Monday, January 31, 2005

The ghost of elections past... posted by Richard Seymour


"U.S. encouraged by Vietnam Vote. Officials City 83%
Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror," NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 4, 1967, p. 2.

Direland has more on this article:

United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.
According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

"The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here....
"A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam...
"The fact that the backing of the electorate has gone to the generals who have been ruling South Vietnam for the last two years does not, in the Administration's view, diminish the significance of the constitutional step that has been taken.


Ronald Reagan statement on the election of Jose Napoleon Duarte as President of El Salvador

May 18, 1984
On Wednesday, May 16, the Central Elections Commission of El Salvador certified Jose Napoleon Duarte as the winner of the May 6 Presidential election in that country. By this act, the people of El Salvador have made clear their choice of Mr. Duarte as the first popularly elected President of that country in recent history.

The voters have chosen as President a man who had dedicated his life to achieving democracy and reform for his homeland. We congratulate President-elect Duarte on his victory and pledge that we will do all in our power to strengthen the ties of freedom and democracy that unite us.

Mr. Duarte carried with him a clear mandate from the people of El Salvador, over 80 percent of whom voted on May 6, that democracy and the vote should determine their future. The United States bipartisan observer delegation noted that, ``This election was fair and honest, and . . . provided a clear and undeniable mandate to whichever candidate is elected.'' Election observers from other countries echoed a similar conclusion.

In protecting both rounds of the recent elections, the Salvadoran Armed Forces took more than 80 casualties, demonstrating once again their determination to defend freedom. They acted professionally and apolitically and are showing us now that they will respect the popular electoral will. In contrast, the guerrillas refused to participate in the election and intensified the combat before, during, and after the voting.

As El Salvador's voters had to brave the intimidation of the guerrillas, their newly elected President will have to face the challenges of creating a peaceful and secure framework for social and humanitarian reform, economic development, and further democratic advance.

The people of El Salvador have spoken. We, along with other nations committed to a democratic form of government, must heed their courageous action. We will support their newly elected government in the pursuit of and the opportunity for a better life.

I look forward to meeting with El Salvador's new President-elect on Monday, May 21, during his visit to Washington. In addition, I have asked Secretary of State George Shultz to head our delegation to the President-elect's inauguration on June 1 in San Salvador.

Tenner to anyone who can tell me how many corpses followed each of these 'elections'?

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More election euphoria. posted by Richard Seymour

The Iraqi blogger Raed is unhappy about the elections. He points out that:

1) "The fake government in Iraq announced that 72% of Iraqis voted today. Later they announced that 8 million Iraqis voted, which means that around 56% voted because the number of Eligible voters inside Iraq is more than 14.27 million."

2) "There is NO WAY that the primitive weak Iraqi government could know how many people went to vote today this fast, and these numbers are mere exaggerated guesses.

Yet, they are stupid enough to miscalculate numbers.

The number of Iraqis outside is more than 4,000,000. 56% of Iraqis are older than 18 years, which means that around 2.5 million Iraqis are Eligible voters outside Iraq. Less than 250,000 of them voted.

The surprise is that by a simple calculation, the total number of Iraqi Eligible voters inside and outside the country is more than 16.75 millions, and the number of people that actually voted is less than 8.25 million."

Less than 50% of all eligible voters actually voted. Success, success!! Keep repeating.

Another thing that bears mentioning is that the low turnout is blamed on 'insurgent violence'. Well, that has to be part of it, but how to explain the low ex-pat turnout, where there was considerably less danger?

Oddly, an organisation calling itself the International Organization of Migration claims that 94% of ex-pats voted , which would be pretty bloody difficult since only 25% of them registered.

Rumours were apparently percolating among Iraqis that if they didn't vote, they would have their food rations cut off. Or so report Raed and Baghdad Burning . Dahr Jamail reports:

Many Iraqis said Monday that their names were marked on a list provided by the government agency that provides monthly food rations before they were allowed to vote.

”I went to the voting centre and gave my name and district where I lived to a man,” said Wassif Hamsa, a 32-year-old journalist who lives in the predominantly Shia area Janila in Baghdad. ”This man then sent me to the person who distributed my monthly food ration.”

Mohammed Ra'ad, an engineering student who lives in the Baya'a district of the capital city reported a similar experience.

Ra'ad, 23, said he saw the man who distributed monthly food rations in his district at his polling station. ”The food dealer, who I know personally of course, took my name and those of my family who were voting,” he said. ”Only then did I get my ballot and was allowed to vote.”

”Two of the food dealers I know told me personally that our food rations would be withheld if we did not vote,” said Saeed Jodhet, a 21-year-old engineering student who voted in the Hay al-Jihad district of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Salim Lone - former advisor to Sergio Vieira de Mello - argues that "the election fell so completely short of accepted electoral standards that had it been held in, say, Zimbabwe or Syria, Britain and America would have been the first to denounce it." Success! Glory to the civilising mission.

Election "irregularities" are already emerging.

But wait: "I can see the markets rising like a beautiful bird!"

Finally, Fisherblog reproduces the view of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, urging workers not to participate in the elections. It is interesting for the reasons they give. I reiterate my own view that the decision to participate is a judgement call for Iraqis, to do with their own assessment of risks and potential benefits, but this is still an interesting take - not least because some accuse the antiwar Left of being uninterested in the views of Iraqi socialists.

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraq election news... posted by Richard Seymour

Some interesting articles and links on the situation in Iraq today. The Iraqi blogger Shlonkom Bakazay derides the "draconian elections" and remarks that there are only five television cameras allowed to film what is happening at 6,000 polling booths. He also reveals that the Beeb is using Allawi's supplied translators who feed false translations of what an interviewee has just said.

Polling stations at a number of towns in Iraq were still not open five hours after voting was due to begin, according to the country's Electoral Commission, while the polls are set to close an hour early .

Predictably, the turnout among Sunnis is negligible, yet I am hearing whispers of a turnout of 72% nationally, which would be comfortably high. The source of the claims? Tex at has the answer: a single Iraqi election official. That official change his position after question, (click on the "72%" link above). Other estimates are more modest, positing a turnout of 50% or more , another report suggesting merely that it could "reach or exceed 50%" . That would hardly be miraculous, but certainly a stronger turnout than I would credit for such a transparently fraudulent, anarchic, unfair process.

I don't need to enlighten you about the spate of suicide bombings and rocket attacks that have marked this election. 44 have been killed. Despite the fixing, the injustice, the exclusion of so many voters and the death, the occupiers have hailed it as a "success" . Frankly, if two Iraqis had made it there to vote only to perish in a mortar attack on the way out, they would still find a way to call it a success.

And Juan Cole has some excellent analysis :

1) "[T]his process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan."

2) "[T]he Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly "extremely offended" at these two demands and opposed Sistani. Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open, non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January 2005."

Exactly right, in two shots. The elections were extremely flawed, but even insofar as they do reflect what Iraqis want, that is a victory of Iraqis themselves against the coalition.

Incidentally, there are some right-wing US commentators who are rather unhappy that votes are being counted at all:

CARLSON: Listen, we can't leave We can't stay. It's a terrible situation to be in, and we're going to end up -- listen, in secret meetings at the White House, they're no longer talking about democracy flowering in the Middle East and a bastion for others to follow, they're saying, How are we going to get out of this with honor?


You know if our post-war policy had been a little better, Iraqis wouldn't have to be quite so brave to vote and we may end up supporting with our own soldiers a theocracy or a semi- theocracy that the Reagan-Bush people armed Saddam Hussein to prevent. That's the irony of all of this.

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The Other Occupation. posted by Richard Seymour

If Iraq is an example of a failed occupation, Israel is perhaps the most successful and enduring occupation in history. So successful in legitimising itself, in fact, that the only problem it now has is with how much of the land it has claimed it may keep. I've written about it before, but Israel's double-bind in the Occupied Territories is germane to something I discovered today thanks to a friendly e-mail spectre.

"The Demographic Problem"
In a nutshell, the problem is as put by Yitzhak Rabin to his own party back in 1976:

The majority of the people living in a Jewish State must be Jewish. We must prevent a situation of an insufficient Jewish majority and we dare not have a Jewish minority.... The minority is entitled to equal rights as individuals with respect to their distinct religion and culture, but not more than that.

Religious and cultural rights, but not political rights. Binyamin Netanyahu got himself into trouble for saying this a couple of years ago:

Netanyahu's speech, his first diplomatic address since becoming finance minister, attacked Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's call for a withdrawal from most of the territories due to the concern that Israel could not remain a Jewish democratic state if it didn't ensure a 80% Jewish majority.


