Mohsen Abdelmoumen: What is your opinion about the first year of the Trump Presidency?
Dr. Roy Casagranda: OMG! Train wreck! I can’t stop staring! The US has never had a more volatile leader, as incompetent, with so little legislation, with such high turnover, as blatantly corrupt, as overwhelming ignorant of the Constitution, state operations, world affairs, and economics. The effect has been a polarization of the electorate, like we have not seen since the 1850s! It is the best thing to happen to the US since the 1960s.
For years the US has pretended to be something it is not. Trump is a refreshing insight into the actual belief systems of about 40% of the population. Presidents have avoided expressing those beliefs in public, but that did not prevent them from acting on those beliefs in policy. Now with the whole world watching, Trump gives us the unfiltered innards of that mind. There are people who want to impeach Trump. It’s like having a cancerous brain tumor and taking acetaminophen. Trump is an MRI. We now finally have an honest view of what is inside the collective US skull and those people in the US and out, who were in denial, are forced into reality. One might say, “But its only 40%.” True but it’s a 40% that has elected its candidate for President for 8 of the last 13 terms. It is the 40% that had successfully gerrymandered US and state congressional districts giving them control over most of the legislative bodies in the US despite their minority status. It is the 40% that supports the creation of a US Empire that bombed and murdered the Iraqis population by the hundreds of thousands. It is not a weak and marginalized portion of the population.
Having said that, the US is at a crossroads. The election of Trump has radicalized a segment of the population and seems to have created a real leftist movement. On the other hand, Trump’s election is the equivalent of the FN, AfD, or UKIP wining in France, Germany, or the UK. This could just as easily turn into something that the US cannot recover from. It is too early to tell. What is at stake here is whether or not the dominant culture of self-absorbed apathy can be overcome by the Democratic Party. And then whether or not enough leftists can win the primaries in the Democratic Party and transform it from a center right party into an actual leftist party. It is important here to remember that the US has no left. The Republicans far right and now extremist right, with a strong theocratic and authoritarian element. The Democratic Party is center right with just as much effort dedicated to imperialism and the exploitation of the working class, but with the understanding that the middle and lower classes need to be given scraps so that they never radicalize and create a genuine leftist movement.
The risk is that the left will fail to take over the Democratic Party and all the damage inflicted by Trump will be for not.
You are an expert of the Arab-Muslim world; how do you explain that today the majority of conflicts on earth are concentrated in this area?
In December of 1944 the Wehrmacht and the SS shocked the US during the Battle of the Bulge. Whole sections of the US frontline were overrun. It appeared that the Germans were going to achieve some of their goals. And then they ran out of fuel. Just like that, in an instant, the unstoppable advance of the best armored divisions on Earth were halted. Not because the US stopped them, but because they had no petroleum. US policy makers decided that it would never suffer such a humiliation and be a superpower who ran out of gas in the middle of a battle.
The next month, January of 1945, President Roosevelt met King ibn Saud on a ship in the Suez Canal to negotiate out a deal that would ensure the Saudi royal family’s right to rule Arabia for all eternity in exchange for a reliable flow of oil to the US. Almost immediately the US turned its attention towards the Middle East in the same way a rapist focuses on his victim. The US voted for the creation of Israel and then in 1949 the CIA overthrew the fledgling Syrian democracy. It has been downhill ever since. The US made a habit of overthrowing democracies in the Middle East and around the world (e.g. Iran 1953), funding the forces that destabilize (e.g. the communists in Iraq in the 1950s and later fundamentalists), assassinations (e.g. Qasim 1963), supporting Israel in its maniacal wars of conquest (e.g. 1967 and 1982), destabilizing European influence in the Middle East (e.g. diplomatically supporting Egypt in 1956), supporting tyrannies, attempting to undermine secular socialist pan-Arabism, destabilizing wars (e.g. Iraq 1991 and Libya 2011), and eventually the US turned its eyes towards a permanent military presence in the Middle East (e.g. the Gulf states in 1990, Afghanistan 2001, and Iraq 2003).
Frequently the US finds itself aligned with both Israel and Saudi Arabia at the same time (e.g. Yemen in the 1960s and again Yemen today). Israel and Saudi Arabia of course have a common problem, neither one is suited to become a regional super power. For either to exert itself, it has to come at the expense of natural regional powers: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, etc. So, US foreign policy is not only aimed at preventing secular Pan-Arab socialism (a la Nasser) from taking hold, but also in pursuing a policy of destabilization and the pursuit of divisive conflict generation. For example, fueling the growing divide between Sunnis and Shia and between Christians and Muslims and of course that most unnatural rivalry between Jews and Muslims!
