The Stark Truth: Interview with Marc Armstrong – the case for public banks

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Marc Armstrong” (Voice of Reason, 7 May 2012)

With recent public anger at the behaviour of large private banks over the last 30 years across the world, it’s time to revisit the idea of publicly owned banks that accept deposits and lend money purely to fund the production of goods and services. In Australia, all major banks are now privately owned and only the central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia, is owned by the Australian government. In the United States, there is one publicly owned bank, the Bank of North Dakota, which funds public infrastructure projects in a state that has experienced rapid economic growth and has the lowest employment rate in a country where most states have struggling economies and many people out of work. In this episode, journalist Robert Stark interviews Marc Armstrong of the Public Banking Institute which advocates the creation of public banks at state and community level and holds the Bank of North Dakota as an ideal to emulate. The interview can be found at this link.

Armstrong makes a very strong case for public banks as major agents that stimulate investment and activity in an economy suffering downturns and credit crunches, and which moderate economic growth and prevent over-heating in the form of runaway inflation and a “two-speed” economy aka Dutch Elm disease in which some booming industries encourage capital flight away from other industries which then slump, affecting jobs and employment and other industries that depend on them. Throughout the interview Armstrong points out how public banks help economies climb out of recession, empower small businesses, create flexibility and adaptability in an economy and devolve power away from centralised institutions and give it back to communities. He points out that China has  a central public bank that serves the people and finances major infrastructure projects.

The Bank of North Dakota gets considerable attention as the US’s only major public bank and Armstrong notes that it is 100% state-owned. He talks about the history of the BND, how it was founded by farmers and the fact that the bank has so far been able to keep out-of-state corporations away from North Dakota’s agricultural industries. He notes that North Dakota has always had a strongly populist tradition and that the idea of public banking is not a “leftist” or socialist idea as some people to think but, on the contrary, has a strong libertarian appeal in that it enables communities to regain control of their money supply and use it in ways that benefit their members. Indeed, he notes that the US Constitution provides support for having public banks as creating money and regulating its value is a sovereign task of US Congress and such activity is best done through a people’s bank.

Stark asks intelligent questions from the viewpoint of Californians as he lives in the state itself and, at the time of the episode’s broadcast, the California State Assembly currently had AB2500 before it, this bill being a proposal to reintroduce public banking in the Golden Gate state. Armstrong answers questions clearly and well: the man not only knows what’s there to know about public banking, he is a Very Big Believer in the worth of public banking. At the end of the interview, Stark asks Armstrong to plug his organisation, the Public Banking Institute, and Armstrong runs through a list of activities and symposia being held to promote public banks.

This is a very important interview for all Americans and for others living in countries where public banks either don’t exist or used to exist and where private banks are held in contempt due to a history of exploitation based on debt. In case listeners are not convinced of the claims Armstrong makes for public banks or miss much of the interview – it is very involved and people must be able to follow the medium-fast flow of conversation – they can always visit the Public Banking Institute’s website or attend any activities and symposia hosted by the organisation.

The Stark Truth: Interview with Anatoly Karlin – enjoyable if demanding interview with rising young intellectual

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Anatoly Karlin” (Voice of Reason, 4 May 2012)

I’ve been visiting Russian-American political analyst Anatoly Karlin’s blogs Sublime Oblivion, AKarlin.com and Da Russophile since late last year so I was keen to hear The Man speak on Robert Stark’s program on the Voice of Reason network. The interview is available for listening at this link. In the interview, Karlin discusses some of the posts he put up recently on AKarlin..com: race realism versus race denial; disparities in IQ levels among different human populations or races and the implications for future economic development and national wealth; homophobia and why homosexuality exists in all human societies despite its apparent uselessness for the survival of the human species; and the geography of global human capital and potential as measured by average PISA scores for mathematics, science and reading achieved by 15 year old students and what these say about IQ levels in populations.