"We do have a demographic problem but it is with the Arab Israelis, not the Palestinians," Netanyahu said. "The declaration of independence depicts Israel as both Jewish and democratic. To stop democracy from wiping out the Jewish nature of the country we must insure the Jewish majority. Incorporating the Arab Israelis fully into Israeli society should be done hand in hand with protecting the Jewish nature of that society," he said.

The left-wing Israeli historian Baruch Kimmerling notes that this is precisely one of the considerations underlying present Israeli policy toward the Occupied Territories, since the Palestinian population is set to rise exponentially. Annexing the Occupied Territories right now would immediately lead to a binational state:

[T]he territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river contains 5 million Jews (and non-Arabs) and 4.5 million Palestinians (citizens and non-citizens).

Current demographic projections indicate that future population figures will favour the Palestinians and further imperil the slender Jewish demographic majority. Arnon Sofer, a geographer from Haifa University, calculates that by the year 2020, a total of 15.1 million persons will live on the land of historic Palestine with Jews being a minority of 6.5 million. (Kimmerling, Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War Against the Palestinians, Verso 2003, p 17).

"Greater Israel"
This represents a serious challenge to the very idea of a Jewish State. The other side of the bind is the historic commitment of Zionist leaders, both right and left, to the notion of a Greater Israel. In Ben Gurion's words:

Just as I do not see the proposed Jewish state as a final solution to the problems of the Jewish people, so I do now see partition as the final solution of the Palestine question. Those who reject partition are right in their claim that this country cannot be partitioned because it constitute one unit, not only from a historical point of view but also from that of nature and economy ... after the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the [Jewish] state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of the Palestine.

Avi Shlaim in The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (2000) describes how the doctrine of 'the Iron Wall', (Ze'ev Jabotinsky's argument that overwhelming military force would be needed before the Arabs would even consider sharing land which they, rightly, considered theirs) has not merely been the informing policy of both Labour and Likud governments, but is also being distorted and amplified into an even more vicious doctrine by the Israeli right today. Netanyahu argues that there can be no peace with Arab states, and that the Iron Wall posture must remain in place to ward off Arab hostility. He ardently espouses the dream of an undivided Land of Israel, in the tradition of the revisionist right, which bases its claim on ancient biblical maps. (John Rose expertly demolishes the nonsense around this in The Myths of Zionism (2004)).

Since Israeli governments of both left and right have in practise pursued a Greater Israel, it would make sense for them to find a way to resolve the demographic problem without exciting international attention. Yes, I am being deliberately sarcastic with those euphemisms.

The Solution.
The problem is therefore as follows: how to hold on to effective control of the Occupied Territories, annexing much of the land without absorbing too many Palestinians. Hence, the offer of bantustans at Camp David in 2000 - thin strips of land punctuated by settlements. Hence, the continuation of settlement-building in the West Bank, which Israel will not be withdrawing from, during the Oslo years (and especially under the odious racist, Ehud Barak).

But what about the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, where the settlements are to be dismantled? True, there are only 17 settlements in Gaza compared to 118 in the West Bank, but still - a concession to realism, perhaps? A miserly, pitiful gesture toward the possible construction of a sovereign Palestinian state, if nothing else to soften its international image and give Bush something to talk about? A recognition of the demographic problem for the Jewish State?

So I had thought. It transpires that Israel will remain an occupying power under law in Gaza. According to the UN Special Rapporteur:

It plans to retain ultimate control over Gaza by controlling its borders, territorial sea and airspace. Consequently, it will in law remain an Occupying Power still subject to obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

There you are, then. There is to be no relinquishing of the grip on Gaza, just a mild loosening. The West Bank will, in all likelihood, continue to sprout settlements like a teenager pustulating. And the Palestinians who live in these areas? The IDF has been doing its best to ensure that as few as possible can stand to remain, not merely by bulldozing homes, shooting civilians, blasting neighbourhoods, torturing prisoners and so on. They have also struck at one of the few remaining means of Palestinian subsistence, by destroying 4,000,000 square metres of cultivated land including olive groves . They have bulldozed homes in Gaza to create a 'buffer zone' on the border with Egypt, and Human Rights Watch report that in 2004 alone the IDF made 16,000 people homeless - whether they were suspected of insurrection or not. They are planning now to destroy 3,000 homes in the Gaza Strip under a spurious pretext .

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Israeli government was sending a strong hint to the Palestinians to leave.

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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Restoration farce? posted by Richard Seymour

According to Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation , a leaked document written by General Al-Hamadani ("overall coordinator for security matters" for Iyad Allawi) recommends a full restoration of the Baath party. They have a scanned copy of the document here . IDAO comments:

While advocating caution to stem "international opposition" to such move, General Al-Hamadani nevertheless supports the return of leading Baathist to government and cites measures to ensure that "those belonging to other parties are excluded from military and security institutions", in effect advocating a dictatorship in Iraq.

They go on to add that with the threat of civil war after the demonstration election tomorrow, there is a need for those Iraqis interested both in democracy and an end to the occupation to unite around a common programme and prevent any attempt at a return to dictatorship.

Elsewhere , they provide an assessment of the elections from the left-wing Baghdad newspaper Al-Ghad:

[A]fter the destruction of Falluja, and before it Najaf and other Iraqi towns, it is now clear that the promised 'elections' in Iraq became a cover for the execution of a military plan aimed at consolidating the occupation and diverting world public opinion from the destruction and shedding of innocent blood. At the same time, preparations for an international conference in Egypt are under way, to legitimise the end results wanted by Washington's with its current massacres, and for deciding the destiny of Iraq in the absence of the legitimate representatives of the Iraqi people.

They then go on to outline procedures for genuinely free and democratic elections:

First- Announce a timetable for ending the occupation and withdrawal of foreign troops completely from all areas of Iraq, with support of the Security Council.

Second- Conduct the elections under international supervision decided by the UN with personalities well known for its credibility and respect by the world peoples.

Third- Agree, as much as possible, on a fair system for proportional representation for all sectors of Iraqi society.

Fourth- Representatives of the main sectors of Iraqi society to announce its rejection of the campaigns of destruction and killing of Iraqi towns conducted by US forces, and also condemn the terrible crimes and mutilations perpetrated by suspect cliques that damage the reputation of the Iraqi people and the legitimate patriotic resistance and provide great services for the occupiers, helping them in justifying the occupation.

Now, if a small group of left-wingers in Baghdad can make the disctinction between the genuine resistance and the barbaric lunatics who make such gruesome theatre for Western audiences, how come so few Western liberals can manage that?

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Iraqi elections. posted by Richard Seymour

We accept that if Iraqis are entitled to hope for anything, it is for some good to come of this occupation. Elections, at least, that aren't compulsory and don't involve a single candidate accruing 100% of the votes on pain of torture and death. Hence, "50 to 60 percent of Iraqis are "very likely" or "intend" to vote in most areas" according to recent US surveys (no longer the 80% claimed at the end of last year). After suffering murder (even in the absurdly low official figures, it is acknowledged that most civilians were killed by the coalition and not insurgents), instability , 70% unemployment and torture at the hands of US troops , UK troops (in the linked story, a soldier explains that he took pictures of the torture to show to his mother - aawwwe), and Iraqi police , the least Iraqis could ask for is some small reward for their patience and forbearance.

Sadly, though rather predictably, these elections are farcical without being funny and tragic without being dignified. It is impossible, with the best of wills to conduct free and fair elections under occupation with a war of attrition taking place between rebels and occupiers. The best of wills is exactly what is missing here, of course, but I'll come to that later. Already we know that approximately 3 million Iraqis will be unable to participate. As MediaLens points out, neither will the 100,000 killed by the occupiers, the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Fallujah and those languishing in US-run jails. There are, of course, those who will be unwilling to vote in an election which, as Jonathan Steele points out, has no defining issues of difference:

In fact the differences between the various lists and candidates' programmes is minimal.

The key issue of how long the occupation should continue has not been debated. This leaves the many Iraqis who want to see an early end to it in a dilemma. A contested election is undoubtedly seen by many Iraqis as a historic step forward. On the down side, the vote gives legitimacy to the occupation, especially when there is no party on the ballot which is campaigning unambiguously for the troops' departure.

Very few Iraqis talk of the invasion as a liberation these days. The vast majority call it an occupation, yet they see no party or candidate articulating that viewpoint. So the sense of powerlessness and disenfranchisement persists.

