Monday, May 31, 2004

The Draft is Coming Back. posted by Richard Seymour

A while ago, I suggested that the draft was on its way back in the United States:

Why is the draft suddenly back on the agenda? Well, apart from the official 143,000 troops "inside Iraqi borders", there are tens of thousands of US troops in surrounding countries. This could elevate the total to perhaps 200,000. The US army is completely over-stretched, with commitments in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and of course Iraq. The Iraqi Resistance cannot be put down by the current troop levels. British forces have admitted that they could not possibly hold Basra if the population enacted a Fallujah-style uprising. US troops are finding themselves frequently on the run . And the loose bands of mercenaries they've got in there for "protection" are presumably not going to be up to the task either.

I would therefore expect there to be a big push to reinstate the draft. The US authorities in Iraq are presently holding out for a political solution, but that is unlikely to happen.

There has been a website devoted to this topic for some time now, the rumour-mill has been grinding, and it looks like the political class has been priming the public for the re-admission of this topic into the mainstream. And now we learn, thanks to John Sutherland at The Guardian that there is now legislation being prepared to bring back the draft. Donald Rumsfeld has suggested that the "war on terror" is nearer the beginning than the end (next stop, Canada!), so they'll be needing a tranch of new recruits. They've already begun work to get enough volunteers for their immediate requirements, mainly by hawking the virtues of a military life in America's schools . According to

Though this is an unpopular election year topic, military experts and influential members of congress are suggesting that if Rumsfeld's prediction of a "long, hard slog" in Iraq and Afghanistan [and a permanent state of war on "terrorism"] proves accurate, the U.S. may have no choice but to draft.

Congress brought twin bills, S. 89 and HR 163 forward this year, entitled the Universal National Service Act of 2003, "to provide for the common defense by requiring that all young persons [age 18--26] in the United States, including women, perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, and for other purposes." These active bills currently sit in the committee on armed services.

Forcing human beings at any age into military combat is unacceptable. But at 18 to 26, it is cutting off life at its prime. If America really must have a draft, I recommend they restrict it to 55-65 year old males with an annual income over $150,000. A couple of wars could wipe out the entire ruling class.

UPDATE: A generous reviewer has apprised me of an attempted rebuttal of this story by Urban Legends . With legendary urbanity, the site offers a number of reasons why the draft may not in fact be a viable option for the Bush administration. Unfortunately, and quite characteristically, the site's assessment is partial and rather scrappy. They take no notice whatsoever of the compelling reasons why Bush may need this legislation.

Doug's Place provides a good summary:

"At present, the number of ground troops in the US Army, USMC, Army Reserves and National Guard is 1.434 million. Currently, about 400'000 are deployed worldwide. Because rotation is a three-phase task, (deployment, refit, rest), that means that about 1.2 million are already tied up, leaving 234'000 troops to work with, meaning only about 80'000 American troops can be now deployed with substantial support."

He also offers three good additional reasons why the draft would be considered essential by the Bush administration:

1) The war in Iraq will intensify (this written before it in fact DID intensify).

2) The administration wants to be able to fight on a second front.

3) They are planning to start a second war. (See Rummy's recent warnings that we are closer to the beginning of the 'war on terror' than the end.)

The fact that legislation is even being advanced on this is an indication of just how far we have come. There has been a proliferation of television debates, articles, columns arguing over whether the draft should be reinstated. My belief is that the legislation is being considered because the administration needs it. The public is being primed for it. Alarm bells should be ringing.

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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Who's Afraid of Islam? posted by Richard Seymour

Apparently, every corner of Britain trembles with fear and loathing of our beige-dark citizens - at least according to a new report by the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia. What is most interesting about this story is that it appears to reflect an insititutionalisation of common prejudice:

More than 35,000 Muslims were stopped and searched last year, with fewer than 50 charged. Three years ago only around 2,000 Muslims were stopped and searched.

Asian peer Lord Ahmed, a leading critic of Muslim extremism, told The Observer he had twice been stopped and searched in recent months at Heathrow airport.'

Statistics also show a sharp rise in the number of Muslims jailed. In 2001 there were 6,095 in UK prisons compared with 731 in 1991. Muslims comprise 9 per cent of the prison population but only 3 per cent of the population as whole.

'Islamophobia in Britain has become institutionalised. If we don't take positive action to embrace the young Muslim men in this country, we are going to have an urgent problem,' Stone said. 'We're going to have real anger and riots with young Muslims pitched against the police.'

Of the factors considered responsible for the rise in Islamophobia, the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 are raised in the report. The report also criticises "the media's treatment of Islam, especially its coverage of Abu Hamza". Indeed, the media treatment of this rather lonely and demented sad-sack has been hyperbolic, to say the least (oh sure, he has about twenty hooded kids clustered around him on a road one morning, and that means he has a following). Unsurprisingly, psyclops leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, made ample use of such media imagery and footage in his election broadcast this Friday. Pictures of Hamza were cunningly spliced with shots of a street filled with brown faces milling around (some real geniuses in that outfit, no question). Griffin has also promised, in the past, to make ample use of the Home Secretary's vicious blundering on race . Blunkett, who is to race relations what Jim Davidson is to comedy, had suggested that it was time for Muslims to start "feeling British". Griffin has made similar capital out of government kow-towing to the right on race before :

"The asylum seeker issue has been great for us. We have had phenomenal growth in membership. It has been quite fun to watch government ministers and the Tories play the race card in far cruder terms than we would ever use, but pretend not to. This issue legitimises us."

In fact, when interviewed by the World At One shortly after Blunkett's "Britishness test" comments, Griffin accused Blunkett of "jumping on the BNP's bandwagon". So, I'd like to thank the government for making Britain a less pleasant place to live in. I'd like to thank them for handing propaganda gift-wrapped on a silver dish to the far right. I'd like to thank them for making a mockery of their promises to tackle Islamophobia by introducing laws that have enabled its institutionalisation. In short, for every black-eye or glassed jaw sustained by a Muslim in this country at the hands of racists, I'd like to thank David Blunkett. May his "hard-man" bluster accompany him to hell.

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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Dr Who? posted by Richard Seymour

The man who is now to be Prime Minister of Iraq is, you will be amazed to learn, an ex-Ba'athist . The coalition has been complaining for some time that there were former Ba'athists seeking power in Iraq, but I would not have expected them to go so far as to prove themselves right. Dr Iyad Allawi, as he styles himself, also has a history of connections to CIA and MI6. Unsurprisingly, therefore, he has also been a prime source of hoax material leaked onto media legs like that of the inestimable Con Coughlin of the Sunday Telegraph .

He is, we learn, responsible for the "45 minute claim". One assumes he has had his fingers in a few other cow-pies as well. And why has he been nominated as Iraq's new Prime Minister. Perhaps it is because of the support he has "on the ground" as they say on high. But, as The Independent reports:

There were few signs that they had any popular support. During an uprising in the town of Baiji, north of Baghdad, last year, crowds immediately set fire to the INA office.

Hint - if the people in the country you are seeking to rule burn down your offices, I would go look for a different country. Just a thought.

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Friday, May 28, 2004

Abu Ghraib and the American Mind. posted by Richard Seymour

Explaining why American soldiers tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib is a tricky business. According to Christopher Hitchens, it was a "Prison Mutiny" , which is certainly compatible with the Bush administration's claim that these actions are the disparate, disorganised outrages of an undisciplined minority . (Rumsfeld, if you pursue the link, also stipulates that what took place in Iraq was "abuse, which is technically different from torture".) The immediate reaction of US military officials was that the soldiers were not properly taught the Geneva Convention rules about how to treat war prisoners , "as if," Slavoj Zizek adds, "one has to be taught not to torture and humiliate prisoners!" Martin Amis once observed in Koba the Dread, a frankly dire book about Communism, that "given total power over another, the human being's thoughts turn to torture". I beg to differ, although I do see a certain bleak authenticity in the statement - Amis is nothing if not alive to the possibilities for human evil. But human nature won't explain it for us either.

Another reaction, which I think no less credible, is to discuss the torture in terms of authority and obedience , pace Stanley Milgram's infamous experiment. True, there is substantial evidence now to suggest that the soldiers were told to do what they did by Military Intelligence . And if Seymour Hersh is right, the orders originated from on high. However, the difference with Milgram's experiment is obvious enough - Milgram did not encourage his subjects to believe that they were engaging in torture, although the horror of that possibility must have crept up on them as they administered what they thought could be fatal jolts. Moreover, the subjects in Milgram's experiment evinced none of the enthusiasm that the US soldiers did when enacting those spectral scenes.

Another good reason to oppose this line of explanation is that it tails with the miserable excuses being offered up by Lynndie England :

"I guess it just goes with stuff that happens during war time … You know, going in and interrogating, and doing what you're told."

