secularavatar: <strong>The levees come down and the Apartheid wall goes up:</strong>
Thursday, March 23, 2006
  The levees come down and the Apartheid wall goes up:
Katrina, Mardi Gras and Palestine

"Every savage can dance"
During the 1994 World Cup an enterprising reporter in search of local color ventured into a nearby Brazilian immigrant community where the punters were celebrating Brazil’s shootout victory. How, inquired the wondering reporter of one of the celebrants, does such an exuberant and boozing crowd manage to celebrate so long and hard without resorting to fisticuffs? That, replied the Brazilian cheerfully, is because we Brazilians have a drink, dance for an hour, have another drink and dance for another hour and so on. You Anglos just knock back one drink after another until you’re blind drunk and then start fighting.

The cultural and class delineation of dancing and celebration provided by our unnamed Brazilian succinctly encompasses the indigenous Mardi Gras paradigm. The insufferable Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice sums up the view from the other side of the class divide. Upon being pressed by Sir William to join in dancing a jig (with its suspect Irish connotations) Darcy declines, brutally abrupt: "Every savage can dance".

The New Orleans version of Mardi Gras kicks off the Lenten period yet has wonderful, subversive origins in fabled Congo Square, the New Orleans landmark where African-American slaves and Gulf Shore Native Americans hooked up to share drumming, dancing and singing. The value of the cultural cross-fertilization that went down in the Square is incalculable: The roots of blues, jazz, funk and zydeco (said to be a corruption of the Atakapa words for youth dance) all sprang from the fertile soil of Congo Square to our eternal gratitude. Picture, if you will, an America informed solely by pinched and gloomy Calvinists. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

One year before Katrina, Louisiana State University sponsored a what-if scenario called "Hurricane Pam" that eerily portended what was to come: 120 mph winds, a majority of buildings damaged by a massive storm surge and refugees awaiting rescue on rooftops. Ivor Van Heerden, the LSU researcher who ran the exercise, reported that attending FEMA officials were unresponsive and the Army Corps of Engineers "giggled" in the back of the room at the suggestion that tent cities be planned near New Orleans to house the anticipated homeless. The disdainful rejoinder was that "Americans don’t live in tents" exhibiting not only blatant disregard for lives of the poor but also an empathetic inability to imagine oneself obliged to live in a tent. The Corps, authors of more than one engineering blunder, along with their incompetent FEMA colleagues were not only short on empathy; they may also have instinctively understood that massing large numbers of largely poor black refugees in nearby locations would be a recipe for ease of return and possible social ferment. Confusion and dispersal allows greater scope for control.

The aftermath of Katrina brought us nothing less than an ethnic cleansing in plain sight yet it passed with scarcely a murmur in the wider American landscape. A few mainstream journalists became momentarily exercised but quickly subsided to routine lapdoggery. Yet the sorrowful image of mainly poor African-American refugees trudging along the highways of New Orleans has not dissipated and the majority of them are still scattered far and wide while our rulers plot to remake New Orleans in a blanched and Disneyfied version of the real, the soulful, the so very necessary thing. Glen Ford of gets it exactly right:

Displacement based on race is a form of genocide, as recognized under the Geneva Conventions. Destruction of a people’s culture, by official action or depraved inaction, is an offense against humanity, under international law. New Orleans – the whole city, and its people – is an indispensable component of African American culture and history. It is clear that the displaced people of New Orleans are being outsourced – to everywhere, and nowhere. They are not nowhere people. They are citizens of the United States, which is obligated to right the wrongs of the Bush regime, and its unnatural disaster. Charity is fine. Rights are better. The people of New Orleans have the Right to Return – on Uncle Sam’s tab.

The Right to Return
In December last, hundreds of Katrina survivors demonstrated in New Orleans with jazz music and offerings to – significantly enough - the gods. Hoisting signs reading "We have the right to return" and chanting "We’re Back!' the protesters voiced a growing fear that New Orleans mostly black poor would remain permanently displaced by design. They marched to City Hall from Congo Square accompanied by drumming and a brass band to demand their rights with a Mardi Gras-esque esprit. "Right of return', so evocative of the Palestinian struggle for justice, is now the shared demand and right of both the Palestian and Katrina diasporas.