At the moment, less than a quarter of Iraqi ex-pats - who are probably in a better position to vote than those who remain pats - have registered to vote. Juan Cole reports on a Zogby poll that says only 56% of Kurds say they are likely to or definitely will vote. (In the case of Kurds, there is expected to be an overwhelming majority for the > "unity alliance" involving the two main Kurdish parties, the communists and a small Islamist party). Further, only 9% of Sunnis will vote. Interestingly, the poll also reports that both Sunnis and Shias - whose voting intentions are obviously very different - want the occupiers out very soon (82% Sunnis, 69% Shias). Many Shi'ites are preparing to shun the elections, precisely because they are not seen as legitimate. It had been hoped that Sadr, whose standing remains high, would bid his supporters to vote. Silence from the bearded chubster so far.

There is also the small question of what is being voted for; once again, it is a 'transitional' government rather than an actual one. We've heard this one before. The 'transitional' government will not exactly govern, any more than the interim government presently 'authorises' US strikes on Fallujah or Mosul. Its role will be to decide on a constitution for Iraq (doubtless with the assistance of that enormous US embassy currently under the management of John Negroponte). That may be ratified, and if it has, Iraqis might get elections for a proper government in December - after the rules of the game have been decided by the US, naturally.

Many think that elections will be the first stage in getting the occupiers out. Since no parties contesting the elections are actually calling for this, it is hard to see how this is the case. But The Guardian reports that:

[A]n independent research group,, which tracks Pentagon contracts and military movements, claims there are about 12 of the bases under construction. "They are suggestive that the American presence is going to dominate for years not months," said John Pike, the head of the organisation. He added that the bases were not the only evidence that US troops planned a long stay.

"How many fighter jets does the new Iraqi army have? None. How many tanks? None. What do you call a country with no jets and no fighter planes? It's called a protectorate.

"They're so far away from giving Iraq a normal military you don't even have industry seminars salivating over the prospect of selling them stuff."

Since the US is committed to staying, and the elections are not to be allowed to alter this, the occupiers are taking no chances. The US taxpayer has been tapped for $80 million (on top of everything else) to pay for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) to use in manipulating the Iraqi elections. From MediaLens again:

Professor William I. Robinson of the Global and International Studies Programme at the University of California calls NDI and IRI "extensions" of the US State Department:

"I suspect that [NDI and IRI] are trying to select individual leaders and organisations that are going to be very amenable to the US transnational project for Iraq."

USAID has allocated $30 million to a CIA front organisation, the National Endowment for Democracy (which was involved in assisting putschists in Venezuela), to allocate to parties regarded as 'moderate'. Ex-patriot parties have already developed a monumental material advantage by working with the occupiers, from whom they received $100 million before the invasions. Dahr Jamail reports that Iyad Allawi has so much cash, he is practically giving it away - to journalists. The money is in dollars. He also happens to be the only candidate who appears regularly on television, while what the Boston Globe calls "underfunded parties" struggle to be heard. As the Centre for Defense Alternatives points out, even the massive insecurity in Iraq benefits Allawi and the established powers since those with government positions have access to security to facilitate campaigning, while the rest who are thus impeded have little access to media.

Meanwhile, there are hundreds of candidates who are standing without being able to campaign, reveal their names or even reveal their faces when they turn up to vote. As many as fifty out of 111 parties standing have dropped out, either out of opposition to the elections as presently constructed or for fear of assassination - yet their names remain on the ballots.

So what are we left with? An election in which many cannot vote, many will not, and many will have no idea who they're voting for. No one will be able to vote to end the occupation, stop the US-imposed privatisation programmes which are destroying Iraq's economy, or put an end to the torture of prisoners which is now being practised by the same police force which is going to run Iraq's law enforcement even after the departure of troops. The result can hardly even be representative given the exclusion of so many, the bribing of journalists and the intervention of American dollars. Foreign observers will not be able to monitor the process, which at least leaves fewer people to bribe.

Iraqis deserve much, much better than this rigged, anarchic and unfair substitute for democracy.

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Friday, January 28, 2005

Update on suicide bombings. posted by Richard Seymour

There was, as you can see below, a flood of commentary on yesterday's article on suicide bombing. There are a few points I want to make, but first of all it should be of some interest to reconsider those sentences cited by Linda Grant in her communication with Norm:

Some research has been done on the motives of suicide bombers, by
interviewing those who failed to pull it off. Amazingly, they reported that they did it because it was cool. Now in prison, their principal request is for hair gel. I kid you not.

This was bewildering at first, and communication with Linda didn't make it less so. She is, for a start, extremely polite and helpful. She also appears to be sympathetic to the Palestinians. I won't quote directly, since I do not have permission to do so, but I will say that Linda was not able to provide a reference to the cited research. It was apparently in Haaretz, about a year ago, but their archive isn't free. Googling has yielded nothing, and the supplementary information that was provided didn't seem to contribute to Linda's case.

For instance, this shows that one Palestinian group is busily persuading young Palestinians that there is glory in suicide bombing, but it doesn't mention hair gel or image consciousness. This suggests that those who typically carry out suicide bombings have been witness to Israeli brutality, but it doesn't say anything about hair gel or image consciousness. And this suggests that general despair at the situation of Palestinians imposed by Israel is not a sufficient cause of suicide bombings, but it doesn't mention...

In fact, some actual research that I was able to dig up points to two key factors in the phenomenon of suicide bombers in Palestine. One is individual level economic and social factors; the other is organizational strategy. Neither is sufficient alone, but both are necessary components.

The blogger, Lawrence of Cyberia , reports:

Shin Bet interviews intensively every intercepted suicide bomber to find out their motives, and reports that the single most common motivator is having a relative or close friend killed by Israeli occupation forces.

On the role of women suicide bombers, Israeli sources attribute a mixture of motives: nationalist, religious, personal, socio-economic... But no hair gel, and no concern for one's image. Indeed, one theme that seems to persist is that one has either witnessed Israeli brutality directly or experienced it in the family. This fits in with the argument cited from Jacqueline Rose's piece yesterday, specifically that "today's suicide attackers are, for the most part, children of the first intifada".

As several interlocutors pointed out, ideology must have a substantial weight in the decision to detonate oneself in a crowded area. I also mentioned individual psychological conditions, as there often appear to be mental health issues involved (wasn't it Frantz Fanon who first established a connection between colonial war and mental disease?). All of which leads me to insist on my main conclusion, which should be so obvious that it ought not bear repeating: No occupation, no suicide bombers.

Whatever other factors you insist upon, no matter how wrong (strategically and morally) you reckon suicide bombing to be, and no matter how much we emphasise the fate of victims, the above aphorism is untouchable and unexceptionable. The political conclusions are obvious.

Update: Linda Grant, although she is on to what I am up to on my blog, took the trouble to e-mail me the article she was alluding to. When someone posted this article on the MediaLens message board and suggested that it was the one Linda was alluding to, I wasn't so sure. The reason is because I can't see any justification for the sentence alluded to above in the article cited. It is an interesting article, but I don't think it says that hair gel is the number one request among failed suicide bombers, and I don't think it quite qualifies as research. Nor does it appear to say that suicide bombers do it because it is cool. You tell me.

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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Auschwitz. posted by Richard Seymour

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On suicide bombing. posted by Richard Seymour

Terry Eagleton's article on the topic in The Guardian yesterday wasn't his best, but it was provocative enough to get this , from Norm, this from Chris Young and this from Chris Brooke (cited in order of sympathy with the points made).

I don't think there is a great mystery about why Palestinians engage in suicide bombings against Israel. For instance, Jacqueline Rose says this:

According to Eyad El-Sarraj, the founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, today's suicide attackers are, for the most part, children of the first intifada. Studies show that during the first uprising, 55 per cent of children saw their fathers being humiliated or beaten by Israeli soldiers. Martyrdom - sacrificing oneself for God - increases its appeal when the image of the earthly father bites the dust. 'It's despair,' El-Sarraj states baldly, 'a despair where living becomes no different from dying.' When life is constant degradation, death is the only source of pride. 'In 1996, practically all of us were against the martyr operations,' Kamal Aqeel, the acting mayor of Khan Yunis in Gaza, explains. 'Not any longer . . . We all feel that we can no longer bear the situation as it is; we feel that we'd simply explode under all this pressure of humiliation.'

During the period when Palestine and Israel were supposed to be making pretty noises at one another, reaching agreements for a possible future agreement for a possible future Palestinian state, what was Israel doing? Building more settlements (with those charming 'Jewish Only' roads attached), while siezing water-supplies. While settlers floated on deep blue swimming pools, Palestinians just down the hill carried their water home in jerry cans. Violence against Palestinians continued at a low level, especially in state institutions where torture was and is widely practised. In short, the occupation did not end because of negotiations, it intensified. And under Barak, there was an intensification of violence against Palestinians. In July 2000, the fruit of Oslo was finally unveiled at Camp David: the Palestinians were to be granted a few strips of land interpolated by armed Israeli settlements. The best the Palestinians could achieve, after years of negotiation, was a deal that perpetuated "the subjugation of the Palestinians" (according to then special adviser to the Foreign Office, David Clark ). Meanwhile, "Already in summer 2000, the authoritative Jane's Information Group reported that Israel had completed planning for a massive and bloody invasion of the Occupied Territories." ( Norman Finkelstein , more here .). It is clear now, as if it wasn't clear at the time, that Israel never had any intention of taking Palestine's "peace offensive" as anything other than a threat. The rest is fairly well-known history.

