Tuesday, November 30, 2004
The Torture Presidency. posted by Richard SeymourIf you ask me, it has become less okay to speak of the United States government embarking on 'humanitarianism' overseas this past year. In particular, it has become an acute embarrassment as well as a downright affront to hear anyone from the present US administration refer to another regime's use of torture, or military aggression: the outrage registers distinctly hollow. It would take a little less than genius and more than Bush to collate the various instances where the US President has perorated in his ham actor way on how Saddam tortured his own people. Such declamations have usually been punctuated by lengthy pauses, which are either for dramatic effect or to allow some unseen prompt-artist to feed Bush his next line.
After Abu Ghraib, these displays grew inflamed, indignant, then slowly petered out. Best not to raise the topic at all. Indeed, why bother when it is becoming ludicrously apparent that torture is being used as a matter of policy by the Bush administration? Not just in Iraq, but also in Guantanamo ? Yes, yes, I know - all the people we have in Guantanamo Bay are awful foreign types with beards and such. Moazzam Begg can scream about torture and murder, but he is one of Them after all.
Torture is not a new tool of the American state. CIA training manuals released in the 1980s revealed a history of the use of various kinds of torture, from severe physical torture to more subtle methods - the point being in all cases to break the subject's sense of identity, remove all aspects of self that would maintain resistance. Often, these methods were used by CIA employees like the Contras in Nicaragua; one has to assume they were used by the CIA themselves. Indeed, of the crimes one can accuse the US government of historically, torture might be the least among them. Terrorism, bombings, assassination - every trick in the armoury of political gangsters has been deployed, killing millions. So, why should it be that the Bush presidency is the first to get notoriety for the use of torture under its command?
Obviously, in large part because of the very poor, derisory attempts at concealment, probably reflecting the neoconservatives' contemptuous attitude toward such "quaint" relics as the Geneva convention. In the past, torture was the dark underside of the pristine defense of 'democracy' that the US projected to the world. Since 9/11, it has been openly discussed by liberal commentators as a reasonable option (the Dershowitz gambit: let's legalise it so at least no one tortures excessively), and promoted by some right-wing shock jocks. Further, there is plenty of evidence that the American right consider concerns for 'human rights' to be supplanted by 'security' demands. They feel they have carte blanche to torture 'terrorists', although they must never say so in public. (Indeed, the American people must be stuffed so full of mythology about defending democracy and freedom that they feel like Thanksgiving never stops. Leo Strauss is alive, if not quite breathing).
However, since they have allowed some asshole to take pictures of their torture of prisoners in Iraq, the cat is firmly out of the bag. The news have been able to, and rather obliged to, cover these allegations where they would have paused to even glance at previous such claims. For those anxious to believe in the redeeming qualities of US imperial power, the torture accusations have left a murky stain on the rhetoric of humanitarian intervention. It has become so infected and contaminated that future administrations will be obliged to handle it with care and trepidation. The Bush Presidency will go down as the era in which it became a mainstream perception to view US Presidents as criminals, racketeers and torturers.
Question: why does an American human rights organisation have to seek the help of Germany to place Rumsfeld in the dock?
Monday, November 29, 2004
That ludic exercise aside, I want to question to category 'globalisation'. It seems to mean so many different things that it is difficult to pin down, from cultural cross-fertilisation to imperialism. Broadly speaking, it connotes mobility - of labour, capital and goods. Very well: there has been a massive growth in international trade over the last thirty years; labour is potentially now more mobile than ever before, given cheaper air travel; capital can move in wider circles than it has done before.
This is where we are, but it is not necessarily where we are forever going. Capitalism has always been 'internationalist' in outlook; the search for new avenues of profitability beyond the boundaries of this or that dominion or state was not exactly unfamiliar in the late medieval era, as Fernand Braudel illustrates in his beautiful trilogy on Capital and Civilisation. Even Marx could write, in the Communist Manifesto:
The need for a constantly expanding market chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.
The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. All old established national industries have been destroyed or daily are being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries...that no longer work up indigenous raw materials, but raw materials drawn from the remotest zones, industries whose products are consumed not at home, but in every quarter in the globe... In place of the old local and national seclusion we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.
From 1850 to 1914, world trade expanded by about 900%. Subsequently, there was a drastic contraction in trade as national economies reverted to autarky. On the other hand, since 1970, usually taken as the breaking point for the old Keynesian Welfare National State (Bob Jessop's formulation), there have not been the epochal changes in the distribution of imports and exports and in foreign and domestic investment that have often been imagined. According to Michael Mann:
Domestic saving and investment still correlate about 75 percent among OECD countries, indicating that foreign capital is not all that internationally mobile... And the differences in real interest rates between countries are about the same as they were a century ago. Indeed, it is doubtful whether, in many respects, capital is more transnational than it was before 1914, except in the special case of the European Union. ("As the twentieth century ages", New Left Review 214)
Most service and manufacturing capital operating from the US remains based in the US. The same is true for Japan and most of Europe. Further, most capital which is invested in foreign markets remains restricted to the relatively limited zones of the developed world and the select bunch of Newly Industrialising Countries (NICs) where there is some kind of infrastructure to speak of. The rest remain out of the loop, so to speak, and in all likelihood will continue to do so.
Some globalisation theorists, one of the most sophisticated of which is the former ISJ editor Nigel Harris, tell an entirely different story. The nation-state is sinking, they say, and this is a good thing. Such a dangerous, overbearing contraption can no longer be relied upon to deliver the social contracts with its citizens that it once did. It is increasingly undermined by capital and labour mobility and, so long as it does not seek to curtail this process, everyone will be better off. The state, of course, will. By waging geopolitical wars, clamping down on immigration and regulating the mobility of capital, it buttresses its own authority, and maintains the false boundaries of nation-states. Further, as he explains:
Global integration is making the movement of commodities, of finance and of workers, greater and greater movement increases faster than output. The world economy, it seems, has by now passed the point of no return, and we are set upon the road to a single integrated global economy, regardless of the wishes of governments and citizens. Indeed, any efforts to reverse the process, spell catastrophe. (The New Untouchables, 1995, p 226)
Which brings me to my next objection. I want to problematise this stupid state-capital dichotomy. Harris, for instance, is an intelligent and careful writer, but he does feel compelled, occasionally, to launch counterintuitive assertions at his readers:
...I suggest that business has in general no more power over governments than populations (though electorates can be pretty decisive); that is the point of the Nazi example--German business had nearly as little influence over the Nazis as the mass of ordinary Germans...
Perhaps the best way to phrase the criticism of this point is to redefine the problem: it isn't how much 'influence' the capitalist class excersises 'over' this or that government: governments which wish to work and exist within the capitalist system are structurally constrained to adopt its prerogatives, while making concessions to labour and women when they get uppity. One does not have to accept the interpretation of Marxism which says that the state was 'captured' by the liberal bourgeoisie (although I think this is certainly true) to detect a confluence of interests here. Historically, too, Harris' point is inept unless he has reason to believe that the evidence of big business working for the Nazi victory is untrue or insignificant. (On this, see Hans Mommsen ed. Between Vision and Reality).
The most concise expression of the relationship between capital and the state was provided by that avatar of globalisation, Thomas Friedman:
"The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-l5. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."
Now, that is an 'instrumentalist' view of the state entirely compatible with Marx's declaration that the "executive of the state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie". There are a number of ways in which it is obviously true. If capital remains largely nationally based, as I maintain, it must perforce rely on the state to provide an educated, healthy workforce and an infrastructure capable of providing precisely the kind of mobility that the globalisation theorists revere.
Further, one can isolate many cases in which the absence of state intervention and care would leave national economies in ruin. The bail-out of the hedge funds by Greenspan's Federal Reserve bank in 1998 may well have staved off a very sharp recession, perhaps worse than the one that eventually took place as Bush assumed public office. Imagine withdrawing the billions of dollars surreptitiously pumped into private capital (not just the military-industrial complex, but health and pharmaceuticals, machine-tools, semiconductors etc) by the US government. Toshiki Kaifu, not George Bush, would have been celebrating victory in the Cold War.
Graeme Gill, from a Weberian perspective, argues that the state is even more fundamentally the guarantor of capital. By standardising pricing, weights, measures and by maintaining the security of the system of private property through policing, the state ensures the conditions in which capital can accumulate. (Gill, The Nature and Development of the Modern State, 2003). I can see nothing in that analysis that is out-dated.
