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Mendel’s Genetic Revolution and the Legacy of Scientific Racism

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Mendel’s Genetic Revolution and the Legacy of Scientific Racism
Nazi officials use calipers to measure an ethnic German's nose on January 1, 1941. The Nazis developed a pseudoscientific system of facial measurement that was supposedly a way of determining racial descent. Hulton-Deutsch Collection / CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Images

Scientific advances are not always linear; they zigzag in unexpected ways. This is particularly true of genetics, which has a dark history of being coopted into eugenics and race science.

In July, the world celebrated 200 years since the birth of Gregor Mendel, who is widely accepted as the “father of modern genetics” for his discovery of the laws of inheritance. His experiments with peas, published in 1866 under the title “Experiments in Plant Hybridization,” identified dominant and recessive traits and how recessive traits would reappear in future generations and in what proportion. His work would largely remain unacknowledged and ignored until three other biologists replicated his work in 1900.

While Mendel’s work is central to modern genetics, and his use of experimental methods and observation is a model for science, it also set off the dark side with which genetics has been inextricably linked: eugenics and racism. But eugenics was much more than race “science.” It was also used to argue the superiority of the elite and dominant races, and in countries like India, it was used as a “scientific” justification for the caste system as well.

People who believe that eugenics was a temporary aberration in science and that it died with Nazi Germany would be shocked to find out that even the major institutions and journals that included the word eugenics as part of their names have continued to operate by just changing their titles. The Annals of Eugenics became the Annals of Human Genetics; the Eugenics Review changed its name to the Journal of Biosocial Science; Eugenics Quarterly changed to Biodemography and Social Biology; and the Eugenics Society was renamed the Galton Institute. Several departments in major universities, which were earlier called the department of eugenics, either became the department of human genetics or the department of social biology.

All of them have apparently shed their eugenics past, but the reoccurrence of the race and IQ debate, sociobiology, the white replacement theory and the rise of white nationalism are all markers that theories of eugenics are very much alive. In India, the race theory takes the form of the belief that Aryans are “superior” and fair skin is seen as a marker of Aryan ancestry.

While Adolf Hitler’s gas chambers and Nazi Germany’s genocide of Jews and Roma communities have made it difficult to talk about the racial superiority of certain races, scientific racism persists within science. It is a part of the justification that the elite seek, justifying their superior position based on their genes, and not on the fact that they inherited or stole this wealth. It is a way to airbrush the history of the loot, slavery and genocide that accompanied the colonization of the world by a handful of countries in Western Europe.

Why is it that when we talk about genetics and history, the only story that is repeated is that about biologist Trofim Lysenko and how the Soviet Communist Party placed ideology above science? Why is it that the mention of eugenics in popular literature is only with respect to Nazi Germany and not about how Germany’s eugenic laws were inspired directly by the U.S.? Or how eugenics in Germany and the U.S. were deeply intertwined? Or how Mendel’s legacy of genetics become a tool in the hands of racist states, which included the U.S. and Great Britain? Why is it that genetics is used repeatedly to support theories of superiority of the white race?

Mendel showed that there were traits that were inherited, and therefore we had genes that carried certain markers that could be measured, such as the color of the flower and the height of the plant. Biology then had no idea of how many genes we had, which traits could be inherited, how genetically mixed the human population is, etc. Mendel himself had no idea about genes as carriers of inheritance, and this knowledge became known much later.

From genetics to society, the application of these principles was a huge leap that was not supported by any empirical scientific evidence. All attempts to show the superiority of certain races started with a priori assuming that certain races were superior and then trying to find what evidence to choose from that would help support this thesis. Much of the IQ debate and sociobiology came from this approach to science. In his review of The Bell Curve, Bob Herbert wrote that the authors, Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, had written a piece of “racial pornography,” “…to drape the cloak of respectability over the obscene and long-discredited views of the world’s most rabid racists.”

A little bit of the history of science is important here. Eugenics was very much mainstream in the early 20th century and had the support of major parties and political figures in the UK and the U.S. Not surprisingly, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a noted supporter of race science, although eugenics had some supporters among progressives as well.

The founder of eugenics in Great Britain was Francis Galton, who was a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton pioneered statistical methods like regression and normal distribution, as did his close collaborators and successors in the Eugenics Society, Karl Pearson and R.A. Fisher. On the connection of race and science, Aubrey Clayton, in an essay in Nautilus, writes, “What we now understand as statistics comes largely from the work of Galton, Pearson, and Fisher, whose names appear in bread-and-butter terms like ‘Pearson correlation coefficient’ and ‘Fisher information.’ In particular, the beleaguered concept of ‘statistical significance,’ for decades the measure of whether empirical research is publication-worthy, can be traced directly to the trio.”

