Chomsky on Human Rights Week....

Mike Ballard swillsqueal at
Sun Dec 29 11:35:10 MST 2002

FW Chomsky has an IWW red card.

In Solidarity,
Mike B)


Human Rights Week 2002
By Noam Chomsky

Human Rights Week is not much of an occasion in the
US, with some notable qualifications. But it does
receive considerable attention elsewhere. For me
personally, Human Rights Week 2002 was memorable and
poignant. The week opened on the eve of Human Rights
Day, Dec. 10, at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, where
thousands of people gathered to elebrate -- though
that may not be quite the right word -- the
tenth anniversary of the Kurdish Human Rights Project
KHRP, which has
done outstanding work on some of the most serious
human rights issues
of the decade: particularly, but not only, the
US-backed terrorist
campaigns of the Turkish state that rank among the
most terrible crimes of
the grisly 1990s, leaving tens of thousands dead and
millions driven from
the devastated countryside, with every imaginable form
of barbaric
The week ended for me in Diyarbakir in southeastern
Turkey, the
semi-official capital of the Kurdish region, teeming
refugees living in squalor, barred from returning to
what is left of
their villages, even though new legislation
theoretically allows that

I had been invited to Diyarbakir by the Human Rights
Association, which oes courageous and impressive work
under conditions of constant
serious threat. The preceding days I spent in Istanbul
at the invitation
of the Publishers Association, which was holding its
annual meeting and
an international book fair, dedicated to peace and
freedom; and the
public sector union KESK (not permitted to function as
a union under
harsh laws and state practice), which was holding an
symposium on the same themes. While in Istanbul, I was
able to visit the
miserable slums where unknown numbers of Kurdish
refugees seek to survive the
damp cold winter months in decaying condemned
buildings: large families
may be crammed into a single room with young children
imprisoned unable to venture into the dangerous
alleyways outside, and
older children working in illegal factories to help
keep the family
alive. They too are effectively barred from returning
to the homes from
which they were expelled, despite the new legislation
that lifts the
state of emergency in southeastern Turkey -- formally,
at least.

The founder and director of the KHRP is also barred
returning to his country. And just to round out the
picture, the US is now
refusing entry to human rights activists recording and
protesting these
crimes. A few weeks ago Dr. Haluk Gerger, a leading
figure in the Turkish
human rights movement, arrived with his wife at a New
York airport.
INS cancelled his 10-year visa, returning him and his
wife at once
after fingerprinting and photographing. Dr. Gerger has
received awards
from Human Rights Watch and the American Association
for the
Advancement of Science for his outstanding
contributions to human rights; his
punishment by the Turkish authorities had been singled
out by
the State Department as an example of Turkey's failure
to protect
elementary rights. In an open letter to the US
Ambassador, the spokesperson
of the Freedom of Speech Initiative in Istanbul,
protesting this
treatment, writes that Dr. Gerger is "a founding
member of the Human Rights
Association of Turkey" and "an ardent defender of
rights," who "has written extensively on the issue and
has criticized
governmental policies," likening "the Turkish
government's treatment of the
Kurds to Serbia's ethnic cleansing of Muslims in
Bosnia," and suffering
imprisonment and heavy fines as well as loss of his
position for his writings on human rights issues.

Colin Powell's State Department has now declared him
persona non
grata in the United States, adopting the stand of
extremist elements
in the Turkish military and ultranationalist parties.

The Turkish state, with the hand of the military never
remains harsh and repressive, despite some encouraging
changes in recent
months. But even superficial contact reveals that
Turkish culture and
society are free and vibrant in ways that should be a
model for the
West.  Particularly striking is the spirit of
resistance that one
senses at once, from the caves outside the city walls
of Diyarbakir where
refugees speak eloquently of their yearning to return
to their homes to
the urban centers of intellectual life.

The struggle of people of Turkey for freedom and human
rights is
truly inspiring, not only because of the depth of
commitment but also
because it seems so natural and without pretense, just
a normal part of
life, despite the severe threats that are never
remote. That includes
courageous writers of international renown like Yashar
scholars who have faced and endured severe punishment
for their
commitment to tell the truth, like Ismail Besikci, who
has spent much of his
life in prison for his writings on state terror in
Turkey; parliamentarians like
Layla Zana, still languishing in prison, serving a 15
year sentence for
expressing in her native language her hope that
"Kurdish and Turkish
people can live peacefully together in a democratic
and many others like them, from all walks of life.
They are of course
unknown in the US, much like the Latin American
intellectuals assassinated
by US proxy forces, not to speak of the hundreds of
thousands of usual
victims -- "unworthy victims," in Edward Herman's
phrase, because they
suffer at the wrong hands: ours.

