Ajamu S. Baraka ( ə-ZHAH-moo bə-RAH-kə; born October 25, 1953) is an American political activist and former Green Party nominee for Vice President of the United States in the 2016 election.
Baraka was born in 1953 and grew up on the South Side of Chicago. He served in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War. Upon discharge, he moved to the southern United States, where he became involved in anti-segregation activism.
Baraka received his BA in international studies and political science from the University of South Florida, Tampa in 1982 and his MA and PhD in political science from Clark Atlanta University in 1987. Baraka has said the work of W. E. B. Du Bois was important in the formation of his black internationalist worldview, and he attended Clark Atlanta, where Du Bois had taught. Baraka became involved in the Central America solidarity movement, organizing delegations to Nicaragua in support of the Nicaraguan Revolution. He then became an Amnesty International volunteer, eventually moving up to the board of the organization.
From 2004 to 2011, Baraka served as the founding executive director of the US Human Rights Network, a national network that grew to over 300 U.S.-based organizations and 1500 individual members. He is currently an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
Baraka has served on the boards of several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Africa Action.
In 2008, Baraka worked with the US Human Rights Network and over 400 organizations to develop a CERD Shadow Report, which concerned US compliance with the terms of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. They felt the US government's reports did not adequately address racial profiling, displacement from Hurricane Katrina, and land rights for the Western Shoshone, among other issues. A large delegation presented their findings.
In September 2016, a Morton County, North Dakota judge issued an arrest warrant against Baraka and Jill Stein, after the two were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing and criminal mischief in connection with their protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Baraka had spray-painted the word "decolonization" on a bulldozer during the protest. In an interview shortly afterward, Baraka said that he and Stein were "in discussions with our legal team about how we're going to deal with this" and described his action as an act of resistance against "corporate America and the colonial state."
Views and writings
Writings by Baraka have appeared in Black Agenda Report, Common Dreams, Dissident Voice, Pambazuka News, CounterPunch, and other media outlets. Christopher Hooks wrote in Politico Magazine that Baraka "has a long history of fringe statements and beliefs."
Baraka has been a vehement critic of Israel. In October 2014, Baraka traveled to the Palestinian territories as part of an 18-member "African Heritage delegation" organized by the Interfaith Peace-Builders group. The delegation issued six "findings and demands" and urged the Congressional Black Caucus to place pressure on Israel. The group specifically called the expansion of Israeli settlements "ethnic cleansing and 21st century colonialism"; called for an end to U.S. aid to Israel; accused Israel of apartheid; and praised the "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" movement as "an essential tool in the struggle for Palestinian liberation."
After making the visit, Baraka wrote that "a negotiated, relatively 'peaceful' resolution of the conflict is impossible" because "the Israeli state has no interest in a negotiated settlement with Palestinians." He accused Israel of carrying out what he termed a "brutal occupation and illegal theft of Palestinian land," adding:
During my activist life I have traveled to many of the countries that Western colonial/capitalist leaders characterized as despotic totalitarian states – the old Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba before 1989 – but in none of those states did I witness the systematic mechanism of population control and scientific repression that I witness in "democratic" Israel. The security walls, towers, checkpoints, and armed settlers created an aura of insecurity and impending assault on one's dignity at any time. I left that space wondering how anyone with a modicum of humanity and any sense of morality could reconcile living in that environment from the spoils of Palestinian dispossession and degradation and how any nation could support the Israeli political project.
Baraka also questioned news stories about the June 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, which Israel blamed on Hamas members and which led to Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip against Hamas. One month after the kidnappings, which he called a "false flag operation," Baraka indicated in an interview his belief that "the kids were supposed to be kidnapped but they weren't supposed to be murdered. That was an accident. But nevertheless it gave Israel the pretext that they were setting up for, and that was the opportunity to basically attack Hamas in order to destroy the unity government." Two suspects, both members of Hamas, were killed in a shootout with Israeli forces in September 2014, while a third Hamas member was convicted of the murders in January 2015.
In March 2015, Baraka condemned Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comments on the day of the 2015 Israeli elections. Netanyahu had warned supporters in a video posted to his Facebook page that his government was in danger because "Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls." Baraka called Netanyahu's words a "racist rant" that exposed "the brutal and immoral reality of the Israeli colonial project" and the "illusion" of a two-state solution.
Syria and Iraq
Speaking in 2014 on U.S. involvement in Iraq, Baraka characterized U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East over the previous 20 years as "disastrous" and said that "what has occurred in Iraq was predictable."
