Abayomi Azikiwe is a political analyst and the editor-in-chief at the Pan-African News Wire. He has been cooperating with freedom movements and thriving African and Caribbean governments for decades. Mr. Azikiwe continued his education in the realm of political sciences and has founded numerous organizations in Detroit and other parts of the United States. In an interview with him, we took a deeper loot at the role of the US in the developments in the Middle East and the relations with Iran.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor of the Pan-African News Wire
You are the editor-in-chief of the Pan-African News Wire. What main objectives was this website designed to serve?
We have been in operation since 1998 when the internet became a mass phenomenon among African people. Our objective is to provide alternative information and viewpoints on developments in Africa, the African Diaspora and the international community in general. Prior to establishing the Pan-African News Wire, we published the Pambana Journal monograph series between 1984-1999 at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Which liberation movements have you cooperated with?
We support all genuine liberation and progressive forces in Africa and around the world. We believe that the Palestinian people have a right to a state of their own. During the struggle against the settler-colonial regimes in Southern Africa we provided first hand information and analysis of the movement for national liberation and social justice. Today we see our role as providing information about efforts to develop Africa economically, politically and socially. Also inside the United States the African American people, the Latin Americans, Asians, Middle-Easterners, Native Americans and other groups suffer from national oppression and discrimination. All of these oppressed nations and nationalities have a right to self-determination, full equality even up to the point of autonomy and separation.
In Detroit, you have had remarkable anti-violence activities. What has formed the main foundation of your anti-violence approach?
The main source of violence in Detroit and other cities stem from the oppressive and exploitative character of the U.S. state. Systematic discrimination against people of color communities place them at great risk involving opportunities for employment, business activity and cultural affairs. Although numerous Civil Rights laws have been passed in the U.S. beginning after the Civil War in 1866 through 1875 and then later during the height of the Civil Rights Movement between 1957 and 1968, there is still widespread racism on an institutional level. In order to end violence in the U.S. there must be a fundamental change in the political economy of the society. Our news agency exposes acts of police brutality and terror directed against the people. We reveal that all levels of government within the U.S., whether local, state or national, place greater priority on the interests of the banks, corporations, the Pentagon and their agents operating within the state.
You are the head of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR). When and for what purpose was this coalition established? What have its activities been?
I served as Chairman of the Board of MCHR between 2007-2011 and then as President between 2011-2014. This organization was established in 1980 mainly by religious leaders who were concerned about the right-wing political direction of the U.S. The organization was involved in the anti-apartheid struggle during the 1980s and early 1990s. Also MCHR has taken a progressive stance in support of the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. Other issues involving the struggle against racism, gender discrimination and environmental degradation are addressed through educational forums, film series, etc.
Why did you focus on the very concept of anti-violence among the police forces of Detroit?
Police in Detroit historically have represented the interests of the automobile companies and other multi-national corporations. They have exercised brutality against the majority working class and later African American populations. Throughout the decades there has been resistance to police brutality and misconduct. These struggles exploded in 1942-43 during World War II and later in 1967, when National Guard and Army forces were sent in to restore order. Police brutality prompted the U.S. Justice Department to impose two federal consent decrees on the city between 2003 and 2014. Even though the Justice Department consent decrees were discharged there are still problems involving law-enforcement. At present some of the most wealthiest interests in the city are hiring their own private police who not only patrol the downtown commercial area but also engage in intelligence operations against mass organizations such as the Moratorium NOW! Coalition. These issues are now being addressed both through protest actions and in the courts.
Have you planned on any activities beyond the scope of the states?
Yes the Pan-African News Wire is read all over the world. I have traveled extensively in Africa. With the internet we are able to intervene in many issues of global concern. We want to enhance these activities in the future.
Do you have any action plans to decrease the level of violence in Ferguson City’s recent incidents?
We have covered the situation in Ferguson extensively over the last several weeks. The developments in Ferguson are a microcosm of race relations throughout the U.S. Soon enough similar demonstrations and rebellions will erupt across the country. The U.S. government, even under Obama, has no plans to address the ongoing national oppression and economic exploitation of African Americans and other oppressed nations. Consequently, the violence and unrest will continue until there is a fundamental change in the government.
You have penned numerous articles critical of the US foreign policies. Which approach of the United States’ foreign policy, in particular, toward the developments of the Middle East and Africa has been the target of your criticism?
All of them have not been productive. The U.S. has been involved in the Middle East since the discovery of oil during the early years of the 20th century. This interests in petroleum has been the main guiding force of Washington and Wall Street. U.S. support for the State of Israel has made insecurity worse in the region. We oppose what the Obama administration is doing in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt and Sudan. The U.S. has maintained a hostile position towards Iran since the Revolution in 1979 which overthrew a repressive regime backed by the White House. Our editorial policy is that the U.S. should seek to normalize relations with Iran. The government in Syria should be recognized by Washington and all hostile acts against Damascus should be halted. Washington should cease its interference in the internal affairs of all states in the Middle East and North Africa.
