Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Letter To The Guardian... posted by Richard SeymourSomeone has fired off a rather brilliant response to Ann Clwyd's Guardian article today. The Grauniad probably won't publish it, but as it's already on the MediaLens message board, I'll publish it myself:
Ann Clwyd’s apparent sincerity is fatally undermined by her either naïve or mendacious elision of western complicity in Saddam’s atrocities.
Her lament, that the west should have acted sooner, belies the reality that the US and UK did act: they consistently provided financial aid, military intelligence, and planning advice to Saddam, while fully aware that he was using chemical weapons against Iran. As one insider recounted, the Pentagon ‘wasn't so horrified by Iraq's use of gas. It was just another way of killing people — whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn't make any difference.’ (NYT 18/08/2002). Reagan blocked the US Senate from punishing Iraq for violating the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons and, after Halabja, the US refused to pressure its client to cooperate with UN investigators (The Nation, 26/08/2002). ‘The U.S.-Iraqi relationship,’ wrote Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy at the time, ‘is ... important to our long-term political and economic objectives’ (Washington Post, 30/12/2002). Likewise, those mass graves of Marsh Arabs were filled with US and UK help; since we disarmed rebelling generals and allowed Iraqi forces to pass through allied lines and massacre the Shi’a, rather than let them overthrow Saddam (Spectator, 10/08/1991) .
Finally, Clwyd may ‘understand’ that a war crimes tribunal for Iraq was blocked by China, Russia, and France, but she is wrong. The US officially anticipated that such moves would be blocked but this was never tested and is hardly plausible, given that Russia, for example, never vetoed such moves against Serbia – its former close ally.
Ann Clwyd may genuinely care but, if she wants to be seen as anything other than Blair’s ‘useful idiot’, she must condemn our own crimes as well as those of Saddam.
Defining the argument:
In her classic work “Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition” , and subsequent writings, Frances Yates has elaborated a theory of modern science, placing its origins in the Neoplatonism and “Hermetic-Cabalist” traditions which experienced a revival in the fifteenth century, largely due to the translating work of Marsilio Ficino on behalf of Cosimo Medici. In this treatment, I want to argue that Yates successfully establishes a series of connections and family resemblances between magic and modern science, but that her claims for magic exceed what her evidence justifies, while the evidence that she adduces is sometimes tenuous. I think she has also misplaced the causal connection, so I will end by adumbrating a different way of considering the evidence that may avoid the problems of Yates’ interpretation.
From the Magus to the Mechanic.
"[T]he Renaissance magus", Yates believes, "exemplifies that changed attitude of man to the cosmos which was the necessary preliminary to the rise of science". Indeed, there is no shortage of similarity between the practitioner of natural magic and that of natural philosophy. Sometimes, the distinction is not at all clear. The modern "emphasis upon empiricism and upon 'peering into' nature ... appears in works on natural magic". Giambattista Della Porta, the prolific author on natural magic insisted just as much as Francis Bacon that the way to discover 'such things as lay hid in the bosom of wondrous nature,' was to investigate the natural world. As John Henry points out, "Renaissance natural magicians [insisted] that their form of magic depended upon nothing more than knowledge of nature" - although he also notes that in practise, they relied “heavily upon traditional claims in the magical literature".
Yates demonstrates both the manipulative and mathematical aspects of magic. The account of man's creation given by the 'Pimander' (one of the Hermetic texts) is one in which the Father allows man to 'produce a work'. "Dominion over nature" is in man's "divine origin", and the magus exercises this dominion "through the manipulation of occult sympathies" running through nature. It is also characterised by what "Agrippa calls mathematical magic", which includes geometry, astronomy, mechanics, arithmetic etc.
Giambattista Della Porta
Pythagorean mathematics (and also the Pythagorean “symbolism and mysticism”) manifested itself in the work of Pico. Neither “Pythagorean number … nor Cabalistic conjuring with numbers in relation to the mystical powers of the Hebrew alphabet, will of themselves lead to the mathematics which will really work in applied science”. But Aggripan mathematics did have a place for mechanical application, or “real artificial magic” as Tommaso Campanella was to call it a century later. Copernicanism may also owe something to the prisci theologi unearthed by Ficino, which, Yates suggests, shook the complacent faith in the Ptolemaic position of the sun.
Yates unearths these connections through a series of archetypes. The Renaissance magus introduces Platonism, the licit manipulation of nature and number into the Christianised natural philosophy of the High Middle Ages. These influences manifest themselves in Leonardo Da Vinci, who cited "Hermes the philosopher" and defined force "as a spiritual essence". John Dee, the 16th Century scientist and mathematician, was known to have attempted communion with spirits, and drew inspiration from Pico. Dee, especially in Yates’ later writings, is the archetypal Renaissance magus.
The next layer is the "Rosicrucian type" who is defined by the need for secrecy in the hostile climate of the counter-Reformation, "an intensely religious temper" while nevertheless remaining unaffiliated to any particular doctrine, and the "Hermetic belief that the deepest truths cannot be revealed to the multitude". The Rosicrucians were influenced by the work of John Dee and Paracelsus. They practised natural magic, especially alchemy. “Rosicrucian alchemy expresses both the scientific outlook, penetrating into new worlds of discovery, and also an attitude of religious expectation”.
Francis Bacon and Father Marin Mersennne exemplify the final stage of the progression from Renaissance magus to modern scientist. Bacon's New Atlantis is a utopia "ruled by mysterious sages who keep the citizens in tune with the cosmos", but who "do not practise astral magic, and are not exactly magi". Bacon's emphasis on technology reflects the influence of Renaissance Hermeticism, just as much as his desire to exercise power over nature. Father Mersenne, on the other hand, rejects the animus mundi, embraces the “modern” corpuscular outlook and those elements of magic compatible with it, and thus completes the transition.
A few problems.
It is possible to accept all of Yates’ empirical examples without accepting the thetic relation they support. John Dee, for instance, may well have been “imbued with the importance of mathematics”, but it is questionable whether he discovered anything important. And the magical importance of his ‘numbers’ is not of the classical Cabalistic kind, that of attempting to interpret the scriptures, but rather the ‘book of nature’ which his ‘conversations with angels’ helped him to interpret. This innovation does not explain so much as it demands explanation.
Francis Bacon’s anti-Copernicanism may not be as easy to correlate to his opposition to magic as Yates believes. As Robert Westman points out, of all the ‘Hermetists’, only Giordano Bruno added anything original to Copernican thought, while Hermetic sun-worship is just as compatible with a geo-centric universe in which the sun is at the centre of seven planets surrounding the Earth. “Dominion over nature”, given sanction by the Hermetic tradition, could also be argued to be a feature of Christian faith.
Yates clearly believes that mathematics and magic are essential correlates in this period. But the recovery of the Archimedean texts by William of Moerbeke only led to their general appropriation in the sixteenth century when “the self-educated engineer and mathematician Nicolo Tartaglia” published them in print. The “sixteenth century revival of the classical tradition of mechanics was not in the first place the concern and work of natural philosophy at the universities, but of laymen in classics, namely engineers who were interested in theoretical questions”. It isn't straightforward to assess claims about the transmission of empiricism from magic to science - if dominion over nature was sought, how else to achieve it than to investigate nature? What better way to register its quantities than to make use of the sophisticated systems of mathematics available?
Yates invites doubt when she offers speculation , although she emphasises that as a pioneer in her field she is perhaps obliged to ask more questions than she is immediately able to answer. There are, nevertheless, some dubious interpretive gestures, such as the reference to Father Marin Mersenne as the putative final stage in the progression from magus to scientist. Mersenne was a philosopher and mathematician whose abiding concern was to combat the rising influence of animistic and magical philosophers. Repulsion against magical beliefs propelled his scientific endeavours in this case, and Yates offers no good reason to infer that this is merely the culmination of a transition.
The main aporia, however, is the heuristic. The "chief stimulus of that new turning toward the world and operating on the world" was, according to Yates, what she referred to as the Hermetic tradition. It is difficult to evaluate such claims, or to know when they are proven. Because the rise of magic was almost coterminous with, and certainly related to the rise of science, there was not necessarily a causal connection between the two.
Here's the rub. Many of the strands of magical thought and practise which Yates describes collectively as 'the Hermetic Tradition' were widely known in classical Greek civilisation, even if most of the Corpus Hermeticum should properly be dated to the second and third centuries AD, and the nascence of Christian Rome. Many of these Greek traditions owe themselves to the practises of Egyptian civilisation. Yet, while the Egyptians had much in the way of technology, they had nothing that we would call science. And while the Greeks did develop the beginnings of science, they made few technological advances. In the 800 years from the rise of Athenian civilisation to the fall of the Roman Empire, a wealth of scientific thought proliferated, but there was not the practical empirical approach that we associate with the rise of modern science. (I emphasise practical because the Greeks, notably Aristotle, were acute observers). It was as alien to the Greeks as it was commonplace to the mechanists that one should seek to interfere with nature. Evidently, there is no necessary connection between the existence of magical beliefs and the rise of exact science.