Karlin seems a bit nervous during the interview with a few “ums” and “ahs” throughout but once he starts explaining his posts, he becomes more assured. He starts off explaining why and how he started his blogs which examine trends in politics, economics and culture across the world that are likely to determine what the future will be like and which countries, cultures or economies will be dominant. The kinds of questions Stark asks Karlin perhaps reflect his audience’s political preferences: he asks Karlin what he thinks of US presidential candidate Ron Paul’s attitudes towards the question of race. A quick look at past interviewees on The Stark Truth: Voice of Reason website reveals a wide range of political, social and economic viewpoints among them but the common denominator is that they are people whom the mainstream media wouldn’t touch with a six-metre barge pole.

Stark and Karlin spend a lot of time discussing issues of race and race realism and in particular proponents of race realism like liberal-leaning Robert Lindsay and the more conservative Steve Sailer. The conservation then segues into physical and cultural differences across nations and gets quite funny when Karlin explains to Stark that a world map actually exists of average penis sizes among nations. After a break halfway through the interview, the discussion moves to the geography of human capital. Stark quizzes Karlin on the high PISA results achieved by Chinese students, especially those by Shanghai-based students, compared to the low results achieved by students in oil-rich countries such as Kuwait. Near last on the agenda is homophobia, what feeds it and homophobia’s likely cultural roots in Western societies. Other topics discussed include freedom, Karlin’s own freedom index and how the United States, the United Kingdom and other selected countries (like Israel!) rate on that index. Yep, there is a definite hidden political agenda behind Stark’s questioning though it is not necessarily sinister; Stark is interested in why Russia rates as a more democratic state than China despite China being more capitalist in its economic orientation and in how the Palestinian question influences Israel’s ranking.

The discussions can be quite dry and listeners do have to pay a lot of attention but there’s not much in the interview that isn’t also in the posts on Karlin’s blogs. The posts often feature colourful graphs and maps, many of which Karlin creates himself (and some of which I found I could create too when investigating and comparing infant mortality rates for Australia, Russia and several other countries while reading one post on Da Russophile), plus there are comments forums populated by a bunch of regular visitors including Yours Trolling Truly and occasional wanderers.

I enjoyed hearing the interview though it is demanding and listeners do need to concentrate on following the subject threads.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 6: Rafael Correa): Ecuador as microcosm of Latin America in struggling for democracy and social justice

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 6: Rafael Correa)” (Russia Today, 22 May 2012)

Halfway through the series, Assange must have read my mind telepathically as his interview subject for Episode 6 is President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and the general theme of the interview is Ecuador as a microcosm of Latin America in its struggle to bring democracy and social justice to its citizens and throw off domination by its own political and economic elites and by the West (predominantly the United States). Correa is an enthusiastic and passionate interviewee who fervently believes in his cause and destiny as the focus for his people’s desire for change and improvement. He is sympathetic to Assange’s plight – at the time, Assange had already spent 500 days under house arrest – and among other things the two discuss Wikileaks’ role in exposing the Ecuadorian mainstream media as complicit in aiding the country’s elites in concentrating and maintaining power and what remedies to undertake to ensure that the Ecuadorian media serves the people instead of a select privileged few. Inevitably Assange and Correa also dissect Ecuador’s relationship with the United States, how the United States has treated Ecuador (and by implication the rest of Latin America) and what the Obama government should be doing to address and satisfy the American people’s demands for democracy and social justice as expressed by the Occupy movements.

As with previous episodes, the episode seen on Youtube.com shows only excerpts of the interview; a full transcript in English and Spanish can be seen at this link. There is far more interesting information in the transcript about a near-coup in September 2010 that could have threatened Correa’s life and how this coup links to a far more serious problem about the role of the media and journalists in maintaining a corrupt political, social and economic order in Ecuador. Correa expounds at some length about how Ecuador’s mainstream media, largely private and controlled by large corporations and banks, has resisted calls for democracy, the rule of law and social justice, and has allowed its owners to hold the country’s major political, legal and economic institutions to ransom. Journalists have acted as shock troops leading the charge in the repression of people’s rights and freedoms. This news comes as something of a shock to Assange and me though really when I consider the state of the news media in Australia and in other Anglophone countries, this should be no surprise at all: the news media in Australia has consistently supported large private interests and encouraged the general public to support politically conservative parties. Is it any surprise that Australia’s early 20th-century reputation as a socially progressive country quickly faded away? Assange suggests to Correa that the solution is for his government to break up the media monopolies and cartels and to ease market barriers of entry to allow small publishers and individuals to make themselves heard without fear of penalty; Correa replies that Ecuador is already discussing a new law regulating its media to enable public government and community organisations to launch radio and TV stations to compete with private broadcasting interests.