Today Arabs are 6.0% of the world’s population but account for nearly half of the all the world’s refugees. That alone is a telling statistic. When one considers how wealthy Middle Eastern states are (Turkey has the 13th, Saudi Arabia has the 15th, Iran has the 18th, and Egypt has the 21st largest GDPs in the world) it puts the disarray, war, and chaos that the Middle East is experiencing into greater focus. Just for comparison those four states combined have 90% the US population and 35% the US GDP. In effect the per capita GDP of the US is only 2.5 times larger. That is to say that the wealth gap between the US and Middle East is not as pronounced as one might think. In effect if there were peace in the Middle East and North Africa it would serve as a large trading partner for the world and a real economic rival. US foreign policy, especially since Eisenhower, has been especially keen to prevent secular pan-Arab socialism from creating a United Arab Republic.
If the United States had not successfully destroyed secular pan-Arab socialism, then a United Arab Republic today would occupy an area of 15,600,000 km2 (2nd in the world, 10.5% of the Earth’s land area, and 1.6 x the size of the US), have a population of 458,000,000 people (3rd, 6% of the world, and 1.4 times the size of the US), a GDP of $7.150 trillion (4th, 5.6% of the world, and 37% the size of the US), and I suspect that it would not currently account for 50% of the world’s refugees.
How do you explain the unconditional support of the United States to Israel?
There is no single cause, so I will list several.
I) Pick one or more of the following:
- Israel has been an incredible force for chaos in the Middle East, especially in damaging secular Pan-Arab socialism. Only one thing was comparable as bad for it as Nasser’s incompetent Presidency in Syria—the 1967 War.
- The US is racist, period. A) Israeli leaders are mostly of European genetic stock, white people in the US see people who look like them and applaud. B) Israelis have embraced that racism and therefore make white people in the US comfortable by reflecting that racism in Israeli culture. Not only by ethnic cleansing of Arabs, but also towards African immigrants and racism against Jews of color.
- The US has sympathy for white colonists, whether they are South African or Israelis, who fight a native population that resists conquest, ethnic cleansing, and enslavement.
- Some in the US see Israel as another Crusade. It is the fulfillment of white dream to own Jerusalem.
- Some Evangelical elements in the US believe Israel will start Armageddon and bring the second coming of Jesus. ISIL of course believes the same thing.
- Some in the US feel guilty for the Holocaust and think that Zionists should get a pass on crimes against humanity to make up for it.
- There are many in the US who hate Jews and want them out of the US and so Zionism is in fact fully compatible with Antisemitism. In this case Neo-Nazis in the US find common ground with Zionism as the two ideologies complement each other.
- There are many in the US who just hate Arabs. Most of these people probably do not realize that Arab is an ethnicity and not a religion. Most of them probably don’t know that Turks and Persians are not Arabs and so Arab Hate can be expressed against non-Arabs. Persian-Americans are especially sensitive to this form of racism and go out of their way to inform Americans “We are not Arabs.” But most in the US just roll their eyes. The effort is comical, but it helps reveal this form of racism in stark contrast.
- There are many in the US who hate Islam. Those who practice Islam Hate are not interested in the racial or ethnic overtones, but most of these people also fail to understand that Palestinians are Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. This is related to the fact where most in the US probably believe that Arab=Muslim.
- There are some who love the romantic notion that somehow Roman and Nazi cruelty are erased by letting Zionists pretend to resurrect some imaginary ancient state.
- Many believe that Jews are God’s chosen people and therefore have special status and rights. They should go back to Palestine, because its Biblical, regardless of the cost to the Palestinians.
- And of course, there are some who simply don’t understand the full devastation Zionism has wrought on the Palestinian and Jewish people and have bought the nonsensical lie told over and over again in the US that somehow this is also the fault of the Palestinians. Just as our society is quick to blame the rape victim or villainizes Native Americans.
II) Regardless of which of the above were chosen all Zionists have a single unifying belief. To be a Zionist a person must believe that Arabs are subhuman, utterly undeserving of basic human rights. If Palestinians must endure 1,000 years as refugees, it’s inconsequential.
The tragedy of it all is that there is no reason why a Palestinian-Israeli state could not be a secular democracy with rights and guarantees for Jews, Christians, and Muslims that celebrated the three religions and all the many diverse cultures associated with them. This does not need to be a zero-sum game. Think of all the decades wasted on fighting each other that could have been spent developing Palestinian and Israeli culture side by side in a single secular democracy!