While the rise of magic in the High Middle Ages and the rise of science in early modernity are clearly related, they are perhaps best understood as responses to the same opportunities and problems offered by the profound changes taking place in Europe from the year 1000. It would be possible in this view to endorse the bulk of Yates’ findings, while weighing their import differently. One could even argue that magic did provide a necessary precursor to science, but that certain catalysts were necessary to effect the change. The historical context, carefully examined, may yield a few of these catalysts, and the regulating factors which conditioned both the rise of science and the rise of magic. I’m afraid I can only offer a brief outline.
New conditions and dynamic feudalism.
Literacy: While in the early medieval period literacy was restricted to a "thin layer of literate monks and clergy", the layer of traders and artisans which emerged and began to populate towns in the eleventh and twelfth centuries needed both formal law and a written record of accounts and contracts. Literacy was no longer confined to monasteries, nor was Latin the only written language. Whereas the liberty of an urban Greek citizenry was coextensive with rural slavery and thus the almost complete separation of the intellectual elite from production, the educated men of the High Middle Ages were often rooted directly in economic activity. The sphere of thought was joined to that of action, and the philosophy of Francis Bacon exemplifies the resultant outlook.
"Dominion over nature": Such dominion, already established with the water mill and other mechanisations, became part of the perspective of the new intellectuals. Roger Bacon and Nicole Oresme "strove to increase" the domain of mathematics "in the natural world". Roger Bacon was the first European to write down the formula for gunpowder, which was the necessary preliminary for the first use of the cannon in 1320. This presaged the mathematisation of nature of Renaissance humanists, engineers and magicians.
Crisis: But economic crises, famine and plague met the profound advance of these years. Lordly consumption was expensive, as was the increasing tendency to wage war. Acording to George Duby, the "grain-centred system of husbandry began to be unsettled by the requirement of the gradual rise of aristocratic and urban living standards". The result was a series of wars between rival lords and monarchs, and peasant uprisings. As the Black Death swept in from Asia in 1348, perhaps a quarter of the population of Europe, already weakened by famine, was destroyed. Europe was plunged into "ceaseless epidemics, endemic war, and its train of destruction, spiritual disarray, social and political disturbances". It should therefore be no surprise that the "utopias of the Renaissance" cited by Yates are "governed by priests ¼ who know how to keep the population in health and happiness". Or that their inhabitants should be "practisers of astral magic ... deeply interested in ¼ scientific research".
Advancement of Northern Italy: Northern Italy was the most economically advanced region in Europe as the crisis receded, and also the least damaged. Food production had not declined as quickly as the population, and Europe recovered rapidly from its crisis. Rural labourers benefited appreciably from a general rise in income and the consequent dissolution of serfdom. Large merchant families came to dominate the region, such as the Medicis in Florence. Seeing their mercantile wealth as transient, they often sought the more secure status of land ownership, court and church positions. The Renaissance resumed unfinished business, and its primary sponsors were the new merchant families and the courts they frequented. Magic was "courtly science par excellence", largely because it involved precisely the sort of "dominion over nature" that princes and merchants sought to buttress their power.
Magical practises and beliefs were important for the development of science, but paradoxically only insofar as they encouraged practises and beliefs that were commensurable with a disenchanted outlook. While the relationship of magic to science was not one of pure antagonism, neither were they coextensive. Both magic and science, while neither passive reflections of social causes, nor rigidly determined by the economic base, can be seen as related to attempts to solve pressing problems and grasp real opportunities afforded by the zenith and crisis of European feudalism.
Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge, London and New York, 1964.
Frances Yates, “The Hermetic Tradition in Renaissance Science”, in Art, Science and History in the Renaissance, Charles Singleton (ed.), 1967 (p. 226).
William Eamon, “Court, Academy and Printing House: Patronage and Scientific Careers in Late Renaissance Italy”, in B T Moran (ed.), Patronage and Institutions, 1991, (p21).
Ibid, (p 28).
John Henry, The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science, 1997 (ch. 3, p. 44).
Yates, 1967, op cit (p. 228).
Yates, 1965, op cit (pp. 164-5).
Ibid, (p. 170).
See, for example, Frances Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, 1979, Routledge, London and New York, (pp 92-127).
Ibid, (p 199).
Yates, cited in H. Floris Cohen, The Scientific Revolution: An Historiographical Enquiry, 1994, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, (p 172).
Yates, 1964, op cit, (p431). This explanatory gesture rings of the Hegelian “negation of the negation”; Aristotelianism is negated by Neoplatonism and magic, the latter negated by mechanism and the Newtonian synthesis.
A. Rupert Hall, cited in Cohen, op cit , (p. 290).
Deborah Harkness, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy and the End of Nature, University of California, 1999, Cambridge University Press (pp. 181-2).
Cited in Cohen, op cit, (p 292).
For example, Genesis I:25 “Be fruitful and multiply…” cited by Francis Bacon.
Wolfgang Lefevre, “Galileo Engineer: Art and Modern Science”, in Jurgen Renn (ed) Galileo in Context, Cambridge University Press, 2001. (p. 17).
Indeed, the Portuguese used mathematics and astronomy for the purpose of dominating, not nature, but other human beings as they set out to enslave parts of Africa. See Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800, Verso, London, 1997, (p 97).
Some examples from Yates, 1967, op cit: "Was mathematics, for Bacon, too much associated with magic...?" Copernican heliocentricity "might have seemed to Bacon heavily engaged in ... magical and animistic philosophy". "[S]ome of Bacon's mistakes may have been influenced by his desire to rationalise...". Perhaps it was because Dee was an astrologer that “Dee, unlike Bacon, was imbued with the importance of mathematics". The "cult of ... Hermes Trismegistus, may have helped to direct enthusiastic attention" toward Archimedean texts.
Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution, University of California, 1996.
William von Staden, “Affinities and Elisions: Helen and Hellenocentrism”, in Michael Shank (ed) The Scientific Enterprise in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, University of Chicago, 2000, (pp 54-71).
Andrew Gregory, Eureka! How the Greeks Invented Modern Science, Icon Books, 2001, (pp 6-22); see also T. E. Rihill, “Greek Science” in New Surveys in the Classics, No. 29, Oxford University Press, 1999, (pp 1-23).
Perry Anderson, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism, Verso, 1974, (p 28n).
The argument following from this owes itself to Benjamin Farrington, cited in Cohen, op cit, (p248). Farrington argues that by the 1st Century AD and the flourishing of Galen and Ptolemy, the Greco-Roman world had been “loitering on the threshold of the modern world for four hundred years” but could not cross it. Science, he argues, did not fulfil the same social function for the Greeks that it had for the early-moderns, and this is an important part of explaining why there was a Scientific Revolution in the Middle Ages, but not in antiquity.
Guy Bois, The Transformation of the Year 1000: The village of Lournand from antiquity to feudalism, Manchester University Press,1980.
Chris Harman, A People’s History of the World, Bookmarks, 1999.
Anderson, op cit (pp 29-44).
For example, Bacon’s advice to the “studious to sell their books and build furnaces”, so that “human knowledge and human power meet as one”. Cited in Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution, 1980, (p. 171).
Harman, op cit.
A. George Molland, “Aristotelian Science” in R C Olby, G N Cantor, J R R Christie and M J S Hodge (eds), Companion to the History of Modern Science, 1990 (p 563).
Harman, op cit.
William Chester Jordan, European Society in the High Middle Ages, 2001, (pp 303-308).
Harman, op cit.
Anderson, op cit, (p 201).
For a striking graphic illustration of this, see Fernand Braudel, The Perspective of the World: Civilisation and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, Fontana/Collins Press, London, 1979, (p121); also see Guy Bois cited in Harman, op cit.
Yates, 1967, op cit., (pp. 236-7).
Anderson, op cit, (p204).
Eamon, op cit.
The Vicar of Cynon Valley. posted by Richard Seymour
Spot the Difference
If the Vicar of Dibley is the nation’s third favourite comedy (appropriate enough, as it’s a third rate show), Ann Clwyd’s sermons ought to studied more carefully by scriptwriters and cast members alike. Comedy abounds in her latest Guardian elegy to Iraqi "freedom" , a dazzling commixture of imprecation and implication, hosannah and high praise, invocation and intimation. Clwyd, in a curious way, makes the war on Iraq seem the result of desperate appeals by Indict, the commission she headed to try and get Saddam Hussein and his band of thugs nailed in an international court of human rights, in absentia. Those attempts, she explained, were blocked by Russia, China and France – and further adds (perhaps with a Welsh cackle?) that Hussein is now to appear in court, defended by a French lawyer. French and a lawyer! Where will the perfidy end? Well, even the devil must have an advocate you know.