An important topic discussed is leadership which Correa defines as the capacity to influence others and to be the focus for change and people’s aspirations for a better life and for justice. Interestingly Correa sees his leadership role as serving his people in fighting poverty and injustice. Assange and Correa discuss US President Barack Obama with respect to his leadership so far of the United States and his ability (or not) to respond to the American people’s demands as expressed through the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The interview ends on a positive note and a little joke as Assange warns Correa against assassination. In its truncated version, this is a highly informative and very revealing interview, and definitely one of the better episodes in this series.

The World Tomorrow (Episode 5: Moazzam Begg, Asim Qureshi): series is becoming repetitive and a little disappointing

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 5: Moazzam Begg, Asim Qureshi)” (Russia Today, 15 May 2012)

At last Julian Assange gets a real cosy conversation with both interviewees bunkered down with him in his house prison. Moazzam Begg  is a British citizen of Pakistani origin who was detained in both the Bagram Theater Internment Facility and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for three years by the US government until his release in January 2005.  He and Asim Qureshi, a former corporate lawyer, run Cage Prisoners Ltd, a human rights organisation working to raise public awareness of prisoners still trapped in Guantanamo Bay prison. The talk is part-interview / part-discussion as Assange sets the agenda in a general way and Begg and Qureshi answer his questions and probing to the best of their ability.

Begg and Qureshi are polite and articulate interviewees who are open about what it means to be Muslim and to witness for their fellow Muslims and struggle on their behalf. They discuss the concept of “jihad” and what “submission” to God means to them personally as Muslims. Assange questions the men at length about how they reconcile their beliefs in Islam and their concept of an Islamic caliphate with social justice and living in the modern world. The three range across many issues facing Muslims in the world after the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, in particular the Arab Spring events, and how Muslims across the Middle East and northern Africa are continuing to push for democracy and social justice and move away from repressive dictatorships supported by foreign powers. Finally Begg and Qureshi talk about why they formed Cage Prisoners Ltd and why they want to continue agitating for the rights of people still trapped in Guantanamo Bay prison and similar prisons around the world.

The episode is a very condensed version of what the men actually talked about; a full transcript is available. Reading the transcript, I discover that Begg is quite knowledgeable about the history of British repression of the IRA and early support for mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Colonel Gadhafi in Libya in 2011, and how current laws in the UK being passed to restrict Muslims’ rights and to spy on them can very easily be used against the rest of the British population. There is mention of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born imam who was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011 and what his death represents in the context of the US becoming a criminal police state that kills people before they’ve even been charged with committing crimes. There is also talk about Western hypocrisy in the conduct of the War on Terror and the demonisation of al Qa’ida.

Assange still can’t quite get his head around the concept of “submission” to God, taking “submission” very literally whereas I suspect that for most Muslims, “submission” refers to accepting God and religion with all its disciplines and strictures in their lives, and the spiritual peace and assurance that come with that acceptance. I am disappointed that Assange didn’t ask his interviewees more details about what Cage Prisoners Ltd is doing to publicise their cause and how the general public in Britain can support the organisation’s activities.

Interestingly near the beginning of the talk, Begg mentions that while in prison he heard the sounds of a woman screaming next door and was told the woman was his wife: he does not say which prison he was in at the time but if he had been in Bagram when he heard these sounds, it’s very likely that he had been hearing Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani “Grey Lady of Bagram” neuroscientist, arrested with three of her children while in Pakistan in 2003, and imprisoned and subjected to horrific abuse for five years while the children disappeared. In 2008, Siddiqui was arrested in Afghanistan and while in custody, supposedly shot US soldiers guarding her; for this, she was forced to stand trial in the US in 2010 despite being severely ill and was convicted of all charges against her. At this time of writing, Siddiqui remains in jail, having been sentenced to 86 years’ imprisonment; two of her children were returned to her family and the third child is now known to have died during her initial 2003 arrest.

