North Korea vs. The United States: A Checklist

Time for an unpopular opinion. The United States is just the kids menu version of North Korea.

North Korea has strict border control and rampant xenophobia.
The United States has strict border control (not even counting The Wall project) and rampant xenophobia. (The Muslim Ban, the Border Wall, anti refugee legislation)

  • North Korea actively keeps resources away from people who they deem a burden on the State or to be dissidents. To the point of committing genocide against them
  • The United States has been waging a war against the poor and various minority groups since Day 1. (Many cities are trying to make homelessness illegal, while doing nothing to aid the homeless. We can also cite the constant attacks on Welfare and Food Stamps for this one.)

 

  • North Korea uses its propaganda ministry to convince the people that they have the highest standard of living anywhere on the planet.
  • The United States uses its news media to convince the people that they have the highest standard of living anywhere on the planet. Many Americans honestly believe that they have the best healthcare system in the world.

 

  • North Korea uses the government to control the print media.
  • The United States has been banning certain news organizations from White House press briefings and has been calling anyone who disagrees with them ‘fake news’. They also talk constantly about having to “hold the media accountable”.

 

  • North Korea uses an army and secret police to control the citizens through fear.
  • The United States uses the police force to create a system of fear among minorities so that they can keep them second class citizens. (See the statistics on numbers of PoC incarcerated and the statistics on the number of PoC killed by police)

 

  • North Korea has secret prison camps where they subject people to forced labor as punishment.
  • The United States uses prisoners as slave labor as punishment.

 

  • North Korea is a genocidal regime ruled over by an utterly incompetent overgrown child who has no idea how politics works.
  • The United States has waged genocides in the past, is committing human rights abuses and crimes against its own citizens on a daily basis, and is ruled over by an utterly incompetent overgrown child who has no idea how politics works. (See the continued plight of Native Americans, the battle for women’s reproductive rights, rape culture, and the LGBTQA rights battle)

The only thing that North Korea has that we don’t is a docile citizenry that doesn’t even know to fight back and has even fewer resources to use to fight back than we do.

Stay angry. Keep fighting. Look out for your neighbors. Use your privilege to shield them when you can. Call out racism, sexism, abelism, and all other isms. Most importantly, punch Nazis.

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Israel and Palestine: An Issue of Genocide

Israel and Palestine has been on my writing list for a while now, but I’d never gotten around to really doing the research and writing something.  Life got busy, I was writing other things, it just never came up.  Then a friend of mine requested my take on the issue.  The question I was asked was: Is Palestine experiencing a genocide at the hands of the Israeli government.  Before I tackle this question, there are a few points I want to make in regards to being critical of the State of Israel and actions it has taken in recent years.

You can be critical of actions taken by Israel without being against the State of Israel.

You can be against the current Israeli government without being against the idea of an independent Jewish state.

You can be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic.

These points need to be made before I begin tackling the issue of Israel and Palestine because it is not uncommon for any critique of Israel to be labeled anti-Semitic.  I am a Holocaust and Genocide Studies Scholar and I will be giving my opinion on the current situation.  You are welcome to disagree with me.  Now before we get into current and recent events, a little history is in order.

Where did Israel come from?

The modern State of Israel was established in May of 1948, following the Holocaust, to give the Jewish people a free and independent state.  Many people, especially following the devastation of the Holocaust believed that the Jewish people would never truly be free or safe unless they had their own sovereign state.  So Israel was created.

Before Israel was created, beginning in 1881, there were a series of mass migrations of Jews to Palestine.  These were called Aliyahs.  There were five in total and many were the result of anti-Semitic pogroms happening in Europe.  By the end of World War II Jews made up roughly 1/3 of the population of Palestine.

Following the Holocaust, and the increased amounts of Zionism that sprang up, something had to be done about the Jewish refugees trying to get into Palestine.  The British had placed immigration limits on Jews entering Palestine in 1939, and Palestine was technically ruled by British mandate.  In May of 1947 the UN created the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine.  The Committee suggested that the British mandate be dissolved and replaced with an Independent Arab State, an Independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem.  Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all claim Jerusalem as a holy city.  There was no way to give stewardship of the city to either Israel or Palestine without causing great conflict with the other group so the Committee suggested that Jerusalem be ruled over by an International Trusteeship.

The Jewish Assembly accepted this plan of a partitioned Jewish/Arab State, while the Arab League rejected it.  This caused an escalation of conflict until the Arab-Israeli War began in May of 1948, shortly after the formal recognition of Israel by the UN.

Wait, I thought we were talking about the current issues the Palestinians are facing…

Well, we are, but this isn’t an issue you can just jump into with both feet.  There’s back story that needs to be understood so that we know why things are happening.

The end result of this war was that Israel won and ended up controlling all of the land granted them by the UN, as well as 60% of the land granted to Palestine.  Roughly 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes, adding to the 250,000 – 300,000 who had left their homes preceding the creation of Israel.  Roughly 700,000 Jews moved into that area after having been kicked out of various Middle Eastern countries.

Causes of Arab flight from Palestine include: Jewish military advances, destruction of Arab villages, psychological warfare and fears of another massacre by Zionist militias after the Deir Yassin massacre, which caused many to leave out of panic; direct expulsion orders by Israeli authorities; the voluntary self-removal of the wealthier classes; collapse in Palestinian leadership and Arab evacuation orders, and an unwillingness to live under Jewish control.