Clwyd leaves a lot to implication but if we leave that aside, the structure of her argument is obvious enough. She suggests that the 270 mass graves USAID claims to have discovered in Iraq provide vindication enough for the invasion of that country. USAID is not a non-governmental organisation, but a body of the US government, so perhaps we might treat those claims with some scepticism. Nevertheless, the suggestion merits consideration on its own terms - because it is, in fact, a perfect non sequitur. Presumably Clwyd would allow that there are important questions of agency, of motive, of means and method, and of the alternatives. These have all been outlined in ample detail by critics of the war, and I won’t repeat this beyond suggesting that one way to stop the suffering of Iraqis would have been to stop contributing to it. An end to the sanctions may well have given the Iraqis enough medication, food and comfort to develop and nurture their own civil society opposition to the regime. Human Rights Watch has suggested that there was a steady and marked decline in the level of internal repression in Iraq through the Nineties which disqualified, in their view, any contention that the bombing of Iraq was a humanitarian war. And, why not, the withdrawal of sanctions and the release of aid could have been tied to democratic reforms, just as human rights improvements are tied to EU entry for Turkey. No. Of course not. We can never negotiate with dictators (except when we do) and anyone who says otherwise is an appeaser. One might also note in passing the curious logic that says the discovery of crimes committed in the past with ample support from the West may retroactively legitimise an invasion by the West.
"Most Iraqis now see the moral and political imperative for the war as overwhelming", Clwyd avers. This is an interesting fabrication, since it suggests that even if Iraqis were never consulted, their concerns never actually discussed in the Pentagon and the War Room, the idea that they "now see" the justice of it validates imperialist aggression. Perhaps Clwyd will also make similarly imaginative use of those same polls to suggest that “most Iraqis now see that the Zionist Crusader alliance is a corrupt alien occuper whose main candidate for President has less credibility than Saddam Hussein”. Of course, “most Iraqis” have never communicated anything of the sort that Clwyd suggests. The much-touted poll for the BBC showed the Iraqi public evenly split on whether the invasion had been a humiliation or a liberation. And of the 48% who said that overall the invasion had been worth it, half said the invasion was "somewhat right" and the other half said it had been "completely right". Not exactly "overwhelming", then.
Clwyd is most entertaining when playing ventriloquist. "The Kurds remind us" that WMDs were a conventional tool of repression for Saddam, which he had used more than 200 times and they had "every expectation" that they would be used again. I wonder if these expectations developed before or after Jalal Talabani kissed Saddam Hussein on the cheek? Before or after Massoud Barzani invited Saddam into his turf to kill his opponents in the PUK? And where are these WMDs now that we’re on the subject? Whatever happened to that "human shredder" , Ann? (Interestingly, Ann checked that latter story with Paul Wolfowitz and was told it was a "spot-on piece". She was even invited to go talk to him about it, which she did).
The crimes of Saddam are energetically built up, constructed into a vast apparatus of demonology so that no doubt may remain as to what the absence of war has meant. "The regime cost the lives of at least two million people through its wars and its internal oppression", Clwyd tells us. Well, let her hang by her own rope, because the logical corrollary of this is that other regimes, responsible for far worse loss of life through war and repression, ought to be toppled from without. A UN force, for example, could overthrow the US government, with the territory secured by mercenary bands working with foreign armies. Resistance could be attributed to loyalty to the old regime, or "fascism" – accurately enough, since there would unquestionably be those elements powerfully at work in any resistance to the occupation. No. Don’t be silly. We don’t apply the same standards to them as we do to ourselves.
Most importantly of all, Iraq is now "free". In less than a hundred days, Iraq will be in the hands of Iraqis. By which we ought to mean, Iraq will be in the hands of a puppet government, a government of quislings and collaborators, a government of pullovers and pushovers. The Kurds, she says, are no longer to be driven from Mosul and Kirkuk – I’m happy to defer to the future on that one. For, just as much as the pro-war liberals enthuse about "liberated" Iraq, the soldiers on the ground can report a daily, non-stop wave of rocket/shell/bomb attacks. Most of these go unreported. Only when a few soldiers are killed or perhaps a massacre goes down in the city centre are we entitled to know about it. The IGC discusses the implementation of Shari’a law, of federalisation, of Clause 24, and Iraqis are left to puzzle over how much they will have left to vote on if and when elections come.
Clwyd's touching faith in US power would merit an essay of itself, but as I mentioned Wolfowitz before, allow me just to sample one conversation of hers with The Guardian on a conversation between herself and the Vulcan:
"What came out during that discussion is that Mr Wolfowitz himself had been a campaigner on Iraq since the end of the 1970s and that human rights in Iraq was a major concern of his - which I'd never realised before, obviously. I had a very interesting hour and a quarter of conversation with him, on Afghanistan, and also on Israel-Palestine."
This would certainly come as a bit of a shock to his employers in Washinton. From 1977 to 1980, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Regional Programs, where he helped create the force that later became the United States Central Command. He then spent years as head of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff (1981-82), before becoming Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (1982-86) and finally Ambassador to Indonesia (1986-89). In the latter post, he oversaw US support for human rights atrocities being carried out by the Suharto junta - a regime every bit as bloody as Saddam's. She also claims he's a bit of a wet on Israel-Palestine. (See pic below). But Clwyd is not, at any rate, very choosy about where she garners political support from. Cynical politicians, drenched in blood, flash her a smile and a cheque and she's happy. In 1997, her organisation pocketed $3m from the US Congress to pursue its cause - on account of an Iraqi Liberation Act pushed by some of the same people who had rained misery on the Iraqis for years. Clwyd also found that Donald Rumsfeld had "a great line in self-deprecation" - which I suppose you'd have to have if you happen to have shook hands with a dictator whose abuses you're now pretending to be worked up about.
Naturally, no canard is eschewed in the service of Clwyd’s war, and the Rwandan genocide makes an appearance to warn against the evils of non-intervention. (Curiously, she never mentions the Congo). Noone, surely, doubts that this cruel negligence should never be repeated? I have my doubts about the ability of a Western force to adequately handle a civil war of any kind – the record in Somalia, Haiti and Kosovo is not encouraging. But, fortunately, I don’t have to tender such a tough judgment since no such similarity exists. Genocide involves the attempted extermination of a race, ethnicity or nationality through premeditated slaughter. This accusation may have been levelled at the Ba'athist regime in 1988 when many human rights groups did refer to the massacre of Kurds as genocide, but not in 2003. No matter, for Rwanda, and cases like it, bespeak the need to end the over-riding status of national sovereignty in international law. A new UN, Clwyd says, is needed that can act in the face of atrocity, and curtail human rights abuses where they emerge.
Would that we had come so far. Would that the UN was ever likely to become a reliable agency for freedom, human rights and all of the other lovely epithets Clwyd invokes in the service of Bush Almighty. But perhaps what she means is a UN that will not attempt to thwart the benign ventures of her boss and mentor, the Prime Minister. For what Clwyd’s article boils down to is an off-key hymn ripped out of the PM’s book of praise. The devil is identified, as are his minions and his appeasers (France, Russia, the tolerance of "liberal opinion"), while God is only known through those acting on his behalf in the Whitehouse and Downing Street. And, what’s more, for all the talk of Honest Ann being manipulated by people unworthy of her good name, the way she argues displays a cynicism and a dishonesty characteristic of the Hitchens-led wing of neophytic imperialists. Clwyd has forfeited her right to claim she argues in good faith by her wilful distortion of facts, her amplification of untested claims and her omission of central facts. Pretending to speak for Iraqis, she speaks only for Bush and Blair. Making great fist out of her reputation for compassion and dissent, she makes the case for cold-hearted disregard for the victims of our crimes, and absolute conformity with it. Pack her off to Dibley, I say. Let her placate the locals with her soothing hymns and platitudes.
Monday, March 29, 2004
Drudgery. posted by Richard SeymourA couple of days ago, I linked to a site which had been located in a search engine by someone seeking the words "richard clarke communist party". The proprietor of that site suggested that "perhaps in another few days enough bullshit will be thrown up on the internet to satisfy him/her."
Matt Drudge , the insinuating skidmark on America's body politic, has come up with an "exclusive" that will blow your socks off. Turns out, this Richard Clarke guy who's been mouthing off about the President expects to make money off a book he wrote. Man, that's one evil bastard. Imagine writing a book and then expecting to get paid for it. Shit. What kind of capitalist hellhole is America becoming anyway?
And this isn't the first attempt to locate black motives behind Clarke's criticisms of the Bush administration. Now it turns out that some of the relatives of 9/11 victims are choking with fury over Clarke's "profiteering" from their tragedy. These critics rail against Clarke for having "politicised" the 9/11 commission and "further dividing the country" - "with the presidential election less than eight months away" moreover.
Is it just possible that there is, maybe an agenda behind this? Of course not! How dare I? Who the hell do I think I am?
He then has a wee ramble about why Qadaffi isn't a courageous man, after all:
"While the Blair visit was justifiable in a world of shifting alliances and dangerous uncertainties, the idea of Gadaffi being 'courageous' is an insult to the victims of IRA terror as well as those who died at Lockerbie and outside the Libyan People's Bureau in London.