The Palestinians do not have hawk air-jets or tanks or helicopters. They don't even have a very well-equipped army. They have a subterranean movement which includes both religious and secular groups. In direct combat with the IDF, they don't stand a chance. Hence, suicide bombings.

You don't have to infer from what I have said that I consider suicide bombings a just tactic (certainly not those directed at civilians) or a wise tactic. But there is no mystery. Palestinians mount suicide attacks because they are desperate, and because they have little else, because negotiations have delivered nothing, and because it affords them an extended reach that their cache of toy weapons do not. There are also issues of mental health when considering the individual suicide bomber, since many are said to suffer from psychological distortions, lack of social affect and so on. Ideology has its weight, of course, although it is wrong to reduce this to religious fervour. However, the main cause of suicide bombings in Israel is what Israel has been doing to the Palestinians.

If you prefer to avoid such crushing realities, take refuge with Linda Grant, who writes to Norm that:

Some research has been done on the motives of suicide bombers, by interviewing those who failed to pull it off. Amazingly, they reported that they did it because it was cool. Now in prison, their principal request is for hair gel. I kid you not.

Apparently, then, it's all about living fast and dying young...

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

They know not with what forces they be meddlin'... posted by Richard Seymour

Did you know that there is a small cult, or nomenklatura, a cabal, a caste of people who raise themselves above the masses and commune with abstract forces?

They encrypt their writings in strange heiroglyphs and obsolete language. They hate and fear the people, yet are never satisfied with the government. They specialise in predictions based on their carefully constructed codes, and often claim omniscience about the likely future state of the world.

Their outlandish claims are often slaughtered by reality, and they are left looking rather foolish. Rather than change the paradigm, they blame reality, or the government or the stupid masses. So pitifully indoctrinated are they that they continue to produce predictions and, like the broken clock that gets it right twice a day, go cuckoo when they finally hit the right hour.

As Rolf Harris once said, "can you tell what it is yet?"

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Iraqi Police Torturing Iraqis. posted by Richard Seymour

The good old days are here again - no longer need Iraqis be tortured by American or British troops. Now, courtesy of the coalition, we have a national, nay patriotic, police force dishing out the rough stuff. According to Human Rights Watch :

[U]nlawful arrest, long-term incommunicado detention, torture and other ill-treatment of detainees (including children) by Iraqi authorities have become routine and commonplace. Human Rights Watch conducted interviews in Iraq with 90 detainees, 72 of whom alleged having been tortured or ill-treated, particularly under interrogation.


Methods of torture cited by detainees include routine beatings to the body using cables, hosepipes and other implements. Detainees report kicking, slapping and punching; prolonged suspension from the wrists with the hands tied behind the back; electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, including the earlobes and genitals; and being kept blindfolded and/or handcuffed continuously for several days. In several cases, the detainees suffered what may be permanent physical disability.

Detainees also reported being deprived by Iraqi security forces of food and water, and being crammed into small cells with standing room only. Numerous detainees described how Iraqi police sought bribes in return for release, access to family members or food and water.

Electro-shock therapy! Starvation! Beatings that leave one disabled! You don't suppose, do you, that while they have Saddam in custody they might be probing him for clues about how to control these people?

John Negroponte: "Come on, you old bastard, you murdered and tortured these fuckers for years, you've gotta have some idea how we can do it!"

Saddam: "Well, this is why I made sure to get the electricity running again properly last time."

Negroponte: "We're listening..."

Is there anything more that they can add to make it just how obvious and hollow the lie about 'humanitarian intervention' is? The answer is yes, because records were made to be broken. Bear in mind that the Iraqi police force that now operate are being trained by the American forces to wield the monopoly of violence when the troops finally withdraw. Coalition-imposed Iraqi democracy is looking more and more like Axl Rose's planned album, Chinese Democracy: It's taking ages, looks like its going to be shit anyway, and no one's buying it.

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Monday, January 24, 2005

Report from Hari v Mieville debate. posted by Richard Seymour

Gossip, innuendo, triumphalism...

It is wrong, hideously wrong, to abbreviate the debate in the way suggested in the title. Nevertheless, that was where the action was at as far as I was concerned. To set the background, a debate about Who Do We Vote For Now? was held at the ICA for pissed-off lefties. It was hosted by John Harris, who did his best under the circumstances, and made a few decent points himself into the bargain. Speaking for Labour were Neal Lawson and Johann Hari; for Respect, China Mieville (he would have been joined by Salma Yaqoob, who was sick - but would have been the only woman speaker of the night); for the Liberal Democrats, the truly awful Ben Ramm, editor of The Liberal; for for the Greens, someone whose face looked lovely and lived in but whose bloody name I forget; for Plaid Cymru, a very witty and charming guy whose name I forget (and who couldn't really account for his presence at such a meeting in London anyway); for not voting, Brendan O'Neill, former RCP groupie, now suited libertarian of Sp!ked Online.

I arrived in the crowded bar area (where the debate was held), slightly early. I met Johann as he came in ("ooh, er, now I know you don't I...? Ooh, yes, it's Lenin!"), and also a friend of his who was very nice about my haranguing of Hari. Johann mistook me for a Scottish person, explained that he had reheated a kebab recently and was laying out intestinal pie with odious frequency. He would buy me a drink afterward as previously promised on his website, (he didn't, although I have to be fair to him and say that he never had the chance). I sat down with the proprietor of Dead Men Left who was looking rather dapper. The dry humour was more or less as you find it on his blog. Guy Taylor, of Globalise Resistance, was there, as was John Rees of the Stop the War Coalition .

There were probably a few people there whose names I don't know but are equally deserving of mention as the motley crew discussed above, but this is where I was situated.

The debate began with Neal Lawson indicting new Labour, hoping to reclaim old Labour (though not too old), and saying that he wouldn't advise anyone on who to vote for, that was a judgement call and so on. He was loyal to a set of values, not to a tribe or a party. ("What?" We tittered. "A prominent member of Labour can't even recommend his own party?" He later threw caution to the wind, frustrated by the trajectory of debate, and said that - in fact - Labour was the best, the only way to achieve real change in Britain).

Johann Hari spoke, told the funny story about the kebab again (I think he really meant it), passionately denounced Blair's stand on asylum seekers, on civil rights, on drugs, on free markets and so forth. He was eloquent on some of it, stumbled on a few points, but was generally wittier and more impressive in person than in writing. He explained, for instance, that "the only line The Independent ever censored of mine was a suggestion that 'Tony Blair has done everything for the gay rights movement except take one up the arse himself'". That's not true, but it's funny. He did not talk about Iraq, at first, preferring to be drawn in the course of debate. He smoked and drank copiously, a youthful Christopher Hitchens. I waited for a mention of Galloway. Go on, Johann. Repeat your slanders. I have a mental folder the size of Ceredigion. Unfortunately, he constrained himself to some general points on why we should vote for whoever our hearts desired in safe Labour seats, but stick with Blair in the marginals. The reasons were, in a way, quite solid. Howard was a bastard; the Tories would be even harder on asylum seekers than new Labour, and had a policy of turning away genuine applicants; they would cut benefits like the Working Families Tax Credit. These things made a difference; they couldn't be dismissed, because thousands of lives and livelihoods hung in the balance. Many questions were asked from the floor (Hari was the star of the night in at least that respect), most of them dissenting. Hari apostrophised, polarised, ostracised...

The Plaid Cymru guy spoke. Loveable, affable, as witty and charming as any politician has a right to be. He poured scorn on new Labour, denounced sectarianism on the Left, dissed the Tories and bigged up the Greens and Respect. I couldn't have liked him more. But I still can't remember his name or work out what the fuck he was doing there.

China Mieville is a stange sort of speaker. He looks like he could knock you out, but his voice is full of youthful enthusiasm. Let's not forget, first of all, that it is one thing for a politician to lie; it is quite another to lie at the expense of tens of thousands of lives. That's a big thing. Blair lied; thousands died. And we still have some people hinting that they may yet vote Labour, that all governments are terrible, the Tories would be worse. China talked about Iraq and Palestine, but also about privatisation, selection in schools (which is also known as 'rejection' for most kids), tuition fees, increasing inequality, the statistical tricks used to suppress waiting list numbers and unemployment figures etc. All of which was a way of getting round to the fact that we desperately need a new kind of politics, one that reflects the needs of ordinary people, that won't scapegoat asylum seekers or play populist games on crime, that will call for the troops to come home. China also laid into the 'pointing and whispering campaign' about Respect, referred to the recent resolutions overwhelmingly passed in support of gay rights and abortion rights.