It was Galton who, based supposedly on scientific evidence, argued for the superiority of the British over Africans and other natives, and that superior races should replace inferior races by way of selective breeding. Pearson gave his justification for genocide: “History shows me one way, and one way only, in which a high state of civilization has been produced, namely the struggle of race with race, and the survival of the physically and mentally fitter race.”

The eugenics program had two sides: one was that the state should try to encourage selective breeding to improve the stock of the population. The other was for the state should take active steps to “weed out” undesirable populations. The sterilization of “undesirables” was as much a part of the eugenics societies as encouraging people toward selective breeding.

In the U.S., eugenics was centered on Cold Spring Harbor’s Eugenics Record Office. While Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and its research publications still hold an important place in contemporary life sciences, its original significance came from the Eugenics Record Office, which operated as the intellectual center of eugenics and race science. It was supported by philanthropic money from the Rockefeller family, the Carnegie Institution and many others. Charles Davenport, a Harvard biologist, and his associate Harry Laughlin became the key figures in passing a set of state laws in the U.S. that led to forced sterilization of the “unfit” population. They also actively contributed to the Immigration Act of 1924, which set quotas for races. The Nordic races had priority, while East Europeans (Slavic races), East Asians, Arabs, Africans and Jews were virtually barred from entering the country.

Sterilization laws in the U.S. at the time were controlled by the states. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the doyen of liberal jurisprudence in the U.S., gave his infamous judgment in Virginia on justifying compulsory sterilization, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” he ruled in Buck v. Bell. Carrie Buck and her daughter were not imbeciles; they paid for their “sins” of being poor and perceived as threats to society (a society that failed them in turn). Again, Eugenics Research Office and Laughlin played an important role in providing “scientific evidence” for the sterilization of the “unfit.”

While Nazi Germany’s race laws are widely condemned as being the basis for Hitler’s gas chambers, Hitler himself stated that his inspiration for Germany’s race laws was the U.S. laws on sterilization and immigration. The close links between the U.S. eugenicists and Nazi Germany are widely known and recorded. Edwin Black’s book War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race described how “Adolf Hitler’s race hatred was underpinned by the work of American eugenicists,” according to an article in the Guardian in 2004. The University of Heidelberg, meanwhile, gave Laughlin an honorary degree for his work in the “science of racial cleansing.”

With the fall of Nazi Germany, eugenics became discredited. This resulted in institutions, departments and journals that had any affiliation to eugenics by name being renamed, but they continued to do the same work. Human genetics and social biology became the new names for eugenics. The Bell Curve was published in the 1990s justifying racism, and a recent bestseller by Nicholas Wade, a former science correspondent of the New York Times, also trot out theories that have long been scientifically discarded. Fifty years back, Richard Lewontin had shown that only about 6 to 7 percent of human genetic variation exists between so-called racial groups. At that time, genetics was still at a nascent stage. Later, data has only strengthened Lewontin’s research.

Why is it that while criticizing the Soviet Union’s scientific research and the sins of Lysenko 80 years back, we forget about race science and its use of genetics?

The answer is simple: Attacking the scientific principles and theories developed by the Soviet Union as an example of ideology trumping science is easy. It makes Lysenko the norm for Soviet science of ideology trumping pure science. But why is eugenics, with its destructive past and its continuing presence in Europe and the U.S., not recognized as an ideology—one that has persisted for more than 100 years and that continues to thrive under the modern garb of an IQ debate or sociobiology?

The reason is that it allows racism a place within science: changing the name from eugenics to sociobiology makes it appear as a respectable science. The power of ideology is not in the ideas but in the structure of our society, where the rich and the powerful need justification for their position. That is why race science as an ideology is a natural corollary of capitalism and groups like the G7, the club of the rich countries who want to create a “rule-based international order.” Race science as sociobiology is a more genteel justification than eugenics for the rule of capital at home and ex-colonial and settler-colonial states abroad. The fight for science in genetics has to be fought both within and outside science as the two are closely connected.

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Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.

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OPINION

The Damaging Conflation of Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism

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The Damaging Conflation of Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism
It is a bewildering and alarming time to be a Jew, both because antisemitism is rising and because so many politicians are responding to it not by protecting Jews but by victimising Palestinians. GETTY IMAGES

There is a famous story about the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl. As a young journalist in late 19th century Vienna, Herzl came to believe that the solution to the problem of Jewish emancipation in Europe was the creation of a Jewish state. His ideas remained fringe across European Jewish communities until after the Holocaust, but they did raise some eyebrows with Jewish leaders. 