Furthermore, the notion that Libya's opening up to the West was brave is absurdly inaccurate. The real reason Gadaffi scrapped his WMD programme and renounced the use of terrorism is because he was simply afraid that he and his sordid regime would be next. He saw what had happened to Saddam Hussein and decided he didn't want to end up in a spider hole hiding from GIs. Whoever told Blair to describe the colonel as 'courageous' ought to be sacked."
Fair enough, courageous isn't the first word that would normally come to mind to describe a vain, pompous autocrat with about as much flair for the written word as an Observer hack. Nevertheless, the pretense that Qadaffi is simply reacting to the bombing of Iraq is perfectly absurd. Qadaffi had been attempting to negotiate with the West for years, but those attempts were simply rebuffed. Why did he attempt to negotiate? Sanctions might have something to do with it. Isn't this the reason why, for instance, the compensation Qadaffi has agreed to pay to relatives of the Lockerbie dead is to be tied to the lifting of specific sanctions. The first billion is set to be released when the UN sanctions that banned arm sales, air links, and froze Libyan assets are lifted, the second billion when US sanctions are lifted and the remainder when the US removes Libya from its list of terrorist sponsoring nations.
Henry McDonald might do well to acquaint himself with such elementary facts, and his editors should insist upon it before he is paid for another column inch. And they should certainly stop this:
"One of the few voices on the British Left who was prepared to support the toppling of Saddam will be in Belfast this week. My colleague, Nick Cohen, who has bravely spoken out in favour of military intervention in Iraq in order to free those living under the Baath Party's lash is to chair a talk by Francis Wheen..."
Since when was it "brave" to take the side of the government, the military, the US government, the Pentagon, the Conservative Party, the Sun newspaper, the Daily Telegraph and ... oddly, enough, the very same paper you work for?
Now, today's Guardian has another whine from the increasingly banausic Peter Preston. What's his bitch today? The public are just too apathetic. They want a referendum on Europe, but they can't even be arsed to vote. They tell opinion pollsters they intend not to vote very much any more. A lot of them don't even claim to have discussed politics or political news for over two years. The poll finding is of interest as much for what it doesn't say as for what it claims to say - polls show the bulk of people were against the war, are against PFI, are against tax cuts for the rich, favour renationalisation of the rails, consider asylum seekers a serious economic problem, etc. And that in large majorities. And we are to believe that those people haven't talked politics in a few years? Nah. They just haven't talked about parliament. Why? Because there ain't no politics there worth chatting about. Peter Preston's liberal smugness always misses this elementary common sense.
Sunday, March 28, 2004
The last Jewish intellectual
Monday 29th March 2004
Power, Politics and Culture: interviews with Edward W Said
Edited and with an introduction by Gauri Viswanathan Bloomsbury, 485pp, £20
Reading these 29 interviews with the late Edward Said, it is hard to believe that he needed an emergency button in his New York apartment which was connected to the local police station, or that his office at Columbia University was once burned down. For the judicious, eminently reasonable figure who emerges from these absorbing dialogues is the exact opposite of the bogeyman branded a "professor of terror" by some of his less level-headed Zionist opponents.
Said certainly detested Zionism, but he hated terrorism, too, and says so loud and clear in this collection. He was the finest intellectual champion that the Palestinians are ever likely to have, yet ended up feeling little but icy contempt for Yasser Arafat and his brutal, corrupt regime. (The regime returned the compliment, grotesquely claiming that this scourge of US foreign policy was a CIA agent.) He could be acerbically critical of Arab regimes, a note rarely struck by Bernard Lewis or Conor Cruise O'Brien in their apologias for Israel. At one point in the book, he dubs Hamas and Islamic Jihad "violent and primitive". Saddam Hussein (and this from a man who vigorously opposed the first Gulf war) is a "murderer and a pig and a tyrant and a fascist". Said even supported UN sanctions against Iraq, while rejecting the faux-left line that if the fight is between fascism and imperialism, you must reluctantly opt for the latter.
He admits that Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank drive him to "tremendous anger", yet he also describes himself, a mite tongue-in-cheek, as "the last Jewish intellectual", meaning a thinker who, in Judaic style, is wandering, homeless, dispossessed. He disagrees with the equation of Zionism with racism, which strikes him as too simple-minded. He has, he remarks, felt a lifelong affinity with Jews, and there is nothing in this lucid, passionate volume to suggest that this is a mealy-mouthed gesture. The abrupt, abrasive Said, who is quite capable of rounding suddenly on his interrogators in this book when he feels they are being pious or coy, did not do mealy-mouthed.
Neither did he do Theory. The man who helped to change the face of literary studies despised what he calls here "jaw-shattering jargonistic postmodernism", and gave up reading cultural theory years earlier. His concern is justice, not identity. He is more interested in emancipating the dispossessed than in bending genders or floating signifiers. One of the major architects of modern cultural thought comes across in this book as profoundly out of sympathy with its cerebral convolutions, which - as he shrewdly sees - are largely a symptom of political displacement and despair. Popular culture, he remarks provocatively, "means absolutely nothing to me", a comment that would not have won him many invitations to beach parties had he been an assistant professor of English in California.
In fact, Said was all along a humanist of the old school, and declares this unfashionable allegiance without the slightest sense of embarrassment. If he fought for the extension of the literary canon to peoples and nations that it shunned, it was not, in his view, a canon to be derided callowly. He did not see the need to choose between Jane Austen and Chinua Achebe. If ethnic or cultural identities can be politically energising, they can also be spiritually narrowing. "I am not just interested in Palestinians in American literature," he observes, unlike those vulgar Marxists who used to be interested only in novels with coal mines. He could tell you without effort which poets were up and coming in the Philippines, or how autobiography was faring in South Korea, but he also saw his own inquiries as extending the work of the great European humanists, drawing upon their scrupulousness, rigour and erudition. He did not save himself a lot of tedious spadework by dismissing these luminaries as dead white males. Nor did he accept the patronising line that any novel written in the post-colonial world is automatically to be praised. And he was as distinguished a classical musician as he was a literary critic.
The same maverick quality characterised his politics which, in their nervousness of orthodoxies, were in some ways more liberal than socialist. He sometimes speaks of the left as though he were not part of it, which might have come as a surprise to those who set fire to his office. Marxism he handled warily, and the word "capitalism" rarely crossed his lips. He was almost physically pained by rigid doctrinal systems, and mildly revolted by the idea of discipleship. His imagination was quickened by the diverse, unstable and unpredictable, and turned off by the homogeneous. It is hardly a surprising predilection for a Christian Arab brought up in Jerusalem and Cairo and educated in the United States.
What interested him is what he called "travelling theory"; and this sense of being errant, provisional, intellectually on the hoof, was one of several ways in which he remained true to the exiled people to whom he lent his voice. He describes himself in this volume as "a traveller, who is not interested in holding territory, who has no realm to protect". It is natural that he should use a geopolitical metaphor for the life of the mind. Yet he also sees that being caught between two or more cultures can be a cause of misery as well as a source of creativity. He is not given to the sacred postmodern ritual of romanticising the Other, and with typical even-handedness castigates the fashionable cult of exile. Not every post-colonial who steps off the plane to take up a well-paid job at Oxford or Yale is an exile or refugee. Said himself, whose mercantile family was remarkably cultivated and well-heeled, rightly refused the term as a self-description.
Intellectuals are not only different from academics, but almost the opposite of them. Academics usually plough a narrow disciplinary patch, whereas intellectuals of Said's kind roam ambitiously from one discipline to another. Academics are interested in ideas, whereas intellectuals seek to bring ideas to an entire culture. The word "intellectual" is not a euphemism for "frightfully clever", but a kind of job description, like "waiter" or "chartered accountant". Anger and academia do not usually go together, except perhaps when it comes to low pay, whereas anger and intellectuals do.
Above all, academics are conscious of the difficult, untidy, nuanced nature of things, while intellectuals take sides. One reason why Raymond Williams seems to have been easily Edward Said's favourite British intellectual is that the work of both men combines these qualities with astonishing ease. Williams and Said are both angry and analytic while aware that, in all the most pressing political conflicts which confront us, someone is going to have to win and someone to lose. It is this, not a duff ear for nuance and subtlety, which marks them out from the liberal.
Like most post-colonial thinkers, Said is suspicious of Enlightenment rationalism, having witnessed at first hand some of the shadows that this light can cast over the world. Yet the forthright honesty and steely lucidity of his voice in these interviews, his impatience with cant and pious waffle, also bear witness to the virtues of that rationality. Perhaps if those who reviled and insulted Said could have read this book, they might have desisted. Or perhaps not. For, like any authentic intellectual, Edward Said was aware that ideas, for all their impor- tance, weigh very little when it comes to material interests.
