by Mansoureh Tajik for the Saker Blog

Three precious decades were squandered by a handful of people bound together by a school of thought that has greed, selfishness, and arrogance as its pillars. They built systems that were founded on injustice, sustained by greed, adorned by arrogance, and re-fashioned and revised constantly by ever new versions of deceit. They chose unjust ways to acquire offensive means to do some very wrong things to many people around world. They spared no one, not even the people they were expected to protect.

They carried out constant bombardments of Iraq and starved more than half a million children over a decade. They fabricated a digital panic around Y2K to keep people busy for a while. They televised an eye-catching show of smoke, shattered glasses, and melting steels, to do a controlled demolition of a people’s trust in order to redirect and maintain their gaze on a loosely held together net of shady CIA-linked tools called Al-Qaedah.

They attacked innocent people in Afghanistan, occupied a land that was not theirs, and killed thousands more to keep their hold. They occupied Iraq and looted and appropriated the resources that were not theirs. They bombed Lebanon and Hizbollah, and killed thousands who resisted them. They trained and unleashed deviant stooges under a mob pet name ISIS, scripted and directed them to play nefarious roles and decapitation games. They then strategically broadcast their plays to the world.

They destroyed places and people of Libya and Syria. They planned coup d’état against governments that stood up to them. They released hybrid psychological-biological-economic warfare under the rubrics of Anthrax, SARS, MERS, and COVID. Just to list a handful of their handicraft takes one’s breath away.

While the essence of their aims remained the same, the names of their games kept changing. With familiarity comes comfort and with comfort comes reduced anxiety. And people must always be kept anxious. Fabricating new enemies, new diseases, and new dangers does the trick. When mass acquiescence gave way to mass rebellion, they infiltrated the crowds, hijacked their movements, and steered them away from where critical thinking, human compassion, justice and fairness lived.

I searched for a single all-encompassing concept to unify and explain the aim of the major global events of the past few decades’, particularly those that had a unique fingerprint-bootprint of the US and Western financing, deceptions, and aggressions. The most befitting explanation, I thought, is that they have been trying “to buy time.”

But woe to them. Time, this non-renewable and most precious resource in life is exorbitantly difficult to find and impossible to hold. It cannot be bought or sold; neither can it be taken, nor given. Never mind the delusions convened by language. The reality of time has its own idiosyncrasies.

I knew an oncologist who “gave” one of his patients less than a year to live. A few weeks later, the patient was called to arrange for the continuation of his treatment and care with another physician. The oncologist had been killed in a car crash. Only if he had the power to keep for himself some of the time he had so generously “given” to his patient.

The very school of thought that trains its physicians to have the audacity to give “x” amount of time to their “terminal” patients, that same culture also teaches other sectors of its society some very wrong lessons about time. It trains its bankers, its rich, and its powerful, too, to “buy time” through complex and shrewd schemes. These misguided souls induce quiescence in their fellow beings whom they have wronged in the hope that they could delay the inevitable consequences of their unjust, criminal, and greedy acts. Pity the lost souls who are wanderers in a tunnel that they follow to a tunnel of its own, down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone.[1]

The Arabic word اجل (ajal) and its derivatives are used in Quran to denote death, deadline, a specified period of time, a term, and the end. When someone’s ajal comes, that means he dies. So, we do not get closer to death. It is the death that runs behinds us until it catches up. Just like individuals, an Ummah, too, is met by its ajal, its death. Ummah, in Quran, refers to a group of people united by a specific way of life, tied together by a shared worldview or a common culture. It also refers to a nation or a people. That is, a group of people who can imagine the world as they see fit and do as they wish, not with impunity though, until their ajal catches up and meets with them.

وَلِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ أَجَلٌ فَإِذَا جَاءَ أَجَلُهُمْ لَا يَسْتَأْخِرُونَ سَاعَةً وَلَا يَسْتَقْدِمُونَ [Quran, Surah 7, Verse 34] And for every nation is a specified period of time. So when their time has come, they will not be shortchanged an hour, nor will they exceed the limit.