The dependency goes both ways, of course. Peter Gowan, noting that current US policy, and the financial structure of what he calls 'the Dollar-Wall Street Regime" actually harms the US economy, tries to explain why the state accepts and encourages this state of affairs. He puts it like this:
The most straightforward explanation ... is that the regulators themselves are closely linked to the big speculators. The [former] US Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin [was] a speculator himself by profession ... A second explanation might be that these other instances of government have themselves become dependent on the financial speculators for campaign funds... This, again, no doubt has force, but there are other immensely powerful centres of American capitalism outside the financial markets, which would surely cavil if the decisive control of the political establishment had been captured by financial capital. Yet another explanation might be that all the strategic social groups within American society have themselves been captured by the institutional dynamics of the financial markets... (Peter Gowan, The Global Gamble: Washington's Faustian Bid for Global Dominance, 1999, pp 55-6)
In all these ways, then, the state can be beholden to capital and also privilege specific sectors of it.
Moving on, just as when we speak of national capital requiring the services vended by nation-states, insofar as capital has mobility it seeks those same services at the level of a global state substitute like the IMF and WTO. These organisations, and agreements like the Common Agricultural Policy, are both enabling and constraining. They facilitate operations overseas, but impose bureacratic standards on their effects. They are the result of conjugations of states, rather than supra-national efforts. Further, as Ellen Meiksins Wood points out:
Just as the state is far from powerless, multinational corporations are far from all-powerful. Scrutiny of corporations is likely to reveal that 'multinational enterprises are not particularly good at managing their international operations', and that profits tend to be lower, while profits are higher. ... Any success such companies have had in the global economy has depended on the indispensable support of the state, both in the locale of the home base and elsewhere in their 'multinational' network. (Ellen Meiksins Wood, Empire of Capital, 2003, p 139)
Wood adds: "While we can imagine capital continuing its daily operations if the WTO were destroyed, and perhaps even welcoming the removal of obstacles placed in its way by organisations that give subordinate economies some voice, it is inconceivable that those operations would long survive the destruction of the local state."
I think this nails it. The case for 'globalisation' has been over-stated, and to some extent that has been accepted by aspects of the anti-capitalist movement - usually the right-wing, as represented by the leadership of Attac. Inasmuch as the term has any meaning, 'globalisation' is a process that is being facilitated and regulated in various ways by the state. 'Globalisation' as understood by the anti-capitalist movement, is not merely mobility in various economic spheres. It is a political project involving the roll-back of protection and welfare for workers in advanced capitalist economies as well as the increasing entrenchment of destructive IMF programmes in developing economies. Replacing that naughty g-word, which makes it sound natural and inevitable, with the proper noun 'neoliberalism' or even 'capitalism' is part of the ideological struggle of the anticapitalist movement.
That's it. It's been a very long essay and, frankly, if you're not tired of it by now, you should be. Your thoughts in the comments boxes please. I will shamelessly rip them off in an upcoming debate I'm attending.
Sunday, November 28, 2004
Keep it in the fambly. posted by Richard SeymourBecause I'm so Proud of Britain , I have been invited to join the fambly .
And The Fambly didn't take too well to those toerags in the Labour Party trying to bring the heavies to Chris Lightfoot. So Harry 'Bricktop' Hutton has had a word:
TO: THE LABOUR PARTY, DEPARTMENT OF CREATIVE LITIGATIONAnd now, we've got a new friend in the family; a spritely young buck from the Tourist Board, who is also Proud of Britain.
Dear Toe Rags,
When you disrespected Lightfoot, you disrespected The Family. And no one disrespects The Family.
You will rue the day.
He's out to set a few chancers straight:
This site will dedicate itself to the promotion of pride in this wonderful land mass and its various off shore tax havens. For too long, our accomplishments and sacred national values have gone unnoticed. We British, too modest to boast of our success like our uncouth but certainly very close friends across the Atlantic, have allowed the world to believe that we are a beleaguered former Empire clinging desperately to the coat-tails of the present one and contributing only shell suits to the fight against terrorism. This is a sad misperception which they shall swiftly be disabused of. Onward, countrymen!Gawd. This is enough to give me the arsehole. And I can't have the arsehole, can I boys?
Saturday, November 27, 2004
Guilt/Shame posted by Richard SeymourConcept: "Shame requires an audience. Unlike guilt, which can fester quietly inside you, shame only arises when someone knows, or fears, they have been seen. Shame relies on the art of exposure, even if exposure is what it hates most. ... And yet shame is also an action, a transitive verb -to shame - with a very public face. Shaming someone can be a political project. ... Guilt, it is said, always arises in relation to others, whereas with shame it is your narcissism, the ideal that you like to nurture about yourself, that you betray (psychologists describe shame as the only affect which works internally, passing from one to another part of the self). People feel guilty when they violate other people, shame when they fail themselves or the group." (Jacqueline Rose, On Not Being Able to Sleep, 2003, pp. 3-4).
Example: "...the voice of the so-called liberal establishment in America evinces not the slightest remorse or moral reservations over the bloodletting. On the contrary, it hails the attack and calls for more of the same."
Shaming those 'liberals' who call for and cover up the crimes being committed in Iraq is not an easy task. They seem unusually reluctant to execute the kind of auto-critique many of them would demand of the antiwar movement. They also seem impervious to the daily refutations of their story of 'humanitarian justification' emerging from Iraq. And they display considerable cognitive skill in finding rationalisations not only for the original catastrophic decision to wage war but also for renewed, ever bloodier assaults. And they have a less-than-novel way of eschewing responsibility for the outcome of their war - they simply project it onto those who opposed the war.
Still, keep an eye open and you can detect the slow, wrenching agony of pro-war liberals being impaled on their own moralising .
Friday, November 26, 2004
A few links. posted by Richard SeymourFirst, I'm joining the Googlebomb , because I'm so Proud of Britain . (When I hear that 'p-' word, I always remember the scene from the Rocky Horror Picture Show where Dr Frankenfurter says, of the bland all-American Brad, "You must be orfully pride of him, Janet!"
Second, I'm linking to a timely quote from Alisdair MacIntyre supplied by Chris Brooke :
The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one's life on its behalf. As I have remarked elsewhere... it is like being asked to die for the telephone company.
Third, have a look at that Chomsky-Foucault debate if you haven't already. Chomsky defends, in his usual clear way, his rationalist view of human beings, the theory of 'innate ideas' which he developed in Syntactic Structures and which developed from, and formed the basis of, his theory of language. Foucault attempts to undermine the conceptual operations which underpin Chomsky's thought, (human nature, knowledge etc), and expounds his theory that human beings are constituted through and through by power, not merely its victims but also its bearers as it in a "closely linked grid of of disciplinary coercions". We are, according to Foucault, constructed by power as subjects fit to be ruled (see his treatment of the development of the modern soldier in pages 135-6 of Discipline & Punish: "By the late eighteenth century, the soldier has become something that can be made; out of a formless clay, an inapt body, the machine required can be constructed; posture is gradually corrected, a calculated constraint runs slowly through each part of the body..."). The things that Chomsky maintains are innate are, to a very large extent, artefacts of historical development according to Foucault. Foucault's view of power is, if you ask me, decidedly Weberian in orientation, albeit that he is not as outwardly concerned with rationalisation and bureacracy.
Whatever, just have a read.
Oh, yeah, one more thing: guess where submarines get to these days? Sidney Blumenthal does some behind the scenes mud-flinging on the Smoldering Bush, and also reports an exchange between Karl Rove and Bush:
"You're not such a scary guy," joked his guide. "Yes, I am," Rove replied. Walking away, he muttered deliberately and loudly: "I change constitutions, I put churches in schools ..."
Reminds me strangely of the conspiring Roy Cohn and his young protege in Tony Kushner's Angels in America. For ruthlessness, energy, dedication and ideological clarity in the last thirty years, few have matched the American Right.
Thursday, November 25, 2004
Doug Ireland and Le Monde. posted by Richard SeymourA very fine piece of reporting at Direland on the degeneration of the once redoubtle French newspaper Le Monde. Unlike me, Doug speaks fluent French, and he has managed to excavate some very telling stories about the paper. Tracing an arc of decline that began in 1994, he outlines the taking over of a paper once owned by journalists who jealously guarded it as a quality centre-left newspaper by an ambitious Colombani, the ex-Trotskyist Plenel and their free market fundamentalist partner Alain Minc. The journalists, having succumbed to their serenading and ceded control of a majority of stocks to the terrible trio, watched their paper's quality, reputation and sales go into free-fall.