Ok, but what about what’s happening NOW…

We’re almost there.  Following the flight of the majority of the Palestinians from Palestine, Israel passed a number of laws disallowing the Palestinians their right to return to their homes in Palestine.  Some historians see the forcible removal of the Palestinians from Palestine, and the fact that Israel is not allowing them to return to their original homes, effectively trapping them in refugee camps across the Middle East as an ethnic cleansing or genocide.

Whoa, whoa, whoa… genocide?

Yeah, and this isn’t the issue we even came her to discuss.  So let’s define genocide.

The UN legally defined genocide in 1948 with the Convention for the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide.  Genocide is defined as such:

“Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Now war and genocide often go hand in hand, but this does not make all wars genocidal.  The key part of the definition is the intent to destroy.  All genocides involve that same intent to destroy the target group.  Is Israel making efforts to destroy the Palestinians, in part or in whole?  Now that is the question we came here to answer.

Is Israel committing genocide against the Palestinians?

This is a loaded question, and I fully expect to get angry messages from people for even posing the question.  So allow me to say this:  It is my job as a historian to critically analyze the things that are happening in our world and to attempt to provide perspective on those events.  It is YOUR job as human beings to critically analyze the things that are happening in our world.  I’m just better equipped for such analysis and so I offer this help in your analysis.  As unbiased as I can make it, with all of my skills as a genocide historian and researcher brought to bear.

Technically being expelled from your homeland and not being allowed to return by an invading nation isn’t genocide.  Now before anyone jumps on that phrasing, Israel did invade Palestine and take over the majority of the land that would have been granted Palestine under the UN resolution.  Whether the UN had the right to take land from the Palestinians and give it away to another nation is a different issue.  So Israel did invade Palestinian ancestral land and roughly 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes as a result.

There are far more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees though.  According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), about 1/3 of Palestinians refugees, 1.5 million people, live in 58 designated refugees camps throughout the Middle East.  The conditions in these camps are generally poor, they have high population densities, and inadequate basic infrastructure.  They don’t have sewers in many of them.

Of those 58 refugee camps, 27 of them exist in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  Now, while both of those areas are nominally Palestinian territories, both are still technically controlled by Israel.

Human Rights Watch, a non-government organization (NGO), considers Israel to still be an invading and occupying force in these two Palestinian regions.  The two of which are separated from each other by the nation of Israel.

“Even though Israel unilaterally withdrew its troops and settlements from Gaza in 2005, it continues to have obligations as an occupying power in Gaza under the Fourth Geneva Convention because of its almost complete control over Gaza’s borders, sea and air space, tax revenue, utilities, population registry, and the internal economy of Gaza. At a minimum, Israel continues to be responsible for the basic welfare of the Palestinian population in Gaza.”

So what we have hear are two Palestinian areas, occupied by Israel, full of refugee camps with poor and horrifically cramped living conditions.  We have the Gaza Strip, where most every aspect of their lives are still controlled by the Israeli government and military.  We have the West Bank, where Palestinians are effectively kept from accessing the major roads in their supposedly sovereign state.  Effectively keeping them in a state of economic turmoil and forcing them to rely on foreign aid to remain alive.

The citizens of the Palestine are also being denied their basic right to water by the Israeli government.  The World Health Organization recommends 100 liters of water per capita, where as most Palestinian citizens in occupied territories receive only 70 liters per capita.

From the above information we can clearly see that Palestinians in occupied territories are deliberately being denied the basic rights and requirements of life.  Forcing them to live in a constant state of struggle.  Part of the UN definition of genocide includes “inflicting on members of the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in part or in whole.”  A case could possibly made for an Israeli genocide of Palestinians using that part of the definition.  Let’s keep going.

13 of the 58 Palestinian refugee camps are in the nation of Syria.  Putting aside the conditions of those camps, we will merely focus on the location of those camps.  In Syria.

What’s so bad about refugee camps being in Syria?

Well, I’m just spit-balling here, but probably because of the ongoing Civil War that’s ravaging Syria, and also ISIS.

I’m going to pull a section from another essay I wrote a while back on 45’s proposed Muslim Ban.  It’s easier than writing it all out again.

“ISIS is likely the most successful militant group in recent history.  They began as al Qaeda, in Iraq in 2004, but two years later they changed their name to ISIS after taking over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria, and holding them.  ISIS declared itself a legitimate state in 2014, established a government and continues its war even today.  ISIS not only wages war against Iraq and Syria, but it also conducts and inspires terrorist attacks around the world.

Now, Syria has been engaged in a civil war since 2011, following the Arab Spring, and the situation is such a hopeless quagmire that it makes World War I look simple.  There are four main groups fighting in the war.  The Syrian Government, ISIS, a Sunni Arab rebel group called the Free Syrian Army, and The Syrian Democratic Forces.  Half of the country’s pre-war inhabitants, around 11 million people, have been killed or displaced.  The Syrian Civil War is the single largest humanitarian crisis of the past 20 years.  Syrian refugees are fleeing for their lives from a horror that I can’t even imagine.”

So here we have 13 refugee camps for Palestinians inside a country that is also dealing with its own refugee crisis as Syrians continue to flee the war and the ravages of ISIS.  Palestinian refugees fleeing this horror alongside the Syrians are either denied entry into countries that are taking in the Syrians, or are placed in separate camps with even stricter conditions (in the case of the nation of Jordan).  Palestinians who were forced to flee the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel are not being permitted to return to their homes in Palestine.

