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Issue #1726      April 13, 2016

Taking issue – Rob Gowland

Western civilisation – the war on drugs

The leading imperialist countries – USA, Britain, France – like to present themselves as the embodiment of “Western civilisation”. Even Germany, whose record in this area surely leaves much to be desired, has no qualms about joining with its rivals in their collective posturing as the arbiters of culture and civilised living.

And yet anyone from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region can tell you that their region was the real cradle of western civilisation with a deep and profound history of humanity. And not just in ancient times. Syria, Libya and Iraq were the most progressive countries in MENA. Syria and Libya proclaimed themselves to be socialist – a red flag and no-go for the western neo-liberal fascist way of thinking and economic model: free education and health care; a first-class social safety net and physical infrastructure that functioned successfully. Even Iraq tried to be economically independent.

But not any more. The countries that epitomise “western civilisation” have used their massive resources to destroy it all. They have tried to bomb the MENA countries into oblivion. And not just those countries. Any country that does not meekly accept the diktat of imperialism, that does not agree to its resources being appropriated or its wealth diverted into the pockets of Western corporations will be reduced to “a chaos of suffering and misery”, what the West calls simply “a failed state”.

Waging wars of aggression, inflicting desolation and misery on human beings, was identified at Nuremberg as a war crime, a crime against humanity. Imperialism however would like people to forget Nuremberg. It would like killing to become the new normal and it strives to win acceptance of interference in the internal affairs other countries without limitation, providing that it is interference by imperialism only.

Countries that attempt to stand up to imperialism are treated to bombs, drones, spent uranium, and a host of other nastinesses. At the same time imperialism is seeking to extend its control over food, water, fuel and power generation. Unconcerned about the future of humanity, imperialism happily condemns entire generations to living amidst destruction, chaos and social breakdown.

The war sponsored by imperialism in Syria with the unashamed aim of bringing about the fall of the democratically elected Assad government has forced four million Syrians, for example to flee their homeland, faced with the choice of trying to live amidst death and destruction every day or living under canvass in refugee camps for years. Adding insult to injury, Western political leaders, like Australia’s Tony Abbott, glibly label their efforts to reach the safety of countries that are free of war as “illegal” immigration and “people smuggling”.

For the Syrian people, imperialism’s war has been a catastrophe. For imperialism, however, it is merely the crushing of another potential rival (albeit a small one) that refused to kow-tow to the capitalist powers. And that troublesome country has been crushed for decades to come. How can a future Syria recuperate its economy, its social and physical infrastructure? Ruthlessly and callously, its population has been dispersed, housing, hospitals and schools destroyed, a near-insurmountable burden of public debt placed on the country. Life will not return to normal for many years.

Imperialism will have achieved its aim of reordering the world to serve its interests, while the people of the countries that get in its way are unceremoniously shoved aside, with lots of accompanying death and destruction. The MENA countries will certainly not be in a position to challenge the Western powers for generations.

It’s a lesson the big capitalist corporations want the world to absorb and accept: do as they want – in other words, help them to make more money – or you too will be crushed.

One of imperialism’s favoured tools in its perennial attempts to fuel public paranoia and beat back progressive opinion has been the widely-condemned “war on drugs”. Now a group of 22 experts on drug policy has added to the chorus denouncing the War on Drugs, calling for an evidence-based approach that decriminalises minor drug offences and supports human rights and public health.

Convened by Johns Hopkins University and the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, this expert commission noted that, far from stopping drug use, the “war on drugs” has instead sparked increased violence by facilitating a “parallel economy run by criminal networks,” excessive incarceration, and greater overdose risks.

Their report refers to “a war on drugs that is inevitably a war on people who use drugs.” In addition to decriminalisation, the commission’s recommendations include eliminating racial and ethnic discrimination in policing, stopping aerial spraying of toxic herbicides on drug crops, “respecting WHO’s authority to determine the dangerousness of drugs,” and providing adequate harm-reduction services like access to naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug.

“The idea of reducing harm is central to public policy in so many areas from tobacco and alcohol regulation to food or traffic safety,” stated Commissioner Joanne Csete of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, “but when it comes to drugs, standard public health and scientific approaches have been rejected.

“Worse still,” Csete said, “by dismissing extensive evidence of the health and human rights harms of drug policies, countries are neglecting their legal responsibilities to their citizens. Decriminalization of non-violent minor drug offences is a first and urgent step in a longer process of fundamentally re-thinking and re-orienting drug policies at a national and international level. As long as prohibition continues, parallel criminal markets, violence and repression will continue.”

Transform, a UK-based think-tank which advocates for drug regulation, commented that “it’s hugely significant for a group of the commission’s stature to be recommending that governments ‘move gradually toward regulated drug markets and apply the scientific method to their assessment’.

“When arguably the world’s most respected medical school and medical journal speak out so emphatically on an issue like this, there can be no excuse for inaction,” the group states, adding, “As the evidence continues to accumulate, it is the advocates of an unending drug war that look increasingly like anti-science ideologues.”

It has, of course, been known for decades that the intense campaign in the US against the alleged evils of hemp, usually (erroneously) equated with marihuana, was promoted and driven by Du Pont and other giants of the petro-chemical industry, companies with a vested interest in Nylon and other synthetic fibres. Before the anti-hemp campaign, all manner of things – from rope to sails – were made from this natural fibre.

In fact, hemp had so many uses that it has been called “one of the earth’s most beneficial plants”. Under the “war on drugs”, however, growing it has been criminalised, an action denounced by activists as “a war of oppression” designed “to enhance police power and create ‘criminals’.” The “War on Drugs” has victimised millions in the US alone, to provide police there with a plentiful supply of “perps” and a ready excuse for stopping and frisking anyone who catches their eye, but especially those who are young, Black or Latino and poor.

It also gives the police an excuse to search vehicles, as well as a useful justification for building up police numbers, funding and weaponry, in turn swelling corporate profits.

The criminals created by the “war on drugs” provide fodder for the booming private prison industry, rightly designated as a form of modern slavery.

The economic impact of the War On Drugs has been at least as great as the social impact. The criminalisation of Industrial Hemp must have cost the US economy billions in lost manufacturing possibilities and jobs. At the same time, and compounding the problem exponentially, the corporations responsible for initiating the campaign against hemp were given tax breaks and subsidies. Their profits grew accordingly.

With so much of the US economy dependent on the armaments industry to keep it afloat, it is not surprising that activists have called for “all those Military-Industrial-Complex war-toy jobs to be switched to hemp jobs!!”

As one aggrieved US activist commented: “We have been oppressed, manipulated, denied our medicine [medicinal cannabis, illegal in most US states], lied-to, imprisoned, homes and property confiscated, shot and killed, lives and families destroyed, and our republic reduced to a fascist police state intentionally using the BS War On Drugs – especially on cannabis – as the vehicle for oppression!”

It is certainly time that drug abuse ceased to be a criminal issue, let alone a “war” and was dealt with as it should be: as a public health question.

Next article – Time stands still for the mothers of Mexico’s disappeared

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