the first week of the war.

ATC: What's been the feeling in the Arab community locally, and nationally so far as you can get information about it, since January 16?

Jessica Daher. Fear--a tremendous amount of fear. We've been getting lots of phone calls to our office, but people also report incidents to the police and the press gels information from police sources....

This is the text of the final resolution of the “The Intifada and Women's Social Issues" conference held in Al Quds (Jerusalem), December 14, 1990. The translation is by News From Within.

CONVENED AT THE initiative of the Bisan Research Center with the participation of women's organizations, volunteer and charity organizations and a number of Palestinian academicians and intellectuals, “The intifada and women's social issues” conference bore the slogan: "Together towards the light and equality.”

All the participants agreed upon the importance of the remarkable role played by the Palestinian women throughout the glorious intifada in various realms—the political, the struggle, the economic, social and cultural—which of course strengthened the general national struggle. This role has also earned women great respect in all strata of Palestinian society; because [it demonstrates] their continuing struggle to implement our general national goals—the right to return, self-determination and the establishment of our independent state.

— Israel Shahak

This item appeared in the Israeli newsletter News From Within, published by the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem, January 5, 1991.

ON SATURDAY, DECEMBER 29, 1990 four young Palestinians were killed at the refugee camp beside Rafah in the Gaza Strip by members of an "elite” unit of the Israeli Defense Force. Two were masked youth who had been painting slogans on walls. They were commanded to stop, and shot attempting to flee.

This was an example of putting into practice “new open-fire procedures." The other two were killed by gunfire from the same unit, when large numbers of camp residents gathered and entered into confrontations with the army upon hearing of the first killings. Some 150 persons were injured by live ammunition according to Palestinian sources—ninety seven according to the IDF spokesman....

— Anne Finger

WHAT IS THE language that the media uses to talk about the war in the Persian Gulf? How does this language distance us from the realities of war? How does it shape our perceptions? What are the metaphors that are marshaled to describe this war, and what underlying relations of power do they call upon?

The War As Game

“War in the Persian GuIf," a male voice intones, as the words woosh onto the screen, with graphics in the background of troops scurrying across the desert, tanks moving. "I hate" Ted Koppel says, "to talk about this as if it were a football game, but this is the point in the season where the coach says to his players...."

— Nabeel Abraham

WHY ARE THE NEWS media so important? Why should we care about media coverage, how thoroughly and accurately it covers events, and how it frames the issues? Will not events run their course anyway?

In a dictatorship, public opinion is not very important, since coercion is the predominant threat hanging over the public. In a democracy, even a paper one such as ours, the governing elite cannot resort to coercion or even the threat of force, and must therefore obtain the nominal consent and/or acquiescence of the public. This is especially important when the elite demand human and economic sacrifices. Soldiers will not fight with zeal if they are unconvinced of the cause they are fighting for citizens will not readily make the monetary sacrifices and undergo other material hardships....

— Richard Latker

ECOLOGICAL DAMAGE seems trivial, in immediate terms, compared to the direct loss of human lives in combat. Further probing of the environmental effects of war nonetheless shows hidden costs that degrade the quality of life far into the future. The U.S. and Iraqi war machines could deliver a mortal insult to the already ailing and fragile ecology of the Persian Gulf area.

The image of vast expanses of lifeless, baked hardpans in the Arabian Desert may not elicit much concern for the environment. Everything seems dead. But while a harsh and unforgiving environment, the subtropical desert and arid steppes of the region host a thriving complexity of life, a strict interdependence of species forming an elaborate food chain....

— John M. Miller

ON JANUARY 21, the Pentagon reported that several oil wells were on fire in the Al Wafrah oil fields in Kuwait. A Kuwaiti oil refinery was also burning, apparently blown up or sabotaged by the Iraqis in an attempt to inhibit allied bombing raids. The bombing has continued, but a sooty "black rain" was reported falling on Bushehr province in Iran.

The Iraqis have said they have mined at least a third of Kuwait's oil wells and the United States has been bombing much, if not all, of Iraq's oil infrastructure. There are only four or five crews in the world experienced in putting out oil well fires. One well fire, under ideal conditions, can take weeks to extinguish, and experts estimate that it would take at least a year to put out all the fires. In the meantime, two to nine million barrels of oil per day would burn....

— Ali Javadi

IRAN IS USUALLY identified with Khomeini, Islam, execution, terror, war, poverty or discrimination against women. But this is only part of the truth. In such images there is rarely any place for the Iranian working class, its social role, its demands and social aspirations.

To give a real picture of the Iranian working class, in particular to the workers of other countries, is a task for which much remains to be done. How quickly it has been forgotten that it was the workers, and at their forefront the oil-workers, who broke the back of the Shah's regime....

— interview with Mahmood Ibrahim

Mahmood Ibrahim was born in Ramallah, Palestine. He teaches Middle Eastern History at Cal Poly Pomona and is the author of Merchant Capital and Islam (University of Texas Press, 1990). He has been active in the Palestine Aid Society and was the chair of the Department of History at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank from 1985 to 21989. John Barzman interviewed him for ATC. He spoke with him in early January, just a few days before the war began.