According to an article on the Jewish Virtual Library, the Palestinian Right to Return is a plot to destroy Israel.  Citing that if all the refugees were allowed to return to Israel, the Arabs would be the majority and the one and only Jewish state would be destroyed.  Israel denies the Palestinians the right to return to the homes and land that they fled or were forced to flee.

Now, technically there is no law anywhere that guarantees the Palestinians the right to be able to reclaim their homes.  The UN General Assembly said that Palestinians should be permitted to return to their old homes if they are willing to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors, but the UN General Assembly can only really make suggestions.  They can’t pass laws or compel anything.

Of the Arab countries that have taken in Palestinian refugees and set them up in camps, only Jordan really allows them to apply for citizenship.

Based on what we know of refugee camps and the conditions that they usually have.  Based on Israel denying Palestinians the right to return to their old homes.  Based on how Israel deals with Palestinians in occupied territory and based on how Israel still, illegally, occupies Palestinian territory we can very easily say that Israel is violating the human rights of the Palestinians.  Genocide though?

We have seen how the Israelis, in their dealings with occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), that Israel is denying Palestinians human rights.  Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Does this imply that the Palestinians do have the right to return to their nation if they wish?  That’s an issue for another day.  It does state though that when Israel denies Palestinians the use of major roads in the West Bank they are denying their right to free travel.  By restricting access to roads and setting up checkpoints and making it harder for Palestinians to move around they are lowering the standard of living of all Palestinians and most assuredly violating their human rights.

The difficult part when trying to determine if genocide is occurring, in this case, is, are actions being taken that are “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.  We know that Palestinians are being denied their rights.  We know that the conditions of refugee camps are often awful and that people will die due to those conditions.  We know that lack of access to proper infrastructure and water can cause deaths.  We know that Israel is inflicting on OPTs conditions that keep them in a state of economic decline.  Are these conditions being inflicted with the intent of destroying the Palestinian people?  That’s a harder question to tackle.  Let’s shift away from the political and economic violence being inflicted upon the Palestinians, and discuss the physical violence that the Israeli and Palestinians are doing to each other.

What physical violence?

If we wanted to tackle the long and bloody history of physical violence and armed conflict between Israel and Palestine we’d need an entire book (at least).  So we’ll focus on one event from 2014 that took place in the Gaza Strip.

In 2014 the Israeli military launched Operation Protective Edge.  During that operation 2,104 Palestinians died.  The majority of whom were civilians. “An Israeli government official told the BBC that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had killed 1,000 “terrorists” during the assault on Gaza.”  The Gaza Strip is ruled over by Hamas, a known terrorist group, but if the majority of the deaths were civilians, that paints a different picture of Operation Protective Edge.

“The IDF says Hamas fired at least 4,591 rockets towards Israel between 8 July and 31 August – with more than 735 intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile systems. It says its own forces have hit at least 5,226 targets in Gaza. A number of UN buildings have also been hit, while people were sheltering inside.”

There’s massive violence on both sides of the conflict.  Israel has been criticized for using the “knock on the roof” approach, whereby they fire a non-explosive missile before beginning the true missile strike.

Wow, that’s a lot to digest…

It really is.  Israel is still illegally occupying parts of Palestinian territory.  They are restricting access to roads, water, and disallowing Palestinians to return to the homes they were forced from in past wars.  They are passing discriminatory legislation in the Palestinian areas they still control, and both sides often to their best to kill the other.

We’ve sort of left behind the question we were trying to answer when this essay began.  Is Israel committing genocide against the Palestinians?

Short answer: No

Long answer: Still no, but the situation bears watching and should be the cause of great concern for everyone keeping track of the Israel-Palestine Conflict.  According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Pyramid of Hate, created in 2005, discriminatory legislation falls on the third of  five levels on the Pyramid of Hate.  I have used the Pyramid of Hate in most of my writings on Genocide Studies, as it is a clear and easy to follow guide to how genocides come about.

Israel is engaging in dangerous policies in regards to the Palestinians.  Their [the Palestinians] rights are definitely being violated.  They are treated as second class citizens in OPT.  They are seen by many Jews and Israelis as the enemy simply by virtue of being Palestinian.  There’s no genocide… yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one soon.  Regardless of the lack of genocide, something needs to change in how Israel and Palestine deal with each other.  The death toll is way too high.

I believe in a free and independent Palestine.  I believe in a free and independent Israel.  I also believe that the current Israeli government needs to undergo massive changes before it will have my respect again.  I also believe that the Gaza Strip should get rid of Hamas.  No one is comporting themselves well in this situation, but Israel has all the power when it comes to this conflict.  It’s on them to help raise Palestine up, not raze them down.

New Things Are Happening!

Hello all!

It’s been a while since I posted anything here, but that’s partially because of my work at the New York Renaissance Faire taking so much of my energy, and all of my spare energy going to begging my Adjunct Teaching job at Kean University, and publishing Representations of Genocide in Cartoons.

“Representations of Genocide in Cartoons is an attempt to analyze a widely consumed form of entertainment media for educational purposes. The book examines a wide variety of cartoon media, including cartoons designed for children and those designed for a more mature audience. It also examines cartoons across cultural divides, touching on Western Animation like Avatar the Last Airbender and Japanese Anime like Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. Representations is the first book of its kind and will hopefully change the way we watch cartoons and spur us to examine the media we consume more critically.”

The book is available in both paperback and eBook formats.  All versions of the book can be found through my Amazon Author’s Page.