As Doug says, "The unique 'journalists’ newspaper' thus became a business like any other".
For those interested in the media and the structures which distort news reporting, this is an invaluable insight. I strongly urge you to read it in full.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Near death experience. posted by Richard SeymourThis should cheer you up.
This morning, rushing to work and late, I decided to make a quick stop at a Burger King in the train station and have one of their Bacon and Egg rolls with HP Sauce. Very tasty if you're into that sort of thing. Unfortunately, the bacon lump was much larger than I expected, and as a half-chewed bolus disappeared down my throat, I realised I wouldn't be able to swallow it. I tried to cough it up, but instead it seemed to disappear into my windpipe. I bent over, made several noises that might have led passers by to expect a torrent of vomit to come gushing forth. My eyes bulged out of the sockets, sweat suddenly couldn't get out of my body fast enough, and I casually pissed down the side of my leg. People resiled from me as if I was a nutter. I tried to pull the bacon out, but I could only grab a slick rind, which detached itself from the main body of the blockage and left me choking.
I pissed again, and saw stars.
Some bloke walking past with his friend seemed to gather the problem, and I allowed him to simulate buggery on me so that he could attempt a Heimlich Manoeuvre. Unfortunately, he couldn't do it - and I now realise that I couldn't have done it either. Another bloke who turned out to be a policeman, and therefore knew his shit, made me bend over with my head down on the floor while he socked me right under the diaphragm. Amazingly this worked. It forced a gasp of air which pushed the bacon halfway up into my mouth from whence it could be dislodged with my index finger and thumb.
A bit of blood and saliva dribbled out (the windpipe is apparently very sensitive). And I pissed again, this time more in relief than stress. A few British Transport police had made their way to the scene and led me, shaking, to a medical clinic. I was checked for blood pressure and then whisked off by a couple of ambulance men to the hospital.
No problem, the doctor said. Lungs fine, blood pressure fine - no apparent brain damage. I had a lucky escape, so I'm told. Sixty more seconds with that bloody bacon in my throat and I'd have returned my body to the makers.
Okay, you can stop laughing your fucking ass off now. Ha ha ha, well I'm still alive, so tough shit. Personally, I think Raymond put a hex on me for eating meat. And yes, before any smartarse points this out, I am fully cognisant of the fact that I owe my life to a policeman. But just think, if I'd been black he might have hauled my arse to the station and kicked my head in. Ungracious, I know - but since when have you come to expect grace and good manners at the Tomb?
Then, the radio exchange between the captain and other soldiers at the checkpoint was broadcast on Israeli television:
The soldier in the watchtower radioed his colleagues after he saw Iman: "It's a little girl. She's running defensively eastward."
Operations room: "Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?"
Watchtower: "A girl of about 10, she's behind the embankment, scared to death."
A few minutes later, Iman is shot in the leg from one of the army posts.
The watchtower: "I think that one of the positions took her out."
The company commander then moves in as Iman lies wounded and helpless.
Captain R: "I and another soldier ... are going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill ... Receive a situation report. We fired and killed her ... I also confirmed the kill. Over."
Witnesses described how the captain shot Iman twice in the head, walked away, turned back and fired a stream of bullets into her body. Doctors at Rafah's hospital said she had been shot at least 17 times.
She was running "defensively eastward" toward the refugee camp, and she was "scared to death". Then, shot to death. The captain had been informed of her age, but later said:
"This is commander. Anything that's mobile, that moves in the zone, even if it's a three-year-old, needs to be killed. Over."
As someone once said, "the deliberate targeting of children is an especially heartless crime". But according to the Israeli army, one who does target children has "not acted unethically".
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
The Left doesn't need a theory of conspiracies to explain Iraq, it needs a theory of imperialism; as Tim of HUH? remarked, following Jameson, the fact capitalism has a tendency to look like a conspiracy does not mean that it is one. "After all, when you actually do control the world, you don't need shady conspiracies." We need analytical tools that can deal with structure and agency in capitalism, that can cope with ideology, and that can allow political conclusions to be drawn. Theories of all-powerful cabals manipulating the world do not merely miss the point - they are debilitating.
I profoundly agree. Those who resort to conspiracy to explain structure typically lack cognitive mapping skills. There must be someone at the centre of a web, pulling strings, yanking cords, tugging ropes and generally causing all their misery and pain or lulling them into dry boredom. This isn't a healthy outlook, nor is it particularly helpful. With that in mind, I want to add a few stipulations to my earlier post on conspiracy and theory.
Take the 9/11 conspiracy theories. Most of the British public appear to agree with the suggestion that Bush knew in advance of the attacks planned on 9/11, and did nothing to stop them because they saw political advantage in it. Barmy stuff says Marc Mulholland in his laconic way. I don't think it's so barmy, at least in the sense that I think the American state is morally capable of such a thing, evidence of which abounds. Nevertheless, even if there were solid proof rather than suggestive details pointing to the conclusion that Bush or his administration was complicit in the attacks, this still wouldn't get us very far.
After all, present US foreign policy is not altogether a million miles away from where it was under Clinton. The apparently extremist pronouncements of the neoconservative right are one thing, but terminating the Iraqi regime was a Clinton policy. Bush's controversial nuclear posture was tacitly adopted by Clinton. The decision to bomb Kosovo was a realist policy decision (I mean 'realist' in the sense that the term is used in International Relations theory), but the ideological legitimisation for it was impeccably commensurable with neoconservative prerogatives.
The question that would have to be answered, therefore, would still be why it was perceived as a necessity to launch a series of aggressive wars, and why it was necessary to resort to such a risky, potentially suicidal strategy in order to obtain some rather shaky consent for such a venture (as Noam Chomsky has pointed out, discovery of Republican involvement in the 9/11 attacks, however mediated, would destroy the party for generations if not for good and land many of its leading figures in jail for treason). But we do not have evidence of the sort that invites compulsory or even compelling conclusions. What we have is an imbrication of detail and speculation. So when John Pilger insinuates the possibility that Dick Cheney allowed the twin towers to be attacked before he acted, he asks for scepticism.
What I don't think we should accept is that all 'conspiracy theories' are invariably wrong, barking, so soft and woolly that you could knit a jumper from them. I'm with Robin Ramsay on this: sometimes states and organisations do conspire, and sometimes they succeed in their aims. I wouldn't call this a conspiracy, but I am deeply suspicious of any gesture which seeks to limit one's political imagination with 'common sense'.
Bourgeois feminism... posted by Richard SeymourTerry Eagleton described Lady Macbeth as a "bourgeois feminist" in his book on William Shakespeare. By this, he meant the kind of 'feminist' whose goal was to liberate women so that they could be just as callous, aggressive and cynical as men. Indeed, Washington is awash with these revolting creatures. The carefully groomed Hilary Clinton, for instance, carefully grooms an image as a liberal feminist, a fighter for the deprived against the depraved. Yet, the evidence suggests that she is as venal and self-serving as any other Clinton. There are scores of others just like her, always ready to flutter a handkerchief on behalf of feminism, then make the case for cutting welfare to single mothers. And then there are the carpet-bomb feminists, those who would rather see a woman's brains plaster the walls of her house than see her trapped in a stuffy burqa. It's a matter of dignity, you know?
From Rana Kabbani :
The fighting feminism on its For Women Only programme puts institutionalised western feminism to shame. All that manufactured outrage over the burka, which rose to a climax precisely as bombs fell on Afghanistan; where are the cries of outrage now, when Iraqi women are being incarcerated and raped in US dungeons, where tens of thousands of their menfolk are also being held; when they are being starved, denied drinking-water, bombed, buried alive in the rubble of their homes, maimed and killed? It will prove to be America's dirtiest war by far, and the one that destroys forever its sense of purpose and pride.
The rape and abuse of women prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere is probably giving Saddam a few chuckles, but where are the feminists? Where is all this liberal crap about emancipating women with war? Those who agonised about support for war on Afghanistan ought to have listened to these women , and they should listen to them now. As usual, the most vigorous and effective defense of the particular comes as part of a universalist demand for emancipation.