Overall this episode was a good introduction to Moazzam Begg, Cage Prisoners and the work they are doing but beyond that, I’m afraid there’s not much really substantial that hasn’t already been dealt with in previous “The World Tomorrow” episodes. The series is starting to sound repetitive with constant references to the Arab Spring, Tunisia and Egypt, and while the fight for democracy and social justice in the Arab world is important, the concept of the series was intended to be more inclusive of ideas and concepts going beyond current events.

The World Tomorrow (Episode 4: Nabeel Rajab, Alaa Abdal-Fattah): a lesson in how to be a human rights activist / revolutionary

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 4: Nabeel Rajab, Alaa Abdal-Fattah)” (Russia Today, 8 May 2012)

In this episode, Assange interviews two human rights activist revolutionaries, Nabeel Rajab of Bahrain and Alaa Abdal-Fattah of Egypt. At the time of the interview, Rajab had been menaced by police and government authorities who had tried to arrest at home while he was in the UK visiting Assange; after the interview, Rajab returned to Bahrain and was almost immediately detained by the authorities. Abdal-Fattah was under house arrest and forbidden to travel so he participated in the interview through a Skype connection. The interview took up three hours but only 28 minutes made it to video and this video constitutes the basis for this review.

Both interviewees are very articulate about their respective countries’ politics and the general politics of the Middle East. Rajab provides a quick short history of Bahrain: the country has long been ruled by one family with Western support (mostly British as Adam Curtis’s post “If You Take My Advice – I’d Repress Them” on his blog reveals) while the desires and needs of the Bahraini people for democracy go ignored. The media organisation Al Jazeera supports the Bahraini government and does not report on the meddling of Saudi Arabia in Bahraini affairs; ergo, Western media also ignores the situation in Bahrain and how Saudi Arabia undermines Bahraini sovereignty. Rajab admits that fighting for freedom and democracy involves a heavy cost but he is willing to fight to the utmost to achieve abstract ideals.

Abdal-Fattah describes the various crimes he has been accused of, to the extent that he finds humour in the list of crimes that make him appear super-human, being in two or more places at once and single-handedly taking on two platoons and stealing their stash of weapons. He discusses the current state of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt and how it seems to have stalled with no clear direction. The interviewees move onto different aspects of the revolutions in Bahrain and Egypt including the role of social media and technology in spreading and exchanging information among different groups fighting for freedom, and the impact of the revolutions and the interviewees’ own experiences with the police and government authorities on their own families. Interestingly, far from being cowed by threats and harassment, the families resolved to resist the authorities. Even the role of football clubs in the Egyptian revolution got a mention – and you thought football clubs were good only for soccer hooliganism!

Apart from Nabeel’s opinion that Iraq is a democracy and that Russia and United States should speak with one voice on the situation in Syria and should help that country, I didn’t find much to fault what the two interviewees said. I do think that Nabeel is looking at Syria and Libya in a naive way, equating the struggles in those countries with the struggle in Bahrain, and not appreciating that these countries have had very different post-1945 histories from his own in spite of a shared language and to some extent cultural heritage. At least he said that the Syrians must be allowed to decide for themselves what government they want without interference from outside. The trio also discussed politics and democracy in the United States and the United Kingdom, finding much in those countries that paralleled the repressive rule in Egypt and Bahrain, but this part of the interview failed to make it to the 28-minute video presentation.

As it is, the video is a mere shadow of what the men ranged over and abruptly cuts off Abdal-Fattah while in the middle of talking about his son. I hope that Assange will be able to edit the three-hour interview he did and upload this to the Russia Today website. The 28-minute interview can be viewed here and the full three-hour transcript can be read here.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 3: Moncef Marzouki): human rights and open government getting short shrift

“The World Tomorrow (Episode 3: Moncef Marzouki)” (Russia Today, 1 May 2012)

In this episode, Julian Assange interviews Moncef Marzouki, the President of Tunisia and a former human rights activist who was imprisoned by previous President Ben Ali in 1993. The underlying theme of the interview is how Marzouki will stay true to his ideals and continue to champion freedom, democracy, openness and accountability, and govern Tunisia effectively in a world of hypocritical Realpolitik. In contrast to Episode 2, this third installment is very low on pyrotechnics: Marzouki is a cool, calm and articulate speaker and his manner is gentle and courteous.