Your Protest Should Inconvenience People

I know that just reading the title of this is going to be enough for some people to get angry over.  Try and read the whole thing before you decide that the thing to do is leave an angry comment.

Protesting is as old a tradition as America has.  We’ve been protesting since before we even became a nation, and there’s no chance that we’ll stop in the near future.  By now you all know the format of these articles.  So our first question is:

Why do people protest?

Now that’s an excellent question.  People can protest for a number of reasons, but it all boils down to this:  Something is happening that people don’t like, and they want to ensure that their voices are heard.

Why don’t they just call their Representatives?

That’s a great idea, but your question assumes that people aren’t doing that as well.  And they are!  In the wake of the inauguration of the 45th president of the US and the policy decisions he’s been making people have been calling their representatives so much that voice mails got filled to capacity.  Even emails started bouncing back as mailboxes also got filled to capacity.  That’s not even taking into account the Congressional Representatives that turned off their phones.  So what do you do when your Representative isn’t taking your calls?  Well, they’re supposed to turn up for Town Hall meetings to talk directly with their constituents concerning issues that affect them.  Except a majority of Republican Representatives didn’t show up for those meetings.  

So what can people do when their Representatives are actively avoiding them?

They can take to the streets and guarantee that their voices are heard.  They can, say it with me, protest!

But what are they protesting about?  They live in the greatest country in the world!

Let’s leave the statistics aside on how exactly America is #1.  America may be a great place to live for a lot of people.  It is not an ideal place to live if you’re a Person of Color interacting with the police.  It’s not if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community.  It’s not if you’re Muslim.  It’s not if you’re an immigrant.

So what are these people protesting?  They’re protesting massive amounts of systemic, societal injustice that is killing members of our community.  They’re protesting the dehumanization of PoC and LGBTQ people by the media and by many politicians.  They’re protesting a president who has mocked woman, immigrants, and various other groups.  They’re protesting a world that only views certain people as people.  They’re protesting a nation that makes claims at equality and that all people are created equal, and then fails to live up to that.  They’re angry and they have a right to be.  When Congress turns off its phones, the only recourse left to be heard is to march.

Why can’t they just protest like MLK Jr.?  

They are.  All these folk going out into the streets, marching, carrying signs, blocking traffic, disrupting your daily lives.  Even the ones breaking windows.  They are protesting just the way Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted them to.

No way!  MLK would never have blocked traffic or disrupted people’s lives.  He believed in non-violence.

Read this.

I’m going to bullet point it here too.

  • The Civil Rights movement caused massive economic disruption.
  • It was seen by many as ‘extremism’
  • Most people like Rosa Parks, who we celebrate today, were hated in their time
  • The average American hated the Civil Rights Movement and insisted it would do more harm than good.
  • The federal government put 19,000 troops on standby for the March on Washington.  It terrified them.

When Dr. King led the Selma March they took up entire roads.  They filled the entire width of the Edmund Peetus Bridge in Selma.  They blocked the whole road.

So yeah, Dr. King encouraged his followers to be non-violent.  He also never denounced a single riot done in the name of Civil Rights.

Wait, what?

Yeah.  On March 14, 1968, at Grosse Point High School Dr. King gave a speech in which he called riots “the voice of the unheard”.  Dr. King would never have used violent measures himself, but he understood that when you’re fighting for your rights, and your right to live as equals in a society that doesn’t see you as people, sometimes you have to make a statement they cannot ignore.  In a capitalist society such as ours, a good hit to the wallet is always felt.  That’s why the Montgomery Bus Boycott was so successful, that’s why Lunch Counter Sit-ins worked.  Dr. King preached civil disobedience.  When the law is unjust or immoral or unethical, break the law.  Legal and ethical are not the same thing.

But it’s Unamerican to break people’s property in protest.

That’s the most American thing ever!  In 1773, in protest of British tea taxes, colonists dumped 340 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.  They caused nearly $2 million of damage.  We started this country by making an economic statement of protest.

Ok, but blocking traffic is dangerous.  What if emergency services need to get through?

I could write a lot about that, but honestly, it’s already been done.  Emergency crews are always let through when protestors are aware that there is an emergency crew that needs to be let through.  These people are out there marching so that everyone can live a free and equal life.  Would they really be the type of people to block emergency vehicles?

People block traffic so that you will be inconvenienced.  So that you can’t help but notice.  Too many people don’t see problems until it effects them.  Well, we’re gonna make it affect you.


I’ve covered most of the questions I encounter in this discussion, but all these questions are smokescreens.  They’re distractions from the real question.

Why can’t these people just stay out of my way and protest quietly over in the corner?

Because then you’d have no reason to listen.

These people are out there protesting a system that is KILLING THEIR NEIGHBORS.  They are going to make damn sure that you hear us.  If that involves blocking roads.  We’re gonna do it.  If that involves Punching Nazis, we’re gonna do it.  If that involves being a nuisance and making your life more difficult, we’re gonna do that.

But even if we did protest in a way that didn’t inconvenience anyone, that didn’t block traffic or break anything, PEOPLE WOULD STILL COMPLAIN.

Colin Kaepernick protested by sitting during the National Anthem at an NFL game he was playing in.  So obviously he was seen on camera, on National Television doing this.  Who was hurt by that?  Whose life was made more difficult?  What was broken?  Nothing.  But the backlash was immense.