Blair the builder. posted by Richard SeymourCan he fix it? Yes he can, says The Guardian :
Britain, this time, is working with the old continent, not the new. That does not guarantee success, but it is another very big difference. Tony Blair thus has a real opportunity to act as bridgebuilder - restraining the hawks in Washington while ensuring that Europe does not collapse into disarray in the face of this explosive global problem.
Tony Blair 'restraining' the hawks? Where have I heard this one before? And that passage appeared in a leader stressing the difference between the lies over Iraq in the build-up to war and the lies over Iran in the build-up to ... what?
Faking it... posted by Richard SeymourIn light of recent topics of discussion, here is some relevant material.
Evening Standard, April 2003
Take a swift gander at this front page from the Evening Standard in April 2003.
And now, have a look at this .
Monday, November 22, 2004
Tongue firmly dislodged from check and set in relatively unbifurcate mode, I'll just draw your attention to the extent to which you are a target for psyops organised by the state. In June 2003, The Herald revealed that:
BRITAIN ran a covert 'dirty tricks' operation designed specifically to produce misleading intelligence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction to give the UK a justifiable excuse to wage war on Iraq.
Operation Rockingham, established by the Defence Intelligence Staff within the Ministry of Defence in 1991, was set up to 'cherry-pick' intelligence proving an active Iraqi WMD programme and to ignore and quash intelligence which indicated that Saddam's stockpiles had been destroyed or wound down.
The existence of Operation Rockingham has been confirmed by Scott Ritter, the former UN chief weapons inspector, and a US military intelligence officer. He knew members of the Operation Rockingham team and described the unit as 'dangerous', but insisted they were not 'rogue agents' acting without government backing. 'This policy was coming from the very highest levels,' he added.
'Rockingham was spinning reports and emphasising reports that showed non-compliance (by Iraq with UN inspections) and quashing those which showed compliance. It was cherry-picking intelligence.'
Ritter and other intelligence sources say Operation Rockingham and MI6 were supplying skewed information to the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) which, Tony Blair has told the Commons, was behind the intelligence dossiers that the government published to convince the parliament and the people of the necessity of war against Iraq. Sources in both the British and US intelligence community are now equating the JIC with the Office of Special Plans (OSP) in the US Pentagon. The OSP was set up by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to gather intelligence which would prove the case for war. In a staggering attack on the OSP, former CIA officer Larry Johnson told the Sunday Herald the OSP was 'dangerous for US national security and a threat to world peace', adding that it 'lied and manipulated intelligence to further its agenda of removing Saddam'.
He added: 'It's a group of ideologues with pre-determined notions of truth and reality. They take bits of intelligence to support their agenda and ignore anything contrary. They should be eliminated.'
Well, you knew that. Anyone perusing Con Couglin's pathetic series of MI6-leaked scoops for the Telegraph can hardly have been unaware that someone was pissing down their leg. And it isn't even denied with any particular gusto that the Coalition Information Centre, set up a couple of weeks before the war on Iraq, was basically run from Number Ten by Alistair Campbell. Centcom was a more or less open joke without a punchline. But if you pick up a copy of Mark Curtis' excellent new book, Unpeople, he'll fill your ears with some hisses. The government, according to its own documents, is planning to increase psychological operations in the future. Government ministers, senior civil servants and foreign office officials recognise in various statements that a huge part of winning future wars is going to involve winning hearts and minds at home.
In future conflicts, "maintaining moral as well as information dominance will rank as important as physical protection". Thus spake the British Army. The MoD explained in a document entitled The Future Strategic Context for Defense that "we need to be aware of the ways in which public attitudes might shape and constrain military activity". It adds "Increasing emotional attachment to the outside world, fuelled by immediate and graphic media coverage, and a public desire to see the UK act as a force for good, is likely to lead to public support, and possibly public demand, for operations prompted by humanitarian motives". This prompts the demand for propaganda, which the MoD insist on calling "information support". The House of Commons Defence Committee retorts that "the concept has changed little from the traditional objective of influencing the perceptions of selected target audiences". The estimable and inestimable John Spellar MP explained to the House of Pushovers and Pullovers in 2000: "we shall depend increasingly, not on simple numerical superiority in firepower, but on information dominance".
The new strategy is mentioned in passing the Pentagon’s Joint Vision 2020 , in which the key term is ‘full spectrum dominance’ which ‘implies that US forces are able to conduct prompt, sustained and synchronized operations with combinations of forces tailored to specific situations and with access to and freedom to operate in all domains – space, sea, land, air and information’.
That last component is probably more important than you would think. A US army manual, Information Operations: Doctrine, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures, published in 2003 makes it plain: "information is an element of combat power". Col Kenneth Allard has written that the 2003 attack on Iraq ‘will be
remembered as a conflict in which information fully took its place as a weapon of war’. He explains: "In the 1990s, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began to promote a vision of future warfare in which C4ISR (command,control,communi- cations, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems would be forged into a new style of American warfare in which interoperability was the key to information dominance – and information dominance the key to victory."
Now, the law in Britain is what it is. We have no legal right to prevent our government from trying to brainwash us, however ineptly. In America, however, they have something called the Smith-Mundt Act (1948) whose purpose is to prevent the US government from disseminating propaganda to domestic audiences. Foreigners and commies are a fair target but not, according to the law, US citizens. Never mind that this law has been broken tons of times before (off the top of my head, Cointelpro and those wonderful 'Black Panther colouring-in books' that the CIA pushed through mail-boxes in white neighbourhoods). Never mind that MKUltra was directed against American citizens just as much as it was overseas. And suspend for a second the vague memory of Operation Northwoods, a planned campaign of US government orchestrated terrorist attacks against US citizens to persuade them of the need to invade Cuba. Forget all that, as most of you probably have anyway. The fact is that during the recent assault on Iraq, many suspected the Bush administration of directing psychological operations against American audiences. One man who suspected this more than others was Col Sam Gardiner who, while lecturing and appearing as a military analyst on news programmes began to notice something odd about the kinds of stories and images that were making their way to American audiences. They were frighteningly similar to the kinds of products that he used to work on while in the military.
The Bush administration, he concluded, was attempting to brainwash the American public. He counted at least fifty stories that were not merely exaggeration or based on bad intelligence but downright fabrications designed to galvanise or pacify the public. He had attended a meeting in which John Rendon, of the PR corporation The Rendon Group, discussed news management with the Bush administration. Embedding, he said, worked great. "It was the war version of reality television." Unfortunately, the 'context' had been ceded to the networks and this would have to be won back. However, of greatest value was the pliant media. Gardiner outlined some of the most egregious falsifications; dirty bombs; poison factories; missing terrorist training camps. Saddam was conspiring with bin Laden, and concealing his weapons with high mobility labs that scuttled around the desert. And when weapons didn't show up, this just proved that he was engaged in some fiendish plot to hide them and reconstitute them at some later date. (As David Aaronovitch might say "the clever, clever, clever bastard"). All of it was, to coin a paraphrase, a parcel of bollocks. And much of it was sourced directly to 'intelligence'.
We had better remember then, if we don't want our hearts and minds colonised as surely as Iraq has been, to spare a thought for the lonely spook, tweaking this news story, planting that seed, fertilising it with a steady supply of horseshit. I think of this in particular when we recall the ferocious spinning that met the Lancet report, or indeed Kevin Sites' footage of a US soldier killing a wounded prisoner which provoked many sophisticated defenses of murder. On that note, you might be interested in reading Kevin Sites' response to the torrent of abuse and accusations that he has been met with:
Immediately after going in, I see the same black plastic body bags spread around the mosque. The dead from the day before. But more surprising, I see the same five men that were wounded from Friday as well. It appears that one of them is now dead and three are bleeding to death from new gunshot wounds. The fifth is partially covered by a blanket and is in the same place and condition he was in on Friday, near a column. He has not been shot again. I look closely at both the dead and the wounded. There don't appear to be any weapons anywhere.
"These were the same wounded from yesterday," I say to the lieutenant. He takes a look around and goes outside the mosque with his radio operator to call in the situation to Battalion Forward HQ.
I see an old man in a red kaffiyeh lying against the back wall. Another is face down next to him, his hand on the old man's lap -- as if he were trying to take cover. I squat beside them, inches away and begin to videotape them. Then I notice that the blood coming from the old man's nose is bubbling. A sign he is still breathing. So is the man next to him.