An interesting debate began at this point. On the question of withdrawing the troops, someone suggested that it would simply be a bloodbath if they were withdrawn. How could one justify this. I wish someone had said that there was already a bloodbath. What China did say was that a) we've heard that argument before (take your pick), b) withdrawing troops doesn't mean withdrawing support - we owe Iraqis, big time, and that includes money, reconstruction and anything else that doesn't involve murder and torture. On Respect, someone asked Johann if he might come out and express his criticisms so that there could be a debate. Very well. Johann cited two comments, one by Yvonne Ridley, the other by George Galloway. Ridley's comment was about the Taliban, and was construed as supporting them; Galloway's comment was the one made in the Mail on Sunday about the dictatorship in Pakistan (I've never been able to read this, as it is unavailable online). John Rees countered that he disagreed with Yvonne Ridley's comment, but believed it was less an expression of faith in theocracy than an expression of relief that she had been released unharmed; he suggested that Galloway's comment was made in the context of not wishing to see Pakistan broken up, which was being suggested at the time - but again, he emphasised that he disagreed. China also suggested that Ridley's point was being taken out of context.

At which time, Johann Hari leaned forward into the mic and sputtered that China was an apologist for an apologist for the Taliban. This wasn't his finest moment of the evening. For one thing, even if you put the worst possible construction on Ridley and Galloway's comments, you are still left with ad hominem abuse and not political analysis. The Labour Party has a preacher for its leader and one of its senior ministers is associated with a far right Catholic sect, but that isn't a particularly good reason not to vote for it. Etc.

Brendan O'Neill was alarmingly poor, and his speech was riddled with inconsistency. He insisted at one point that he would not vote at the next election (almost everyone attacked this point), and would urge everyone else to avoid doing so as well; he later comically claimed that he would never urge anyone else not to vote. He insisted that all political parties, even the smaller ones, were obsessed with things like anti-smoking, fatty foods and what-not - yet he was the only one to discuss such things the whole night. He said he wanted a "total war of ideas", yet later insisted that certain things were outside of politics (fuel consumption, fox-hunting etc). When challenged on his anti-voting fatwa, he became hopelessly incoherent, saying that there are other ways of conducting political struggle - which is true. But it only takes five minutes and a pencil stroke to go and vote. And why not do so, just with tactics in mind? If nothing else, to send a message to the political elite whom O'Neill and his internet comrades so rightly despise? Er, well, there are better ways of conveying your disgust and, er... Yeah yeah. Move one. Next speaker.

The Green was sweet, had many interesting things to say. Unfortunately, I was onto my third pint by then and his anti-charismatic performance caused me to fall into temporary day-dreams. What would happen if I became President, I began to idly wonder? Suffice to say, I had nothing against the Green, and he would probably survive my inauguration.

Yet more controversy. Challenged about the Iraq war, John Rees had said that the antiwar Left was not against intervention. We would have favoured building solidarity with Iraqis, along precisely the lines that the South African resistance built ties - through unions, political organisations etc. The same way, in fact, we organise around Palestine. The Iraqis, with international working class support, could topple the dictatorship themselves - and gain a great deal more than the few crumbs of colonial freedom that the Americans would proffer amid the carnage. Johann Hari countered that there had been an uprising in 1991, and Saddam had been able to crush that, slaughtering about 100,000 people into the bargain.

The mic was handed out. I rose, and waved my hand. "Johann," I announced with a bit of smugness, "you are far too modest. What you ought to say is that the Iraqis were crushed by Saddam with our help. The rebels were blocked by the Americans at the height of their uprising, when they had successfully taken much of the country. The reason, we now know, was because if Saddam was to be ousted it should be by the military as far as those who waged the first Gulf War were concerned. Now, on the point about Family Tax Credit, you say the Tories will cut it: don't worry, Johann, Labour will get round to it." How I tittered. Polite laughter in reply. "And on asylum seekers, you mention that Michael Howard will turn back legitimate asylum seekers, but Blair's government already does that. When we were allegedly bombing Serbia to save the Kosovans, we were also turning them back at the British embassy and obliging them to remain in a country that was being bombed. Blair has said that if migrants can't support themselves, they will be removed. If they can't support themselves, they are in most need of help! New Labour is not a force for liberation or poverty relief, it is a force that needs to be defeated."

At least, I thought that's what I had said. What I seem to have said is "Errh, fnuccking, Johann, bloody Blair and schtuff..." I also seem to have said it at about 300 decibels, thus almost rendering the mic inoperative. Three pints, that's all it takes with me. Remember that, potential seducers! Polite applause.

The editor of The Liberal, Ben Ramm, was the most unbearable speaker of the whole night. Snide, cocky and actually insistent on a return to Free Trade - Victorian England style! Why he was invited, I shall never know. He was uncompromisingly for the Liberal Democrats, of course, and was heckled by those who are familiar with the Liberal record in Sheffield, Liverpool and elsewhere. I tuned out.

Other people spoke, but I can't be bothered recounting what they said. A vote was taken on who people would vote for - which Respect won overwhelmingly. The MC, John Harris, didn't bother to acknowledge this fact. I hung around and shook Johann's hand, insulted the guys who were selling The Liberal (update: it turns out I was actually insulting Ben Ramm who now hides behind a bushy little beard to conceal the fact that he's only twenty-two), accosted China and offered my expert advice on what he should have said to this and this. Meaders was silently seething that he hadn't got to speak, as he had been eager to demonstrate that not everyone standing near the bar was pissed and stentorian. I was broke, and had to get home. Other stuff happened of course, but you don't want to hear about that. Oh you do? Well, Johann Hari returned from the toilet and joined China in trashing the place while screaming "FUCK THE BOURGEOIS STATE!!" What? You dare to doubt me?

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

A pint of McEwan's... posted by Richard Seymour

I am not, I should stress, a regular reader of Ian McEwan's writing. The emotional tenderness doesn't particularly appeal to me, being the tough and youthful thug that I am. At the same time, the didacticism - which is the only way that McEwan knows how to write about politics - is usually ill-conceived. The Child in Time, widely regarded as McEwan's best, captures both of these aspects of his style. The heroes of McEwan's books are usually liberals fraught with ambiguity, which one imagines is supposed to be the same thing as intellectual suppleness. Didactic ambiguity, then, is McEwan's currency.

All of which is a way of introducing a topic visited and revisited on a couple of fine literary blogs I frequent. McEwan has undertaken a political novel of sorts, a story which unfolds over the 24 hours of Saturday, 15th February 2003. It is ambitiously titled Saturday. From the enticing nibbles that have been released to the Guardian, I gather that the novel is framed around the massive Stop the War demonstration that preceded the war. It has a nice chap, a liberal character named Harry Perowne, who knows another nice guy, a liberal Iraqi who tells him "yes yes, the Americans are perhaps coming for bad reasons, but we'll be rid of Saddam, and when he is gone I will buy you a meal" (that's a paraphrase). I knew a couple of Iraqis who had similar sentiments myself, but they didn't offer me any prandial delights. Perowne is a surgeon who has treated an Iraqi with wounds from torture, obviously meted out by Saddam's mukhabarat. He thinks the Stoppers are animated by self-defence (don't start another bloody war, it'll get us all killed!), yet insist on a monopoly of morality and righteousness.

There's much more, but this is the kind of thing that McEwan has been asked about, and has talked at length about, in interviews. Now, the two bloggers I mentioned.

First of all, This Space has written several dissenting posts . He makes some perceptive points. The novel, says This Space, is unconscious of its own narrative limits (why does the good doctor not treat a Colombian torture victim, or an Acehnese torture victim?):

There is no involvement but a supercilious schematic based on a very limited perspective that is also unaware of its limits. However, this is the understanding of what fiction is if one reads reviews in newspapers like The Guardian. Here we have a narrative of complete control where the only doubt is the contemptible liberal umming-and-arring of a character designed to justify the inexcusable open-mindedness to Blair's criminal war by writers like Ian McEwan and other journalists.

He also mentions the author's own moral commitments:

The author of Saturday talks about how, in 2001, he was planning a comic novel about a tabloid journalist. Then 9/11 occurred and he lost interest. He lost interest in the novel and novel writing itself for six or so months. Clearly the deaths of 100,000+ Iraqis didn't have the same impact.