I’m going to finish this up by paraphrasing a quote from William Lloyd Garrison, and know that whatever criticism you have of protestors these days, this will be my response.

We are in earnest — We will not equivocate — We will not excuse — We will not retreat a single inch — AND WE WILL BE HEARD.

 

Listen Kids, Some Parts of Your Culture Suck

Sometimes people say certain words to me.  These words should not be said because they will make me angry.  Some of these words include:

The movie was better
I just don’t like dogs
Men’s Rights Activists have a legitimate case to make

But two of the worst sentences you can say are:

Well John, that’s just their culture.  You have to respect that.

No, I don’t.

Why do people keep insisting that we have to respect all aspects of someone else’s culture?  When did the liberal world get such a hard on for cultural relativism?

What’s cultural relativism?

So, cultural relativism is the idea that a person’s beliefs and activities should be understood based on the person’s own culture.  We shouldn’t judge other cultures for having ideas that are different than ours.  It was first put forward as an idea by anthropologist Franz Boas and was in direct conflict with the idea of ethnocentrism.  Ethnocentrism is the practice of judging the actions or values of another culture based on the values that your own culture has.

Well, ethnocentrism sounds like a bad thing.

Hey, it is.  Or it can be.  We’re always going to judge things based on our own views of right and wrong.  Cultural relativism goes right along with the idea of moral relativism.  Moral relativism is the idea that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.

This can become a huge problem as we become unable to judge or condemn problematic aspects of another culture because, say it with me, cultural relativism doesn’t let us.   Because it insists that you can only judge the morality of a culture from inside that culture’s own perspective. There are many examples of problematic aspects of culture.

In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive a car.  There’s no specific law which bans them from driving, but deeply held religious beliefs don’t allow it and many Saudi clerics argue that female drivers undermine social values.  

In many parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) happens on a regular basis.  This includes such procedures as removing the clitoris from girl aged infancy to 15 years.  There are no potential health benefits and lifelong harm that comes from all FGM procedures.

Many Middle Eastern communities still practice stonings.  Muslim women who are accused of adultery are stoned to death for their punishment.  In case you can’t figure out the definition of stoning, it involves having rocks hurled at you until you die.  Such events are especially prevalent in fundamentalist Islamic nations, like Syria under ISIS.

Turkey actively denies the Armenian Genocide and has a law on the books (called Penal Code 301) that makes it illegal to embarrass Turkey.  This law is most often cited in cases where Turkish citizens or Turkish-Armenian citizens call upon Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide.  Hrant Dink was a Turkish-Armenian journalist who was arrested multiple times under Code 301 and was eventually assassinated by a Turkish nationalist.

Turkey also allows, in some cases at least, honor killings.  These are murders committed for the purpose of restoring a family’s honor.  One case, involving a murder in Germany in 2005 recently concluded.

And there are dozens of other examples that I could list if I wanted to go more into this.  Many of those unfortunate cultural practices even happen in the US.  *cough* anti-Vaxxers *cough*

Wow.  Those all sounds like awful things.

They are!  Cultural relativism can be used to cover up human rights abuses and to hide people from the consequences of crimes.  All because “it’s allowed in their culture”.  So here’s a quick study guide for you kids.

Does any aspect of your culture call for the death of another group?
GET RID OF IT.

Does any aspect of your culture treat another group as a lesser person for any reason at all?
GET RID OF IT.

Does any aspect of your culture discriminate against anyone in any way at all?
GET RID OF IT.

I am all for cultural differences.  They make the world a richer and broader place.  However, some aspects of cultures are just plain wrong and they should never be entertained.  I’m looking at you, Southern States with Confederate War Memorials.  I’m looking at you, “Heritage Not Hate” proponents.  I’m looking at you, the Alt-Right.

Well John, it sounds like you want to just push your own cultural values on other people.  That’s imperialistic.

Wow, I don’t want to be mean, but just please stop talking.

So, you’re partially correct, I do want to take some key aspects of my own values and enforce them around the world.  Just one part though.  All people are people who deserve equal treatment and consideration under the law.  As long as your cultural practices don’t get in the way of that simple fact, I don’t really care what you do.  Do you want to go to Church on Sunday?  Fine.  Do you want to abstain from eating certain foods?  Fine.  Do you want to pray five times a day?  Fine.

There’s nothing wrong with those cultural practices.  There’s nothing wrong with like… 90% of all cultures.  I don’t expect everyone to live a life like I do.  I don’t expect everyone to share my values and to believe what I believe.  I do expect you to treat every single living person with dignity and respect and to accord them all rights and privileges that you would want for yourself.  If any part of your culture doesn’t mesh with that idea, then it’s not a valid cultural practice and I will fight it until it dies or I do.  Some parts of your culture just suck.  Police your values.  Police your ideas.  Hold people accountable to an objective morality.  All people are people and deserve equal treatment under the law.

The Boy Who Cried “White Racism”

Lately when I write these essays I continually mutter to myself “I can’t believe I have to write this.”  Here in America we have a strange and damaged relationship with the concept of race.  There are many topics that white Americans aren’t comfortable talking about.  We don’t like talking about slavery, we don’t like talking about Jim Crow laws, we don’t like talking about how African Americans and other minorities are still treated like second class citizens in many ways.  We don’t like to talk about problems that don’t affect us.  So we’ll talk about how ‘Immigrants are Stealing Our Jobs’ or we’ll talk about ‘White Genocide’, or we’ll shout from the roof tops about how ‘The Irish Were Slaves Too!’  I’m gonna address the issue of Irish slavery later.  First we’re gonna learn about the African slave trade and slavery in general.