While I continue to tape, a Marine walks up to the other two bodies about fifteen feet away, but also lying against the same back wall.
Then I hear him say this about one of the men:
"He's fucking faking he's dead -- he's faking he's fucking dead."
Through my viewfinder I can see him raise the muzzle of his rifle in the direction of the wounded Iraqi. There are no sudden movements, no reaching or lunging.
However, the Marine could legitimately believe the man poses some kind of danger. Maybe he's going to cover him while another Marine searches for weapons.
Instead, he pulls the trigger. There is a small splatter against the back wall and the man's leg slumps down.
"Well he's dead now," says another Marine in the background.
I am still rolling. I feel the deep pit of my stomach. The Marine then abruptly turns away and strides away, right past the fifth wounded insurgent lying next to a column. He is very much alive and peering from his blanket. He is moving, even trying to talk. But for some reason, it seems he did not pose the same apparent "danger" as the other man -- though he may have been more capable of hiding a weapon or explosive beneath his blanket.
This is almost certainly related to the conditions of war, but the other factor is that Iraq is being subjected to economic 'shock therapy' which is, according to Joseph Stiglitz, even more extreme than that which was perpetrated on Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. By widespread consent, these policies have been a disastrous failure causing, as Stiglitz argues, many to see "their incomes plunge, and poverty soar".
Just as this cataclysm of creative destruction whipping through Russia created some sneaking longing for the old regime, one or two Iraqis are beginning to speak of how nice it was under Saddam, as the Washington Post reports:
"During the previous regime, I used to work on the government projects. Now there are no projects".
"Believe me, we thought a magic thing would happen" with the fall of Hussein and the start of the U.S.-led occupation, said an administrator at Baghdad's Central Teaching Hospital for Pediatrics. "So we're surprised that nothing has been done. And people talk now about how the days of Saddam were very nice," the official said.
Well, noone but about 3% of Iraqis would genuinely want the old regime back. But just as in Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet bloc, noone was ever given the choice as to what they did want. And at least the latter was a revolution driven in large part by popular struggle. In this 'revolution from above' (shades of Hungary, Czechoslovakia etc), there was never even the potential for Iraqis to be able to impact the outcome except by resisting the 'revolutionaries'. This is exactly what the fellow-travellers of Empire, mimicking a past generation of fellow-travellers, refuse to accept.
Santiaguinos returned to work today after three days of mass protests and violence in the Chilean capital that saw 189 arrests and numerous injuries.
On Friday, hours before some of the world’s most powerful leaders – including U.S. President George W. Bush, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao of China – arrived for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, 50,000 people took to the streets for a march organized by the Chilean Social Forum under the slogans “another world is possible” and “Santiago is ours.”
The protesters walked along a predetermined route lined with Carabineros from Parque Almagro to a rally in Parque Bustamante.
The march turned violent when a small group of protesters began to throw rocks and glass bottles at police. Organizers called for calm but, as the park filled with gas from helicopters, marchers fled onto the surrounding streets and into Plaza Italia, where masked demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, smashed shop fronts and tore up benches, and police in riot gear responded with water cannon and baton charges.
Muslim marchers protested the Russian presence in Chechnya and called for an independent Palestine.
Abdul Gafari, a Chilean Muslim, told The Santiago Times, “We are here against the terrorists Bush and Putin. We don’t want to see more Muslims killed – not just Muslims, all the innocent people who are being killed. The powerful can just do what they like, that’s the problem.”
At 500,000, the Palestinian community in Chile is the largest outside the Middle East.
Behind the Muslim group marched a contingent of Franciscan monks.
“We are here to protest the dehumanization that goes hand-in-hand with globalization … to promote the value of the human being,” said Brother Julio.
Further protests, peaceful and otherwise, took place throughout the city. A series of events organized by the Chilean Social Forum explored the alternatives to neoliberalism; outside the Espacio Riesco center, where APEC delegates convened Saturday, a group of Falun Dafa practitioners denounced human rights abuses in China and what they describe as the persecution of their fellow practitioners by the Chinese military.
Inside the conference centers, the voices of dissent were few.
Peruvian economist and development expert Hernando de Soto told a meeting of businessmen that 65 percent of the 21 APEC economies’ populations are excluded from the benefits of globalization, giving the lie to the “trickle down” theory of free trade economics.
“Of the 2,600 million people in the APEC countries, 1,700 million have not managed to join the international market and are not globalized. It doesn’t matter how much talk there is about the World Trade Organization and the Doha Round Table … We’re talking about two thirds of the population – as much as 80 percent in some countries. This is the problem,” De Soto said.
Despite the violent end to its march, the Chilean Social Forum will continue its work, said Luis Sepúlveda, the Chilean writer and one of the Forum’s leaders
Asked whether a mass demonstration could influence the APEC leaders, Sepúlveda was not optimistic. He told The Santiago Times:
“This won’t change anything. It’s the political climate in Chile that has to change. The people marching are calling for the country to take a different route, for leaders to take them into account when taking the big decisions. Chileans want a Latin American vocation, and the majority wants to see better relations with the other countries of the region before free marketeering with the economic superpowers.
“We will carry on our work after today. This is a process that will shape the actions of the political class of tomorrow. All the young people who are here – they’re going to decide the future.”
Now, is it my imagination or does this 'small group of violent protesters' appear in just about every demonstration of this kind across the planet? And, in almost every case, doesn't it lead to the police attacking the demonstration and conducting mass arrests (usually unlawfully)? No matter, just imagine the sight: Franciscan Monks and Palestinian Muslims marching together for a cause that is global - no, universal.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Much as one tries to avoid a conspiratorial view of the world (and we have, after all, been programmed to collapse into fits of laughter whenever the phrase 'conspiracy theory' is uttered), it bears remembering that states do conspire from time to time. I'll have more to say on this later, but for now I thought you'd appreciate the chance to laugh yourself silly at this pompous, argument-free reaction from David Aaronovitch. Oddly, he seems to rely on what your common sense reaction will be, even though his article is reacting to the fact that the common sense is not on his side in this issue.
For now, I'm off to fight the twelve-foot lizard beasts that control the planet with their evil death rays.
Saturday, November 20, 2004
I often wonder if there isn't some bastard like this hanging around the higher echelons of the music industry, especially when I'm drinking coffee and flicking across the channels on a Saturday morning. JoJo. S-Club Juniors. Even Britney Spears back when she was doing the Lolita thing. Something's going the fuck on here, man. Look, this little idiot JoJo is thirteen, and a talentless little fucking shitstain at that. So, why is she singing about 'Baby its you' and about some boyfriend that's old enough to drive? And what's this "Oooh ooh oooh, do you know what kind of girl I am?" bullshit? I know what kind of girl you are, JoJo - jailbait for perverts. And you're still in trainee fanny pads so shut it!
Just to prove this isn't a Daily Mail-style rant, I should point out that I am fully aware that this has been done before. Debbie Gibson, back in the 1980s, was twelve when she sang "Shake your love". But at least she was flat-chested and looked like John Boy. And Tiffany was way too boring to fetch the eye of the nonce. JoJo, on the other hand, does have something developing on her pecs, and she seems to appear on videos with them clad in plastic and PVC corsets. I'm not joking. You dress like a slut, JoJo! If I was your father, I'd take the belt to you. (No, I'm kidding!)
And as for you S-Club Juniors brats. You're being used, you greasy little schmucks. In five years time, you'll all be sitting around with no money, heroin tracks all over your arms, pustulating, suppurating, cleaning toilets and flipping burgers for a living. Oh yeah, one of you will be in a dodgy teen soap, but all that effort touring and snorting coke when mother wasn't looking will have been wasted for the rest of you. If you were a little older, I'd set Eminem on you. Now, fuck off. And take that muck off your face. It's garish, and it attracts the wrong sorts of people.
And while I'm the fucking mood for cultural criticism, can I just point out that we would all gain something from seeing the members of Girls Aloud handed over to Tawhid wal-Jihad? There's a video of theirs I'll fucking watch. "I'll stand by you - urgh!"
Apology: I apologise for the offensive content in the above post. It was very wrong of me. And I'm sorry to the girls in Girls Aloud - I'm not sorry if you're offended, I'm just sorry you fucking exist you no-talent, plastic doll, cracker-ass idiots. Apology over.