The right of refugees to return to their homes and lands is enshrined in international law and in the case of the Palestinians supported by UN resolutions. Katrina refugees may wish to consider the UN as a venue to achieve their own human right to return to their homes. Meanwhile wealthy white residents of New Orleans are returning to their villas and businesses (many never left), some reportedly under the paid protection of Israeli and Iraq-honed American security firms no doubt selected because of their especial expertise in thuggery against people of color as alluded to by the shamelessly violent name of one of the Israeli companies: Instinctive Shooting International (ISI).

The Katrina-Palestine linkage continues when we learn that in order to avoid a PR scandal Israel deferred its July 2005 request for a special $2.2 billion aid package (over and above its usual dole) out of deference to unexpected expenses from Katrina reconstruction. This generous baksheesh in return for the so-called Gaza disengagement was to be earmarked for “development“ in the Negev and Galilee which terminology is barely concealed code for the Judaization of those two critical areas of pre-1967 lands still containing large Arab populations. In a word, completing with US taxpayer assistance any ethnic cleansing left unfinished in 1948.

Shortly after the new year however the Israelis felt sufficiently confident to shed their uncharacteristic reticence and renew their application for the funds. The now-comatose Sharon had set the direction: The main effort post-Gaza disengagement should be to insure Jewish dominance "in Galilee and the Negev, Greater Jerusalem, the settlement blocs and the security zones". Like their white coconspirators in the United States who consider a black New Orleans as a danger to crackerism rampant, the Israelis have long regarded the large concentration of Arabs in both the Galilee and Negev as dangerous to a parallel Jewish crackerism necessary to maintain the genetic requirements of a Jewish state. Blut und boden sleight of hand: Underwritten by lavishing your tax dollars in the first instance and withholding them in the second.

The levees come down and the Apartheid wall goes up
In terms of barrier characteristics and costs, the despicable Apartheid wall when complete will be 225 miles long, 25 feet high and will cost an estimated $1 billion. The levee system is a longer barrier at 350 miles but of varying heights and construction and in some places mere earthen dams. Rebuilding the levees to pre-Katrina strength alone is estimated at $1.6 billion much less than the special package for which Israel has resumed touting. Let us therefore compare structural outcomes: The levees keep out water and protect the lives and properties of all residents whereas the Apartheid wall imprisons residents with undesirable DNA and transfers lands thus confiscated into the hands of those with desirable DNA.

Aside from the aforementioned special package, US annual aid to Israel siphons off enormous sums that could be used for the US public weal. In light of the American Society of Civil Engineers 2005 report that US infrastructure is rapidly crumbling to third world levels (which Katrina promptly demonstrated) US aid to Israel is a drain that sucks away money at rates all the more astounding given that Israel’s ranking by nominal GDP is comparable to Spain, Cyprus, Greece and New Zealand. With a miniscule .001% of the world’s population Israel nevertheless has become accustomed to an annual entitlement comprising a hefty one third of the entire US foreign aid budget or around $3-4 billion. And that’s just what is auditable.

Still more US funding to Israel is buried in budgets for the Pentagon and other federal agencies, to say nothing of the private remittances by Jewish and Christian groups. Furthermore because Israel has been granted a unique status by Congress it receives its yearly largesse in a lump sum the first month of each fiscal year rather than under the quarterly installment plan other recipients are obliged to follow. Richard Curtiss explains the ramifications of this singular sweetheart deal: "That means that the U.S., which has to borrow the money it gives to Israel, pays interest on the money it has granted to Israel in advance, while at the same time Israel is collecting interest on the money". To further personalize this massive outflow; between the years of 1949-1996 the US matched every $1 of aid spent per capita in Africa with $251 spent per capita in Israel.