This article is the copyright material of the New Statesman. As such, all readers of this website will be swiftly prosecuted just as soon as Peter Wilby gets off his ass and stops editing those stupid fucking unenlightening interviews with government ministers he feels obliged to slot into his magazine every few weeks.
On the other hand, I do have to take issue with this, on the current crisis in Kosovo:
"Considering how the Kosovar Albanians were routinely treated when they were a minority within Serbia, it is no surprise at all - though it is certainly regrettable, and inexcusable - that some of them are behaving intolerantly and violently now that they feel that they belong to a majority."
"Intolerantly"? Sorry, SIAW, this is certainly not about the "intolerant" behavior of "some" Kosovars, but about the nationalist inspired attempts at ethnic cleansing by a politically motivated section of the nascent Albanian state there. And, although it partially owes itself to years of Serb oppression (of varying degrees), it does have an autonomous political weight of its own. It is also the necessary and logical outcome of attempting to create a state whose premiss is the dominative majority of one ethnic group. The solution to the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia with its nationalist hatreds, bigotry and ethnic cleansing is the socialist revitalisation of pan-Yugoslav solidarity, not the creation of seperate statelets to contain each specific ethnicity. I don't know how much SIAW would agree with this, but given the link to the AWL I would guess not a great deal at all.
My own piece on the current crisis in Kosovo can be reached here .
That's all. Back to serious political stuff tomorrow.
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Regarding Monbiot's proposals for a new UN Charter to restore justice to international law, Noam Chomsky says that Monbiot has "radically misinterpreted" the nature of the Hippocratic principle as somehow meaning "avoid doing any harm, even if it may lead to greater benefits" so that "a doctor violates the Hippocratic oath by giving someone an injection, because the puncture harms the skin." The Balkans example is especially pertinent:
"Turning to the case to which he refers, Kosovo in March 1999, the US and NATO command anticipated that the effect of military intervention would be to intensify sharply the level of atrocities in Kosovo, as clearly happened. These had been stable and relatively low for some time according to the State Department, OSCE, and other Western sources, and were attributed mostly to the KLA guerrillas by the British government (implicitly) and by the most serious pro-intervention scholarship (quite explicitly). Unless there is some powerful reason to the contrary, then, the Hippocratic truism implies that intervention should not be undertaken -- and there is always a heavy burden of proof to be borne by the call for resort to violence, another truism.
"There is of course more to the story, as there always is in the real world: thus there were diplomatic alternatives -- NATO and Serbian -- on the table at the time. After 78 days of bombing, a compromise was reached between them, lending further support to the surmise that the diplomatic track might have been pursued without the bombing and the atrocities against Kosovar Albanians it instigated, as anticipated by NATO, not to speak of the effects of the bombing on those targeted directly. It follows that the burden of proof to be borne by advocates of bombing is even heavier. Can it be met? Perhaps. The Hippocratic truism does not provide an answer, of course, nor did I (or anyone) suggest otherwise. But that, clearly, is the challenge that must be faced by advocates of bombing in Kosovo, intervention in Rwanda, and other such cases. We cannot evade the serious questions that always arise by gross misinterpretation of the Hippocratic truism."
I think this is eminently defensible, and since one Christopher Hitchens has proven so contemptuous of this logic, I thought I'd share a little secret with you. I just discovered some Hitchens quotes on the Balkans war which suggests a position rather different to the one he has latterly evinced:
ON ETHNIC CLEANSING -
"[T]he cleansing interval ... was both provoked and provided by the threat of air attacks on other parts of Yugoslavia."
ON US FOREKNOWLEDGE OF ETHNIC CLEANSING -
"[T]he 'line of the day' among administration spokesmen, confronted by the masses of destitute and terrified refugees and solid reports of the mass execution of civilians, [was] to say that "we expected this to happen" ... If they want to avoid being indicted for war crimes themselves, these 'spokesmen' had better promise us they were lying when they said that."
Friday, March 26, 2004
Zizek Links... posted by Richard Seymour
Adam Kotsko has an excellent page of links to Slavoj Zizek . Among the best:
The Iraq War: where is the true danger?
"We all remember the old joke about the borrowed kettle which Freud quotes in order to render the strange logic of dreams, namely the enumeration of mutually exclusive answers to a reproach (that I returned to a friend a broken kettle): (1) I never borrowed a kettle from you; (2) I returned it to you unbroken; (3) the kettle was already broken when I got it from you. For Freud, such an enumeration of inconsistent arguments of course confirms per negationem what it endeavors to deny - that I returned you a broken kettle... Do we not encounter the same inconsistency when high US officials try to justify the attack on Iraq? (1) There is a link between Saddam's regime and al-Qaeda, so Saddam should be punished as part of the revenge for 9/11; (2) even if there was no link between Iraqi regime and al Qaeda, they are united in their hatred of the US - Saddam's regime is a really bad one, a threat not only to the US, but also to its neighbors, and we should liberate the Iraqi people; (3) the change of regime in Iraq will create the conditions for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The problem is that there are TOO MANY reasons for the attack..."
Laugh Yourself To Death: an analysis of Holocaust comedies
"The falsity of Schindler's List is thus the same as the falsity of those who seek the clue to the horrors of Nazism in the "psychological profiles" of Hitler and other Nazi figures. Here, Hannah Arendt was right in her otherwise problematic thesis on the "banality of Evil": if we take Adolf Eichmann as a psychological entity, a person, we discover nothing monstrous about him - he was just an average bureaucrat, his "psychological profile" gives us no clue to the horrors he executed. Along the same lines, it is totally misleading to investigate the psychic traumas and oscillations of the camp commander in the way Spielberg does. The way out of the predicament seems to be to turn to comedy which, at least, accepts in advance its failure to render the horror of the holocaust. Paradoxical as it may sound, the rise of the holocaust comedies is thus strictly correlative to the elevation of the holocaust into the metaphysical diabolical Evil - the ultimate traumatic point at which the objectifying historical knowledge breaks down and has to acknowledge its worthlessness in front of a single witness, and, simultaneously, the point at which witnesses themselves had to concede that words fail them, that what they can share is ultimately only their silence. Holocaust in advance disqualifies all (explanatory) answers - it cannot be explained, visualized, represented, transmitted, since it marks the black hole, the implosion of the (narrative) universe. Accordingly, any attempt to locate it in its context, to politicize it, equals the anti-Semitic negation of its uniqueness."
Welcome to The Desert of The Real!
"And was the bombing of the WTC with regard to the Hollywood catastrophe movies not like the snuff pornography versus ordinary sado-maso porno movies? This is the element of truth in Karl-Heinz Stockhausen's provocative statement that the planes hitting the WTC towers was the ultimate work of art: one can effectively perceive the collapse of the WTC towers as the climactic conclusion of the XXth century art's "passion of the real" - the "terrorists" themselves did it not do it primarily to provoke real material damage, but FOR THE SPECTACULAR EFFECT OF IT ... The ultimate American paranoiac fantasy is that of an individual living in a small idyllic Californian city, a consumerist paradise, who suddenly starts to suspect that the world he lives in is a fake, a spectacle staged to convince him that he lives in a real world, while all people around him are effectively actors and extras in a gigantic show. The most recent example of this is Peter Weir's The Truman Show (1998), with Jim Carrey playing the small town clerk who gradually discovers the truth that he is the hero of a 24-hours permanent TV show: his hometown is constructed on a gigantic studio set, with cameras following him permanently. Among its predecessors, it is worth mentioning Philip Dick's Time Out of Joint (1959), in which a hero living a modest daily life in a small idyllic Californian city of the late 50s, gradually discovers that the whole town is a fake staged to keep him satisfied... The underlying experience of Time Out of Joint and of The Truman Show is that the late capitalist consumerist Californian paradise is, in its very hyper-reality, in a way IRREAL, substanceless, deprived of the material inertia. And the same "derealization" of the horror went on after the WTC bombings: while the number of 6000 victims is repeated all the time, it is surprising how little of the actual carnage we see - no dismembered bodies, no blood, no desperate faces of the dying people... in clear contrast to the reporting from the Third World catastrophies where the whole point was to produce a scoop of some gruesome detail: Somalis dying of hunger, raped Bosnian women, men with throats cut. These shots were always accompanied with the advance-warning that "some of the images you will see are extremely graphic and may hurt children" - a warning which we NEVER heard in the reports on the WTC collapse. Is this not yet another proof of how, even in this tragic moments, the distance which separates Us from Them, from their reality, is maintained: the real horror happens THERE, not HERE?"
Laughing Through Snot... posted by Richard SeymourI'm sick. Not in the way you had all assumed, just sick enough that I ought to be in bed rather than crouching in the internet cafe. But this made me laugh so hard my head feels like a drum and the surrounding customers are drenched in icky green snot:
someone found my site early this morning searching for richard clarke communist party . I looked at the search results and i am afraid that the searcher probably will be disappointed. perhaps in another few days enough bullshit will be thrown up on the internet to satisfy him/her."