Homeland Security came after me in 2006. I resisted and with the help of the law firm Flood and Flood I successfully resisted. In 2016 a Zionist successfully censored an Austin School event. In 2017 I was censored again because there was fear that if I spoke truthfully about US foreign policy there would retribution against ACC.
I live in constant fear that if I speak the truth I will lose my job, the institution that I work for will be punished, or there will be some other form of retribution.
Hillary Clinton recognized that the United States had created Al Qaeda. Do not you think that ISIS serves the US imperialist interests and Israel first and foremost?
I think that there is a part missing in this question, which is that the US created ISIL as well. ISIL is the organization that started as “al Qaeda in Iraq” in 2004 in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. It is safe to say that any organization that kills Arabs, destabilizes the Middle East and North Africa, and gives the US an opportunity to put soldiers on the ground serves US and Israeli interests. The US had fully withdrawn from Iraq, but the creation of the ISIL khalifate gave the US the excuse to reoccupy Iraq and as a bonus invade Syria without UN sanction, a declaration of war, or an invitation of the Syrian Arab Republic, a violation of international law.
You are influenced by the thought of Ibn Sina among others, how did you meet the ideas of this genius?
I was reading Husserl and Heidegger and turned to their bibliographies and saw ibn Sina there. I discovered in the process that the foundations of phenomenology were actually laid by ibn Sina.
You have traveled through countries like Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon. What were your impressions during your stay in this part of the world?
I have actually lived in Algeria, Egypt, and Lebanon. I have also traveled in Bahrain, Turkey, and Iran. I am in love with the Middle East and North Africa. The cultures are rich, the history is of course unsurpassed in both quantity and quality. Each country is very different despite ties and similarities. It’s impossible to generalize, but there is a general warmth expressed by total strangers that makes a person instantly feel like a member of community. I have never experienced this anywhere else that I have lived or traveled.
Cairo is my favorite city in the world. The people party late into the morning, on a work day. The city is alive, fun, full of culture, beautiful, and happy. It has its problems. Groping is out of control and the sexism is constant and unrelenting, but most people there are light-hearted, happy, and complete busybodies. Taxicab drivers talk to you like they have known you for twenty years. Total strangers will invite you into their home to have beans and bread and they mean it. If Cairo could get past its mistreatment of women, it would be the best place in the world to live.
How do you explain the return of fascism in many different faces? In Europe, political movements claim to have fascist and neo-Nazi ideology. In the southern hemisphere, jihadist fascism strikes everywhere. In your opinion, why do not we see the emergence of a great progressive movement that would counter the rebirth of fascism? With the return of these deadly and macabre ideologies, is not humanity running to ruin?
This is the question of the 21st and maybe it was the question of the 1930s too. Why when our technology connects us, when our lives are longer, when even the poorest people in the world are doing better, when democracy was on the rise (until 2009 when that turned around), when so many socio-economic indicators seemed to be going in the “right” direction, why are we now plunging into what appears to be a new dark age? It is baffling, not merely with its timing, but also because it appears to be so global. That is to say, a person is hard pressed to find a state on Earth unaffected. Even South Korea elected Park Geun-hye. But then they came back from the brink and corrected their mistake. A 2015 Harvard study showed that while CO2 levels outside were not high enough to affect our mental health, cognition was being affected by high indoor levels. Having said that, this would be too easy of an answer.
Let’s assume that global IQ levels are not dropping. What might be the other answers? The canary in the mine might be the US. It is very safe to say that the US has always been reactionary. The brutality, genocide, misogyny, and slavery of the 19th century aside, even the 20th century was a mess. 1901 is widely recognized as the year when full racial segregation and political exclusion was put into force against the African American population. As late as 1935 the US Supreme Court ruled that the Democratic Party of Texas could create “White only” primaries (it included Hispanics), Grovey v. Townsend (1935). While this was over turned in 1944, it is healthy to remember how recent that was. In the US, critiques of Israel will often say it’s an “Apartheid” state. It’s as if the US has had mass collective amnesia and forgot Jim Crow and Segregation, and that the US inspired Apartheid in South Africa (1948-1991). You could just as easily say of Israel, “They behave just like us!”
