Commentaries on the Times

Editor/Commentator Playthell Benjamin

Chastising Christopher Hictchens after debate on Iraq War

 (Watch it on You Tube)

Statement of Mission

       Praising Saints

Unmasking Charlatans

Enlightening the Untutored Mob!

 Over a decade ago, when I left the New York Daily News, where I was an award winning Editorial Page Columnist and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1995, I composed an essay titled “Why I Retreated into Cyberspace.”  I addressed the reality that aside from the fact that there were not many opportunities for a left of center black columnist who refused to stay on the intellectual plantations that white editors – and all the editors at the kind of major publications I was routinely writing for were lily white – thought of as my proper place, I could see that pulp publications were declining in importance in relation to the various forms of electronic media.

Hence I began to seek out online journals to write for.  Over the past few years I have published many pieces on politics, culture and sports on The Black World Today, under the able Editorship of “Superb Herb” Boyd, an intrepid tribune of the people and one of Harlem’s cultural griots.   The online journal provided a home for the text I produced for my “Commentaries on the Times” series broadcast over WBAI radio, a 50,000 watt FM station on the middle of the dial in the greatest city on earth.  Some of these commentaries turned up on websites all over the world, and were quoted in print publications too – when they were not simply plagiarized ala Maureen Dowd, due to fuzziness or absence of copyright laws regarding content on the internet.

When I first started writing online blogs were unheard of; even now the word is not in the dictionary on my computer.  But in the intervening years this form of journalism has become respectable and often drives news reportage.  My blog and website will serve as the home for the texts from my “Commentaries on the Times,” which address all of the great issues of the day. They cover politics – local, national and international – as well as a wide range of cultural matters.

The occasional sports event also finds its way into my commentaries.  There will also be feature stories on a wide range of topics, original reporting and cultural criticism.  This will include book reviews, theater and music criticism, and films too.  And the website will be a repository for archival material.

However the paramount objective of all my labors is to supply an independent Afro-American perspective on the great questions of the day; and to make sure that voice is vigilant in its opposition to the muddled headed rightwing propaganda masquerading as serious and thoughtful commentary on the news.

When I was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary for my column in the New York Daily News, the nominating letter – which can be read in my unabridged bio – said the following: “With a perspective that comes out of the black experience, his column in the Daily News last year took on topics ranging from the celebrations of D-Day, which he assailed as Eurocentric, to gangster rap, which he denounced as a danger to American youths. He wrote about Foreign Affairs and the O.J. Simpson case with equal insight.   He took on demogogues of the left and right, both black and white, with fervor.” 

Hence the ultimate raison d’ etre for this blog /website is to expose and denounce the ideological duplicity and moral depravity of the rabid right, the “Army of God” types.  The American Taliban who would subject us to a Christian version of Sharia American style.  But as the citation from my Pulitzer nomination states, I have an extensive record of criticizing ideologues and zealots on the left also.  In fact, let me be unambiguous on this point: I detest ideologues and charlatans of any stripe, left or right!  So what you will get in these pages is the truth in so far as it can be ascertained from a rigorous review of the facts at hand.

That I am a man of the left is beyond question, and proudly so; you could say that I am a committed member of the Libertarian Left.   This is to say that while I am a democratic socialist and believe in a well funded public sector – with generous support for art and culture – I also believe that the role government bureaucrats play in this process should be limited to evaluating and dispensing grants.

They should have no say in the creative decisions of artist except to prohibit funds for projects that sow racial, ethnic or gender hatred, and this means that a distinction must be made in writing between edgy art and hateful propaganda.  And I have no doubt that such a standard can be clearly defined.  What Justice Felix Frankfurter said of pornography is also true of hate propaganda: I know it when I see it!

At this point the reader may well ask: “Why should I listen to this guy?  After all, the blogisphere is full of people writing their opinions.” Well my resume will speak to my professional qualifications and experience, and it can be read on the website.  But in the end the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I have been right on critical issues when all of the leading pundits – mostly know-it-all white boys – were embarrassingly off course.

The present quagmire in Iraq is a case in point; hence the first commentary I will post here is a piece written on the eve of the invasion and now reads like prophecy; Nostradomus would be quite happy to claim this text!  And it will become apparent as you peruse my oeuvre that no pundit presently writing has a broader range of intellectual interests.