The second blogger is the novelist Ellis Sharp, who has also been anticipating McEwan's latest with a sense of dread . He imagines he'll find Christopher Hitchens between the sheets, which I admit is an alarming prospect (although it has a strange allure for a fantastic pervert like me). Ellis discusses McEwan's political naivete:

Looking ahead to the war and its aftermath, McEwan wrote that he hoped that “the regime, like all dictatorships, rootless in the affections of its people, will crumble like a rotten tooth” – which indeed it did. But he also hoped that a “federal, democratic Iraq that the INC committed itself to at its conference can be helped into existence by the UN”. McEwan had a touchingly naïve faith in the Iraqi National Congress as the voice of the Iraqi people. But of course the United Nations declined to involve itself with either the war or its bloody, chaotic aftermath. His belief that this war had anything at all to do with bringing democracy to the oppressed people of Iraq provides just one more dismal example of the endless naivety of those liberal intellectuals who shut their eyes to the massively documented history of American “interventions” around the world.

Leave aside the political failure, for a second: think of the literary failure. Here is an author in full command of the English language; invective is not beyond him; he ranges across the full diapason of human passion. Yet, he has - from all indications - nothing to say about the deformed crooks, the spies, the former Baathists, the opportunists and the realpolitikers who were instrumental in making the case for this war (I refer to the INC). How about a word or two on the kinds of human beings who populate the Whitehouse or conspire by the Hudson River? Or the smooth persuaders who disseminate whispers, talk to the press, organise this or that speaker for this or that meeting?

By way of contrast, I can't imagine Philip Roth - for all his self-declared cynicism and detachment from the causes of his youth - missing this point. The strength of David Hare's recent work has been his ability to include the voices of his political opponents, and include them eloquently, at their best and most persuasive, without mockery - yet there is no umming or aaaahing. There is no conflict between rigorous self-questioning and absolute ideological commitment. In fact, the two are contiguous.

What appears to be missing is authorial sympathy, for which is substituted ambiguity, liberal bed-wetting, chin-stroking etc.

Of course, I don't suppose I'll bother to buy the book now. I'm prejudiced against it and, like I say, the author has never been in my top ten list. But you might. Let me know if its any good.

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Hari, Cohen & Aaronovitch. posted by Richard Seymour

The troika is beseiged; a split is in the offing.

Johann Hari has said goodbye to his illusions, while Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch embrace theirs. Let's take a couple of representative passages. First Aaronovitch on Bush's nutty inaugural speech:

What Bush actually said was this: we went to sleep after the death of communism and forgot about freedom and all that kind of thing. Then came 11 September and we realised that it mattered. The 'deepest source' of America's vulnerability was the fact that 'whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny'. And the only force that could deal with these phenomena was 'human freedom'. Then came this, essentially a restatement of what JFK said more than 40 years ago. 'The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.'

Not everyone was petrified by the Bush vision. Jim Steinberg, deputy national security adviser under Clinton, complained to the New York Times that it was 'quite remarkable that one of the notions that's been so resisted by Republicans is the idea of a deep interdependence in the world, and now (Bush has) essentially adopted the notion that tyranny anywhere threatens freedom anywhere.'

Pick your jaw up, please. Now Cohen on the case of Hani Youssef, an Egyptian lawyer emigre set to be returned forcefully to his homeland even though he faces the threat of torture:

In the long-run the only solution is for the global move towards democracy to get moving again. In these strange times, the only person who believes that this is possible or desirable is George W Bush. In his inauguration address last week he announced that the 'survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.' And was feared and hated by right-thinking people the world over for saying so.

Now, two passages from Johann Hari. The first, in debate with the editors of MediaLens back in November 2003:

I refer you to George Bush, who said apologised yesterday for "decades of failed US policy in the Middle East… we should not tolerate oppression for the sake of stability." Nor, he implied, should they fund and arm it. Yes, it will take time to turn around all US policy: we can discuss (and must campaign about) the horrors of Uzbekistan and the House of Saud. But I believe it is beginning.

And from this week's article on the Bush inauguration, linked at the top:

After 11 September, some of the political thinkers I most respect started unexpectedly reading from this script about US foreign policy. Christopher Hitchens is a good example. For decades, he had exposed the monstrous anti-democratic policies of the US, from the Nixon-Kissinger years to Reagan's dirty wars in South America. But after the attacks on the Twin Towers, Hitchens argued that the vicious American foreign policy he opposed had died with Bin Laden's victims.


the rhetoric is flatly contradicted by US action on the ground, and we simply have to be honest about it. If Bush was serious about "exporting democracy and freedom", the best place to start would be with the authoritarian regimes he currently funds, supports and deals weaponry to. Egypt - which receives a $2bn handout from the US Treasury every year - has been under 'Emergency Rule' for 25 years now. Political dissidents are routinely tortured. Pro-democracy activists are jailed. The current President, Hosni Mubarak, expects his son to succeed him as head of state. A US president committed to spreading democracy and freedom would withhold the vast sums he sprays on this authoritarian state until there is an Egyptian perestroika.

Does Bush condemn the Saud Crime Family who oversee public beheadings and commit "widespread torture with complete impunity", according to Amnesty? Not exactly...

Hari then proceeds to add layer upon layer of reasons why the US' present foreign policy comportment is not that of a liberator, and concludes:

Nothing would make me happier than if the most powerful state in the world was committed to spreading democracy and toppling vicious governments. It is not; in many places, it is doing precisely the opposite. As George Bush begins his second term with another false cry, it is time to wake up.

Hari even goes so far, in replying to some questions in the comments box, as to apologise for having taken the US government seriously at its word - which redounds to his immense credit. Can you imagine any of the other zealots of the 'democratic revolution' recanting - after Abu Ghraib and the 'bread basket', Guantanamo, Fallujah, after 100,000 dead (and surely rising)? It is one thing to maintain that it was necessary to support the Iraq war simply because Iraqis would stand a chance of gaining from it (as Hari still does). To continue to argue, as if one didn't know better, that there is such a thing as "the global move towards democracy" in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary is a signal either of bad faith or of wilful dogmatism and self-delusion. The contrast is both depressing and encouraging.

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

On resistance. posted by Richard Seymour

I have a few interesting texts and articles about the resistance in Iraq that I want to distill in a future post. But, hungover and exhausted, I merely wish to offer a few links. First of all, the insurgency is growing , and not because of something Allah's many representatives on earth have had to say:

"The insurgency will grow larger," said Ghazi Bada al Faisal, an employee of the Iraqi Ministry of Industry and a Fallujah resident. "The child whose brother and father were killed in the fighting will now seek revenge."
"Revenge". At least he understands who started this shit.

An excellent new article in the International Socialism journal (unavailable online) describes the trajectory of the resistance and its roots in pre-war political developments. It cheerfully destroys many of the canards of those who support the occupation on the grounds that the resistance is inspired by dreams of a Pax Talibana or a return to Baathism, while also pointing out some of the ways in which the supposedly fatal Sunni-Shi'ite divisions in Iraq have been surmounted by the resistance. However, what I want to draw attention to is a passage that explains a recent characteristic of the resistance. The article above draws attention to the increasing sophistication of the fighters, which blogger and journalist Robert Lindsay discusses here and here . (They can take out Bradley tanks these days, which - apparently - takes some doing). But in the ISJ article, I encountered this:

In November a fighter from Mosul outlined the impact the assault [on Fallujah] had on resistance strategy: 'If Mosul becomes like Fallujah, and all the people start fighting, the Americans will call in the air force and destroy the city. Many of us feel that guerilla attacks are better than a city-wide insurrection.'
The US could indeed go around destroying city after city. The political consequences of bombing Fallujah have been shockingly slight, albeit this could in part be explained by the sanitary news reports we received on the assault. The pictorial representation of cruelty being meted out by American and now British troops has had much more impact. (By the by, and for those with nothing better to do, I have a little puzzle: Can you describe in ten words or less the priorities of a normally vocal centre-left website that was suddenly struck with aphasia around the time of the Fallujah assault, and yet again finds itself desperately seeking diversion now that the British army - the 'armed wing of Amnesty International' according to Nick Cohen - stands accused of involvement in the torture of Iraqi prisoners, apparently with instructions from on high? Like tourettes victims, they compulsively bark out the same epithets: "Galloway! Stoppers! Scabs! 'Resistance'! Fuckers! Bastards! Arf, arf, arf!! Galloway! Lindsey German!! Bastards! Stalinislamofascistrots!! A-whooo-ooo-oo!!").