In a 2014 interview, Baraka stated his belief that the U.S. had a part in creating the "boogeyman" of ISIS "to basically garner significant public support for an argument that says that this monster, these evil forces—that, by the way, we helped to create—we are the only ones that can go in and slay this monster." Baraka has also asserted that the atrocities of the Syrian Civil War are being "fomented by a demented and dying U.S. empire, with the assistance of the royalist monarchies of the Middle East and the gangster states of NATO." In an interview, he has suggested that control of natural resources, such as the proposed Qatar-Turkey and Iran-Iraq-Syria natural gas pipelines, is one of the underlying reasons for U.S. and Turkish interests in the region:
These are not just geopolitical fights based on principle, but these fights are based on real material realities, real material advantages. So you look at the routes of these various pipelines that are being proposed and actually built to bring natural gas from Central Asia to the European markets. Turkey felt that it was in their interest to make sure that they can influence the best deal possible that will allow them to be positioned to take full advantage of these pipelines. That's one of the reasons many people argue that Syria had to go: that when there were proposals to run these natural gas pipelines from Iran through Iraq and through Syria, that it was a direct threat to some of the ambitions that Erdogan has for Turkey.
Baraka has rejected the U.S. position that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the 2014 Syrian presidential election are illegitimate. In an article, he wrote that the idea of Assad's illegitimacy had been "carefully cultivated by Western state propagandists and dutifully disseminated by their auxiliaries in the corporate media." He further argued that the election was proof that Syrians have "not surrendered their national sovereignty to the geostrategic interests of the U.S. and its colonial allies in Europe and Israel," and accused the U.S. of hypocrisy for supporting elections in Ukraine but not Syria. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized Syria's holding of an election during an ongoing civil war for undermining a political solution to the conflict, and the lack of independent election monitoring was widely reported.
Baraka characterized the 2014 overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych as a "U.S.-supported coup" that contained "racist neo-Nazi elements." After the 2014 Odessa clashes, which resulted in the deaths of 42 pro-Russian and six pro-Ukrainian protestors, Baraka wrote that he was "outraged by the murder of people defending their rights to self-determination at the hands of U.S.-supported thugs in Odessa." He has also suggested that the victory of Petro Poroshenko in the 2014 Ukrainian presidential election was illegitimate, questioning "what makes the election in Ukraine legitimate when half of the country boycotts the vote and the national army violently attacks its own citizens in Eastern Ukraine who refused to recognize the legitimacy of the coup-makers in Kiev".
Two days after the event, Baraka expressed his suspicions that the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine was a "false flag" operation, saying: "Someone wrote about three weeks ago that we should expect a major false flag operation in eastern Ukraine that's going to be then blamed on the Russians. And that's exactly what has happened. They're trying to say in the Western press that the Ukrainian government does not have access to that kind of weaponry, when it's clear that they do." He criticized Western media coverage of the event for "undermining anything coming from Russia Today. That's where you see the story being advanced that there is a possibility that this story is a little more complicated than people realize." Baraka also claimed that observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe were "sent in basically as spies who showed up on the scene to quote-unquote 'monitor'."
Baraka has criticized calls for Western military action against the jihadist rebel group Boko Haram, arguing that "a purely military response will only exacerbate an insurgency whose roots lie in the complex socio-historical conditions and internal contradictions of Northeast Nigeria." In May 2014, a month after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok, he expressed skepticism about the official version of events and the number of victims, saying that "even if there was a kidnapping, there's some people who are suggesting that the numbers are in fact inflated." Baraka also stated that while he was "outraged" by the kidnapping, he was also suspicious of U.S. humanitarian concerns in the region: "U.S. policymakers don't give a damn about the schoolgirls in Nigeria because their real objective is to use the threat of Boko Haram in the northern part of the country to justify the real goal of occupying the oil fields in the south and to block the Chinese in Nigeria."
Views on Je suis Charlie movement
In a January 2015 essay, Baraka described the Republican march in Paris in reaction to the Charlie Hebdo shooting as a "white power march," and the Je suis Charlie movement in general as an "arrogant rallying cry for white supremacy". Baraka condemned what he perceived as the disproportionate interest in the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and the relative lack of interest in the Baga massacre in Nigeria by Boko Haram, which took place days before the Charlie Hebdo shooting and resulted in many more deaths. Baraka also criticized the "degrading ritual" of assimilation that Arabs and Muslims undergo in France, the "arrogant lack of respect for the ideas and culture of non-European peoples" that led to the French ban on face covering in public spaces, and the "racist" and "Islamophobic" character of Charlie Hebdo's recent publications.
Baraka's "Je suis Charlie" article was republished in January 2016 in an anthology about the November 2015 Paris attacks. The book, titled ANOTHER French False Flag? Bloody Tracks from Paris to San Bernardino, was edited by Kevin Barrett, who called himself a Holocaust denier on 1 April 2011 and who is called a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. Yair Rosenberg of Tablet described the work as a "veritable who's who of bigots and conspiracy theorists." O'Connor reported Baraka's reply to the accusations of associating with holocaust deniers: "There has never been any question in [my] mind about the genocidal madness of the Nazi Holocaust throughout Europe during the second world war. I abhor and reject any individual or group that fails to understand the tremendous suffering of Jewish people during that dark period."