Finally, let there be no question about the purpose of the commentaries: It is to agitate for the ideas and policies that I believe represent the most just and humane ways of organizing our society.  In this endeavor my role models are Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Ida B. Wells, WEB Dubois, George Schuler and Harold Cruse. The incomparably eloquent and insightful Frederick Douglass stated my purpose succinctly:

History holds no more august claim than where there is no struggle there is no progress.  Men who profess to stand for freedom yet deprecate agitation are men who would have corn without plowing the fields, rain without thunder and lightening; the ocean without the awful roar of her many waters!   Where there is no struggle there is no progress.  The struggle may be moral, or it may be physical, or it may be both.  But there must be a struggle.  Power yields nothing without demand.  It never has and it never will!   Men may not always get what they pay for in this life, but they will surely pay for all that they get!”

I believe that truer words have never been spoken on the question of how progressive change occurs in human societies.  It is a statement that combines poetry and philosophical gravitas in a way that has rarely been equaled.   And it expresses the deepest sentiments of my soul.  In terms of my use of language in polemics against the rabid right, I shall again defer to one of our greatest moral clarions and intellectually pugnacious bullies for justice, William Lloyd Garrison.

On New Years day 1831, three decades before the outbreak of Civil War in the destruction of slavery, Garrison launched The Liberator – a newspaper that became a major force in bringing this cataclysmic event about that freed American civilization from its original sin – along with genocide against Native Americans – of slavery.

Garrison’s statement of his terms of engagement has been adopted in letter and spirit, whole soul and body, by this editor; and shall henceforth serve as my guiding light in this enterprise.  Like the great Novelist and essayist Ishmael Reed, I believe writin is fightin!  Garrison wrote:

“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL be Heard!”

 “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate! “

 

Sayeth My Spiritual Father Frederick Douglass

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 Playthell G, Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Summer 2021

 

 

THE TRIUMPH OF THE TALIBAN IN AFGHANISTAN….

Taliban Leaders in the Afghan President’s Office
It Was All Predictable: A Classic Case of American Folly!

Over a quarter century ago, when the US government thought it was a good Idea to arm the radical Islamic fundamentalists with advanced US weaponry, I thought it was a grave mistake and said so in a “Commentary on the Times,” which was then a series broadcast over WBAI fm radio in New York City, where the Commentaries series was created nearly 40 years ago. At the time, the Islamic Jihadists were called the “Mujahadeen,” and we were told they were righteous “freedom fighters.” Our government bequeathed this honorific on these soldiers of Allah because at the time their Jihad was aimed at the Soviet Union, their communist neighbor, with whom the USA had been embroiled in a “Cold War” since the middle of the 20th century.

In their struggle for world supremacy the white American elite formed alliances with all sorts of smarmy characters. Right-wing dictators were a favorite in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the islands of the seven seas. Hence today we see the US in bed with the murderous theiving Saudi Royal Family and the Brazilian fascist Bolsonaro, while still trying to reverse the peoples revolution of Cuba – where low life lying scoundrels and political reactionaries like Republican Governor de Santis, and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz would be preferable as leaders on the island.

It was this kind of twisted thinking that led to the argument that we should support and promote Islamic fundamentalism because as “people of the book,” all believers in the great “Abrahamic religions” – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – we have much more in common with them than the communist atheist of Soviet Russia.

Guided by this flawed logic the US government dispatched the CIA – “Community Improvement Association” in the view of deluded “American Exceptionalist” – who proceeded to arm and train the Islamic Jihadist in league with the military intelligence services of Pakistan, a nuclear armed nation whose government and military is riddled with Muslim fundamentalist. And we were assured these Muslim militants were “freedom fighters” who stood with us against the advance of communism in the Islamic world.

Alas, history has shown they created a hydra headed monster that begin with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which morphed into ISIS! Once the Russians were driven from Afghanistan these forces turned against “The Great Satan,” the enabler of the Zionist in Israel, and Christian “Crusaders.” Who have been enemies of Allah since the days of the Crusades during Medieval times.

It was a classic case of folly, as defined by the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning historian Barbra Tuckman in her path-breaking book “The March of Folly.” Simply put, “Folly” occurs when a nation pursues a policy despite the fact that all the historical and contemporary evidence presages disaster!

