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Barker’s Bizarre Attacks against Progressive Scholars and Proponents of Nonviolent Resistance

By Stephen Zunes.

Michael Barker, in an article posted on this site a few days ago, takes offense at my labeling him as someone “notorious” for “conspiracy-mongering.”  However, a careful reading of his article and its links actually reinforces that argument.

At the outset, Barker questions my assertion that my colleagues and I are genuinely upset at the Stratfor revelations regarding Serbian nonviolent activist Srdja Popovic because he “is still included upon the advisory board of Waging Nonviolence, a web-based project (for which Zunes is a regular contributor) where our problematic friend Mr Popovic sits alongside a number of Zunes' colleagues from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC).” First of all, Popovic has been removed from their board of advisors, largely because I and others affiliated with groups that promote nonviolent resistance strongly encouraged them to do so. Secondly, the board never meets in person, making it difficult for board members to “sit alongside” one another. Thirdly, the board also includes such prominent left-wing activists and writers as Sam Husseini, Kathy Kelly, Maya Schenwar, and John Dear, none of whom would consider themselves particularly tainted by Popovic’s former inclusion on the board either.

He goes on to claim that ICNC, with which I serve as co-chair of the board of academic advisors “is led and funded by a member of the ruling-class named Peter Ackerman.”  In reality, the funding comes from Ackerman’s family, and he is not involved in the day-to-day operations of ICNC. Furthermore, the links he includes which supposedly reinforce his accusations of Ackerman and ICNC’s “imperial connections” contain a whole series of factual errors:

Former Canadian diplomat Berel Rodal is not the vice chair of ICNC nor was he ever a “founding” vice chair. He did serve for a time in that largely honorific capacity, but his present activities which Barker cites have no influence or bearing on ICNC’s work, nor did his previous personal activities when he was affiliated with ICNC have any influence either.

Barker is incorrect that ICNC sprang from the Albert Einstein Institution and is “associated” with it. Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall jointly established ICNC in 2002 to meet the demand for practical information about nonviolent struggle, exemplified by the widespread positive feedback generated by their documentary television mini-series “A Force More Powerful,” which has been translated in several languages and has been viewed in over 100 countries, a decision unrelated from nonviolent theorist Gene Sharp and his small aforementioned institute. In any case, Barker’s claim that the Einstein Institution had aided US-elite-guided "revolutions" in countries under the guise of "democracy promotion" is utterly ludicrous and has been directly challenged by scores of leading anti-imperialist scholars and activists, including Noam Chomsky, the late Howard Zinn, Dan Ellsberg, and others.

The link claiming to demonstrate Ackerman’s “anti-democratic activism” is based on his serving on the board of a local food bank in Washington, D.C. because, according to Barker, food banks are “the ruling classes favoured solution to the ongoing decimation of state-organized social welfare provision.” While it’s hard to argue with the assertion that there ultimately needs to be radical structural changes in our economic system to address problems like hunger, Barker’s assertion that being part of an organization providing food aid to poor families in the city in which he lives somehow constitutes proof of “anti-democratic activism” is quite a stretch. (Indeed, I would imagine that some of Ackerman’s fellow board members, who include such leading progressive community leaders as Johnny Yacato and George Jones, would be surprised being so labeled.)

The link that Barker asserts includes evidence of Ackerman’s alleged “efforts to escalate counterinsurgency operations in Iraq” references a nonprofit called Spirit of America, which among other things, distributes blankets to schoolchildren in Afghanistan and supports disabled Syrian refugees. It’s not clear how Barker believes this somehow demonstrates that Ackerman is supporting the escalation of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, especially since Ackerman stepped down from its board a few years ago.

This is not to say that I, like others associated with ICNC, don’t have problems with some political positions Ackerman has taken, some of his political associations, and other issues. Both Ackerman and I have been quite open and public about our rather serious disagreements on a number of issues. However, given that he has not interfered with the work that I and others have done through ICNC in disseminating knowledge about strategic nonviolent action to those involved in progressive struggles, that I have never been asked (nor would I ever agree) to support U.S .imperialist objectives, and that Ackerman and I share a belief that empowering popular nonviolent struggles against autocratic regimes through disseminating generic information about strategic nonviolent action are a good thing regardless of those governments’ ideological orientations or strategic alliances, I don’t see any problem with being one of many progressive scholars and activists who are willing to work with ICNC.

Indeed, other members of the board of an organization which he condemns as having “imperial connections” include such other prominent leftist scholars as: South Africans Janet Cherry and Howard Barrell, both of whom served with the ANC underground in the anti-apartheid resistance; Stellan Vinthagen, a radical Swedish sociologist and leader in War Resisters International who has organized a number of major anti-globalization direct action campaigns in Europe; Tom Hastings, who has spent many months in jail for anti-militarist direct actions here in the United States; leftist Latin Americanist and human rights advocate Roddy Brett; and, radical Quaker scholars Kevin Clements, Les Kurtz, and Jason McLeod.