Dr. Besikci refused a $10,000 prize from the US Fund
for Free
Expression in protest against Washington's decisive
contribution to terror
in Turkey, primarily in the Clinton years, when the US
provided 80%
of Turkey's arms and Turkey became the leading
recipient of US arms
(Israel-Egypt aside) as criminal atrocities escalated.
In the
single year 1997 alone, US arms flow to Turkey
exceeded the combined
total for the entire Cold War period up to the onset
of the state terror
campaign; or as it is called in State Department
reports on terror, and in
the press, the "successful counter-terror" campaign
for which Turkey
is to be praised and rewarded. That practice accords
with the standard
doctrine, by no means unique to the US, that "terror"
is what
THEY do to US, and "counter-terror" is what WE do to
THEM, commonly much
worse, and only occasionally retaliation, not that it
would be tolerable in
that case.

Privileged people in the West should feel humility and
when observing the courage and integrity of those who
live under
draconian laws and brutal repression and terror, in no
small measure
thanks to Western support, and not only condemn the
abuses and defend the
victims but regularly carry out acts of civil
disobedience in protest,
at severe risk. They should also feel shame that the
KHRP operates in
London, not New York, where it belongs, given the
locus of responsibility
for the crimes. The British record is not attractive,
but the primary
responsibility, by far, lies here. There is in fact a
Kurdish Center in New York, with many activities and
important and
highly informative publications (Center for Research
of the Kurdish
Library, Brooklyn, Vera Saaedpour, director). Its
anniversary, however,
would not bring together thousands of people in New
York. It is known only
to those who are concerned with human rights --
concerned, that is, as shown by their attitude to
their own crimes. It is far
more gratifying to wring one's hands over the crimes
of others that
we can do little about, or perhaps to contemplate the
strange flaw in our
character that keeps us from responding to the crimes
of others
in some proper way (rarely spelled out beyond bold and
often mindless
declarations). In sharp contrast, the crimes that we
easily bring to an end merely by withdrawing our
decisive participation must
be buried deep in the memory hole.

Uppermost in everyone's minds from London to
Diyarbakir and
beyond is the feverish determination of the Bush
administration to find a
pretext for what it believes will be a cheap and
politically useful war
in Iraq, with Blair trailing loyally behind. In
Turkey, popular
opposition to the coming war is overwhelming. Much the
same is true throughout the
region, and in most of Europe and the rest of the
world as well. Poll
results for the US look different, but that is
misleading. It can hardly
escape notice that although Saddam Hussein is reviled
everywhere, it is
only in the US that people are genuinely afraid that
if we don't stop
him today, he'll kill us tomorrow.

Engendering such fears is second nature to the
Reaganites at the helm in Washington. Throughout the
1980s they were able to
ram through their reactionary agenda, significantly
harming the
population, by maintaining a constant state of fear.
Twenty years ago Libyan
hit-men were wandering the streets of Washington to
assassinate our
leader. Then the Russians were going to bomb us from
an air base in Grenada
(if they could find it on a map). Meanwhile the
awesome Sandinista army
was poised only two days marching time from Harlingen
Texas, a
"dagger pointed at the heart of Texas." And on through
the decade. To
determine a meaningful measure of domestic support for
the coming war, it
would be necessary to extricate the fear factor,
unique to the US. The
results would probably show little difference from the
rest of the

There is no historical precedent for such enormous
opposition to a war, and protest against it, before it
is even launched (fully
launched, to be more accurate).

In the Kurdish areas the general opposition to war is
by concern over the consequences for the Kurds. The
countries are likely to intensify domestic repression
in the context of
war. Similar concerns extend to Kurds elsewhere,
including the 4
million who, for the moment, have achieved unusual
progress in the northern
enclaves of Iraq under the uneasy alliance of Masoud
Barzani and Jalal
Talabani. Apart from their vulnerability to murderous
Iraqi assault in the
event of war, and the anticipated Turkish reaction if
there is any
hint of a move towards meaningful autonomy, more than
half are reported to
be reliant for survival on the UN "Oil for Food"
program, likely to
be severely disrupted in the event of war. "Free
Kurdistan is like
a huge refugee camp," one Kurdish leader commented,
dependent on UN-run
programs for food and on Baghdad for fuel and power.
The UN High
Commissioner for Refugees is planning for possible
flight of
hundreds of thousands to neighboring countries, where
they are not likely to
receive a warm welcome, and where the prospects for
the indigenous
Kurdish populations are sufficiently grim even without
what might lie
ahead --or perhaps to camps in northern Iraq that are
being constructed
by the Turkish army there, according to Turkish
sources, a development
with threatening portent.