Hence if the results were not so tragic for the innocent citizens of Afghanistan seeking to live free in the modern world- especially the women and girls – it would be hella funny watching all the know-it-all white pundits wringing their hands and wondering WTF happened? Alas, one need not possess the prescience of the Prophet in order to have predicted this disaster.   I will soon post an extended analysis on this question.

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A NOTE TO THE SEEKER OF WISDOM AND TRUTH: In trying to see things clearly, it helps immeasurably if your head is not stuck up yo ass!!!!!

Playthell George Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 29, 2021

 

A Suicide Bombing in Kabul!

It Was Bound to Happen…

Chaos reigns at the Kabul airport while gunfire, and two blasts from suicide bombers, blow people apart as they desperately struggle to make their way into the building and onto planes parked on the tarmac, fleeing the ensuing terror and slaughters that will surely follow the American retreat and the collapse of the Afghan government and national army.

While we do not yet have an accurate account of the casualties, which are still being tallied as I write, thus far over 40 deaths and hundreds of wounded have been accounted for. And observers on the ground speak of “piles of mangled bodies” on the street, unfortunately several are of US Troops according to the Pentagon.

In a country teeming with Islamic zealots, each convinced that they are serving the will of Allah and dying for the cause is viewed as a glorious act, a suicide bombing should surprise no one who has been paying attention to the modern Islamic Jihad. It is a movement splintered by theology and ideology, and these differences have led to deadly confrontations between contending factions.

Aside from the deep historic theological difference between the Sunni and Shia adherents to Islamic dogma, there are fractures between the  heavily armed Jihadist: Isis, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban.  While the Jihadist movement is often treated as a monolith by western policy makers, in truth they are sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams. Which appears to be the source of the present attacks at the airport.

Yet despite these internecine conflicts in the Jihadist movement, the sunni Islamic Caliphate of Afghanistan will now take its place beside the shite Islamic Republic of Iran as the world’s second nation to come under the rule of Islamic theocrats.  A country where Sharia, a crude medieval religious code, crafted before the age of Enlightenment in the west, will become the fundamental law of the land.  And if history as well as recent experience serves as a guide, it will be enforced with the fervor of religious fanatics certain that only they know the real-truth, Allah’s Divine plan for man.

Certainly, that is what a wide swarth of Afghan society believes, especially the urban intellectual and scientific elite, which is why they are hurriedly voting with their feet, as they hasten to the Kabul airport trying to hop a flight to anywhere in the west.  This is why the Taliban leadership, as backward and deluded as they are, insist that there is no need for the best and brightest Afghanis to flee, trying to plug the brain drain by pledging to respect human rights and protect the rights of women.

They argue that instead of being afraid the Afghan people should be proud of the brave Taliban warriors, who just fought a 20-year protracted war against the world’s most powerful nation and drove the foreign infidels from the mountains and fields of their beloved country.

However, as has been often noted: The devil is in the details.  And when we consider the fact that “Taliban” means “Seminarian,” or students of the Koran,  their claim that women will be treated justly under the strictures of “Sharia Law,” must be viewed with a jaundiced eye.  Alas, there are few citizens of the US who claim to be devout Christians, that are willing to live under a strict fundamentalist interpretation of biblical injunctions.

Who among us are prepared to take literally the Old Testament injunction to take “an eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth”?  Or that women found guilty of committing adulty should be publicly stoned.  But that is just what the Taliban is doing in their interpretation of the commandments of the Koran and the admonitions of Sharia.

As the incidents of deadly violence increases, it is clear that the American retreat from Afghanistan is a hot mess; the cure for which nobody has an answer.  One need only listen to the mindless prattle of General H.R. Macmaster, Donald Trump’s second National Security Advisor, who was a field commander in two Gulf Wars, sounds really silly with his butt hurt  blather about how this is the moment that the US should go for the win, the kill, taking advantage of the disorganized state of the Taliban.

One does not have to be a learned military strategist, as Macmaster claims to be alas, in order to know that a recommitment of US armed forces in Afghanistan with the objective of “winning” a military victory, is the definition of Mighty Whitey madness!

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Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

August 29, 2021