قُلْ لَا أَمْلِكُ لِنَفْسِي ضَرًّا وَلَا نَفْعًا إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ أَجَلٌ إِذَا جَاءَ أَجَلُهُمْ فَلَا يَسْتَأْخِرُونَ سَاعَةً وَلَا يَسْتَقْدِمُونَ [Quran, Surah 10, Verse 49] Say, “I possess not for myself any harm or benefit except what Allah should will. For every nation is a specified period of time. When their time has come, then they will not be shortchanged an hour, nor will they exceed the limit.”

مَا تَسْبِقُ مِنْ أُمَّةٍ أَجَلَهَا وَمَا يَسْتَأْخِرُونَ [Quran, Surah 15, Verse 5] No nation can hasten their doom nor can they postpone it.

مَا تَسْبِقُ مِنْ أُمَّةٍ أَجَلَهَا وَمَا يَسْتَأْخِرُونَ [Quran, Surah 23, Verse 43] No nation can hasten their term, nor can they delay it.

A significant factor that can hasten ajal is injustice. That which can slow it down is genuine attempts in restoring justice. In this essay, I do not intend to discuss the theoretical treatment of time in teachings of Quran. Rather, I would use our general understanding of this worldview to organize and explain the stories and key points here.

North Casper, Wyoming

When I was searching for an appropriate topic for my PhD thesis project, I was introduced to a community group in North Casper, Wyoming, by a law firm in Boulder, Colorado. The firm was providing pro-bono legal services and advice to the community over its struggles to address the health concerns they believed to be caused by severe contaminations from a BP-Amoco oil refinery, which was no longer in operation. Behind the industry stood some very powerful people.

The first time I met the people of North Casper, I had driven for about 6.5 hours from Denver to Casper earlier in the day and the meeting that evening was held in the basement of a small local church. Quite a few people showed up that night to present and talk about what was happening to their health and the health of their loved ones. They suspected severe soil and water contaminations released by the BP-Amoco refinery as the main cause of their problems. There were several speakers that night. A mother had already lost a 16-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son to childhood cancers and her 6-year-old son was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. Another woman had already lost a husband and several of her close relatives to different types of cancers and was herself suffering from severe and debilitating diseases. A member spoke of having lost 16 of his neighbors and childhood friends all of whom had lived most of their lives within a couple of city blocks from him. People were predominantly white.

The meeting lasted about 5 hours or perhaps a bit longer. Occasionally, I asked questions but for most parts I listened, took notes, and recorded everything. Towards the end of that long session, they turned to me and asked if I could help them with a health study. I did not know if and how I could help them because I was “just a graduate student.” That was the gist of what I recall telling them. But, I added, “I would do what I can.”

I returned to Denver the next morning. I drove my car now filled with some fifteen, sixteen heavy cardboard boxes of documents and files the community members had given me. I was a full-time student and worked close to full-time at the university, and did some independent consulting and analytical work on the side. So, it took about a couple of months of working a few hours every night to organize and review all sorts of formal, informal, official and non-official documents. I made many phone calls and in-person visits to the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency, several trips back to Casper and visiting local and state health departments to develop a sense of what was going on.

The more I discovered, the more disturbed I got. Those interested in more technical aspects of the case could refer to Reference [2] and Reference [3]. Here, I would like to keep things more anecdotal and just summarize the essential parts.

People in the North Casper neighborhoods were dying right, left, and center. There was a known and proven contamination of their groundwater (the source of their drinking water) and the soil beneath their homes and neighborhoods. The source of the contaminations was also formally known to be BP-Amoco according to the official Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality documents.