Or indeed Ivan "Chip" Fredericks :

"We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain rules and regulations. And it just wasn't happening."

A more likely explanation is that the order to torture elicited enthusiastic responses because of the way American soldiers (and, by logical extension, a good number of Americans) perceive Arabs. Take, for example, the book The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai. This book has been promoted as "one of the great classics of cultural studies", and described by Publisher's Weekly as "admirable", "full of insight" and with "an impressive spread of scholarship" . According to Seymour Hersh's article:

The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was frequently cited was “The Arab Mind,” a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at, among other universities, Columbia and Princeton, and who died in 1996. The book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression. “The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world,” Patai wrote. Homosexual activity, “or any indication of homosexual leanings, as with all other expressions of sexuality, is never given any publicity. These are private affairs and remain in private.” The Patai book, an academic told me, was “the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.” In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged—“one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation.”

This return to the good old days of Orientalism should not amaze anyone in a culture that worries itself about such questions as For Whom the Bell Curves (it curves for thee). In fact, as Zizek notes, those scenes remind one of the "theatre of cruelty" that already pervades much of American cultural life (indeed, "theatre of cruelty" is a felicitous phrase - Antonin Artaud would have made gruelling work of them). He refers to the rituals of bullying at Army bases and high school campuses. So when a former interrogator told Fox News that the torture was no worse than "frat hazing" , he was right in precisely the sense that he did not intend. There are sides of American life which radiate cruelty triumphant - from the prison system to the poverty and squalor of life outside the steel barricades. In America, it is a crime to be poor . In Iraq, it is a crime worthy of electrode torture to complain .

The joy taken in cruelty in imperial nations is not new. Orwell once remarked that England was, very recently, a country in which a gentleman might boast of having kicked his wife to death. Hardy fellows that they were, they also knew how to kick recalcitrant natives to an early grave if they had to. For a large number of American soldiers, there is an erotic pleasure taken in humiliating and hurting Iraqis. Not for the first time, racism, imperialism, and sadism are a combustible but inseparable mix.

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Obituary. posted by Richard Seymour

The estimable Marxist historian Maxime Rodinson has died . His work demolished many insidious myths about the foundation of Israel and provided intellectual sustenance for those in Palestine and elsewhere fighting oppression.

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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Johann Hari on George Galloway. posted by Richard Seymour

In a recent review of George Galloway's new book, Johann Hari has resorted to dissembling, distortion and extreme Zionist propaganda to produce an incoherent, childish rant. How come?

There could hardly be a more fair-minded commentator on Harry's Place than Johann Hari. Not to damn him with faint praise, then, I'll also add that he is one of the more intelligent supporters of the war - and, let's be honest, the pro-war camp desperately needs intelligent support. However, having read his venomous review of George Galloway's book I'm Not the Only One, I remember that everyone's political honesty has limits. Wish fulfillment abounds in most political analysis, and you could hardly find a more compelling example of this than in Johann's review. Having peremptorily dismissed 90% of the book's content as "unconvincing", "hazy Lennonist idealism" etc., Hari gets to the business of his review. Galloway is guilty of "Ba'athist propaganda", the extent of which is "staggering":

All those who, in the past, have denied that Galloway has mutated into a Saddamist will simply have to recant when they read this book. For example, Galloway actually refers to the Shi'ites Saddam murdered in the 1980s as "a fifth column" who actively undermined the Iraqi war effort in the interests of their countryís enemy." Nobody outside Saddamís squalid regime used this terminology; it was purely a justification for the mass slaughter of the dictator's enemies. It has been extensively documented that very few Iraqis supported Iran. They were killed because they opposed Saddam, not because they backed Iran, and Galloway must know it.

Now, before I proceed to deconstruct this breathtaking misrepresentation, I'll give you Galloway's quote in full:

"Iraqi society remained remarkably solid during the eight long years of war with Iran. The Shi'ite majority in Iraq proved that they were Arabs and Iraqis first and co-religionists of Khomeini second. But there was a fifth column, Shi'ite elements who actively undermined the Iraqi war effort in the interests of the country's enemy. As in all authoritarian regmes, this fifth column was ruthlessly annihilated wherever it was found." (Page 114).

So, before we're even off the ground, Hari's penultimate sentence is confirmed. Galloway is indeed aware that "very few Iraqis supported Iran" because he specifically says so. And what of the "fifth column"? Galloway nowhere denies that many Iraqis were killed simply for opposing the regime. In fact, he specifically says so:

"Saddam was a ruthless and cruel man who thought little about signing death warrants of even close comrades, and still less about ordering the merciless crushing of potential threats to his regime." (Page 126).

Hari is fully aware of this, since he later (mis)quotes precisely this passage. Nevertheless, in describing those in sympathy with Iran as a "fifth column", you might think Galloway was trying to impugn their motives or imply that they deserved what they got. In fact, Galloway both opposed Saddam's brutal assault on Iran, and supported an Iraqi overthrow of their regime:

"Saddam could have had no legitimate complaint if living by the sword - ruthlessly cutting down any and all opposition - he had died by the sword (or rope) at the hands of the Iraqis." (Page 103).

Galloway is accused, then, of saying something he hasn't said. He has not said that all the Shi'tes Saddam murdered in the 1980s were a fifth column - merely that such a faction existed. And he notes it was a minority. And, given his hostility to the regime and to its war with Iran, he cannot even be accused of opposing this "fifth column". But Hari has more:

How about the passage where Galloway defends Saddam's claim to Kuwait, describing the province as "clearly a part of the greater Iraqi whole stolen from the motherland by perfidious Albion"?

This is a blatant - and I must conclude intentional - misrepresentation. Here is Galloway's actual quote:

"For Iraqis of all political persuasions, Kuwait had been stolen from the motherland by perfidious Albion - Great Britain, the former colonial power." (Page 42).

He does not describe "the province" thus - he describes Iraqis as having that perception. Galloway could be wrong in this assessment, but that is immaterial since he did not say what Hari says he did. In fact, Hari seems to be the one in doubt of Kuwait's legitimacy as a nation, since he is the one who describes it as a "province". (Province: "A territory governed as an administrative or political unit of a country or empire." ) What can Johann mean?

Additionally, Galloway specifically rejects Saddam's right to invade Kuwait:

"In 1990 I was an enemy of the Iraqi regime and had, purposely, never visited the country. The sympathy I had for former colonies undoing the fake boundaries of colonialism could not support the naked aggression committed against Kuwait. That action copied elsewhere in the developing world would be a recipe for endless chaos and bloodshed." (Page 45).

You could make excuses for Hari. Perhaps he didn't see this passage, perhaps he read the book in a hurry, racing toward the salacious Saddamism he hoped to find. But such a conclusion is annihilated by Hari's next move:

For example, he says that in the First Gulf War, "I made my stand with Iraq." No you didn't, George. You stood with Saddam; conscript Iraqis - most in their teens - were being sent to be slaughtered in the name of an invasion they did not support.

That quote is the sentence immediately following the cited passage on Page 45. It is even in the same paragraph. Hari even uses the statement to imply that George Galloway "stood with Saddam" in his invasion of Kuwait while "conscript Iraqis" were being forced to die in an invasion they didn't support. I don't know about you, but I would think that - since it is logically impossible that George both supported and opposed the invasion of Kuwait - he was referring to his opposition to US planes pounding Iraqi cities and killing as many as 200,000 people. Hari continues:

Or how about Galloway's claim that Saddam's mass murder of democrats, Kurds and other anti-Saddam forces in 1991 was a "civil war" that "involved massive violence on both sides"? Again, only Ba'athists have ever used this language or narrative. The reality is very different. In 1991, a vicious tyranny exterminated its enemies. For Galloway to claim that two morally equivalent sides were simply fighting it out is staggering: he is equidistant between a poisoner and the medical crew waving an antidote.

I see no reason to revisit Galloway's position on the ouster of Saddam by Iraqis. Just scroll up if your mind has gone blank all of a sudden. But to describe the 1991 uprising as a "civil war" is no more apologetic than it is to describe the Nepalese uprising as a civil war, or the Kosovar uprising as a civil war. And did the Iraqi uprising not involve "massive violence on both sides"? Of course, describing facts is rarely neutral - context is all. But as I have already indicated, the context in which Galloway is writing is one in which he considers an Iraqi uprising just. Galloway nevertheless stands accused or "relativising" Saddam's crimes:

The most bizarre example of Galloway's moral relativism is when he says, "Saddam was a ruthless and cruel man who thought little of signing the death warrants of even close comrades. In this regard he was little different to the leaders of most regimes: we just don't know it in our own countries yet." As if Tony Blair is about to start gassing the SWP and the Tories. As if George Bush is going to start building mass graves in California.

Do you know, I don't think George Galloway is actually saying that? It may in fact be that Hari has mis-quoted Galloway again:

"In this regard he is little different to the leaders of most regimes; regime survival is the ultimate priority of most systems - we just don't know it in our own countries, yet." (Page 126).