Stop Iran's Nukes! Nuke Iran! posted by Richard SeymourThe democratic revolution is spreading. Soon, Iran will join the list of nations gratefully liberated by the American Jacobins . Christoper Hitchens will be delighted .
Why? Because freedom is God's gift to humanity, stupid! Iran is a prong on that trident of evil jabbing America's lardy ass. It says bad things about America. And shut up! But the occasion for this warning shot is that Colin Powell has let it be known that Iran is pursuing a delivery system for nuclear weapons. A series of documents provided to the American government by the National Council for Resistance in Iran has generated a series of accusations from the Bush administration.
Mohammad Mohaddessin of the NCRI even went to the trouble of displaying sattelite imagery to a credulous press corps. BBC Newsnight reported this fact last night without the slightest smirk, raised eyebrow or Paxo-style "ye-e-e-eeeesss".
Two points, then:
1) The Bush administration does not care about nuclear proliferation. It is such a minor concern for them that one of their first acts was to cut back a programme designed to help Russia contain and secure the 40,000 poorly stored nuclear weapons that exist at various places in the territory of the former Soviet Union. Among these are weapons small enough to be smuggled into any country without much trouble, causing the Department of Energy to consider it "the most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today" . It took considerable pressure, following the 9/11 attacks, to get the funding restored.
2) The US' own nuclear strategy is a known factor in contributing to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. US intelligence says that the new American programmes for creating 'mini-nukes' and such will encourage China to pursue its own programmes, amplifying its arsenal ten-fold. India and Pakistan would also respond with their own build-ups, and the Middle East would not be untouched by this. The Bulletin of Atomic Sciencists describes how Bush's policies encourage potential adversaries to continue to seek deterrence through their own mass-casualty weapons and novel means to deliver them". According to the Centre for Defense Information, the Bush administration has been lowering the bar for the use of nuclear weapons so that a cause less urgent than national survival (preemptive strikes) may suffice to justify their use. In order to facilitate the dismantling of international agreements designed to curtail the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the Bush administration told China that it had no objection to its plans to build up a small fleet of nuclear weapons. In fact, this strategy did not begin with Bush. It was the Clinton administration that accepted the advice of STRATCOM that it should have a strategy of appearing to be slightly out of control, and should have a launch-on-warning posture for its nuclear arsenal. Clinton's administration also encouraged Russia to adopt a launch-on-warning posture despite its knowledge that Russia's deteriorating warning systems were "full of holes" as Russian experts put it.
The absurdity of a debate about nuclear weapons proliferation that does not include any discussion of the largest and most dangerous nuclear power in the world is hard to miss. Yet news stories continue to abound about the alleged dangers posed by Iran, the agreements reached to alleviate them and whether the clerics "really mean it", with no discussion of other nuclear powers in the world, or even in the locality . I am all for the dismantling of the thermonuclear state but, like all benign works, this one must begin at home. The hypocrisy of the US issuing shrill accusations against the petty theocracy in Iran is enough to set off a small mushroom cloud in my head.
Incidentally, a few observations about the source of this story. The National Council for Resistance in Iran is officially designated a 'terrorist' organisation by the US State Department , for its links with the Mujahideen e-Khalq. Yet, the MEK and their various affiliates enjoy the most flattering attention of US neoconservatives. They can give press conferences and organise demonstrations in Washington without challenge or arrest. In fact, if you pursue the link supplied near the top of this post, you will find that their rhetoric closely matches the fantasies of certain members of the Bush administration ("Stop Iranian Terror, WMDs!" - yesterday's demonstration was not about the fate of oppressed Iranian women or arrested student protesters). Therefore, I have a question for those who are avidly lapping up this story: Where did those amazing sattelite images come from?
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Laws of nature. posted by Richard SeymourCulture is nature in excess of itself. Everyone knows that. Even Shakespeare knew that.
Still, here's a helpful reminder from Charlotte Street :
'All this dire misrery, therefore; all this of our poor workhouse workmen, of our Chartisms, Trade-strikes, Corn-Laws, Toryisms, and the general downbreak of laissez-faire in these days, - may we not regard it as a voice from the dumb bosom of nature, saying to us: Behold! Supply and demand is not the one Law of Nature; Cash-payment is not the sole nexus of man with man, - how far from it.' (Thomas Carlyle)
The Street is protesting its innocence , as I suspected. Whatever, just check his shit out because it smells better than most.
John Perkins describes himself as a former economic hit man - a highly paid professional who cheated countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars.
20 years ago Perkins began writing a book with the working title, "Conscience of an Economic Hit Men."
Perkins writes, "The book was to be dedicated to the presidents of two countries, men who had been his clients whom I respected and thought of as kindred spirits - Jaime Roldós, president of Ecuador, and Omar Torrijos, president of Panama. Both had just died in fiery crashes. Their deaths were not accidental. They were assassinated because they opposed that fraternity of corporate, government, and banking heads whose goal is global empire. We Economic Hit Men failed to bring Roldós and Torrijos around, and the other type of hit men, the CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind us, stepped in.
John Perkins goes on to write: "I was persuaded to stop writing that book. I started it four more times during the next twenty years. On each occasion, my decision to begin again was influenced by current world events: the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1980, the first Gulf War, Somalia, and the rise of Osama bin Laden. However, threats or bribes always convinced me to stop."
Check the link to watch the interview or read a rush transcript. America building an empire through fraud, robbery and imperial violence? Who would have thought that?
Bloggered again. posted by Richard SeymourMore ass-kissing and air-kissing from the world of Blog.
First, go consult the British Bullblog , for he has a charming video to watch called "Keep Your Jesus Off My Penis". The Bullblog is not the bluff patriot that his name implies. He's a bit of a Kerry-crat and has expressed an alarming willingness to see Hilary Clinton in the Whitehouse. Hilary is the political equivalent of the ambulance-chasing lawyer. There is no cause she will not espouse then sell-out to advance her sordid career, and I would sooner paddle Karl Rove's balls with my tongue than see that slippery, sanctimonious twitch park her arse on the same seat that her husband used to get blow-jobs on. Does that seem harsh?
Charlotte Street has a link to an excellent acceptance speech made by John Berger when he received the Booker prize for his novel G. The author of Charlotte Street, Mark Kaplan, may well protest his innocence here, but if you scan his various posts there is often a veiled provocation or attack on some deserving victim. I have hours of fun working out who he's taking the piss out of this time, but perhaps that is because I have a hollow life and a job that could easily be performed by a trained lab rat.
Dead Men Left is on form, casually debunking the cherished myths of the pro-war Left while sprinkling some venom on its most embarrassingly red-faced progenitors. DML also has the advantage of being written by an educated Trotskyist who is not burdened by a tumescent ego, as I am. (Hey, it's not my fault I'm so great).
Pas Au Dela , a fine radical blogger who conjoins politics, philosophy and literature into a combustible stream of subversive thoughts, deserves a mention for linking to this interesting article :
Many people claim to be astonished by terrorists who blow themselves up in the process of attempting to kill their enemies. Many would also find the
Aztec ritual of heart extraction shocking and painful to contemplate. Yet we
barely reflect upon our own suicidal political rituals, for example the
First World War in which nine million people were killed and twenty-two
million wounded. The vast casualties were the result of millions of men
acting precisely like contemporary terrorists: allowing their bodies to be
blown to bits as they attempted to blow up the bodies of their enemies.
In the West, we disguise the sacrificial meaning of warfare by pretending that the other nation is responsible for killing soldiers.
Joanna Bourke, in her book Dismembering the Male, observes that the most
important point to be made about the male body during the First World War
was that it was "intended to be mutilated." We view war as a drive for
conquest and outlet for energetic activity even as its fundamental purpose
and inevitable consequence is injury and death. We encourage the soldier's
delusion of masculine virility and call him a hero-in order to lure him into
becoming a sacrificial victim.
A quick gia sou Mihalis mou to the author of Histologion , an excellent Athens based website which features an article by Engels on China and Persia, (more interesting than it probably sounds), as well as some fine essays on Kosovo, Cyprus & Turkey. He also has a nice little article on suicide bombing . (And yes, that 'gia sou' business is as far as my understanding of Greek extends, apart from some of the swear words and those funny little sounds my girlfriend makes during long-distance phone calls like "ne" and "eveve".)