Upon hearing Herzl’s plans to redeem the Jewish people, the chief Rabbi of Vienna decided to visit him. When he arrived on a cold December day at Herzl’s apartment, he found a Christmas tree in the living room. Legend has it that the Rabbi simply left and never even spoke with Herzl, believing him far too assimilated to Christian customs to be a savior for the Jews. 

This story highlights the myriad counter-narratives and differing opinions within the Jewish community over political Zionism. Since the earliest days of Herzl’s plans to create a Jewish state, Jewish communities have been divided on whether Jews even needed a state in the first place. Even today, there are almost equal numbers of Jews that live outside of Israel as there are living in the Jewish state. While many Jewish diaspora communities call themselves Zionist, the fact is that they refuse to realize the basic tenet of modern Zionist ideology and immigrate to Israel. 

Despite the deep difference inside the Jewish community over Zionism, the Israeli government and its allies have long pushed the idea that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two sides of the same coin. The conflation of these terms over the last month of fighting in the Gaza Strip has reached fever pitch and is contributing to a flare-up of antisemitism worldwide. 

Professor Avi Shlaim, one of the revisionist Israeli scholars known as the “new historians,” spoke about the differences between anti-Zionism and antisemitism in a recent clip that went viral across the internet. Antisemitism, Shlaim notes, is the hatred of Jewish people because they are Jews. Anti-Zionism is opposition either to the Zionist ideology or, more commonly, criticism of specific policies of the Israeli government. While antisemitism is a grotesque form of hatred that should never be justified, anti-Zionist rhetoric tends to be evidence-based. 

The Israeli government and its supporters argue that anti-Zionism deprives the Jews of a state of their own because they are Jews. Thus, anti-Zionism is antisemitism because it singles out the group. This argument doesn’t hold much water as anti-Zionists don’t say that Jews can’t have their self-determination. Instead, the issue is how Zionism has sought to exercise that self-determination in a specific place at the expense of another people’s self-determination. 

The deep issue is how Israel deliberately conflates anti-Zionism and antisemitism to silence any criticism of the Israeli government or its policies of occupation vis-a-vis the Palestinians. When the UN secretary-general called for a ceasefire to protect civilians in the Gaza Strip early in the war, the Israeli representative immediately branded his position antisemitic. This is a clear example of how the conflation strategy is deployed to divert attention over legitimate criticism of Israeli policy. 

Israel’s aggressive PR tactics have allowed the far right to push antisemitic ideas without getting into trouble. For decades, far-right leaders worldwide have claimed to be pro-Israel while directly or indirectly supporting antisemitism at home. Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, is one of the most vocal supporters of Israel in the European Union and also flames antisemitism at home. 

Elon Musk recently found himself in hot water after agreeing with antisemitic comments on his social media platform X. Media watchdogs have since cataloged how antisemitism is flourishing on the platform. Musk says that X is a place for free speech, and that’s why such vile rhetoric is shared. Yet, in response to high-profile advertisers fleeing his platform, Musk announced that using terms like “decolonization” and “from the river to the sea” in support of Palestinians, will get you banned from X. So much for free speech. 

Musk is rushing to embrace pro-Israel positions in the hope people will overlook his antisemitic tendencies. The very fact he can do that is a by-product of the Israeli government’s conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

These dynamics are particularly concerning in light of rising antisemitism in the United States. In a piece for Futurism, Maggie Harrison notes that in 2017 “white supremacists marched on Charlottesville with their hands in Nazi salutes [and] shouted ‘Jews will not replace us.’ The next year, in 2018, a shooter motivated by the conspiracy killed 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Shortly after that, in 2019, the theory was linked to yet another shooter who murdered a worshipper and injured three others at a California synagogue.” 

The Jewish people never elected the Israeli government to represent it worldwide. Given the varied nature of Judaism today, such an election would be impossible. Yet, Israel speaks in the name of all Jews to provide cover for its policies with the Palestinians. With rising antisemitism worldwide, there will need to be some sort of reckoning between Jewish communities and Israel but such an event feels far off. 

Joseph Dana is a writer based in South Africa and the Middle East. He has reported from Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, Istanbul, and Abu Dhabi. He was formerly editor-in-chief of emerge85, a media project based in Abu Dhabi exploring change in emerging markets. X: @ibnezra

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OPINION

We Are Spartacus

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We Are Spartacus
Ilustration of Spartacus. Getty Images

Spartacus was a 1960 Hollywood film based on a book written secretly by the blacklisted novelist Howard Fast, and adapted by the screenplay
writer Dalton Trumbo, one of the ‘Hollywood 10’ who were banned for their ‘un-American’ politics. It is a parable of resistance and heroism that speaks unreservedly to our own times.