Oh yeah, a Bush admin official harbouring a secret desire the redistribute the wealth of the rich and put the proletariat in charge of production. It's almost as ludicrous as a Bush admin official having links to Al Qaeda, I mean... er... hang on...
PS: For anyone interested, scan the site meter below sometime. People find my site by searching for stuff like "lenin fucks" , "lenin's bullshit ideology" and lenin sucks trotsky" .
Who the fuck needs hobbies with as rich and fulfilled as that, eh?
Thursday, March 25, 2004
Norman Geras has fragments of a speech by Michael Ignatieff, Imperialist Lite, to the Carnegie Endowment on the subject of terrorism:
"[W]hat do I mean by terror? Can we define terrorism when one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist? There is no moral relativity on this at all: A terrorist targets non-combatant civilians to achieve a political goal. Those who undertake political actions that target civilians are terrorists."
Presumably this definition is selected to protect the United States from charges of terrorism, since we all know that the US of A never hurts the good guys on purpose. (Ahem! Sanctions? Vietnam? Nicaragua? Never mind). But mark the sequel:
"Human rights claims do not justify the targeting of civilians under any circumstances. Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands does not justify terrorist attacks on civilians under any circumstances. The Palestinian people have a just cause. The end of military occupation of territory acquired after the 1967 war in Gaza and the occupied territories is a just cause. But a just cause does not ever justify the targeting of civilians."
Now, Ignatieff makes a number of points against Israeli policy as well, but fails to connect the word terrorism with their actions, knowing as he does that Israel has committed many intentional acts of violence against civilians . There is, of course, no question of connecting the United States with terrorism. Only Hamas, only Al Qaeda, only the IRA.
Why? I suggest, just a possibility, that Ignatieff's silent conditional is that a violent act targetting civilians is terrorist by nature if and only if it is carried out by extra-state organisations (or perhaps even by states he happens to dislike). State crimes of this kind are often deemed war crimes, but as H.U.H.? points out:
"The problem here is that the distinction between terrorism and war crimes is inherently ideological: unless you believe that states somehow have a right to violence that individuals do not, terrorism and war crimes are not just morally equivalent, they are exactly identical."
I would suggest that this ideological operation is at work in the distinction between the IDF and Hamas, between the Parachute Regiment and the IRA. Incidentally, Ignatieff falls into a noose of his own making on the latter topic:
"You can't win a war on terror without a political strategy. But you must calibrate that strategy in such a way to avoid rewarding terrorism as an activity.
One admirable attempt to this end has been that of the British Government. They have always mixed a political initiative to both the Unionist and the Nationalist communities with a very firm military attempt to control terror. They’ve balanced a military and political strategy in a way that seems less than exemplary, but the broad strategic judgment -- never negotiate with the IRA but talk to Sinn Fein, holding your nose -- seems the right way to go."
Well, this would be more impressive if it hadn't transpired some time ago that John Major had been in secret discussions with the IRA in order to reach a peace which has, remarkably enough, lasted for some time. As why should he not? As the representative of a state which had itself sponsored terrorism through the UFF for years, he was on a perfect moral footing to do so. Similiarly, when Mark Steyn made the point in The Face of The Tiger that there could be no negotiation with Islamic fundamentalists since their message was not one of poverty or oppression but their willingness to behead Danny Pearl as a symbol of their hostility to the West, he missed the absolutely essential point that the US and its allies are on a perfect moral footing to talk turkey with Al Qaeda and the rest. Can't you just imagine Donald Rumsfeld sharing his cheap wisdom with Mullah Omar while bin Laden makes herbal tea? If not, it is only because they are on opposite sides of the coin.
Perhaps lurking beneath it is a rebuke to the Iraqi Resistance - sorry, Ba'athist remnants, fascists, malcontents and whatnot. If they undertake actions they know will kill civilians, they are terrorists. If the US undertakes actions it knows will kill civilians, it is the vanguard of demoracy in the Middle East. We, liberal democracies, cannot possibly negotiate with them. We might slip a hint or two the way of their supporters, offering modest concessions here and there. But to simply roll over and give the Iraqis what they ask for (an end of the occupation and a complete transfer of power to the Iraqis) would be to encourage and reward terrorism! For my own part, I would rather see Iraqi "terrorism" rewarded than US imperialism at this juncture. Get out, stay out and get the fire brigade out as the ads used to say.
Links... posted by Richard SeymourBrendan O'Neill takes issue with that Iraq opinion poll, managing to impugn its methodology, its sponsors and its characterisation in the media. No bad thing.
Slavoj Zizek prays for a secular, socialist wing to develop in the Middle East resistance, in this old interview I found from April last year. Not looking too hopeful...
Alex Callinicos takes a peek at the crisis in the Balkans and what it means for the great Nato mission of charity in the region.
Juan Cole , writing for Antiwar.com suggests that Israel's killing Yassin has endangered American lives. He quotes Ayatollah al-Sistani:
"'We call upon the sons of the Arab and Islamic nations to close ranks, unite and work hard for the liberation of the usurped land and restore rights. This morning, the occupying Zionist entity committed an ugly crime against the Palestinian people by killing one of their heroes, scholar martyr Ahmed Yassin.'"
And this is a guy who can draw a crowd or two when the mood takes him. Who would have thought they could be so ungrateful, eh?
And finally, Resolute Cynic wonders why Tony Blair would undertake a trip to Libya that seems destined to upset everyone. Well, almost everyone...
Moses and the Wheelchair. posted by Richard SeymourTake that filthy smirk off your face. Yes, you know what’s about to happen. I’m going to open my big mouth about Israel again and invite more junior Zionists to brand me an anti-Semite. Big frickin deal. I wish I was Jewish, then I could just be, what, “a self-hating Jew”? Oh well…
Why did Israel bomb the house in which Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was sitting on Monday? Why now? And why did Ariel Sharon make it his personal task to oversee the entire mission? There are plenty of ready-made explanations. Michael Hoffman of the Independent explains that it was an act of self-defense and wonders “If a Jew could have got close enough to Hitler, would it have been wrong to kill him?” Purple-faced non-sequiturs aside, the Israeli line is that Yassin is, or was, the “Palestinian bin Laden”, a man responsible for hundreds of Israeli deaths. He was, for them, the head of a terrorist organisation whose life was not worth the risk to Israeli soldiers in attempting an arrest. Israel does not waste its soldiers “on the likes of Ahmed Yassin”, Jonathan Freedland reports an official claiming. (Freedland, The Guardian, 24th March 2004). The pretense that this sick, dying old bastard was actually directly involved in operations against Israel is not particularly compelling. Indeed, according to Freedland, the true explanation is much more sinister.
Israel, he suggests, is going to withdraw from the Gaza strip unilaterally, as the one last shot at peace. In doing so, however, it does not want to cut a figure of retreat as it did in pulling out of Lebanon under fire from Hezbollah. It especially does not want to leave Hamas with the lingering after-thought of what more it might have accomplished with a few more bombs. So, Israel has risked its own security, strengthened extremists on both sides, and raised the ire of the international community for the sake of a withdrawal which, according to Freedland, is not really going to lead to a Palestinian state since it may include land grabs that make a real Palestinian state de facto impossible.
In offering this explanation, Freedland seems to have a realistic grasp on the priorities of the Israeli government – they must be forced by might to accept whatever crumbs we offer them. But in dissenting from this opinion, I only wish to offer another theory, which has at its core roughly the same broad understanding of Israeli policy. First of all, I think it highly likely that Israel does indeed have some to withdraw from the West Bank. Possibly even the Gaza strip, under more fortuitous circumstances. The prolonged indecisiveness over what to do with the occupied territories (or even whether they should properly be called “occupied”) reflects one of the most basic contradictions underpinning Israel’s existence – “the demographic problem”.
That, essentially, is the crux of the matter. It has been at the heart of Zionist policy-making since it first acquired Balfour’s stamp of respectability. So when, for example, the right-wing bloc around Likud won the 1977 election on a clear platform of annexing the West Bank (which they called Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza strip, they subsequently abandoned the policy, with the pretext being that they wished for Labor’s Moshe Dayan to be their Foreign Secretary, and he would not join the government if it threatened to annexe these territories. The more likely explanation is that the Arab Palestinian population was rapidly growing in these territories, and a state that managed to have as many Arabs as Israelis would become a bi-national state ex nihilo. Current demographic projections indicate that the future population will favour the Palestinians more. According to Arnon Sofer, a geographer at Haifa University, the population of historic Palestine by 2015 will reach 15.1 million, out of which only 6.1 million will be Jews. A ‘Jewish state’ which had more non-Jews than Jews in it would be a reduction to absurdity that Israeli right-wingers would wish devoutly to avoid.