Assange begins by asking Marzouki about how he survived prison which included four months in solitary confinement, and gradually moves onto questions about openness in Tunisian society and what role Marzouki will play in encouraging that openness and accountability, then onto issues of regional North African / Middle Eastern importance such as the political turmoil in Syria and the possibility of Tunisia giving asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It is intriguing that Marzouki prefers to sidestep talking about Bahrain, an equally oppressive state as Syria but supported by Tunisia, and criticises Hezbollah’s Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah for supporting al-Assad and considering Israel’s government and its actions as the greater threat to political stability in the Middle East. One might wonder if Marzouki has his priorities right in downplaying Israel’s role in fomenting discord between itself and its neighbours. Surely if Marzouki is still committed to supporting human rights and condemning governments that violate them, he should be just as harsh on the Bahraini government as he is on the Syrian government?

Further into the interview, Marzouki admits as President that he has limited political powers which often clash with and compromise his beliefs as a human rights activist.

Other questions Marzouki dodges include one on recent Tunisian government censorship of the Internet in Tunisia and whether he is willing to open past intelligence files to the general public. It is curious that he would open secret intelligence archives to historians but not to the people on the basis that such knowledge could be dangerous and lead to personal vendettas over issues that can never be healed … why not throw open the files to the public and at the same time initiate a reconciliation process in which crimes can be forgiven and appropriate compensation be made?

The issue of double standards in relation to the United States’ stand on human rights, co-existing as it does with that country’s recent record on torture and illegal incarceration of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison, is raised briefly. Marzouki notes an occasion where he was invited to the United States to speak on human rights issues and meet a person in the White House whom he suspected to be implicated in Guantanamo Bay prison abuses. Naturally he refused to meet this person but I wonder if he had met him and agreed to make public speeches … wouldn’t it have made some impact on the American public if Marzouki had met the person and told him off for his hypocrisy and for having blood on his hands?

The questions Assange asks are not very searching or challenging to Marzouki and the journalist frequently gives Marzouki the benefit of the doubt. Curiously he doesn’t throw any curveball questions to Marzouki in the way he did to Nasrallah. Assange accepts Marzouki as a genuine democrat who consciously strives to live up to his ideals every day as President. Assange doesn’t realise that by dodging the issue of Bahrain’s treatment of dissidents, Marzouki has already shown himself as compromised and perhaps dependent on the US and other Western powers for political survival.

The interview can be viewed on Youtube here and a transcript of the interview is also available.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 2: David Horowitz and Slavoj Zizek): a brief glimpse into a moronic and ugly worldview

“The World Tomorrow (Episode 2: David Horowitz and Slavoj Zizek)” (Russia Today, 24 April 2012)

For this episode, interviewer Julian Assange brought together two opposed public intellectuals, US political commentator David Horowitz and Slovenian philosopher / psychoanalyst / cultural critic Slavoj Zizek. Horowitz was once a left-wing activist who supported the Black Panther movement in the US in the 1960s and whose parents were members of the American Communist Party who supported Joseph Stalin; he now supports hardline American political conservatism. Zizek opposed Communism in Yugoslavia in the 1980s but might now be called centrist in his political outlook. The topics Assange covers in the 30-minute discussion with Horowitz and Zizek include Israel’s uneasy relationship with Palestinians, Joseph Stalin, the US occupation of Iraq, the decline of Europe, the descent of the US into a security-obsessed police state that deprives its citizens of liberty and Horowitz’s relationship with the Black Panthers.