That those contaminations could very likely cause the type of diseases and illnesses that the community members were experiencing in excess in their neighborhood, too, was also known in the literature. What the community members were told by their local and state health departments, however, was that it was not certain that their specific diseases came from those exact contaminants released by BP-Amoco. In our jargon, it meant a definitive causal link was not established. The community needed a health study to determine what was going on, they were told. And the local and state health departments had neither the permission nor the funding to conduct such a study. Therefore, the burden of proof was on the community members.

According to the documents, a class action lawsuit had been filed by the community members against BP-Amoco. So, the industry got busy. First, it reached a fast (and covert) settlement agreement with some (but not all) of the community members who had been part of the lawsuit. Based on the settlement agreement, most community members would receive approximately 11 percent of their property’s value, as calculated by county assessor, amounting to a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. Checks were issued to specific people. However, on the back of each check a statement was printed to the effect that by cashing the check, unless the individual community member opted out of that deal, they forfeited their right to sue the industry for any reason in the future. Though the money was in fact for a devaluation of their properties, the community members who cashed the checks forfeited the right to sue the industry for any health damages should that become known in the future. I was not a lawyer but the lawyers in the Boulder law firm told me that statement was deceptive and not legally binding.

Second, while the above lawsuit was being heard by the district judge, a group claiming to be acting on behalf of the community, negotiated a proposed refinery redevelopment deal with BP-Amoco, called Community Facilitation Initiative (CFI), in exchange for $60 million in cash to be paid to the city. However, more than a hundred of Casper residents signed a petition protesting the CFI deal claiming that those who had supported the deal were not representing Casper residents and they took their complaint to the district judge. But the judge dismissed their complaint.

Later, financial disclosure statements on another unrelated case presided over by the same district judge who had overseen all of the above cases revealed that he held stock or royalty interests in fifteen different oil and gas concerns, including several with BP-Amoco, with a total value between $400,000 and $1.1 million. The judge had not felt he should remove himself from any of the cases for possible conflict of interest.

The industry’s tactics, it seemed to me, revolved around several basic approaches: Bribe officials, divide and rule, threaten, drag things out for such a long time that the community members either die or give up trying (participation fatigue).

I remember at one point I got curious to know how some of the big profiteers of these people’s pain and suffering lived. Dick Cheney was one of them. I read that by the time he was thirty something, he got his first heart attack and thereafter he had several additional heart attacks and a few heart surgeries. So, I thought, look at him, you cannot even ask him to have a heart. He has the type of heart that even his own body keeps rejecting.

As the atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq and Dick Cheney’s role were being revealed, I was not surprised. He did not show much mercy and compassion for the white people of his own hometown. Why would he show any of that for Muslims who had just become the “new black”? At the moment I am writing these lines, Dick Cheney’s ajal has not arrived yet but someone else’s heart is ticking in his body.

North Casper community members were mostly white, low income, and without much power. They were wrongfully treated, unjustly exposed to contaminants, and their efforts through legal and established channels did not result in their getting the justice they deserved. Their judiciary, legislative, and executive bodies at local, state, and federal levels failed and abandoned them. At the beginning of my dissertation work, about 61 members were present in that meeting in that church that evening. By the time I finished my dissertation work (which became known as the North Casper health study by the locals) about 2 years later, only 23 were alive. کُلُّ یَومٍ عاشورا و کُلُّ أرضٍ کَربَلا [Every day is Ashura, Every land is Karbala.]

Eastern North Carolina

A post-doctoral program in participatory research in public health and environment was an opportunity for me to meet and get to know an extraordinary group of people living in communities in eastern North Carolina. With a large African American population, eastern North Carolina is also part of a region that was known as the “Black Belt”, or the “Bible Belt” extending over several states in the southeastern regions of the United States in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. These regions are also known to have some of the worst cases of environmental pollutions and the highest number of people below the poverty line. In these areas, racism and poverty have a mutually reinforcing effect on the population which makes the injustices in these areas much worse than the injustices experienced in areas with predominantly white populations.