Both writers were Communists and victims of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities which, during the Cold War, destroyed
the careers and often the lives of those principled and courageous enough to stand up to a homegrown fascism in America.

‘This is a sharp time, now, a precise time …’ wrote Arthur Miller in The Crucible, ‘We live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world.’

There is one ‘precise’ provocateur now; it is clear to see for those who want to see it and foretell its actions. It is a gang of states led by the United States whose stated objective is ‘full spectrum dominance’. Russia is still the hated one, Red China the feared one. From Washington and London, the virulence has no limit. Israel, the colonial anachronism and unleashed attack dog, is armed to the teeth and granted historical impunity so that ‘we’ the West ensure the blood and tears never dry in Palestine. Members of the UK Parliament who dare call for a ceasefire in Gaza are banished, the iron door of two-party politics closed to them by a Labour leader who would withhold water and food from the children of Palestine.

In McCarthy’s time, there were bolt holes of truth. Mavericks welcomed then are heretics now; an underground of journalism exists (such as
this site) in a landscape of mendacious conformity. Dissenting journalists have been defenestrated from the ‘mainstream’ (as the great editor David Bowman wrote); the media’s task is to invert the truth and support the illusions of democracy, including a ‘free press’.

Social Democracy has shrunk to the width of a cigarette paper that separates the principal policies of major parties. Their one subscription is to a capitalist cult, neoliberalism, and an imposed poverty described by a UN special rapporteur as ‘the immiseration of a significant part of the British population.’

War today is an unmoving shadow; ‘forever’ imperial wars are designated normal. Iraq, the model, is destroyed at a cost of a million lives and three million dispossessed. The destroyer, Blair, is personally enriched and fawned over at his party’s conference as an electoral winner. Blair and his moral counter, Julian Assange, live 14 miles apart, one in a Regency mansion, the other in a cell awaiting extradition to hell.

According to a Brown University study, since 9/11, almost six million men, women and children have been killed by America and its acolytes in the ‘Global War on Terror’. A monument is to be built in Washington in ‘celebration’ of this mass murder; its committee is chaired by the former president, George W Bush, Blair’s mentor. Afghanistan, where it started, was finally laid to waste when President Biden shop-lifted its national bank reserves

There have been many Afghanistans. The forensic William Blum devoted himself to making sense of a state terrorism that seldom spoke its name and so requires repetition:

In my lifetime, the United States has overthrown or attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most democracies. It has interfered in democratic elections in 30 countries. It has dropped bombs on the people of 30 countries, most of them poor and defenceless. It has fought to suppress liberation movements in 20 countries. It has attempted to murder countless leaders.

Perhaps I hear some of you saying: that is enough. As the Final Solution of Gaza is broadcast live to millions, the small faces of its victims etched in bombed rubble, framed between TV commercials for cars and pizza, yes, that is surely enough. How profane is that word ‘enough’?

Afghanistan was where the West sent young men weighed down with the ritual of ‘warriors’ to kill people and enjoy it. We know some of them enjoyed it from the evidence of Australian SAS sociopaths, including aphotograph of them drinking from an Afghan man’s prosthetic.

Not one sociopath has been charged for this and crimes such as kicking a man over a cliff, gunning down children point-blank, slitting throats: none of it ‘in battle’. David McBride, a former Australian military lawyer who served twice in Afghanistan, was a ‘true believer’ in the system as moral and honourable, He also has an abiding belief in truth, and loyalty. He can define them as few can. On 13 November he is in court in Canberra as an alleged criminal.

‘An Australian whistleblower,’ reports Kieran Pender, a senior lawyer at the Australian Human Rights Law Centre, ‘ [will face] trial for blowing the whistle on horrendous wrongdoing. It is profoundly unjust that the first person on trial for war crimes in Afghanistan is the whistleblower and not an alleged war criminal.’

McBride can receive a sentence of up to 100 years for revealing the cover-up of the great crime of Afghanistan. He tried to exercise his legal right as a whistleblower under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which the current Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, says ‘delivers on our promise to strengthen protections for public sector whistleblowers’. Yet it is Dreyfus, a Labor minister, who signed off on the McBride trial following a punitive wait of four years and eight months since his arrest at Sydney airport: a wait that shredded his health and family.

Those who know David and know of the hideous injustice done to him fill his street in Bondi near the beach in Sydney to wave their encouragement to this good and decent man. To them, and me, he is a hero.

McBride was affronted by what he found in the files he was ordered to inspect. Here was evidence of crimes and their cover-up. He passed hundreds of secret documents to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Sydney Morning Herald. Police raided the ABC’s offices in Sydney while reporters and producers watched, shocked, as their computers were confiscated by the Federal Police.