On the other hand, the occupied territories are, as a matter of Zionist faith, the proper possession of the Land of Israel. A settlement which saw these rescinded to a weaker enemy would surely be regarded with considerable disdain and regret by these right-wingers. Isn’t this the reason why Moshe Dayan once ridiculously suggested that the West Bank be divided in rule between Israel and Jordan – the latter would run the civic society and provide the citizenship, while the former would patrol the streets with their army and control the water, thus preventing the existence of a Palestinian entity which both Jordan and Israel would have some reason to fear. But that was happily rejected for the non-started that it was, Jordan seeing no reason why it should cede the water supply to Israel. So, how to resolve the contradiction?
The answer may lie in some useful precedents going even as far back as the genesis of modern Israel. Specifically, the way in which Zionists solved the original “demographic problem” in response to the 1947 UN partition agreement. I think we can safely say that the intentionality behind the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 is established beyond reasonable doubt. This was not the benign intention gone awry, pace Benny Morris. It was a matter of both Zionist ideological conviction and military doctrine. The Book of Haganah History, an eight-volume publication of the Israeli military publishing house, relates the strange tale of General Yigael Yadin, and his Plan D doctrine, formulated in 1947. According to Plan D, it was necessary, if the State of Israel was to become a reality, to evacuate Arab towns and villages in the Jewish zone, especially those that could not be “controlled”. A large Arab population, particularly one inhabiting core towns with the werewithal to develop a resistance, would leave the Jewish State fatally weakened. For Israel even to get off the ground, a certain measure of ethnic cleansing would be necessary.
We don’t need to ask too many questions about whether high-level politicians expressed particular approval of this doctrine, because we already know it was put into practise. 750,000 Palestinians were expelled, many thousands murdered – most notoriously, the massacre at Deir Yassin took several hundred lives when Haganah troops descended on the town, told the residents they had fifteen minutes to leave, then began to shoot the place up. When Israeli apologists bleat that the Palestinians want to drive them into the sea, think of Palestinians being driven into the deserts and mountains.
The Six Day War and its aftermath offer another Illustration of the problem. Having successfully fought and won this war, having so humiliated the hostile Arab forces that allegedly threatened Israel with extinction, why did Israel not move immediately to annexe the territory it had claimed? Why does it remain “occupied territory”? The problem once again is demographics. The raison d’etre of Israel is the privilege, protection and cultural unity it offers to the most historically oppressed group of people in Europe (comparisons with non-European slavery, if they must be made, should be done so with considerable reservation about the moral implications). If Israel loses that relative homogeneity, it ceases to be Israel in all but name. If the people of the occupied territories become full citizens of Israel, with full social security, legal and employment rights, then a rather improbable project is at an end.
Far better, then, to extinguish Palestine as an entity. Baruch Kimmerling, the Israeli social theorist, refers to this process as “politicide”. It is a process that dissolves “the Palestinians’ existence as a legitemate social, political and economic entity” and “may also but not necessarily entail their partial or complete ethnic cleansing from the territory known as the Land of Israel”. Isn’t this the reason for the talk of “population transfer”? For Ariel Sharon’s ridiculous notion that Palestinians could be deposited in liberated Iraq to be protected by US troops? And for the fact that the government includes right-wing extremist factions dedicated to the forceful expulsion of Palestinians (the pretense that this would be entirely voluntary is a ruse to get around 1985 anti-racism legislation)?
So my theory would be something like this – this government wants finally to assert Israel’s unimpeachable hold on Eretz Yisrael, (and also on the part of some of its components to halt what is seen as the corruption to the internal fabric of Israeli society that results from exercising domination over another group of people). It cannot do so as long as there is an expanding Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza. It can solve the problem in two ways: one is to abandon the bulk of the territories and allow the Palestinians to form a limited kind of “state” (heavily supervised, of course, by surrounding settlements); the other is to annexe the whole territory, remove the Palestinians and build another “Iron Wall” against any possibility of a Palestinian resurgence. The latter is clearly the preferable option for Israeli ideologues, but it would have to overcome both internal and external resistance. It would have to win the approval of the United States government, and also of the Israeli people, before it crushed the resistance of the Palestinians. The only way to do this is to provoke a climactic round of bloodshed, some series of atrocities so awful that Israelis will acquiesce in almost any ghastly venture to protect themselves. What is euphemistically called “the international community” would be powerless to mount a serious opposition to Israeli measures. The US government would be inclined to give Israel carte blanche to do what it wants.
As I say, this is but a theory. The Freedland option seems plausible, but if it proves so it will be because a new Plan D has not been feasible. I might also suggest that if a “unilateral” withdrawal takes place (an odd way to describe it – imagine someone pontificating on the likelihood of Saddam Hussein “unilaterally” withdrawing from Kuwait), it will not be the end of the matter. Extremists in Israel are on the ascendancy, just as they are in Palestine. The population dynamic will prove highly problematic for Israel, and genuine Palestinian statehood on top of that would be a healthy thorn in its side. How a future Israeli administration would respond to this is an open question, but the range of answers is terrifying.
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
Monbiot's Charter. posted by Richard SeymourI conducted an opinion poll in your street last week. 90% of respondents said I should douse it in petrol and set it alight. I hope you won't attempt to undermine this excursion in grass-roots democracy... George Monbiot is an honest radical. But I've always felt that he is too willing to bend toward the Establishment, too willing to accept their pleas of good faith on occasion. This is such an occasion .
George admits to being somewhat stumped by the Iraqi opinion poll which seemed to show, among other things, that most Iraqis felt that things had got better since the occupation began, and more Iraqis were prepared to say that they considered the invasion 'right' than would say it was 'wrong'. After all, we could easily acknowledge the cynicism with which Bush, Blair and Senor Aznar undertook this adventure while still saying that it had moral outcomes which it would be foolish to foreswear simply in the name of an abstract principle. Should the world's oppressed be "left to rot" simply because we distrust the motives of those undertaking the latest 'emancipation'?
On the other hand, George does acknowledge a rather stinging criticism of allowing oneself to accept the principle of 'humanitarian intervention' - it hands ready made excuses to empire-builders the world over. And this could indeed have even worse consequences than leaving the oppressed to rot. We simply cannot tell. If the choice is between two unpalatable evils, how do we make a decision that isn't morally obscene in some way? (George evinces something of Garton Ash's "tortured liberal" at this point). I suppose my thought has always been that you can't know the consequences of any action, although you may have a guess. What you can also guess at is the intent of the agent. Making a utilitarian calculation of likely consequences is unsatisfactory because our field of perception is limited both spatially and temporally.We can't know every transaction involved in the situation at hand, and we can't know how every contradiction will resolve itself. Omitting intent is also somewhat scandalous to our moral sense - we generally think that it matters if you meant to run over that small child or not, even though it makes no odds for the victim.
George doesn't say it, but he tacitly acknowledges that both consequences and intent must form part of our judgement of the legitimacy of a war. So, he proposes the following:
"We need a charter that permits armed intervention for humanitarian purposes, but only when a series of rigorous tests have been met, and only when an overwhelming majority of all the world's states have approved it. We need a charter that forbids nations with an obvious interest in the outcome from participating."
Well, who would write such a charter, who sign up to it, who enforce it? The power to create international law resides in the hands of the powerful. Law is not a set of principles to which strict adherence is the only valid response, but a process, and one in which the powerful always have a cumulative advantage. I'm not merely knocking this idea. I can identify with the aim of defining a moral basis for declaring one's position on a war, and also with the desire to give it the legitimacy of a legal form. I simply think it is so abstract and so unlikely as to not merit the effort that we (the antiwar movement, the Left) would have to divert to it.
I also have some problems with the ramifications of Monbiot's response to the poll. Few deny that polls give us some kind of information - just what kind is a matter of debate. Politicians consider opinion polls to be snapshots of material to be worked on, not final judgments to be passively accepted. Only we, the public, are invited to or expected to simply take it as read and get on with our lives. At the same time, the interpretation of the poll is too important a task to be left to government spinners. For example, I noted that the BBC was presenting and high-lighting only those parts of the survey which appeared to bode well for the occupation. Equally interesting, I thought, were the findings that the bulk of Iraqis opposed the occupation and considered the best way of bringing security to the country an end of the occupation and a full handover of Iraq to the Iraqis. The BBC mentioned 'negatives' under the forlorn heading, "But it wasn't all positive for the coalition...".
How to assess the central contention, that life has got better for the majority of Iraqis? One would have thought that the removal of sanctions and the opening of trade had something to do with this - both attainable without war. This is another flaw with the utilitarian stance. Judging an action by its outcome precludes any discussion as to whether other courses might have led to similar outcomes with perhaps less disastrous immediate effects. Removing the cruel burden of sanctions from the Iraqis, allowing them food and medicine, facilitating the revival of Iraqi civil society (which, as the post-war record shows, was remarkably resilient) and pursuing the diplomatic paths open to reducing Saddam's capacity either to threaten the world or his own people would have been the option of any government genuinely dedicated to the well-being of Iraqis.