It is also worth noting, coincidentally that the State of Indiana created the first eugenics laws in the US in 1901. And that the US Supreme Court ruled in Buck v. Bell (1927) that the government had the right to forcibly sterilize you. At the Nuremberg Trials some Nazi defendants used Buck v. Bell as part of their defense and were baffled that the US could not see that the Nazis were using the US as its role model. And perhaps most interesting, while there are no specific eugenics laws on the books now (the last were repealed in the 1970s) Buck v. Bell has never been overturned. In fact, the State of California was doing forcible sterilization as late as 2010. And an Oklahoma woman was just sterilized in return for a reduced sentence.
Add to that the brutal pattern of US imperialism, constantly invading countries, especially in Latin America (Honduras 8 times, Nicaragua 7 times, etc.), brutal wars like Vietnam and Iraq where we murdered 3,000,000 people per country and one has to wonder why it is at all that anyone can look at the US and say, “That is a good country.” We are rich and rich heterosexual Protestant white men have enormous privilege and opportunity, but homophobia, classism, racism, and misogyny are still the rampant. In other words, some of the progress we saw globally was not evident in the US or when it was manifest through the successes of the 1960s, the US elected Presidents who expressly promised to overturn those gains.
The US is currently in a period that Presidential scholars often call the “Republican Regime” and legal scholars call “Conservative Reaction.” At least since Reagan, the US has been flying to the right. The Democratic Party in 1980s and 1990s hemorrhaged its conservative Southern elements, pushing the Democratic Party towards the left, but most US liberals are by European standards “center right.” Now polling data has also revealed that many US Conservatives are actually not as far to the right when it comes to their own situation. That is to say, they will take unemployment benefits, social security, and Medicaid, even while they vote against them and say they are horrible. At the end of the day the US is and has always been very far to the right, very religious, not much kinder than Nazi Germany, and when a correction to the left happened, voters pushed to go back. Trump is a further manifestation of that!
I think what we are seeing today is the rest of the world mimicking the US. With all of the terrible flaws of the USSR at least there was a counter balance to the US. The two pitted off against each other, gave the world some space. After the US’s genocidal wars against Iraq where half the population was displaced, 10% was killed, and one out of six people was an orphan, it can be no wonder that extremist reactionaries would rise up out of that. ISIL is a reflection of the US.
To bring the point home, we are all aghast at ISIL YouTube decapitations, but how is that any worse than violent rampages with assault rifles in US schools? At least in the case of ISIL we can say, “War made them crazy and they were murdering adults.” In the case of the US, what excuse to law makers have for perpetuating a system that makes such brutal mass shootings the norm. No other place on Earth, not currently in a civil war, experiences such a strange phenomenon, even if they have a higher murder rate.
All of this to say, 2018 looks shockingly like 1938 to me.
You are a prominent professor and researcher; youare Professor of Government at Austin Community College. Knowing that policy makers often come out of universities, do you not think that the university needs to participate in better contribution and evaluation, and produce elites that are both competent and responsible, with more sense of duty than in others areas? Do not you think that the university is a very sensitive and strategic place because it trains senior managers and therefore the best policies have to be applied?
US universities are not designed to create people with in depth subject mastery, but rather exist to create a working caste, a managerial caste, a professional caste, and to perpetuate caste hierarchy at the top levels of the economy. Our elite private universities and liberal arts colleges favor familial lineage (legacy) over academic performance. The public schools are funded in a way to maintain this division. Poor and middle-class schools are underfunded causing them to under perform. This effectively eliminates the possibility of admission to the elite schools for the vast majority of the population. This is on purpose in order to eliminate competition for upper and upper-middle-class families.
This classism is so built in that at a particular school, which I will not name, where a four-year bachelor’s degree costs $240,000, its faculty receives a 10% discount on tuition for their children. If a faculty member was making $80,000 their take home after taxes would be around $60,000. If they were paying for their child’s tuition they would be left with $6,000 per year to live on for four years. In effect, the faculty are considered riffraff and their children are discouraged through financial means from attending the schools they teach at. Professors are not unlike children working in a sweat shop making shoes that they will never be able to afford to buy themselves.