And now a couple of articles. First, the editors of MediaLens link to this article from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:
In three recent reports about the military invasion of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, the New York Times has misreported the facts about the April 2004 invasion of the city and the toll it took on Iraqi civilians.
On November 8, the Times reported: "In April, American troops were closing in on the city center when popular uprisings broke out in cities across Iraq. The outrage, fed by mostly unconfirmed reports of large civilian casualties, forced the Americans to withdraw. American commanders regarded the reports as inflated, but it was impossible to determine independently how many civilians had been killed."
The next day, the Times made the same point, reporting that the U.S. "had to withdraw during a previous fight for the city in April after unconfirmed reports of heavy civilian casualties sparked outrage among both Sunni and Shiite Iraqis." And on November 15, the Times noted that the current operation "redressed a disastrous assault on Fallujah last April that was called off when unconfirmed reports of large civilian casualties drove the political cost too high."
It's unclear why the Times considers those civilian deaths "unconfirmed." While there is some debate over precise figures, this wording leaves the impression that nothing can be reasonably known about deaths in Fallujah.
The head of Fallujah's hospital, Dr. Rafie al-Issawi, has consistently maintained that more than 600 people were killed in the initial U.S. siege of Fallujah in April 2004, a figure that rose to more than 800 as the siege was lifted and people pinned down by the fighting were able to register their families' deaths (Knight-Ridder, 5/9/04). More than 300 of the dead, according to al-Issawi, were women and children...
Jacqueline Rose related a nice little Freudian tale to a debate about the 'war on terror' organised by the London Review of Books in 2002. Freud, she said, pointed out that although most of us have great difficulty imagining our own deaths, we usually have no problem imagining the death of others, something he illustrates with the old joke where a man says to his wife, "When one of us dies, I'll move to Paris." She has written an excellent article on suicide bombing . I particularly like the closing passage:
For years, Israeli secret service analysts and social scientists have been trying to build up a typical profile of the suicide 'assassin', only to conclude that there isn't one. It may indeed be that your desire to solve the problem is creating it, that burrowing into the psyche of the enemy, far from being an attempt to dignify them with understanding, is a form of evasion that blinds you to your responsibility for the state they are in. There is one thing that nobody will disagree with: the story of suicide bombing is a story of people driven to extremes. 'Children who have seen so much inhumanity,' El-Sarraj states, 'inevitably come out with inhuman responses.' We need to find a language that will allow us to recognise why, in a world of inequality and injustice, people are driven to do things that we hate. Without claiming to know too much. Without condescension.
Read the whole thing, though. This article has drawn some puzzled, outraged responses. Do we really, as Rose suggests, need to refer to some psychoanalytical factor like the intimacy of killer and killed to explain the widespread revulsion against suicide bombing? Isn't it enough that civilians are brutally, deliberately murdered? Rose suggests that such outrage is never so vehemently expressed when states murder civilians - but is this really so?
The answer, of course, is yes. I won't bore anyone unless asked by dredging up all of the examples of slap-faced astonishment and horror at the latest explosion in a Tel Aviv cafe, which follows a previous few days or weeks of barely reported state murder of Palestinians, often quite deliberate - about which diddly-squat is said. But state violence carries with it legitimacy precisely because it is being carried out by an organisation claiming territorial rights and a monopoly of violence.
And there is a common psychological factor in war that is so widely understood that it feels pedantic discussing it. Nevertheless, here goes. Killing from a distance is not only less burdensome for the killer, it is also less painful to imagine. Killing someone from afar with a machine gun is ethically no better than killing up close with a bayonet, but if one had to choose between the two, there is probably little doubt which method of killing most would choose. (Wittgenstein, who served for Austria in the First World War, once remarked that if it came to hand-to-hand combat the only thing to do would be to let oneself be massacred rather than join in the medieval slaughter).
So, if these are factors influencing the perception of killing, as I claim they are, there can't be anything "rebarbative" about remembering them, discussing them. There are actually some baleful moral consequences of forgetting and allowing these factors to retain their hold on the imagination. Something to think about as we have two murders to be angry about: the shooting of an wounded, elderly, unarmed man by a US soldier (which can be justified in any number of sophisticated ways); and the killing of an innocent, unarmed woman by an Islamist group (which can never be justified and about which judgement is never pending).
That'll do for now. I'm taking the day off work because a) I'm terrifyingly sick and b) I have a horrendous toothache that even Codeine won't dissolve. So expect more ranting and rambling later.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
I thought there were no civilians in Fallujah?
They entered without a great deal of caution, found several unarmed men slumped on the ground. Most were dead, but one appeared to be merely injured, still moving and breathing. A US soldier said something like "he's faking shit!" and shot him dead.
Now, the BBC reporter who discussed this initially on BBC Breakfast made it plain that these were not armed fighters, but unarmed dead guys. Yet, curiously, every mention of the story since has gone with the line that these were 'insurgents'. The man who was shot, by the way, was "an old man".
Nice going you fucking adrenaline-junkie killers.
I'll be bloggered! posted by Richard SeymourA few navel-gazing notes from the glamorous world of Blog.
Via Dead Men Left , I discover Hungbunny , which has the imperishable strapline "Where Comments (0) is a way of life". Go read his blog and see what he wants to do with Bridget Jones.
Scarecrow is a literary blog which pops into the Tomb in search of humorous vulgarianisms. Lots of counter-cultural references there (Kathy Acker, Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs, Henry Miller), but no Gore Vidal or Oscar Wilde. No Bret Easton Ellis or Philip Roth. Not even a whiff of Ken Kesey's shit-encrusted country-fuck boots. Oh well.
Finally, Norm has accused Mark Kaplan of having a fixation with him. Not an anal fixation I hope. (No, that was cheap and nasty, and I take it back instantly. You know the mantra by now - I say what I can to get your attention and take it back to get your moral approbation). As Kaplan suggests, though, it is a rather odd and tetchy response to what one might consider a back-handed compliment even if Kaplan is fixated with him. Anyway, if you want to get him off your back, just give him a Normblog Profile, darling!
Oh, and very finally, and just to annoy the small crew of Iraqnophobes who come here just to whinge about how much I discuss the murderous assault on Iraq, here's a little treat :
Speaking at New York University this week, famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh called Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi a "straw man" and a "criminal" and said the key story the press is missing in Iraq is the recent upsurge in U.S. bombing -- even before the Fallujah operation.
"One story the press doesn't touch is this criminal -- this straw man that's been put in -- Allawi, this ridiculous figure that we've installed as the prime minister," Hersh said. "To keep him in power, we've exponentially increased the bombing. ...
"The bombing of Iraq has gone up extraordinarily, by huge numbers. It's now a daily occurrence, around-the-clock on some occasions. Some of the carriers but much of it done by the Air Force from Doha. We don't know where. We don't know how many. We don't know, and nobody's asking and nobody wants to know, how many sorties a day? How much tonnage? We used to get all of these numbers. But we have no idea if they're dropping X-thousand. We don't know how much ordinance is being dropped on a country we're trying to save."
According to Jesse Tarbert, online editor for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, which co-sponsored the talk by Hersh and Nation columnist Jonathan Schell, both writers blamed the news media's failures in covering the war in Iraq mainly on top editors at national news outlets. He quoted Hersh telling the audience, made up partly of student journalists, "I would get rid of the top editors of the networks, The New York Times, I would just cut 'em all off," drawing laughs.
Both reporters, Tarbert wrote, compared the coverage of the current war in Iraq to that of the Vietnam War. "Incredibly, all these years later, we're making the same fundamental mistakes," Schell said. When he arrived in Vietnam in 1966, Schell found that many of the reporters "were imbued with a sort of narrative or an idea of what that war was that derived from their editors back in the United States." Mental "constructs," he said, could "block out the evidence of one's own eyes."
But Hersh acknowledged that it can be difficult for reporters to go against the status quo. "Nobody wants to be too much of a pain in the ass in a newspaper," he said. "And if you keep on pushing the envelope you'll get in trouble."
That's your lot. I'm bloggered, and I haven't even gone to work yet.
Monday, November 15, 2004
“I cannot get the image out of my mind of her foetus being blown out of her body.”
Here's one for the pro-lifers:
She weeps while telling the story. The abaya (tunic) she wears cannot hide the shaking of her body as waves of grief roll through her. “I cannot get the image out of my mind of her foetus being blown out of her body.”