On paper, Horowitz was an ideal choice as interviewee: what made a left-wing activist who supported the civil rights movement and the Black Panthers, and whose parents were strongly pro-Soviet, turn to the political polar opposite and support President Reagan in the 1980s and convert to an ardent Zionist, distrustful of Hamas and Palestinians generally? Assange isn’t able to ask the question due to the arguing between Horowitz and Zizek and his deference to those boxing heavyweights but later in the discussion when Horowitz recounts his experiences with the Black Panthers, one gets the impression that his conversion to the politically conservative viewpoint was less dramatically Damascene and more grubbily out of pique at being ostracised by former left-wing friends upset at someone’s death which Horowitz says was wrongly blamed on him. (This suggests that his left-wing views must not have been very deeply held and felt; surely one’s political beliefs shouldn’t be contingent on one’s friendships?) If ever we needed to know the difference between ACTING like an idiot and actually BEING an idiot, Horowitz and Zizek provide it in buckets: Zizek jumps up and down, waves his arms furiously, but his opinions demonstrate that he lives in the real world with the rest of us while Horowitz spouts one stupidity after another: he calls the European social welfare state experiment a disaster and sees it as a “cultural theme park” and Sweden as having no morals. For Horowitz, US President Obama is a “leftist” and “leftism” is responsible for most of the world’s problems including the abysmal state of post-Hussein Iraq and the erosion of freedoms, security and peace in the US.

There is no shortage of former left-wing political activists who now have conservative opinions and positions on most political / social / economic issues: in the US, they often follow the philosophy of Leo Strauss, support the notion of radical change and believe the US should invade other countries to bring “democracy” and “freedom” to their supposedly benighted inhabitants. The architects of the Project for the New American Century who include Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and various others fall into this neo-conservative camp and anyone of them could have been interviewed. It would have been instructive for viewers if Assange could have quizzed Horowitz on what he might know of Strauss and his position on what the US and NATO should do about Libya, Syria and Iran. (The bit where Horowitz suggests people are the problem and hence “checks and balances” are needed against them is creepy and one might think he would welcome the Straussian viewpoint that people must be deceived with ideology and religion.)

On the other hand, there seem to be very few public intellectuals of a formerly politically conservative background who now hold what might be considered centre-left views and are critical of US, Israel and NATO and their actions in the world today, available for interview: Zizek with his history of opposing Communists in the old Yugoslavia is a compromise. Probably a better candidate to oppose Horowitz would have been US economist Paul Craig Roberts, the former Reagan government official who would have countered Horowitz’s views on Palestine, the US invasion of Iraq, and the loss of freedom and rights in the US more lucidly than the excitable Zizek; another suitable candidate might have been US writer Justin Raimondo who edits the Antiwar.com website and who is highly critical of Israel and US foreign policy.

Anyway the terms “left” and “right” in their political sense hardly mean anything any more as so-called “leftists” are no different from the so-called political conservative side in wanting to invade and pillage other countries for their resources or for not playing ball in granting “democracy” and “freedom” to their populations so that US and other Western corporations can infiltrate their minds with consumerist values and ideologies and rob them of economic / cultural / political autonomy. Hard to believe that Julian Assange still peddles this tired old paradigm of distinguishing between two similar camps of economic rationality when the real distinctition should be between those who would centralise power and deny freedom to people on the one hand and on the other those who favour decentralisation and diffusion of power, freedom and responsibility. After all he’s been put through by the US (dominated by political / social “rightists” who believe in “individualism” if it applies to corporations) and Sweden (dominated by political / social “leftists” who believe in “egalitarianism” if it means enforcing social and economic conformity on individuals) but then his series is pitched at the general public whose political education is elementary to say the least.