What is a slave?

Well, dictionary.com defines slaves as: “a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another.”  The key word there, and the one we’ll want to pay very close attention to is ‘property’.  The type of slavery that Africans dealt with in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was specifically ‘chattel slavery’.  Under chattel slavery, slaves are treated no differently than any piece of property and they can be bought, traded, sold, or beaten at the leisure of their owner.

What’s the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?

The Trans-Atlantic Slave trade refers to the slave trading routes between Western Africa and the Americas.  We can actually point to pretty specific years for the start and end date of this massive slave trading operation.  The first European man to buy a West African slave was Antão Gonçalves, a Portuguese explorer in 1441 CE, and Brazil was the last country to officially ban the slave trade in 1888.  In that span of years perhaps 10 million Africans were sold into slavery (in the US alone).  Not all of the slaves who were captured in Africa made it to the America’s though.  Altogether, for every 100 slaves who reached the New World, another 40 had died in Africa or during the Middle Passage.

But, slavery is over in America right?  So what’s the big deal?

Oh man, that’s… *sigh* ok.  Yes, the practice of keeping slaves in the United States has ended.  This is a legal fact.  Slavery officially ended, legally, in the United States when Congress ratified the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865.  So yeah, from that day on slavery was no longer allowed in the US.  That wasn’t the end of racism though.  We didn’t all get together in a big group hug and suddenly love each other.  Slavery had begun in the United States in August of 1619.  It didn’t end until 1865.  That’s 246 years of slavery in the US. 246 years of virulent racism.  246 years of treating Africans and African Americans like property.  246 years of dehumanization, of treating Africans as less than human.  246 years.  You think we’re gonna solve that in a day.  That’s not even something that we’ve solved today.

But it’s been…

152 years since slavery was legally ended, by a Constitutional Amendment.  Slavery in the US still has nearly a century on Abolition.  Following the ratification of the 13th Amendment Congress also passed the 14th, and 15th Amendments.  Both were designed to try and improve the political lives of African Americans.  The 14th defined a citizen as any person born in or naturalized in the U.S., overturning the Dred Scott V. Sandford (1857) Supreme Court ruling stating that Black people were not eligible for citizenship.  The 15th prohibited governments from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote based on race, color, or past servitude.  This didn’t stop many Southern States from passing what would come to be called “Jim Crow Laws”.

What are Jim Crow Laws?

Jim Crow Laws are the name given to the wide series of State and Local laws that sprang up following the Reconstruction Period which were designed to keep African Americans from voting and to segregate White and Black populations.  Some key examples include poll taxes and literacy tests.  Jim Crow laws also included those measures that segregated bathrooms, schools, and dictated to African Americans that they had to sit in the back of the bus.  Following the death of legal slavery in the US, racism continued as people still felt racially superior to African Americans.

But this all happened over 100 years ago.

Not even close.  Technically the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  Still, that was only 53 years ago, and it only states what’s supposed to happen legally.  It does nothing to change what’s in the hearts and minds of people.  African Americans are jailed 600% more often than white people.  Of a prison population of about 2.3 million people, 1 million are African American.  This isn’t because African Americans commit more crimes than white people.  It’s because even 53 years after the Civil Rights Act, the effects of racism still effect relations between the races.  African Americans, and indeed all minority groups within the US, are marginalized and in many ways still treated as second class citizens.  Read through the wikipedia article on institutional racism if you want to know more about it.  There’s still racism in this country.  Legal, institutional racism, that is keeping African Americans and other minorities in a lesser position socially and economically.

Ok, but what does any of that have to do with Irish Slavery?

Excellent question!  It has nothing to do with Irish Slavery, but everything to do with why people use Irish Slavery as their own personal “I’m not racist card”.

I don’t understand…

I know you don’t, you’re just an internal dialogue I use to order my thoughts.  You don’t really exist.  Allow me to share with you a very brief history of anti-Irish sentiment in Europe and America, and then we’ll get into the meat of “Irish Slavery”.

Why did you put quotes around Irish Slavery that time?

You’ll see!  Back in the early days of the 12th century Pope Adrian IV signed a Papal Bull giving King Henry II of England the power and authority to conquer Ireland and so bring the Irish Church under the authority of Rome.  This Bull was later ratified by Pope Alexander III.  Both Popes considered the Irish to be a rude and barbarous nation with filthy practices.

When Viking raiders came to the British Isles they took English, Irish, and Scottish slaves.  There’s nothing truly particular about the Irish in this instance.  The Vikings made anyone they could defeat and capture a slave or thrall.  The Irish were also among the first to settle Iceland, though they did so as slaves, and not freemen.  While the British Isles did have slaves, and Irishmen were enslaved, Britain was never a “slave society”  it was merely a “society with slaves”.

Still, the lot of the Irish was not an easy one.  Even Voltaire, the patron saint of liberal ideology thought the Irish were a savage and backwards people.  As Protestantism became a more and more powerful force on the British Isles, the Irish refusal to denounce their Catholicism also earned them the ire of the English.

We’re all familiar with the stereotype of the Irish as drunk and violent.  This particular stereotype grew out of Victorian Era England and the 19th century United States.  In media the Irish were often depicted with an ape like face and were considered an inferior race compared to Anglo-Saxons.