Attorney-General Dreyfus, self-declared liberal reformer and friend of whistleblowers, has the singular power to stop the McBride trial. A Freedom of Information search of his actions in this direction suggests an indifference to whether or not an innocent man rots.

You can’t run a fully-fledged democracy and a colonial war; one aspires to decency, the other is a form of fascism, regardless of its pretensions. Mark the killing fields of Gaza, bombed to dust by apartheid Israel. It is no coincidence that in rich, yet impoverished Britain an ‘inquiry’ is currently being held into the gunning down by British SAS soldiers of 80 Afghans, all civilians, including a couple in bed.

The grotesque injustice meted out to David McBride is minted from the injustice consuming his compatriot, Julian Assange. Both are friends of mine. Whenever I see them, I am optimistic. ‘You cheer me,’ I tell Julian as he raises a defiant fist at the end of our visiting period. ‘You make me feel proud,’ I tell David at our favourite coffee shop in Sydney. Their bravery has allowed many of us, who might despair, to understand the real meaning of a resistance we all share if we want to prevent the conquest of us, our conscience, our self respect, if we prefer freedom and decency to compliance and collusion. In this, we are all Spartacus.

Spartacus was the rebellious leader of Rome’s slaves in 71-73 BC. There is a thrilling moment in the Kirk Douglas movie Spartacus when the Romans call on Spartacus’s men to identify their leader and so be pardoned. Instead hundreds of his comrades stand and raise their fists in solidarity and shout, ‘I am Spartacus!’ The rebellion is under way.

Julian and David are Spartacus. The Palestinians are Spartacus. People who fill the streets with flags and principle and solidarity are Spartacus. We are all Spartacus if we want to be.

John Pilger

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OPINION

Condemning Israel’s Vengeance

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Condemning Israel’s Vengeance
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defence, in Tel Aviv, Israel on December 17, 2023. MENAHEM KAHANA/Pool via REUTERS

Among the many themes common to each of the Abrahamic faiths, found in the holy books of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, is the principle of proportional justice, enshrined in the ancient phrase, “An eye for an eye.”

 It’s a principle that appears to have been discarded by Israel as it ignores all calls for restraint in its determination to destroy all traces of Hamas, no matter the cost in innocent lives.

Rabbinic, Islamic, and Christian scholars argue among themselves to this day about the correct interpretation of an admonition first set down, literally in stone, in an Akkadian legal text written between 1792 and 1750 BCE.

 This is the Code of Hammurabi, a king of Babylon whose laws were etched in cuneiform onto a basalt stele, or stone column, which today can be seen in the Louvre in Paris.

 Hammurabi, by all accounts one of the more excessive of the extremely brutal rulers of ancient Mesopotamia, would have been puzzled by the modern queasiness occasioned by a legal code that could be described as harsh, but fair.

The Code of Hammurabi left no one in his time in any doubt about the consequences for a range of acts deemed over 3,800 years ago to be serious social transgressions.

“If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.” “If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.” “If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.” And so on.

A word that appears often in the code is “death,” a penalty handed out for offenses including robbery, burglary, rape and, of course, death, no matter how caused.

To modern sensibilities, weighing the value of human lives like fruit on a scale seems abhorrent – until one considers the appalling alternative.

 In tragic recent history, that alternative was embraced by the United States following the 9/11 attacks, in which 2,977 were killed. According to the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, at last count, America’s post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the lives of 14,490 US military personnel and civilian contractors.

 But even that exercise in disproportionality pales against the grotesque price extracted in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than 350,000 national military, police, and civilians have paid with their lives for the carnage wrought in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia on September 11, 2001, by 19 Al Qaeda killers. 

Israel, bent it seems not on justice but on revenge for the 1,400 victims of the Hamas attack on October 7, has taken the same bloody, unconscionable path in Gaza.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says that more than 8,000 civilians, mostly women and children, have been killed by Israeli bombs and bullets since October 7. The figure is, of course, disputed. But whether it’s 8,000 or 4,000, the point remains – the loss of innocent Israeli lives is being avenged by a wholly disproportionate and indiscriminate massacre of innocent Palestinians.

The truth that ought to shock the international community is that such disproportionate slaughter is nothing more than business as usual for a state that prides itself on being “a light unto the world.” Instead, the world has been, and continues to be, complicit in outrageous Israeli acts carried out in the name of self-defense.

 According to OCHA, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between January 1, 2008, and the end of September this year, 177 Israeli citizens were killed, and 4,735 were wounded, by Palestinian armed groups and civilians.

Over the same period, 3,754 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli forces or settlers, and more than 152,000 were wounded. It is already clear that, when finally collated and confirmed, the figures from the current disaster will only add to this imbalance.