International activists who have worked closely with ICNC include prominent leaders in the water rights struggle Bolivia; the anti-FTAA and anti-fracking movements in Quebec; the Palestinian nonviolent resistance against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank; the Mexican movement against the drug war; and scores of pro-democracy activists struggling against U.S.-backed dictatorships in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. ICNC’s work has included hosting and funding seminars on nonviolent action for Palestinians resisting the Israeli occupation, Sahrawis resisting the Moroccan occupation, indigenous Guatemalans defending their land and communities, West Papuans resisting mining companies and Indonesian colonization, Hondurans resisting the military coup, and immigrants’ rights activists here in the United States, among scores of others. ICNC also organized the recent James Lawson Institute, which included prominent activists from the Occupy movement, 99 Rise, Ruckus Society, Center for the Working Poor, UNITE Here, Wildfire Project, Brown Berets, Code Pink, Iraq Veterans Against the War, New Economy Coalition, School of the Americas Watch, United We Dream Network, Working Families Organization, and other progressive organizations.

Yet all this is irrelevant to Barker, who instead focuses on guilt by association or even simply guilt by physical proximity (what some refer to as the “cooties effect”), which is the basis of my charges of conspiracy mongering.

For example, Barker has focused on ICNC President Jack DuVall's supposed "connection to former CIA head James Woolsey." DuVall's "connection" to Woolsey, as it turns out, consisted of the two of them overlapping for less than a year back in 2001-2002 on the board of the Arlington Institute, a futurist think tank. By all accounts, they were both present at the same time for only two meetings of that board and they never once engaged in a one-on-one conversation. There is not, nor has there ever been, any personal connection between the two of them.

Similarly, Barker has also tried to discredit ICNC through one of its senior advisors, Shaazka Beyerle—­ a Canadian human-rights activist best known for her work in support of the Palestinian cause and of women's rights movements­—for having served on the board of the European Institute, a public policy forum on transatlantic relations, since the board also happened to include former World Bank President Robert Zoellick.

Having worked with both DuVall and Beyerle, I can state categorically that neither of them appears to have picked up any imperialist cooties despite their having briefly been in the same room as Woolsey and Zoellick.

Barker has also tried to demonstrate that ICNC is part of an imperialist plot because co-founder Peter Ackerman's wife, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, serves on the board of the International Crisis Group and thereby "rubs boardroom shoulders" with George Soros, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Wesley Clark, and Kenneth Adelman. Further alleged proof of imperialist cooties infestations of ICNC through Ackerman's wife is that she serves on the board of both Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Journalists, which Barker accuses of having links to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which Barker then insists "maintains close ties with the CIA."

This illustrates, in Barker’s world view, just how contagious this kind of infection can be: CIA cooties are contracted by the NED, which are then spread to Human Rights Watch, which are thereby picked up by board member Leedom-Ackerman, who passes them on to her husband, who then infects ICNC.

The fact is that, as an educational foundation, ICNC is neither left nor right. It should be judged not through Barker’s convoluted efforts to imply some imperialist agenda by ICNC because of unrelated alleged activities by some people associated with it, but instead by what many hundreds of progressive activists, including outspoken anti-imperialists, have gained from its work.

Barker goes on to attack me personally, falsely claiming that a chapter I wrote on the People Power movement in the Philippines which brought down the U.S.-backed Marcos dictatorship fails to acknowledge the ongoing neocolonialism and other inequities with which that country is struggling as a result of U.S. imperialism. Indeed, it does just the opposite. He also provides links articles by other sectarians falsely claiming that I am guilty of “making excuses for Empire,” that I defend subversion by the National Endowment for Democracy and other Congressionally-funded groups,  that I am “comfortable” with those in the United States who would play a “destabilizing and reactionary role” in foreign countries, that I “would have no problem imperialistically imposing a nonviolent strategy upon those inhabiting other parts of the world,” that I’ve given my “blessings” to reactionary forces working against leftist governments, and other bizarre charges which anybody familiar with my writings, interviews, public speaking or anything else know is completely untrue. Indeed, my anti-imperialist activism has made me a favorite target of Fox News, David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, and others on the right. However, Barker and other critics from the sectarian left mirror these neo-conservatives in simply making stuff up because my progressive activism and scholarship doesn’t happen to fit their rigid ideological constructs.

I am disappointed, therefore, that RealNews would run these kinds of ad hominem attacks against one of its contributors and longtime supporters.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.


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