As it is, the discussion between Horowitz and Zizek amounts to very little amid the quarrelling and Assange is almost forced to manhandle Zizek away from punching Horowitz’s face on the laptop screen. At the very least, we find out more about Horowitz’s view of the world than we ever want to know. Thanks Julian, for giving us a glimpse into the hardline US conservative worldview and showing that it’s even more moronic than our wildest nightmares could have conjured up.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 1: Hassan Nasrallah): an informative insight into Hezbollah

“The World Tomorrow (Episode 1: Hassan Nasrallah)” (Russia Today, 18 April 2012)

First in a series of 12 interviews conducted by Wikileaks dissident Julian Assange and hosted by Russia Today, this interview of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah the Secretary General of Hezbollah is straightforward and highly informative. Sitting in a room with two Arabic-language interpreters, Assange uses a basic question-and-answer approach with Nasrallah to elicit his views on the status of Israel, the Arab Spring across the Middle East and north Africa, Tunisia’s refusal to recognise Bashar al Assad as the legitimate leader of Syria and the US blockage of Hezbollah’s Al Manar television network. Assange listens to Nasrallah’s replies respectfully while Nasrallah explains his opinions clearly and the reasons he holds them.

This was the first time I had seen Nasrallah at all and he conducted himself graciously and pleasantly, and at times humorously. He favours dialogue and political reforms in Syria instead of violence which he suspects is being fomented by the United States and Israel. This perhaps was the reason Assange decided to interview Nasrallah: at the time the interview took place, Syria was convulsed in civil strife and there was talk in the Western media of NATO intervention under the pretence of the Responsibility To Protect doctrine; Assange wanted to know what Hezbollah’s role might be should the unrest continue. Throughout the interview, Assange allows Nasrallah to explain his position on various issues and the reasoning behind his position, never interrupting him and challenging or distorting what he says. In this way, Nasrallah comes across as reasonable even though you and I may not always agree with what he says about Israel’s legitimacy (or lack thereof) and what he believes is Hezbollah’s purpose in the Middle East.

Towards the end, the interview topics become lighter, more personal and more humorous as Assange and Nasrallah slyly converse about encryption – Assange says he knows a lot about encryption (though he doesn’t say not enough that he could have prevented two British journalists from giving away the password to his encryption software program linked to a file that contained hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables, in a book they wrote) – and about Nasrallah’s joke about simplicity defeating complexity in the context of how Hezbollah’s encryption codes befuddled Israeli intelligence code-breakers. Then Assange throws a curve-ball question at Nasrallah: would Nasrallah be willing to challenge monotheistic religion’s “totalitarian” hold over people? Nasrallah guesses the motive behind Assange’s question – it’s a challenge to his personal beliefs and identity, questioning whether he sees contradictions between his worldly jihad and his spiritual jihad – and skews his answer to say that monotheistic Abrahamic religions are inherently instinctive and human-based: therefore belief in these religions is consistent with wanting to resist the United States and all other countries and institutions working to deny freedom and the right of individuals and countries to self-determination as freedom, striving for justice and truth, and self-determination are human and instinctive motivations.

If one fights for social justice, one must be ruled by one God and cannot fight for several gods or the universe would be in ruin: Nasrallah may have been literal but there is a more complex philosophical truth in what he says – the ultimate goal, achieving freedom and bringing that to others so they may transform their lives, end poverty and injustice, and make the world a better place for future generations, is the most important issue and we must remind ourselves of this aim constantly. There may be other issues leading off from this objective along the way but we must remember they are aspects of it, just as in, let’s say, Hinduism the hundreds of gods and godlings are aspects of the Supreme Being Brahman, or in Islam there are 99 aspects of Allah (as described by the 99 beautiful names) but there is only one of him.

On the whole, I found this interview was well-conducted and I learned quite a lot about Nasrallah, his worldview and that of Hezbollah. The questions Assange asked were fairly open and were not aimed at tripping him up. It may be that had Assange pressed Nasrallah more and on controversial issues such as whether Jews deserve to have a homeland in Palestine, the Hezbollah leader might have revealed himself as prejudiced against Jews per se, though from the answers Nasrallah gave to two questions, he appears religiously tolerant. Some questions on Hezbollah’s organisation and its day-to-day concerns could have been asked – I was interested in learning about Hezbollah’s environmental department and the organisation’s efforts in educating Lebanese people about living in an environmentally sustainable way that’s consistent with Islamic Shi’ite beliefs – but Assange may have been pressed for time due to the satellite link-up which was necessary as he remains under house arrest. I am looking forward to the next installment in this series.

The interview can be viewed here.