This is not justice. This is unbridled, unrestrained vengeance.

 Since the establishment of Israel in 1948 in the wake of the Second World War, many nations, tiptoeing around the elephant in the room that is the Holocaust, have turned a blind eye to Israel’s excesses in its relationship with the Palestinians. In doing so, Israel’s friends have let it down.

 It’s a central article of Judaism that the Jews are “the chosen people,” charged by God with the task of leading the world on the path of morality. 

 David Ben-Gurion, the founder of Israel and its first prime minister, spoke and wrote frequently of Israel’s responsibility to be an ethical and moral beacon – the “light unto the nations” referred to in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Isaiah. 

 This conceit of Israel as the moral light of the world has been passed down from leader to leader, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, 2017, on the eve of the Jewish new year, Netanyahu invoked the words of the Prophet and said that Israel’s “light is shining across the continents, bringing hope and salvation to the ends of the Earth.”

 But not, it seems, to its immediate neighbors in Palestine.

 A nation that cannot see the grotesque disparity in the scale of the death tolls in Israel and the Palestinian territories has not only lost sight of the ancient principle of an eye for an eye but has also forfeited its claim to being the world’s beacon of morality.

Jonathan Gornall is a British journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK.

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OPINION

Yusril And Prospective Companion for Prabowo Subianto in the 2024 Elections

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Yusril And Prospective Companion for Prabowo Subianto in the 2024 Elections
Prabowo Subianto rides a horse during a Gerindra Party campaign rally at a stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia on March 23, 2014. Beawiharta/Reuters

As the registration for presidential and vice-presidential candidate pairs approaches, only the Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar (Cak Imin) duo has definitively emerged as candidates for the leadership of the nation.

While the prospective vice-presidential candidate for Prabowo Subianto and Ganjar Pranowo has not been specifically announced, the nation has various competent figures suitable for the role.

In a public discussion titled “Presentation of Research Results on Public Perceptions of the Vice-Presidential Candidate: The Opportunity of Yusril Ihza Mahendra as Prabowo’s Running Mate” by GoGo Bangun Negeri, it was revealed that Yusril Ihza Mahendra possesses the capabilities, professionalism, leadership, managerial skills, governance experience, and other qualities required to lead Indonesia.

Emrus Sihombing, the Founder of GoGo Bangun Negeri & Indonesian Communicologist, stated that there are at least seven main reasons for Prabowo to form a partnership with Yusril Ihza Mahendra in the 2024 Elections.

Firstly, Yusril Ihza Mahendra holds a significant electoral magnet, especially outside of Java, which is crucial for Prabowo’s victory in the upcoming 2024 Presidential election.

“Secondly, Yusril Ihza Mahendra has close relationships with religious figures and religious communities, the majority of whom are followers in this country. This is also an electoral political asset for the 2024 Presidential election. Furthermore, Yusril Ihza Mahendra is well-known nationally due to his prominent stature,” explained Emrus.

He added that Yusril Ihza Mahendra is recognized as a credible law professor and a seasoned lawyer who has gained positive attention and support from various segments of society due to his advocacy in various legal cases. “The views of this law professor often break legal deadlocks in the public sphere. He consistently offers legal ideas and solutions in discussions or dialogues.”

Another reason is that Yusril Ihza Mahendra could partner with Prabowo to advocate for legal sovereignty in the nation. Currently, legal handling in our country falls far short of the expectations of the majority of the Indonesian population,” he disclosed.

The seventh reason is that Yusril Ihza Mahendra, the Chairman of the Crescent Star Party and one of the parties supporting Prabowo, is very humble and avoids unnecessary controversies. Yusril even positions himself as an alternative vice-presidential candidate if a deadlock occurs within the Prabowo coalition.

“Because in this coalition, there could be power struggles with the sectoral political interests of each party. Yet, in reality, according to my opinion, Yusril Ihza Mahendra has the competence to be a presidential candidate,” Emrus explained.

In the same context, Effendi Gazali, an Expert in Public Communication, stated that based on his experience in running the government, Yusril Ihza Mahendra is deemed to play a significant role in assisting Prabowo Subianto.

“In addition to his experience as an intellectual and having run the government, Yusril Ihza Mahendra is seen as able to represent the voices of people outside Java. Since Prabowo is associated with Java, Yusri is seen as capable of dispelling the Javanese-centric stigma and also stepping in to represent the Muslim community,” he added.

This view was also supported by Fahri Bachmid, an Expert in Constitutional Law, who stated in this event that Yusril Ihza Mahendra is considered capable of representing a national voice, representing Indonesia’s diversity.