Okay, so Hari has left out a subclause and a comma. No big deal. I'm not saying he is a sloppy reviewer, because the phrase "sloppy reviewer" is a tautology when it comes to the press. However, the misrepresentation is so comically obvious that I merely wish to point it out, then move on - Galloway is saying that most regimes in the world, if threatened with revolution, will react with extreme violence. He is not justifying such actions, but rather broadening the net of his critique to include nations beyond a relatively small corner of the Arab world. Everyone clear? Need I underline it any further?

Galloway dares to criticise Christopher Hitchens as an "apostate", when in fact he has consistently been opposed to Saddam and in favour of getting rid of him.

But that is precisely what Galloway cannot stand. There are even large slabs of praise for Saddam in this rancid book. "Just as Stalin industrialized the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted Iraqís own Great Leap Forward," he says, and amazingly, this isn't a criticism. "He managed to keep his country together until 1991. Indeed, he is likely to have been the leader in history who came closest to creating a truly Iraqi national identity, and he developed Iraq and the living, health, social and education standards of his own people."

Hari would be well-advised to consult Hitchens' 1991 writings if he thinks the latter has been "consistently" in favour of regime-change. He adamantly, and eloquently, opposed the first Gulf War, and was even vague on the most recent Gulf War until late 2002, telling Salon that he did not support an invasion of Iraq, although he did support a "confrontation". But when Hari claims that Galloway's comparison of Hussein with Stalin "isn't a criticism", I feel bound to inform you that once again he s mangling his quotes. Saddam, says Galloway, resembles Stalin inasmuchas

"Both were determined to industrialize their countries, whatever the cost. Both had chips on ther shoulders. Both built police states believing the ends justified the means. Both ruthlessly suppressed all tendencies toward the break-up of their country, believing in a strong central authority (themselves) ... And, of course, both could be murderous in pursuit of their goals". (Page 111).

The next part of Hari's quote comes on Page 128, where Galloway notes that Saddam:

"[D]eveloped Iraq and the living, health, social and educational standards of his people. But the brutality of his regime and the sheer lack of democracy meant tha he could in the end be isolated and defeated."

Hari, suffice to say, does not include the last sentence. Nor does he note the sentence, "Stalin gave his factional opponents a show-trial and then killed them. Saddam just killed them." (Page 111). What an apologist! Hari proceeds:

Perhaps the most obscene statement of all come when Galloway libels the Arabs he claims to love. "A majority of Arabs and Muslims [believe] the good Saddam did was more important than the many debits."

That's from Page 129. I better add that Galloway's final sentence on that subject is "For them, in the land of the blind the one-eyed mand is king". This is not an unusual judgment. Take this , for example:

Hussein is also one of the few Arab leaders to have been able to stand up to the West on a regular basis, asserting Iraqi and Arab independence from Western interests and power. This, rather than the brutal repression of his own people, has become the point upon which many Arabs and Muslims have focused the most. In a region which has had few powerful leaders to whom people could point with pride, Saddam Hussein has become something of a folk hero. As poor of a hero as he is, the lack of any better candidates has assured him a position of respect and honor for Arabs and Muslims for generations to come.

Or consider the fact that most Arabs told pollsters , before the assault on Iraq, that a US invasion would bring less democracy. I am not endorsing such views, any more than Galloway is, but it is a simple matter of fact that most of the Arab world feels this way.

"Not odd of God, the goyim annoy 'im."

Hari is also incensed at Galloway's attitude to Israel. Unsurprisingly, the views he adduces are not those to be located in the book. For instance:

Galloway is too cowardly to explicitly oppose a two-state solution, but his wild rhetoric suggests he seeks the very opposite of peace - the destruction of Israel itself, an impossible, loathsome aspiration that is condemning both Palestinians and Israelis to eternal war. For example, he describes the whole of Israel - not just the illegal outposts on the Occupied Territories - as "the West's settler-state sentinel"; how could such a state ever be acceptable? How could it ever deserve to exist? He never mentions the ideal of two states in this book - not once.

Galloway won't say he opposes the two-state solution, but he must mean it. And why? Because he describes Israel, accurately, as "the West's settler-state sentinel". He could have done better than this, actually. One propagandist for British imperialism described Israel as "a loyal little Jewish Ulster" . (Coming from Northern Ireland, I can only say that this rings a bell or two.) How could such a state be acceptable? Hari seems oblivious to the fact that most Palestinians also think of Israel in such terms, yet support a two-state solution. Still, since I'm not "cowardly", I'd just like to affirm my opposition to a two-state solution and indicate that Israel is emphatically not acceptable in its present form. And I will just note in passing that Galloway does, in fact, mention "the ideal of two states" in his book (Page 34) - once.

Hari continues that Galloway "even skirts very close to praising the tactic of suicide bombing". How close? He says that

"Saddam's endless protestations of fidelity to the Palestinian cause were sincere and, as the families of the martyred and wounded know, he put Iraq's money where his mouth was."

How this syllogism is supposed to work, I have no idea. Hari continues:

Galloway pointedly evades the main reasons why the state of Israel was created - or the 800,000 Jews ethnically cleansed from Arab countries in the years that followed.

Hari combines two outlandish assertions in a single sentence, then. Galloway, in fact, does discuss why Zionists set out to create Israel. On Page 31, he specifically tags European anti-Semitism as the culprit. He also notes that anti-Semites like Arthur Balfour had reasons to do with imperial prerogatives in supporting the existence of a "Jewish Homeland". (Hari presumably wants Galloway to say that the Holocaust is the reason why Israel was created. It may in fact be the reason why Israel gained the support of Jews worldwide, but it is not the reason Israel was created. The movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine was up and running long before the 1930s, and in fact the Zionist Federation of Germany sought to take advantage of Hitler's anti-Semitism, entreating him to help them build the Jewish state outside Europe). The second outlandish assertion is that 800,000 Jews were "ethnically cleansed" from Arab countries after 1948. Only the most ardent Zionists actually proclaim this to be the case. The Sephardic Jews of Arab countries migrated to Israel in waves , doubtless because of Arab repression and discrimination in many cases. (Click here for instance.)

Further, and more importantly, why does this count as "the other side"? Are Palestinians responsible for this? Is Galloway obliged to stipulate, every time he expresses support for the Palestinians or denounces Israel's actions, that he also has enormous sympathy for the plight of Sephardic Jews and the hardships they endured in the Arab world? Could we not take this axiomatic and move on?

Hari issues, suffice to say, a profusion of inaccurate and incredible charges against Galloway. He accuses him of wanting to see global capitalism replaced by "a proliferation of neo-Stalinist dictators". Unsurprisingly, Hari keeps the evidence on that one to himself. He avers:

Lawrence stood with Arab tyrants too, arguing that Arabs were too stupid and culturally backward to govern themselves, and were temperamentally suited to "strong men". So does Galloway.

Strange to relate, Galloway spends much of his book attacking racist notions about the Arabs, arguing that they are perfectly capable of governing themselves without the help of Western bombs, and attacking the Arab regimes, including Saddam Hussein's. But in Hari's world... and the sad thing is, he's not the only one.

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Islamism in Theory and Practise, and A Modest Proposal. posted by Richard Seymour

Islamism Good, Islamism Bad...

Yesterday I suggested that there were circumstances under which socialists ought to support Islamists - namely when they were fighting against tyranny and oppression. It follows that there are circumstances in which we ought not to, and here are two examples which I believe illustrate the difference.

The Madhi Army is growing in strength and number, a particular surge in recruitment following a particularly bloody clash in Sadr City:

Residents of this vast, impoverished area of over one million saw US troops battle members of the Mehdi Army early yesterday morning. According to Agence FrancePresse, hospitals counted 18 civilians killed in the fighting, but Captain Brian O'Malley of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, operating in the area, said US forces killed 26 Iraqis, all of them militiamen loyal to Muqtada Al-Sadr.

The heavily resisted assault on targets in Sadr City by US forces came less than a day after the US 1st Cavalry Division completed a weapons purchasing program in the district, through which the Army bought assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, mortars and artillery shells, among other weapons, "at or above market prices." The Army boasted. that thousands of weapons were turned over by Sadr City residents, but the real effect of the program was unclear at the end of last yesterday's fighting, which was possibly the fiercest this neighborhood has seen since tensions between US forces and Muqtada Al-Sadr escalated in late March.

As men congregated around the newly rebuilt office of Muqtada Al-Sadr in order to join his militia, Sheikh Hassan Al-Adari, a spokesman for Al-Sadr, claimed that many of the people killed last night were civilians and said such a slaughter will only serve to draw angry Iraqis to the resistance.

"It's normal to see people coming here from all over Baghdad to join us in defending against the occupiers," he said, "especially when the Americans are killing civilians and attacking our holy places."