And finally, this. One thing the opinion poll underscored, which I have pointed out before, is that no result will settle this argument. When Iraqis said in their overwhelming numbers that they considered the US motive for invading Iraq to be connected either to a desire for oil, or to help Israel, which of the warniks considered that debate settled? When a poll showed that only 15% of Iraqis considered the occupation army a force for liberation, did the Cruise Missile Liberals recant? And now that they indicate their opposition to the occupation, how many warniks think they have got this right? I'll quote myself, since noone else is saying this:
"[W]hat is the value of these opinion polls in terms of deciding what we think about the invasion and occupation of Iraq? ...
If Iraqi wants and needs are paramount in Washington and were at the fore of considerations as to whether war should be waged on Iraq, then what opinion polls did they consult to validate their occupation? It was impossible to know what Iraqis were thinking, although I think it's fair to say they were at the very least trepidatious about yet another foreign intervention into their country. They could have asked the ex-pats, but it seems that the only ones who were prepared to support the war were those already in the employ of the CIA (Chalabi and his bande a parte). They certainly didn't consult Arab opinion.
In addition, those who adduce these polls as evidence for their claim that Iraqis were crying out for occupation all too easily dismiss the other half of the population. We knew before the war, and we now have empirical proof provided by the pollsters, that the Iraqi public is significantly divided over the invasion and occupation of their country. That it is so divided is perhaps remarkable. But since we know that both the antiwar coalition and the warniks can cite a group of Iraqis who validate their arguments, isn't it a piece of intellectual subterfuge to duck behind the nearest Iraqi who supports you?"
To isolate this war, and to pretend it can only be judged on the narrow parameters set by those who waged it is to do serious violence to the truth:
"The War on Terror, in both its proximate effects and theoretical explication, is a war for global domination - not by a benign hegemon (a "behemoth with a conscience" as Kagan calls it), but by a self-interested, hypocritical and violent state with a history of support for Third World Fascism. It must be opposed for what it is, not for what opinion polls say about it."
A Few Links... posted by Richard SeymourPhilip Challinor at Media Lies has expertly taken down a rather daft hosannah to the Prime Minister from Andrew Rawnsley:
"Andrew Rawnsley’s article "Blair is doomed to be ignored" (Observer, 14 March) compares Tony Blair to Cassandra. I fear Rawnsley’s erudition is a little shaky: Cassandra was a prisoner of war who always told the truth. Then again, Rawnsley's own dedication to the truth is nearly as impressive as his grasp of Greek myth..."
Go get him, tiger!
Terry Eagleton in The Guardian has a few words for those pampered jades posing as "realists":
"...On the other hand, nobody is more abstractly utopian than hard-nosed, street-wise pragmatists. Some of them cultivate a little philosophising on the side, or perpetrated a spot of it in their youth, but these academic speculations are not to be confused with the Real World. Their current bosses can forgive such adolescent indiscretions, secure in the knowledge that ideas don't matter anyway. As with bad breath, ideology is always what the other person has. Socialism and anti-racism are ideas; greed and inequality are just plain, honest-to-goodness facts of life."
Chris Young at See Why has a spat with Norman Geras. Frankly, I think he goes too easy on the guy, but he does at least identify a "Norm" or two. ("Norm" coming to mean, on this blog, a risible point dressed up in mildewy sarcasm and condescension). Visitors to Norm's blog will be delighted to note that he is offering the full text of a vacuous article by Andrew Anthony for The Guardian. Every single stale shibboleth of the pro-war Left is revisited and every single claim made by it before the war started is revised. And the usual snide stupidity attends it. So, right up Norm's street then...
And, Slugger O'Toole slams a meaty fist into the mouths of optimists on the Northern Ireland impasse. Slugger apparently brings you opinion from "across the political spectrum", which could mean literally what it says or simply that it has both Orange Bastards and Fenian Cunts writing for it. As for me, I'm agin it all. I don't go in for sectarian bigotry, shure it's only them other ones that's causin all the problems, killing one side or the other. I myself have always insisted on killing people from both sides of the divide. Just to keep it fair. Anyway, that's your link feed for today.
Monday, March 22, 2004
Israeli Terrorism posted by Richard SeymourSome random thoughts on Straw's denunciation of Israel's terror strike in Palestine today...
Blair is well-connected to the Israeli government. He will always prevaricate on this issue to avoid pissing off either the Israelis or his own backbenchers.
Straw is presumably expressing the serious concerns of most European states, and also of the Foreign Office. Specifically, this is sure to increase instability in the Middle East and puts a rather large nail in the coffin of Bush's "road map" which was supposed to be the big reward for aquiescing in the 'war on terror'.
On the other hand, I find it rather offensive that the death of a Palestinian only merits comment and denunciation if it happens to be considered dangerous to Israel or West Asia.
Last week I counted seven news reports in which Palestinians had died, all relegated to minor news stories. When a suicide bombing occurs, by contrast, we can always expect a loud gasp from the media, lots of meaty pictures and expectations of Israeli retaliation.
My suggestion is that deaths are only important if you're killing people who can do something to hurt you, (pace Chomsky's observation that the bombing of South Vietnam was less important for the liberal media than that of North Vietnam, despite the fact that the South was being bombed at triple intensity).
"George Galloway, MP
I owe George Galloway an apology. In my column last week, by confusing him with someone else, I wrongly accused him of breaking into an ex-girlfriend's flat, smashing it up and spitefully stealing some knickers. These accusations were entirely untrue and the ungracious comments I made about R.E.S.P.E.C.T., the new political party for which George Galloway will be a candidate in the European elections in June, were therefore totally inappropriate. I regret these errors and am really sorry for any embarrassment or offence caused."
I wonder if Julie would care to take back her comments regarding to fabulousness of Serb "socialism" during the Balkans war?
"[T]he Nazis did not put Jews on the train to Israel, as the Serbs are now putting ethnic Albanian Kosovars on the train to Albania" (Julie Burchill, Guardian, April 10, 1999).
I'm taking bets on this now...
Saturday, March 20, 2004
Demo Reports... posted by Richard SeymourAs per usual, there is a great deal of variance on how today's international series of demos is being reported. BBC says, in its top story, that "some 25,000" marched today in London. The Guardian tells us, in a story tucked away in 'UK news' that "fewer than expected" marched, although they offer no estimate. ITN reports that 30,000 were expected by the police and STWC.
The number one story on Sky News is the international protests today, and they estimate a turn-out of 25,000 for today's march in London. The Telegraph reports the same turnout. CNN reports the same turnout for London, but 300,000 for Rome. It also reports Iraqis taking to the streets to protest the occupation. Fox News, remarkably, reports that London protest organisers put the turnout at 100,000 .
The Sydney Morning Herald reports a turnout of 2000 for the Sydney protest. The Mirror reports that 100,000 were due at the march, but police put the figure at 30,000.
Reports and columns will be linked and slated as soon as they arrive at my desk. Which will probably be tomorrow.
Friday, March 19, 2004
The First Casualties. posted by Richard SeymourAs I predicted , the media are busily larging up the entry of 750 troops into Kosovo, while resorting to the same empty banalities that have always helped to avoid explanation and blame when it suits them.
For Channel Five news today, "the troops cannot come soon enough".
For The Guardian , the most vigorously pro-war newspaper during the last Balkans war (so much so that even The Sun had to tell them to calm down), it is all because of "the deep and intense hatred between 2 million ethnic Albanians and fewer than 100,000 Serbs." They bemoan the absence of dialogue, intermarriage, and near-apartheid, South African-style. They do not mention that this is a direct legacy of the Nato intervention, which as a matter of historical record escalated a low-level civil war into ethnic cleansing and has now institutionalised nationalist sectarianism in Kosovo.
For The Independent , "Kosovo has been a model of nation-building", which we cannot allow to disintegrate. Astonishingly enough, it also outlines all of the ways in which that "model" has been an absolute catastrophic failure - there's a genius at work there.
Meanwhile, the truth emerges about the genesis of the riots. We were told that it was an inflamed response to the drowning of two Albanian boys. It now seems it was planned :
"What might have started off as an isolated burst of anger in Mitrovica over the still unexplained drowning of two Albanian children now appears to be something more planned. "We have had similar attacks to these in Kosovo before," said a UN spokesman, Derek Chappell. "But the fact that these attacks took place at the same time all over Kosovo does make me think they were orchestrated by the same extreme groups."
Lt-Colonel James Moran, a K-For spokesman, was more explicit. "There was a lot more organisation today than we saw yesterday," he said. "People had organised buses to take protesters to different areas. We turned several around." Whoever was behind that agenda has certainly succeeded in nullifying the UN's attempts to build bridges between Serbs and Albanians over the past four years."
Who would want to do a thing like that? Be upstanding, Kosovo Provisional Authority...
Side Note: I'd like to thank Marc Mulholland at the Daily Moider , for this extremely flattering plug:
"Lenin's Tomb is run by a member of the SWP, not normally much of a recommendation. But Lenin's is a vigorous, polemical and funny writer who churns out a great deal to provoke and entertain. He's one of those few who can make swearing funny."
So flattering that I felt obliged to repeat the whole thing here. Cheers!