“The elected presidential and vice-presidential candidates must according to the law garner more than 50 percent of the total votes, with a minimum of 20 percent of the votes in each province spread across more than half of the total provinces in Indonesia. Yusril Ihza Mahendra is the last hope to inherit a strong constitutional system, capable of building a system that can embrace all parties and all potential of the nation,” said Fahri.

Meanwhile, Anggawira, the Secretary General of the Central Board of the Indonesian Young Entrepreneurs Association, stated that Prabowo needs a companion capable of accommodating all the needs of the nation.

“Yusril Ihza Mahendra is a strong leader, and based on his experience, he is capable of resolving all state problems. A solid combination with Prabowo and complementing each other, it is hoped to be able to accommodate all the needs of the nation,” Angga mentioned.

As of now, Prabowo Subianto, in coalition with the Indonesia Maju Coalition (KIM), is supported by Gerindra Party, Golkar Party, PAN, Democratic Party, Crescent Star Party, Gelora Party, and Garuda Party.

To date, the Indonesia Maju Coalition (KIM) is gathering public input regarding the prospective vice-presidential candidate for Prabowo Subianto in the 2024 Presidential Elections. Several names have entered the fray, including Yusril Ihza Mahendra, Erick Thohir, Sandiaga Uno, Gibran Rakabuming, Airlangga Hartarto, and Yenny Wahid.

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OPINION

The Diminishing Performance of Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency

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The Diminishing Performance of Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency

Telegraf – Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency (BNN) has been under scrutiny recently, with concerns raised about the organization’s declining performance. The agency, which has facilities equivalent to a ministerial level and access to significant funding, has been accused of distancing itself from civil society organizations and the media.

This is a stark contrast to the practices of previous BNN heads, such as Ahwil Lutan, Anang Iskandar, and Budi Waseso, who actively involved the media and other civil society organizations to ensure the agency’s work was felt by the public.

Now, however, the continuity and sustainability of the agency’s programs are being questioned. The BNN’s reluctance to collaborate with organizations and the media is hindering its work, leaving many to wonder why the agency’s performance has become lacklustre despite having access to significant resources.

Budi Jojo, the founder of the Desa Cegah Narkoba initiative and publisher of a village newspaper aimed at educating communities about the dangers of drugs, has reminded the BNN that the success of their work depends on the involvement of communities. He suggests that the BNN should collaborate with various organizations to help prevent drug addiction in the country.

READ ALSO: BNN at Ministerial Level. Already Know?

The head of the Ridma Foundation, Ketum Ridma, has criticized the BNN’s current performance, stating that the agency has distanced itself from the media and civil society organizations. He notes that when the BNN lacked the resources it has now, previous heads ensured the media were involved in their work, which resulted in the public feeling the impact of the agency’s work.

The BNN is a non-ministerial government agency responsible for the prevention, eradication, and control of drug abuse and drug trafficking, excluding tobacco and alcohol.

To optimize the BNN’s performance, the government deemed it necessary to provide the agency with equal financial resources and facilities. In line with this, President Joko Widodo signed Presidential Regulation No. 47/2019 on July 4, 2019, amending Presidential Regulation No. 23/2010 on the BNN.

The regulation changed several provisions in Presidential Regulation No. 23/2010, including elevating the position of the BNN head to a senior leadership position. Despite having access to more resources and funding, the BNN’s performance has decreased, and its distance from civil society organizations and the media has contributed to its decline. It is time for the BNN to take a more proactive approach and collaborate with the public to combat the country’s drug problem.

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OPINION

Western ‘Naturalism’ Disrespects Nonhuman Animals And The Entire Natural World

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Western ‘Naturalism’ Disrespects Nonhuman Animals And The Entire Natural World
Madagascar Safaris in natural world. Copyright: © Robin Hoskyns

One species has transformed into a material backdrop for its tribulations the 10 million other species that constitute its extended family, its giving environment, and its daily cohabitants. More specifically, it is one small population of this species that has done so, the bearer of a merely historical and local culture. Making all other living beings invisible is a provincial and late phenomenon—not the product of mankind as a whole. Imagine a people approaching a land populated by a myriad of other related peoples, and declaring that they don’t really exist, and that they are the stage and not the actors (ah yes, it’s not a fiction that requires a lot of imagination, as it also comprises vast swaths of our history). How did we accomplish this miracle of blindness toward the other creatures of the living world? We could hazard here—to exacerbate the strangeness of our heritage—a rapid history of the relations between our civilization and other species, a history which leads to the modern condition: Once nonhuman living beings were debased ontologically (that is to say, considered as endowed with a second-order existence, of lesser value and lesser consistency, and thus transformed into ‘things’), human beings came to believe that they alone truly existed in the universe.