On the other hand, in Bangladesh,

A 100,000-strong pro-Taliban group, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB),
previously known as the Jama'atul Mujahedin is operating a private army that
terrorises locals and Leftists in northern Bangladesh, allegedly at the
behest of local police and politicians.

The Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), previously known as the
Jama'atul Mujahedin, is accused of killing at least five alleged underground
Leftists and injuring many more since it surfaced last month after
reportedly operating underground for six years. The JMJB is said to be the
youth front of the outlawed militant group Harqat-ul-Jihad.

The group claims to target outlawed Leftists known as Sarbaharas, members of
the Purbo Bangla Communist Party. But terrorised villagers accuse the JMJB
of raping women, harassing villagers and flaunting firearms, swords and
other weapons. When local dailies began reporting on the apparently
100,000-strong JMJB, group members reverted to lying low. ("Islamist private army rises in Bangladesh", Hindustan Times, 17th May 2004).

A Modest Proposal...

Meanwhile, this fool will get no sympathy. And it looks like the US are deciding to take seriously an alleged peace offer from Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr has made these offers several times, and it has so far amounted to diddly-squat on account of US intransigence. At the same time, Sadr's own aides are denying that any such offer has been made:

Ahmed Shibani, al-an al-Sadr aide, said there was "no truth" that a final agreement had been struck and that al-Rubaie "is talking on his own."

Well, don't worry, guys. If I were you, I should make the peace deal, see if you can get yourself a slot in the interim government. Then you will have mandatory powers over the British army whom you can then send into combat with the Americans. Beautiful.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Political Islam and it's Discontents (Part Two). posted by Richard Seymour

Continuing from where I left off .

Iran’s “Islamic Revolution”.
Political Islam is not quite as ancient, or as Arabian, as it would have us believe. In fact, it synthesises a backward looking appeal to “true Islam” with modern, Western notions of nationalism. The Islamist state would apply the shari’a and unify the umma under a renewed caliphate, drawing on the “sacred-history” of the community-state of Madina in the time of Muhammad. Yet, the assumptions underpinning the nation-state are also evident in most Islamist ideologies. (Sami Zubaida, “Is Iran an Islamic State?”, in Joel Beinin and Joe Stork eds, Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report, 1997, p. 104). The existence of Iran captures these contradictions perfectly. For, although Khomeini’s regime maintains the internationalist rhetoric of Islamism, it also practises an Islamised nationalism. As Zubaida explains:

“[T]he Iranian constitution and state practice enshrine Iranian nationality as a condition for full citizenship in the Republic. Article 115 states that the president must be Iranian both by origin and nationality, and have a ‘convinced belief in the … official school of thought in the country’, that is, he must be Shi’i … Iranian Islam, being Shi’i, reinforces Iranian nationalism, confronting as it does a predominantly Sunni Arab world and Turkey.” (Ibid, p. 105)

The origins of the present Islamic state are to be found in the revolutionary ferment in the years leading up to 1979, specifically with the different anti-Shah factions competing for hegemony within the revolution. On the left, the Marxist-Islamist Mujahedin-e Khalq (People’s Combatants) and the Marxist-Leninist Fedayin-e Khalq (People’s Sacraficers) tried to incite the masses to revolution through demonstrative attacks on the institutions of the state. On the right, Khomeini took advantage of religious processions and memorials to foment insurrectionary feeling. He argued that moral force would win the day, drawing on the Shi’ite themes of martyrdom and self-sacrafice. While the former appealed to the Iranian working class, to the poor and oppressed, Khomeini largely appealed to the disgruntled middle-class, who saw him as a safe bet with their property – but Khomeini also drew substantial support from the urban working class who heard his calls for social justice, and the rural workers who saw him as the man to bring roads, irrigation, and schools. (Dilip Hiro, Islamic Fundamentalism, 1988, pp. 166-8). It is these competing social forces which were to be decisive in shaping the “Islamic Republic” – most importantly, of course, the conservative clerics who out-manoeuvred the radicals and leftists during the revolutionary upheaval and after. It is partially because these forces persisted after the revolution, in various forms, that the regime’s totalitarian tendencies have been frustrated in various ways.

The Iranian Constitution is not the shari’a. The shari’a is taken as a source of legislation, but there is nevertheless “a dualism in the Iranian constitution between the sovereignty of the people (derived from the dominant political discourses of modernity) and the sovereignty of God, through the principle of the vilayet-i faqih. Article 6 of the constitutions states that ‘the affairs of the country must be administered on the basis of public opinion expressed by means of elections.’” (Zubaida, op cit, p. 106). At the same time, every Islamist movement in the world, including in Iran, has argued that the only suitable kind of rule under Islam is that of the Just Faqih - the vilayet-i faqih principle entails precisely the rule of the divine law as interpreted by the Just Faqih. (Dilip Hiro, op cit, 1988, p. 162).

And in practise, as Zubaida notes, the Council of Guardians – which is supposed to scrutinize legislation and prevent any deviation from the ‘tenets of Islam’ has in fact used its powers to veto such policies as land reform, or nationalisation. Measures that interfered with private property were consistently deemed contrary to the shari’a. The interference became so extreme that Khomeini was obliged to make a speech announcing that the Muslim nation may abrogate shari’a principles if it chose to do so. In fact, the shari’a, being as indeterminate as most systems of laws are, is supplemented by other sources of law anyway. The Qur’anic penal code, which allows the state to perform amputations and executions in the case of theft, for instance, has been used – but selectively and usually with a political motive. The ‘revolutionary courts’ set up by the regime are Jacobin courts, punishing those who have committed crimes against the revolution – that is, they are modern institutions of state repression. (The term ‘Islamic Republic’ in fact owes itself to its French forebear). The state, even though heavily Islamised in terms of personnel, is arranged in modern bureaucracies, ministries populated by bland functionaries wearing trousers and jackets. (Zubaida, op cit, pp. 106-9). Modernisation, then, by any other name…

Islamism and Democracy.
In reply to yesterday’s Guardian article by Osama Saeed, a Muslim writes from Birmingham to protest that the point isn’t to vote for one or other party in the election but to challenge the system of “secular democracy”, to work from within to persuade people of its inaptitude for a just society. Indeed, the enemies of “secular democracy” are usually placed on the far religious right, and this might be where you would place this gentleman – although, suffice to add, he would probably consider notions of left and right irrelevant. In fact, however, this scribe is merely repeating the gesture of Orientalist ideology – for him, just as for the Orientalists, there is only one true Islam, historically identical with the caliphate and incompatible with pluralist democracy. Daniel Lerner, an Orientalist intellectual himself, made a similar point when he suggested that the choice for Muslims was between “Mecca or mechanisation”. (Presumably, his choice was between illumination and alliteration.)

There is not, of course, one interpretation of Islam. There is not even one Islamism, as I have already hinted. Islamists are united on the view that Islam is comprehensive, embodying spirit and world, “religion and state”. This is the view of integrationists in Egypt who wish the state to be based on shari’a principles. There are, however, distinctions to be made between the religious and political spheres, and this is reflected in Islamic legal theory (fiqh) and the distinction between ibidat (a person’s relationship with God) and mu’amalat (a person’s relationship with society, economy and family). And of course, the latter is subject to various interpretations. Modern reformers within the Islamist tradition seek to define what is flexible (al-mutaghayyir) in the shari’a as broadly as possible, while conservatives seek to expand the dominion of what is decisively spoke by God (al-thabit). The secularist ‘Abd al-Raziq and the integralist Muslim Brothers agree on one thing – the precise form of governance in any society is to be left to human reason to define.

The issue of sovereignty and power revolves, for the Islamists, around the duality of God and the community of believers (umma). Ultimately, God is the source of all law. The power to interpret and apply that law is, however, in the hands of the community of believers - and each human being is born equal in the eyes of Islam. There is a radicalism inherent in this (which may express itself in right-wing or left-wing ways), because it marks a decisive shift away from the tradition of subordination to a ruler, even an unjust one, and toward the assertion of the will of the community. For contemporary Islamists, tyranny is the main enemy. Even the nominal commitment to the restoration of the caliphate (which has been abandoned by many Islamist sects) is in the hands of the Muslim Brothers, say, not much different to a modern Presidency - while he executes the shari'a on behalf of the community of believers, he has no religious sanction himself. (See, in general, Gudrun Kramer, "Islamist Notions of Democracy" in Political Islam, op cit.)