I mentioned a qualification to the lack of attention
to Human
Right Week here: namely, when human rights violations
can be exploited as a
weapon against some official enemy, a practice that
International has bitterly deplored, again in the past
few months. Through the
1980s, Human Rights Day was the occasion for
impassioned denunciations
of the Soviet Union, technically accurate but with
extreme cynicism
that utterly resists exposure. Human Rights Day 2002
was the occasion
for the release by the Jack Straw, British Foreign
Secretary, of a
Dossier on Saddam Hussein's crimes -- accelerated by a
few days, as part of
the US-UK effort to elicit some hostile Iraqi gesture
prior to the
crucial Dec. 8 deadline for Iraq's submission of
documents on its
weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The Dossier was
authentic, drawn mostly
from reports of human rights organizations on Saddam's
atrocities through the 1980s. Unmentioned, as usual,
was the fact that
these shocking crimes were of no concern to the US or
UK, which
continued to provide their friend Saddam with aid,
including means to develop
WMD at a time when he was vastly more dangerous than

In the US, those responsible are now again in office,
instructions are that we are to disregard the criminal
record for which they
show not the slightest contrition. The current British
government was
then in opposition, but as journalist Mark Thomas
parliamentary protests against Saddam's crimes from
1988 through the 90s are
missing a few names: Blair, Straw, Cook, Hoon,.., that
is, the leading
figures of the governing party. Thomas also released a
letter demonstrating
that Straw's discovery of Saddam Hussein's evil nature
is quite
recent. In January 2001, as Home Secretary, it was his
responsibility to
rule on pleas for political asylum. He rejected the
appeal of an Iraqi
who had been detained and tortured in Iraq because the
"wide range of
information on Iraq" that Straw had at his disposal
made it
clear that the Iraqi tyrant's courts would not
"convict and sentence a
person" improperly, and "if there are any charges
outstanding against
you and if they were to be proceeded with on your
return, you could expect
to receive a fair trial under an independent and
constituted judiciary."

But something changed since January 2001, and the
crimes that
were of no account shock our sensibilities and require
war. And we are all
supposed to observe this performance with sober
approval, if not awe.

I also mentioned that in 1997, US arms flow to Turkey
the combined total for the Cold War years as state
terror mounted to
levels far beyond anything attributed to Milosevic in
Kosovo before the
NATO bombing, which was undertaken, we were solemnly
because we are so high-minded that we cannot tolerate
crimes so near the
borders of NATO -- only within NATO, where we must not
only tolerate but
expedite them. 1997 was an important year for the
human rights movements
in other ways as well. It was the year when the
world's leading newspaper
informed its readers that US foreign policy had
entered a "noble
phase," with a "saintly glow." It was also the year
when US military aid
to Colombia skyrocketed, increasing from $50 million
to $290
million by 1999, then doubling by 2001 and still
increasing. In 1999,
Turkey relinquished to Colombia its place as leading
recipient of US
arms. The reason is not hard to discern: Turkish state
terror was by then
a success, Colombia's was not. Through the 1990s,
Colombia had by
far the worst human rights record in the Western
hemisphere, and was by
far the leading recipient of US arms and military
training, a
correlation that is well-established and would be of
no slight concern if it were
known outside of scholarship and dissident circles.

Turkey and Colombia share other common features. Each
several million people violently displaced; 2.7
million by now in
Colombia, increasing at the rate of 1000 a day,
according to the latest
reports of the leading human rights organization.
These are the numbers
internally displaced, not counting those who have fled
elsewhere. And
Colombia, like Turkey, provides a model of courageous
resistance that
should be observed with shame and humility by
privileged Westerners --
particularly those who labor to suppress the
atrocities and terror for which we bear
responsibility, to efface the
disgraceful record of the past, and to erect firm
barriers against the
threat of exposure of crimes that the general
population would not
tolerate, were the barriers to be breached.

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