For the purpose of this essay, I will speak of just one of the injustices with which I became quite familiar. Those interested in a more detailed scientific and technical explanation could review 2-3 sample references listed [Ref. 4, 5, and 6]. Here, too, I’d like to make it more anecdotal rather than technical.

One of the problems in eastern North Carolina is that the population of its pigs exceeds the population of the people in the entire state. That is more than 9 million pigs (about 9.2 million pigs give or take a few thousands). Let me makes things rather simple, clean, and pristine. Each pig produces (on average) about 4 pounds of feces per day (that is about 36,800,000 lb of pig manure). Multiply that by 365 days per year (give or take a few days for transitions and transfers). The annual production of pig manure in eastern North Carolina is roughly about 13,248,000,000 lb. That is more than 13.2 billion pounds of hog manure.

Industrial facilities owned by only a couple of corporations there dig large open pits (they call it lagoons) into which they empty the waste (See the photo below). When I was told about the “lagoons” before my first actual visit to those sites, I had an image of that old movie “Blue Lagoon” in my head. What I saw and smelled inspired a romance in me that manifested itself in the form of headache, nausea, and more for about three weeks.

Photo of a hog operation in Sampson County, North Carolina, with open waste lagoons.[7]

Since those pits fill up rather quickly, the operators have to liquefy the waste and regularly spray it on the fields around the facilities (about 2 to 3 times a week depending on the facility’s capacity and the amount of seasonal precipitation). The stench, the pathogens that get dispersed into the air, the health problems caused by a constant daily exposure to very strong odor that is medley of sewer and rotten egg smell, ammonia, and other odor-causing compounds are something that must be experienced to know. The pathogens from these open fields stick to the particulate matters in the air piggyback on winds and travel everywhere from classrooms and schools to people’s homes and their bedrooms. Now, that is truly a case of a people who cannot breathe!

The pork industry in North Carolina is rather powerful and many of the officials are very corrupt. It has used every legislative and political tool at its disposal to manipulate officials and intimidate people to postpone its ajal and to “buy time” in order to make more money to be able “to buy more time”.

It is important to note that the very public health officials and agencies that are so noisy about COVID-19 are just mum and mute about these open-pit toilets that pose a clear public health hazard. I could honestly state that if the people in these communities continue to suffer illnesses, to be imprisoned in their homes, to enjoy very little to none quality of life in their own homes, and to endure injustices, it is not due to their acquiescence or lack of trying. They have struggled and put in a lot of efforts to gain justice through legal, peaceful, and legitimate means but without meaningful and lasting results. Again, کُلُّ یَومٍ عاشورا و کُلُّ أرضٍ کَربَلا [Every day is Ashura, Every land is Karbala.]

Black-and-White Injustice

The two case examples of injustices described above illustrate a particular school of thought the drivers of which put capital at the forefront of life decisions, greed as the engine that makes things purr, and have arrogance to imagine that they could do bad things with impunity and indefinitely. If poverty and cheap land could facilitate their operation, they exploit those. If fear and ignorance could help them, they make good use of those. If issues of race could be used to divide and prevent coalition building and effective revolt, they are all for that.

In an open letter by Dr. Ali Shariati, the martyred sociologist before the Iranian Revolution, to the slaves who built the Pyramids, he writes[8]:

 “My Brother! We are apparently not in bondage. We have been liberated. The slavery has been abolished. But we have been doomed to a fate much worse than yours. They have enslaved our thoughts. They have put our hearts in bondage and we have subjugated our wills to theirs. They have trained us into a more liberal form of servitude. And with the power of science, sociology, culture and art, sexual freedom, consumerism, love of self-indulgence and self-worship, from within us, they have taken away our goals, our human responsibility, and our belief in His School of Thought. And now, my Brother! We have become, in these suffocating systems, like empty but beautiful vases that no matter what they make, we devour. In the name of sects, in the name of blood, in the name of soil and in His Name and in the name of those who oppose Him, we break into pieces so that each piece becomes easier to devour. ”

I will actually go one step further and claim that they train us to kill and devour one another. Most readers of this blog might be familiar with the Pentagon video called “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity.” The video was obtained via the FOIA by the Intercept[9] a while back. That video was used for training of the US soldiers in combat situations in urban settings. Watching the video is very useful but because some critical details might be missed by just watching this fast-paced video, I am including here the video transcript. I had transcribed it a while back for some other purpose.