While Israel was basking in this yearly deluge of dollars it industriously established an intimate collaboration with Apartheid South Africa. Balthazar Vorster, South Africa's Prime Minister during the height of Apartheid, minced no words in describing their shared racial values: "Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples". The profitable armament development and security connections established under this repellant mutual admiration society led to tools and techniques both countries used internally for control as well as for export to other countries where dark-skinned people were in need of salutary violence and surveillance that they might learn the error of their ways.

And in a particularly evocative parallel Israel is planning a new cost-effective pattern of settlement in the Negev whereby single settler families or small groups rather than populous settlement blocs will control large swaths of land in a manner redolent of the model of sturdy white American pioneers scattered on individual homesteads throughout Native American territory. It is not for nothing that US soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and other outposts of Empire refer to the countries they are molesting as "Injun country".

The monotheists weigh in
Katrina provided an ideal theme for the deranged monotheists currently so influential both here and abroad. Hostility to any targeted Other comes quite easily to monotheists drugged with Jealous God-ordained exclusivity. The US variety saw fetuses swirling in satellite maps of the approaching hurricane and gleefully proclaimed that "Providence punishes national sins by national calamities". Others declared it divine punishment for countenancing the Gaza settlement pullout: "…the implementation of His judgment on the nation most responsible for endangering the land and people of Israel." A Kuwaiti official who pontificated about the "terrorist Katrina" as a soldier of Allah was bookended neatly by convicted felon Chuck Colson speculating that Yahweh had sent Katrina to remind Americans of the importance of winning the war on terror. And the Chief Gnome of the 700 Club cited Leviticus as proof that Katrina was divine retribution for legalizing abortion.

Not to be outdone, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was more explicit in laying the blame for Katrina directly on African-American shoulders. Not only was Katrina punishment for supporting the Gaza pullout but also because black residents of New Orleans neglected to study the Torah and therefore "they have no God". Yosef continued instructing his congregants: "It was God's retribution. God does not short-change anyone,…There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn't enough Torah study.... Black people reside there. Blacks will study the Torah? (God said:) let’s bring a tsunami and drown them…." Israeli officials discounted the raving Rabbi but the late Israel Shahak knew better when he rumbled the Talmudic racism permeating the Israeli legal, military and educational systems.

"I’m mighty proud he don’t bow down"
The Mardi Gras Indians whose Congo Square origins are so joyously celebrated in the Wild Magnolias’ Brother John is Gone - possibly the greatest funeral song ever - emerged in the late 19th century with beaded, feathered costumes that, like their driving percussion drumming and call-and-response songs, are a glorious fusion of Native American and African cultures. We fervently trust that the Tribes have gathered in force for Mardi Gras this year, in spite of the loss of many of their painstakingly sewn costumes to Katrina’s fury and FEMA mismanagement. Affirming the presence of the true inhabitants of New Orleans with their music and drumming the Tribes will perchance help to dispel the clouds of coffin flies plaguing New Orleans, not only the ones that live off decomposing human remains but also the vicious human variety circling the desolate Ninth Ward plotting ways to keep the refugees from returning. Drumming has ever been regarded with alarm by imperial British sahibs, southern plantation owners and the DC Park Service alike.

As Mardi Gras commences this year and the Tribes gather to drum, dance and sing, let us paraphrase the Magnolias and say to Cynthia McKinney, Malik Rahim, Khalid Mash’al, Ward Churchill, Hugo Chavez, Gilad Atzmon and the countless brothers and sisters around the globe who labor mightily each day with their deeds, their words and their art to defy Empire from both within and without, "I’m mighty proud you don’t bow down. You don’t bow down and you don’t know how".

Sharon's Speech
UK Guardian One
UK Guardian Two
Washington Post
Media Matters
Israel's 2.2 billion dollar baksheesh
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The willful failure of western progressives to understand Israel's role as a colonial, theocratic and apartheid entity contributes in large part to progressive inability to successfully oppose both the war in Iraq and America's push for total global domination.
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The secularavatar is a progressive activist grandmother from the Middle West who spent many years studying and travelling in the Middle East.

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