Liberation Theology.
In their internal organisation, however, Islamist movements have tended to be autocratic. The one regime which has issued from it, (the Islamic Republic) has been an autocracy. (I would argue that this is more because of the success of the conservative elements in hegemonizing the post-revolutionary situation and their need to suppress the desires of the rural poor and the urban working class.) Just as I have insisted that there is nothing automatically reactionary or 'backward' about Political Islam, it is also clear that the forms in which it has persisted have not been able to solve the problems which Islamists have addressed themselves to. Political Islam has not provided a particularly Islamic society to aim for - and it is hard to see how it could. It has, however, successfully filled a gap produced by the collapse of the big battalions of the international secular Left. Socialists do not share their purview, but we should work with them when they oppose tyranny and work against imperialism.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Norman Finkelstein in the "Wilderness"... posted by Richard Seymour

Norman Finkelstein has taken to the Canadian "wilderness" to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 20 years to the day Joan Peters published her fraudulent tract From Time Immemorial. It's great stuff, go watch.

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Another One Bites the Dust? posted by Richard Seymour

John Howard is losing votes faster than he can belch a rude song at his cousin's barbie. Here are the high-lights:

The AC Nielsen Poll published in today's Age and Sydney Morning Herald shows despite a positive reception for the Government's Budget, support for the Coalition has slipped to 39 per cent while the ALP has increased to 43 per cent.

After preferences Labor is 12 points in front at 56 to 44 per cent.

The poll also asked about support for the Iraq conflict.

Sixty-three per cent are against war, up 12 points since the question was asked eight months ago.


The also showed support for the Greens had soared to 10 per cent of the vote, compared with just 2 per cent for the Australian Democrats.

This has prompted an astonishing admission from John Howard - the war is hurting the Liberal administration.

Add this to the socialist victory in Spain, the plummeting poll ratings for Bush and Blair, and Berlusconi's difficulties - and on top of that, we had the astounding resurgence of the left in the French polls. I now look forward to Respect winning an astounding five per cent in the polls. One poll even. Just to see what it feels like. Well, we shall see...

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Islamo-Socialism posted by Richard Seymour

Sometime after 9/11, Mohammed Ali was accosted by an insinuating reporter who asked him, "How does it feel to belong to the same religion as the people who carried out the attacks on America?" He said, "I don't know, how do you feel about belonging to the same religion as Adolf Hitler?"

There is, odd to report, a section of the Left which disapproves of having any organisational or strategic connection with organised Islam in Britain. What has come to be known has the "Axis of Hitchens" is constantly on about this, deriding such affilations as base opportunism, the hapless surrendering of one's principles to the exigencies of struggle, capitulation to what is invariably described as "Islam-fascism". Now, this has always struck me as a sickly compression of a rather complex reality. For one thing, political Islam needn't necessarily be right-wing. The People's Mujahideen in Iran - whatever their failings - was a leftist organisation which founded itself on a particular interpretation of Islam. Modernists and reformists in the Islamic world, following Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, have drawn upon a tradition of itjihad (independent judgment and interpretation of the sacred texts) to argue for a progressive Islam. I've already written about this elsewhere, but somehow feel the need to reiterate as I have the suspicion that most of those who decry "Islamo-fascism" have no idea what the god-bothering fuck they are talking about... I'm kidding. I'm certain that those who deride "Islamicism", "Islamic fundamentalism", "reactionary Islam" and so on have explored all the various complexions of Islam and its relations to political power. Doubtless, they are Islamic adepts, crack theologians ready with citation, quotation and imprecation.

However. Today's Guardian carries a column by the spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Britain, Osama Saeed. Yes, yes, I know. He's got that name. But he also has some interesting things to say about British Muslims and how they may vote come the next election:

Where in the past the community had been defined by its ethnicity - Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Arab - when the most difficult time for Muslims came, this generation has defined itself by its religion. "Generation M" it has been termed, describing those born and brought up here, claiming this society as their own, but not needing to sell out on their faith. For example, many believe the headscarf was imported from abroad. However, my parents' generation did not wear it at all when they migrated here. We have seen the rise of it during the 1990s as Muslims came more to the roots of their faith, ditching the culture from abroad, and practising their religion based on its core principles while being relevant to this society.

This was clearly witnessed during the attempt by the Muslim Association of Britain along with the Stop the War Coalition and CND to stop the foolhardy war in Iraq. The alliance between Muslims and the left in Britain has been a significant phenomenon. Nothing can better illustrate the compatibility of Islam and the west than the diversity of people marching side by side for peace and justice.

This partnership with the left has replaced the Muslim community's traditional association with the Labour party. After the start of the war, the feeling among the Muslim community was that we had demonstrated, we had lobbied, we had boycotted, and now it was time to use our votes. Labour was shattered in September at the Brent East byelection, losing one of its strongholds to the Lib Dems. It was no small coincidence that the constituency houses thousands of Muslims, who saw their alternative not with the pro-war Tories, but with an anti-war candidate.


The future may also be more issue-led than party-led. The next stage of Muslim development in Britain could be a strong diffusion among all the parties, depending on current interests and tactical considerations. This can be seen in MAB's voting recommendations for the June 10 elections, where Labour's Ken Livingstone is backed for London mayor and depending where you are in the country, you could be voting Respect, Green or Lib Dem for the European parliament or your local council. In the former, George Galloway will be enjoying major Muslim backing. So will Caroline Lucas of the Greens in the south east, another anti-war campaigner who also performed admirably when the hijab issue arose in France.

Imagine that! An "Islamo-fascist" if you please, lauding the coalition of Islam and socialism, praising the tolerant Greens, bigging it up for diversity. Bangladeshi and Pakistani friends of mine - oh let's be honest, they're acquaintances! Just can't seem to get them down the pub - have always been interested in socialist viewpoints, and don't seem unworldly about gay issues, women's rights etc. That's probably because I don't know any lunatics - but then, you don't generally seek the company of arseholes, do you? I wouldn't sit down to dinner with Pat Roberts either.

Anyway, I'm sick of this whole bullshit argument. I'm tired of hearing about, "George Galloway's against abortion, you must be too if you're in the same party, its religious fundamentalism". I'm tired of hearing, "I picked up a leaflet at this demonstration which clearly cited the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a reputable text" (yeah, as if that's my fault they came to the demo). It's just giving me the hump. Still, I return to Chris Harman's excellent pamphlet on the matter of Islam and Socialism:

"The left has made two mistakes in relation to the Islamists in the past. The first has been to write them off as fascists, with whom we have nothing in common. The second has been to see them as 'progressives' who must not be criticised. These mistakes have jointly played a part in helping the Islamists to grow at the expense of the left in much of the Middle East. The need is for a different approach that sees Islamism as the product of a deep social crisis which it can do nothing to resolve, and which fights to win some of the young people who support it to a very different, independent, revolutionary socialist perspective." (Chris Harman, The Prophet and the Proletariat, Page 60).

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Monday, May 24, 2004

Exploiting Misery. posted by Richard Seymour

The Wall Street Journal is known, among other things, for its cartoonish outrage at practically everything the Left gets up to. For instance, in one comment, a slack-jawed hack in their fold complains about Michael Berg's anti-war article in The Guardian:

Here's what the elder Berg says America should have done in response to the Sept. 11 attacks: "I say we should have done then what we never did before: stop speaking to the people we labelled our enemies and start listening to them."

This is sick stuff, though perhaps partly understandable as an irrational reaction of a man who's lost his son. Shame on the Guardian for exploiting Michael Berg's grief to further its own anti-American agenda. (Via Oliver Kamm

Kamm, incidentally, has his own spin on that issue, which involves a lot of drivel about the Socialist Workers' Party whom he seems to have developed a monomaniacal fixation on - even to the extent of repeating untrue assertions even following correction. Still, I said I wouldn't waste any more time on him and I won't. If you really are interested in the views of the American Tendency (long to reign over us), go ahead and pursue the link.

What I am more interested in is the flavour of this splenetic outrage - it was the same that moved Bill O'Reilly to denounce Jeremy Glick for having appended his name, as a 9/11 relative, to an antiwar advertisement which allegedly accused the United States government of terrorism. O'Reilly notoriously described Glick as having "a warped view of this world and a warped view of this country". He didn't manage to announce that Glick was "sick", but he might have gotten round to it eventually.

It's "sick" to want to listen to North Korea, Iran and Syria, according to the WSJ, but what of the remainder of Berg's recommendations? He continues:

Stop giving preconditions to our peaceful coexistence on this small planet, and start honouring and respecting every human's need to live free and autonomously, to truly respect the sovereignty of every state. To stop making up rules by which others must live and then separate rules for ourselves.

Does this seem eminently reasonable only to me? Well, obviously not, otherwise there wouldn't have seen record global anti-war demonstrations last year. Yet, Michael Berg's view is reduced to an "irrational reaction", thus depriving him of responsibility for and ownership of his opinion. That is absolutely disgusting.