 “The future is urban. By 2030, urban areas are expected to grow by 1.4 billion. With that growth occurring almost entirely in the developing world, cities will account for 60% of the world’s population and 70% of the world’s GDP.

The urban environment will be the locus where drivers of instability will converge. It is the domain that by the year 2030, 60% of urban dwellers will be under the age of 18. The cities that will grow the fastest will be the most challenged as resources become constrained and illicit networks fill the gap left by overextended and overcapitalized governments.

The risks of natural disasters compounded by geography, climate change, unregulated growth, and substandard infrastructures intersect to frustrate the humanitarian relief. Growth will magnify the increasing separation between rich and poor. Religious and ethnic tension will be the defining elements of the social landscape. Stagnation will co-exist with unprecedented development as impoverishment, slums, and shanty towns rapidly expand alongside modern high rises, technological advances and ever increasing levels of prosperity.

This is the world of our future. It is one we are not effectively prepared to operate within and it is unavoidable.

Megacities are complex systems where people and structures are compressed together in ways that both defy our understanding of city planning and military doctrine. It is an ecosystem that demands a highly agile and adaptive force to successfully operate within.

Infrastructures will vary radically with concentrations of high tech transportation, globally connected air and seaports and contemporary water, utility and waste disposal intermixed with open landfills, overburdened sewers, polluted water, and make shift power grids. Living habitats will extend from high rise to ground level cottage to subterranean labyrinths each defined by its own social code and rule of law. Social structures will be equally challenged if not dysfunctional.

As historic way of life clash, modern living, ethnic and racial differences are forced to live together and criminal networks offer opportunity for the growing mass of unemployed. This becomes the nervous system of non-nation state, unaligned individuals and organizations that live and work under shadows of national rule.

Where physical domains can be seen, digital domains will have limitless potential to breed and expand without limit. Digital security and trade will be increasingly threatened by the sophisticated illicit economies and decentralized syndicates of crime to give adversaries global reach at an unprecedented level. This will add to the complexities of human targeting as a proportionally smaller number of adversaries can intermingle with the larger and increasing number of citizens.

The scale and density of these domains is daunting. In a city of 10 million where you hold the support of 99 percent of the population, the remaining one percent represents a threat of 100,000. It is an environment of convergence hidden amongst the enormous scale and complexity of a megacity.

These are the future breeding grounds, incubators and launching pads for adversaries and hybrid threats. Linked globally, these are man-made labyrinths that provide refuge and movement across the vast segments of the cities where alternate forms of governments are taking control.

The advice of doctrine from Sun Tzu to current field manuals have provided two fundamental options: avoid the cities or establish a corduroy to either wait out the adversary or drain the swamp of non-combatants and engage the remaining adversaries in high intensity conflict within.

Even our counter-insurgency doctrine honed in the cities of Iraq and mountains of Afghanistan is inadequate to address the sheer scale of the population in the future urban reality. From streets of Aachen to the citadel in “Way” we have defeated adversaries who have attempted to use urbane terrain to their advantage.

Urban conflict is written deep into army’s histories but in tomorrow’s conflict, these megacities are orders of magnitude greater in complexity and our current options do not meet strategic ends. Our future operations must allow us to rapidly return the city to the people. They will be too large and complex to isolate or cordon off on their entirety and our soldiers will have to operate within these ecosystems with minimum disruption and flow. Our current and past strategies can no longer hold.