Yet, even on its own terms, the strategy of obliteration has been disastrous for the occupation. Fencing off towns with barbed wire, destroying entire cities, mass imprisonment, torture and even the threat of death squads has as to date increased the number and strengthened the resolve of the resistance. So, the strategy now appears to be to accept a possibly pro-Iranian government with a strongly Shi'ite leadership (unthinkable some months back, and actually dismissed as an acceptable outcome by US government figures immediately after the invasion). This, it is assumed, will undermine the nationalist/patriotic appeal of the resistance and transform it into an ethnic civil war. Why else insist on elections for a cardboard assembly (it will have no governing powers) when approximately 3 million Iraqis - in largely Sunni areas - will be unable to vote? By winning over al-Sistani and pacifying al-Sadr, they have demobilised the Shia component of the resistance; by waging all out war in the vast Sunni north, they have intensified the Sunni component.

Still, the right to resist a murderous and morally debased occupation remains not only a moral imperative but also a legitimate right recognised by the United Nations General Assembly , which:

Affirms once again its recognition of the legitimacy of the struggle of the peoples under colonial and alien domination to exercise their right to self-determination and independence by all the necessary means at their disposal. [Emphasis added].
That sounds strangely familiar.

Update - Scott Ritter, card-carrying Republican and former UN weapons inspector, has this to say:

History will eventually depict as legitimate the efforts of the Iraqi resistance to destabilise and defeat the American occupation forces and their imposed Iraqi collaborationist government.

And history will condemn the immorality of the American occupation, which has debased the values and ideals of the American people by legitimising torture, rape and murder as a means of furthering an illegal war of aggression.

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Friday, January 21, 2005

The Nation puts gays in a skirt. posted by Richard Seymour

You know the refrain. If a male issues slightly effeminate signals, he must be, well ... one of those. God love him, he probably likes to try on make-up and prance around in dresses. I'm awful sorry to hear about your boy being queer, Ethel. We could have a couple of studs over at the farm break him in. Etcetera.

Well, it turns out Abraham Lincoln was gay . How does one deal with such a revelation?

If you work for The Nation, you whack a pair of breasts on him, give him panties, a bottom shaped like a luscious peach, and a pair of lustrous black heels. Hence, Babe Lincoln . Because, as you and I know, a homosexual is an invert, a poor sod who hasn't quite grasped his/her gender role. Some wires got crossed, an X chromosome dropped a leg, the maintenance guy couldn't turn up to fix it, and so what should have been a woman emerged with a cock. The cock, as any fule know, is the man's prize for being a man, and it seems unfair that a woman may purloin it before even having the courtesy to be born.

Enough delusional nonsense. The notion that homosexuals are simply 'inverts' who have been issued with the wrong genitalia and hormone balance has long been disproven. Consider: in 1948, when men where men and gals were in the kitchen, 37% of the men privately interviewed in a study by Alfred C Kinsey admitted to having fooled around with other men. That's right, they fucked, sucked and licked all manner of things from the old rubbery doughnut to the seed-sac, swinging like a hairy pork medallion. I am fairly certain that there was cuddling, caressing and tender kissing involved as well. This, bear in mind, was a rigorous scientific study and has been amply confirmed over the years. Men who fought wars and wrestled with grizzlies also displayed erotic and romantic affection for other men. Incidentally, it also happens to be the case that most men who like to dress in women's clothes and put on make-up prefer women. (I bet it makes a wank more interesting).

The sterile categories of heterosexual and homosexual are pukeworthy in their innocence, and endearing in their idiocy. That dichotomy is a sort of sexual Cold War in which all the various centrifugal and centripetal forces are subsumed into two great camps, the gay and the straight: Frottage? That's fine, if a little eccentric. Bum-sex with a woman? Well... can't approve of that, but it isn't gay. Nail varnish and lipstick? For a man? Get thee to a nunnery! Let him paint an inch thick, and send him to buggery! Goats? Well, male or female...? Do you intend to procreate, or will the green hills be speckled with waste prophylactics and the spent juices of hedonistic indulgence?

To side-step the obvious for a second, I want to remark on The Nation's response to the protest about their stupid cartoon. Doug Ireland , a long-time gay radical who has written for The Nation, fired off some admirably vitriolic notes to its editor and staff, while a flurry of e-mails and missives from the readers led to a heated debate in the offices of this highly regarded progressive magazine. Some wanted to acknowledge the mistake and get on with the good work that The Nation has been doing for some decades. Instead, what happened was that they introduced a series of readers letters and invited the cartoonist to respond. Originally, the editors introduced the response as follows:

We received many letters from readers offended by Robert Grossman's "Babe Lincoln" (Jan. 24). His cartoon was intended as a comment on the controversy stirred by C.A. Tripp's new book, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, in which Tripp argues that Lincoln was homosexual. We leave historians to debate Tripp's thesis, as we leave readers and Grossman to discuss the cartoon's significance below. We regret it if the cartoon demeaned homosexuals, transgender people or even Log Cabin Republicans. --The Editors

That last sentence in particular registers a serious demoralisation and also political degeneration. This is an era in America in which gays are told by Democrats that they are asking for too much, too soon (there is a timetable for human rights?), while they are assured by Republicans that they do not fit into the Christian run of things unless they happen to have the monumental advantage of being Dick Cheney's daughter. The lachrymose Clinton apparently [ie, according to Kerry sources] told John Kerry to attack gay marriages and run a homophobic campaign. You would think The Nation would understand the purchase of this and not play silly buggers. The final sentence does appear to have changed so that it reads:

We regret if the cartoon unintentionally offended anyone.

Hardly better from a moral standpoint, but proof at least that the protests had wiped the condescending smirk from their faces. Yet, it remains totally unsatisfactory. It began, if you ask me, with the political compromise over Kerry. The Nation begged Nader not to run, would have donated several body parts if he would only withdraw and fall behind Deputy Dawg. So terrified were they by Bush and his various dogs that they would get behind anything that didn't reek of the pachyderm. So, they acquiesced in the game of the Democratic Leadership Council, surrendered their political nous and sold their souls to arbiters of 'mainstream' liberalism. Now, having surrendered electorally on the key social and economic issues, they appear to be casual with even those minimal issues that liberals continued to associate themselves with in the 1990s - gay rights, racial equality and women's liberation.

Most gay people in the US don't quite resemble anyone in Will & Grace, the 'edgy' sitcom of liberal Middle America. They are not chiselled, well-toned and well-heeled. They are not upper-class yuppies who find life-choices sooooo difficult. They are probably mastering that lathe next to you, or driving the school bus (heaven forfend!). They could well be selling sweeties or hotdogs, or allowing the pet dog to casually shit on your lawn. There are no giveaway breasts or panties, no flip airs and graces, no heels or pert bums. If the most respected liberal magazine in America hasn't figured that out, or has forgotten it, there is ample cause for a boycott.

Update: Read the lapidary Gore Vidal here and more from the laconic Doug Ireland here .

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Iraq elections. posted by Richard Seymour

Several Iraqi exiles have written to The Guardian to prick the self-comforting illusions of Western liberators: Iraq's elections are neither free nor fair . They also go on to suggest how Iraqis may be allowed to govern themselves. Indeed, this is just perfect common sense. If the Soviet Union had organised 'elections' while it occupied Afghanistan, few would have credited the results, especially if it was heavily funding its own placemen, had already destroyed much of the country and prevented millions from voting, and was in the process of fighting a live civil war with the inhabitants of that unhappy country. We would conclude, with hardly a hesitant thought, that this was a 'demonstration election' designed to confer legitimacy on an occupying power that had no right to be there.

As an excellent MediaLens alert says:

Tony Blair's last ditch deception on Iraq involves claiming that, no matter what side people had been on before the war, there is "only one side to be on in what is clearly a battle between democracy and terror". ('Blair praises Iraqi election bravery in flying visit,' Sarah Left and agencies, The Guardian, December 21, 2004)

However, the American writer Edward Herman, co-author with Frank Brodhead of the classic work, Demonstration Elections (South End Press, 1984), points out that when an occupying power sponsors an election "it is not free and democratic because it was imposed by an external force and did not come from demands from within". (Email to David Edwards, January 15, 2005) Moreover, because the election is externally imposed, participation can be interpreted as an implicit approval of the occupation, a corrupting factor in the vote.

And of course the 100,000 Iraqis killed under the occupation will not be voting; nor will the unknown thousands languishing without charge in US-run jails. The ongoing conflict will prevent many more from participating - the several hundred thousand refugees from Fallujah, for example, who are currently busy trying to survive. Nor will international observers be able to monitor the election inside the country.