Muna Salim’s sister, Artica, was seven months’ pregnant when two rockets from US warplanes struck her home in Fallujah on November 1. “My sister Selma and I only survived because we were staying at our neighbours’ house that night,” Muna continued, unable to reconcile her survival while eight members of her family perished during the pre-assault bombing of Fallujah that had dragged on for weeks.
Khalid, one of their brothers who was also killed in the attack, has left behind a wife and five young children.
“There were no fighters in our area, so I don’t know why they bombed our home,” said Muna. “When it began there were full assaults from the air and tanks attacking the city, so we left from the eastern side of Fallujah and came to Baghdad.”
Selma, Muna’s 41-year-old sister, told of horrific scenes in the city which has become the centre of resistance in Iraq over the last few months. She described houses that had been razed by countless US air strikes, where the stench of decaying bodies swirled around the city on the dry, dusty winds.
“The bombed houses had collapsed and covered the bodies, and nobody could get to them because people were too afraid to drive a bulldozer,” she explained, throwing her hands into the air in despair.
“Even for people to walk out of their houses is impossible in Fallujah because of the snipers.”
Both sisters described a nightmarish existence inside the city where fighters controlled many areas, food and medicine were often in short supply, and the thumping concussions of US bombs had become a daily reality.
Water also was often in short supply, and electricity a rarity. Like many families cowered down inside Fallujah they ran a small generator when they could afford the fuel.
“Even when the bombs were far away, glasses would fall off our shelves and break,” said Muna. “None of us could sleep as during the night it was worse.”
While going to the market in the middle of the day to find food, the sisters said they felt terrorised by US warplanes, which often roared over the sprawling city. “The jets flew over so much,” said Selma, “but we never knew when they would strike the city.”
The women described a scene of closed shops, mostly empty streets, and terrorised residents wandering around the city not knowing what to do.
“Fallujah was like a ghost town most of the time,” described Muna. “Most families stayed inside their houses all the time, only going out for food when they had to.”
Tanks often attacked the outskirts of the city in skirmishes with resistance fighters, adding to the chaos and unrest. Attack helicopters rattling low over the desert were especially terrifying, criss-crossing over the city and firing rockets into the centre.
While recounting their family’s traumatic experiences over the last few weeks, from their uncle’s home in Baghdad, each of the sisters often paused, staring at the ground as if lost in the images before adding more detail. Their 65-year-old mother, Hadima, was killed in the bombing, as was their brother Khalid, who was an Iraqi police captain. Their sister Ka’ahla and her 22-year-old son also died.
“Our situation was like so many in Fallujah,” said Selma, continuing, her voice now almost emotionless and matter of fact. The months of living in terror are etched on her face.
“So many people could not leave because they had nowhere to go, and no money.”
Adhra’a, another of their sisters, and Samr, Artica’s husband, were also among the victims. Samr had a PhD in religious studies. Artica and Samr had a four-year-old son, Amorad, who died with his parents and his unborn brother or sister.
The two sisters managed to flee the city from the eastern side, carefully making their way through the US military cordon which, for the most part, encircled the area. As they left, they witnessed a scene that was full assaults on their city from US warplanes and tanks .
“Why was our family bombed?” pleaded Muna, tears streaming down her cheeks, “There were never any fighters in our area.”
I'm sorry, I shouldn't bore you with this. I know you'd much rather hear about Darfur . Shame on me.
The bulk of Islamist movements & theorists have been reactionary in orientation, although this is not always or necessarily the case. The origins of Islamism as a reaction to the decline of the ‘Islamic world’ under imperial tutelage are well-known and understood – by those who know and understand the topic. But what sustains it and what precisely has brought it to the apparent apex of brutality today remains shrouded in deliberate mystery. We understand that they are fanatics, of course; maybe even ‘evil’. But why should it be that a movement which originated in Egypt as a heel kick against imperial domination and the values it used to legitimise itself became the face of Satan for Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Brandl?
The answer appears to be that it is an expression of the despair of the lower-middle classes and young in Islamic societies. It is the result of a developmental crisis in which states that lack economic growth are unable to follow through on the promise of education. That is, families go to enormous efforts to send their progeny to school and university – yet, success having been achieved, there are often too few opportunities because of corruption and stagnation. In a study of Egyptian Islamists captured by the state, cited in Nazih Ayubi’s sharp text “Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World”, it was found that the bulk of them were student graduates (43.9%), while 15% were workers and the rest middle class professionals of various kinds. 70% were aged between 21 & 30, (most between 20-25). Al-Zawahiri was a doctor when he started; bin Laden a student. The core of the Islamist movement in Iran was middle class and educated. Although there was a stronger component of worker involvement here than in anywhere else (particularly during the decisive strikes of 1978), insofar as it was driven by Islamism of some kind, its actions were usually initiated by middle management.
Psychological factors (youth identity crisis, alienation from society) compound with economic factors (lack of opportunity, stagnation) and political factors (the overbearing presence of the state) to produce a movement that is, by turns, revolutionary and reactionary.
As an ideology, Islamism’s function partly resides in the occluding of class dimensions in society. Studies show that the class structures of Arab societies have been skewed in a rather unusual way, in that there has been an unusually rapid expansion in the lower middle class, the sub-proletariat and the lumpen-proletariat: the workers as such have sometimes been in the minority. The structure has also been unusually fluid, inasmuch as there has been a great deal of expansion in the professions during periods of economic growth, but also heavy down-migration of the professionals and more technical workers during periods of recession. This class fluidity has accommodated, therefore, a form of political expression that allows groups with divergent, conflicting interests to unite.
More importantly, what they appear to be uniting for is the opposite of what really motivates them. Umberto Eco once reported on the diaries of a 13th Century theologian who extemporised in the most beautiful terms on all of the evil things that a man of faith must deny himself. Never, Eco suggested, had such ‘evil’ been described with such aching wonder and desire. Similarly, we might remember what Ayubi himself has to say about Political Islam. They don’t condemn modernity because they are medieval fools: “they hate modernity because they cannot have it!”
How many civilians are dead? posted by Richard SeymourAccording to the US military , "civilian casualties are small because so many people fled the city before the assault began."
Paul Wood, reporting for BBC Breakfast, retails this line as well as explaining that 'hundreds' of civilians have emerged waving white flags and were subsequently taken to safety by the troops. Well, the 'low civilian casualties' line would be more persuasive if there were not up to 150,000 civilians remaining in Fallujah when the city was sealed off. And, since the hospitals have been bombed or occupied, it has been almost impossible to get treatment for the injured and there are no surgeons available to explain to cameras how many patients they have had to declare dead. Further, the US explain that approximately 1,200 'militants' have been killed in this assault. If they truly are all militants, remembering that the standard pattern has been that for every one insurgent killed, eight civilians die, that leaves us with 9,600 civilians dead.
At any rate, if you are a civilian in Fallujah and you have any thoughts of escaping unarmed, think again. US soldiers are shooting at fleeing civilians .
Of course, the US publicly disavows the existence of civilians in Fallujah, so this may explain their eagerness to rain down artillery on anyone thinking of swimming the Euphrates.
And by the way, those elections that Fallujah is being bombed so that it can have? Well, because of the chaos that has erupted across Iraq and some naughty words coming from the mouths of Shi'ite leaders, the elections may have to be delayed . Just as well, really, as I'd hate to see anyone have to arrange a census in the ruins of Carthage - er, Fallujah.
Finally, if any of those civilians are going to end up in Guantanamo Bay, they will probably have to put up with some smears at the hands of our oleaginous Prime Minister when they come out.
All hail the democratic revolution.
Update: for some well-argued thoughts on calculating civilian casualties in Iraq, consult Daniel Brett .
Saturday, November 13, 2004
Iraqi Railway workers boycott supplies to US troops or forces belonging to US-appointed Allawi government. Employees of the National Iraqi Railways Company also declared that they will only agree to carry food supplies to the Iraqi people as part of the UN for food programme, and threatened national strike if forced to do otherwise. The Allawi government reacted by accusing the railway works of carrying civil disobedience. Meanwhile more than 40 Muslim clerics of the Shia and Sunni faiths have urged Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani to publically declare his opposition for Iraqi troops taking part in the attack on the people of Falluja.
Given the recent torrents of bile emerging from certain pro-war blogs and their own stoutly declared support for the Iraqi working class, can we now expect them to denounce the assault on Fallujah and stand firm with their Iraqi brothers and sisters?