We are facing environments that masters of war never foresaw. We are facing a threat that requires us to redefine our doctrine and the force in a radically new and different ways. The future army will confront a highly sophisticated urban-centric threat that will require urban operations to become the core requirement for future land force. The threat is clear. Our direction remains to be defined. The future is urban.

When we were discussing this video in some political awareness class series in Iran, most participants were struck by some of what they saw and heard in the video. They were disturbed by the awful and dreadful language that was used to describe poor people and neighborhoods; a very low regard for the youth and the painting of the young people as a destabilizing factor. They were amazed to see how the video presented the gap between the rich and the poor as something that is a matter of fact. As if there is no other way around it or that is how things should naturally be. As if it were some inevitable fate or destiny.

Putting this video together with the fact that most young men and women who join the military in the US often come from poverty and low-income families [10, 11] and that the US has been equipping its local police forces with some very heavy duty military vehicles, hardware, and ammunition, some wondered if the trainees knew they were actually being trained to fight their own families, relatives, friends, and neighborhood kids in their own cities and neighborhoods and in not so distant a future.

Now that we look at the protests in the United States and elsewhere the West or Westoxicated societies through a sober lens, most of us could see clearly a continuation of crumbling down of that already collapsed system founded on injustice, sustained by greed, adorned by arrogance, and re-fashioned and revised constantly by ever new versions of deceit. A system whose ajal has arrived.

References

[1] Noel Harrison (1968). “The Windmills of Your Mind,” the Lyrics. Available online at: http://www.thewindmillsofyourmind.com/thewindmillsofyourmind

[2] Tajik M, Gottlieb K, Lowndes N, Stewart G (2008). “Environmental Policies, Politics, and Community Risk Perception: A Case Study of Community Contamination in Casper, Wyoming”. New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, 17(4): 347-363.

[3] Tajik M (2003). “Cancer Incidence Patterns and Environmental Contamination in North Casper, Wyoming: Integrating Qualitative and Quantitative Methods and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).” Doctoral Dissertation Thesis, University of Colorado at Denver.

[4] Tajik M & Minkler M (2007). “Environmental Justice Research and Action: A Case Study in Political Economy and Community-Academic Collaboration.” International Quarterly of Community Health Eduction, 26(3):215-232.

[5] Tajik M, Muhammad N, Lowman A, Thu K, Wing S, Grant G (2008). “Impact of Odor from Industrial Hog Operations on Daily Living Activities”. New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, 18(2): 195-208.

[6] Tajik M (2011). “Environmental Justice from the Roots: Tillery, North Carolina.” In: Confronting Ecological and Community Crisis in Appalachia. McSpirit S, Faltraco L, Bailey C (eds). Joyce Harrison University Press of Kentucky.

[7] Photo extracted from: Sorg L. (2018). “The case against Murphy-Brown: Inside North Carolina’s latest blockbuster hog trial.” NC Policy Watch, 12/13/2018. Available online at: http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2018/12/13/the-case-against-murphy-brown-inside-north-carolinas-latest-blockbuster-hog-trial/

[8] Shariati A. “Yes, My Brother! This is how it was!” Electronic Copy by Naser Baghban. Available online at: http://shariati.nimeharf.com/

[9] Turse N. (2016). “Pentagon Video Warns of ‘Unavoidable’ Dystopian Future for World’s Biggest Cities.” Published on line on October 13, 2016. Access Online at: https://theintercept.com/2016/10/13/pentagon-video-warns-of-unavoidable-dystopian-future-for-worlds-biggest-cities/

[10] Lutz A (2008). “Who Joins the Military? A Look at Race, Class, and Immigration Status.” Journal of Political and Military Sociology, 36 (2):167-188.

[11] Bareis N & Mezuk B (2016). “The relationship between childhood poverty, military service, and later life depression among men: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study.” Journal of Affective Disorders, 206, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.07.018

 

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