But set all that aside and pretend that the US caste system is not a factor. The course work is designed to perpetuate capitalism and individualism. As an example, it is not uncommon for incoming graduate students to be given courses to teach. These are usually the intro level courses that the senior faculty find uninteresting and so just pass them off on a population of people who cannot say “no”. An incoming graduate student starts her or his career taking three graduate level courses and teaching a college course. This is likely the first course such a person has ever taught. So not only does the graduate student have to learn the material and design the course, the student also has to learn the art of teaching. The problem with this is that the student is also loaded up with an impossible reading list from your three courses. Adding a textbook to read, making tests, taking tests, assign essays, writing essays, fielding student questions, being prepared for each lecture, and grading is simply too much. A student in such a situation has to make a choice—be a bad student and a bad teacher, be a good teacher and a terrible student, or be a good student and a terrible teacher. The first two choices will end in failing the graduate program. The latter choice is the only one which will result in the student successfully completing their degree. In other words, there is a filter on graduate students to weed out the good teachers and people who care about others and select for the good researchers and people who prioritize their own interests above those of others.
This divide between research and teaching, ironically means that often students in the high prestige universities don’t get the sort of education one would expect. This is not true for liberal arts college and liberal arts universities, precisely because they emphasize teaching, but then they are also much more expensive than the state schools and cater to the upper and upper-middle-classes as a result.
To make matters worse, some subject areas, political science and economics, are dominated by the irrational and nonsensical paradigm of Rational Choice Theory. A hypothesis which holds that all humans are rational and self-interested all of the time. This ideology (it is not a theory) dominates both fields despite years of research in psychology that debunk it or at least show that the assumptions are deeply flawed, including two Noble Prizes in Economics (Kahneman and Thaler). Despite decades of overwhelming evidence that RCT is not true and predictive both political science and economics hold onto it. Why? Because it makes the actor in capitalism his or her own agent. Capitalism then is justified in the minds of both liberal and conservative scholars, since after all, all humans are always rational and self-interested actors and therefore responsible for all of their behavior. When one considers the effects of advertising, propaganda, priming, and implicit bias it is really difficult to see how anyone could consider citizens in a capitalist state owns any agency.
In short, the answer is one can expect most US students to believe in capitalism, empire, individualism, class, hierarchy, and privilege.
You are the founder and president of the Austin School where you organize conferences to make accessible the different academic knowledge. Do you think of partnerships with other universities around the world and do you not think that your very original experience should be replicated at all universities?
Oh my God, do you have something in mind? I would love to partner with more places. When we founded the Austin School that was the original vision. We wanted to start with the schools in the Austin, Texas, and then expand from. The goal was to bring scholarship to the public. One of the problems with academia is that there is an assumption that the public is too dumb and too uninterested to read scholarly work. That may be true, but it is also true that there is very little honest effort to write for public consumption. Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn are of course examples of a people who have made the effort. My thinking was that people might respond better to something that was a performance made available for free rather than making them take the initiative, find the material, and then make the effort to read it without the ability to ask the researcher questions. We have had some success. The Austin School is student run. Students have often been presenters (a fun and rewarding component). And we have attendance which is consistently between 50-100 people. We have had two events with 250 people, two with 150, and a half dozen with attendance between 100-150. Considering that our talks generally go from 1.5 to 2 hours and usually are about politics, history, and philosophy, I consider those numbers to a be a success.
We had a student transfer to a liberal arts college in the area and he cofounded that school’s Philosophy Club. That club employed our model of bringing speakers and panels. I myself have been invited to participate on two of those panels. But that is the full extent of cooperation that we managed and the closest that we come to linking with other schools.
Having said that, even though we have been at this for twelve years now, I have found some resistance at ACC. I know of no colleagues, even my friends, who seriously promote the Austin School in their classrooms. Sometimes the faculty will show up to the talk, but without their students. Even in events where the faculty are the speakers, the audience is still devoid of their students. I cannot wrap my head around this. It feels as though atomization in the US is just too deep for cooperative efforts that require even tiny effort. So even though I believe we can claim some measure of success, in the end I have failed to bring to fruition the larger ambition of the organization.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Roy Casagranda?
Dr. Roy Casagranda is Professor of Government at Austin Community College (ACC). He is president and founder of the Austin School, a student club and lecture series. His areas of expertise include American politics and history, politics and history of the Middle East, philosophy, foreign policy and international relations, democratization, the Arab Spring, war, activism, journalism, religion, Latin American democratization, American elections, American presidency, revolution, Islam, environmental politics, modernity, capitalism, etc.
Dr. Casagranda is a member of the faculty evaluation committee of the government department at CCA. He gives many lectures.
He has lived in Germany and Egypt and speaks German and Arabic. He also lived in Lebanon, Algeria and England and traveled to a large part of Central and Eastern Europe as well as to part of the Middle East.
Published in American Herald Tribune, March 02, 2018: https://ahtribune.com/world/2160-roy-casagranda.html
In Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.040318.htm