The charge that The Guardian was merely "exploiting" Berg's grief to further an "anti-American" agenda is perfectly absurd. Still, there are egregious cases of blatant exploitation of the suffering of victims which apparently evoke no outrage, no vexation among the supporters of the war. Here, for instance, is one well-known political figure following the atrocities in New York and Washington:

I recently received a letter from a 4th-grade girl that seemed to say
it all: "I don't know how to feel," she said, "sad, mad, angry. It has
been different lately. I know the people in New York are scared
because of the World Trade Center and all, but if we're scared, we are
giving the terrorists all the power." In the face of this great
tragedy, Americans are refusing to give terrorists the power.

That may seem innocent enough. Bush, after all, is merely evoking the basic goodness of Americans, especially America's young. But he likes to cite the eloquence of others, (doubtless to atone for his own paucity of it). When Staff Sgt. Daniel Bader, 28, died in Iraq recently, Bush was quick to avail himself of the comments of the dead soldier's wife:

The White House has said in the past the president cannot pick and choose which funerals to attend and to whom to pay tribute without potentially offending other families who do not receive presidential attention.

But Bush used the Bader death to make a political point, quoting the words of the dead soldier's wife from a newspaper account.

"I'm going to wait until she is old enough to realize what has happened, and I will tell her exactly what her daddy did for her," Bush quoted the widow as saying of her daughter. "He died serving his country, so my little girl could grow up free."

Imagine Saddam Hussein invoking the moist-eyed comments of a loyal Iraqi woman whose husband had died for his filthy regime: "Her father died serving her country, to make her people free. Allahu Akhbar!" The stomach would fairly churn.

And remember that as the smoke was clearing in the Pentagon, and the bodies were still being dragged from the rubble, Donald Rumsfeld was making delighted political calculations :

"best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. at same time. Not only UBL."

Suffice to recall, the hysteria following 9/11 included, entirely predictably, injunctions against reflection on the role of the American government in the world, (pace O'Reilly's cheap-shots at Glick). In the name of the 'victims' the pro-War commentators of Left and Right have resorted to all manner of baseness and emotional blackmail. No sale.

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A Rubbishing of General Theory posted by Richard Seymour

Tentatively, I'd like to plug a new blog I've encountered amid the pullulating threads of the e-ther. Someone called "Will" has began a blog entitled A General Theory of Rubbish . I say "tentatively", because I sort of suspect from the links to Harry's Place, Normblog, SIAW, and other cantankerous bastions of the pro-war Left that he will soon degenerate into sour, lumpen attacks on "pseudo-leftists", "Islamo-apologists" and others of impure creed.

I hope not, because much of what I've read so far is entertaining and intelligent. I have deposited a comment beneath a post of his about "Stupidity", thus offering maximum opportunity for an effluviation of bile... In fact, I note already the presence of that empurpled phrase favoured by the Latter Day Imperialists: "pseudo-Leftists" . This in a post in which the following is offered served up (extracted from The Last Superpower) as a piece of wisdom:

"Revolutionaries are historical optimists who stress the inevitability of progress. Pseudo-Leftists are reactionaries who merely denounce how bad things are and actively reinforce the idea that they cannot be changed. But when revolutionaries reject the irrational obscurantism and moralistic posturing of pseudo-Leftists and line up together with the ruling class against them, by asserting that "all that is real is rational", they are also implicitly saying "all that exists deserves to perish" as explained by Engels..."

Oh no. I hope not. We may be doomed if there are still socialists preaching the inevitability of progress. Progress? Inevitable? Have these people ever heard of irradiation? Technological progress has already given the ruling class, with whom the "revolutionaries" are apt to "line up together with", the capacity to put an end to history. I prefer Walter Benjamin's definition of progress to the "eternal sunshine of the spotless mind":

Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (Walter Benjamin, Theses On the Philosophy of History, Illuminations).

Or perhaps, apropos the possibility of thermonuclear extinction:

Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious. (Ibid).

Still, I see the appeal of sunny-side-up, shit-eating-grin, optimism. For one thing, one may support the Last Superpower as the only remaining force with any international muscle (farewell to the proletariat, then; Catalonia was merely a dream), and still maintain one's "revolutionary" stance. For all this, The General Theory will inform and entertain - even as you sigh, roll your eyes, fan your armpits and shake your head.

Please visit .

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Notes from the Fringe. posted by Richard Seymour

According to the Blogosphere Ecosystem, I am a "Crawly Amphibian" , which is just below "Slithering Reptiles". I suppose a certain amount of humility wouldn't go amiss, then... but is that a fly I see?

(The ratings seem to be based on Sitemeter data and the number of links you have. Fine, if you want to conflate quality with quantity. Hmmph!)

In other, more interesting news, Orientalism is alive and well in the academia.

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Gift of the Mugabe. posted by Richard Seymour

Robert Mugabe's star has fallen in the UK media firmament ever since he fell out with the British government and directed a starved public's anger at the last remnants of colonial ownership in Zimbabwe. He doesn't help his cause by having about the same control over the colonial language as your average New York Times reader. Note this , for instance:

The Zimbabwean leader also attacked Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush for going to war in Iraq.

"They knew they were wrong by deciding to attack Iraq, they deceived the world with lies, lies of mass deception, by telling them that there were weapons of mass destruction, and they thought the world was going to be cheated for all time," Mugabe said. "And there you are now, the chickens have come back to roost."

So, now Malcolm X has been murdered twice.

Note the tautology in the first sentence, the feeble attempt at punnery. True, we were fed "lies of mass deception". Still, with the torture revelations coming out of Iraq, I would have thought the old scrapper would be eager to get in there and learn some new techniques. Still, feckless as he may be, Mugabe's grandiose torsions of the English language are still to be preferred to Ian Smith's crisp upper-crust mastery :

Smith said he refused to apologise for atrocities committed while he held office. He said he had no regrets about the estimated 30,000 Zimbabweans killed during his rule. 'The more we killed, the happier we were. We were fighting terrorists.'

Ah well, it is simple enough to take joy in killing when your enemies are "terrorists". I suppose a few American soldiers could empathise with that particular sentiment. Nevertheless, Mugabe's plans for the future do raise some concern:

Asked whether he planned to stand in the next presidential election, expected in 2008, Mugabe replied: "I don't think so, I also want to rest and do a bit of writing." [Emphasis added]

God help us.

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Saturday, May 22, 2004

News On the March! posted by Richard Seymour

Eat snacky smores...

Following today's antiwar demo, which had a couple of thousand on it by my estimation (the BBC merely says "hundreds" ), I was accosted by a member of Fight Racism Fight Imperialism who spent the whole time trying to persuade me that the Labour Party was a racist imperialist institution and that Cuba was a haven of socialism. He was perfectly adamant on both counts, as he was on every other theme he touched. (Incidentally, he thought Tony Benn was shit, the march was "opportunist", the anti-war movement was being diverted, the anti-apartheid movement was unwilling to challenge racism, and it was all the fault of the SWP for not allowing forces to the left of them have a say in the running of things). Moreover, touring their website today (I'm not giving them a link), I discovered them referring to the immense poverty of ordinary Cubans, as well as the vast child prostitution industry that pertains in its shadowy hotel-beach complexes as "challenges"... I'm not slagging them off for their views. Noone is ideologically pure, and noone has absolutely everything right. But there is something vaguely terrifying to me about the fact that they are nevertheless assured of their correctness in absolutely everything. This attitude is probably the result of weakness and isolation - greater potency would entrain more openness. Unfortunately, the other clause in this Catch 22 is that in order to gain more influence, such organisations would have to abandon the "beautiful soul" purism that makes them so marginal in the first place.

"Electricity Abuse"

A very interesting story comes from the San Diego Tribune . According to this dazzling star in the media firmament:

While world attention was focused on the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, two Marines were court-martialed May 14 for abusing an Iraqi prisoner with electricity, it was disclosed yesterday.

Five more Marines have been implicated in the same early April incident at a Marine-run detention facility and might face charges, according to Marine officials in Iraq.


Sting, Trefney and three other Marines concocted a plan to shock a detainee with 110-volt electricity as he returned to his cell from the bathroom. The prisoner was targeted for punishment because he was loud and had thrown trash out of his cell.

"The Marines attached wires to a power converter and pressed the live wires against the body of the detainee to create a shock," according to the Marine statement.

Excuse me, but when you attach live wires to someone's body, isn't that torture? I don't mean to split hairs or anything, but if a certain Arab leader with a big bushy moustache and dead onyx eyes did that sort of shit, we wouldn't be fucking around with coy expressions like "abuse".

Moving On Up

Richard Reeves has an admirable article in this week's New Statesman about the decline of the meritocracy. His conclusions conduce to a certain amount of complacency, however. For example, he argues that we should be happy if absolute social mobility increases, since in such circumstances you can improve someone's lot without worsening that of others. This would seem to me to miss the point about social justice. If we are against poverty, it isn't simply because some at the bottom layer of society are "excluded" and we feel a pious inclination to help them out of their rut - it is because there is something unjust about inequality, about one person's deprivation being contiguous with another's luxury.