How much do you believe the current approach of the U.S. toward Israel’s attacks against Palestine has led to lowering the violence level?
The U.S. role in Palestine promotes violence against the people. Recently “Operation Protective Edge” where the Israeli Air Force and Defense Forces killed over 2,000 Palestinians was supported by the U.S. The federal government takes billions of dollars in tax revenue every year to turn over to the Israeli Zionist state which is utilized to continue the oppression of the Palestinians. The weapons used against the Palestinians are manufactured in the U.S. The U.S. Congress supports the genocidal policies against the Arab population in Palestine and throughout the region. Muslims of all nationalities are targeted in U.S. foreign policy decisions. The attempt to demonize the Muslim community serves both domestic and foreign policy imperatives throughout successive administrations, both Republican and Democrats.
What has been the main purpose for Israel to assault Palestine?
These assaults are designed to further displace the Palestinians and to prevent them from organizing their national liberation revolution, which is inevitable. These constant attacks against the Palestinians are unjustly supported by the U.S. government. Opinions among the people in the U.S. are shifting to support for Palestine, yet this is not yet reflected in Washington’s foreign policy.
Why couldn’t American anti-war groups play an active role in the recent fights between Israel and Palestine?
I believe they are playing a greater role. There were demonstrations involving thousands in all major cities throughout the country in defense of Gaza and the Palestinians in the West Bank. Nonetheless, such actions are closely monitored by the state and intelligence apparatus in an effort to intimidate the people and force them to remain silent. However, more people are speaking out in support of the Palestinians and this is a positive development.
How much do you consider the function of anti-war groups to be of theatricality rather than reality?
Some are theatrical but others are more serious. The main problem is the lack of consistency among the anti-war forces. In 2013 people came out in opposition to the Obama administration’s plans to bomb Syria. Nevertheless, by building up ISIS-ISIL and the Islamic State now they have a rationale to bomb Syria and Iraq. They are contemplating sending ground troops. As this new war develops the opposition will become more focused and sharper.
How much have the activities of anti-violence groups in the U.S. managed to decrease imprisonments and executions therein?
There are still political prisoners in the U.S. The prison population is the largest in the world per capita. The prison industrial complex is a key component of the oppressive apparatus of the U.S. capitalist state. The majority of prisoners come from the people of color communities. There are no wealthy people on death row in the U.S. There needs to be a stronger movement to free all political prisoners such as Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier as well as to put an end to the prison industrial complex which is mechanism for social control of the oppressed nations.
In September 2010, you met with the then President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Given President Rouhani’s presence in the U.S. and his efforts to take up a détente approach in Iran’s foreign policy, have you not had a meeting with him?
I was invited in 2010 and 2012 to attend an event surrounding the United Nations General Assembly in New York where President Ahmadinejad was the featured guest. I was honored to meet an Iranian leader. I am also looking forward to meeting other leaders in the near future including President Rouhani.
How different do you find the color and soul of President Rouhani’s foreign policies from those of Ahmadinejad?
There seems to be more of a willingness on the part of the U.S. administration to talk with President Rouhani. Hopefully this will improve relations between the two states. However, the U.S. policy towards Iran remains hostile. Each Iranian leader has a mandate to address the major concerns of their constituencies. The Iranian people want the sanctions imposed by the U.S. lifted.
Iran’s peaceful use of nuclear technology has been a source of disagreement between Tehran and Washington. Iran as a sovereign state has the right to develop its own technological path. It should not be a prerequisite to normalized relations with the U.S. When I attended a dinner with President Ahmadinejad in 2012, information was distributed on the Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. These overtures are largely being ignored by the U.S.
How much do you suppose President Rouhani’s détente approach can contribute to the ridding of tensions between Iran and the United States?
This remains to be seen. The onus of responsibility lies with Washington. The U.S. supported the repressive monarchy of the Shah for many years. The Iranian people were justified in rising up against this tyranny. At present the U.S. is aligned with the monarchies in the Persian Gulf Arab states. These states are reported to be the financiers of the armed opposition groups that have worked to overthrow the government in Syria and are now causing dislocation and mass killings in Iraq. The U.S. must change before the situation in the Middle East can be effectively normalized. Hopefully people in the U.S. will escalate their efforts to bring genuine peace and security to the region.
How much can anti-war and anti-violence groups contribute to decrease the tensions between Iran and the United States?
They should demand the lifting of sanctions against Iran and the normalization of relations. This would be a major contribution for progressive forces in the U.S.
In what ways do you think Iran and the U.S. can resolve their differences and improve their bilateral relations based on mutual respect and understanding? What are your suggestions?
There must be honest dialogue between both Tehran and Washington. There should also be people-to-people contacts through cultural and intellectual exchange programs. The sanctions must be lifted and full diplomatic relations need to be established. Both peoples will benefit from such improvements in relations.