In an article titled "No 'Je Suis Charleston'?" Baraka contended that a collective response similar to "Je suis Charlie" was absent after the Charleston church shooting at the Emanuel AME Church, and criticized Obama for not calling suspect Dylann Roof a terrorist. As a longtime opponent of the death penalty, Baraka has also criticized the Department of Justice's decision to seek the death penalty for Roof, saying that it "should be seen as no more than another tactical move by the state as part of the last phase of the counterinsurgency launched against the black liberation movement. ... By appealing to African Americans, the group in the country most consistently opposed to the death penalty, state propagandists saw this as a perfect opportunity to undermine opposition to capital punishment and facilitate the process of psychological incorporation."
Politicians and activists
Baraka referred to President Barack Obama as an "Uncle Tom president" because Obama condemned the 2014 riots and violence in Ferguson, Missouri that occurred after the death of Michael Brown. Defending his use of the term, Baraka later said that he was speaking to a "specialized audience" and was attempting to "shock people into a more critical look at this individual." Baraka has also argued that Obama has shown "obsequious deference to white power," and that Obama and Loretta Lynch are members of the "black petit-bourgeoisie who have become the living embodiments of the partial success of the state's attempt to colonize the consciousness of Africans/black people."
Baraka was critical of the Obama administration's decision to not attend the 2009 UN World Conference Against Racism in Geneva. In 2013, Baraka stated that inviting Obama to the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington "should be taken as an insult by everyone who has struggled and continues to struggle for human rights, peace and social justice." More recently, he has argued that "the Obama Administration collaborated with suppressing the 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which identified violent white supremacist groups as a threat to national security more lethal than the threat from Islamic 'fundamentalists'."
In an October 2016 interview with The Detroit News, Baraka described Obama as a "moral disaster" and one of "the worst things that has happened to African-American people".
Baraka referred to the presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders as "media-driven pseudo-opposition" and "an ideological prop… of the logic and interests of the capitalist-imperialist settler state." In a September 2015 article, Baraka condemned Sanders' foreign policy and his support for continuing Obama's program of drone strikes in Yemen, claiming that "the world that a President Sanders promises" would be one with "continued war crimes from the sky with drone strikes and Saudi-led terror in support of the Western imperial project." Baraka argued that support for Sanders represents "a tacit commitment to Eurocentrism and the assumptions of normalized white supremacy" due to what he perceived as "indifference" to the lives lost during the drone campaign in Yemen.
In September 2015, Baraka criticized Cornel West for supporting Bernie Sanders, saying that West was "sheep-dogging for the Democrats" by "drawing voters into the corrupt Democratic party". West later endorsed Jill Stein after Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton.
In February 2016, Baraka criticized Beyoncé's performance of her song "Formation" at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show, which featured backup dancers dressed as Black Panthers, claiming that it was a "commodified caricature of black opposition." Baraka derided the performance as "mindless entertainment" and "a depoliticized spectacle by gyrating, light-skinned booty-short-clad sisters." Baraka claimed that the "white male capitalist patriarchy" was responsible for selecting Beyoncé to perform and would not have allowed "anything subversive or even remotely oppositional to the interests of the capitalist oligarchy" on stage.
Awards and recognition
In 1998, Baraka was one of 300 human rights workers honored by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In 2001, Baraka was named "abolitionist of the year" by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for his efforts to end the death penalty in the United States.
2016 U.S. vice presidential campaign
On August 1, 2016, Green Party presumptive presidential nominee Jill Stein announced that Baraka would be her running mate. Stein and Baraka were formally nominated by delegates at the 2016 Green National Convention on August 6, 2016. In his acceptance speech, Baraka said that he joined the Green Party effort to "build a multinational movement here in this country based on the needs and the aspirations of working people".
- Firoze Manji; Bill Fletcher Jr. (2013). "Praxis from the Centre Back to the Margins: Amílcar Cabral's Method as a Guide for Reconstructing the Radical Black Political Subject". Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amílcar Cabral. Codesria. ISBN 9782869785557.
- Frances Goldin; Debby Smith; Michael Smith (2014). "Socialism Is the Highest Expression of Human Rights". Imagine: Living in a Socialist U.S.A. Harper Collins. ISBN 9780062305589.
- Kevin Alexander Gray; Jeffrey St. Clair; JoAnn Wypijewski (2014). "For a national alliance for racial justice and human rights". Killing Trayvons : an anthology of American violence. CounterPunch Books. ISBN 9780692213995.
- Barrett, Kevin (January 6, 2016). "The Paris Attacks and the White Lives Matter Movement". ANOTHER French False Flag?: Bloody Tracks from Paris to San Bernardino. Sifting and Winnowing Books. ISBN 9780996143011.