On December 15, the New York Times reported that on a list of 228 candidates submitted by a major Shiite-led political alliance to Iraq's electoral commission, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's name was entered as No.1. The Times reported that Hakim has close ties to Iran's ruling ayatollahs:

"For the United States, and for Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which have Sunni Muslim majorities, the prospect of Mr. Hakim and his associates coming to power raises in stark form the brooding issue of Iran's future influence in Iraq." (John F. Burns and Robert F. Worth, 'Iraqi Campaign Raises Question Of Iran's Sway,' The New York Times, December 15, 2004)

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman warned ominously: "Iran [is] actively using its influence and money to push its candidates." (Friedman, 'Neocons need Iraqi neo-Baath,' The Times Union, December 19, 2004)

Unreported by the mainstream US and UK press, another foreign power is also using its influence to push its candidates.

Washington-funded organisations with long records of manipulating foreign democracies in favour of US interests are deeply involved in the election. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) are part of a consortium to which the US government has provided over $80 million for political and electoral activities in Iraq. NDI is headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, while IRI is chaired by Republican Senator John McCain.

Professor William I. Robinson of the Global and International Studies Programme at the University of California calls NDI and IRI "extensions" of the US State Department:

"I suspect that [NDI and IRI] are trying to select individual leaders and organisations that are going to be very amenable to the US transnational project for Iraq." (Robinson, quoted, Lisa Ashkenaz Croke and Brian Dominick, 'Controversial U.S. Groups Operate Behind Scenes on Iraq Vote,', December 13, 2004)

Robinson adds that these leaders must be willing to engage in "pacifying the country militarily and legitimating the occupation and the formal electoral system". The goal being to guarantee that Iraq is controlled by "economic, political and civic groups that are going to be favourable to Iraq's integration into the global capitalist economy".

In a search using the LexisNexis media database, we found that no British newspaper has mentioned these NDI and IRI activities at any time over the last twelve months.

The interim government has forced the independent al-Jazeera TV station and critical newspapers to shut down. Former US proconsul Paul Bremer banned all reporting on the rebirth of the Baath Party and all protests calling for an end to the occupation. Baghdad-based journalist Borzou Daragahi reports that Iraqi reporters are under threat from US troops, Iraqi police and insurgents: "We're unable to get access to anybody," one journalist told him. "We're frightened." (Daragahi, Arab Reform Bulletin Vol. 2, December 11, 2004)

The same is true of electoral candidates who are unable to canvas voters and even reveal their names. Voters, therefore, are not in a position to make any kind of informed choice.

While US-subsidised media broadcast freely, officials working for interim prime minister and former CIA asset, Ayad Allawi, have been handing journalists envelopes stuffed with $100 notes for simply turning up to press conferences. The money, of course, is American.

And, as the estimable Juan Cole points out, they aren't even being asked to vote for a government or a president. They are voting for a constitutional assembly which will not govern, merely draft a possible constitution which may or may not be ratified. As he also notes elsewhere, Allawi's "pockets" of Iraq that may not be able to vote probably contain 3 million persons .

This is no case against elections; it is a case for genuine self-determination with real elections for a real government with US troops making a hasty exit.

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Short letter to the President. posted by Richard Seymour

What follows will be cheap and nasty, like sex with a Northern runaway.

Dear Bush,

Congratulations on winning this time around. Congratulations, too, on fooling the press into thinking your subsequent inauguration was a 'news' item, when everyone knew it was going to happen. Shutting down everything in a ten-block radius and spending $40 million must have contributed to the mystique (what did you initially pledge for the tsunami victims? No come on, dollars not pesos...).

However since I have your ear, (and what a divinely shaped Protestant ear it is), I'd liked to ask you if you really meant this:

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you.

Because that is precisely the sort of thing drivel-merchants like Christopher Hitchens and Dennis Miller like to believe, and I can't believe that you are as idiotic as they strive to be. One awaits with sweet dread what kind of 'contrarian', anathematizing blimpism the Late Hitchens will generate next. Lean closer, please. You can wipe the phlegm off the lobe later. True, you aren't exactly ignoring the oppression of the Acehnese, but I would think that by trying to reinstate relations with the torturing, murdering, raping TNI was some kind of comfort to the oppressors. And when you assist the Colombian far right in its noble quest to wipe out peasants and trade unionists, I can't help but think you are again on the side of the - whatchamacallem? - evildoers. And when you prolong and amplify a long-standing US foreign policy tradition of unconditional support for Israel, it seems to me that you could be accused of standing with the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and everything that has been entailed by that. There also appears to have been a minor putsch attempt in Venezuela which your comrades in the National Endowment for Democracy appear to have been involved in. You appear to enjoy more than convivial relations with the Saudi royal family, King Abdullah of Jordan, 'President for Life' Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and that gentleman with the mysterious name in Pakistan. Now, the unhappy workers of Pakistan are in open rebellion against their government, and have no apparent affiliation with the Islamists which populate your dreamscape. When will Bradley tanks rumble through Islamabad? I ask merely for information, and wouldn't dream of mocking someone with your obvious polemical talent ("er, er, its evil and bad and, er, er, God wants America to stand for freedom").

It's not that I think you're talking shit. It's just that you appear to be - well look, I don't want to be sesquipedalean, prolix or pleonastic - dissembling, issuing porcine whoopsies, dropping flam, bam and flim-flam, paltering, misciting, indulging in a petit-bourgeois deviation, coughing up testes, dissimulating, romanticising, mythologising and covinising.

I think we both understand one another.

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Kilroy 'resigns'. posted by Richard Seymour

As if ...

The union between UKIP and Robert Kilroy-Silk was a tawdry, opportunistic affair. When it became clear that their reactionary little ship was not capacious enough for his ego, the leadership squeezed him out. The two whores, thus entangled in the same bed, fucked and fatally infected one another. Consider them finished.

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Thomas Frank on Democrats. posted by Richard Seymour

I enjoyed Frank's What's the Matter With America? (as it was called on UK publication), but one thing that consisently struck me was that, Frank's critique of present Demo-goguery notwithstanding, he retained a rather bleary-eyed view of liberalism past (which once, apparently, stood for "equality and economic security").

Without this mythologising, the book would have to have been called Why Aren't You Voting Nader?. In his latest interview for In These Times magazine, he takes this one step further, to the point of utter logical confusion. For instance, here is he in the Democrats:

I think the values of the left still have power. But something has become apparent to me since I moved to Washington, D.C. [from Chicago]. There is this aversion, bordering on hatred, for the left, especially among Democrats. People who dominate discussions in Democratic circles despise the left, and there is no way in hell they are going to embrace the values of the left. You can try to explain to them how they need to do it for strategic purposes or in order to win elections, [but] it doesn’t matter. The Democratic centrists got their way [in the 2004 presidential election], they got their candidate, they got their way on everything, and they still lost. And who gets the blame? It’s going to be the left.

This is virtually unexceptionable and, one would think, instructive. Yet:

So how do Democrats make the argument?

They just have to bite the bullet and try it. We’ve got to do something new. But they’re not going to do anything unless they’re pushed, unless there are forces on the ground making them do something. And it’s our job to stir up those forces.


What’s your next project?

I think I’m going to write about what the Democrats have to do. Don’t you think that’s the thing?

The Democrats will never do whatever it is that Frank thinks they ought to do, because they have utter contempt for the left, yet 'the thing' is to write about what Democrats ought to do? This is where an analysis of the Democratic Party would have been invaluable. It is conceivable that the Democratic Party, pressured from without, will be coaxed into altering its rhetoric, offering a few useful reforms, defending those it has itself initiated etc. It is inconceivable that it will become the kind of organisation, the kind of tool, that can deliver a socially just settlement or put an end to imperial misadventure.

How many times does it need demonstrating? At the zenith of liberal reforms, the New Deal delivered some benefits and union protection, but failed to stop mass unemployment. Roosevelt, the most liberal of Democrat presidents, nevertheless contrived to provoke a conflagration with the Japanese and thus inaugurated the global - as opposed to merely regional - American empire: hence the imperial acronym, FDR. From that point, it is all entirely downhill. In the postwar era, Democrat presidencies have been among the most reactionary and imperialist, and the end of it all was the oleaginous Bill Clinton surreptitiously attacking gays, playing with subliminal racism over Ricky Ray Rector, slashing welfare, bombing the Balkans and the Middle East, allowing his economic policy to be dictated by Wall Street and sacraficing American labour on the altar of free trade.

The 'thing', surely, is to think about what the Left must do, how it must use its resources and continuing strengths in this period. The significance of Frank's book is, among other things, the way in which it maps the struggle for ideological hegemony. The Left defangs itself in that struggle by attaching its hopes to the coterie of charlatans and morally bankrupt, rich blueboys that lead the Democratic Party. With Bush's eyes fixed somewhere above and beyond the firmament, there is every opportunity to belt him severely in the fundament.

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