We also absolutely have to mention the Great Famine, also known as the Irish Potato Famine.  From 1845 until 1852 there was a massive blight on the potatoes in Ireland.  The blight struck most of Europe and there’s a great deal of debate on where the blight came from before it got to Europe.  Despite the presence of the blight all throughout Western Europe, the Irish were hit the hardest.  A large percentage of Irish citizens were utterly dependent upon the potato as a crop for a variety of reasons.  They also only had one variety of potato growing in Ireland.  The Irish Lumper.  So when the Blight hit, Ireland got hit hard.  By 1846 about 75% of their potato crop was lost.  It’s estimated that around 1 million Irish citizens died as a direct result of the Blight and there’s still fierce political debate concerning whether the famine, or more particularly the British response to the famine, constitutes genocide.

We also have to talk about the period of American and English history affectionately called the “We Don’t Want to Hire You, You Filthy Stinking Irishman” era.   Following 1860 there were a large amount of signs on shops and job postings in newspapers that came with the addendum.  No Irish Need Apply or Irish Need Not Apply.  So yeah, the Irish have had a rough go of it.  That much we can easily say.

So Irish Slavery is talking about the Vikings?

Nope.  That was just a historical example of a time when the Irish were enslaved.  No, the truth about “Irish Slavery”, and why I’ve started putting it in quotes, is that it didn’t exist.  It’s true that the Irish were discriminated against.  They were persecuted for their religious beliefs, they were subject to dehumanization, we didn’t even talk about what Cromwell did.  They were discriminated against for jobs and faced a long string of harmful stereotyping.  The Irish have had a rough history.

When people talk about “Irish Slavery” they’re not talking about the Vikings.  They’re referring to the 17th and 18th century tradition of penal transportation and indentured servitude that the Irish dealt with.  Indentured servitude was a pretty common system.  It was how a lot of people got to ‘the New World’ when they didn’t have the money for passage.  You have someone else pay your way over and then you owe them a contractual obligation of unpaid labor for a period of time.  Usually seven years.  The main difference between indentured servitude and slavery is, both the fact that indentured service is temporary, and that indentured servants were still considered people.  While the indentured servitude system could be abused, and many indentured servants faced very poor conditions.  No comparison can be made.

We also have to consider the modern context of this argument.  The “Irish Slave” myth is often summed up like this: “The Irish were enslaved too, but you don’t here us whining about it.”  What this is, is a gross distortion of history and just further racism against black Americans and descendants of African slaves.  To even begin to make the comparison between penal servitude, indentured servitude, and chattel slavery.  Is just plain wrong.  You know who trumpets the horn of “Irish slavery” the most?  White supremacists and white nationalists.  Ask yourself, are those really groups that we want to associate with?  But don’t take my word on the myth of the Irish slaves.  Read this.

The final nail in the coffin of “Irish Slavery” though, isn’t even that it doesn’t exist.  It’s the awful racism that Irish immigrants inflicted on Black people in America.  The Irish learned pretty quickly that they could increase their social standing by stepping on the backs of the only group white America hated more.  Free Black people.  The Irish worked menial jobs for less money than they should have.  Then once they had an Irish monopoly on menial labor, they could command any price they wanted to.  They also did everything they could to keep Black people out of their workforce.  The Irish knew that if they kept working alongside Black people they’d forever be painted with the same brush.  They did everything they could to maintain the system of slavery in the US.  In order to improve their lot in life they knocked Black people down and used them as stairs to climb up to the level of ‘being white’


So yes, we have to recognize that the history of the Irish people has not been a happy one.  They’ve been slapped around the British Isles and the United States for a long time.  They faced conditions of racial prejudice, job discrimination, famine and a potential genocide at the hands the British.  But you’re all missing the huge White Nationalist elephant in the room.  The Irish are white.  They may have started their journey in the US as third class citizens and indentured servants.  They may have faced all the discrimination they did, but Irish and Irish American culture has assimilated into the greater Americana.  They are such a huge part of the greater American culture that when St. Patrick’s Day roles around “everyone is Irish” (you’re not, but the problems of the American celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day will have to wait for another time).

So while the Irish are now part of the classic whiteness of America, African Americans are not.  They are still a marginalized group.  Their battles for their rights ended only a short time ago, historically speaking, and in many ways they still don’t have equal rights.  They endured being considered property for centuries, and are still fighting to be treated as full citizens.  They’re still fighting for reparations over the racial terrorism that they’ve faced in this country, beginning with slavery and not ending today.  So when you equate “Irish Slavery” with the actual horrors of African Slavery, you sound like a racist.  Don’t compare the two.

Words and how we use them are important.  Calling what the Irish dealt with “slavery” cheapens the slavery that Africans face and the slavery that still exists in our world today.  It’s important that we call things what they are, so that when we use words like slavery or genocide.  They mean what they are, and society feels the full impact of those words.  Not the lessened impact of the boy who cried “white racism.”

Schrödinger’s Immigrant

There exists a distinctly creepy dichotomy surrounding immigrants working in this country.  Specifically undocumented immigrants.  You’ll hear the politicians and the news spout one of two narratives.  Immigrants are lazy, good for nothing, and they’re a drain on the national economy.  Living off of government welfare. ORThey’re stealing jobs from hard working ‘real’ Americans.