Additionally, he seems to believe that there is a version of meritocracy which would be commensurable with egalitarian ideals. I don't think so. As Reeves notes, it is practically impossible (in capitalist society) to attach reward to desert without some severely authoritarian measures on the part of the state. Aside from that, there is a deeper philosophical problem with the whole idea that Reeves does not specifically grapple with. Namely, what exactly is desert? How does one account for it? You do not "earn" the physical and mental attributes with which you are born any more than you "earn" your early childhood experiences, and yet these can place enormous limits on a human being's potential in the world. Reeve, in fact, renders this point absolutely eloquent with a quote from Michael Young:

"If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get . . . So assured have the elite become that there is almost no block on the rewards they arrogate to themselves."

And Reeve nails the problem with market-led concepts of desert only to adumbrate an alternative that is equally infelicitous:

The fourth and final challenge is to rescue the concept of "merit" from the market. When meritocrats talk about rewards flowing from merit, the rewarding mechanism is typically assumed to be the market, especially the market for labour. But the market can reward only certain kinds of narrowly defined merit, and in particular, what economists and business people increasingly call "human capital". (The language itself betrays the prevalence of market-generated versions of value: we now also have "social", "intellectual", and even "gender" capital.)


But merit of all kinds - artistic, intellectual, social - exists entirely outside of the pricing mechanisms of the market.

There may be "merit" in having artisitic talent, intellectual stringency, or the ability to chat up co-workers, but it is hard to see how these are in any sense "deserved". I adhere firmly to the view that a) meritocracy would be too radical for New Labour to pursue in any serious sense and b) it would be an unattractive state of affairs if actually attained.

Finally, Michael Moore has won the Palme D'Or for his film Fahrenheit 911. Kill 'em, Mikey!

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Friday, May 21, 2004

The Rot Spreads... posted by Richard Seymour

Juan Cole reports violent demonstrations in Bahrain, of all places, against US actions in Karbala. Why? Cole says:

You wonder whether, when Bush gave the order to get Muqtada "dead or alive", initially to the Spanish and then to the US military, whether he even knew that a majority of the population in Bahrain, where the US has a major naval base, is Shiite or that they would mind if the US army demolished much of the Mukhayyam Mosque in Karbala trying to get at Muqtada's militiamen.

In all probability? No.

Moreover, it's not likely to stop there:

The other shoe? Will the Shiites of al-Hasa in Eastern Arabia, where the oil is and where there are 90,000 Americans at Dhahran, be the next to riot?

Meanwhile, Michael Berg has some gracious words of contempt for the Bush administration, and linguist Geoffrey Nunberg pleads with us to stop using euphemisms like "abuse" when what in fact took place was torture,

not just by the definitions of the Geneva Conventions, but by any ordinary standards of decency. Torture is torture is torture, as Secretary Powell put it - it isn't a place to be drawing fine semantic distinctions.

And it would be a good thing to acknowledge that "torture" is not quite as exotic an activity as the movies make it out to be.

That should suck the fun out of it.

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Crockery. posted by Richard Seymour

Benjamin Mackie has launched a new blog with a massive scoop - an interview he conducted with George Monbiot. Unfortunately, the interview dates back to 2001, but it still counts as one hell of a debut.

There isn't much else to comment on yet, apart from the layout which seems satisfactory to me. Some of the fonts could be improved - but what am I talking about, when I allow such debased styles as "trebuchet" to appear on my blog.

Knowing Benjamin from our wild and varied intercourse on the MediaLens message board, I expect him to effluviate witticisms and incisive analysis like the Bellagio fountains. Please visit.

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Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Abu Ghraib Redemption posted by Richard Seymour

At the behest of the IGC, Abu Graibh prison has been renamed , Camp Redemption. I shit you not. Hmmm. Where can they have got that idea from?

Could it be a reference to the old regime, which was, after all the Ba'ath (Redemption) Socialist Party of Iraq?

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Ahmed Chalabi, Putchist. posted by Richard Seymour

Counterpunch has what they call a scoop , and for a muck-raking magazine they have a smasher:

In dawn raids today, American troops surrounded Ahmed Chalabi's headquarters and home in Baghdad, put a gun to his head, arrested two of his aides, and seized documents. Only five months ago, Chalabi was a guest of honor sitting right behind Laura Bush at the State of the Union. What brought about this astonishing fall from grace of the man who helped provide the faked intelligence that justified last year's war?

According to Andrew Cockburn, yer man Chalabi was forming a band of Shi'ites around him to destabilise a Brahimi government. He had told them that Brahimi's government was part of a Sunni conspiracy, and now was the time to resist. He's got the Iraqi Hebollah behind him, a part of the Dawa Party and Ayatollah Mohammed Bahr al Uloom... Apparently, he's looking to take over when Muqtada al-Sadr gets killed:

"Sooner rather than later," the Iraqi observer, a close student of Shia politics, points out, "Moqtada al Sadr is going to be killed. That willl leave tens, hundreds of thousands of his supporters looking for a new leader. If Ahmed plays the role of victim, he can take on that role. His dream has always been to be a sectarian Shia leader."

Given the imminence of the announcement of the post June 30 arrrangement, the stakes are very high for the US. The occupation command in Baghdad well understands that Chalabi has the resources and skills to wreck the all-important arrangements for the official handover of power. "People realise that Ahmed is a gambler, prepared to bring it all down," I was told today, "and this raid may not be at all to his detriment."

US disenchantment with the man who has received $27 million of taxpeyers' money in recent years has been gathering pace in recent months. "You can piss on Chalabi" President Bush remarked to Jordan's King Abdullah some months ago. "Ahmed is on good terms with many people," a senior Iraqi politician told me waspishly, "and on bad terms with a great many more."

Is this the most bizarre fucking thing you've heard all year? Excuse me, but this is one "uprising" I want no part of...

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Muqtada Christ, Superstar. posted by Richard Seymour

Yeah, he'd probably banish me to the firehole in the ground for calling him that, but Iraqis love him. And, hey, I'm big enough not to resent them for that.

Muqtada al-Sadr now has the support of
of Iraqis. Meanwhile,
of Iraqis consider the US forces to be "occupiers". Johann Hari will be drafting a letter of support for al-Sadr now, as he is ever so eager to strait-jacket himself in the results of Iraqi opinion polls.

Meanwhile, the train drivers and tube workers are taking to the picket lines , for better pensions, pay and benefits. Hopefully, a successful strike will inspire other groups of workers to undertake similar prophylactic action. It cannot be sensible to allow corporate bosses to steamroller changes to pension through, while they award themselves "phone number pay-rises" as Bob Crow put it.

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Tony Blair Attacked. posted by Richard Seymour

Amid all this media hysteria, I'd just like to say one thing - it should have been sarin. Have a nice day.

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Hope in the Shadow of Catastrophe. posted by Richard Seymour

A Reply to Explananda

The title of this post deliberately mimics that of an essay by Norman Geras, originally published in the New Left Review and subsequently as one of a collection of essays called The Contract of Mutual Indifference. Some of you will have already gathered that I omitted the word ‘socialist’, since complete mimicry would be a diversion from my main topic. To malinger on the theme somewhat, Geras’ essay is an inspection of exactly what kind of hope socialists are entitled to given what we know about human nature, especially in light of the Nazi holocaust. Brutally summarised, Geras advances a view of human nature that is, he hopes, both realistic and compatible with socialist transformation. Human beings can be bad, they do have these capacities – it is no good reducing it to the evils of the economic and political order, because what systems of power work on precisely are the capacities that already exist within human beings. The fact that the response to the extermination of millions of human beings in the centre of modern Europe could provoke, among other things, active participation or just plain indifference is a fact of no small significance. Human beings are - have been - overwhelmingly available for cooption, tyranny, exploitation and so on.

Since, for Geras, a libertarian political order of the kind envisaged by Marx and his followers would free human beings not just from oppression but from curtailments to their capacity for evil, it would follow that such an order would afford endless opportunity for new abuses. Therefore, he concludes, a socialism that is compatible with human nature would have to express itself in a liberal polity, with all the capacities for policing, imprisonment and coercion that this entails. The socialist transformation which did not result in elated utopia but rather in the basic satisfaction of each human being’s basic needs would still be revolutionary in the face of what persists daily. If I have not missed my guess, this is the source of Geras’ conversion to what he calls “liberal Marxism” . (More here ).