Against the Current George Bush has presented the Emir of Kuwait as the legitimate ruler of a sovereign nation state, but most people know very little about Kuwait. For instance, what is its population?

Malunood Ibrahim: Kuwait's population figures, like those of almost all states of the Arabian Peninsula, are a state secret Saudi Arabia has never taken a census because the results would be too politically sensitive. But while the precise figures are hidden, half the "foreign" Arab population is Palestinian, with the rest Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi....

— Justin Schwartz

IS TIKKUN, the self-styled organ of progressive Judaism, retracing Commentary's path to the militarist right?

Support for Israeli "toughness" led Commentary to abandon progressive politics and become the neoconservative organ it is today. A similar slide is the disturbing prospect raised by Tlkkun editor Michael Lerner's bizarre advocacy, in the November-December 1990 issue, before the war, of a U.S. air blitz against Iraq.....

— Hillel Ticktin

THE EMPIRICAL features of the Gulf crisis in relation to the USSR appear to be twofold In the first place, the USSR stands to gain through the rise in oil and gold prices. If oil prices were to rise 50-100 percent, for example, the USSR could gel from eight to twenty billion dollars more Just from its oil supplies to the West.

The USSR could also expect to extract more money from the East European countries, to which it supplied approximately $11 billion worth of oil in 1989. Since the USSR is proposing to go over to hard currency trade with these countries, it will make further gains, even though reduced by its difficulty in producing the same enormous quantities of oil it has pumped out in the past....

— Joseph A. Massad
Republic of Fear:
The Politics of Modern Iraq
By Samir al-Khalil
University of California Press, 1989, Pantheon paperback edition 1990.

SAMIR AL-KHALIL's Republic of Fear begins after the Ba'th Party gained power for the second time in Iraq, in July 1968. The book is divided into two parts: The first examines the "Ba'thist polity," which describes and analyzes Ba'thist violence and terror that cause the pervasive fear that al-Khalil describes, while the second examines the "Legitimation of Ba'thism” by drawing on its history before and after it came to power.

Ba'th ideology is fervently nationalist, anti-imperialist and anti-communist. Although the party has played a decisive role in Iraqi history, it was founded by Syrian intellectuals in the 1940s....

— Robert Brenner

This article was written last summer, before the appearance of mass unemployment in several Eastern European countries; the explosive confrontation between Moscow and the Baltic republics; the shortages or disappearances of consumer goods in the Soviet Union, for which systemic crisis and bureaucratic sabotage are both responsible; and the apparent reversal of glasnost and beginning of a repressive anti-reform. Robert Brenner's essay on the dynamics of the crisis helps put these dramatic events in context.

HOPING TO CAPITALIZE on radical changes in Eastern Europe in order to undercut conservative opposition to his own reform program, Mikhail Gorbachev clearly miscalculated the strength of the hurricane he was unleashing. By allowing Polish citizens to challenge the hegemony of the state bureaucracy, he made it very difficult to halt similar challenges elsewhere in Eastern Europe, in the Baltic States, and indeed in the Soviet Union itself.

That hurricane gathered speed throughout the rest of 1989. Following the Poles, the Hungarians quickly moved to plan their own elections. But perhaps the decisive moment came when the Hungarian government agreed to allow East German citizens to leave Eastern Europe by opening its border to Austria. This step could not have been accomplished had Gorbachev not explicitly approved it....

— Sabiyha Robin Graham
The Blackman's Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman
By Sharazad All
Civilized Publications, 1989, 181 pages, $10.

THE BLACKMAN'S GUDDE is 181 pages of unsubstantiated attacks against African-American women, written by an African-American woman. It accuses Black women of being responsible for everything from the disproportionate number of Black men in prison to the high dropout rate of African-American children.

Ali's thesis is explicitly revealed in the opening portion of her book: African-American women and men "do not get along" because "the Blackwoman is out of control in her attempt to "overpower and subdue the Blackman...."

— John Vandermeer

FLlPPlNG THROUGH the channels late at night has become far more interesting with cable TV. I remember the days of frustration when the only choices were Johnny Carson on one network, the current attempt to preempt him on another, and the forever awful "Nightline" on the third. The fuzzy UHF channels offered reruns of the Honeymooners or professional wrestling.

But now we have cable: not only as cable used to be, but super cable TV, with so many channels that program managers rummage everywhere seeking enough material to broadcast. The late night fare is so diverse that an expedition of channel switching can produce surprises, occasionally something actually good. (I realize that I had come to think of garbage as the normal standard, so take my value judgment with a grain of salt.)...

— R.F. Kampfer

IN ORDER TO avoid future disputed crowd counts, all participants in future marches on Washington are requested to throw one large reckon the White House lawn. Adding them up will give the census bureau something to do in off years.

One elderly congressman, evidently enjoying a 1960s flashback, was heard to denounce “scruffy, shaggy protesters with their little, round, wire-rimmed glasses." Those commissar glasses were originally popularized single-handedly by Tom Courtenay in his brilliant portrayal of Commander Strelnikov in “Doctor Zhivago.&rdquo...