Well gee kids, it can’t be both.  They can’t be lazy and living off the government AND stealing all your jobs.  The logic doesn’t make sense, and yet this twisted dichotomy is used constantly to demonize and dehumanize immigrants.  It’s classic scapegoat politics.  Our economic system is messed up, roughly 13.5% of Americans live below the poverty line or need some kind of government assistance.  We have a steadily widening gap between the working class and the 1% living on the top of our hard work.  As of 2007, 20% of Americans controlled 80% of the wealth in this country.  As of 2011, the 400 wealthiest people in America had more wealth than roughly 50% of the people living in this country.

We no longer live in a world where getting a college degree is a garniture of a good job.  We were told all our lives that we had to get good grades, so we could get into a good college and graduate with a good degree and then get a good job.  I’ve spent 8 years in higher education.  I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Secondary Education and a Master’s Degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.  I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on my education.  I work part time for $10/hr.  I enjoy my job, but it’s not a good one.  A good job should be defined as a job by which you can support yourself.  We were told that we would get good jobs with our degrees.  We were lied to.

“Since 1985, the overall consumer price index has risen 115% while the college education inflation rate has risen nearly 500%.  According to Gordon Wadsworth, author of The College Trap, ‘…if the cost of college tuition was $10,000 in 1986, it would now cost the same student over $21,500 if education had increased as much as the average inflation rate but instead education is $59,800 or over 2 ½ times the inflation rate.'”

Wages have been largely stagnant in their buying power since 1979.  Money is simply worth less.  The minimum wage is too low, our college degrees aren’t worth as much, and we go into debt earning them because we have to take out loans to even pay for the education that doesn’t deliver on what it promised us.  There’s something severely wrong with our economic system.  The old narrative of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is dead.  We don’t have the strength to pull ourselves up.  We don’t even have bootstraps anymore.  I’m a lower middle class, cis, straight, white man.  I have all the privilege in the world and I’m still struggling in an economy that cares more about profit than it does about the lives of people.

So why are we blaming immigrants for our problems?  Why can’t we face the harsh reality that the system doesn’t care about us?  Why do we need to invent a false dichotomy of lazy immigrants who can somehow still steal our jobs? Why don’t you ask the Nazis.  Why don’t you ask the Ottoman Turks?

On the subject of the Ottoman Turks: According to Elizabeth Hope Murray in the book Disrupting Pathways to Genocide:  ‘These people are so horrifically less.  They are the lowest of the low of our society.  They bring nothing of benefit to us.  Yet they still have wealth and education above that of the average citizen.  How then did this happen?  Clearly the only way such a servile and degenerate society could have achieved such a position of renown and power is by stepping on the backs of real Turkish citizens.’

The Armenians weren’t actually doing well economically either, the Ottoman Empire was is such a state of economic disrepair that no one was in a good economic state.  Still scapegoat politics were never required to make sense.  You just have to find a group and shout about them loud enough for long enough.

When dealing with the Nazis and their twisted dichotomy I’ll pull from two sources.  Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

From Mein Kampf: “If the Jews were alone in this world they would stifle in filth and offal…”.  

What Hitler is saying is that if the Jews were the only people in the world then nothing of note would ever get done.  Progress would stagnate and the world would slowly tilt off its axis.  The only reason the Jews have their technology and society is because they’ve stolen those things from other cultures.  The Jew though, says Hitler, is not just content to steal the cultural and technological advances from the rest of the world; they must drag the world down and poison them.  

“And so he tries to lower the racial level by a continuous poisoning of individuals.”  The Jews purpose in life was to poison the blood of all the higher races and drag them down to the level of barbarity.

Now for the Protocols (a source actually written as Tsarist Russian propaganda in 1903): The Jews, as depicted in the Protocols, control all the world’s wealth, so ultimately the governments of the world.  The Jews, with their sinister grip on power, would do almost anything to keep it.  “For this reason we must not hesitate at bribery, fraud, and treason when these can help us to reach our ends.”.  

For the Jews, nothing is too horrid or immoral.  They’ll do anything to keep their hold on power with no regard for basic human integrity or dignity. The power of the Jews does not just lie in the fact that the Jews control all the  world’s money though.  The Protocols claimed that the Jews believed that “our power lies in the chronic malnutrition and in the weakness of the worker…”.  

The working class was always the biggest and will always be the largest class and is always the most likely to lead a successful revolt due to its size.  The best way for the Jews to maintain their grip on power was to keep the workers in a state where they couldn’t possibly fight back.

Does any of this sound familiar?  The rhetoric might be a pale reflection of what Hitler or the Young Turks used in the past, but the message is still the same.  And the result will be the same unless we stop the narrative of these unbearably weak superhumans.  Immigrants cannot, repeat CANNOT, be lazy and then also be stealing your jobs.  The system is screwed up and was never designed to benefit the working class, but that’s not really the point of this essay.  Immigrants have, in many ways, become our Jews and our Armenians.  They’re weak and awful and give nothing to our society, only take like ticks and leeches.  At the same time they’re coming here and stealing jobs from hardworking Americans.  It’s just scapegoat politics to avoid addressing the real issue.  Our economic system was never designed to benefit you.  Immigrants are just a patsy that we can point at and say “See?!?  It’s not your fault that you can’t get a job and that you’re struggling to make ends meet!!!  It’s those dirty no good immigrants!”

You’re being lied to, and if the economy continues to decline, and the wealth gap continues to increase to the point that more and more people find themselves living in poverty, jingoistic men and women will use your pain to kill off a group they don’t consider to be real people.  A group they don’t consider valuable.  Recognize the narrative for what it is, a dehumanizing lie designed to allow the system to remain broken.