Why start with this? Because Chris Young , who has taken up his sword against me, is something of an admirer of Geras, and I thought it would be a nice touch to introduce the argument thus. To recapitulate, Chris Young differs with me profoundly on the question of whether we should support the Iraqi resistance, and hope for their victory against the US army. His argument is that a victory for the resistance would be disastrous for Iraq, probably leading to a Hobbesian war of all against all, only to be settled by the victory –decisive or otherwise – of one particular faction of the resistance. Tyranny would most probably ensue, thus undermining the only benefit that has so far accrued to Iraqis as a result of this war – that is, the elimination of the worst manifestations of dictatorship and the possibility of stable and democratic future development. As he puts it:

My prediction - which partly underlay my opposition to the war - is based on the fact that Iraq is rich in resources, deeply unstable, and has potentially exploitable ethnic and religious differences (notice I did not say "seething ethnic hatreds"), among other things. I having been hoping that the U.S. could somehow manage to find a process inclusive enough to handle the various tensions here, because I have seen that as the only conceivable way of avoiding a civil war. That doesn't mean that I want the U.S. to achieve all its goals. Rather, I want them to begin such a process, because no one else now can, and then be forced to the sidelines by a healthy process within Iraq that they can't control.

Although Chris sympathises with Iraqis demanding that US troops leave, he broadly supports the process of transition being carried out by the Interim Governing Council.

To Omdurman!

Having tersely summed up two arguments that I disagree with in various ways, I’ll get on with my own argument. The “shadow of catastrophe” in this case, needless to say, is precisely the possibility to which Chris alludes. We don’t have to think very far into the past to get a taste of what this would be like – torture chambers, secret police, executions, rigid fear, the possibility of perpetual war. However, the immediate problem that I have with Chris’ analysis is that the Iraqi masses seem to be entirely passive players, not active participants in a highly mercurial situation. Various sects, under the rubric of the ‘resistance’ fight it out with the Americans, then squabble murderously over the spoils – while the rest of Iraq awaits its fate at the hands of the victor. Either that, or they are so schismatic as to be vulnerable to collapse into ethno-religious rivalry the second troops depart. I don’t think either scenario fits well with the data emerging from Iraq.

The demonstrations of Iraqis chanting “No, no Sunni; No, no Shi’ite; Yes, yes Islam!” is one manifestation of the tendency toward greater Iraqi Arab unity, (the Kurds are another matter altogether). Similarly, the development of a pan-Iraqi anti-occupation party which plans to stand in elections signals the willingness to overlook ethno-religious differences in the effort to oust the occupying forces. Now, Chris accepts all of this, but argues that:

I think Nikolai is absolutely correct that loathing of the U.S. has increased feelings of Arab unity in the Iraq. But I am also convinced that he is just wrong to think that that effect will hold or that we're not looking at a very probable civil war in the next 2 or 3 years.

There are, he says, too many ethno-religious differences susceptible to manipulation by demagogues and opportunists. This is doubtless true. But given that the tendency at the moment is in the opposite direction, what reason does he have for thinking unity will not hold? I'm afraid that what he alludes to is only a possibility among others, and not in my view the most likely one.

Moreover, what are the demands of the resistance groups? Precisely the things that the ‘coalition’ continually promise, yet hopelessly procrastinate over as they spy the nationalist writing on the wall: elections, the withdrawal of troops, a complete handover of power to the elected body, and the future of Iraq to be determined by Iraqis. Instead they are to get a continued military occupation, a secret police trained and run by the CIA and a legislative body (elected or otherwise) which will be beholden to the laws already imposed by the occupying forces. I will stipulate at this point that the ‘resistance’ I am referring to emphatically does not include the Al Qaeda affiliated cells operating in Iraq. Their goal, as they advertise it, is to brew civil war between Sunni and Shi’ite, in the hope of suppressing the growing power of the Shi’ite majority whom their Wahabbi sect considers serpiginous, un-Islamic etc. Their ideology and goals specifically confound the aspirations of the majority of Iraqis, and they should be opposed. That's a beginning to answering Chris' moral consideration of the resistance. I do consider it legitemate for an anti-occupation movement to target the occupiers and their adjuvants, although certain acts (if, in fact, civilians happen to have been the target) merit criticism.

The Language of Contradiction

In supporting the resistance of Iraqis, what I want to see is Iraqis wrest control of their future from the American and British occupiers. The key to this lies in a fatal contradiction in US policy in Iraq. They wanted to impose their authority on the Middle East as part of a geopolitical strategy for ensuring the future dominance of America in the world. Iraq was attacked as the weak link in a chain of Arab states with hostile or ambivalent regimes, precisely because it did not have the capacity to put up serious resistance. The plan for Iraq included the usual tenets of neo-conservative thought – privatisation privileging US corporations , de-regulation and elections following a suitable period of transition. (Although I have said, and still suspect, that the concern with ‘democracy’ was a PR front in the war, it nevertheless has its own weight in neo-conservative thinking. It is just that democracy can almost be conflated with free markets in their purview.) However, the commitment to some form of democracy was always an ancillary concern to the overall objective of ensuring a regime that was friendly to US prerogatives in the region. Rumsfeld, an old-fashioned American nationalist, prevails in this discussion over neo-conservative ideologues like Wolfowitz.

The result of this contradiction is that Iraqis have been freed, and then entrapped. They have been told they are liberated, then had their newspapers shut down, their media locked in a state-run strangle-hold, their affairs run by an unrepresentative puppet regime, their cities pounded by an unwelcome occupier and surrounded by barbed wire fences. Iraqis are now free enough to take umbrage at their oppression: You Westerners imposed this Saddam monster on us in the first place – now that you get rid of him, for your own sakes, you expect us to gratefully rally round and accept your diktat? This is what is driving the resentment and resistance toward the occupiers. Not political or religious extremism, although these have their role, and certainly not ‘foreign’ agitation.

For all of these reasons, the “catastrophe” scenario is only one among many in my view, and not necessarily the most likely result of a victorious uprising. Similarly, the “benign” scenario is also one among many outcomes of a victory for the United States (although, as it happens, the US has now lost so much that even if it gets its way, it cannot proclaim an undiluted success). I think it likely that a puppet government, or even one whose legitimacy is diffuse, could be beset by perpetual crises – just as the Kirzai government in Afghanistan is. The difference is that, since this is America’s test-case for the “preemptive strike”, it has been necessary to pour vast amounts of money into Iraq to make it a success, thus far without much hope. This has been compounded by an unavailing resort to extreme force in the most heated zones of engagement. An unrepresentative government, or one with only “limited” powers, does not look likely to be any more successful at thwarting these problems.


What are we entitled to hope for, knowing what we know about the balance of forces within Iraq? Is it reasonable to insist on the full self-determination of Iraqis given the likely result? Is it feasible to believe in the liberatory potential of an Iraqi uprising? Who is to guarantee that the moral character of a post-insurgency regime will be superior to that of the IGC? Who is to say it will not be worse? Is it really necessary to withhold good will from the IGC which, for all its flaws, is struggling to do its best for its country? To be perfectly honest, I know of no ontological guarantee as to the future of Iraq. For one thing, the success of an uprising would completely alter the coordinates within which any future settlement could be worked out. I do believe, however, that the successful transition from an IGC to a nominally representative state with few powers and many puppets will relegate Iraq, for the time being, to a low-rent client state. A subordinate to be used and impoverished through “liberalisation” and “structural adjustment” even more vigorously than those states which are not under any kind of imperial control, (India, Argentina, Zimbabwe). Knowing what I know about those states, I think it is worth the risk. There is one final reason to support the victory of the insurgents. If the United States succeeds, even partially, in imposing its will on Iraq, this will ensure its capacity to wage further wars with even more destructive consequences. Already the sabre is being rattled at Syria, which is, apparently, an “extraordinary” threat to America. Where next for the Empire if it does not meet its match in the sands of Iraq?

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A Bug's Life posted by Richard Seymour

I've been down with a rather nasty stomach bug for the last two days. I don't know what it is, but it's brought about some interesting reversals. I've been pissing solids and shitting liquids. Take all the pleasure in my suffering that you can, because I'll be back in exactly five minutes to irritate the fuck out of you again...

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Two Links. posted by Richard Seymour

Chris Young has a problem with my support for the Iraqi Resistance. Specifically, he thinks that the resistance is so schismatic that it will lead to civil war if it succeeds. He is also sceptical that its moral character will exceed that of the IGC. In any ensuing civil war, he thinks, it would be a Hobbesian affair in which the most powerful would simply clobber everyone else then assume despotic control. I have argued against him there, but I will think this over for a day or two then probably post a response here.

Chrisopher Hitchens has made a fool of himself yet again, and this time Ted Barlow was there to catch him out. For my own part, I'd like to comment on this:

So a Sarin-infected device is exploded in Iraq, and across the border in Jordan the authorities say that nerve and gas weapons have been discovered for use against them by the followers of Zarqawi, who was in Baghdad well before the invasion. Where, one idly inquires, did these toys come from? No, it couldn't be. …

No shit? What's with that Sarin? Well :

[A] senior coalition source has told the BBC the round does not signal the discovery of weapons of mass destruction or the escalation of insurgent activity.

He said the round dated back to the Iran-Iraq war and coalition officials were not sure whether the fighters even knew what it contained.

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