It simply took Judeo-Christianity to expel God from ‘Nature’ (this is the hypothesis of the Egyptologist Jan Assmann), to make Nature profane, then the scientific and industrial revolutions to transform the nature that remained (the scholastic phusis) into a matter devoid of intelligence or of invisible influences, available to extractivism, for human beings to find themselves as solitary travelers in the cosmos, surrounded by dumb, evil matter. The last act involved killing off the last affiliation: Alone in the face of matter, human beings nevertheless remained in vertical contact with God, who sanctified it as his Creation (natural theology). The death of God entails a terrible and perfect loneliness, which we might call the anthropo-narcissistic prison.

This false lucidity about our cosmic solitude put the final seal on the serene exclusion of all nonhuman beings from the field of the ontologically relevant. It explains the ‘prison house’ of the philosophy and literature cultivated in the great European and Anglo-American capitals. My choice of this expression is not arbitrary: Not only are these fields now a prison house or ‘closed room’ in the sense of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit”—but also the prison house is the world itself, the universe, which is populated only by us and the pathological relationships with our fellow humans entailed by the disappearance of our plural, affective, and active affiliations with other living beings, nonhuman animals and environments.

This ubiquitous theme in 20th-century literature and philosophy, which foregrounds the cosmic solitude of human beings, a solitude elevated to grandeur by existentialism, is intriguingly violent. Under cover of the heroism of the absurd (as Albert Camus defined it), under cover of having the courage to face the truth, this violence is a form of blindness that refuses to learn how to see the forms of existence of others, negating their status as cohabitants, postulating that, in fact, they have no communication skills, no ‘native senses,’ no creative point of view, no aptitudes for finding a modus vivendi, no political promptings. And this is the great cunning, and therefore the hidden violence of Western naturalism, which in fact aims to justify exploiting all of nature as a raw material lying to hand for our project of civilization—it means treating others as matter ruled by biological laws, refusing to see their geopolitical promptings, their vital alliances, and all the ways in which we share with living beings a great diplomatic community in which we can learn anew how to live.

The human subject alone in an absurd universe, surrounded by pure matter lying to hand as a stock of resources, or a sanctuary for humans to recharge their batteries spiritually, is a phantasmal invention of modernity. From this point of view, those great thinkers of emancipation, Sartre and Camus, who have probably infused their ideas deeply into the French tradition, are the objective allies of extractivism and the ecological crisis. It is intriguing to reinterpret these discourses of emancipation as vectors of great violence. Yet it was they who transformed into a basic belief of late humanism the myth that we alone are free subjects in a world of inert and absurd objects, doomed to giving meaning through our consciousness to a living world devoid of it.

This myth took away from that world something it had always possessed. The shamanists and animists described by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Philippe Descola know very well what this lost state had involved, namely complex social relations of reciprocity, exchange, and predation which are not peace-loving or pacific, and do not follow Isaiah’s prophecy, but are political in a still enigmatic sense, and call for forms of pacification and conciliation, of mutualist and considerate cohabitation. After all, there are meanings everywhere in the living world: They do not need to be projected, but to be found, with the means at our disposal—translation and interpretation. It’s all about diplomacy. We need interpreters, intermediaries, and in-betweens to do the job of starting to speak again with living beings, to overcome what we might call Claude Lévi-Strauss’s curse: the impossibility of communicating with the other species we share the Earth with. “For despite the ink spilled by the Judeo-Christian tradition to conceal it, no situation seems more tragic, more offensive to heart and mind, than that of a humanity coexisting and sharing the joys of a planet with other living species yet being unable to communicate with them,” Lévi-Strauss said in conversation with Didier Eribon.

But this impossibility is a fiction of the moderns—it helps to justify reducing living beings to commodities in order to sustain world economic exchanges. Communication is possible, it has always taken place; it is surrounded by mystery, by inexhaustible enigmas, by untranslatable aspects too, but ultimately by creative misunderstandings. It doesn’t have the fluidity of a café conversation, but it is nonetheless rich in meaning.

As an enigma among other enigmas, the human way of being alive only makes sense if it is woven into the countless other ways of being alive that the animals, plants, bacteria, and ecosystems all around us demand.

The ever-intact enigma of being a human is richer and more poignant when we share it with other life forms in our great family, when we pay attention to them, and when we do justice to their otherness. This interplay of kinship and otherness with other living beings, the common causes they foster in the politics of life, is part of what makes the ‘mystery of living,’ of being a human being, so inexhaustible.

Independent Media Institute_______________________

Baptiste Morizot is a writer and lecturer in philosophy at Aix-Marseille University in France who studies the relationship between humans and other living beings. His many books include Ways of Being Alive and Rekindling Life: A Common Front, both published in English by Polity Books.

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